The iPINIONS Journal


  • Saturday, March 25, 2017 at 7:37 AM

    Republican Failure to Repeal and Replace Obamacare Is Political Malpractice

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Republicans have been exploiting their signature promise to repeal and replace Obamacare for seven years:

    • It helped them win control of the House in 2010.
    • It helped them win control of the House and Senate in 2014.
    • It helped them win control of the House, Senate, and White House in 2016.

    From day one, some of us tried to warn voters to no avail that Republicans were scamming them for votes. I was especially bemused by the poor whites who rallied Republicans to repeal and replace.

    Evidently, they thought Obamacare was part of Muslim Obama’s socialist conspiracy to take away their freedom. But they also thought the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the best government program since Social Security. In other words, these nincompoops are only just realizing that Obamacare and the ACA are one and the same.

    But Trump co-opting repeal and replace for his run to the White House was so patently contrived, I refused to dignify it with a comment.

    For the record, though, here are just two examples of my earnest attempts to expose the hollowness of this Republican promise:

    Exhibit A

    Nothing evokes a Pentecostal-like response at Republican rallies quite like when one of Obama’s wannabe successors declares – with the conviction of a born-again Tartuffe – that his/her ‘first act as president will be to repeal Obamacare.’ Mind you, their declaration is invariably animated by the hope that the Supreme Court will rule the healthcare reform law unconstitutional long before they are faced with the manifestly impossible task of honoring their promise to repeal it.

    (“Supreme Court To Rule on Landmark Healthcare Reform,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 23, 2011)

    Exhibit B

    [D]espite (or to spite) today’s ruling [that Obamacare is constitutional], Republicans are already singing their same old tune about repealing it. In fact, you might think they regard denying poor Americans affordable healthcare as an article of faith, which shall never be broken.

    But, just as Obama did not think their challenges to Obamacare worthy of argument before the Supreme Court, I do not think their cult-like pledge to repeal Obamacare worthy of any further comment in this forum.

    I will only add that anyone who votes this time around for a presidential candidate based on his/her promise to repeal Obamacare is a certifiable fool. For, as George W. Bush once tried to say: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

    (“Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare – Again…,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 25, 2015)

    Alas, that Trump is president of the United States proves that far too many voters were all too willing to make themselves once, twice, three times a fool.

    But frankly, in this context, Republicans are even more unconscionable than Nigerian 419 scammers. After all, Nigerians were merely messing with people’s cash; Republicans were messing with their health.

    Well, today they were finally forced to put up or shut up on their promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Trumpcare:

    House Republican leaders, facing a revolt among conservatives and moderates in their ranks, pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act from consideration on the House floor Friday afternoon in a significant defeat for President Trump on the first legislative showdown of his presidency.

    House Speaker Paul D. Ryan conceded, ‘We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.’

    (New York Times, March 24, 2017)

    When Trump finally conceded that Obama was born in the United States, I did not think it was worthy of comment. Republicans finally failing to repeal and replace Obamacare is even less worthy. Except that I suspect “Shyster Don” can’t wait to see “repeal and replace” join “birther” in the dustbin of political tropes. Because, for him, this was just another con job.

    What’s more, this farcical, shameless loser is already spinning his “yuge” humiliation as “the best thing that could have happened” — as he sets up his next con: taxing the poor more to give more to the rich. Lucky for him, it’s axiomatic in American politics that Democrats will always conspire with Republicans to ensure the rich get richer and the poor get poorer

    I pity the sick fools who bought this promise hook, line, and sinker.

    Related commentaries:
    Repeal Obamacare

    *  This commentary was originally published on Friday at 8:48 p.m.

  • Friday, March 24, 2017 at 9:21 AM

    Sisi Completes Egypt’s Vicious Cycle by Releasing Mubarak

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak has left the Cairo military hospital where he had been held in custody for much of the past six years, and returned to his home in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, his lawyer said.

    Mubarak, 88, was acquitted by Egypt’s highest appeals court on 2 March of conspiring to kill protesters in the final verdict in a long-running case that originally resulted in him being sentenced to life in prison in 2012 over the deaths of 239 people in Arab spring protests against his rule. …

    He left the Maadi military hospital on Friday morning and returned to his home, where he had breakfast with his family and a number of friends, according to a report in the privately owned newspaper al-Masy al-Youm.

    (London Guardian, March 24, 2017)

    And so, Egypt’s vicious cycle – from military dictatorship to civil disobedience and Islamic democracy then back to military dictatorship – is now complete. It began only six years ago, but it seems like sixty.

    More to the point, though, I warned from the outset that it would thus:

    With all due respect to the protesters, the issue is not whether Mubarak will go, for he will. (The man is 82 and already looks half dead for Christ’s sake!) Rather, the issue is who will replace him. And it appears they have not given any thought whatsoever to this very critical question. …

    The devil the Egyptians know might prove far preferable to the devil they don’t. Just ask the Iranians who got rid of the Mubarak-like Shah in 1979 only to end up with the Ayatollah Khomeini — whose Islamic revolution they’ve regretted (and have longed to overturn) ever since.

    (“Army Pledges No Force Against Protesters,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2011)

    Sadly, my fears for Egypt have now been completely realized. Nothing demonstrates this quite like General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi running a dictatorship that makes Mubarak’s look like a liberal democracy.

    As it happened, I chronicled each phase of this vicious cycle in commentaries like “Protesters Return to Tahrir Square,” June 6, 2012, “Egyptians Continue March Back to the Future,” December 20, 2013, “Egypt’s Arab Spring Spawns Brutal Military Dictatorship,” March 25, 2014, and “Egypt Sentences Morsi to Death: Exposes Fecklessness of US Mideast Policy,” May 20, 2015.

    But “Dismissal of Mubarak’s Charges Brings Indian Summer for Egypt’s Arab Spring,” December 1, 2014, includes this pithy indictment and summation of the Arab Spring:

    These are the same anti-government protesters who took to this same square last year to celebrate al-Sisi’s ouster of Morsi, and who did the same four years ago to call for the ouster of Mubarak.

    Even so, the irony seems completely lost on them that, despite all of their revolutionary protests, the dismissal of all charges against Mubarak means that Egypt has ended up right where the Arab Spring was sprung.

    But, if they think they can repeat against al-Sisi the miracle in Tahrir Square that led to the ouster of Mubarak, I have two words of admonition for these protesters: Tiananmen Square.

    All that’s left for Sisi to vindicate this cycle and validate his rule is for Egypt’s patron, the United States, to bestow its seal of approval. President Trump intends to do just that when Sisi visits the White House next week.

    Related commentaries:
    Dismissal of Mubarak’s crimes
    Egypt sentences Morsi

  • Thursday, March 23, 2017 at 8:43 AM

    Islamists Terrorizing London … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The attacker, [a Muslim who police once had on their radar], stabbed the unarmed officer before being shot dead.

    Forty other people were injured after a car struck pedestrians on nearby Westminster Bridge, before it crashed. …

    Speaking in Downing Street after chairing a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergencies committee, Prime Minister Theresa May said it was a ‘sick and depraved’ attack on the heart of the capital and attempts to defeat UK values were ‘doomed to failure.’

    (BBC, March 22, 2017)

    Latest reports are that four of the injured have died, including the police officer. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those directly affected.

    That said, I appreciate the terror people feel whenever news breaks about Muslims perpetrating another terrorist attack. But, truth be told, this should be no greater than the terror they feel whenever news breaks about non-Muslims perpetrating another mass shooting.

    This is why it’s so stupefying that the police, media, and politicians invariably treat the former like an existential tragedy, but the latter like an ordinary crime – notwithstanding that mass shootings are more frequent and invariably result in more casualties.

    In any event, here is the NOTE I appended to “Carnage in Nice: France Attacked … Again,” July 15, 2016:

    There is now a Groundhog-Day spectre to these attacks and reaction to them. Which is why they have become no more worthy of comment than another drive-by shooting in ‘Chiraq.’ Therefore, I shall suffice henceforth to reprise this commentary, taking care of course to acknowledge the targets and victims of future attacks.

    Nothing affirms this Groundhog-Day spectre quite like the commentary I wrote a few years ago, which I felt could only be titled “Islamists Terrorizing London … Again,” May 25, 2013. But it speaks even greater volumes that what I wrote about last year’s attack in France is relevant, in every respect, to yesterday’s attack in London.

    Accordingly:

    **********

    The vicious Bastille Day attack in the French city of Nice that killed at least 84 people was an act of terrorism, France’s President Francois Hollande said early Friday.

    The driver, identified as a 31-year-old French Tunisian, crashed his truck into a crowd of people who were watching fireworks. He plowed the vehicle-turned-weapon forward for more than a mile before police shot him dead, Agence-France Press reported. The truck was loaded with “arms and grenades” Region President Christian Estrosi said, but some of them were fake.

    (Huffington World Post, July 15, 2016)

    With all due respect to the victims of this latest terrorist attack, the operative word in my title is “Again.”

    After all, whether here in the United States or over in Europe, Asia, Africa, or the Middle East, terrorist attacks have become a fact of life … the new normal.

    In any event, I presaged these attacks in “World Beware: French Riots Affect Us All,” November 8, 2005. In it, I highlighted the disaffection, disillusionment, and discrimination (racial and religious) that make young Muslim men so susceptible to radicalization. Never mind the chickens-coming-home-to-roost factor stemming from the invasion of Iraq, which spawned the “one thousand Bin Ladens” former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned about.

    For a little perspective, it might be helpful to think of the so-called War on Terror like the War on Drugs, and to appreciate that we can be no more successful waging the former than we’ve been waging the latter. Nothing demonstrates this quite like the way terrorism has forced us to change our way of life – with our liberal democracies becoming more like barricaded police states every day. We all know about the Chicken-Little security measures at airports, but have you noticed that municipalities are reinforcing streets with 20 unsightly bollards for every 1 street lamp.

    Yet, if it seems like we are helpless in the face of such terrorist attacks, it’s because we are. I’ve been bemoaning this for over a decade:

    It must be understood that no matter their collective resolve, there’s absolutely nothing our governments can do to prevent such attacks. That Americans reacted yesterday as if those explosions went off in Washington or New York should compel Westerners to focus on calming our collective nerves, instead of fretting about (or worse, trying to figure out) the motivation for and timing of terrorist attacks by Islamic fanatics.

    (“7/7 Terror Attacks in London,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 8, 2005)

    Many criticized President Obama for years for ordering American troops to do too little to “defeat the terrorists.” By contrast, they hailed President Putin last September for ordering Russian troops to “bomb the hell out of them.”

    Except that 100-plus attacks in Western cities just this year (mostly by radicalized lone-wolf terrorists) make patently clear that this bombing is doing nothing to defeat them. In fact, all Putin has to show for nine months of bombing, from the air and sea, is such indiscriminate death and wanton destruction, terrorist leaders can fairly assert that he is responsible for killing more innocent men, women, and children than they.

    Sadly, it did not take long for me to decry that “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015.

    Mind you, I’m not saying we should just lie back and take their attacks. To the contrary, I’m on record advocating targeted drone strikes, aggressive surveillance, and enhanced interrogation to keep terrorists at bay as much as humanly possible.

    Notwithstanding the misguided backlash Snowden’s NSA disclosures have wrought, [Western countries] must allow their respective intelligence services to use all means necessary to surveil and apprehend the would-be terrorists among us before they act out their jihadist fantasies. Otherwise, we will terrorize ourselves to death if we keep reacting to every [terrorist attack] as if it were another 9/11.

    (“Gunman Terrorizes Canada. Keep Calm and Carry On,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 23, 2014)

    But don’t get me started on xenophobic and racist policies like banning or profiling Muslims. After all, the record of terrorist attacks in this country is such that we clearly have far more to fear from born-and-bred American terrorists than from any Muslim braving the two-year vetting process to sneak in and launch attacks.

    On the other hand, the media could help if they stop providing wall-to-wall coverage of the fallout from such attacks. After all, such coverage to a terrorist is like a binge to an addict. And, notwithstanding all of the experts rehashing their anti-terror talking points, it does absolutely nothing to help prevent, or protect us from, future attacks.

    I don’t know why the media always reward these psychopaths by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds.

    You’d think … we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the [terrorists] to: May God have mercy on your soul as you all burn in Hell!

    (“Massacre in Omaha,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 7, 2007)

    Of course, media barons know this all too well. It’s just that they would rather exploit macabre, rubbernecking interests for ratings (their repetitious mind-dumbing, emotion-numbing content notwithstanding) than deny terrorists their incentivizing fix.

    Therefore, the only thing we can do to help save ourselves is turn off the TV and pay respects to victims with a prayer, making sure to note that:

    There but for the grace of God (go I).

    But nothing would affirm and embolden national spirits quite like those of us not directly affected getting on with life in the face these attacks. This includes the police processing the scene and municipal workers cleaning it up post-haste.

    Incidentally, it would also help if politicians would stop using every terrorist attack to burnish their leadership bona fides; you know, the way Mayor Rudy Giuliani used 9/11.

    All else, including posting sympathy hashtags on social media and projecting national flags on landmarks, is folly.

    **********

    Apropos of folly, I doubt Londoners got any consolation from President Trump’s banal and chauvinistic tweet assuring them that Prime Minister May is “strong and doing very well.”

    Again, keep calm and carry on.

    Related commentaries:
    Islamists terrorizing
    Carnage in Nice
    World beware
    Brussels Paris San Bernadino et al
    Masturbatory violence
    Chiraq

  • Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 7:52 AM

    Chuck Berry, “the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ‘n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday. …

    While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. …

    ‘Johnny B. Goode’ is on golden records within the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977 and awaiting discovery.

    (New York Times, March 18, 2017)

    I like Chuck Berry’s music well enough. But I’m hardly a fan. I never bought any of his records. I never attended any of his concerts.

    Yet I know enough about his pioneering role in the music industry to appreciate why he is hailed as “the father of rock ‘n’ roll.” But, with all due respect to Elvis, I suspect Berry would rather be hailed as “the king” – not least because rock ‘n’ roll has nearly as many founding fathers as the United States, including Bill Haley, Sam Phillips, Little Richard, and Fats Domino.

    All the same, in keeping with current trends, Berry’s death unleashed an outpouring of tweets from other famous people. What’s more, your appreciation of his significance is probably limited to their tweets; that is, unless you’re a Luddite like me – who opted for traditional obits in the mainstream media.

    But I’m not sure how much their tweets honor him. After all, there’s only so much one can say in 140 characters. Worse still, everyone – from Barack Obama to Mick Jagger, Bill Clinton to Bette Midler, Brian Wilson to Bootsy Collins, and Steven King to Arnold Schwarzenegger – sent tweets of condolences composed of platitudes that any twit could write.

    It started with Chuck Berry. He inspired us all. The 1st album I bought was Chuck’s ‘Live at the Tivoli’ and I was never the same.

    — Rod Stewart (@rodstewart) March 18, 2017

    I had a distinct sense of déjà vu reading their tweets, which flooded the mainstream media, masquerading as worthy tributes. Because, if I did not know better, I would’ve sworn I read the same platitudes, by the same people, when Bo Diddley died in 2008.

    Except that these famous people can be forgiven this apparent recycling because Berry and Diddley’s careers bore uncanny similarities. In this vein, the following excerpt from “Bo Diddley, Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneer, Is Dead,” June 5, 2008, is instructive.

    __________________

    Like so many other (black) pioneers, Diddley got little credit and even less in royalties from these rock stars [eulogizing him] who pilfered his music so unabashedly. Not to mention the crooked (white) managers who paid themselves from his earnings as if they not only wrote his songs but performed them too.

    ‘I opened the door for a lot of people, and they just ran through and left me holding the knob. … Have I been recognized? No, no, no.’ (Bo Diddley to the New York Times in 2003)

    [T]he highlights of his career include being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and receiving a Grammy lifetime achievement award. Remarkably, he never won a Grammy for any of his pioneering songs.

    I suspect few of you even know who Bo Diddley was. But suffice it to know that if you like the music of Chuck Berry, Little Richard or BB King, you’re going to love Diddley’s.

    __________________

    Remarkably, like Diddley, Berry never won a Grammy for any of his pioneering songs. Therefore, he too could only point to being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and receiving a few Grammy lifetime achievement awards (for sticking around) as the highlights of his career.

    Of course, many other notable performers never won a Grammy during their lifetime. They include Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie, whose posthumous album Blackstar was, by far, his most successful – complete with four Grammy awards.

    But what does it say about the music industry that the father of rock ‘n’ roll never won its highest honor. Frankly, it says that the artists he sired – from the Rolling Stones to Bruno Mars – are self-centered, self-serving, ungrateful bastards. Only this explains them honoring him in death in ways they never did in life.

    On the other hand, when it came to the sex and drugs associated with rock ‘n’ roll, Bo didn’t know Diddley. Berry put him to shame.

    Specifically, the scroll of Berry’s legacy includes both statutory rape and a drug raid. But he padded it with other rocker lore – including charges for armed robbery, tax evasion, and secretly filming dozens of women in a lavatory. Not to mention having a notoriously pugnacious temperament, which had him kicking backup musicians off stage and striking out at fellow headliners like Keith Richards.

    No doubt, as mitigation in this respect, Berry would cite the fact that his long-suffering wife, Themetta, saw enough redeeming good in him to stick around for 68 years.

    That said, I hope for his family’s sake that, just like Bowie, Berry enjoys greater success in death than he did in life.

    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. Mind you, he probably couldn’t have cared any less.

    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.

    (“David Bowie, Gender-Bending Performing Artist, Is Dead” The iPINIONS Journal, January 12, 2016)

    In this sense, Berry’s death was timely, especially given this:

    [F]ans worried that the rock legend’s recent death would complicate plans for the release of his first album of new music in nearly 40 years can lay those fears to rest.

    According to a statement released by Berry’s estate following his death, the new LP — titled Chuck and announced last year on the guitarist’s 89th birthday — is still very much in the works. Citing the ‘many inquiries’ they’ve fielded from fans and media, Berry’s surviving family issued strong assurances that Chuck’s on its way — and we’ll be hearing our first samples very soon.

    (Ultimate Classic Rock, March 20, 2017)

    And this:

    Audio plays of Berry’s classic tunes are enjoying an uptick.

    On Spotify, less than 2 million monthly users usually follow the musician. Sunday, the music sharing site showed over 45 million users had listened to his 1958 ground-breaking single, ‘Johnny B. Goode.’

    (New York Post, March 20, 2017)

    Ka-ching!

    Of course, a Grammy or two for Chuck would do – too.

    So here’s to Berry’s mercenary spirit helping family members fight (white) producers and distributors for their fair share of the profits from this posthumous album. Which would be entirely consistent with the way he spent most his career fighting everyone – from concert promoters to radio stations – for his fair share from every stream of revenue he generated.

    Berry died at his home near St. Louis, Missouri. He was 90.

    Farewell, Chuck.

    Related commentaries:
    Bo Diddley
    David Bowie

  • Monday, March 20, 2017 at 8:17 AM

    Groundhog Famine Crisis in Africa

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    You might notice that this blog does not feature any revenue-generating ads. That’s because, when I launched it 12 years ago, I wanted to make plain my primary interest in contributing to informed public debate on an eclectic array of topics. This has distinguished it over the years from the blogs of far too many others – who have made plain their primary interest in attracting cash-milking “visits.”

    Today’s commentary throws this into sharp relief. After all, while I am commenting on the grave matter of famine in Africa, virtually everyone else is commenting on the patent farce of President Trump falsely accusing former President Obama of wiretapping his phone. And I’m not even including Facebookers, Twitterers, and Instagrammers — whose vacuous, snarky, and narcissistic contributions do nothing but dumb down, coarsen, and debase public debate.

    Which means that, by reading this, you’re akin to one choosing health food over junk food. And, just as eating health food is better for your body, reading this is better for your mind … and soul.

    That willfully self-righteous rant aside,

    The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the United Nations was founded in 1945 with more than 20 million people in four countries at risk of starvation and famine, the UN humanitarian chief has said.

    Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council on Friday that ‘without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death’ and ‘many more will suffer and die from disease.’

    He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid ‘to avert a catastrophe.’

    (Al Jazeera, March 11, 2017)

    No doubt this crisis warrants our attention, concern, and support. Never mind the Orwellian spin Trump’s new budget director, Mick Mulvaney, offered during a White House press conference last week. Specifically, a foreign reporter asked if he was concerned that 20 million of “the most vulnerable people on Earth will suffer” from cuts to the United Nations and US foreign aid. Mulvaney replied, rather indignantly, that

    We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to the various foreign aid programs [which] should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign.

    (Fox Business, March 16, 2017)

    He then rationalized that refusing to fund things like daily meals for poor Americans and emergency relief for starving Africans is an “act of compassion” towards American taxpayers, insisting that funding such programs would not be using their dollars “in a proper function.”

    Mind you, I cannot read or listen to reports about famine in Africa without being seized with cynicism and feelings of fecklessness.

    I was disillusioned enough by global fundraising campaigns – from Live Aid in 1985 to Make Poverty History in 2005 and the Global Citizen Festival in 2016. They were supposed to end famine in Africa, remember?

    But the broken promises of political leaders only compounded my disillusionment. US President Bill Clinton (in 1998) and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (in 1999) led the chorus of those who vowed “never again” would the world standby as tribal conflicts give way to Ethiopian-like famines or Rwandan-like genocides. Except that nothing exposed their hollow vows quite like this headline from the April 4, 2004, edition of the Washington Post:

    How did ‘never again’ become just words?

    This brings me to the “groundhog” in my title. For it alludes not only to all of the failed efforts to end famine and genocide in Africa, but also to all of my commentaries lamenting those notorious failures.

    In fact, one of the very first commentaries I wrote on this blog is titled “Despite Live8 and G8, Relief Looms like a Cruel Mirage to Millions of Africans Dying of Starvation!” July 21, 2005. It is replete with the cynicism and feelings of fecklessness I had already developed from my ancillary involvement in humanitarian efforts to provide sustainable relief.

    South Sudan is particularly noteworthy in this dubious respect. It owes the national independence it gained in 2011, in large measure, to global protests against ethnic cleansing and genocidal atrocities, which Arab militias had been perpetrating against blacks in the Darfur region of Sudan.

    I added my two cents to those protests with commentaries like

    • “Help! Ethnic Cleansing and Forced Starvation Persists in Africa,” December 1, 2005;
    • “Save Darfur Rally: Full of Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing!” May 2, 2006;
    • “Alas, the ICC Charging President Bashir of Sudan with Genocide Means Nothing!” July 15, 2008.

    Sure enough, within three years of South Sudan gaining its independence, I was writing commentaries like

    • “South Sudan Descending into the Heart of Darkness,” December 30, 2013;
    • “Millions in South Sudan Eating Leaves and Grass … Like Cows,” October 29, 2015;
    • “South Sudan: Another Genocide Developing in Africa,” December 19, 2016.

    No surprise then that South Sudan is one of the countries the UN is claiming today needs “an immediate injection of funds … to avert a catastrophe.”

    Incidentally, I was heartened that 60 Minutes, the most influential newsmagazine on television, finally ran a segment on this unfolding crisis last night. Because this amounted to having a fog horn join the whistles the rest of us have been blowing for years to sound the alarm.

    Above all, though, the sad, frustrating and abiding truth is that this crisis has more to do with the folly of “man’s inhumanity to man” than the wrath of Mother Nature. In fact, tribal conflict has been the root cause of nearly every humanitarian crisis that has plagued Africa since the end of colonization 50 years ago. Such conflicts invariably hamper irrigation, tilling and crop-rotation efforts to stave off famine.

    Not to mention the African leaders who misappropriate funds for humanitarian relief to buy arms for those tribal conflicts – a perversion I refer to as alms for arms. Of course, even more galling is the unconscionable way they misappropriate funds to finance their opulent lifestyles.

    Nonetheless, famine in Africa is still far more worthy of media coverage than the latest conspiracy in Trump’s mind. More to the point, my commentary “‘Another African Famine?! Nobody Cares!’ Then Call Me Nobody,” May 2, 2014, delineates the economic and moral dilemma this chronic crisis poses. I’ve decided I can do no better than to reprise it here, in its entirety.

    **********

    ‘Another African Famine?! Nobody Cares!’ Then Call Me Nobody

    More than 1 million people in South Sudan have fled their homes at a crucial time of the year: planting season. Famine, aid officials say, could be the result, and the UN’s top official for human rights said Wednesday she is appalled by the apparent lack of concern by the country’s two warring leaders that mass hunger looms.

    ‘If famine does take hold later in the year — and the humanitarian agencies are deeply fearful that it will — responsibility for it will lie squarely with the country’s leaders, who agreed to a cessation of hostilities in January and then failed to observe it themselves,’ said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay, referring to South Sudan’s president and the former vice president.

    (The Associated Press, April 30, 2014)

    To be fair, we have floods of Biblical proportions surging through the Deep South, fires from the pits of hell raging through the West, trains carrying crude oil derailing and exploding through the Northeast, and Donald Sterling’s racist outburst still reverberating throughout the country. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that the American media are ignoring the UN sounding this alarm about yet another famine in Africa.

    Indeed, CNN does not even deem this famine important enough to interrupt its 24/7 coverage of UFOs (unidentified floating objects, that is) masquerading as debris from missing flight MH370.

    Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 7.29.04 AMWhat’s more, every American can fairly ask: why should I care about starving kids in Africa when African leaders are the ones starving them, and their fellow Africans don’t seem to give a damn?

    No doubt the prevalence of drought-borne famine gives the impression that Africa is fated to Mother Nature’s neglect … or wrath. But the disillusioning truth is that the administrative incompetence and nefarious devices of African men are far more responsible for chronic starvation on that Dark Continent. It’s bad enough that these genocidal maniacs couldn’t care any less about causing starvation, but they don’t even have any compunctions about impeding, or even killing, foreign aid workers trying to deliver relief.

    And don’t get me started on countries like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and others competing to become the Taliban paradise Afghanistan used to be. I mean, what are we to make of a ragtag bunch of wannabe Islamists, calling themselves Boko Haram, kidnapping over 250 “mostly Christian” girls from a school in Nigeria to sell as child brides (in border countries)? This, simply because these ignoramuses think Western education is evil and, moreover, that girls should not be educated.

    And what of the Africans who traffic African migrants into Europe the way South Americans traffic illegal drugs into the United States? At the very least, this conjures up the inconvenient truth that, in far too many cases, Europeans did not enslave Africans so much as buy them from their fellow Africans as “chattel” (a.k.a. personal property).

    Incidentally, it was a discussion last night on this kidnapping and other self-inflicted wounds now festering all over Africa that led a dear friend to exclaim, “And now another fucking famine?! Nobody cares!” To which I replied, “Then call me nobody.”

    Starving-ChildAnyway, my Mummy used to guilt me into eating my vegetables by telling me how lucky I was compared to starving children in Africa. For some unknown reason, she seemed particularly concerned about starving children in Biafra. The cheeky little bugger that I was, though, I always told her that I’d be happy to send them my vegetables. But something stuck.

    This is why I’ve been doing the equivalent of sending my vegetables to starving children in Africa – ever since the Ethiopian Famine of 1984 sprouted the care my Mummy seeded when I was a child. And over the past decade – beginning with “Despite Live8 and G8, Relief Looms Like a Cruel Mirage to Millions of Africans Dying of Starvation” on July 21, 2005 – I’ve been using this weblog to entreat others to do whatever they can to help.

    As indicated above, however, even aid workers from organizations like CARE could be forgiven compassion fatigue for Africa, especially in light of sobering truths like this:

    Helping Africa is a noble cause, but the campaign has become a theater of the absurd – the blind leading the clueless. The record of Western aid to Africa is one of abysmal failure. More than $500 billion in foreign aid – the equivalent of four Marshall Aid Plans – was pumped into Africa between 1960 and 1997. Instead of increasing development, aid has created dependence.

    (CATO Institute, September 14, 2005)

    Worse still, according to a BBC Newsnight report on August 5, 2011, even leaders of a country as dependent on aid as Ethiopia invariably use development aid as “a weapon of oppression.”

    Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 1.17.17 PMIt’s clearly foolhardy for foreign governments to continue giving aid directly to African governments, only to have local leaders use that aid to line their pockets and oppress their people.

    But I am truly humbled by the thousands of foreign aid workers (mostly white Americans) who, despite all of the challenges and frustrations, continue to march to the front lines. They help combat everything from chronic poverty to the vicious cycle of tribal warfare I bemoaned just days ago in “South Sudan Continues Descent into Heart of Darkness,” April 25, 2014.

    Accordingly, I can never tire of doing what little I can to support them and keep the humanitarian work they do in public consciousness. And, in doing so, I hope you don’t mind my taking a page from my Mummy’s playbook by guilting you into donating (as I do) to their organizations, like UNICEF, USAID, Doctors Without Borders, UN World Food Programme, and CARE.

    **********

    Related commentaries:
    Despite Live8
    South Sudan continues descent
    ICC charging Bashir
    Another genocide developing
    Another famine…nobody cares

  • Friday, March 17, 2017 at 7:37 AM

    Happy St. Paddy’s Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    But beware the paddy wagon of Protestant Trump, America’s new anti-immigrant, religious bigot of a president.

  • Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 7:51 AM

    Trumpcare a Health Scare for Trump Voters

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Repealing and replacing Obamacare was the signature promise of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Therefore, you’d think the bill to implement it would augur well for the poor white folks who compose his base.

    Well, think again:

    In [Grant County, Nebraska], the President won over 93 percent of the vote in the last election. But Grant County is also a place that has benefited hugely from the Affordable Care Act [(ACA) a.k.a. Obamacare]. …

    Now, under the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, many Grant County residents would suffer steep cuts to the tax credits they’ve come to rely on. It’s a nationwide pattern: Some of the harshest consequences of the GOP’s health bill would fall on rural Republican strongholds — precisely the voters who helped elect Trump.

    (Washington Post, March 13, 2017)

    This report stemmed from the highly anticipated “score” of the Republican plan (the American Health Care Act (AHCA)), which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released on Monday.

    I imagine you’ve heard quite enough of the political bickering it triggered. But two CBO findings are worth highlighting:

    1. This Republican healthcare bill will grant billions in tax relief to rich people.
    2. It will strip healthcare coverage from 24 million poor people.

    Unsurprisingly, Democrats wasted little time denouncing, even mocking, the AHCA as furthering a social and moral code that smacks of “Robin Hood in reverse.”

    The CBO score shows just how empty the president’s promises, that everyone will be covered and costs will go down, have been,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. ‘This should be a looming stop sign for the Republicans’ repeal effort.’

    (New York Times, March 13, 2017)

    Truth be told, this Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare was in a legislative death spiral long before Monday. Nothing betrays this quite like Trump deflecting Democratic attempts to brand it “Trumpcare.” This, after all, is the TRUMP who has shamelessly branded everything from luxury hotels to cheap steaks with his name.

    Mind you, his deflection probably has something to do with this:

    According to new poll numbers, universal approval of [Obamacare] is higher than ever with 50 percent of Americans stating ‘no confidence’ in Republicans’ ability to create a replacement.

    (NBC News, January 17, 2017)

    Still, Republicans spent seven years vowing — as an article of socio-political and healthcare faith — to repeal Obamacare. Therefore, it speaks volumes about their unhinged opposition to it that, at this moment of reckoning, conservative Republicans are as opposed to their replacement plan as yellow dog Democrats.

    The fiercest opposition is coming from some of the most conservative Republicans in Congress who have labeled the new legislation ‘Obamacare Lite’ and ‘Obamacare 2.0.’ …

    The conservative backlash also does not reflect reservations among more moderate members of the party. Healthcare experts widely agree that the GOP plan would result in millions losing coverage – an outcome that some Republicans are reticent to try to defend to their constituents back home.

    (CNN, March 8, 2017)

    Apropos of which, I wrote many commentaries sounding alarms for those poor white folks “back home” – who Trump was misleading to vote against their own interest. They include “Trump for President?! Don’t Be a Sucker,” April 8, 2011, “On Syria (and almost every other issue) the American People Are Insolent, Ignorant, Idiots,” September 10, 2013, “In Defense of Obamacare Adviser’s Claim about Stupidity of the American Voter,” November 19, 2014, and “Trumpasites Already Gagging on Big Lies (a.k.a. ‘Alternative Facts’) and Outrageous Pledges They Swallowed,” January 30, 2017.

    Unfortunately, these folks are so uninformed, they’re just figuring out that Obamacare, which they detest as a socialist conspiracy the Muslim Obama led to take away their country, and the Affordable Care Act, which they hail for guaranteeing their right to healthcare, are in fact the same thing.

    In any event, here are excerpts from two of those commentaries. They reinforce my contention that the Trump phenomenon says far more about the stupid people who voted for him than the brazen hucksterism of Donald J. Trump.

    • From “New Hampshire Primary Proved One-Third of Republicans Are Gullible Fools,” February 12, 2016:

    Trump’s supporters are, for the most part, the same poor, uninsured white folks who are so “angry” with Obama, they support rich, insured politicians who are hell-bent on repealing the healthcare Obama provided for them. They are the same blue-color, white folks who act as if they have more in common with a white-color billionaire like Trump than fellow blue-color blacks and Hispanics.

    • From “WTF! President-elect Donald J. Trump?! America. What. Have. You. Done.” November 10, 2017:

    Hence, chances are very good that his presidency will prove a far greater disappointment to his rabid supporters than his enraged detractors.

    That said, Republicans would do well to abandon their ill-fated plan and enlist Democrats to pass legislation that repairs Obamacare — in ways Obama himself spent much of his presidency urging the Republican-controlled Congress to do. Of course, the popularity of that (saving-grace/face) legislation would be such that shyster Trump would surely brand it Trumpcare to feather his legacy.

    Related commentaries:
    Trump for pres? Don’t be a sucker
    Stupidity of American voter
    In defense of Obamacare
    Trumpasites already gagging

  • Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 8:39 AM

    When Landfills Kill – the Real Life of “Slumdogs”…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    And none of them even dream of becoming a millionaire.

    The film Slumdog Millionaire was all the rage in 2008. It garnered ten Oscar nominations and won eight, including for Best Picture and Directing (by Danny Boyle).

    But I took umbrage at its rank exploitation of those poor Indian kids – who actually live in the slum and live off the landfill that provided the setting for this “Hollywood” film. Truth be told, it had me irretrievably shocked and dismayed at the title.

    After all, millions of people around the world live in similar settings. And associating the word “millionaire” with any of them is a cruel joke. On the other hand, the word “slumdog” is all too apropos. Not least because they really do live like stray dogs – scavenging amidst piles of human trash/waste for food and having to fight off all kinds of wild animals, including buzzards, storks, and cows, for the choice bits.

    This is why I was utterly stupefied that so many people found Slumdog Millionaire’s romanticized version of this life so entertaining. I mean, imagine a film titled Black Slave Millionaire – with a similar plot but set on a plantation in the Antebellum South. Because there’s no denying that Slumdog Millionaire would have more in common with that absurd reality than the fairy tale it depicts.

    And don’t get me started on the farcical cultural appropriation that animates this film. For it intimates that Indian “slumdogs” share Western fantasies about winning a game show with the tantalizing, pipe-dream title, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Not to mention that it unwittingly parodies the real-life tragedy of chronically poor Westerners who pawn food stamps for lottery tickets, hoping to strike it rich.

    Yet the farfetched narrative of Slumdog Millionaire became so ingrained in public consciousness that news organizations began reporting it as fact. No less an organization than CNN did just that in a truly surreal April 15, 2015, report on photographer Timothy Bouldry – who did in a photo essay what director Boyle did in his feature film:

    About 100 families live inside the Boragaon landfill [scavenging] the area for treasure – a tiny scrap of metal, a bit of plastic, maybe a bone. …

    But don’t be deceived: the people living here feel anything but destitute. Bouldry uses words such as ‘love,’ ‘hope’ and ‘spirituality’ to describe them.

    ‘I found that the landfill community is content … not jaded by modern civilization,’ Bouldry said.

    If this idiot could travel back in time, I suppose he’d describe the plantation life of black slaves in similar fashion. Further to this case, though, he’d have you believe that these poor Indians really prefer to live in slums – scavenging in landfills alongside all the other strays of modern civilization. Again, the manifest absurdity of this would be laughable if CNN did not report it as fact.

    My point is that, but for Boyle’s film, such an absurd notion would never have occurred to an otherwise sensible man like Bouldry. After all, saying these slumdogs are “not jaded by modern civilization” makes even less sense than saying poor people are not jaded by the lifestyles of the rich and famous. No shit!

    Which is why nothing was more exploitative than Boyle plucking real-life slumdogs from obscurity in India to play in his movie, having them live like the rich and famous for the awards season, and then tossing them back into their slum when he was done with them – as if they themselves were nothing but trash.

    On Sunday night, Azharuddin Ismail and Rubina Ali were in Hollywood, California, getting celebrity treatment as eight Oscars were awarded to the movie they starred in, Slumdog Millionaire.

    Thursday night, the two children were sleeping at home in Mumbai, India. Azharuddin sleeps under a plastic sheet in a shantytown beside a railway track, where the smell of urine and cow dung lingers in the air. Rubina sleeps with her parents and siblings in a tiny shack beside an open drain.

    (CNN, February 27, 2009)

    Enough.

    But here is what has me so riled up about this film – all over again:

    Thirty-five people have been killed in a landslide at a vast rubbish dump on the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, officials say.

    Many people had been scavenging at the site to make a living, and some even resided there permanently.

    There are fears that the death toll will rise further.

    (BBC, March 12, 2017)

    They died rather dramatically from a landfill landslide on this occasion in Ethiopia. But I suspect just as many slumdogs die rather quietly from the landfill toxins they ingest on a regular basis in India.

    Alas, such is the real life of the people Slumdog Millionaire depicts. And I doubt any of them has ever spared a moment of their day to fantasize about winning a game show and becoming a millionaire.

    More to the point, it hardly speaks well of modern civilization that we are normalizing, even romanticizing, people living in and living off bio-hazardous landfills. Instead, we should be pressuring leaders of developing countries to spend less on things like crony capital expenditures and useless military weapons and more on things like subsidized housing and health care for the poorest of their poor people.

    That said, I’d be remiss not to mention that, a week ago today, family and friends down in The Bahamas began sounding alarms about a massive landfill fire emitting so much smoke they could barely breathe.

    You might think I should, but I couldn’t possibly comment. For to do so in this context would be tantamount to complaining about “rich people problems.” Nobody died. Nobody lost her home.

    *  This commentary was originally published yesterday, Monday, at 8:54 a.m.

  • Saturday, March 11, 2017 at 8:16 AM

    Be Ready for Your Close-Up – Big Brother Is Watching 24/7

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    By the way, if you’re a law-abiding person or just a smooth criminal engaged in conventional crimes, get over yourself. Big Brother is not interested in you, so you can look as ugly as you always do.

    He’s only interested in Jihadi pawns engaged in terrorist activities.

    Related commentaries:
    NSA/CIA bogeymen

  • Friday, March 10, 2017 at 12:24 PM

    Aung San Suu Kyi Lording Over Myanmar’s Crimes Against Humanity

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Government forces have been perpetrating crimes against humanity for years in Myanmar, which rival those government forces have been perpetrating in South Sudan. Yet, while I suspect many of you have trending knowledge of the latter, I suspect few of you know anything of the former.

    No doubt this stems primarily from your lack of interest. But it also stems from a double standard in media coverage, which can be explained in one name: Aung San Suu Kyi.

    In short, far too many news organizations have a vested interest in propagating her fairy tale – namely, of the imprisoned human rights campaigner who becomes head of the government that once imprisoned her. Therefore, they are loath to report that Suu Kyi seems afflicted with a grandiose form of Stockholm Syndrome, which has her lording over crimes her oppressors could only dream of perpetrating against her.

    I, however, never bought into that fairy tale. In fact, even before she became the de facto head of Myanmar’s government, I began questioning Suu Kyi’s commitment to the cause of universal human rights, which she once championed and even personified. This, notwithstanding the Nobel committee awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which I dismissed as no more meritorious than the prize it awarded Barack Obama mere months into his presidency in 2009.

    As it happened, Suu Kyi did not take long to begin vindicating my cynicism. I duly lamented in many commentaries, notably in “Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming Democratic Mascot of Myanmar’s Dictatorship,” March 28, 2013, “Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi Courting Totalitarian Power at the Expense of Democratic Principles,” September 14, 2015, “Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s Mandela, Is a Religious Bigot Who Condones Ethnic Cleansing,” March 30, 2016, and “Myanmar’s Rohingya Speak of Genocidal Terror,” December 13, 2016.

    This is why I see no point in continuing to raise my still small voice to decry ongoing crimes against humanity in Myanmar. Incidentally, the same holds for South Sudan, where genocidal crimes are rivaling those that were perpetrated so infamously in Rwanda. I duly lamented in many commentaries. But, as this is about Myanmar, I will only cite the most recent: “South Sudan: Another Genocide Developing in Africa,” December 19, 2016.

    Instead, I shall suffice to endorse the reporting of news organizations like the BBC, which stand out for showing more interest in the victims of this genocide than in treating Suu Kyi like a sacred cow.

    A top UN official says ‘crimes against humanity’ are being committed by the military and police against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

    In camps in Bangladesh, the BBC heard allegations from recently arrived Rohingya refugees that the [Myanmar] security forces had shot civilians, and abducted and raped young girls. …

    [S]ince she won an election landslide 16 months ago, Ms. Suu Kyi has not done any interviews with journalists based in Myanmar – international or foreign – or held a meaningful press conference.

    (BBC, March 10, 2017)

    Except that her silence speaks volumes. No?

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken them?

    You promised the meek shall inherit the earth. 

    But, at this rate, none will be left to do so …

    Related commentaries:
    Buddhists religiously cleansing
    Suu Kyi becoming Democratic mascot
    Myanmar’s Mandela, Rohingya genocide
    Rohingya Speak
    South Sudan

  • Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 1:50 PM

    Trump Picking Huntsman for Russia Suggests He Really Is Putin’s Puppet

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Reports are that President Trump has picked former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. for ambassador to Russia.

    The problem, however, is that Huntsman has no experience dealing with Russia, does not speak the language, and displayed little understanding of Russian affairs during his ill-fated run for president in 2012.

    To be fair, he speaks Mandarin and has lived in Taiwan. No doubt this is why Obama picked him for ambassador to China.

    Except that here is what Trump himself tweeted about Huntsman’s presidential campaign and tenure as ambassador to China, respectively:

    This is why the only thing that explains Trump picking him is that he wants Huntsman to “[give] away our country to [Russia].”

    Trump and his putative puppet master, Russian President Vladimir Putin, clearly intend to use Huntsman as their gofer. And don’t think for a moment that he will resist. For he has shown repeatedly that he has the political spine of a “perfectly lubricated weathervane.”

    This, after all, is the same Huntsman who, just months ago, found Trump’s misogynistic (pussy-grabbing) rhetoric so repugnant, he called on Trump to end his presidential campaign. Not to mention that he had already outed himself as self-righteous hypocrite in 2012, when he thanked Obama for that Chinese ambassadorship by trying to oust him from office.

    No surprise then that, once again, Huntsman is blowing in the wind – from serving as Trump’s moral compass to serving as his political lapdog in the proverbial blink of an eye. But who better to do Trump and Putin’s bidding than a man with that kind of situational ethics?

    In any event, his appointment also means that Putin can now recall Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – who has become downright toxic, given all of the congressional investigations revolving around his contacts with members of Trump’s presidential campaign. Of course, why would Putin need an ambassador to DC when he has a puppet in the White House?

    All of which lends further credence to the shocking headline of my January 10 commentary: “US Intel Says Putin Has Compromising Info on Trump”

    Related commentaries:
    Compromising info

  • Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at 6:23 AM

    A Day Without a Woman…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Organizers say it was intended in the same spirit of “love and liberation” that inspired women’s marches worldwide. …

    The national strike movement on Wednesday coincides with International Women’s Day. It aims to draw attention to inequities working women face compared to men, from wage disparity to harassment to job insecurity.

    (CNN, March 8, 2017)

    With all due respect to the women of Lysistrata, however, this strike does not call for the women of America to stop performing, er, enjoying conjugal activities ;)

    Related commentaries:
    Women march against Trump

  • Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 8:03 AM

    Russia, Iran, and North Korea Making Trump Look like a Chump

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Remember the campaign days when Trump used to boast that no country would dare disrespect his presidency the way he claimed so many were disrespecting Obama’s?

    For example, he routinely ridiculed Obama as weak and pathetic for

    • Allowing Russian fighter jets to buzz US warships in the Black Sea; Trump boasted:

    It just shows how low we’ve gone where they can toy with us like that. …

    When that sucker comes by you, you gotta shoot. … [I]t’s a total lack of respect for Obama, which [sic] as you know, they don’t respect.

    (Newsweek, May 3, 2016)

    • Allowing Iranian dinghies to harass US warships in the Persian Gulf; Trump boasted:

    [W]hen they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures that our people – that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.

    (CNN, September 9, 2016)

    • Allowing North Korean nuclear missile tests to menace US allies in Asia; Trump boasted:

    Am I ready to bomb this reactor? You’re damned right. I advocate a surgical strike against these outlaws before they pose a real threat.

    (Korea Times, May 11, 2016)

    Yet he has already allowed all of these things to happen on his watch.

    Exhibit A

    The US military has released several photos of what it says were Russian fighter jets ‘buzzing’ the deck of a US warship in the Black Sea last week.

    The images of SU-24 fighter jets off the bow of the American guided missile destroyer USS Porter emerged as the commander of the US military arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan, to meet with his Russian counterpart.

    (CNN, February 16, 2017)

    Exhibit B

    A US Navy ship was forced to change course when fast-moving Iranian vessels approached it in the Strait of Hormuz, US officials say.

    The USNS Invincible changed direction when the other vessels came within 600 yards (550m) before stopping.

    The Iranian ships are believed to belong to the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

    (BBC, March 6, 2017)

    Exhibit C

    North Korea launched four missiles Monday morning, a provocative barrage that coincided both with joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises on the southern half of the peninsula and with the opening of the annual National People’s Congress in China.

    The launches follow a remarkable month in which Kim Jong-un’s regime tested a solid-fuel rocket that it says is part of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States and in which the regime is accused of assassinating the leader’s half brother.

    Both actions have angered allies and adversaries in the region, and Monday’s launches will only exacerbate that.

    (Washington Post, March 5, 2017)

    Despite his campaign boasts, Trump’s only reaction has been to tweet the media down rabbit holes, chasing one carrot stick of a conspiracy after another. Incidentally, unlike the Pavlovian reporters and pundits who go burrowing every time, I won’t dignify his conspiracies by commenting on them.

    In any case, the real story here is not the international laughingstock Trump is making of his presidency with his ignorant and disruptive tweets, which are also destroying what little credibility he had upon assuming the office. Rather, it’s the way events — at home and abroad — are exposing his P.T. Barnumesque bluster as all show and no action.

    At home, those events range from the sublime to the ridiculous — highlighted by the courts rejecting his Muslim travel ban to the National Park Service declaring his inauguration crowd size far smaller than Obama’s, respectively. Abroad, they are highlighted by the events bulleted above. But two others deserve dishonorable mention:

    1. His No. 1 BFF Russian President Vladimir Putin forcing him to back off his promise to tear up the nuclear deal with Iran on day one;
    2. His No. 2 BFF Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forcing him to back off his promise to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – also on day one.

    These and other humiliations explain why we we are witnessing Trump behave the way all blowhard bullies do when they finally get punched in the face: He’s whining, whimpering, and flailing like a coward; anything but backing up his boasts with balls.

    Actually, notwithstanding the foregoing, the fallout from his conspiratorial tweet on Saturday – about Obama wiretapping his phone – is noteworthy. Because, if there were ever an occasion for a president to wag the dog, this is it. Another rabbit-hole tweet just won’t do.

    But this tweet speaks volumes about the stubborn, reckless and petulant nature of Trump’s puerile mind. It shows that he learned nothing from the folly of his birther conspiracy. In fact, his congenital gullibility is such that he probably still believes Obama was born in Kenya.

    No surprise then that right-wing nutters now have him believing that Obama bugged his phone. But the wonder is that it did not occur even to his man-child mind to clear things up with his “beautiful friend” Obama before taking to twitter.

    Frankly, the morning after Election Day, I warned it would be thus  – in “WTF! President-elect Donald J. Trump?! America. What. Have. You. Done.” November 10, 2016. And, trust me, it’s only a matter of time before his reckless behavior triggers dire consequences.

    In the meantime, I wish reporters and pundits would stop feigning consternation over Trump accusing Obama of being a “bad (or sick) guy” who would wiretap political opponents. After all, here is the definitive explanation I provided for this accusation seven months ago:

    The psychopathology afoot here is called projection. And it defines and explains almost every charge Trump has hurled against his opponents throughout this presidential campaign.

    (“Forget the Clinton Foundation. Shut Down the Trump Organization!” The iPINIONS Journal, August 26, 2016)

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, March 6, 2017 at 9:24 AM

    Smart China Spending Less on Military; Stupid US Spending More

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Listening to President Trump rail about how underfunded the US military is, you’d think President Obama spent the past eight years defunding the Department of Defense; you know, the way Trump is planning to defund the Department of Education.

    In 2014, the most recent year available, the United States led the world in military spending at $610 billion, marking 34 percent of the world total, SIPRI found.

    US expenditures were nearly three times higher than China, the second-highest nation with an estimated $216 billion in military spending. Russia was in third place at $84.5 billion.

    (Politifact, January 13, 2016)

    In fact, the $610 billion the United States spent was more than the $601 billion the next seven countries spent that year – combined. More to the point, though, far from aping the Soviet Union by challenging the United States to an arms race, China is ceding the (pyrrhic) victory.

    Defying pressure for a strong increase in defense spending, China said on Saturday its military budget this year would grow about 7 percent, its slowest pace since 2010.

    Last year, with China’s economy slowing, the defense budget recorded its lowest increase in six years, 7.6 percent, the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit increases.

    With the administration of new US President Donald Trump proposing a 10 percent jump in military spending in 2017, and worries about potential disputes with the United States over the South China Sea and the status of Taiwan, some in China had been pressing for a forceful message from this year’s defense budget.

    (Reuters, March 4, 2017)

    In other words, the United States will be spending even more on military hardware it does not need. Meanwhile, nearly 50 million of its citizens remain mired in poverty. By enlightening contrast, China will be spending even less. This will enable it to continue lifting tens of million out of poverty each year.

    Incidentally, the United States spends 3.3 percent of GDP on defense; China spends 1.3 percent. But it’s misleading to cite the roughly 10 percent the United States spent during the 1980s to justify any increase today.

    Not least because, back then, there was relative parity between mandatory spending for programs like Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and Interest on the Debt, and discretionary spending for programs like Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and other agencies (like the EPA).

    Today, mandatory spending consumes nearly 70 percent of the federal budget. What’s more, of the 30 percent left for discretionary spending, defense spending already consumes over half (16.2).

    This is why there’s no way Trump can reconcile his promises to spend over $600 billion on defense and $1 trillion on infrastructure, especially given his promise to lower taxes to boot. He can only do so if he’s prepared to rack up Obama-like deficits and explode the national debt. Except that he spent most his campaign denouncing Obama for doing so.

    Mind you, Obama could justify his spending as absolutely necessary to prevent another Great Depression. Trump, however, cannot offer any credible justification. Not least because, unlike Obama, he inherited a booming economy and greatly reduced military obligations (notably in places like Iraq and Afghanistan).

    George H.W. Bush famously described Ronald Reagan’s attempt in 1980 to reconcile similar budgetary promises as voodoo economics. That description is even more apt today with respect to Trump’s attempt.

    That said, China has clearly learned from the Soviet Union’s mistake. Reducing its military expenditure below 2 percent of GDP demonstrates this. After all, nothing hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union quite like its misguided folly of measuring its status as a superpower primarily by the size of its military.

    Specifically, instead of using military power to exert fleeting influence around the world (the way America and Russia did during the Cold War), China is using hard cash to buy vesting influence. I have commented on this enlightened feature of its foreign policy in many commentaries, including “China Buying Political Dominion Over the Caribbean (Latin America and Africa),” February 22, 2005, and “China Buying the Global Influence Russia and US Fighting For,” October 19, 2016.

    The above explains why it is so mindboggling that the United States seems hell-bent on committing the same blunder that doomed the Soviet Union. For it too is now building up its military at the expense of the general welfare of its people. Only this explains Trump’s proposals to cut spending on everything from education to healthcare and the environment..

    Many in Washington are rationalizing this build up by arguing that China is becoming the military threat the Soviet Union was – notwithstanding clear and convincing evidence to contrary. Alas, the mercenary demands of the military industrial complex, which former President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned about, compels them to do so.

    But I’ve been in the vanguard of those pooh-poohing that argument – as I did in “China’s First Aircraft Carrier Incites (More) Irrational Fear,” June 9, 2011.

    _____________________

    Given the relatively small amount it is spending on its military, China seems to fully appreciate that having a superpower economy and an ordinary military is far more sustainable than vice versa – as the Soviet Union found out.

    On the other hand, the United States seems blithely unconcerned about this foreboding precedent. Only this explains the way it is turning its superpower economy into an ordinary one with spendthrift military adventures (like those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Yemen), all of which benefit only a few war profiteers. But the categorical imperative of managing this symbiotic relationship between economic and military power couldn’t be any clearer.

    Apropos of the United States spending way beyond its means, the March 10, 2011, edition of CNN quotes no less a person than US Chairman of Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen saying that

    ‘The world’s biggest debtor nation cannot remain the world’s sole superpower indefinitely.’

    _____________________

    This brings me to the contradiction inherent in Trump, on the one hand, complaining about the United States defending rich countries (like Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Japan), while on the other hand, insisting that America’s military must remain bigger than the next seven military powers combined.

    Of course, Trump probably has no clue about the role Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) has played in preventing military confrontation among the world’s major powers since WWII. But this MAD doctrine explains why, despite Russia’s mischief making and adventurism in Europe, it has not dared to launch military aggression against any NATO country. Russia knows that doing so could trigger a nuclear conflagration.

    But Trump need only look at the mockery North Korea has made of America’s military (super) power. For it has shown that America – with an arsenal of nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons – doesn’t dare attack a country so poor it can’t even feed itself, if that country could retaliate with just one nuclear weapon. Exhibit A in this respect is America picking on countries like Grenada, Panama, and Iraq, but leaving North Korea well enough alone.

    As it happens, North Korean President Kim Jong-un reinforced this MAD asymmetrical fact just hours ago. Specifically, he conducted yet more ballistic missile tests, daring self-proclaimed strongman Donald Trump to put up or shut up.

    After all, Trump made quite a show during his presidential campaign of vowing that North Korea would never dare conduct such tests if he, not the “weak Obama,” were president. Yet I’ve already had cause to ridicule his inability to put up in “Trump ‘Leading from Behind’ as World Reacts to (Latest) North Korean Nuclear Test,” February 14, 2017.

    But all of this raises the question: Why spend $600 million a year on military armaments when a country can defend itself at home and exercise its power abroad, just as effectively, for just one-third of that amount?

    This, after all, is precisely what China is doing — complete with exercising its power in the South China Sea; what Russia is doing — complete with exercising its power in Syria; and what England did — complete with exercising its power in the Falklands.

    Not to mention that Trump is compounding the folly of military spending by reducing funding for “soft power,” scaling back development of alternative fuels, and rolling back regulations for environmental protection; whereas China is increasing funding, ramping up development, and implementing regulations of the same, respectively.

    The juxtaposition of these and other American and Chinese policies means that, in due course,

    • China will have the biggest economy in the world;
    • China (with a population of 1.3 billion) will have a per capita income that rivals that of the United States (with a population of just 319 million);
    • China will have air and water that will make other countries green with envy.

    But, hey

    • The United States will still have the biggest military – by a “yuge” margin.

    But the aforementioned soft-power plank of Trump’s penny-wise, pound-foolish policies deserves further comment. Not least because the $25 billion the Department of Defense wastes each year could nearly fund the entire Department of State, which executes soft-power initiatives.

    Yet, while calling for a wanton increase in spending for the Department of Defense, he is calling for an ill-advised decrease in spending for the Department of State, including a “dramatic cut” in foreign aid (which accounts for less than 1 percent of the federal budget).

    This decrease in spending willfully ignores expert assessments that diplomacy and aid are indispensable – not only for avoiding wars, but even for winning them. Here, for example, is how no less a person than former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates framed this symbiosis nearly a decade ago:

    Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called yesterday for a ‘dramatic increase’ in the US budget for diplomacy and foreign aid, arguing that al-Qaeda does a better job than Washington of communicating its message overseas and that US deployment of civilians abroad has been ‘ad hoc and on the fly.’

    In a speech that emphasized the importance of ‘soft power’ to prevent and end conflicts, Gates suggested beefing up the Department of State’s foreign affairs budget of $36 billion, even as he acknowledged that Pentagon observers might consider it ‘blasphemy’ for a sitting defense secretary to make such an appeal for another agency.

    ‘One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win.’

    (Washington Post, November 27, 2007)

    Frankly, Trump’s plan to cut foreign aid makes even less sense than his plan to ban immigrants. Like the former, the latter is supposed to make America safe(r). The problem is that, when it comes to violent crimes, statistics show that America has far more to fear from native-born citizens than refuge-seeking immigrants.

    So Trump has it ass-backwards — again.

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  • Saturday, March 4, 2017 at 7:48 AM

    About that Bull Run on Wall Street

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Trump hailing the Dow jumping over 21,000 is rather like Mother Goose hailing the cow jumping over the moon.

    Hey, diddle, diddle…

    Suckers beware!

  • Friday, March 3, 2017 at 6:57 AM

    Tech Companies Worse than Snowden’s Bogeyman NSA

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Comcast, Verizon, and other Internet service providers got the go-ahead from the Federal Communications Commission today to sell your personal information without your permission. …

    Last October the agency passed a set of rules that would have required Internet providers to take steps to protect your private data from hackers, notify you if someone hacked your data, and require your explicit permission before selling your data. Today the FCC suspended those rules before they took effect.

    (Wired, March 1, 2017)

    I trust this betrayal – of tech companies selling your personal information – does not come as “breaking news” to any of you. After all, this has to be an abiding concern to anyone who uses the Internet for anything more than posting self-flattering selfies or attention-seeking tweets.

    I, for one, have been sounding alarms about this betrayal for years. Not least because of the vexing, Big-Brother phenomena of, among other privacy violations,

    • Google monitoring every stroke you make on your keyboard;
    • Amazon knowing every thing you need to buy … before you do;
    • Facebook choosing all of your friends of you.

    Unfortunately, for all intents and purposes, my alarms registered like the sound of one hand clapping – in the wilderness.

    And, the concomitant outrage Edward Snowden was inciting only exacerbated my consternation and dismay. Perhaps you recall how he was demonizing the NSA, while saying nary a word about these tech companies; this, even though the scope of NSA surveillance was only a fraction of theirs.

    Here is how I decried the penny-wise, pound-foolish outrage he incited in “Facebook Complaining about NSA Spying? Ha!” March 15, 2014.

    ___________________

    You are probably aware that President Obama appointed a commission to recommend cosmetic changes to the NSA programs. But he only did so to avoid having to point out how stupid the American people are for buying into Snowden’s self-righteous and misguided outrage.

    After all, the NSA collects metadata for the sole purpose of trying to keep them safe. By contrast, these outraged nincompoops are showing nary a concern about tech companies tracking every move they make online for the sole purpose of trying to sell them stuff. Which makes the open letter Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and AOL sent to Obama last week complaining about NSA surveillance a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    ___________________

    Yet, thanks to Snowden, the Obama administration was forced to put a band aid on the scratch to privacy concerns, which surveillance by NSA represents, while leaving untreated the hemorrhaging wound to those concerns, which tracking by tech companies represent.

    Now, thanks to the Trump administration, tech companies are now free to sell your private browsing habits even to porn sites. Which might explain why ads for sex toys keep popping up wherever you go online.

    Again, the NSA is only interested in determining whether you are complicit in or tied to any terrorist activity. Whereas tech companies, and every company that collects any data about you, are interested not only in selling you stuff, but also in selling your data without your permission – often with grave consequences.

    What if you were to have a medical operation refused, without knowing it was because the hospital obtained a secret report that listed you as unlikely to pay? … What if you didn’t get a job, without knowing it was because of a report that listed you as a possible drug addict?

    Those are the claims being made by critics of data brokers, companies which collect personal information on people through both public and private sources — from court records to websites [think Facebook] to store sales [think Amazon] — and provide it to a wide range of buyers.

    (Newsweek, May 30, 2016)

    So netizens beware: Private companies are not just watching you (irony intended). They are pimping you out.

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  • Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at 10:37 AM

    Trump’s 3-Card Monte of an Address to Joint Session of Congress

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Idle bluster, abject ignorance, bald-faced lies, and thin-skinned petulance characterized Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The same, alas, are characterizing his presidency.

    But it’s one thing for the media to cover his campaign as little more than reality TV. It’s quite another for them to cover his presidency as such. Yet that’s precisely what they’re doing – even reporting on his snarky, whiny tweets as “breaking news.”

    No surprise then that they hyped his first address to a joint session of Congress tonight as if it were a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) event. Some news stations couldn’t help reinforcing this allusion by reminding viewers that he picked former WWE CEO Linda McMahon to serve in his cabinet (as head of the Small Business Administration).

    True to form, Trump delivered nothing more than his all too familiar screed of wishful thinking and grandiose promises – premised mainly on alternative facts. In other words, he treated us to a “presidential” version of his campaign stump speech, which curiously enough he has made a show of delivering several times since his inauguration.

    Sure enough, he previewed the manifest absurdity of much of what he said tonight by toasting himself – at a dinner for the National Governors Association on Sunday – as follows:

    I can say that, after four weeks – it’s been a lot of fun – but we’ve accomplished almost everything we’ve started out to accomplish.

    (Washington Post, February 27, 2017)

    He then dispatched his spinmeisters to propagate the Goebbelsian big lie that he accomplished more in his first month than most presidents accomplished in their first term.

    The reality, of course, is that he has the lowest job approval of any president (at 44 percent) since Gallup began tracking the early days of presidential terms six decades ago. No doubt this is because he spent most of his early days throwing twitter tantrums, waging love-hate warfare with the press, and making a show of signing executive orders that do little more than offer comfort to fools.

    The hypocrisy of his executive orders is galling even for Trump. After all, he spent the past six years denouncing Obama for governing by them, despite the fact that Obama only did so to circumvent the orchestrated efforts of a Republican-controlled Congress to obstruct his policies – no matter how salutary.

    Yet Trump stood before this joint session tonight and hailed his own torrent of executive orders as if they were manna from heaven that will sustain American security and prosperity for eternity. This, even though he has a Republican-controlled Congress that appears as willing to implement his policies as they were determined to obstruct Obama’s. Not to mention that everyone knows his executive orders will not survive the first day of his successor’s presidency – whether it’s Democratic or Republican.

    Meanwhile, for all the boast of his accomplishments, Trump could not show that he has actually done anything to

    • reform the tax code;
    • repeal and replace Obamacare;
    • reform immigration laws and build that wall.

    By comparison, at this point in his presidency, Obama had not only signed as many executive orders, but could also show that he had already

    • rescued the global economy from another Great Depression;
    • granted women the right to sue for equal pay;
    • laid the foundation for implementing healthcare reform (a.k.a. Obamacare).

    No wonder then that Obama had a comparative job approval of 59 percent.

    Still, it is noteworthy that Trump spent much of his address doubling down on his dystopian claims about some phantom threat illegal immigration poses, especially from Mexico. He dramatized this by introducing relatives of loved ones who were victims of crimes illegal immigrants committed.

    This reflects his delusional belief that immigrants constitute a menacing wave that will soon have all of America awash in crime – presumably aping the native-born Americans who have already turned cities like Baltimore and Chicago into crime-ridden morasses. You probably recall this signature line from the speech announcing his presidential campaign:

    They’re bringing drugs; they’re bringing crime; they’re rapists; and some, I assume, are good people.

    (Washington Post, June 16, 2015)

    But anyone who knows anything about illegal immigration knows that, contrary to Trump’s scapegoating and scaremongering:

    Several studies, over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

    (New York Times, January 26, 2017)

    Clearly, targeting illegal immigrants in a campaign to combat violent crime is rather like targeting heroin addicts in a campaign to combat illegal drugs. Yet Trump has predicated his entire presidency on building an anti-immigrant wall – so high they can’t get over it, so low they can’t get under it, and so wide they can’t get around it.

    You’d think his secretary of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly, would have disabused Trump of this folly by now. For example, Kelly could have pointed out how much the US economy depends on the manual labor of the very illegal immigrants he wants to either keep out or deport.

    Of course, hope springs eternal that, for the education of President Trump, other Cabinet secretaries will emulate

    • Nikki Haley, his ambassador to the UN, who disabused him of the folly that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is negotiable;
    • James Mattis, his secretary of defense, who disabused him of the folly that NATO is obsolete;
    • H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, who is trying to disabuse him of the folly that gratuitously insulting all Muslims, by using the epithet “radical Islamic terrorists,” will help America defeat al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups.

    But, believe me, building that wall will be tantamount to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face

    Incidentally, apropos of offering comfort to fools, he did just that during a pre-address interview with a gaggle of news anchors earlier today. Specifically, he proclaimed that “the time is right for an immigration bill” — as long as both sides are willing to compromise.

    But this is every bit as meaningless, and makes as much a mockery of presidential leadership, as the proclamation he made during a joint press conference with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month. Specifically, he proclaimed that the time is right for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal — as long as both sides are willing to compromise.

    Meanwhile, conspicuously absent from Trump’s address was any mention of the clear and present danger Russia poses to American democracy. Given the alarms all 17 US intelligence agencies have sounded in this regard, a plan to confront Russians, not one to pick on Mexicans, should have been the clarion call of this address.

    Instead, Trump seems intent on helping Russia hasten America’s downfall. Only this explains his Manchurian-like efforts to delegitimize so many democratic institutions – from its independent courts to its free press; so much so that you’d think he were executing direct orders from his puppet master, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    To comment any further on this would risk beating a dead horse. Therefore, I refer you to “US Intel Says Putin Has Compromising Information on Trump,” January 10, 2017, and “The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected Outcome of US Election,” December 12, 2016. I warned in the latter that, despite his antic deference to Putin, Trump will have a day of reckoning soon enough – when he will have to confront Putin as the geo-strategic enemy he is.

    But, believe me, ignoring the threat Russia poses will be tantamount to fiddling while Rome burns …

    Still, nowhere was Trump’s three-card monte of an address more deceptive than in his failure to mention any of the campaign promises he has already broken. Most notable were his promises to

    • tear up Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, which he avoids mentioning like the plague;
    • move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which hung over the aforementioned news conference with the Israeli prime minister like a Damoclean sword, daring either one to even suggest it;
    • drain the swamp of Wall-Street creatures who peddle so much corrupting influence in Washington, D.C., which he has only added to with his cabinet nominations.

    In case you forgot, he promised to do all of these on day one. But, even if you read it with a magnifying glass, you will not find a mention of either one in this address.

    On the other hand, it is noteworthy that Trump hailed the promises corporate CEOs made (he seems to think in fealty to him) to open new manufacturing plants and bring jobs back to America. But I suspect their corporate promises will prove every bit as misleading as his campaign promises.

    More to the point, I am convinced that few, if any, of the policies Trump proposed tonight will ever be enacted into law. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

    For here is how Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the most influential Republicans in Congress, greeted Trump’s ballyhooed budget proposal, which is supposed to pay for all of his plans to “Make America Great Again”:

    It’s dead on arrival, it’s not going to happen, it would be a disaster.

    (Washington Post, February 28, 2017)

    And, tellingly, the declared intent of Graham and other Republicans to block his budget proposal pales in comparison to that of other Republicans to block his proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare. Which raises the question: Who needs Democrats to serve as the loyal opposition when Republicans seem this intent on doing so?

    In fact, Republicans were competing with Democrats to preempt Trump’s address with warnings that, legislatively, it would amount to much ado about nothing. And it speaks volumes that the most positive thing Republicans are saying about his address is that, for the first time in his presidency, Trump struck and maintained a presidential tone … for one whole hour. Never mind that this smacks of the kind of compliment one might give a dog after it finally performs a new trick flawlessly.

    That said, my version of the most famous part of Shakespeare’s Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 24-28, seems a fitting way to end this commentary:

    Trump’s but a born narcissist and rich huckster

    That blurts and tweets for media consumption

    Craving more attention: it is a ruse

    Played by a real con man, full of rant and boasting,

    Serving just his ego.

    I urge you to bear my criticisms and warnings in mind. Especially when you hear politicians, pundits, and reporters expressing situational shock and awe at how presidential “Teleprompter Don” acted.

    Of course, the media have set the bar so low for his job performance that his childish alter ego could crawl over it on all fours. But, despite his penchant for the histrionics of reality TV, it will not do for him to just play a president on TV — episodically.

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    *  This commentary was originally published on Tuesday at 11:19 p.m.

     

  • Monday, February 27, 2017 at 7:29 AM

    And the Oscar Goes To…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m on record stating how much I dislike the annual Academy Awards show (the Oscars). Because I have little regard for preening, pampered poseurs showing off their borrowed frocks and bling-bling as a prelude to a [nearly four-hour] show — only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for actor and actress in a leading role, actor and actress in a supporting role, best director, and best picture). …

    And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.

    (“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    The above explains my contention that this awards show would be much better if it were limited to one hour. Failing that, presenting at least one of the six major awards every half hour would make it far more bearable.

    Unfortunately, producers invariably present one of them within the first half hour. They then inflict hours of ancillary presentations and Grammy-envy entertainment, before relieving pent-up frustrations – in an orchestrated frenzy – by presenting the remaining major awards in the last half hour. Which, of course, is rather like pushers giving users a free hit to get them hooked, knowing full well that they will be longing for that next hit, no matter how long it takes.

    Incidentally, the way Hollywood stars telegraphed their intent to turn this show into a presidential roast of Donald Trump would have been enough for me to tune out – if I were not already intent on doing so. After all, CNN and MSNBC serve us that political diet every day these days. To Hollywood’s credit, though, reports are that most presenters and winners treated Trump like an orange elephant in the hall.

    Meanwhile, host comedian Jimmy Kimmel reportedly did little to ease viewers’ frustrations. To be fair, he followed a slew of far more talented comedians, including Steve Martin, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart, who bombed at this self-sacrificing gig.

    I suggested in the 2008 commentary cited above that the only suitable host for this show is one who is as skilled at song and dance and sight gags as he or she is at emceeing and stand up. And, with all due respect to the likes of Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, and Hugh Jackman, the only host to ever truly fit the bill was Billy Crystal.

    All the same, last night’s three-hour doldrums would probably have been a little more tolerable if Jimmy Fallon instead of Jimmy Kimmel were hosting.

    In any event, the reviews have only vindicated the decision I made years ago to stop watching the Oscars.

    That said, the Oscar goes to:

    • Actor in a Supporting Role

    My pick was Mahershala Ali in Moonlight. The winner was Mahershala Ali.

    This makes him the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. But it’s also makes for a dramatic antidote to Trump’s poisonous anti-Muslim policies.

    • Actress in Supporting Role

    My pick was Viola Davis in Fences. The winner was Viola Davis.

    • Actress in Leading Role

    My pick was Ruth Negga in Loving. The winner was  Emma Stone in La La Land.

    • Actor in Leading Role

    My pick was Denzel Washington in Fences. The winner was Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.

    This proves that Trump has normalized sexual harassment/assault … but only if you’re a white guy (see this category in “My Picks” below if you need clarification).

    • Directing

    My pick was Damien Chazelle in La La Land. The winner was Damien Chazelle.

    • Best Picture

    My pick was La La Land. The winner was Moonlight.

    But only after Faye Dunaway caused epic confusion when she mistakenly announced the prohibitive favorite, La La Land. Its producers and cast members were already in the midst of accepting the award when they were informed. I’m sure Steve Harvey was happy to pass the GOAT baton to Dunaway for this kind of onstage mixup. It was an ending clearly worthy of, er, La La Land.

    NOTE: Blacks made history by winning half of the six major awards (and a couple of the many ancillary ones too). This validates the cynicism I expressed in “#OscarSoDiverse…?” January 27, 2017.

    I feared this would be the all too predictable response to last year’s protest, #OscarSoWhite. Frankly, it’s a wonder the show did not end with the entire audience joining hands and singing Kumbaya, which would have served as a palliative to racism in Hollywood and Trump’s White House in equal measure.

    Let’s see how many blacks the Academy features in next year’s presentations …

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  • Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 9:47 AM

    The Oscars: My Picks

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With all due respect to critics and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), how much a film makes, not whether it wins an Oscar, is the generally recognized measure of its success. Especially considering that winning an Oscar is more the result of crass political campaigning than any assessment of artistic achievement.

    Indeed, it might surprise, if not disillusion, many of you to learn that studios covet the Oscar for best picture primarily because — as Sumner Redstone, the owner of Paramount, conceded in a moment of extraordinary candor — it guarantees millions more in box office receipts.

    (“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    Sure enough, even the acerbic and irreverent Chris Rock failed last year to relieve the boredom that defines this show. I duly lamented my own vindication in “And The Oscar Goes To…,” February 29, 2016. Therefore, nobody should expect the canned and affable Jimmy Kimmel to do any better this year.

    But at least he’ll be a more familiar (and comforting) face to the #OscarSoWhite audience – the Academy’s plainly self-conscious #OscarSoDiverse nominations notwithstanding. And, truth be told, Kimmel is probably ideally suited to serve as emcee for what will undoubtedly be an evening of grandstanding, anti-Trump quips.

    In any event, here are my picks in the six categories most people care about:

    • Actor in a Leading Role

    Denzel Washington in Fences: Ben’s little brother Casey Affleck should be the prohibitive favorite to win for his breakout performance in Manchester by the Sea. Except that he has a black cloud of sexual-harassment allegations hovering over him. Frankly, fairness dictated that the Academy should have completely blacklisted him.

    After all, it blacklisted Nate Parker, despite the fact that he had a similar cloud removed when he was duly acquitted of sexual assault … 16 years ago. No doubt, but for that black cloud in his distant past, Parker would have been at least nominated for The Birth of a Nation, which he wrote, produced, directed, and played the leading role in.

    On the other hand, if any actor can win by such default and still be worthy of acclaim, it’s Denzel. Not to mention the inherent advantage he has, having already won a Tony in 2010 for playing this same role on Broadway. Significantly, a win would make him the first black to join the preeminent group of only six actors who have won three or more Oscars: Katherine Hepburn (4), Meryl Streep (3), Jack Nicholson (3), Walter Brennan (3), Ingrid Bergman (3), and Daniel Day-Lewis (3).

    • Actress in a Leading Role

    Ruth Negga in Loving: For playing interracial pioneer Mildred Loving every bit as convincingly as the aforementioned Day-Lewis played Abraham Lincoln, for which he won his third Oscar. Also, for the perverse joy of hearing her epithet-sounding surname announced – not just in passing as a nominee, but with distinction as the winner.

    Unfortunately, the fix seems in for Emma Stone in La La Land. Never mind that Emma Stone trying to channel song-and-dance diva Ginger Rogers is rather like Sylvester Stallone trying to channel stage-and-screen legend Laurence Olivier.

    • Actor in a Supporting Role

    Mahershala Ali in Moonlight: For portraying a crack dealer so endearingly against stereotype – complete with a social conscience. Mind you, I suspect most members will vote for him based more on the enigmatic and charismatic role he plays on the popular Netflix series, House of Cards.

    • Actress in a Supporting Role

    Viola Davis in Fences: For outperforming Denzel as surely as Ginger Rogers always outperformed Fred Astaire. Which raises the question: why wasn’t she nominated in the Leading Role category. Things that make you go hmmm …

    In any event, it helps that, like Denzel, Viola won a Tony for the original Broadway play too. But I suspect the Academy will seize this opportunity to compensate for failing to award her an Oscar for Doubt in 2009 (and perhaps less so for The Help in 2012).

    Incidentally, Naomie Harris gave a winning performance in Moonlight, besting her male counterpart, Mahershala Ali, just as Viola bested Denzel in Fences. The rub is that Naomie will have to suffer the Academy overlooking her this time, just as Viola suffered it doing the same to her on the two aforementioned occasions.

    • Directing

    Damien Chazelle in La La Land. For it would make no sense for the Academy to give this film 14 nominations, which ties Titanic and All About Eve for the most ever, and then fail to award its director an Oscar.

    • Best Picture

    La La Land: For the same reason The Artist won in 2011 – romantic nostalgia. But it’s actually understandable in this case; after all, who wouldn’t long for this kind of escapism given the dystopian reality we’re experiencing under Trump’s presidency.

    This is why, even though Moonlight depicts an Oscar-worthy and socially redeeming picture of an otherwise sordid black-American experience, this is not the year for it to win top prize.

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    *  This commentary was originally published yesterday, Saturday, at 7:22 a.m.

  • Friday, February 24, 2017 at 8:14 AM

    CNN Peddling “Fake News” about Michael Jackson’s Death

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The ‘King of Pop’ was found dead in his home under mysterious circumstances. What did Michael Jackson’s children and trusted staff witness prior to his sudden death? Did his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, cause Jackson’s demise? Some suggest Jackson took his own life and others claim he was murdered by those who thought Jackson’s worth was more dead than alive.

    (CNN, February 24, 2017)

    This is from the promo for tonight’s episode of the new HLN series, How It Really Happened. The problem, however, is that the questions it poses have already been answered, or are unanswerable, beyond any reasonable doubt.

    Specifically, the sensational trial and conviction of Dr. Conrad Murray make any contention that Michael died “under mysterious circumstances” patently specious.

    Dr. Conrad Murray was sentenced Tuesday to four years in the Los Angeles County jail – the maximum sentence allowed under the law – in the death of Michael Jackson. …

    Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter three weeks ago after a trial in which prosecutors successfully argued that Murray’s reckless use of propofol to help Jackson sleep, without proper monitoring equipment, led to the singer’s death.

    (CNN, November 30, 2011)

    What Michael’s children and staff witnessed is already a matter of public record, and has no bearing on the fact that he died from an overdose of propofol. As the attending physician, Murray was clearly responsible. And frankly, whether he, Michael, or someone else administered the fatal dose is not only irrelevant but unanswerable, beyond any reasonable doubt, at this point.

    Which brings me to CNN’s insinuation that Michael killed himself, or that someone murdered him because he was “worth more dead than alive.” Trust me, there’s nothing new here either.

    After all, even I insinuated as much years ago. Here, for example, is what I wrote in “Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, Is Dead,” June 27, 2009 – just two days after he died.

    __________________

    Michael was considered a shrewd businessman who reportedly earned over one billion during his lifetime. Yet he was such an unconscionable and irresponsible spendthrift that he died almost half a billion in debt.

    Reports abound that he fed his habit in recent years by contracting to perform, collecting hefty advances, and then resorting to all kinds of ploys (often involving hospital visits) to avoid getting on stage. Indeed, despite reports of him rehearsing for his big comeback series of concerts, I am convinced that, having collected a hefty percentage of the advance ticket sales, he had no intention of actually performing.

    It shall remain one of the greatest ironies, if not mysteries, that, for a man who claimed to be happiest when performing, Michael did so much during the last years of his life to avoid being on stage. His last concert performance was in 1996.

    __________________

    And, more to the point, here is what I wrote in “Michael Jackson: Worth More Dead than Alive,” October 28, 2010.

    _________________

    It was widely reported that Michael was more than $500 million in debt at the time of his death. In fact, he seemed headed for bankruptcy. For no amount of revenues from concerts and record sales would have been sufficient to pay off his debts, while keeping him in the expensive, fantasy lifestyle to which he had become so blithely accustomed. This was especially so given informed predictions that he would not have been able to complete all of the ‘This Is It’ performances that were supposed to earn him a little reprieve. …

    This, alas, is the road to financial ruin Michael was on when he died. Then, of course, there’s the laughing stock he was becoming for using cosmetic surgery to turn himself into a (living) Madame Tussauds wax work.

    Therefore, when one juxtaposes these grave facts with the fact that his estate has generated over $275 million since his death, there can be no denying the timeliness of his death. More to the point, though, nothing confirms that Michael is worth more dead than alive quite like Forbes reporting on October 25, 2010 that:

    ‘Thanks to a lucrative catalogue, hit film, and album sales, the late king of pop earned more in the last year than Lady Gaga, Madonna and Jay-Z, combined.’

    _________________

    I redoubled my insinuation that he killed himself in “‘Xscape’! More Pedophile Charges Prove Michael Was Not ‘Gone Too Soon,’” May 14, 2014, and “MJ: ‘The Kid Is Not My Son’ (Nor Is the Girl or the Other One),” October 23, 2015.

    The former refers to posthumous accusations of child molestation, which painted Michael as more diabolical than any pedophile priest. He reportedly spent hundreds of millions to keep this perverted side of his life “In the Closet.” The latter refers to what he must have known was the looming and inevitable day of reckoning, when even his (bullied) kids would demand an explanation for his lie about being their biological father. A lie, incidentally, that was all the more egregious in light of his celebrated claim that it doesn’t matter if you’re “Black or White.”

    Nothing is more pathetic than watching his siblings on TV going on about how these kids look just like Michael – seemingly unaware that surgically or cosmetically altered features (like his pointed nose, bleached skin, and long wig) cannot be inherited.

    (“52nd Annual Grammy Awards,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2010)

    One can easily see why he might have thought a permanent sleep was preferable to being held to account for these and other “Off-the-Wall” aspects of his life. This would’ve been so especially if he prepared for this “consummation devoutly to be wished” with the following man-child prayer of absolution:

    Now I lay me down to sleep,

    I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

    If I should die before I wake,

    I pray the Lord my soul to take.

    (New England Primer, 1784 ed.)

    But I readily admit that all of this amounts to nothing more than idle speculation. Which is why it smacks of the very kind of “fake news” Trump accuses the media of propagating that CNN is peddling it as investigative reporting.

    Meanwhile, I don’t “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” but who would’ve thought an upstart like Rihanna would already be reducing Michael’s platinum legacy to mere bronze?

    With ‘Love on the Brain,’ Rihanna joins Madonna (38) and The Beatles (34) as the only acts with at least 30 Hot 100 top 10s all time. …

    Rihanna breaks a tie for third place with Michael Jackson, who tallied 29 top 10s, as a soloist.

    (Billboard, February 21, 2017)

    So much for being “Invincible” – eh?

    Related commentaries:
    MJ dead
    MJ worth more dead
    Xscape
    Kid is not my son
    Grammys

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