The iPINIONS Journal


  • Monday, September 25, 2017 at 8:09 AM

    NFL and National Anthem – To Kneel or Not to Kneel: That Is NOT the Question

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The question is whether kneeling during the national anthem does anything to combat police brutality or advance the cause of racial justice. It. Does. Not.

    What’s more, I challenge anyone to cite a case that demonstrates otherwise. And please, this issue is fraught enough without propagating the canard about a player’s right to protest. Only fools are questioning or challenging that right.

    Speaking of which, only a wannabe dictator like Donald Trump would call for any player who kneels to be fired.

    President Trump on Sunday morning renewed his demand that NFL owners fire or suspend players who kneel during the national anthem in protest, again urging that fans should boycott the sport to force change. …

    The tweets continue a three-day crusade by the president to pressure the league to fire players who have taken a knee in an effort to protest police violence against minorities. …

    After Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who had indicated that he would not go to the White House if invited by Trump, the president preemptively disinvited the team in a tweet on Saturday morning.

    (Washington Post, September 24, 2017)

    Unsurprisingly, Trump’s demand incited expressions of solidarity from athletes and owners in all major sports. Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James led the chorus of athletes with this tweet, which reflects the coarsening and dumbing down of public debate that defines Trump’s presidential tweets:

    U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!

    — LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017

    New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft led the chorus of owners with this statement, which reflects the growing alienation of camaraderie between Trump and the CEOs he always boasted would be lining up to work with him to “Make America Great Again”:

    I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. …

    There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics.

    (CBS Boston, September 24, 2017)

    One can hardly blame Kraft, who is an avowed personal friend. After all, Trump’s divisive and misleading tweets are corrupting the positive cultural influence sports have always played in America, much as they are corrupting the positive political influence the presidency has always played.

    The public by 66-28 percent says he’s done more to divide than to unite the country, considerably worse than the highest ‘divide’ scores for his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both 55 percent.

    (ABC News, September 24, 2017)

    Hell, Trump has become so toxic that members of his own presidential councils and advisory groups are avoiding him like the plague. The domino effect began, ironically enough, with fellow CEOs resigning en masse from his Manufacturing Jobs Council. They did so to protest his failure to categorically condemn white supremacists in the wake of the violence they caused in Charlottesville.

    That led to members of his Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum following suit, which led to members of his Committee on the Arts and Humanities, National Infrastructure Advisory Council, Cybersecurity Council, and others all doing the same.

    Not to mention honorees like legendary TV producer Norman Leer boycotting the White House reception for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, which is usually held under the auspices of the president of the United States. Here is how dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade expressed her reason for boycotting:

    [I will not be attending the White House reception] in light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for.

    (NPR, August 19, 2017)

    In any event, given all of the above, this was hardly surprising:

    National Football League players sat out, knelt and linked arms during pre-game national anthems played across the country and in London on Sunday, hours after US President Donald Trump called on fans to boycott teams that do not discipline players who protest.

    In the first few games since Trump stepped up his criticism of NFL players, dozens of players and coaches of teams including the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins did not stand for the anthem and took a knee, a gesture that began last year as a protest over police treatment of African-Americans and other minorities. …

    [I]n Philadelphia, city police officers joined with Eagles and rival New York Giants players and Eagles team owner Jeffrey Lurie to link arms during the anthem in a sign of solidarity.

    (Reuters, September 24, 2017)

    It would be helpful to recall at this point that Trump whipped tens of thousands of supporters into a frenzy at a rally in Alabama on Friday. Specifically, he derided the (black) NFL players who kneel during the anthem as “sons of bitches,” and called on the owners of teams they play for to fire them. In other words, Trump thinks blacks who kneel during the national anthem are sons of bitches, but whites who march to the tune of racist and anti-Semitic chants are “some very fine people.”

    Anyway, here’s to the owners for giving Trump the middle finger. For not a single one heeded his presidential demand to fire players for kneeling. On the contrary, several of them made a point of going down to the field to stand in solidarity with kneeling players.

    There was also no sign that fans heeded his clarion call to boycott games. Their refusal to do so, coupled with the owners’ refusal to fire kneeling players, demonstrated in black and white that, when it comes to the lure of professional sports, the players have far more pull than this president.

    That said, I resent the way media outlets continually help this reckless “dotard” dominate public debate. Not least because, while focusing on the many crazy things he says, they’re not covering the many important things he’s failing to do. This, despite it being patently obvious that, in almost every case, he says crazy things to detract media attention from his shortcomings.

    For example, Trump must feel like P.T. Barnum as he watches the media focus on his silly fight with NFL players over the flag. Because this means they are not covering his serious fight with North Korea over nuclear weapons.

    More to the point, they are detracting from his failure to tame North Korea as he famously promised. This failure is exposing Trump as a blowhard who barks like a dog but has no bite. They are also detracting from his failure to replace and repeal Obamacare. This failure is exposing Trump as a hopelessly incompetent leader who can’t even get his own political party to support the primary objective of his presidency.

    Still, apropos of the question at issue, it speaks volumes that players are kneeling today not to protest racial injustice but to defy Trump. In fact, but for Trump, the act of players kneeling would have remained just a footnote in the annals of NFL history – along with the player who started it, Colin Kaepernick.

    This is why I stand by what I wrote in “Delusional Kaepernick Standing Up by Kneeling Down During National Anthem,” August 30, 2016:

    __________________

    [T]his protest smacks of grandstanding. And it’s only slightly less lazy and misguided than people who think (re)tweeting slogans about injustice is tantamount to fighting for justice.

    Of course, Rosa Parks and the ‘Greensboro Four’ famously showed the meaningful way to stand up by sitting down for racial justice. …

    The point is that there are many ways Kaepernick can stand up for his cause without showing wanton disrespect for the pride so many people have in the American flag. I urge him to find another way.

    __________________

    Yet I fully appreciate the public pressure to support kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest. Ignorant trolls threw this into stark relief when they forced no less a person than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to eat her words after she agreed with me as follows:

    I think it’s dumb and disrespectful…

    I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.

    (Yahoo Global News, October 10, 2016)

    Their fascistic intolerance aped the very racism they are purportedly fighting. Unfortunately, the damning irony in forcing her to recant was completely lost on them. But this too is hardly surprising; after all, polls show that most of them think the First Amendment only guarantees freedom of speech to people who agree with them.

    This explains why they make no distinction between protesting against white supremacists who hate them and white liberals who have done (and are doing) more for racial justice than they ever will. Just last week, their misguided activism humbled former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    DACA supporters rabidly heckled her at a news conference. They willfully refused to let her explain the progressive steps she and her Democratic colleagues are taking to advance their cause. Their protest made no sense to anyone who knows anything about the politics of this issue or the legislative process required to resolve it.

    All the same, there’s no denying that Trump has a galvanizing effect on people protesting against all manner of injustice. But, again, I cannot overstate the orchestrated nature of his provocation. Trust me, this birther-in-chief knew exactly what he was doing when he spewed more hatred at those who protested against white supremacists in Charlottesville than at the white supremacists themselves?

    In any event, I shall end as I began; that is, by noting that this latest Trumpian distraction is not about disrespecting the flag. It’s about respecting the Constitution, for which Trump continually shows ignorant disrespect and utter contempt.

    Indeed, it is arguable that he is more unpatriotic than the kneeling NFL players he wants to blacklist. Hope springs eternal that his supporters will bear this in mind if he survives to stand for re-election.

    Related commentaries:
    Kaepernick
    Charlottesville
    North Korea Trump looking like chump
    DACA
    Birther nonsense

  • Saturday, September 23, 2017 at 8:17 AM

    Hail, Merkel! The Grandmaster of German Politics

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    If pollsters are correct, Angela Merkel will secure her place at the helm of German politics for what will be a total of 16 years following Sunday’s election results.

    The 63-year-old Chancellor has certainly provided the country with a sense of stability for more than a decade, but political apathy has gripped the nation and left many voters disillusioned about the lack of an alternative.

    The impact of Ms Merkel on the EU has been ‘huge and underestimated’, said Mr Kornelius Stefan Kornelius, head of foreign affairs at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung … from the threat of collapse of the eurozone to pressures from Russia and her handling of the refugee crisis, Ms Merkel had been able “to close the ranks, keep Europe together and prevent it from slipping apart” and that she intended to do the same with Brexit.

    (London Independent, September 22, 2017)

    Granted, given the way pollsters performed on everything from Brexit to Trump, the condition “if pollsters are correct” does not inspire much confidence. Nonetheless, I am convinced Merkel is on the precipice of a remarkable political recovery.

    After all, just two years ago, she seemed as vulnerable in Germany as President Francois Hollande was in France. That’s because she was suffering unprecedented backlash for pledging to assimilate one million migrants.

    But, far from feeling checkmated, Merkel maneuvered like a chess grandmaster. She showed she was not too blinded by politically correct emotion to make corrective political decisions. Specifically, her moves to mollify concerns about the “plague” of Syrian/African migration left her political opponents reeling.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel can be forgiven for bemoaning that no good deed goes unpunished.

    Recall that she made quite a show last summer of welcoming as many refugees as could make it to Germany. But she soon had just cause to rue her open door policy – as reports of assimilation woes and spikes in crime attended sequent waves. I duly commented in ‘Migrant Invasion Causing Humanitarian Remorse in Germany,’ September 28, 2015.

    Understandably, Merkel felt compelled to allay growing fears. Unfortunately, she did so by pitting the categorical imperatives of assimilation against the transforming impositions of multiculturalism. She even pledged to close Germany’s open door enough to ‘drastically decrease’ the number of refugees entering the country. I duly commented in ‘Merkel Betraying Migration Policy that Won Her ‘Person of the Year,’ December 21, 2015.

    (“Germany: Muslim Men More Sexual Predators than Asylum Seekers…?” The iPINIONS Journal, January 11, 2016)

    She clearly disappointed bleeding-heart liberals like me. But Germans are already showering her with yellow roses, assuring her that the schoolmarm affection they’ve shown her for the past twelve years will endure for at least another four.

    I can’t argue with that.

    Related commentaries:
    Germany

  • Friday, September 22, 2017 at 7:18 AM

    Court Hands Duchess of Cambridge Token Victory Over Topless Pics

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A celebrity demanding privacy is rather like a prostitute demanding intimacy. This is why I generally have no sympathy for celebrities who cry foul when paparazzi shoot or fans bother them in public places.

    But even I draw the line when they do so in places where celebrities enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy. This is why I defended Kate Middleton when she filed a criminal complaint against the paparazzi for stalking her like snipers, then shooting her sunbathing topless on the balcony of a private home in France.

    My disgust over these pictures has nothing to do with who she is. For, unlike so many others venting royal indignation, I would feel the same way if Angelina Jolie or Julia Roberts were the victim of such a prurient and mercenary invasion of privacy. …

    I wish governments around the world would enact laws making it a serious crime to take a picture of any person in a place where that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. And it does not matter if that person is fully nude or fully clothed…

    This kind of commercial exploitation of one’s privacy is clearly a form of rape and warrants commensurate punishment. This means serious jail time and fines that would surely bankrupt any paparazzo foolish enough to even shoot such a picture in the first place.

    (“Topless Pics of Future Queen Catherine for All to See,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 17, 2012)

    No doubt I was also mindful that the paparazzi in this case were probably from the same pack who stalked Princess Diana to her death. But that I defended Kate might be more noteworthy. After all, my visceral antipathy towards all royal personages, perquisites, and prerogatives is well documented – as commentaries like “For Queen Elizabeth, To Abdicate, or Not to Abdicate, Is NOT the Question,” June 10 2014, and “Australia Bans British Honours. Other Commonwealth Countries Should Too,” November 3, 2015, attest.

    In any event, I cheered when French authorities indicted the owner, executive editor, and three photographers involved. This excerpt from “Criminal Charges for Taking Topless Photo of Future Queen Catherine,” April 29, 2013, conveys my glee and hope for punishment that would make such exploitation prohibitive.

    __________________

    A French lawyer called me a legal ‘ignare’ for asserting that the paparazzi and tabloid responsible for the topless photos of Kate Middleton, which went viral last year, should be prosecuted. I don’t speak French, but I knew what he meant. …

    Of course, notwithstanding the Gallic arrogance that defines the French, you’d think Closer’s indignant editor would have gotten fool-proof clearance from lawyers before publishing topless photos of the future queen of England. After all, any fool could see that publishing them was fraught with political and legal liability – despite claims that the paparazzi shot them with telephoto lens, while crouching on a public road 1000 yards away.

    In any case, apropos of the schadenfreude tabloids trade in, the irony is not lost on me that these criminal indictments generated almost as much tabloid sensation last week as those topless photos did last year.

    All that’s left now is for the French court to convict and penalize Closer so harshly that, even if paparazzi are craven enough to snap compromising pictures of public figures in private places, no tabloid would dare publish them.

    __________________

    But I despaired two weeks ago, when everyone got off practically scot-free:

    A French court ruled on Tuesday that celebrity magazine Closer invaded the privacy of Britain’s Prince William’s wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, when it published topless photos of her in 2012.

    The court handed the maximum fine of 45,000 euros ($53,500) to both Laurence Pieau, an editor of Closer’s French edition, and Ernesto Mauri, chief executive of Italian publisher Mondadori, the magazine’s owner.

    The damages ordered by the court were well short of the 1.5 million euros sought by the royal couple.

    (Reuters, September 5, 2017)

    Clearly, this is not the “commensurate punishment” I envisioned, especially given that the court did not sentence anyone to probation, let alone jail. Meanwhile, the pictures at issue probably generated millions in revenues for this publication. In fact, the damages and fines levied in this case comport with the calculation I posited in my September 12 commentary cited above:

    The paparazzi who shot the titillating pictures of Kate probably spend more than [the amount of misdemeanor fines] on one day’s supply of digital storage cards. This means that a simple cost-benefit analysis will compel shooting and publishing every time.

    Accordingly, paparazzi and tabloids retain every incentive to continue shooting and publishing such intrusive photos, respectively, absorbing fines as the cost of doing business.

    Given this, even the Duchess should beware that, no matter where you sunbathe, you could still end up on the cover of a magazine.

    Related commentaries:
    topless kate
    For Queen Elizabeth
    British honours

  • Wednesday, September 20, 2017 at 7:24 AM

    ‘Aftershock’ of Mexico Earthquake Is Another Earthquake

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On September 8, Mexico suffered the most powerful earthquake in a century.  It registered 8.1, killed nearly 100 people, and destroyed over 45,000 homes.

    But the media were still so fixated on the trail of destruction Hurricane Harvey left in his wake that this quake got scant coverage.

    Then yesterday, just 11 days later, Mexico suffered another less powerful (at 7.1) but more deadly quake.

    A powerful earthquake struck Mexico on Tuesday afternoon, toppling buildings, rattling the capital and sending people flooding into the streets for the second time in just two weeks. …

    By evening, about 120 people had been reported killed across the country … more than 40 buildings and other structures in Mexico City collapsed, including at least two schools, officials said, crushing cars and trapping some people inside. …

    Tuesday’s earthquake struck on the 32nd anniversary of another major disaster: the 1985 quake that killed as many as 10,000 people in Mexico.

    (New York Times, September 19, 2017)

    Now, with the world so fixated on the path of destruction Hurricane Maria is blazing through the Caribbean, this quake seems fated for scant coverage too.

    I hasten to clarify that I am not lobbying for the media to provide wallowing, wall-to-wall coverage of earthquakes affecting Mexicans, namely of the kind they invariably provide of hurricanes affecting Americans. Not least because I fully appreciate that earthquakes are static phenomena, whereas hurricanes are barreling phenomena.

    Naturally, the former cannot compete with the latter when it comes to drumming up suspense and holding people’s rubbernecking interest in looming doom. In fact, dramatic attempts to rescue people trapped under the rubble are the only things that sustain media coverage of the immediate aftermath of earthquakes.

    I just think a little more media coverage of the devastation these earthquakes caused might move Americans to give more aid. I have in mind the coverage of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, which led to an unprecedented outpouring of international sympathy … and aid.

    In the meantime, the death toll as I write this has risen to over 200. But countless remain trapped – most of whom are feared dead …

    Truth be told, the main point of this commentary is to beg you to spare a little time and a dime for Mexico (i.e., as you become fixated on the ravages of Maria):

    DONATE

    Related commentaries:
    Haiti earthquake
    Hurricane Isaac
    Hurricane Harvey/Irma

  • Monday, September 18, 2017 at 8:21 AM

    Trump at UN General Assembly like Obama at KKK Rally

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have been ridiculing this Annual Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly for years.

    A case in point is the following excerpt from “World Leaders Blow Hot Air at UN Confab…,” September 26, 2007.

    ___________________

    Today, President George W. Bush of the United States and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran joined the queue of world leaders delivering canned speeches. … None of them said anything of any consequence (Do they ever?).

    But the dirty UN secret is that most world leaders treat this annual event as little more than an invitation to wine and dine their wives – who spend their days shopping along Fifth Avenue – all at their taxpayers’ expense. Nonetheless, I’d be remiss not to comment.

    I am mindful, however, that it would be a Sisyphean endeavor to try to separate the wheat from the chaff amongst the speeches emanating from this veritable Tower of Babel, which masquerades as a forum for international dispute resolution.

    Therefore, I shall suffice to reprise my commentary from last year. Because the 2006 annual meeting was suffused with such political drama, saber rattling, and outright buffoonery, the hackneyed speeches hardly mattered. And most of the histrionics was courtesy of Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuelan – who didn’t even bother to attend this year.

    ___________________

    Remarkably, this annual meeting will surpass 2006’s with respect to political drama, saber rattling, and outright buffoonery. And most of the histrionics will be courtesy of Donald J. Trump, president of the United States.

    He is scheduled to deliver his first UN address tomorrow. That is reason enough to comment. This, after all, is the “America-First” president who is on record ranting and raving about defunding the UN; that is, when he wasn’t ranting and raving about it being even more useless than NATO.

    The utter weakness and incompetence … the United Nations is not a friend of democracy. It’s not a friend to freedom. … It’s not a friend even to the United States of America, where as we all know, it has its home.

    (The Hill, March 21, 2016)

    Such baseless criticism, coupled with his notorious record of lies, flip-flops, and misrepresentations, is why nobody has any reason to believe or rely on anything he says. Actually, the only newsworthy thing about his address will be the extent to which the lack of fawning applause flusters him. Frankly, given the utter contempt he has shown for the UN and all who work there, Trump will be lucky if he’s not booed from the podium.

    Apropos of which, political junkies like me will tune in just to see how many delegates follow the time-honored protocol of walking out on odious speakers. After all, his audience on this occasion will be wary world leaders and seasoned diplomats (mostly filled with loathing), not gullible supporters (all filled with adoration), which he’s accustomed to.

    Trump’s address will also have the dubious distinction of emitting more hot air than those Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, or Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi famously emitted.

    For he is bound to spend most of it venting petty grievances, making hollow threats, and hurling trademark insults; that is, when he’s not hedging or eating his words about withdrawing the United States from international agreements – like the Paris Climate Change Accord, Iran Nuclear Deal, NAFTA, and TPP – all in a vain attempt to get the applause he always covets.

    Say what you will about Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s “Rocket Man,” at least he has the decency to toot his flatulent rhetoric from his hermit throne, instead of letting it rip from the world stage at the UN General Assembly.

    But, trust me, 99 percent of the delegates will see Trump as a bullying, delusional, dissembling, hypocritical, ignorant, incompetent, juvenile, narcissistic, (etc.) buffoon. And the way he has been dealing with North Korea is just one of the many reasons they’ll be justified in doing so.

    Thanks to leaks from Trump’s White House, the entire world now knows Obama warned him that North Korea’s nuclear program poses a clear and present danger, which the United States must deal with as a matter of life and death. Yet the first thing Trump did as president was to make a public show of begging, brown-nosing, and then badgering China to protect the United States from North Korea.

    (Republicans spent eight years trying to tag baseless criticism on Obama for “leading from behind.” The irony cannot be lost even on them that Trump is finally giving their criticism true meaning.)

    But Trump finally realized what was always plain for all to see, namely that Chinese President Xi Jinping was playing him for a fool with empty promises to keep Jong-un in check. Which, of course, was easy to do because this US president is as susceptible to idle flattery as an ugly teenage girl. Xi was the first foreign leader to exploit that insecurity. Others have been queuing up ever since to do the same.

    None has been more shameless in this respect than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who has been trying for decades to get a gullible US president to engage in a military confrontation with Israel’s regional nemesis, Iran. But Netanyahu can be forgiven for thinking that, at long last, he has found in Trump the bomb-throwing Sugar Daddy of his dreams.

    In any event, thusly played by Xi, Trump began boasting that the United States will “handle” North Korea alone. Except that his superpower resolve amounted to nothing more than exchanging loony threats with Jong-un about nuking each other’s country. Indeed, nothing damns his handling of the existential menace North Korea poses quite like everything he says about it being every bit as reckless and preposterous as everything Jong-un says.

    Now Trump is asking the UN to do what he began his presidency asking China to do, namely to protect the rich and powerful United States from a poor and hapless North Korea. This, despite also slamming the UN as a sponger organization (like NATO) that has never settled anything – as reported in the April 2, 2016, edition of the New York Times.

    His Art of the Deal seems to involve battering people with insults then demanding concessions from them. Which is why members of his own political party have been loath to work with him. World leaders will be forgiven for being even more so.

    Meanwhile, Trump is showing up at the UN with his tail between his legs, thanks to this hollow threat:

    North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen … he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

    (CNN, August 9, 2017)

    Unsurprisingly, Lil Kim called this wannabe strongman’s bluff, repeatedly, including just days ago:

    North Korea threatened to use a nuclear weapon against Japan and turn the US into ‘ashes and darkness’ for passing fresh United Nations sanctions earlier this week — fiery rhetoric that is likely to exacerbate tensions in North Asia. …

    ‘Now is the time to annihilate the US imperialist aggressors.’

    (National Post of Canada, September 14, 2017)

    Even worse, North Korea test-launched three ballistic missiles just to show that its nukes can reach US territory. In doing so, Jong-un not only showed menacing contempt for Trump’s “red line,” but humiliated him like no foreign leader has ever humiliated any president in US history.

    Yet, instead of the “fire and fury” he threatened, Trump retaliated with nothing but pouts and insults. Weak!

    Incidentally, Trump thought it made sense to mock Jong-un as “Rocket Man” in a tweet yesterday (as his rockets are menacing the world). But this makes about as much sense as FDR mocking Hitler as Panzer Man in the late 1930s (as his panzers were bulldozing through Europe). Idiot!

    His blowhard and feckless handling of North Korea would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. But, again, it is just one of many reasons why delegates to this General Assembly will greet Trump like an emperor wearing no clothes.

    For the record, I am convinced that the resolution I proffered in “North Korea to The World: Nuke Off!” December 13, 2012, remains the best way to deal with the menace it poses. All else is folly.

    Enjoy the spectacle! It gets underway in NYC today …

    Related commentaries:
    UN confab
    North Korea
    NK to world

    UPDATE

    September 20

    If you watched his flurry of Trumpian tweets masquerading as a presidential address, you will understand my impulse to say I told you so. All the same, I’d be remiss not to share a little of what others are saying.

    President Donald Trump delivered Tuesday a doomsday warning to North Korea [warning the US ‘will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea’] and mocked its young leader [calling him ‘Rocket Man’], a pugnacious escalation in rhetoric in a wide-ranging debut address to the United Nations, the world’s foremost diplomatic body. …

    Throughout his address—the most closely watched foreign policy remarks of his presidency—Trump brought frank assessments to a range of sticky global flashpoints. …

    Among the hundreds of diplomats assembled to watch his speech, reaction was largely muted [with] only bemused murmurs for his bellicose threats toward North Korea.

    (CNN, September 19, 2017)

    Republicans are all over TV cheering Trump’s speech as a historic triumph. But all you need to know is that they are the same nutters who cheered as he insulted and blustered his way to the presidency of the United States. Unfortunately, they (and he) seem to think he can rule the world the way he ran his presidential campaign.

    Apropos of this, the media are making much ado about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goading, Iago-like praise. Notably, he hailed Trump’s address as the boldest, most courageous, and most forthright he has heard at this assembly in his 30-year career.

    Never mind that one would’ve been able to say the same if North Korean President Kim Jong-un also had the undiplomatic gall to spew at fellow world leaders the same red meat he spews at rabid political supporters. For the record, though, here is what has always guided Netanyahu’s antic courting of US presidents, especially Republican ones:

    Netanyahu seems to think Israel can get by with a little help from its friends — even if those friends compose just the small faction of Christian fundamentalists and neo-cons on the lunatic fringe of US Republican Party.

    (“Netanyahu’s Call for Jewish Exodus more Sharpton than Moses,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 23, 2015)

    It is also noteworthy that Iranian President Rouhani punctuated his address with all kinds of references to and praises of democratic values, so much so that he sounded more like the leader of a democratic country than either Trump or Netanyahu.

    I titled a January 6 commentary “Trump Is Trump, Intelligence Is Intelligence, and Never the Twain Shall Meet.” That pretty much sums up my take on his address. But perhaps Lawrence O’Donnell summed it up best when he described it as meandering “from the vulgar to a muddy puddle of incoherence.” He did it, appropriately enough, on The Last Word, his nightly talk show on MSNBC.

    That said, I will end with this for those who tuned in to see who walks out:

    Some representatives even refused to listen to the speech; North Korea’s UN ambassador walked out before Mr. Trump arrived, leaving a more junior diplomat to represent the country.

    (London Independent, September 19, 2017)

    Related commentaries:
    UN confab
    Netanyahu
    Trump at UN

  • Saturday, September 16, 2017 at 7:29 AM

    DACA: Ain’t No Wall High Enough to Keep ‘Them’ from Getting to US

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The DACA program was formed through executive order by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and allows certain people, called Dreamers, who come to the US illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. Recipients are able to request ‘consideration of deferred action’ for a period of two years which is subject to renewal.

    (Fox News, September 14, 2017)

    Donald Trump predicated his presidency on reversing as many of President Obama’s executive orders and legislative accomplishments as possible. But nothing has exposed his fecklessness and frustration in this respect quite like the spectacle that attended his attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

    No doubt this is why he has broken his promise on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). After all, remember this:

    We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties, in which he defied federal law and the constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants,’ Trump said at a campaign event in August 2016, promising to end DACA.

    (TIME, September 5, 2017)

    Instead, Trump is attempting to codify the very immigration protections he promised to terminate.

    President Trump affirmed Thursday morning that a deal was in the works with Democrats that would protect some 800,000 DREAMers who could face deportation when DACA expires next year in exchange for ‘massive border controls’ …

    Early Thursday, he told reporters: ‘The wall will come later, we’re right now renovating large sections of wall, massive sections, making it brand new.’

    (NPR, September 14, 2017)

    Incidentally, Republicans left Obama no choice but to implement DACA by executive order, which everyone knew was easily reversible. Specifically, these same Republicans – who are now vowing to help Trump enact a more permanent solution – vowed as an article of political faith not to work with Obama.

    In fact, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously admitted, these partisan SOBs wanted to make the first black president of the United States an abject failure – the welfare of the country, never mind the dreams of illegal immigrants, be damned. You’d be forgiven for thinking they reasoned that, if this one fails, whites would be less inclined to vote for another one. Which is why they must resent that Obama accomplished so much despite their unprecedented obstructionism.

    In any event, not since former President George H.W. Bush broke his “read-my-lips” promise on taxes have supporters erupted in such anger over a presidential flip flop.

    ‘If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair,’ [Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the GOP’s biggest immigration hawks] tweeted, referencing an Associated Press story on the bipartisan agreement. …

    ‘At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?’ [conservative firebrand Ann] Coulter tweeted on Thursday morning. …

    ‘This a betrayal of the highest order,’ a Breitbart editor, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said in a phone call late Wednesday.

    (Washington Post, September 14, 2017)

    But this political betrayal couldn’t have happened to a more deplorable bunch!

    As for that wall …

    That stupid wall ain’t high enough
    The vast desert ain’t dry enough
    The grand river ain’t wide enough
    To keep them from getting to US.

    Support DACA/Dreamers

    Related commentaries:
    US-Mexico relationship
    Obamacare

  • Friday, September 15, 2017 at 7:34 AM

    Tennis US Open: Hail, Stephens…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With pregnant Serena Williams sidelined, I really thought (or hoped) her sister Venus (37) would finally match Roger Federer (36) by becoming the oldest woman to win a grand slam title.

    After all,

    • she made it all the way to the final at the first slam of the year, the Australian Open, only to lose to Serena (6-4, 6-4);
    • she got knocked out in the Round of 16 at the French Open; but
    • she made it back to the final at Wimbledon, only to lose, in humiliating fashion, to lower-ranked Garbine Muguruza (7-5, 6-0).

    Sadly, she got knocked out in the semi-finals at this last slam of the year, losing to unranked Sloane Stephens.

    More to the point, Serena returns next year, and there are many formidable young players now bidding for top ranking. This is why I fear Venus will never have another year as successful as this, let alone one during which she wins another coveted grand slam. She has 7; Serena, a record-setting 23.

    Accordingly, the homage I paid to Venus in “Wimbledon: Venus Triumphs Even In Defeat; Federer Pads Iconic Career with Victory,” July 17, 2017, might prove my last tribute to her – as a grand slam finalist.

    But, apropos of those young players, how about that Sloane Stephens (24), eh!

    Stephens, who has jumped more than 900 spots in the world rankings in a month, is now a grand slam champion, winning the US Open 6-3, 6-0 against No. 15 seed and fellow American Madison Keys at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York.

    This was only the seventh time in the Open Era, and the second time at the US Open, that two first-time finalists have faced off in a grand slam final. This also was the first all-American US Open final since 2002, when Serena Williams defeated Venus Williams. Stephens is the first American woman other than the Williams sisters to win a grand slam title in 15 years.

    (CNN, September 10, 2017)

    Of course, it’s also worth noting that the semi-finals were all-American too. What’s more, three of those four Americans are black.

    I don’t mind admitting that the elation I felt for Stephens more than compensated for the disappointment I felt for Venus. And I hope it’s not damning Stephens with unfair expectations to say that she reminds me so much of Serena. But I’d be shocked if she does not win many more grand slams.

    In any event, here’s to these young Americans eventually taking the baton and dominating women’s Tennis the way the Williams sisters have over the past 15.

    That said, I can’t resist sharing the delight I derived from watching that sourpuss glamazon, Maria Sharapova, get knocked out in the Round of 16, especially after this:

    Two days after Caroline Wozniacki was critical of Maria Sharapova’s playing at Arthur Ashe Stadium for one of her US Open matches, the Russian star fired back following a third-round win over Sofia Kenin.

    ‘All that matters to me is I’m in the fourth round … I’m not sure where she is.’

    Wozniacki, who was eliminated by Ekaterina Makarova in the second round, took exception to the apparent star treatment of Sharapova following her suspension for a failed performance-enhancing drugs test.

    (ESPN – Bleacher Report, September 2, 2017)

    As it happens, Wozniacki echoed what I’m on record saying about Sharapova:

    Given the way Serena has dominated Tennis over the past 10 years, we should demand explanations from the corporate heads who continually chose Sharapova instead of Serena to endorse their products. Think of the message this sent, especially to young black girls about unfair treatment and to young white girls about preferential treatment.

    Perhaps [now that Sharapova has been exposed as just another Russian doper] major sponsors will sign Serena and make her the world’s highest-paid female athlete, belatedly.

    (“Maria Sharapova Just Latest Superstar Athlete Caught Using PEDs,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 9, 2016)

    Sure enough, many corporate sponsors turned to Serena during Sharapova’s suspension, so much so that, according to Forbes, Serena finally topped the annual list of highest-paid female athletes last year.

    She earned $28.9 million ($8.9 million from prize money, $20 million from endorsement deals); Sharapova was second – even though several sponsors dropped her – with $21.9 million ($1.9 million from prize money, $20 million from endorsement deals).

    But I hope Serena proved to sponsors of all types that she is every bit as marketable as Sharapova. For this would pave the way for them to see young black players as primary, not just substitute, endorsers.

    In Stephens’s case, this should be very easy to do. After all, she clearly has the potential to match not only Serena’s play on the court but also Sharapova’s appeal in commercial ads.

    Hell, with that endearing smile, she could probably sell tanning beds to black folks. Not since Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics has an athlete performed and looked like such a sponsor’s dream.

    Congratulations, Sloane!

    NOTE: I couldn’t have been less interested in the men’s side of this grand slam. But I should at least acknowledge that Rafael Nadal won for his 16th title, leaving him only 3 behind Roger Federer’s record-setting 19.

    Related commentaries:
    Venus triumphs
    Sharapova

  • Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 7:57 AM

    Even Fellow Nobel Laureates Now Condemning Myanmar’s Suu Kyi, the Godmother of Ethnic Cleansing

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Government forces and militant Buddhists have been persecuting Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (née Burma) for years.

    Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that Rohingyas fleeing for their lives have now created a humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. In fact, this rivals the notorious crisis which Syrians fleeing for their lives created in Europe.

    The first thing Rohingya villagers fleeing Myanmar notice when they get to Bangladesh, apart from the stench of raw sewage from thousands of other refugees lacking access to toilet facilities, is locals trying to sell them bamboo poles [to build their own makeshift huts].

    In the past two-and-a-half weeks, an estimated 370,000 people fleeing violence in Myanmar’s eastern state of Rakhine have streamed into the country, creating a humanitarian crisis.

    (Financial Times, September 13, 2017)

    What is surprising is that it took social media turning the plight of the Rohingyas into a viral cause celebre for so many eminent persons to finally speak out.

    Aung San Suu Kyi, who became leader of Burma after 30 years under house arrest for agitating for democracy, has been heavily criticised for failing to address the Rohingya people’s plight. …

    She has been condemned by fellow Nobel peace prize laureates [including celebrated child activist Malala Yousafzai]. Desmond Tutu called on Ms Suu Kyi to speak out against the ‘unfolding horror’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Burma, warning: ‘If the political price of your ascension to the highest office is your silence, the price is surely too steep.’

    (The London Times, September 9, 2017)

    Except that Suu Kyi must have left Tutu and others crestfallen when she responded to their humanitarian appeals by aping Donald Trump.

    ‘It is a little unreasonable to expect us to solve the issue in 18 months,’ she told the Delhi-based network Asian News International. ‘It goes back to pre-colonial times.’…

    On Wednesday a post on Aung San Suu Kyi’s Facebook page blamed ‘terrorists’ for a ‘huge iceberg of misinformation’ about the violence, and made no mention of the Rohingya who had fled.

    (London Guardian, September 7, 2017)

    It was bad enough that she framed ethnic cleansing on her watch as a legacy of pre-colonial times. But she destroyed what little integrity and credibility she had left when she invoked the spectre of “fake news.”

    The pity is that the Trumpian absurdity inherent in her response seemed completely lost on her. But it was not lost on the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein. In fact, it provoked this extraordinary denunciation:

    The situation seems a textbook case of ethnic cleansing. …

    [Suu Kyi’s government] should stop claiming that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages. This complete denial of reality is doing great damage to the international standing of a Government which, until recently, benefited from immense good will.

    (UN News Centre, September 11, 2017)

    Actually, it’s an indication of how much good will Suu Kyi has lost that calls to rescind her 1991 peace prize have gone viral. Unfortunately, the Nobel Committee is on record declaring that it has no process or precedent for rescinding prizes.

    More to the point, though, this barrage of condemnation is too little, too late for too many Rohingyas.

    As it happens, I have standing to dismiss even the revered Archbishop Tutu as a Johnny-come-(too)-lately to this cause. Because I’ve been one of far too few small still voices condemning Suu Kyi and her government for years.

    Here, for example, is how I damned her saintly reputation in “Obama’s Historic Trip to Myanmar: Too Soon?” November 12, 2012.

    ___________________

    The only meaningful step President Thein Sein has taken towards democracy was to release Suu Kyi in 2010 from nearly 15 years of house arrest.

    But he has since co-opted this former ‘democracy icon’ into his political establishment – as leader of the loyal (i.e., powerless) opposition in parliament. Nothing demonstrates the extent to which he has co-opted Suu Kyi quite like her deafening silence while majority Buddhists continue their ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims. This, even in the face of the UN calling Myanmar’s Muslims ‘the world’s most persecuted people.’

    Yet, whenever challenged to explain her silence, the Buddhist Suu Kyi demurs, saying self-righteously that she is not taking sides to preserve her impartiality to help them reconcile. But just imagine how much worse the ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims by majority Hindus in India would have been if the Hindu Gandhi had not been so vocal in condemning it…?

    ___________________

    What’s more, my weblog is replete with subsequent commentaries decrying Suu Kyi’s willful failure to condemn, let alone stop, this religious/ethnic cleansing. And bear in mind that it was (and is) being perpetrated right under her nose.

    I refer you to “Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming Democratic Mascot for Myanmar’s Military Dictatorship,” March 28, 2013, “Buddhists Religiously Cleansing Muslims in Myanmar,” May 13, 2015, “Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s Mandela, Is a Religious Bigot Who Condones Ethnic Cleansing,” March 30, 2016, “Aung San Suu Kyi Lording Over Myanmar’s Crimes Against Humanity,” March 10, 2017, to name just a few.

    This is why moral giants like Tutu and the Dalai Lama himself will have to forgive me for having little regard for their belated condemnations. After all, this is the moral equivalence of saying nothing for years as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad gassed hundreds of thousands of his people, but condemning him as soon as tens of thousands create a humanitarian crisis in Europe after fleeing for their lives.

    Meanwhile, Suu Kyi has joined the rogue’s gallery of pariah leaders who dare not attend the Annual UN General Assembly, which convenes in New York City next week. For, like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, she fears other leaders treating her like a skunk at the garden party.

    But this attempt to save face
    Will just seal her fall from grace.

    That said, in “Europe’s Migration Crisis: Sowing Seeds of Unintended but all too Foreseeable Consequences,” September 7, 2015, I pleaded for an EU-led coalition to create and enforce a safe zone in Syria – complete with humanitarian relief. If this had been done, I am convinced there would have been no Syrian humanitarian crisis. Likewise, there would be no Rohingya humanitarian crisis if an India-led (or a China-led) coalition had done the same with respect to Myanmar.

    Such humanitarian interventions are the least we should expect of countries that aspire to exercise superpower spheres of influence in an increasingly multi-power world. This, especially given that the UN has proved time and again that it is unwilling, if not unable, to effectuate such interventions.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama historic trip
    Democratic mascot
    Buddhist monks
    Myanmar’s Mandela
    Myanmar Rohingyas Sudan Darfurians
    Europe’s migration crisis

  • Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 11:07 AM

    CIA Director Pompeo Insinuates Obama Misrepresented US Intelligence

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Every member of President Trump’s cabinet seems hell-bent on nullifying, discrediting, or undermining everything his/her predecessor in former President Obama’s cabinet did.

    The media have focused on the frustrating efforts of his secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, to repeal and replace Obamacare. But the efforts of others are proving far more effective.

    For example,

    • his administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is rolling back regulations, some of which, topically enough, are aimed at making infrastructure more resilient to Harvey-like floods;
    • his secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is rolling back Cuba policies, which are aimed at normalizing relations after 50-plus years of that feckless and hypocritical embargo; and
    • his secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is rolling back Title IX protections, which are aimed at combating the growing incidence of sexual assaults on campuses.

    Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the mission of the Trump administration is not to Make America Great Again, but to blackout Obama from the annals of presidential history. But nobody should be surprised:

    President-elect Trump instills as much fear as President-elect Obama inspired hope. … I fear he will execute his pledge to ‘blackout’ all of Obama’s signature accomplishments from the history books.

    (“WTF! President-Elect Donald J. Trump?! America. What. Have. You. Done.” The iPINIONS Journal, November 10, 2016)

    Now comes this decidedly Trumpian twist from his CIA director, Mike Pompeo. The Fox News program Special Report conducted a wide-ranging interview with him yesterday to mark the 16th anniversary of 9/11.

    The takeaway for most commentators seems to be the threatening and titillating way Pompeo crowed about confronting Iran and releasing documents seized during that notorious 2011 Navy Seal raid, respectively. (Reportedly, the latter will expose the late Osama bin Laden as a petty, paranoid, porno-peeping phony.)

    But the takeaway for me is the cavalier way he insinuated that President Obama misrepresented US intelligence assessments. Specifically, interviewer Bret Baier reminded him that Obama fueled his re-election campaign with claims about al Qaeda being decimated and ISIS being just its “JV team.” He then asked if US intelligence assessments ever supported those claims. Pompeo replied as follows:

    No. The US estimate of ISIS has always been that they pose a serious threat. It’s never been the case that this was a second-tier threat.

    Frankly, Pompeo’s insinuation that Obama misrepresented intelligence assessments is even more troubling than Trump’s assertion that Obama wiretapped his campaign.

    Yet I am convinced that Pompeo’s has no more basis in fact than Trump’s did. This is why it is even more incumbent upon the intelligence community to clarify Pompeo’s insinuation than it was upon the Justice department to clarify Trump’s assertion.

    As it happens, the Justice Department did so just last week, making a mockery of the right-wing propaganda that gave rise to and perpetuated it:

    The Justice Department said in a court filing Friday evening that it has no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s assertion in March that his predecessor, Barack Obama, wiretapped the phones in Trump Tower before last year’s election.

    ‘Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets,’ the department’s motion reads.

    (CNN, September 3, 2017)

    Beyond this, it behooves Congress to conduct an investigation to determine if there’s any truth whatsoever to Pompeo’s insinuation. He is the CIA director after all.

    Incidentally, Congress would do well to be guided by the British Parliament’s inquiry into allegations that former Prime Minister Tony Blair “sexed up” UK intelligence. He allegedly exaggerated the threat Saddam Hussein posed to justify British involvement in the invasion of Iraq. That inquiry produced the very damning Chilcot Report.

    That said, I think Trump falsely accusing Obama of wiretapping him is an impeachable offense. Likewise, I think Pompeo falsely insinuating that Obama misrepresented US intelligence is a firing offense.

    Unfortunately, Trump has so “normalized” egregious behavior that, evidently, the Republicans who control Congress do not deem his offense even a misdemeanor, let alone the high crime I think it is. Therefore, it follows that Trump is hardly inclined to fire his CIA director for doing what he himself considers a perfectly normal thing to do, namely to make reckless and utterly baseless accusations against political opponents, including a former president of the United States.

    Nonetheless, a congressional investigation should obtain to establish the facts surrounding Pompeo’s very troubling insinuation – if only for the record.

    Related commentaries:
    Cuba policies
    Normalizing relations
    WTF! President-elect Trump
    Blair/Chilcot report

  • Monday, September 11, 2017 at 7:23 AM

    Commemorating 9/11 as Diversion from (Media Coverage of) Hurricane Irma

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-22-38-pm

    I applaud NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg for decreeing this week that, henceforth, the area where the twin towers were destroyed shall no longer be called ‘Ground Zero.’ Instead, it shall revert to its original name, The World Trade Center.

    But I urge him to decree also that, henceforth, the city shall no longer mark this day, every year, by wallowing in the plainly contrived ceremony of tolling bells and reading all names of those who perished.

    Not to mention the untenable emotional conflict this imposes on kids – many of whom were either very young or still in their mother’s womb on 9/11. Imagine being cajoled every year into expressing public grief for a parent you never even knew without feeling as though you’re betraying the love you’ve developed for the person your surviving parent married. …

    Families directly affected should be left alone to grieve in their own way. But I suspect many of them moved on with their lives long ago and will feel no need to do so.

    This 10th anniversary seems a good time for the rest of the country to move on too.

    (“Time to Move On,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 11, 2011)

    Frankly, nothing vindicates my title quite like Walmart commemorating this funereal day by promoting sales of soft drinks; you know, the way Chrysler commemorates Presidents’ Day by promoting sales of Ram trucks.

    screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-14-57-pm

    All the same, I won’t mind the affected pathos and crass commercialism so much today. Because only commemorating 9/11 stands any chance of diverting the media from their exploitative, wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Irma. And this, while they’re giving short shrift to other stories that warrant far more coverage. Exhibit A: the unfolding genocide in Myanmar, which militant Buddhists (oxymoron noted) are perpetrating against Rohingya Muslims.

    Unfortunately, if early morning news programs are any indication, I’m going to be disappointed. Indeed, if I didn’t know better, I’d never know the media have provided wall-to-wall coverage of 9/11 remembrances every year since that tragic event.

    But, evidently, the ratings boon from covering Irma remains so profitable that networks will be loath to interrupt even for complete coverage of the ritualistic tolling of bells and reading of nearly 3000 names. This, of course, compels me to damn the perverse interest of the rubberneckers who stay glued to the media’s contrived and repetitive coverage; after all, these idiots are the ones who are generating those ratings.

    Mind you, the media’s Irma coverage amounts to little more than stunts featuring reporters “braving” the elements to report the obvious; namely that this hurricane is leaving a trail of all too predictable destruction in her wake – complete with storm surges causing Harvey-like floods. Never mind the palpable tone of disappointment when conditions in some places force them to report that Irma was not nearly as catastrophic as they hyped.

    I actually watched the self-indulgent spectacle of a news anchor hailing a field reporter like a war hero for pulling off this now standard journalistic stunt. But it’s only a matter of time before flying debris decapitates one of these misguided poseurs. Then everyone will exclaim “what the hell were they standing outside in the midst of a hurricane for anyway!”

    And, yes, I’ve been warning about this for years to no avail … in either respect.

    Let’s hope Katrina’s winds are strong enough to finally blow away one of those wannabe Dan Rathers who seem to think that it’s necessary (and heroic) to go out in the hurricane to report the obvious whilst holding on to a pole for dear life….

    (“Katrina’s Doming, Katrina’s Coming,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 29, 2005)

    I shall spare you my similar rant about the absurdity of politicians seizing upon hurricanes and other disasters to play military field marshals on TV.

    Related commentaries:
    9/11 time to move on
    Rohingya Muslims
    Katrina’s coming, Katrina’s coming
    Hurricane Harvey

  • Wednesday, September 6, 2017 at 10:46 AM

    Hurricane Irma Eyeing Turks and Caicos Islands – My Mother Country

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The following is an excerpt from “Hurricane Harvey: Water, Water, Everywhere, But Not a Bone Should Sink,” August, 28, 2017, which I wrote just two weeks ago as it was devastating Texas.

    __________________

    I grew up in the Caribbean. And, even though Harvey spared us, our islands have served as a buffer zone for many of the worst hurricanes to ever hit US shores, including Katrina.

    I could not help breaking out in gallows laughter when a concerned American friend asked if [we] ever received evacuation orders. Her concern coincided with governors of states along the eastern seaboard of the United States ordering mandatory evacuations for coastal residents to shelter ‘100 miles inland.’

    But the reason I could not help laughing is that issuing an evacuation order in the Caribbean to escape a hurricane is rather like issuing an evacuation order in China to escape the smog. Where the hell would they go? After all, if people on most islands were to evacuate 100 miles inland, they’d end up either in the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

    (“Hurricane Mathew,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 8, 2016)

    __________________

     

    (Updated image from CNN on September 7 at 8:30 a.m.)

    I was born in The Bahamas and have siblings and other family members still living there. As fate would have it, I have almost as many siblings and other family members still living in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), where my parents were born.

    All the same, I’ve written so many commentaries on hurricanes, I fear writing another so close in time risks fetishizing them.

    But I feel obliged to note that, at this very moment, Irma is a Category 5 hurricane barreling towards the TCI. She’s churning 185 mph of razing winds, squalls of flooding rain, and surges of erosive surf.

    More to the point, she has already left unprecedented destruction in her wake.

    Hurricane Irma has destroyed buildings and caused major flooding on several French island territories in the Caribbean.

    The four ‘most solid’ buildings on Saint Martin, shared by France and the Netherlands, were destroyed, French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said.

    Communications between Paris and Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are down.

    (BBC, September 6, 2017)

    And so, with all due respect to FDR, those in her path have a little more to fear than fear itself.

    But don’t get me started on the folly of the prime minister of The Bahamas ordering people in the southern Bahamas to “get out.” For this is rather like the little pig who built his house with sticks exhorting the one who built his with straw to come over for shelter.

    After all, every Caribbean island in Irma’s path is bound to suffer unprecedented devastation. It could actually make the devastation Harvey left in his path look like the aftermath of typical April showers.

    My family weathered pretty devastating hurricanes on the out islands of Abaco and Andros. On this basis, I submit that your best bet is to collaborate with neighbors to reinforce and stock up the biggest brick/cement building(s) in your area and just hunker down.

    Meanwhile, with Irma headed for Miami, relief and rebuilding efforts throughout the Caribbean could be delayed for weeks, if not months. Because Miami is to this region what Walmart is to small towns all over America.

    Miami-Dade County plans to order evacuations for Miami Beach and much of the mainland coast in advance of Hurricane Irma’s menacing track toward South Florida.

    Mayor Carlos Gimenez said to expect evacuation orders late Wednesday or early Thursday, but emergency officials who report to him are already assuming hundreds of thousands of residents will be asked to leave their homes in the coming days out of fears of historic coastal flooding from Irma. …

    With stores across South Florida seeing runs on water and other storm supplies starting on Monday, the announced school and government closures allow more time for preparation.

    (Miami Herald, September 6, 2017)

    In any event, my thoughts and prayers are with family, friends, and compatriots as our Caribbean serves as a “buffer zone” for yet another US-bound hurricane.

    I was inspired by English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) to write this tribute to what I know will be their unflinching spirit in the eye of this “apocalyptic” storm.

     

    HURRICANE IRMA

    I

    Her storm clouds gather,

    Weathermen blather,

    People hide rather

    Like cornered thieves.

    The trees get twisted,

    Branches limp wristed

    Are soon delisted

    Like autumn leaves.

    The seas then rumble,

    Winds swirl and tumble,

    Sway homes so humble

    Like willow trees.

    The sound of thunder,

    Feeds fear and wonder:

    Will these floods betray bible prophecies?

    II

    Hurricane Irma,

    O how we know ya,

    Learned from Ike’s trauma

    To kneel in prayer.

    No matter your wrath,

    For those in your path,

    The financial bath

    Is all we fear.

    So take your best shot,

    Destroy our lot,

    We shall never rot

    Nor shed a tear.

    Still, please be prepared,

    All will be repaired;

    Just be sure to thank God … then have a beer

     

    Related commentaries:
    Harvey
    Tomas, Irene, Ike

  • Friday, September 1, 2017 at 8:02 AM

    Gone Fishing

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Happy Labor Day!

    Back on 9/11

  • Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 8:13 AM

    Myanmar Cleansing Rohingyas Like Sudan Cleansed Darfurians (Remember them?)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It seems the whole world is rubbernecking the “once-in-a-lifetime” floods that have tens of thousands of Texans fleeing their homes to seek temporary shelter in nearby venues.

    But it seems the whole world is turning a blind eye to the day-to-day atrocities that have tens of thousands of Rohingyas fleeing their homes to seek permanent refuge in nearby countries.

    Apropos of that blind eye, it just so happened that no less a person than President Trump mangled MLK’s famous proverb just days ago. Specifically, while reading prepared remarks on the tragedy white supremacists caused at their recent rally in Charlottesville, he said

    When one citizen suffers an injustice, we all suffer together.

    (New York Times, August 21, 2017)

    Granted, Trump is probably too stupid to appreciate the universality of this proverb. Not to mention that it damns his America First rhetoric.

    But it follows from MLK’s proverb that a crime against humanity anywhere is a crime against humanity everywhere – including America. Trump’s speechwriters would surely concede this.

    Yet you’d be hard-pressed to hear even a mention of the genocidal crimes against Rohingyas on local or network TV news. Hell, these crimes haven’t even warranted a mention on the homepages of major news organizations, let alone the walls of social media. The BBC and Al Jazeera have always been notable exceptions.

    Actually, I had to google “Rohingyas” to come across a report on the back pages of CNN’s website. That report included the following:

    Thousands of Rohingya Muslims are fleeing their homes in Myanmar [a.k.a. Burma] and seeking refuge in Bangladesh. They’re escaping government ‘clearance operations.’ …

    ‘Based on the (Myanmar) army’s consistent response in the last couple of months, we know that they have committed mass killings, mass gang rape, (and) razed (Rohingya) villages. Reports of them opening fire on civilians is certainly plausible,’ [Matthew Smith, a founder and Chief Executive Officer of human rights group Fortify Rights told CNN].

    (CNN, August 28, 2017)

    As my related commentaries indicate, government forces and Buddhist monks have been engaged, jointly and severally, in cycles of repression and religious cleansing for years. Unfortunately, the Rohingya militants who retaliated earlier this week, killing 12 policemen, only exacerbated the ruthlessness of this latest cycle.

    At any rate, for a gut check on your own regard for that MLK proverb, ask yourself to what extent the plight of Rohingyas had entered your consciousness before reading about it here today.

    Alas, just as Trump has normalized insults, lies, and Twitter rants against political opponents, Myanmar has normalized bigotry, rapes, and mass murder against Rohingyas. And the disheartening irony is that it has done so with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human-rights activist, presiding as de facto leader.

    Not to mention that it’s debatable whether Buddhist monks or government forces are perpetrating the worst crimes against the Rohingyas. But I have decried the shocking and appalling inconsistency inherent in Buddhist monks behaving more like ISIS jihadists in a number of commentaries, including rather pointedly two years ago in “Buddhists Religiously Cleansing Myanmar of Muslims,” May 13, 2015.

    Still, for some of us, that others are turning a blind eye is no reason to ignore their plight. Indeed, this weblog is replete with commentaries sounding admittedly forlorn alarms about their suffering. For example, I was moved just months ago to publish “Aung San Suu Kyi Lording Over Myanmar’s Crimes Against Humanity,” March 10, 2017, which includes the following rebuke:

    ___________________

    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. …

    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 …

    ___________________

    Incidentally, African and Syrian migrants are still turning the Mediterranean Sea into a cemetery. It seems the entire world was rubbernecking their death throes two years ago – as war and all manner of pestilence forced them to flee their homes to seek permanent refuge in Europe.

    But then it seems that, on a whim, the entire world began rubbernecking another natural disaster, Donald J. Trump. Even so, some of us continued sounding alarms about their ongoing plight – as “Truth about Viral Image of (Another) Syrian Boy,” August 24, 2016, attests.

    Enough said; for to comment any further would be tantamount to beating a dead horse, even for me.

    Except that I apparently rubbed many Americans the wrong way by urging readers – in my August 28 commentary on Hurricane Harvey – to maintain some perspective. I cited the fact that such floods have become as commonplace as mass shootings, noting the “historic” floods in California earlier this year that went virtually unnoticed.

    But I could have cited ongoing weather-related mudslides in Sierra Leone that have killed over a thousand or, perhaps more on point, Harvey-like floods in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh that have killed over 1200 and left millions homeless. Not to mention that, affirming the notable exception I referenced above, the BBC found space on its homepage today to feature a report under the provocative heading “Is there too much focus on Storm Harvey” – complete with this subheading: “Houston floods, but what about all the other disasters?”

    Yet there’s nothing more perverse in this context than so many people from poor countries inundating social media with expressions of sympathy for flood victims in Texas, while completely ignoring the far more deadly and despairing plight of these other flood victims

    In any event, I assured readers that, as historic as the floods in Texas might be, America has the resources to limit loss of life. Sure enough, Harvey’s floods have only killed a comparatively small number of 21 (as of this writing), and I suspect even those were easily preventable.

    On that defensive note, I hereby ask the following:

    As you consider donating to help shelter relatively rich and temporarily displaced Texans, please allocate a portion of your donation to help save utterly poor and permanently displaced Rohingyas. Actually, why not spare a dime for the others affected by natural and man-made disasters: US Campaign for Burma, UN Refugee Agency.

    Related commentaries:
    Charlottesville
    Aung San Suu Kyi…Myanmar
    Buddhists religiously cleansing
    Darfur
    Syrian and African migrants
    Hurricane Harvey

  • Monday, August 28, 2017 at 7:39 AM

    Hurricane Harvey: Water, Water, Everywhere, But Not a Bone Should Sink

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Harvey spun deeper into Texas and unloaded extraordinary amounts of rain Saturday after the once-fearsome hurricane crashed into vulnerable homes and businesses along the coastline in a blow that killed at least two people and injured up to 14. …

    By Sunday, hundreds of rescues had already been made in Houston, and many more were expected as rescuers battling severe weather and heavy downpours tried hard to reach those left stranded. Authorities did not know the full scope of damage because weather conditions prevented emergency crews from getting into the hardest-hit places – and they dreaded the destruction that was yet to come.

    (CBS News, August 27, 2017)

    No doubt this hurricane will leave a lot of devastation in his wake, which will likely include more (preventable) casualties. But it’s important to maintain some perspective. For example, it might be helpful to know that, as weather-related and other natural disasters go, seasonal wildfires cause far more devastation than seasonal hurricanes.

    Mind you, nothing compels perspective quite like Chicken-Little reporters “wading” through ankle-deep water, while trying to convince viewers that they are reporting on a flood of biblical proportions.

    News outlets cover natural disasters purportedly as a public service. But there’s no denying that such coverage is a ratings boon for their bottom line – catering as it does to the perverse thrill of suspense that keeps us fixated on the hype of impending doom. …

    [But] Americans are blessed with the technology, escape routes to inland shelters, and other emergency management resources to track and withstand hurricanes with no loss of life.

    (“Katrina’s Coming, Katrina’s Coming,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 29, 2005)

    Of course, there are areas where people are wading through waist-deep water to get to shelter. But they are very likely among those who willfully ignored evacuation orders.

    Storm surges, biblical rains, and high winds are all conspiring for what could be the worst storm to touch the United States since Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma pummeled the Southeast 12 years ago. …

    But there’s no amount of messaging that will get 100 percent of a population to evacuate. …

    ‘A lot of people are taking this storm for granted, thinking it may not pose much of a danger to them,’ Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told Huston reporters Thursday.

    (Vox News, August 25, 2017)

    Meanwhile, given all of the media focus on how President Trump is doing, you’d think he were the eye of this storm. I get that, like President Obama, he’s trying to show that he can pass this test of leadership, which President George W. Bush failed so spectacularly during Hurricane Katrina.

    What I don’t get is why the media are hailing Trump. After all, he’s doing little more than tweeting cheerleading platitudes from his comfortable presidential retreat at Camp David, where he’s probably spending as much time on the golf driving range as he is on his tweet sending phone.

    Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen. Good news is that we have great talent on the ground. …

    I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017

    Yet, even in the midst of supposedly showing concern for those affected, he could not resist making it about his primary and abiding concern: himself. For here is what he tweeted just 15 minutes later:

    I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in ’16….

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017

    Hell, by this standard, instead of panning Bush, the media should have hailed him.

    After all, he was so concerned about conditions on the ground during Katrina, he instructed Air Force One to fly over the affected areas to see them for himself.

    Anyway, given the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of this “historic” event, you’d never know that “biblical floods” have become as commonplace as mass shootings.

    2016 really was the year of the flood in the US: In total, 19 separate floods swamped the nation last year, the most in one single year since records began in 1980. …

    The worst flood was in August in Louisiana. At least 13 people were killed and roughly 60,000 buildings were destroyed. The disaster cost $10 billion, Munich Re reported, which noted it was the worst natural catastrophe in the US since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

    (USA Today, January 4, 2017)

    As it happens, floods devastated parts of California earlier this year, much as they are devastating parts of Texas today:

    The storms that have pummeled California since January are part of an atmospheric rive event that has brought major flooding and damage to parts of Northern California. …

    People in the small town of Maxwell, northwest of Sacramento and west of the town of Oroville, had to be evacuated on Sunday, February 19 after flood waters hit most of the area. …

    Rescuers launched rafts and used a helicopter to search for residents cut off by rising water.

    (Curbed San Francisco, February 20, 2017)

    Yet browse the Trump Twitter Archive and you’ll see that he couldn’t even be bothered to publish a perfunctory tweet as storms were pummeling California – not even during the entire month of February when they were at their most devastating. He was too busy tweeting up a storm with fake news about how much he had already done to “Make America Great Again.” Never mind that, for Trump, every new thing is “something the likes of which nobody has ever seen before.”

    So forgive me if I dismiss as “fake news” all of the media reports about the commendable leadership Trump is demonstrating during these floods. Which compels me to suggest that, instead of watching stations peddle the same footage over and over again as “Breaking News,” you might want to check out some of the other 900 channels in your cable TV package.

    I am mindful that I might appear insensitive (i.e., towards the plight of those affected). But I grew up in the Caribbean. And, even though Harvey spared us, our islands have served as a buffer zone for many of the worst hurricanes to ever hit US shores, including Katrina.

    I could not help breaking out in gallows laughter when a concerned American friend asked if [we] ever received evacuation orders. Her concern coincided with governors of states along the eastern seaboard of the United States ordering mandatory evacuations for coastal residents to shelter ‘100 miles inland.’

    But the reason I could not help laughing is that issuing an evacuation order in the Caribbean to escape a hurricane is rather like issuing an evacuation order in China to escape the smog. Where the hell would they go? After all, if people on most islands were to evacuate 100 miles inland, they’d end up either in the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

    (“Hurricane Mathew,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 8, 2016)

    With that point of privilege, my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the floods covering Texas today.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Sunday, August 27, 2017 at 9:18 AM

    UPDATE: Mayweather TKOs McGregor

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am betting on uppity Conor McGregor, 29, to beat regal Floyd Mayweather, 40, at his own game.

    (“What Will It Profit Floyd Mayweather to Scam Another $200-300m But Lose…?” The iPINIONS Journal, August 26, 2017)

    I lost.

    In the 10th round of a surprisingly competitive fight, Mayweather backed McGregor onto the ropes with a series of rights and lefts. McGregor’s face was completely bloodied. He was about to fall through the ropes, and the referee stepped in to stop the fight with 1:55 remaining in the round. …

    The victory improved Mayweather’s record to 50-0, and allowed the typically defensive fighter to say farewell in thrilling fashion in what he said was his last fight.

    (New York Times, August 27, 2017)

    Mayweather is an ostentatious jerk. But there’s no denying his Boxing skills – complete with stamina that enabled this “old man” (40) to make his young opponent (29) look like an old drunk in the later rounds. There’s also no denying his uncanny smarts – complete with promotional stunts that would make P.T. Barnum green with envy.

    What’s more, it’s patently obvious that, for him, depositing hundreds of millions in his bank account will more than compensate for any loss (of face or integrity) he may have suffered in the ring: “a surprisingly competitive fight” indeed.

    Incidentally, McGregor seems more interested in emulating Mayweather’s ostentatious displays and promotional stunts than his Boxing skills. Therefore, where the three-ring circus this sport has become is concerned, the show will go on.

    Mayweather made a point of announcing his retirement with immediate effect. And he wants everyone to believe that he really means it this time. I don’t. But I’m happy to play along to the extent of congratulating him for racking up the best record in Boxing history.

    I wish him well. I just hope he has enough sense to stay in retirement to avoid any further blemishes on his record.

    Related commentaries:
    What will it profit

  • Saturday, August 26, 2017 at 8:43 AM

    What Will It Profit Floyd Mayweather to Scam Another $200-300m but Lose…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yes, I am betting on uppity Conor McGregor, 29, to beat regal Floyd Mayweather, 40, at his own game. They face off at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas tomorrow night.

    The undefeated all-time pound-for-pound great Floyd Mayweather, he of 12 world titles in five weight classes, will exit a two-year retirement for one fight to face UFC star Conor McGregor, who is crossing over to boxing from MMA for a fight that was initially just a germ in his mind when he brought up the possibility in a 2015 television interview. …

    The fight makes no logical sense. Mayweather is a legendary boxer and supreme defender who will be boxing against an opponent who is outstanding in the Octagon, but a novice in the ring and making his pro debut.

    (ESPN, August 25, 2017)

    And no, Mayweather is not the first boxer to make a farce of his sport by participating in a mongrel bout like this. For he can cite no less a boxer than Muhammad Ali as inspiration – given the scam Ali pulled off when he fought Japanese “wrestler” Antonio Inoki in 1976.

    Nothing is more telling about Ali ‘inside the ring’ than the fact that he does not even rank among boxers with the ‘greatest unbeaten record of all time.’ That distinction belongs to the likes of Joe Calzaghe (46-0, 32 KOs), Rocky Marciano (49-0, 43 KOs), and Floyd Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs). Surely any of these boxers has a more legitimate claim to the title as the greatest fighter of all time than Ali (56-5, 37 KOs).

    (“Muhammad Ali, Celebrated Boxer and Conscientious Objector, Is Dead,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 5, 2016)

    To be fair, MMA fans probably think McGregor is making a farce of his sport too.

    I am no boxing analyst. I’m not even much of a fan. In fact, ever since “The Bite Fight” between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in 1997, I have refused on principle to spend any money to watch any of these overhyped farcical events on PPV.

    One can hardly blame so many in the arena for booing. After all, they paid a veritable fortune for what amounted to watching these fighters play a chess match.

    Except that, by definition, the outcome of everything in [Las Vegas], the gambling mecca of the world, is a crapshoot. Not to mention that these same suckers will be front and center for the next ‘fight of the century.’

    (“Mayweather vs. Pacquiao: Evil Triumphs … Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 3, 2015)

    Sure enough, here we are.

    So here’s my take on this fight: Mayweather will clearly display superior boxing skills – complete with the defensive instincts of an alley cat. But McGregor has predatory instincts to match. What’s more, Mayweather’s geriatric punches will land like butterfly touches, which McGregor will brush off all night; whereas McGregor’s dynamic punches will land with such power that one haymaker and it’ll be lights out for Mayweather.

    Of course, the odds are such that a McGregor win would easily rank as the biggest upset in Boxing history. But its social impact would rival Jack Johnson becoming the first black heavyweight Boxing champion, or even Barack Obama becoming the first black president of the United States.

    Meanwhile, Floyd “The Money Team (TMT)” Mayweather is so obsessed with money, he’d probably sell his soul if, like this fight, it guaranteed hundreds of millions more for him to waste on fast cars and loose women – his undefeated record be damned. Besides, I gather it does more for his self-esteem to chronicle his decadent splurges on social media than defeating 49 challengers in the ring ever did, or could.

    Alas, McGregor seems bound to beat Mayweather in this dubious arena of human folly too, which speaks volumes about the character of far too many athletes these day.

    Frankly, the only reason I’m bothering to comment is that I see this fight as more of a human tragedy than a sports event. For, above all, it compels me to lament that no amount of wealth seems sufficient to stop men like Mayweather from sacrificing every ounce of their integrity to acquire more.

    NOTE: God help those feeling the wrath of Hurricane Harvey this weekend. But the silver lining in its dark clouds is that obsessive media coverage of its destruction will spare us similar coverage of the fallout from this fight.

    Related commentaries:
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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Friday, at 5:58 p.m.

  • Friday, August 25, 2017 at 7:35 AM

    Trump’s America Showing ‘Shades’ of Hitler’s Germany…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Comparisons between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler are fast becoming a mainstream media meme.

    Just this week

    • Representative John Garamendi (D-CA), a seasoned member of the Armed Services Committee, voiced concerns on Wednesday’s edition of CNN’s The Situation Room about Trump “using Nazi tactics” – like demonizing the press;
    • The former British ambassador to the United States, Sir Peter Westmacott, compared Trump’s improbable rise to Hitler’s, warning in the August 23 edition of the Huffington Post of “shades of 1933 Germany”; and
    • The cover of the current issue of Stern, a highly respected German magazine, crystallized this meme by featuring Trump giving a Nazi salute with the American flag draped over him – like a KKK robe.

    But some of us were drawing these foreboding comparisons long before Trump became president. Here, for example, is what I wrote in “Republicans Bewailing Trump as Their Nominee; Democrats Hailing Hillary as Theirs,” June 8, 2016.

    __________________

    [Republicans] spent the nominating process accusing Trump of displaying all kinds of disqualifying traits, notably those of a ‘racist [and] Islamophobe,’ a ‘pathological liar,’ a ‘con artist,’ a ‘dangerous narcissist,’ and a ‘wannabe dictator’ – who, among other things, has threatened to punish his media critics if he’s elected president. …

    Except that their hatred of Hillary is such that – as soon as plainly uninformed and gullible voters elected him the nominee of their party – these same leaders turned on a dime and endorsed Trump, love of country be damned. …

    But Republican leaders would do well to remember that Nazi leaders endorsed Adolf Hitler in the early 1930s, notwithstanding his disqualifying traits – notably those of a genocidal anti-Semite. We all know how that turned out and, more to the point, how history judged those leaders. These Republican leaders are sheepishly running the risk of being judged in similar fashion.

    __________________

    But, thanks to the lessons of history, I am convinced that Trump will end up like Nixon long before the shades of Nazism he’s casting over America become the dark clouds Hitler visited upon Germany. I foreshadowed this in “Channeling Nixon, Trump Fires FBI Director,” May 9, 2017

    ___________________

    Only one other president in US history had the authoritarian gall to fire the public officials investigating his alleged high crimes and misdemeanors. That president, of course, was Richard M. Nixon – who infamously justified his authoritarian behavior as follows:

    Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.

    (Frost/Nixon Interview, May 1977)

    Alas, brazen lies, contradictions, and hypocrisies have become routine features of [Trump’s] presidency – just as they were of his campaign. Indeed, firing Director Comey to restore public confidence in the FBI, as Trump claims, is every bit as Orwellian as throwing journalists in jail to protect the freedom of the press.

    This is why I can only reiterate my forlorn hope that Republican politicians will stand up to Trump (beginning with a clarion call for a special prosecutor) – just as they stood up to Nixon, and thereby precipitated his downfall.

    __________________

    Sure enough, less than 10 days later, on May 17, Trump’s own Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor. I duly hailed this silver lining in “Special Prosecutor Appointed to Investigate Trump-Russia Ties. Checkmate!” May 18, 2017.

    Stay tuned.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Thursday, August 24, 2017 at 7:50 AM

    Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn Latest Celebrities Crying Foul over Hacked Nudes

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I feel obliged to state from the outset that I couldn’t care less what consenting adults do, so long as it poses no harm to others. This is why I’m on record calling for the legalization of drugs and prostitution.

    That said:

    Tiger Woods has threatened to sue a celebrity smut site and the as-yet-unidentified person who stole and leaked nude photos of ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn and a full-frontal image of the pro golfer.

    Looks as if that threat is not yet getting the job done.

    As of 9:30 a.m. PDT Tuesday, photos and a video of Vonn, the photo of Woods and dozens of shots of additional victims — Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart, Katharine McPhee and Stella Maxwell — remained live on a website that was cited by TMZ in its Monday report of the breach and the legal threat.

    (Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2017)

    Silly me, I thought the bonding feature of Tiger and Lindsey’s relationship was sharing tips for competition, not pics for titillation. But this sharing of cheap thrills just provides further insight into why their relationship couldn’t last. I commented on their split in “Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn Call It Quits? Duh,” May 6, 2015.

    But frankly, I no longer have any sympathy for celebrities who are still falling victim to prurient hacking. We’ve all had fair notice of the risks inherent in taking and sharing nude photos. More to the point, here is how I vented indignation in this context years ago in “Nudes of Celebrities, Including J-Law and Kate Upton, Hacked. No Sh!+,” September 1, 2014.

    _________________

    What is most noteworthy about this story is that such nudes even exist. You’d think that — after the truly shocking publication of hacked nudes of Vanessa Hudgens years ago — other celebrities would not give hackers the opportunity to do to them what they did to her. Not to mention all of the instructive reports/warnings about hacking that have been published almost daily since then.

    Yet reports indicate that, these days, all young celebrities take compromising nudes, which they store on their iPhones or leave floating around in cyberspace (in the ‘iViolated’ iCloud). One could be forgiven the impression they think what happened to Vanessa is something devoutly to be wished.

    Any celebrity expressing outrage at being ‘violated’ in this way is either too stupid or reckless to be worthy of any sympathy.

    _________________

    This is why nude-sharing celebrities who cry foul over being hacked are only slightly less disingenuous than social-media fiends who cry foul over being trolled (Exhibit A: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s Instagramming, ‘Marie-Antoinette’ wife.) And their misguided outrage is only made contemptible when they threaten frivolous lawsuits.

    Never mind that it’s patently pointless to take legal action to get a website to take down nude photos. For this is rather like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, or like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. Choose your idiom. The cat’s out of the bag.

    Incidentally, I say “no longer” because here is the more sympathetic view I shared six years ago in “Hacking Nude Photos of Celebrities,” September 16, 2011.

    __________________

    I see nothing wrong with even ‘good girls,’ like Vanessa Hudgens and Scarlett Johansson, taking nude selfies to share electronically with their lucky boyfriends. I distinguish them from ‘bad girls,’ like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, who do the same (and a lot more), and then arrange for them to be ‘hacked’ for purely commercial purposes.

    The paparazzo who hacked nude photos from ScarJo’s phone and sold them to a celebrity website should be prosecuted. … We all have a reasonable expectation that strangers will not be tapping our phone conversations. That same expectation obtains with respect to hacking pictures from our phones.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, even though a prostitute sells her body, she has every right to object to being raped. Likewise, even though an actress appears nude in films, she has every right to object to her nude photos being hacked.

    That said, I looked at the hacked photos at issue … for purely editorial purposes. ScarJo looks more like a Botticelli muse than a Playboy playmate in all of them.

    Therefore, instead of demanding an FBI investigation, she would’ve been well-advised to let these sleeping dogs lie.

    _________________

    Yes, I looked at the hacked photos at issue here too. With respect to Lindsey, no comment.

    With respect to Tiger, reports are that his recent poor play and DUI arrest had him feeling small. But it appears he has always had an anatomical reason for feeling so.

    Apropos of which, I should note that I only publish hacked information that serves a compelling public interest. Nude photos of celebrities clearly do not qualify.

    But hacked e-mails showing scientists raising doubts about data related to climate change or exposing public officials with secret offshore bank accounts do, hence “Climate-Gate” E-mails Expose Scientific Doubt about Climate Change,” December 4, 2009, and “Leaked ‘Panama Papers’ Affirm more than Reveal OffShore Banking Secrets,” April 6, 2016, respectively.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Tuesday, August 22, 2017 at 7:47 AM

    Trump Aping ‘Stupid’ Obama Who Aped “Crusading” Bush on War in Afghanistan

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Like Obama, Trump made ending America’s longest war a signature promise of his presidential campaign.

    We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 21, 2013

    Now, like Obama, he’s reneging on that promise just months into his presidency.

    President Trump on Monday sought to rally the nation in support of a new strategy for the U.S. war in Afghanistan, taking greater ownership of a protracted conflict that he had long dismissed as a waste of time and resources. …

    ‘From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country, and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.’ …

    Trump did not specify how many more troops will be sent to Afghanistan, but congressional officials said the administration has told them it will be about 4,000.

    (Washington Post, August 21, 2017)

    Trust me, despite his kumbaya preamble and trademark bluster, Trump’s plan for victory amounts to nothing more than a continuation of Obama’s, which amounted to nothing more than a continuation of Bush’s.

    At least Bush and Obama had a clear understanding of their respective plans and demonstrated a good faith belief that it might work. Nobody can say the same even of this straitjacketed Teleprompter Don – in either respect.

    For example, he made much ado about announcing that “conditions on the ground,” not arbitrary timetables, will determine the withdrawal of US troops. But, past being prologue, conditions on the ground are bound to remain such that US troops could be mired in Afghanistan for the next 200 years, trying to no avail to accomplish Trump’s definition of victory.

    Arguably, scientists will cure cancer before soldiers defeat terrorism. And, lest we forget, this is the same Trump who often scoffed that troops would be mired in Afghanistan for 200 years if “stupid” presidents like Bush and Obama had their way.

    Incidentally, wasn’t the mother of all bombs (MOAB), which the US dropped on Afghanistan in April, supposed to change conditions on the ground, decisively…?

    Then there’s the manifest absurdity of relying on Pakistan to help with Afghanistan the way he relied on China to help with North Korea. After all, anyone who knows anything about Pakistan’s nefarious involvement in Afghanistan knows that it is even less likely to help, especially given Trump’s provocative invitation for its archrival India to help too.

    I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017

    And one has to wonder about Trump’s conspicuous failure to mention any measures to counter the destabilizing influence Russia  and Iran are wielding in this country.

    Russia

    The Taliban have received improved weaponry in Afghanistan that appears to have been supplied by the Russian government, according to exclusive videos obtained by CNN, adding weight to accusations by Afghan and American officials that Moscow is arming their one-time foe in the war-torn country.

    US generals first suggested they were concerned the Russian government was seeking to arm the Afghan insurgents back in April, but images from the battlefield here corroborating these claims have been hard to come by. …

    Two separate sets of Taliban, one in the north and another in the west, claim to be in possession of the weapons, which they say were originally supplied by Russian government sources.

    (CNN, July 25, 2017)

    Iran

    In arming the Taliban, the Iranians are only doing to the Americans today what the Americans did to the Russians during the 1980s (when they were fighting an equally ill-fated war in Afghanistan). Anyone familiar with the derring-dos of Congressman Charlie Wilson, all of which are documented in Charlie Wilson’s War, knows this.

    Karma: it’s a bitch!

    (“Iran Arming America’s Enemies in Afghanistan,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 10, 2009)

    Since launching my weblog 13 years ago, I have written countless commentaries decrying the folly of America’s involvement in Afghanistan. They range from “Meanwhile, Over in Afghanistan: Snatching Defeat from the Hands of Victory,” September 18, 2006, to “Three More Americans Die for ‘Mistake’ in Afghanistan,” June 12, 2017.

    But here is a seminal excerpt from “Without (or Even With) More Troops, Failure in Afghanistan is Likely,” September 23, 2009. In a curious bit of symmetry, I wrote it around this time in Obama’ presidency – after he announced his fateful plan to ape Bush.

    _________________

    [N]ation building in Afghanistan (even under the guise of a ‘counterinsurgency strategy’) is no longer advisable or feasible. Indeed, all indications are that the die has been cast for this ‘good war.’

    Accordingly, US legacy there will be distinguished either by a terminally wounded national pride – as American forces beat a hasty retreat in defeat (following the Russian precedent), or by thousands more American soldiers being lost in Afghanistan’s ‘graveyard of empires’ – as they continue fighting this unwinnable war (following America’s own Vietnam precedent): more troops only mean more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters. …

    Obama would be well-advised to cut America’s losses and retreat ASAP; let the Afghans govern themselves however they like; and rely on Special Forces to disrupt and dismantle Taliban and al-Qaeda operations in country and on aerial drones to attack their havens in the mountainous regions of Pakistan.

    ___________________

    Obviously, Trump would be well-advised to do the same. Unfortunately, like Bush and Obama, he seems determined to repeat the mistakes US presidents made during the Vietnam War. Only this vietnamization explains Trump’s military advisers thinking that 15,000 troops can do what 150,000 could not. Crazy!

    And all this just because the generals invariably convince each president they serve that he does not want to go down in history as the president who lost this war. Again, crazy!

    By the way, Steve Bannon is the nationalist White House adviser who got fired last week. He was reportedly advising Trump to “privatize US operations in Afghanistan.” But this outsourcing smacks of the Banana-Republic madness that has the president of the Philippines relying on vigilantes to fight that country’s war on drugs – with all of the reckless and feckless carnage that entails.

    Not to mention suspicions that Bannon hoped to get kickbacks from the bounty of $10 billion annually, which his favored contractor, latter-day Viking Erik Prince, would charge the US government for his militia’s mercenary services.

    In any event, it has been self-evident from the outset of this war that non-Taliban Afghans are all too happy to let the Americans fight their battles.

    But the longer American soldiers remain mired in this unwinnable war, the more they will undermine the American military’s reputation of invincibility. And the more they undermine that reputation, the more not just the Taliban but tin-pot dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un will feel emboldened to fight the United States – Trump’s “fire and fury” bluster notwithstanding.

    Of course, it hardly instills fear in any adversary to have merchant ships and oil tankers ramming US battleships out of commission.

    The US Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    It was the second major collision in the past few months involving the Navy’s 7th Fleet. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan.

    (Washington Post, August 21, 2017)

    To be fair, US soldiers have shown valor beyond the call of duty during this 16-year war. But it should be instructive that, despite their best efforts, military advisers readily admit that America is “not winning.” Indeed, you’d think even warmongering generals would be loath to waste more blood and treasure waging it – given the 2,250 soldiers already killed and nearly $1 trillion already spent.

    Except that, based on the Vietnam toll of 58,000 killed, I suspect military advisers would consider another 2,250 killed over the next 16 years an “acceptable loss.” And everything we know about the military industrial complex suggests that they would not care how much it costs to continue waging this forever war.

    Nevertheless:

    Why should the United States be any more willing to keep troops stationed in Afghanistan to defend it from the Taliban than it was to keep them stationed in Vietnam to defend it from the Viet Cong? Especially given that the spread of communism posed a far greater existential threat to the United States back then than the spread of jihadism poses today. Hell, we have more to fear from the mercenary ideology of the NRA than the religious ideology of Islamic Jihad.

    (“Obama, Nobel Peace Laureate, Seals Legacy as Wartime President,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 13, 2016)

    Incidentally, it’s patently specious to justify continued US involvement in Afghanistan by citing US troops still stationed in post-war Germany. For starters, “post-war” is the operative distinction. Moreover, those troops never had Nazis trying to kill them while they were trying to help other Germans rebuild their country (namely West Germany).

    Unfortunately, political reporters and pundits are too busy covering the silly folly of the fired Bannon threatening internecine “war” within the Republican Party to focus on the tragic follies of this war.

    Finally, you’d be forgiven the impression that Trump looked more like a Saturday Night Live caricature of himself than a commander in chief as he addressed the nation tonight. No doubt recent reports on members of his own Republican Party questioning not just his moral authority and professional competence but even his mental stability reinforced this impression. Trump’s Nazi-coddling statements on the August 12 terrorist attack in Charlottesville proved the tipping point for their belated questioning.

    Apropos of which, if the real mission of tonight’s address was to put a MLK spin on those statements: Mission Accomplished.

    NOTE: The only way to stop American presidents these days from sending kids to die in politically motivated wars is to reinstate the Draft, which I argued for in “Support the Draft to Prevent Stupid Wars,” March 14, 2007.

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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Monday, at 10:34 p.m.

  • Monday, August 21, 2017 at 7:43 AM

    Rio’s Olympian Hangover Ends in Bankruptcy

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The 2016 Rio Olympics ended a year ago today. Unfortunately, its legacy is proving more of a poisoned chalice than a source of national pride.

    In fact, when all is said and done, I fear the most significant medal from Rio will be the silver it seems doomed to win for the biggest boondoggle in the history of sports.

    In “Putin Turns $51 billion Sochi Olympic Park into a Racetrack?!” October 15, 2014, I posited that the 2014 Sochi Olympics has a lock on gold for shameful Olympic legacies. The 2004 Athens Olympics is on track to win bronze. Except that it could be overtaken if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ever awards the Summer Games to another city in a developing country. (More on that later!)

    After the athletes left Rio, so too did the optimism as political scandals, including millions of pounds of public money allegedly stolen in bribes for Olympic constructions projects, plunged the country into economic chaos.

    Rio de Janeiro itself declared itself bankrupt just days after the Olympics closing ceremony, with no more money to pay suppliers to the Games, while hospitals, schools and the police have borne the brunt of drastic cuts to public services. …

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the short-changed people of Rio are today left wondering exactly how the Games improved their lives.

    (Daily Mail, August 19, 2017)

    Of course, the saddest part is that Brazilian leaders knew Rio’s legacy would be thus. Even ordinary Brazilians knew, not least because they were already suffering broken legacy promises, which hosting the 2014 World Cup left in its wake.

    No doubt this is why, instead of celebrating with anticipation, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians were protesting in frustration in the run up to these Games. Yet Rio organizers continued hyping legacy benefits. This showed not only what they thought of ordinary Brazilians, but also their willful intent to host these games as little more than a vainglorious boondoggle – the “general welfare” be damned.

    As it happened, I commented on those protesters wailing to no avail in “Rio Olympics: The Opening Ceremony,” August 6, 2016.

    ___________________

    [R]oving protests betray the abiding fact that, far from feeling national pride, the vast majority of Brazilians actually resent hosting these Olympics.

    One can hardly blame them. After all, these folks have been perennially marginalized. And now they’ve been gentrified and quarantined in squalid favelas to make room for new Olympic venues and related facilities. …

    Not to mention that most Brazilians are likely to enjoy none of the purported legacy benefits. Indeed, like those of so many host cities (notably Munich, Athens, and Sochi), Rio’s Olympic venues seem destined to live on as white elephants or eyesores. …

    Brazilians need only look at the poisoned chalice Athens 2004 turned out to be for the Greeks. After all, the debt hangover from those Games not only triggered the EU financial crisis of 2010, but austerity measures to service that debt have many once-proud, middle-class Greeks now living like favela-dwelling Brazilians.

    ___________________

    Swimming is my favorite Olympic sport. Therefore, nothing is more heartbreaking in this respect than seeing images of the venue where Michael Phelps ended his storied career already looking like the abandoned venue where Mark Spitz ended his nearly 50 years ago.

    But all venues have suffered such neglect and decay that Rio’s Olympic Park now looks like a zombie paradise.

    Seven months after Rio de Janeiro hosted the first Olympic Games in South America, many of the expensive venue sites remain abandoned.

    Getty image photojournalist Mario Tama recently captured images of the decaying structures that were promised by organizers to be a legacy benefit to the citizens of Brazil. From the degraded golf courses and swimming pools to an abandoned gondola line, the photos look less like the past home of a worldwide event and more like scenes from The Walking Dead.

    (Huffington Post, March 21, 2017)

    As indicated above, the IOC bears some blame for using its imprimatur to help Rio peddle its Olympian pipe dreams. For IOC members knew as surely as Rio organizers did that those dreams would end in the ruins now littering that city.

    But the IOC can thank its lucky stars that Tokyo, Paris, and Los Angeles will be hosting the next three Summer Games, respectively. Because those cities are hardly likely to end up with Rio’s bankrupt legacy.

    Unfortunately, this militates against the IOC ever awarding the Olympics to a city in another developing country again. Given the hangover Athens suffered, you’d think this would have been a lesson learned

    Mind you, Rio is not the first city in a developing country to host the Summer Games. That distinction belongs to the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

    The political strife that attended those Games – notably the black power salute and the lesser known Tlatelolco massacre – marred Mexico’s legacy. But it has fared as well as host cities like Los Angeles and London when it comes to legacy benefits. This is self-evident given that Olympic venues like the Estadio Azteca and other stadiums, which hosted soccer events, and the Alberca Olímpica Francisco Márquez, which hosted swimming and diving, have been in constant use ever since.

    In fact, the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) resorted to Mexico City to host the 1975 Pan American Games after everything from financial woes to political strife forced two other Latin American cities, Santiago and São Paulo, to withdraw. The IOC probably should have seen this as a red flag. But this is not the forum to explain why Mexico succeeded as a host city where others in developing countries failed.

    To be fair, though, even host cities in developed countries should beware that Olympian promises of legacy benefits often provide comfort to fools. Exhibit A in this respect is the 1972 Munich Olympics I alluded to above. For its venues suffered such neglect and decay that this city was competing with Athens for that bronze medal.

    In any event, the IOC should henceforth require bidding cities to meet legacy sustainability criteria. Foremost, they should have to demonstrate that they can repurpose and maintain all Olympic venues and related infrastructure for at least 10 years after the Closing Ceremony. Failure to show this kind of fiduciary care would risk the IOC becoming as bankrupt morally as Rio has become financially.

    Finally, I’d be remiss not to note the irony in Rio’s zombified Olympic legacy. After all, this is the city where millions go annually to revel in Carnival. What’s more, the only hangover symptom it ever suffers is the headache of having to clean up the mess revelers leave behind.

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