Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 7:49 AM
Not only is Catalonia presenting an equally compelling case for independence as Kosovo; it is doing so in a non-violent way that stands in commendable and instructive contrast to the violence that attended Kosovo independence.
Alas, such is the vested (European) interest in holding Spain together (economically and politically) that, even if Catalonia were to vote ‘Yes,’ Western powers would surely conspire to nullify it; hence the double standard…
Nevertheless, ‘autonomous’ regions in other countries – among them Iraq’s Kurdistan, Italy’s South Tyrol, Belgium’s Flemish and Walloon, even China’s Uyghur – are bound to tempt fate (for political, cultural and/or economic reasons) by following the pandora’s-box precedent Kosovo set.
(“Catalonia: Spain’s Kosovo Problem,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 1, 2012)
The vote in Scotland, however, will be binding on England. Not least because Scotland has been negotiating the terms for an independence referendum with successive English governments ever since the Acts of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Milestones towards this end over these years included the creation of a Scottish Parliament in 1999 – complete with devolution of ministerial powers.
All the same, both latter-day English imperialists and their abiding Scottish loyalist are painting such a Dickensian future for an independent Scotland that the ‘Yes’ vote seems unlikely to carry the day when the referendum is held on September 18. And no less a person than Alex Salmond, first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, is on record acknowledging that a ‘No’ vote could spell the end of the SNP as a political force and extinguish any aspiration for independence for at least a generation or two.
(“Crimea One of Many ‘Distinct Nations’ Within Nation Voting to Breakaway,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 31, 2014)
The day of reckoning is at hand. Scotland will hold its historic referendum tomorrow to decide whether to preserve the Union or become independent. Polls indicate that it will come down to the wire. But I think cooler heads will prevail, and Scots will vote to preserve it.
As my opening quote indicates, however, Scotland is just the latest in a string of regions within nations, where yearning for independence has been burning in the hearts, even if not in the minds, of a critical mass of people.
Interestingly enough, in a recent commentary on the dubious referendum Crimea held to breakaway from Ukraine (admittedly to be annexed by Russia, not to become independent), I felt constrained to cite the unwitting precedent the UK may have set in this respect:
Britain went to war to reinforce its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. Therefore, it smacks of rank hypocrisy for Britain to be leading the chorus of European countries denouncing Serbia for merely threatening to go to war to reinforce its sovereignty over Kosovo…
Kosovo embodies as much historical, cultural, and religious significance for Serbs as Mecca holds for Saudis. Moreover, it happens to be situated right within Serbia’s universally recognized borders; not thousands of (imperial) miles away – as the Falklands are from Britain.
(“Kosovo: Wither Serbia’s Alamo,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 4, 2007)
Of course, the irony is not lost on me that the United Kingdom, which spearheaded the balkanization of so much of Africa and the Middle East – by arbitrarily drawing borders between peoples – is teetering on the precipice of balkanization from within. (Re balkanization of Middle East, see 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement and 1917 Balfour Declaration; and re balkanization of Africa, see 1884 Berlin Conference)
But Scottish nationalists are undoubtedly thankful that Mother England is according them this right of self-determination; instead of attempting to impose her will upon them at the barrel of a gun. Granted, “the troubles” that attended her attempt to impose her will upon Irish nationalists/republicans in Northern Ireland might have something to do with this more sensible approach in Scotland….
Mind you, this is not to say that she has decided to just lie back and think of England without Scotland. For, as indicated in my March 31 commentary cited above, political leaders of every stripe have been framing the consequences of a “Yes” vote in such apocalyptic terms, you could be forgiven for mistaking them for fundamentalist preachers warning about the end of the world as we know it.
An independent Scotland faces a £14billion black hole in its finances, a prominent think-tank warns in a report today.
A slump in North Sea oil revenues, an exodus of banks to England and a spike in public sector pensions represent three ‘huge risks’, says the Centre for Policy Studies.
The dire forecast cast further doubt over Alex Salmond’s economic plan and what critics call his North Sea oil ‘fantasy’.
(Daily Mail, September 15, 2014)
Surely that constitutes a bit of piling on, no?
Yet, on top of all that, it seems every British celebrity worth his salt is chiming in; and most, with the notable exception of a few like Sir Sean Connery, are urging Scots to vote “No”:
Sir Paul’s signature, alongside Sir Mick Jagger’s and those of tens of thousands of people from all over the country, shows that English, Welsh and Northern Irish people hope passionately that the Scottish vote to renew their bonds of citizenship with us.
(BBC, September 15, 2015)
Which makes one wonder why President Obama decided to jump into this marital spat yesterday (even if PM Cameron begged him to) by boldly ) by boldly urging Scotland to stay with England, presumably, if she wants to stay friends with the United States. Especially given that his two cents worth seems all the overbearing juxtaposed with the far more fair-minded way the Queen on Sunday simply urged Scots to, ahem, “think very carefully about the future” before voting.
To be fair, Obama has greater standing to chime in than one might think, given reports about his genealogy extending back to William the Lion, who ruled Scotland from 1165 to 1214. Reports are that he’s even related to the Queen – as her “9th cousin twice removed.” But, by that stretch, I might be related to Her too.
All the same, Obama’s interference, if not intimidation, risks inciting a stealth backlash among congenitally proud Scots, which could end up helping the “Yes We Can” nationalists win the day….
As documented, much is being made of the dire consequences a “Yes” win would portend for Scotland. But similar consequences would portend for England too. For starters, if Scotland goes, its prized and popular (neo-colonial) Overseas Territories, including Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands, to say nothing of its neighbor Wales, might well follow. There’s also the humbling contrast that would likely be drawn between England losing yet more of what little remains of its empire, which was once so vast “the sun never set” on it, and Russia expanding (reconstituting) hers via land grabs in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine.
Indeed, if Scotland goes the way of Kosovo and South Sudan (and votes for independence), instead of the way of Quebec (and votes to preserve the union), it might embolden calls for England to lose her permanent seat on the influential UN Security Council. After all, without Scotland (one-third of its current land mass), she would be even more of an island onto herself and fated to wield even less power on the European continent than the little she does today. Not to mention the irony inherent in England pleading for Scotland to preserve their union, while English politics is being dominated by demands for a referendum to allow England to leave the European Union.
Frankly, regardless of the outcome, Brazil, which wields far more influence on the South American continent, or South Africa, which wields far more on the African continent, seems a far more worthy occupant of that seat on the Security Council than England.
Meanwhile, nothing indicates how desperate England is to preserve the union quite like the fact that it has already conceded (and promised) so many devolutionary powers that Scotland is already, for all intents and purposes, independent.
This is why, if they’re smart, the Scots would vote “No” – to have their cake and eat it too … as it were.
Monday, September 15, 2014 at 7:23 AM
But I waited until today to comment for two reasons:
My first reason for waiting is that I did not want to join the visceral, viral vultures rabidly feeding off Ray, purportedly to support Janay. For this struck me as rather like trigger-happy cops shooting the hostage to arrest the hostage taker….
Moreover, I was already on record with this:
Conspicuously absent amidst the virtual pillorying Smith is getting – most notably from his ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle - is any criticism of the decision Rice’s fiancée made to marry him less than six weeks after he beat her senseless.
Clearly the message Smith sends, by insinuating that women provoke the physical abuse they get, is wrong. But the message she sends, by cleaving onto her abuser, is no less so.
(“NFL: Wife Beating No Worse than Dog Fighting,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 26, 2014)
You can well imagine the criticisms this incited – ranging from clichés about blaming the victim, to threats about doing to me what Ray did to Janay. Except that here, in part, is what Janay herself had to say to all of her self-appointed avengers – who were attacking her husband as if he were King Kong and she the little damsel in distress:
No one knows the pain [the] media & unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family…
THIS IS OUR LIFE! (sic) What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels.
(Baltimore Sun, September 9, 2014)
This statement clearly vindicates my view that Janay marrying Ray is far more troubling than ESPN commentator Steven A. Smith insinuating that she provoked his abuse. After all, we have laws to deal with men who abuse women; we have no laws to deal with women who enable and willfully tolerate their own abuse.
Meanwhile, if this sad episode has taught us anything, it is that telling women to just leave abusive relationships is no more helpful than telling kids to just say no to drugs. It’s not as if any victim of domestic violence today is not acutely aware of the potential consequences of staying or, more importantly, of the protections and support available to her from law enforcement and social services if she leaves.
Interestingly enough, Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, likened a relationship with an abusive partner to gambling addiction. Here’s how he weighed in on tweets from tens of thousands of women who shared their stories last week under the hashtag #WhyIStayed:
The person being abused is focused on the positive and waiting for the next positive. There’s a psychological effect like gambling: the moments of tenderness and intimacy are unpredictable, but they are so intense and fulfilling that the victim winds up staying in the hopes that a moment like that will happen again.
(TIME, September 9, 2014)
Therein lies the rub/paradox.
What is truly perplexing, even vexing, about this is that, just as being educated and sophisticated does not make one immune to the spiral of drug addiction, being so does not make one immune to the cycle of domestic violence.
Many dismissed – as a symptom of “battered woman syndrome” – Janay’s defiant cry to be respected as a college-educated and socially liberated woman quite capable of deciding what’s best for her and her family. But these pop psychologists strike me as the sort who would dismiss – as a legacy of slavery – Blacks who choose to steal and sell drugs instead of going to school and finding a job.
As a principled feminist, however, I appreciate Janay’s exasperation. This is why I am so dismayed that the self-appointed guardians of women’s liberation at the National Organization for Women (NOW) have turned Janay’s abuse into a political cause celebre.
What they don’t get is that she made an informed and free choice to stand by her man, and the only thing those presuming to advocate on her behalf have done is to undermine that choice. Not least by putting so much public pressure on his NFL team that it felt compelled to terminate a contract that would have paid her husband in excess of $10 million over the next three years; to say nothing of compelling a number of sponsors to terminate endorsement contracts that would have paid him millions more. The NFL, caving in to the pressure too, suspended him, indefinitely.
Incidentally, Ray is 27. Reports are that his initial two-game suspension would’ve cost him almost $470,000. If this indefinite suspension forces him to remain out of the game for two or more years (as seems likely to be the case), it could spell the end of his career. And only God knows how a wife beater, thusly embittered, might feel “provoked” to lash out….
What Janay’s statement makes distressingly clear is that it’s nobody’s business if a woman chooses to stay with her abuser, for whatever reason, but hers. I don’t think any woman should choose to become a prostitute. Yet even NOW endorses a life of prostitution as an informed choice many women make. However, this organization for women would be hard-pressed to explain why it treats women who sell their bodies for a living (with all of the risk and inherent abuse that entails) as liberated free agents, but those who stay in abusive relationships with the men they love as mentally incapacitated and in need of guardians ad litem.
More on point, one wonders why NOW isn’t stoking public outrage over no less a woman than Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) making light of the fact that male senators routinely groped and sexually harassed her on Capitol Hill. I watched an obviously incredulous Mika Brezinski ask Gillibrand (on the September 8 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe) why she refuses to name, let alone prosecute, the culprits. She said, in effect, that she didn’t want to because it’s no big deal and they’re her colleagues. I was stupefied.
Perhaps Janay wanted no further action taken against Ray because she didn’t think it was a big deal and he’s her friggin husband….
My second reason for waiting is that I was already as outraged as I could possibly be. After all, that first video six weeks ago showed Ray dragging a clearly unconscious Janay out of an elevator … as if she were nothing more than a piece of furniture he was struggling to move.
I did not need to see Ray actually landing the blow that knocked her out to condemn the NFL for giving him just a slap on the wrist. I’m on record, in the above-cited commentary, in this respect too:
You probably know about the viral outrage this suspension incited. What you probably don’t know, however, is that Rice’s slap on the wrist actually reflects the prevailing culture – not just of the NFL but of all professional sports.
For years I’ve been decrying the perverse values that guide the NFL’s code of conduct. Nothing demonstrates this perversity quite like juxtaposing the two-week suspension Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Rice last Thursday for abusing his fiancée with the three-month suspension he gave Miami Dolphins offensive guard Richie Incognito last year for bullying his teammate.
To be fair, though, I feel constrained to note that Goodell took decisive steps to redeem the NFL long before TMZ released this second, more graphic video last week.
Saying ‘I didn’t get it right’ with Ray Rice, NFL commish Roger Goodell announced a dramatic new domestic violence policy for the league Thursday.
A first offense under the new domestic violence policy calls for a six-game suspension, while a second offense would result in a lifetime ban.
The NFL’s new policy applies to all league personnel, not just players.
(CBS News, August 28, 2014)
This is why it’s unfair that NOW is leading a chorus of avenging feminists calling on Goodell to resign. Especially when one considers a) that, unlike NOW, Goodell probably bent over backwards to accommodate what Janay thought was in her best interest; and, more importantly, b) that, after examining all the evidence, including this second video, the New Jersey prosecutor ultimately decided that it was in the best interest of justice, in this case, to let Rice enter a pre-trial intervention program, instead of filing criminal charges against him. No doubt he was influenced by the fact that Janay not only supported this alternative but would have been an uncooperative victim/witness.
All bets are off, however, if it turns out Goodell lied on national TV about what Ray told him about what happened from the outset, or about when he first saw that second, galvanizing video.
One wonders why NOW and other women’s groups aren’t calling on this prosecutor to resign….
Then, of course, there’s the media’s complicity in all this. Regular readers know of my abiding and unbridled contempt for the mainstream media. This was only reinforced last week when, as Janay insinuates, they thought nothing of compounding her abuse by airing the video of Ray knocking her out as if it were a GIF on a website for men who get off on abusing women. And nothing betrays what little journalist integrity they have quite like major networks announcing their intent to stop playing this video:
ESPN, CNN, ABC, NBC, Fox News Channel and Fox Sports all said Thursday they would no longer show the video unless there are compelling news reasons to bring it back.
(Media Matters, September 11, 2014)
After all, this came after each of them had already aired it a thousand times for purely prurient purposes (i.e., ratings).
Mind you, this is the same media that enforces a policy of not revealing the names, let alone showing the faces, even of alleged victims of rape. Therefore, what are we to make of their regard for victims of domestic violence that they would think nothing of not only revealing their names and showing their faces, but of airing video of that violence being perpetrated against them?
With that, here are some takeaway points:
- A snarky tweet or, better still, a viral video is all far too many people think they need these days to vent morally indignant opinions on any issue, including one as complicated as domestic violence.
- I would have advised Janay against standing by Ray, but I respect her decision to do so.
- This case has taught us nothing about domestic violence - not just in the NFL but in society at large – that the O.J. Simpson case did not teach us over two decades ago. Remember that teachable moment? This case has only demonstrated the untenable influence viral mobs have not only on public debate these days, but on public policy. (Only the outrage of viral mobs over the beheading of two American journalists explains why Obama is starting a war against ISIS that seems even more a “march of folly” than Bush’s invasion of Iraq.)
- You’d never know it, but, because of that O.J. case, law-enforcement authorities are keen to press criminal charges in cases of domestic violence – often against the wishes of the victim.
- Janay’s statement makes clear that, far from advancing the fight against domestic violence, the public hysteria this case incited might set it back decades – as even more women become loath to report domestic violence for fear of becoming fodder for viral tweets and a cause celebre for crusading, latter-day feminists.
- While all of her putative supporters turn their attention to the next viral video or social-media outrage, Janay will be struggling to come to terms with Ray’s loss of millions in contracted and future earnings; to say nothing of a domestic life that might prove far more stressful, if not violent, thanks to last week’s tsunami of support.
- The NFL has taken commendable steps towards meting out more appropriate penalties for incidents of domestic violence. But last week was arguably the worst in its history — from a PR perspective — with reports of even more egregious domestic-violence cases and a child abuse case (involving former league MVP Adrian Peterson disciplining his four-year-old son with a switch … the way many Black parents discipline their children).
- I know Blacks constitute 66 percent of the players in the NFL. But it is truly disheartening that, according to the U-T San Diego NFL arrest database, all of the 14 players currently playing who have been charged or accused of domestic violence are Black.
- I appreciate that, according to a November 29, 2013, report in USA Today, Black NFL players are arrested nearly 10 times as often as White ones. But it is truly disheartening that all of the 24 players who have been arrested this year, for one reason other another, are Black.
Saturday, September 13, 2014 at 6:12 AM
Friday, September 12, 2014 at 5:25 AM
The judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial has ruled out all murder charges, but says he may still be guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter).
Judge Thokozile Masipa said the prosecution had failed to prove the Olympic athlete killed his girlfriend deliberately in the toilet after a row, prompting tears from Mr Pistorius.
He cannot have foreseen killing whoever was behind the toilet door, she said.
(BBC, September 11, 2014)
For, with all due respect to Milady, it defies logic to find that a reasonable person cannot foresee that firing four bullets into a toilet stall would probably kill whoever is inside. Not to mention that this conduct comports with the textbook definition of depraved indifference for human life. And that’s murder … even in South Africa!
Frankly, there’s no denying that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to warrant a guilty verdict on at least one of the murder charges. Except that, evidently, Judge Masipa gave Pistorius the benefit not just of a reasonable doubt but of any conceivable doubt. Only this explains her finding of not guilty on all charges related to murder.
But I shall leave it to legal pundits – who make a living prattling on about sensational cases and second-guessing rulings/verdicts – to elaborate on her judicial errors.
Truth be told, though, this judge had me thoroughly mesmerized as she read her judgment this morning. Not least because she heightened the suspense inherent in waiting for her verdict by reading so haltingly that it compelled me to hang on her every word.
In fact, she came across more like a drama queen giving a theatre performance than a judge delivering a courtroom judgment. Nothing affirmed this impression quite like the way she punctuated her reading throughout with dramatic pauses. But I was utterly stupefied when she adjourned proceedings with the words:
It is clear that his conduct was negligent. I will have to stop here. We’ll proceed tomorrow at half past 9.
(BBC, September 11, 2014)
As cliffhangers go, no Hollywood writer could have scripted a better one. After all, this came a mere 15 minutes after a long lunch break.
Still, ironically, what little she read during those 15 minutes clearly telegraphed her intent to find Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide. Therefore, if she timed her adjournment for dramatic effect, it was anti-climactic at best. But more time center stage for this diva in judicial garb – complete with her deceptively unassuming demeanor….
Except that her adjournment is now inflicting cruel and unusual anguish not just on Pistorius (who still faces jail time), but also on the victim’s loved ones (who have just cause to fret that Milady might pick up tomorrow by defying her own logic to find him not guilty of culpable homicide too).
Indeed, with respect to the latter, Judge Masipa gave the impression that her tongue lashing about his unreasonable conduct and evasive testimony is punishment enough for this already crippled Olympian….
Still, I remain convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s as guilty as sin – as I stated for the record in “Oscar Pistorius Now South Africa’s O.J. Simpson…?” February 15, 2013. What’s more, I fully expect this judge to show more common sense, to say nothing of legal judgment, than the jurors who acquitted O.J. by finding Pistorius guilty of this lesser charge, and sentencing him to seven years in prison (after weighing all mitigating and aggravating factors).
Of course, apropos of my allusion to O.J., even if, with tortured reasoning, she lets Pistorius off scot-free (or finds him guilty but gives him little or no jail time), I have no doubt that, like O.J., he will get his just desserts … someday, someway.
Pistorius puts foot in mouth…
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 12:24 p.m.
Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 7:35 AM
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,’ but shall revert back to its original name, The World Trade Center.
But in addition to this I urge him to decree that henceforth the city shall no longer mark this day, every year, by wallowing in the plainly contrived ceremony of reading all of the names of those who perished on 9/11. Not least because of the untenable emotional conflict this imposes on kids – who were either very young or still in their mother’s womb on 9/11 – to express public grief for a parent they never even knew without feeling as though they’re betraying the love they have for the person their surviving parent married.
Instead, the families directly affected should be left alone to grieve in their own way. Of course, I doubt many of them who moved on with their lives long ago will even feel the 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)
Imagine my disappointment, therefore, when I learned that no less a person than now-former Mayor Bloomberg will be emceeing another elaborate national day of remembrance … at “Ground Zero.”
After all, even Israel leaves it to individuals to remember the extermination of six million Jews during WWII in their own way, reserving only the sounding of a siren to signal a national moment of silence. Surely the United States can do the same to remember the killing of 3000 on 9/11. No?
Time to move on…
Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 8:42 AM
This is a very complicated and convoluted issue; therefore, I shall begin with a few clarifying points:
- Despite the media inciting hysterical calls for war against them, the jihadists rampaging across the Middle East, who call themselves ISIS/ISIL (hereinafter ISIS), pose no security threat to the United States. They certainly have done nothing that warrants President Obama forming a coalition of the willing to “degrade and destroy” them, which bears foreboding similarities to the coalition his predecessor formed to invade Iraq. In fact, Obama has less justification to launch strikes against ISIS than President Bush had to invade Iraq.
- With all due respect to the two American journalists ISIS beheaded in such provocative fashion recently, the barbaric killing of Americans abroad does not constitute just cause for this kind of military response. If it did, Obama would’ve responded accordingly after rampaging thugs killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, at that U.S. Consulate in Benghazi two years ago this week. Mind you, this is not to say that no response is warranted. I just think a few drone strikes — of the kind Obama has launching for years to take out terrorists from Pakistan to Yemen — would deliver appropriate (i.e., proportionate) retribution for such killings.
- If mere threats to terrorize or destroy this country were sufficient provocation, the United States would be in a permanent state of war. Most notably, JFK would’ve been provoked into launching preemptive strikes against the Soviet Union in the 1960s; and, instead of Iraq, Bush would’ve had far greater justification to invade North Korea – a country whose foreign policy for the past two decades has consisted of little more than threatening to launch nuclear attacks against the United States or its ally, South Korea.
- Nothing betrays how foolhardy forming this coalition to fight yet another war on terrorism is quite like the United States having nothing to show after 13 years of fighting al-Qaeda: Nothing, this is, except a $1 trillion money pit in Afghanistan, over 2000 dead U.S. troops, and spawns of al-Qaeda (including ISIS) now killing and terrorizing – as much in Africa and South Asia as in the Middle East – in ways that would offend the conscience of no less a terrorist than Osama bin Laden himself. Indeed, given that Boko Haram has been doing in Africa exactly what ISIS is doing in the Middle East, Obama would be hard-pressed to explain why he’s not forming a coalition of the willing to degrade and destroy this al-Qaeda spawn too….
- Obama has been taking great pains to assure the American people that the only boots on the ground for this war on terrorism will be those of regional allies like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Turkey. Except that nothing betrays how misleading (or misguided) this is quite like Bush taking great pains to do the same with respect to his coalition. After all, despite paying lip service and egging on the United States, not a single Mideast country participated in the invasion of Iraq. What’s more, many of the countries Bush named, like Micronesia, didn’t even have armies from which to draft foot soldiers. More to the point, given the way ISIS has already routed the rag-tag Syrian Free Army, cowardly/disaffected Iraqi Forces, and beleaguered Kurdish Peshmerga, Obama selling them as boots on the ground is even more disingenuous than a used car salesman selling lemons.
- It should be instructive that the warmongers now scaremongering about ISIS bringing jihad to the United States are the same warmongers who were scaremongering 13 years ago about al-Qaeda doing the same: Not to jinx it, but we’re still waiting. And don’t get me started on their enabling, ratings whores in the media for whom there’s no better John than a calamitous war. Is there really any wonder Americans fear that a bunch of rampaging jihadists in the Middle East pose the biggest threat to the United States since Hitler’s Germany…? Never before has FDR’s admonition, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” been more apt.
- If there are Americans training with ISIS to do its bidding on the home front, the NSA would be far more likely to foil their plots than Obama’s “core coalition,” which will be waging another unwinnable war over in the Middle East. This is why it behooves Obama to ignore self-professed privacy advocates who complain about NSA spying (at home and abroad) to keep us safe, but think nothing of Google and Amazon doing even more spying just to sell us stuff. Incidentally, you’d think, given Snowden’s revelations about the NSA spying on foreigners, that the Americans would know that the Saudis and other Arabs think of them as nothing more than hired help to protect their countries; not unlike the way they think of the Indonesians they hire to clean their homes.
- Don’t get me started on pandering politicians citing public opinion polls to support their drumbeat for war. After all, half of the American people probably have no clue who or what ISIS/ISIL is; and, despite more than a decade of war in the region, even more of them probably could not locate Iraq on a map to save their lives.
This is the mockery politicians – who have become little more than ‘perfectly lubricated weather vanes’ – have made of representative government. For the record, the American people elect (and pay) congressional representatives to make ‘informed’ decisions on issues of national importance. We have representative government, instead of literal democracy, precisely to avoid the spectacle of governing based on prevailing, and invariably uninformed, passions.
(“On Syria and Almost Every Other Issue, the American People Are Insolent, Ignorant Idiots … and Their Congressional Representatives Are Pandering, Pusillanimous Pussies,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 10, 2013)
- To say nothing, alas, of so-called analysts who have been all over the media schilling for the military industrial complex (and earning exorbitant fees), instead of explaining what national security interest is being served by launching a war against ISIS.
That said (and I know I’m really testing your Twitterized patience here), what follows is more lamentation than commentary. It highlights the abiding flaws in American foreign policy that give rise to wars like the one Obama will attempt to make the case for tonight in a special address to the nation.
I urge you to listen carefully for anything that convinces you that his war on terrorism (against ISIS) will be any more successful than Bush’s ill-fated war on terrorism (against al-Qaeda). Just be mindful that JFK convinced the American people that his war on communism (in Vietnam) would be more successful than his predecessor Truman’s war on communism (in Korea). And beware that a stupid war by any other name (like “a counterterrorism operation”) would still prove as stupid….
I’m on record predicting – in such commentaries as “Fifth Summit of the Americas: Managing Expectations,” April 17, 2009 – that Obama’s “transformative” presidency will be defined as much by reforming healthcare, the signature legislative achievement of his first term, as by lifting the embargo against Cuba, which should be the signature foreign policy achievement of his second.
The reason for the latter, of course, is that this embargo represents the most enduring example of the double standards, mixed messages, and brazen hypocrisy that have bedeviled U.S. foreign policies for over 50 years. For example, apropos of double standards, only insidious political pandering (to Miami Cubans) explains why the United States nurtured diplomatic and economic relations with communist sharks like China and the Soviet Union, while enforcing an embargo against a communist minnow like Cuba.
Alas, the double standards, mixed messages, and brazen hypocrisy that have bedeviled America’s dealings with communist countries are beginning to bedevil its dealings with state sponsors of terrorism, most notably Iran and Syria.
Who can blame [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] for becoming a little unnerved by Obama’s solicitous pursuit of [Iranian President Hassan Rouhani] for just a photo-op handshake at the UN last week; to say nothing of the blushing way Obama trumpeted their ‘15-minute talk on the phone,’ which he initiated from the White House as Rouhani was being chauffeured to JFK airport.
(“Netanyahu, Obama’s Iago; Iran, His Desdemona,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2013)
Bear in mind that Iran is a country the United States still designates as a state sponsor of terrorism. Not to mention one that remains hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, which presumably would make the terrorism it sponsors (and executes) positively genocidal. Ominously, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that: “Iran failed to meet a deadline to provide information on its past nuclear work.”
One can be forgiven for thinking that [with this proclamation] President Obama sealed [President Bashir al-Assad’s] fate as surely as, with a thumb down, a Roman emperor sealed that of a gladiator…
This raises the question: How on earth has Assad managed not only to survive, but to massacre tens of thousands of the people Obama seemed so concerned about? The answer, frankly, can be summed up in one name: Vladimir Putin.
(“Why Putin, Not Obama, Is Master of Assad’s Fate,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 14, 2012)
Bear in mind that, even though a country the United States still designates as a state sponsor of terrorism, Syria has demonstrated its good-faith interest in normalizing relations. It did so by foreswearing WMDs — complete with UN experts overseeing the dismantling of labs and destruction of stockpiles. Not to mention demonstrating its bona fides as a “moderate” Muslim state. It did so by waging an existential battle against ISIS for over a year before the United States recognized this al-Qaeda spawn as its enemy too.
Apropos of mixed messages, just contrast my account above on the solicitous way Obama sought a handshake with Iran’s president last year with this report below on the visceral way he raised a clenched fist to Iran’s supreme leader last week:
The U.S. rejects the offer of the spiritual leader of the Islamic republic, Ali Khamenei, to cooperate in action against the Jihad ISIS group (‘Islamic State’) in northern Iraq. ‘The US doesn’t share intelligence information nor acts in military cooperation with Iran’, said the State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, in a press conference.
(Jerusalem Online, September 6, 2014)
In a similar vein, Obama rejected any prospect of cooperating with Syria. Here’s how French President Francois Hollande rejected (on behalf of Obama and other NATO leaders) Assad’s offer to cooperate with the international community to fight ISIS terrorists in his country, where they’ve based their operations and claimed vast territories as part of their new jihadist Caliphate.
Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism. He is the de facto ally of jihadists… There is no choice to be made between two barbarisms.
(Al Jazeera, August 28, 2014)
But, trust me, the only reason Obama is not accepting Assad’s offer is that Republican warmongers, like Sen. John McCain, and Democratic hawks, like wannabe president Hillary Clinton, have goaded him into thinking he must do to Assad and Syria (after he decapitates ISIS in Iraq) exactly what Bush did to Saddam and Iraq (after he decapitated the Taliban in Afghanistan). Unbelievable? Well, so is the fact that these warmongers and hawks have already goaded Obama into a Vietnam-style mission creep – given that the 300 troops he said in June were sufficient to protect embassy personnel in Iraq have already mushroomed to over 1000, not including an untold number of military “advisers.”
Apropos of brazen hypocrisy, just bear these protestations in mind when wire services begin publishing reports in the coming weeks about NATO “coordinating” with Iran and Syria in the fight against ISIS.
After all, nothing indicates that it will be thus quite like the State Department spokeswoman, who is quoted above pooh-poohing any prospect of such coordination, proceeding to speak out of both sides of her mouth as follows:
We are open to engaging them, as we have in the past, but we are not interested in military cooperation with the Iranian leadership.
Perhaps even more telling, though, is that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did the same when he ended a harangue against Obama for rejecting the Ayatollah’s offer as follows:
This danger threatens the entire region and requires international cooperation.
(Agence France-Presse, September 7, 2014)
Indeed, it speaks volumes about the (regional) menace ISIS poses that the Arab League voted at an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday to join Obama’s international coalition of the willing to degrade and destroy it. Except that, here again, its members showed no willingness to do anything more than serve as IAGO-like cheerleaders to an Othello-like Obama
Meanwhile, Obama readily concedes that major regional countries – that can deploy ground troops – are indispensable to the success of this international fight. Which can only mean that, despite his public protestations, he knows full well that Iran and Syria (and Russia as their superpower patron) will be de facto allies.
Not least because a) Iran and Syria have the region’s most effective fighters; b) Obama insists that the United States will not deploy any troops on the ground; c) U.S. airstrikes alone cannot “shrink the territory” ISIS controls; and d) Iraq has demonstrated that, despite 10 years of training by the United States, it has no ability to govern itself, let alone defend itself, against ISIS.
What’s more, ISIS has just given Putin a reason to join the fight:
Earlier this week, the Islamic State issued a video challenging a powerful global leader. But this time, it was not President Obama … it was Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the video, fighters pose atop Russian military equipment, including a fighter jet, captured from the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
(Washington Post, September 6, 2014)
Of course the irony is that, just weeks ago, the Russians were hurling undisguised expressions of schadenfreude at the sight of ISIS/ISIL terrorists parading the military hardware they wrested from Iraqis the mighty Americans trained. Now Americans can do (and are doing) the same at the sight of ISIS terrorists parading the military hardware they wrested from Syrians the mighty Russians trained.
All of the above clearly puts a new wrinkle on the adage: the enemy of my enemy is my friend/ally. Especially when one considers that the United States will be drawn into these strange military alliances, while it’s ratcheting up against Russia the same kinds of economic sanctions it has been imposing against Iran and Syria for years. How’s that for strange bedfellows?!
China acts like a parent who seems to think her only duty is to feed and clothe her child – all guidance about and regard for right and wrong be damned. The latest example of this is China’s refusal to even voice disapproval of the brutal crackdown Syria is now carrying out against pro-democracy protesters. (More than 3500 people have been killed and thousands more injured since March.)
This stands in instructive contrast to the coalition of the willing the U.S. is amassing to impose even stiffer sanctions against Syria. The Arab League – which has a history of blithely countenancing the human-rights abuses of member states – so disapproves of the crackdown that it voted this week to expel Syria…
Of course, in a rather perverse way, at least China is being consistent. For the one thing every brutal dictator who fell during the Arab Spring could count on was China’s tacit, and sometimes overt, support. Indeed, it behooves the black countries of Africa and the Caribbean that are sucking up to China these days as a more generous Sugar Daddy than the U.S. to appreciate that, if the Apartheid government of South Africa were still in power, China would have no qualms about doing business with it too.
Hell, just yesterday, in an unwitting, or perhaps telling, bit of timing, the China International Peace Research Center announced that the neo-Stalinist prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is this year’s recipient of its Confucius Peace Prize, which was established ‘to promote world peace from an eastern perspective.’
(“China’s Deficit? No Moral Authority to Lead,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 16, 2011)
In other words, if by some diabolical miracle it succeeded in setting up a jihadist Caliphate in the heart of the Middle East, ISIS would be able to count on China not only to establish diplomatic relations, but also to help it build its infrastructure in exchange for sweetheart business deals (especially for cheap oil). And this would be the case even if, to achieve its ends, ISIS (comprised of Sunni Muslims) killed more Yazidi Christians and Shiite Muslims than the number of Jews the Nazis killed during WWII. But I digress….
To be fair to Obama, no less a revered president than Ronald Reagan conducted a similar foreign policy of double standards, mixed messages, and brazen hypocrisy with respect to Iran. After all, Reagan regarded Iran as such a state sponsor of terrorism that he famously damned it as “murder incorporated” and, more to the point, vowed to have no dealings with it.
Yet, while damning Iran, Reagan dispatched an emissary to open backchannels to negotiate selling arms to help Iran in its war against Iraq, in exchange for Iran’s help in securing the release of four American hostages being held by Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. What unfolded – as the Iran-Contra and arms-for-hostages fiasco – was as scandalous, not to mention illegal, as Watergate. Such was Reagan’s popularity, however, that he was not even impeached, let alone kicked out of office.
It’s debatable whether Obama should consider this a guiding or foreboding precedent. But it might be helpful to know that he’s on record declaring his ambition to be more transformative like Reagan than effective like Clinton….
In a similar vein, I would be remiss not to acknowledge another ominous precedent that is probably troubling Obama. It’s the one Woodrow Wilson set when he won re-election in 1916 by pledging to keep America out of WWI. Alas, Wilson soon felt that geopolitical developments left him no choice but to enter the “Great War” in Europe “to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy.” Unfortunately, all the United States did was reinforce old enmities and spawn new rivalries, which led inexorably to WWII.
Now recall that Obama won re-election in 2012 by pledging to end wars, not to start them. Alas, he too clearly feels that similar developments leave him no choice but to enter this truly bedeviling fray – of shifting alliances in what, at its core, is a nearly 1000-year-old sectarian/fraternal conflict. Unfortunately, there seems little doubt that all the United States will do is reinforce old enmities and spawn new rivalries, which presumably will lead inexorably to yet another president declaring yet another war on terrorism….
Finally, I’ve been lamenting – in commentaries as far back as “The Shotgun Convention of Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds to Frame an Iraqi Constitution,” August 22, 2005 and as recently as “Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America” June 19, 2014 – the folly of the United States acting as if it can either “win” a war on terrorism or build a Jeffersonian democracy in the Middle East:
With respect to the former, I’ve maintained that the best the United States can do is deny terrorists safe havens and disrupt their training and planning with vigilant drone surveillance and preemptive targeted strikes. After all, as it has demonstrated by doing this everywhere from Pakistan to Yemen, the United States does not need a coalition of the willing to do so.
With respect to the latter, I’ve maintained that it’s best to leave warring factions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria to their own devices, sufficing only to warn whichever one emerges as the governing authority that it will suffer a Taliban-like fate too if it harbors terrorists within its borders.
I proffered this strategy because, if the Afghans and Iraqis Americans spent over a decade training to govern themselves, defend themselves and sustain themselves can’t stand on their own against a rag-tag bunch of Taliban fighters and rampaging ISIS/ISIL terrorists, respectively, then they deserve whatever fate befalls them. To say nothing of the dreadful spectacle of so many of those the U.S. trained either turning their guns directly on U.S. troops – in now notorious “green-on-blue” killings, or using that training to professionalize the ranks of terrorist groups like ISIS.
Incidentally, Obama is making quite a show of seeking congressional authorization to train “moderate” Syrian fighters as part of his war on terrorism strategy. But, consistent with the foregoing, nothing betrays the wishful thinking inherent in this quite like the shameful (and ultimately sacrificial) way thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqi fighters threw down their U.S.-made weapons, abandoned their U.S.-made military vehicles, and hightailed it from just a few hundred poorly equipped ISIS/ISIL fighters.
More to the point, though, it smacks of a delusional mix of paternalism, narcissism, and sadomasochism for the United States to keep trying to impose Jeffersonian democracy on countries in the Middle East. The irony, of course, is that, left to their own devices, those countries might develop into thriving democracies after all … just like the United States.
Indeed, perhaps the most galling feature of U.S. foreign policy is that Americans act as if they developed their beacon of democracy overnight. Whereas, in fact, the barbarism ISIS is displaying with its land grab and ethnic cleansing across the Middle East, which Obama is citing as the cause for war, pales in comparison to the barbarism Whites displayed with their land grab and institutionalized slavery across the United States. Not to mention that Americans hurling self-righteous indignation at the barbaric sectarian war between Sunni, Shia, and Kurds for control of Iraq would do well to remember the barbaric Civil War between Yankees, Confederates … and Blacks for control of the United States of America.
With that I rest my case against Obama’s war on terrorism.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 2:32 AM
For the second time this year, the owner of a professional basketball team will sell his controlling interest of a franchise after his racially insensitive views were made public.
Bruce Levenson, who has led the ownership group of the Atlanta Hawks since 2004, informed N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver on Saturday that he intended to sell the team, effectively cutting short a league investigation into an email that Mr. Levenson sent two years ago to fellow Hawks executives detailing his thoughts on how the team could attract more white fans…
‘I think Southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority,’ Mr. Levenson said in his email, pointing out that he had earlier told the executive team that he wanted ‘some white cheerleaders’ and ‘music familiar to a 40-year-old white guy,’ and that he thought ‘the kiss cam is too black.’
(New York Times, September 7, 2014)
As it happened, I was so convinced this would be the case that I wrote the following in my original commentary on the first owner of a professional Basketball team who was forced to sell his franchise after his racially insensitive views were made public:
Let me hasten to clarify that the takeaway from this story should not be Sterling’s pathetic, hypocritical, misogynistic, chauvinistic, and racist admonition to his girlfriend. It should be what his admonition betrays about the insidious strain of covert racism that runs so blithely through this ostensibly non-racist White man … and others like him (We have to wonder now, don’t we?).
(“NBA Owner to GF: Your Photos with Blacks, Including Magic, Embarrass Me,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 27, 2014)
Well, now we know.
To be fair, though, Levenson is really “angry” about all this:
‘If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be,’ he said. ‘I’m angry at myself, too… It was inflammatory nonsense. We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them.’
(New York Times, September 7, 2014)
Except that, as plainly racist and disqualifying as Sterling’s remarks were, I got the impression that he genuinely loved being an NBA owner and, more to the point, that he would have turned down $4 billion if it meant he could keep his team.
By contrast, even though Levenson might be less racist, which granted is rather like being less pregnant, I get the impression that he’s quite eager to sell – even if his “racist” email becomes the de facto pretext for his windfall:
When (emotional) bidding inflates the value of the Clippers to well over $1 billion, all owners will be guided by their vested interest in ensuring that the sale goes through. After all, if the Clippers were sold for $1 billion, even the Mavericks would have to be valued at $1.5 billion … at least.
(“NBA Commissioner Gives Racist Sterling the Death Penalty,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 30, 2014)
Clearly there’s no way of knowing what truly motivated Levenson to “self-report.” But this is very telling:
The deal to sell the Atlanta Hawks to California businessman Alex Meruelo died its eventual death in a quiet press release on Friday afternoon…
‘The Atlanta Hawks are no longer for sale,’ Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson said in the 4:53 p.m. press release shortly after Meruelo and the Spirit terminated their sale agreement…
[T]ry as they might, the city of Atlanta just can’t rid itself of the least honest ownership group in North American professional sports that has been a model of how not to own a professional sports team since buying the Hawks…
(The Examiner, November 4, 2011)
What’s more, in its January 22, 2014 edition, Forbes valued the Clippers at $575 million. Sterling sold for $2 billion. Therefore, Levenson could be forgiven for calculating – given that Forbes valued his team at $425 million – that he could sell for at least $1.5 billion.
In any event, it’ll be interesting to see what additional “punishment” the NBA metes out to Levenson (e.g., Will he receive a lifetime ban from the NBA too?). But the real challenge will come if/when an NBA owner is exposed not as the kind of Sterling racist everybody finds reprehensible, but as the kind of Levenson racist many people find sympathetic and who, like Sterling, does not want to sell.
After all, no less a person than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar defended Levenson in TIME yesterday by pleading that, even though his remarks are “cringeworthy,” he clearly made them only to facilitate an entirely “reasonable” discussion on ways to grow/diversify his franchise.
Meanwhile, the irony is that both of these NBA owners are Jews who you’d think would be more sensitized about racial matters. But, when jealousy (in Sterling’s case) and greed (in Levenson’s) are involved, I suppose there’s no place for sensitivity … about anything.
Monday, September 8, 2014 at 3:37 AM
I fully expected Venus and Serena to do to the records in women’s tennis what Tiger Woods has done (and is doing) to the records in golf.
Alas, they have not. In fact, of the 43 Grand Slam titles that have been up for grabs since they turned pro in 1998, Venus has won only 7 and Serena 11. By comparison, in less than half that time – from 2004 to 2008 – Justine Henin won 7 titles. And at 29 and 27, respectively, it seems a pipe dream that either Venus or Serena will ever surpass Steffi Graf’s feat of winning 22 titles, let alone Margaret Court’s 24.
(“Serena…Triumphs at Wimbledon,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 6, 2009)
Except that, remarkably, Serena looked more invincible than ever yesterday – as she routed a very game Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-3 to win her sixth U.S. Open Championship. Imagine going through an entire two-week Grand Slam tournament – in what are supposed to be the waning years of her career – and not giving up a single set?!
More to the point, though, this marked her 18th Grand Slam singles title, putting her in the rarefied company that I clearly doubted she would ever be.
By winning Sunday, Williams, 32, matched Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for fourth on the all-time list of Grand Slam winners, behind Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22) and Helen Wills Moody (19). She also matches Evert with six U.S. Open titles in the Open era.
(NPR, September 7, 2014)
Frankly, I still think it will take a miracle for Serena to surpass Steffi. But there seems little doubt that she stands a far better chance of winning another five Grand Slams to do so than Tiger stands of winning another five Majors to surpass Jack Nicholas’s record of 18.
Incidentally, like the Baseball records White players set when Blacks were not allowed to play, I put a disqualifying asterisk next to Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams. You know, just as most sports writers have put a disqualifying asterisk next to Barry Bonds’s record of 762 home runs….
In any event, I could not be happier to have already been proven so wrong about the future prospects of a professional athlete.
Serena earned $4 million for this championship, which is a record for any tennis player (male or female). Except that:
I feel obliged to express some ambivalence over the fact that Wimbledon organizers finally decided to follow the politically correct fashion at the other Grand Slams of awarding equal pay to women players for unequal work.
Because, as a proud (and principled) feminist, I am sympathetic to the argument that until women play the best of five sets (like men do) instead of the best of three, they should not be paid the same amount in prize money. After all, if women must run the same 26.2-mile marathon, or complete the same chauvinistically named Iron Man triathlon, to earn equal prize money, why not require them to play the same best of five sets to earn equal prize money in tennis…?
(“Hail to 4-time Wimbledon Champ Venus Williams,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 9, 2007)
Accordingly, I hereby reiterate my call for women to either be required to play the best of five sets too, or be paid only three-fifths of the championship money men earn.
Still, congratulations Serena!
That said, given that Venus is still my favorite of the Williams sisters, I feel compelled to at least acknowledge the painful, pitiful way Sjögren’s syndrome, the incurable autoimmune condition she contracted a few years ago, is ravaging her skills. She not only lumbered out in the third round in singles; she proved too much weight even for Serena to carry them beyond the quarterfinals in doubles.
Monday, September 1, 2014 at 5:09 AM
Monday, September 1, 2014 at 4:51 AM
Photos that purport to show Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities in the nude are circulating on the Internet, TMZ reports. The site says the leaked images appear to be part of a “massive celebrity hacking campaign.”
(Daily Beast, September 1, 2014)
Our celebrity-obsessed culture is such that millions — who would never think of ogling nudes of the most beautiful, but relatively unknown, women in the world — would nonetheless gawk at hacked nudes of relatively average-looking celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence (with all due respect to her fans).
Let me hasten to assert that hacking is a predatory crime and the hackers behind this caper should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. (Of course, silly me, I think Edward Snowden should be too….)
But what is most noteworthy about this story is that such nudes even exist. After all, you’d think that — after the truly shocking publication of hacked nudes of Vanessa Hudgens years ago — any celebrity with half a brain 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 phone and data hacking that have been published almost daily since then.
Yet reports indicate that every young celebrity has taken compromising nudes, which are now stored on their iPhones or floating around somewhere in cyberspace (in the “iViolated” iCloud). Therefore, one could be forgiven the impression that, for most girls these days, what happened to Vanessa is something devoutly to be wished.
This is why any celebrity expressing outrage at being “violated” in this way is either too stupid or reckless to be worthy of any sympathy. Frankly, though, my informed cynicism is such that I believe the vast majority of celebrities are as upset at hackers in this context as Kim Kardashian is at the paparazzi she depends on for her fame: ‘shocked, shocked” indeed.
That said, Kate Upton (as well as every other closeted centerfold) might want to rethink her relationship; not least because her boyfriend has her doing photo spreads for his viewing pleasure that would make even the editor of Hustler magazine blush. After all, if she thinks he’s going to give a damn who sees them after their inevitable breakup, she’s an even dumber blonde than stereotype suggests.
NOTE: Er, yes, I perused some of the extremely explicit nudes … strictly for blogging purposes.
Sunday, August 31, 2014 at 5:11 AM
Invisible Children’s entire campaign smacks of little more than a feel-good PR stunt (perhaps even a misleading ploy to raise funds for administrative rather than charitable purposes). In fact, I would wager a fair amount of my pride that if you were to ask Rihanna and any of her followers a week from today who Joseph Kony is, they would react as if you asked what the Higgs Boson is….
(“Tweeting the Genocidal Joseph Kony to Death,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 8, 2012)
The same, of course, can be said for the vast majority of those now dumping buckets of ice water over their heads. In other words, ask them what ALS stands for and they’ll probably think you’re referring to some new sports league.
The point is that we live in a selfie age when even acts of charity are more about looking/feeling good than doing good.
More to the point, even though this latest viral craze generated a spike in donations for ALS research, I would wager an ever greater amount of my pride that 90 percent of those who accepted the bucket challenge did not donate one red cent. After all, for them, this was just another selfie opportunity to say to the world, “hey, look at me!” Some women clearly saw it as a challenge to compete in a wet T-shirt contest, and gleefully affirmed the uplifting effect ice water has on you know what.
No doubt it’s hard to imagine notorious bad boy Charlie Sheen setting an example for anyone to follow. Yet he did just that when, instead of a bucket of ice water, he dumped a bucket of cold hard cash over his head, and then announced that it amounted to the $10,000 he’s donating to the ALS Association.
At least nobody expected those participating in the #invisible children and #bring back our girls viral campaigns to do anything except become aware of the plight of the victims involved. Mind you, as indicated in my quote above, for 90 percent of them, that awareness probably only lasted about as long as Chinese food satiates hunger.
Incidentally, Boko Haram has not only ignored all viral pleas to “bring back our girls,” its genocidal thugs have mocked the fecklessness of those pleas by kidnapping more girls….
On the other hand, the ALS Bucket Challenge is really predicated on people not just dumping water but donating cash. And, yes, it does matter that you participate not just by doing the former, but the latter even more so.
Not to mention that all that wasted water could clearly be put to much better use – not just in perennially drought-stricken places like Ethiopia, but even in places like California….
For the record, Forbes reports in its August 29 edition that, since this challenge went viral four weeks ago, it has raised just over $100 million. This is truly commendable, especially when compared with the $2.8 million the ALS Association raised during this same period last year.
Except that, by contrast even more instructive than the example Charlie set, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has raised an average of almost $60 million annually over the past 50 years. And it has done so by simply holding a 24-hour Labor Day telethon on TV (i.e., without the viral benefit of social media). What’s more, even after losing its superstar pitchman Jerry Lewis four years ago and reducing the broadcast to only two hours, the MDA’s telethon still raised over $50 million annually, and will probably do the same this Labor Day.
Which raises the question: what challenge is the ALS Association going to rely on next year to raise comparable donations — given that the ice bucket challenge is already melting away into cyber oblivion … like #invisible children?
All the same, I feel constrained to note that, despite the billions the MDA has raised, we seem no closer to a cure today than we were 50 years ago. Not to mention the tens of billions raised over the years to find a cure for cancer. The reason for this, of course, is that most researchers work for big pharmaceutical companies whose corporate mission is to develop expensive treatments, not to find cures. After all, a cure for them would be tantamount to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs….
Nonetheless, we are clearly obliged to concede that there is as much merit in funding treatments for ALS as there is in funding them for cancer.
Donate to the ALS Association: here
Saturday, August 30, 2014 at 7:16 AM
Russian forces in two armored columns captured a key southeastern coastal town near the Russian border Thursday after Ukrainian forces retreated in the face of superior firepower, a Ukrainian military spokesman said.
Plainly, Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken the measure of President Obama and found him to be no obstacle to re-creation of the Russian empire.
Former assistant secretary of state Brian Hook observes: ‘Putin’s aggression is a direct challenge to the post-Cold War security order in Europe that America largely created.’
(Washington Post, August 28, 2014)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has 40,000 to 60,000 troops revving up their tanks on Ukraine’s eastern boarder awaiting his order to invade … if civil unrest continues. Meanwhile, he has operatives all over eastern Ukraine spreading pro-Russian propaganda and fomenting that unrest.
Therefore, it’s no wonder he’s winning – not just the hearts and minds of pro-Russian Ukrainians, but also the psychological war he has been waging against Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders ever since they ousted his puppet president, Viktor Yanukovych, three months ago…
It’s clearly foolhardy for pro-Western leaders in Kiev to continue ordering troops to wage plainly feckless battles to retake government buildings in eastern Ukraine, which thugs have seized and claimed as property of their separatist pro-Russian republic. Nothing dramatizes this fecklessness quite like having old, basket-swinging, pro-Russian babushkas continually repel their military advances…
By the same token, though, having stood by as Putin annexed Crimea (without firing a shot) and doing little now to help Ukrainians prevent him from annexing the rest of eastern Ukraine (with the proverbial one thousand little cuts), it’s equally foolhardy for Obama and other Western leaders to continue threatening Putin with economic sanctions … if he continues to do what he seems determined to continue doing.
(“A Ukraine Divided Is the Only Way It Will Stand,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 6, 2014)
Here’s to Cold War II then; or, as I warned from the outset of this conflict, to history repeating itself.
But, apropos of which, just as their predecessors eventually got their shit together to thwart Hitler’s attempt to create a German empire, Western leaders will eventually do the same to thwart Putin’s attempt to re-create the Russian empire. And, just as Western powers defeated the Soviet Union in the first Cold War, they will defeat Novorossiya in this second one too.
Saturday, August 30, 2014 at 2:20 AM
Friday, August 29, 2014 at 5:11 AM
I feel obliged to note that Israel and Gaza agreed to another truce on Tuesday – with both sides insisting that it will prove more lasting than their eight previous ceasefire agreements. Alas, this might only mean that, in about two or three years, Gaza will be rocketing Israel and Israel will be bombing Gaza … yet again.
Meanwhile, neither side has anything to celebrate. After all, despite 50 days of fighting, during which over 2000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed and practically all of Gaza was destroyed, this latest chapter in their “Neverending Story” settled none of the contentious issues related to ownership and control of the Palestinian Territories.
On the other hand, the merchants of war are licking their chops. After all, arms dealers can make a killing now resupplying Hamas with rockets to launch the next chapter, and even more resupplying Israel with bombs to retaliate in kind. Not to mention the windfall for contractors who get to rebuild Gaza … yet again.
Incidentally, Israel is claiming “mission accomplished” by pointing to the 30-plus tunnels it destroyed all over Gaza, which were used for everything from smuggling contraband to launching attacks. But nothing will betray this military feat quite like Hamas leaders rebuilding them with even greater dispatch than rebuilding hospitals and schools.
All of which means that Israel boasting of victory in Gaza will prove every bit as pyrrhic and foreboding as America boasting of victory in Iraq….
Such deals reflect the value Israeli leaders place on the lives of Israelis relative to Palestinians that is simply untenable. After all, it would seem more than fair to exchange one “high-value” Palestinian prisoner for two (dead) Israelis…
Therefore, it strikes me as a perverse form of jingoism for the Israelis to agree to such a lopsided exchange. I can see how it feeds resentment among Palestinians for their soldiers to be regarded so cheaply. More to the point, I can see why Palestinians consider kidnapping such a good strategy to execute against the Israelis in their neverending war. (“To Israel, 1 Dead Israeli Is Worth 100 Living Palestinians,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 17, 2008)
This is why I am not at all surprised by reports this week that the Israelis have just struck another deal with the Palestinians which calls for Israel to release 1000 Palestinian prisoners in return for one (still living) Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.
(“1 Israeli Worth 1000 Palestinians?!” The iPINIONS Journal, October 13, 2011)
Significantly, nobody challenged the accuracy of the facts I asserted; nor, perhaps more telling, did anyone seem to appreciate that, inherent in these facts, is the sacrificial value Palestinian leaders place on the lives of Palestinians relative to Israelis.
But it turns out I might have been too modest in my characterization of how little value Israeli leaders place on the lives of Palestinians. Because even I was shocked when, on yesterday’s edition of the BBC program HARDtalk, interviewer Stephen Sackur asked the Israeli minister of intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, to explain why a deputy speaker of the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin, would take such militant and jingoistic pride in declaring that:
One hair on the head of an Israeli soldier is more precious than the entire Gazan populace.
When Steinitz tried, unconvincingly to dismiss Feiglin as an irrelevant politician, Sacker persisted incredulously:
What’s going on in Israeli politics when a senior Israeli politician can think that that reflects the views of the Israeli people. The view the international community gets is that you no longer value Palestinian life.
Except I feel constrained to note that I’m on record defending Israel against international double standards, which would see it hauled before the International Criminal Court for killing hundreds of innocent civilians in Gaza, even though the United States got a pass despite killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also feel constrained to stress that the right of self-defense America claimed to go after al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan (who terrorized America with one spectacular attack in New York City on 9/11/2001) pales in significance when compared with the existential right Israel claimed to go after Hamas terrorists in Gaza (who have been terrorizing Israel with rocket attacks on a regular basis since 2001).
My only issue with Israel’s retaliation against Hamas, which is similar to the one I had with America’s retaliation against al-Qaeda, is that it used the proverbial hammer, when a scalpel would have been not only more effective but less destructive (in terms of life and property).
Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, is known as much for its stealth surveillance as for its brazen assassinations. Therefore, wouldn’t it make far more sense for Israel to dispatch agents to surgically assassinate all of the men responsible for ordering these rocket launches, instead of continuing to bomb homes where so-called ‘Hamas militants’ are supposed to be hiding out?
(“Groundhog-Day Flare Up Between Israelis and Palestinians,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 15, 2014)
Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 1:13 AM
A 9-year-old girl at a shooting range outside Las Vegas accidentally killed an instructor on Monday morning when she lost control of the Uzi he was showing her how to use…
In a similar incident in 2008, 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj shot himself to death with an Uzi at a Massachusetts gun show organized by a former police chief. The boy was with his father, an emergency room doctor, who bought him the gun for Christmas
(Washington Post, August 27, 2014)
Parents have been warning their children about the dangers of playing with fire since time immemorial … for obvious reasons. But you know something has gone terribly wrong when parents themselves have to be warned about the dangers of teaching their children to play with guns … for even more obvious reasons.
Yet America’s crazed and anarchic fascination with guns is such that this warning now seems necessary.
Mind you, I would have a little sympathy if this (inherently irresponsible) instructor were teaching her to use a basic pistol or rifle. But a friggin’ Uzi?!
The reason this happened, of course, is that her idiot parents probably think no child is too young to experience the full potential of her hallowed and unconditional Second Amendment right. But I wonder how they feel now about having to help a child this young deal with the trauma of killing someone so senselessly.
I warned it would be thus:
The United States is calling North Korea insane for threatening to launch ‘merciless’ nuclear strikes against it. Well, I suppose it takes an insane country to know one. After all, one can fairly call the United States insane for vowing to curb gun violence without making any reference to guns…
Hell, at this rate, the NRA will soon be proselytizing such a mercenary interpretation of the Second Amendment that gun-loving Americans will be claiming the right not just to military-style assault weapons but to shoulder-fired missiles too.
(‘This Gun-Control Debate Is Insane,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 5, 2013)
The minigun is one of the most dangerous weapons ever designed, with the capacity to fire up to 166 bullets per second. Amazingly, it is currently legal in the United States to own this military-grade machine gun because the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 stated that any fully automatic weapon constructed before that year was legal to own.
(The National Memo, December 14, 2012)
A gun for Christmas indeed; I fear they will never learn….
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Wednesday, at 1:31 p.m.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 4:58 AM
Truth be told, I had no idea who Richard Attenborough was until Gandhi became an international blockbuster in 1982. This, I’m embarrassed to admit, despite Attenborough having an established career as an acclaimed character actor long before then. Hell, I only realized after he became the Oscar-winning director of Gandhi that he also directed one of my favorite war movies, A Bridge Too Far (1977).
All the same, I read enough over the years to appreciate that Attenborough’s dedication to the motion picture arts and sciences was surpassed only by his dedication to charitable causes and social issues like childhood education:
He passionately believes in education, primarily education that does not judge upon color, race, creed or religion. His attachment to Waterford is his passion for non-racial education, which were the grounds on which Waterford Kamhlaba was founded. Waterford was one of his inspirations for directing Cry Freedom (1987), based on the life of Steve Biko.
But I felt moved to write this modest tribute based solely on my solidarity with the liberal politics of this “champagne socialist,” which compelled him to direct Gandhi and Cry Freedom.
It speaks volumes that Gandhi’s haul of eight Oscars set a record for British films. But even more telling is its juxtaposition with the biopic of the only man who could be fairly considered Mahatma Gandhi’s twentieth-century peer, Nelson Mandela.
After all, far from winning a comparable number of Oscars, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) received only one back-handed nomination (for Best Original Song), and it did not even win that, losing out to the cartoonish song from Frozen.
This is not the place to delve too much into the reasons why Hollywood – after embracing Gandhi so abundantly – snubbed Mandela so niggardly. No doubt movie critics and political commentators alike would find just cause to cry racism.
But it’s probably fair to assert that the primary reason had more to do with differences in cinematic skill and vision between the respective directors than with any difference in the heroic life story and liberation struggle each had to dramatize. Frankly, there’s probably no greater testament to Attenborough’s greatness as a director than the relative success of these two films.
Even so, it’s arguable that his film Cry Freedom actually upstaged Mandela – weaving as it did the inspiring story of friendship between White journalist Donald Woods and Black anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko into a searing indictment of South Africa’s apartheid regime.
I should not venture any further, lest I become one of those creepy, opportunistic eulogizers who have far too much to say about people they knew so little about. Indeed, the irony in this case is that I know far more about Attenborough’s brother David, whose engaging whisper as presenter of natural history programs has educated and thrilled me for years.
Attenborough died on Sunday. He was 90.
Farewell, Lord Attenborough.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 8:12 AM
When George Orwell warned of “newspeak,” he envisioned a dystopian state in which a “Big Brother,” like Russian President Vladimir Putin, would use it as a tool to limit and control freedom of thought … and speech.
Therefore, I suspect even Orwell would be shocked and disappointed to see newspeak being used instead by members his latterday “Brotherhood” (in the relatively utopian United States, NSA spying notwithstanding) – not only to enforce politically correct speech, but also to chastise putative purveyors of political correctness for failing to tow the party line.
This, alas, is the surreal dynamic that explains why the New York Times is catching hell for daring to describe Michael Brown, quite accurately, as “no angel:”
An outrage plume is now settling over the New York Times over two words in a retrospective on the life of Michael Brown Jr., the victim of the Ferguson, Mo., police shooting whose funeral takes place today. Here’s the objection-producing [sentence], written by John Eligon:
Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life.
(Washington Post, August 25, 2014)
Mind you, the Times goes on to duly report on some of the well-documented reasons why Michael was, in fact, no angel. Most notably, it cites that he was caught on tape committing a strong-arm robbery just minutes before getting shot; that he “dabbled in drugs and alcohol;” and that he had a well-earned reputation as a neighborhood bully.
This is why the politically correct police are resorting to Orwellian doublespeak, charging speciously that the Times would not have described Michael as “no angel” if he were White.
It’s noteworthy, though, that if they’re playing the race card against this “old grey lady” of liberalism, well, they might even play it against a proud (but principled) Black man like me. Indeed, nothing betrays the inherent absurdity of their charge quite like their attempts to substantiate it by contrasting the way the Times described Michael with the way it described Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh and Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – as if it would’ve been better to describe Michael as a terrorist than as no angel.
More to the point, listening to his avengers and eulogizers yesterday, you would’ve gotten the impression that they wanted the Times to describe him as an angel, which of course is the textbook manifestation of newspeak.
But, if/when the Times caves under this “Room 101” backlash, I recommend it corrects those offending words with the two words I dared to use in one of my related commentaries to describe Michael, namely, “menacing thief:”
The more distressing absurdity for me is political activists like Rev. Al Sharpton making Michael, an alleged menacing thief, the face of the fight against police brutality – just as political activists like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. made Rosa Parks, a woman above reproach, the face of the fight against segregation.
(“Why Are They Still Protesting in Ferguson? And Who Are They? The iPINIONS Journal, August 19, 2014)
Frankly, anyone tuning in to his nationally televised memorial service could have been forgiven for thinking that Michael actually belongs in the pantheon of young civil rights martyrs, alongside Emmett Till and James Earl Chaney.
That lesson, of course, is that distrust of the police, no matter how warranted, does not give anyone the right to resist arrest or engage in visceral confrontations with the police. Sadly, Michael learned this lesson the most tragic way. But nobody can deny that he would still be alive if he had not resisted arrest – complete with blows that reportedly landed the arresting officer in hospital.
(Incidentally, what do you suppose Rev. Sharpton and others would be saying if he had wrested Officer Darren Wilson’s gun from him, as Michael was allegedly trying to do, and shot him dead…?)
In any event, I fear that the lesson most young Black men are learning from this tragedy is that they can resist arrest – so long as they shout the newfangled slogan, “hands up, don’t shoot” while doing so, or after failing to get the upper-hand. Clearly, this will only lead to more of them ending up like Michael.
Which is why it cannot be overstated that, instead of doublespeak that would make him a saint, those eulogizing Michael would’ve honored his death far more by admonishing young Black men against the deadly hazards of resisting arrest and defying authority … merely as a misguided badge of honor or rite of passage.
That said, let me end by clarifying, again, that, notwithstanding his robbery or other bad acts, the killing of Michael Brown, as alleged, was unjustified; and Officer Wilson should be prosecuted for use of excessive force. Because, no matter what a person does to resist arrest, a policeman cannot shoot to kill if that person relents and no longer poses any threat of bodily harm. Period.
Why are they still protesting…
Monday, August 25, 2014 at 6:15 AM
Nothing betrays what cynical and exploitative regard the producers of Fifty Shades of Grey have for loving relationships quite like their scheduling the release of this movie for “Valentine’s Day 2015.”
But they could not have anticipated the “premature” release of a scientific study on the deleterious psychosocial impact the Fifty Shades phenomenon is having on middle-aged women:
Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are more likely to have abusive partners and eating disorders, according to academics concerned about the blockbuster novel’s impact.
A study at Michigan State University found it was linked to ‘unhealthy behaviours’, including binge drinking, unsafe sex and other risks associated with being in an ‘abusive relationship’.
Lead researcher Dr Amy Bonomi … argued the bestseller was ‘perpetuating dangerous abuse standards’, romanticising a plot where the lead female character becomes ‘disempowered and entrapped’.
(The Independent, August 23, 2014)
Now bear in mind that this study is based on scientific observations of women behaving like teenagers on a wild ecstasy trip after reading the novel. So just imagine what rabid (i.e., overdosing) effect watching the movie might have on their senses….
Of course, I’m no movie critic; nor am I a women’s health scientist. Yet here’s an excerpt from “Fifty Shades of Grey: Mainstreaming Kinky, Abusive Sex?” which I wrote over two years ago (on April 20, 2012), when erstwhile sensible women were swooning about this novel providing all kinds of titillating ideas to spice up their sex lives:
I have to begin with a disclaimer: I did not read this book. I just listened in utter stupefaction a few days ago to female friend who did as she shared why Fifty Shades of Grey, by author E. L. James, is all the rage.
No doubt my friend would declare herself an unabashed feminist. And she has never struck me as the submissive type when it comes to sex.
This is why I was so taken aback when she expressed how captivated and stimulated she became as she read about the sadomasochistic relationship that plays out in graphic fashion between the main characters in this novel: the virginal, eager to please Anastasia Steele and her emotionally scarred and domineering Sugar Daddy, Christian Grey…
I was troubled by the almost self-righteous way my friend rationalized the emotional and physical abuse Christian repeatedly inflicts upon Anastasia by saying it was all consensual (i.e., that that’s what she wanted). Really? I’m all for a little rough sex, but jeez…
Given the way she so blithely related to the submissive, if not degrading, way Anastasia behaves, I asked my friend to explain why she not only condemned Chris Brown for beating up Rihanna but, more to the point, then condemned Rihanna for going back to him … for more.
I also asked if she’s not at all concerned that the popularity of this novel might undermine the signature feminist argument that men who get off on the psycho-sexual abuse so often depicted in porn are being conditioned to act out that abuse in their personal relationships. For surely it must follow that women (especially impressionable teenage girls) who get off on the psycho-sexual abuse depicted in this book are being conditioned to accept this abuse in their personal relationships.
Trust me, she’s a brilliant woman. But I am still waiting for a comprehensible, credible reply….
Now, given the scientific findings of this study at Michigan State University, I hope I’ll finally be forgiven my indignant dismay at so many women waxing orgasmic in public over this trashy, irresponsible novel. Never mind the truly dismaying fact that so many women would need a scientific study to teach them a life lesson as simple as: if you play with fire, you will get burned.
More important, though, to the women who made Fifty Shades such a phenomenal bestseller, please do not compound this prurient spectacle by making it a blockbuster movie too. Instead, get a sex toy! And, please, act your age by keeping reviews about what it does for you to yourself.
Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 7:50 AM
Ferguson has become a theatre of the absurd – complete with the-sky-is-falling reporters doing more to fuel the protests than to cover them, while using selfie-camera angels to ensure that they are featured as much as the protesters. There’s no denying that these protests would burnout overnight if the media lights, which have been inflaming them like adding fuel to fire, were suddenly turned off.
(“Why Are They Still Protesting in Ferguson? And Who Are They,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 19, 2014)
Why are they still protesting…
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 6:36 AM
Here, in part, is how I pooh-poohed – in “I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy,” July 2, 2013 - the moral indignation Germans (and other Europeans) hurled at the Americans after Snowden’s leaks revealed that the NSA routinely spied on them, including Chancellor Angela Merkel:
The Europeans are ‘shocked, shocked,’ and are expressing feelings of profound betrayal:
‘The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French president, François Hollande, demanded quick explanations from Washington about disclosures by the Guardian and Der Spiegel that U.S. agencies bugged European embassies and parliament buildings. Berlin stressed there had to be mutual trust if trade talks were to go ahead in Washington on Monday.’
The Americans are wiping egg off their faces, but do not seem too worried. Indeed, no less a person than President Obama dismissed European outrage as little more than the pot calling the kettle black…
Truth be told, except for stoking idle anti-Americanism in some European countries, I am convinced that these disclosures will have no material impact on U.S.-EU relations. Not least because Europeans threatening to abandon bilateral trade agreements with the United States over spying is even less credible than the United States threatening to do the same with China over human rights.
The German government faced an angry reaction from Turkey and accusations of hypocrisy from its own opposition on Monday after media reports that its intelligence agency [the BND] spied on its NATO ally.
The reports also said the agency had listened to the phone calls of two U.S. secretaries of state – the kind of activity for which Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised Washington.
Turkey summoned the German ambassador and called for a full explanation following a Spiegel magazine report that the BND foreign intelligence agency had been spying on Turkey for years and identified Ankara as a top surveillance target in an internal government document from 2009.
(Reuters, August 18, 2014)
Enough said? Except that this comeuppance will not be complete until revelations show that the BND also spies on Germans every bit as much as the NSA spies on Americans.
Like I said: “I spy, you spy, we all spy.” And don’t get me started on all of the even more intrusive and pervasive spying companies like Google and Facebook do … just to sell you stuff.