The iPINIONS Journal


  • Friday, August 18, 2017 at 8:23 AM

    Washington Monument, Father of all Monuments to Racists…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Fallout from the KKK and other white supremacists rearing their ugly heads in Charlottesville last weekend is taking many forms. Most notable is the way cities across America are removing monuments to Confederate leaders as if they were suddenly emitting a deadly airborne virus.

    Remarkably, no less a person than President Trump is acting as pleader-in-chief for cities to leave these “beautiful statues and monuments” alone. But, in so many ways, this walking monument to racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. might be emitting the deadliest virus of them all. Sure enough, impeachment proceedings are afoot in Congress to remove him … too.

    But here is what I wrote about this frenzied reaction in “White Supremacy: The Tragedy and Folly of Charlottesville,” August 14, 2017.

    _________________

    I can think of 99 things that bother me about racism in America today, but a Confederate statue ain’t one. If challenged to resolve this dilemma, however, I would think the only politically tenable, even if morally specious, way to do so would be to focus on the Civil War, bearing in mind the maxims: to the victor go the spoils and the victors write history. …

    The Civil War was supposed to marginalize the racist ideology that rationalized black slavery and white supremacy. It failed. Nothing demonstrated this quite like the hundreds of monuments vanquished Southerners erected to honor those who fought and died to preserve this racist ideology. It’s particularly noteworthy that they did this in reaction to and defiance of racial advancement during the period from Reconstruction in the 1860s to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s (a.k.a. the Jim Crow period). They erected the Lee statue at issue in 1924, for example.

    _________________

    Given this frenzy, I cannot resist sharing my abiding unease about the Washington Monument. Granted, construction began in 1848, long before the Jim Crow period that gave rise to Confederate monuments. But it is noteworthy that builders did not don its crowning cone until 1888, when Jim Crow was in its formative years.

    More to the point, if you’ve ever wondered where KKK wizards got the idea for their white hoods, here’s my take from “Washington Monument’s KKK Imagery,” October 2, 2011.

    __________________

    There was considerable media coverage last week of workers repelling down the Washington Monument to inspect damage caused by the recent earthquake.

    Most people seemed mesmerized by the acrobatic feat this entailed. But I could not help noticing how much close-up images of the cone of the Monument resemble the hood of a Klansman.

    I’ve read accounts of Free Masons – who were instrumental in building DC – inserting masonic symbols all over the city. Therefore, is it so farfetched to think that this monument, which was built between 1848-88 as a memorial to George Washington, also paid homage the prevailing symbol of white supremacy…?

    _________________

    As indicated in my original commentary, I appreciate why monuments to Washington and other Founding Fathers should be exempted from this ISIS-style purge. But, no matter its origin, what this monument might have inspired (and clearly symbolizes) should put this obelisk on the list.

    Related commentaries:
    White supremacy
    Washington monument

  • Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 7:47 AM

    Another Free and Fair Election in Kenya Descends into Violence

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Violence erupted after the re-election of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta this week, leaving at least 24 people dead nationwide, a rights group said. …

    Kenyatta, the 55-year-old son of the country’s founding President, was declared the winner Friday, defeating veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga for a second five-year term. …

    Most of the demonstrators were supporters of Odinga, who has rejected the results of the presidential election, calling the vote rigged.

    (CNN, August 13, 2017)

    If this seems eerily familiar, this excerpt from “Uhuru Kenyatta, Son of Kenya’s Founding Father, Indicted on War Crimes,” January 24, 2012, might explain why.

    __________________

    It’s simply impossible for any Westerner to fully appreciate the significance of the son of Jomo Kenyatta (1889-1978) being indicted yesterday by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of ‘organizing a campaign of rape and murder’ against political opponents. …

    The crimes against humanity being alleged stem from the orgy of violence that erupted in December 2007, when incumbent President Mwai Kibaki refused to cede power to Raila Odinga after losing a free and fair presidential election.

    Here, in part, is how I commented on this African pathology as it was playing out back then:

    I am simply crestfallen by Kenya’s rapid descent into Rwandan-style tribal warfare in recent weeks. Despite manifestations of congenital kleptocracy, it was just beginning to appear worthy of being called a beacon of democracy on that Dark Continent.

    But when President Mwai Kibaki and his ruling party refused to cede power after losing national elections on December 27, I was so mindful, indeed fearful, of the potential for widespread civil unrest that I wrote the following:

    ‘[T]his sets up the all too familiar prospect of Africans resorting to tribal warfare to settle their political disputes. … Those of us who are still hoping against hope for a political awakening in Africa cannot help but look on in despair as Kenya descends back into the heart of darkness – where bloodlust gives rise to more Idi Amins and Rwandan-style genocides.’

    (“Conflict in Kenya: another African genocide in the making,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 17, 2008)

    When the dust settled – with Kibaki and Odinga forming a grand coalition government – 1200 people were reported killed and 600,000 displaced.

    __________________

    To be fair, despite the violence that has already erupted, Kenya seems unlikely to descend into that kind of tribal warfare. The primary reason is that, unlike that fateful election in 2007, international observers immediately certified this one as free and fair:

    International election observers have called on politicians defeated in Kenya’s fiercely contested polls to concede gracefully without taking their struggle to the streets. …

    Provisional results released by Kenya’s election commission have put the incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, ahead by 54.2% of votes counted, to 44% for Odinga. …

    The observers [led by former US secretary of state John Kerry for the Carter Center] commended officials for the relatively smooth running of the polls, and complimented Kenyans for their ‘commitment and determination.’

    (London Guardian, August 10, 2017)

    It is also noteworthy that, just days ago, Odinga was insisting he saw no point in resorting to the courts. Because he’s now going through the face-saving motions of filing legal complaints and threatening a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience to prevent “democracy’s slaughter.”

    But even his most rabid supporters know that Odinga does not have a snowball’s chance in Hell of doing in court what he could not do at the polls and cannot do through civil disobedience. No doubt they are mindful that Odinga did the same to no avail after losing the 2013 election to Kenyatta.

    Perhaps most telling, though, is that these are the same Kenyans who were hailing Kenyatta a few years ago for going to the ICC and beating its prosecutors at their own game.

    Last week the International Criminal Court in The Hague (ICC) decided not to prosecute the president of Kenya for allegedly triggering ethnic violence that killed 1200 men, women, and children. …

    Prominent political commentators like Natznet Tesfay, head of Africa analysis at IHS Country Risk, are predicting that, with no fear of ICC prosecution, a congenital need for ethnic supremacy will plunge Kenyatta’s Kikuyus and Ruto’s Kalenjins back into the kind of violence that gave rise to ICC charges in the first place.

    But I’m convinced they both recognize and appreciate that they have too much to gain by continuing their coalition government.

    (“ICC Decides Not to Prosecute Kenya’s Kenyatta. Duh,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 8, 2014)

    Sure enough, Kenyatta is keeping Ruto close and complacent as his deputy president …

    With that, my heart goes out to Odinga. Because he must feel like his family is fated to play second fiddle to Kenyatta’s. After all, that’s the role his father, J.O. Odinga, had to play to Kenyatta’s father, Jomo.

    Related commentaries:
    Uhuru
    ICC

  • Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 11:43 AM

    Bolt Pulls Up Lame…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    To stem more shame…?

    Usain Bolt ended his stellar career in excruciating pain.

    The Jamaican great crumpled to the track with a left-leg injury as he was chasing a final gold medal for the Jamaican 4x100m relay team on Saturday at the world championships.

    Having to make up lots of ground on the anchor leg, Bolt suddenly screamed and stumbled as he came down with his golden farewell shattered by the first injury he has experienced at a major competition.

    (NBC Sports, August 12, 2017)

    With apologies to T.S. Eliot, I cannot resist this homage to Bolt looking like a hollow shell of himself at these championships:

    This is the way his career ends

    This is the way his career ends

    This is the way his career ends

    Not with a bolt but a cramp.

    Truth be told, I think of Bolt’s performance on this occasion exactly what I thought of Liu Xiang’s at the 2008 Beijing Games. Here is how I commented in “Chinese Hero, Liu Xiang Comes Up Lame,” August 19, 2008.

    ___________________

    Easily the most dramatic moment of the day came when Liu Xiang, China’s only hope for a gold medal in Track and Field, pulled up lame in his first qualifying race of the Men’s 110 Hurdles. He then hobbled out of the stadium without saying a word.

    In fact, television commentators observed that – when this happened – you could hear a pin drop in the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium. … After all, Xiang’s gold medal in this race was to have been the crowning achievement of these Olympic Games for over 1.3 billion Chinese. …

    [C]all me cynical but I believe Xiang decided it was better to claim injury, which might inspire sympathy, than to lose this race, which would incite national shame.

    ___________________

    But enough about Usain! Except that, for the record, Team Great Britain out-leaned Team USA to win gold in this relay; Team Japan won bronze.

    On a far more interesting closing note, my related commentaries show that I have harbored no illusions about the use of PEDs in Track. More to the point, I have been unabashed in expressing suspicions over the improbable way tiny Jamaica was outperforming the United States at international competitions.

    I wonder if it’s a testament to their national training methods or the performance-enhancing ‘herbs’ they use to flavor their sports drinks that make these Jamaicans so incredibly fast.

    (“2008 Beijing Olympic Games – the Phelpsian Touch … Pure Gold,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 16, 2008)

    Well, a “natural” reordering of performances seems afoot. It stems from a recent IAAF decision to not only test athletes more aggressively but also store samples for years for further testing as methods become more advanced.

    In “Doping Charge Strikes Usain Like a Lightning Bolt,” February 3, 2017, I highlighted the fact that re-analysis of samples from the 2008 Beijing Games led to the IAAF stripping Bolt of one of his gold medals. Reports are that it has stripped and reallocated eleven World Championship medals based on similar re-analysis since 2007.

    That backdrop probably explains why this year’s World Championships played out as follows:

    Final figures from the medals standings at the world championships that wrapped up Sunday offered evidence that track and field’s attempt to crack down on a global doping crisis could be making a direct impact on the results themselves.

    Exhibit A: The United States won 30 medals, while athletes from four countries that have been under the doping microscope — Kenya (11), Russia (6), Ethiopia (5) and Jamaica (4) — combined for 26.

    Two years ago, the results looked like this: United States 17, Kenya 16, Jamaica 12, Ethiopia 8, Russia 4.

    (Associated Press, August 14, 2017)

    It speaks volumes that, under this doping microscope, Jamaica’s performance has fallen off even more than Russia’s. Recall that the World Anti-Doping agency found state-sponsored doping in Russia so insidious that it banned Russian athletes who trained/train there from participating in international competition.

    Only those who could prove they subjected themselves to “credible and consistent testing” outside Russia were eligible to compete, and even then not under the Russian flag.

    It was easy to feel sympathy for Maria Lasitskene, Darya Klishina and the other athletes from Russia who won medals at the world track and field championships without the customary trappings.

    They were in a form of limbo, not competing officially for their home country, which is still suspended because of a widespread doping scandal.

    Instead they were here as ‘authorized neutral athletes,’ which meant that they could only watch wistfully — and surely with some resentment — as their rivals wrapped their national flags around their shoulders and took their laps of honor.

    (New York Times, August 13, 2017)

    In any event, one could be forgiven the suspicion that Jamaica’s poor showing had everything to do with Bolt and his teammates refraining from taking their performance-enhancing “herbs” for fear of being caught – if not today then perhaps after re-analysis in the future.

    Related commentaries:
    Gatlin wins 100m
    Doping strikes Usain Bolt
    2008 Beijing Games
    Russia doping

  • Tuesday, August 15, 2017 at 8:54 AM

    White Supremacy: The Tragedy and Folly of Charlottesville

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A protest against government removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville on Saturday turned violent. The white supremacist protesters clashed with counterprotesters, leading the governor to declare a state of emergency before the rally even started. A woman died and multiple were injured after a car plowed into counterprotesters.

    (The Hill, August 13, 2017)

    Frankly, reaction to this incident smacks of a groundhog-day spectacle. I hope this commentary doesn’t contribute to it.

    If I hear another political or civic leader calling for a ‘conversation on race,’ I’m going to puke.

    (“Ferguson Grand Jury Decides: Officer Wilson Walks,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 25, 2014)

    Unsurprisingly, the media are still covering that mayhem in Charlottesville as if it were a latter-day version of the Battle of Gettysburg. Yet, if North Korea were to test-fire another missile today (or if Muslim Jihadists were to launch another terrorist attack), they would move on as if it were ancient news.

    For the record, I am convinced that confronting neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other racist groups in the streets is tantamount to adding fuel to the pyre of white supremacy. Confrontation only begets the kind of tragedy and folly that is playing out in this case.

    The tragedy of course is the loss of life. But even that is being sidelined by the folly of everyone waiting with bated breath for President Trump to denounce these groups … by name.

    Except that, when he does – with begrudging,  teleprompter sincerity – then what?! Surely you remember the way he played the media and political establishment with his Birther nonsense. Given that, you’d think everyone would know that Trump thrives on people begging him to do the right thing. Yet here we are.

    Meanwhile, the media are only compounding this folly by making heroes of Republican politicians tweeting outrage. These politicians would have you believe they are shocked and appalled that Trump is failing to do what he spent the 2016 presidential campaign criticizing Barack Obama for refusing to do, namely calling out the terrorism afoot by its name. Never mind that such instances of brazen hypocrisy characterized Trump’s entire campaign, and are doing the same with his presidency.

    This is why real profiles in courage would be for these politicians to emulate SpaceX and Tesla’s Elon Musk and Merck’s Kenneth Frazier. These famous CEOs truly deserve praise for publicly disassociating themselves from Trump and his racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and other Neanderthal rhetoric and policies. The wonder is that other notable figures have yet to do the same.

    But history will judge Republicans harshly for lacking the political courage to disown this presidency, despite having the moral compulsion to denounce this president, repeatedly. And it will judge the likes of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with “special circumstances.”

    Many have wondered how Hitler got so many ordinary Germans to become his ‘willing executioners.’ Well, Trump is showing just how at rallies where he whips his supporters into all manner of xenophobic and racist frenzy, preying with every fulmination on their irrational fears of persecution and misguided sense of nationalism. ‘Never again’? I wouldn’t bet on it.

    (“The Putin-Trump Bromance,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 29, 2015)

    Incidentally, blacks like Trump aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman complain that fellow blacks treat them with nothing but righteous contempt for rationalizing and defending Trump’s racism. This was demonstrated in spades just days ago, when she had the misguided gall to show up for a panel discussion at the National Association of Black Journalists’ annual convention.

    Therefore, I am anxious to know if Jews like Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn complain that fellow Jews treat them with similar contempt for rationalizing and defending Trump’s anti-Semitism. For I am hard-pressed to find the kind of public shaming of Jews who support him that blacks who support him suffer daily, and deservedly so.

    That said, the best way to deal with these racists groups is to do everything possible to marginalize them to the point of complete irrelevance. Foremost in doing so is to prevail upon whites – who (claim to) oppose them – to use every political, educational, corporate, and media resource at their disposal to empower blacks and the other groups these racists despise.

    Media titans have a special duty in this respect. For, as I lamented above, only a perverse interest in profiting off the propagation of hate explains the coverage their network of TV channels give these racist groups.

    In a similar vein, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other grassroots movements would do far more to advance their cause (to the extent they can identify it) by galvanizing young people to vote. I mean, am I the only one who wonders why they are protesting (and often rabble-rousing) in the streets nowadays for rights and freedoms their grandparents and forebears won long ago, respectively?

    It has been self-evident for over 50 years that protesting in the streets is not going to end racism, stop police brutality, redress the growing gap between rich and poor, or empower blacks and other traditionally disadvantaged groups. Only the systematic acquisition of education and wealth, and a wielding of the economic, social and political influence that acquisition enables, will have any meaningful impact in these respects.

    Still, if these grassroots activists had focused on galvanizing young people to vote last year, America would not be stuck with a president who has emboldened white supremacists to act out their racist fantasies.

    Again, my initial thought was to forego commenting. After fielding many requests for my take, however, it occurred to me that there might be some worth in publishing what I shared with one of my nieces via e-mail yesterday. Think of the above as a prelude and what follows this e-mail excerpt as a denouement.

    __________________

    [H]ysterical reporters, pundits, and politicians are reacting as if we’re experiencing the “The (Re)Birth of a Nation” – complete with hooded klansmen lynching blacks the way they did in the early 1900s.

    Never mind that the images they’re blabbering over plainly show that these events amounted to little more than mostly white knuckleheads having a street fight over a confederate statue, about which most blacks couldn’t care less.

    Granted, there’s no denying the perverse fascination of watching one of those knuckleheads ape ISIS terrorists by mowing down people. And such mindless acts are always a ratings boon for mainstream media and clickbait for social media.

    But I’m all too mindful that greater violence, causing more casualties, has become so commonplace in cities like Chicago and Baltimore, they no longer warrant media coverage. Not to mention that, because of racial cannibalism among blacks and racist indifference among whites, black-on-black violence has become the elephant in the room of American politics.

    You are so right about that clarion call [which the election of Trump represented]. I would only note that Trump gave America nearly two years of dog-whistling notice that this would be the case – complete with rallies erupting in violence the way this neo-Nazi march did yesterday. So yeah, no surprise.

    __________________

    But I would be remiss not to add my two cents on the controversy that triggered this tragedy and folly. It stemmed from Charlottesville’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee from a public park.

    As it happens, similar monuments to the Confederacy litter public parks all over the United States. You will not be surprised to find the vast majority across the South. But, given the outrage, you will be shocked to find them everywhere from liberal Boston to the nation’s capital, Washington DC.

    This raises two inevitable but troubling questions:

    1. What should become of all of the other statues?
    2. Why is there so much fixation on monuments to leaders like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, who fought to preserve slavery, and none on monuments to leaders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves?

    Mind you, I can think of 99 things that bother me about racism in America today, but a Confederate statue ain’t one. If challenged to resolve this dilemma, however, I would think the only politically tenable, even if morally specious, way to do so would be to focus on the Civil War, bearing in mind the following maxims:

    • To the victor go the spoils; and
    • The victors write history.

    It would be for each state legislature to decide whether it wants to continue honoring men who tried to divide the union in order to preserve slavery and its insidious notions of white supremacy. And it would be for the rest of us to decide whether we want to live, work, and/or revel in states that choose to do so (think BDS – Boycott and Divestment, as Sanctions are not practicable).

    The Civil War was supposed to marginalize the racist ideology that rationalized black slavery and white supremacy. It failed. Nothing demonstrated this quite like the hundreds of monuments vanquished Southerners erected to honor those who fought and died to preserve this racist ideology. It’s particularly noteworthy that they did this in reaction to and defiance of racial advancement during the period from Reconstruction in the 1860s to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s (a.k.a. the Jim Crow period). They erected the Lee statue at issue in 1924, for example.

    No doubt you’ve heard their descendants defending these statues and the Confederate flag as proud symbols of their heritage. Beware that they are only referring to this racist ideology, no matter what politically correct spin they put on it. I have written about the myth surrounding this flag, as well as the opportunistic outrage it occasionally incites, in many commentaries, including “Opportunism, Not Activism, Motivated Bree Newsome to Remove Confederate Flag,” July 3, 2015.

    So until the next racial flare-up on America’s long and tragic road towards racial truth and reconciliation – “in Order to form a more perfect union…”.

    Related commentaries:
    Confederate flag
    Ferguson/Dallas effect
    Putin-Trump

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Monday, at 2:24 p.m.

  • Saturday, August 12, 2017 at 7:18 AM

    Trump Double Dares After Jong-un Crosses His Red Line…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    And everyone in Washington is dumbfounded … again.

    President Donald Trump reiterated his bellicose warning to North Korea from earlier in the week, telling reporters at his golf club in New Jersey on Thursday that his threat to bring ‘fire and fury’ if North Korea continued to threaten the United States may not have gone far enough. …

    ‘I read about in Guam by August 15 … let’s see what he does with Guam,’ Trump said in apparent reference to Kim Jong-un. ‘He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody has seen before.’

    (CNN, August 10, 2017)

    Phil Mudd is the ex-deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and the FBI’s National Security Branch. More to the point, he is easily CNN’s most confident and strident analyst.

    Therefore, it was truly “BREAKING NEWS” when he admitted on today’s edition of the Situation Room that

    We were wrong.

    This was his reaction to Trump doubling down on his threat to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea if it (merely) threatens the United States or any of its allies. Mudd admitted that he and every other analyst were wrong to think Trump’s first-rate advisers would be able to insulate the world from his ill-tempered and ill-informed bluster.

    Except that I never thought so. What’s more, I began calling them out months ago in this respect.

    It’s worth recalling in this context what putatively sensible Republicans (most notably Senator John McCain of Arizona) insisted was Trump’s only saving grace. It was his decision to nominate cabinet members like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

    Those Republicans assured the world that these secretaries would have an enlightening effect on Trump. But am I the only one who has yet to see any of that effect? Even worse, there’s often no difference between what we hear from them and what we hear from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Trump’s other PR flaks. These secretaries and those Republicans have some ‘splainin’ to do.

    And don’t get me started on the moderating effect his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared were supposed to have on him. I pooh-pooed that liberal fantasy long ago in “Trumpasites Already Gagging on Big Lies (a.k.a. Alternative Facts) and Outrageous Pledges They Swallowed,” January 30, 2017.

    (“The Week Trump Kissed Up to Saudi Arabia, Kissed Off Europe, and French Kissed the Philippines,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 20, 2017)

    Truth be told, though, only God knows how this nuclear brinkmanship will play out. But it does not bode well knowing that Trump is no JFK and Jong-un no Khrushchev.

    So, folks, this might be a good time for a Caribbean vacation. And I recommend extending it until after Labor Day in early September. The [Missiles] of August should have landed by then, making it relatively safe to see what really remains The Day After.

    Related commentaries:
    Week Trump kissed up
    Trump vs Jong-un

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 8:10 p.m.

  • Wednesday, August 9, 2017 at 6:21 AM

    America’s Trump vs North Korea’s Jong-un: the Ultimate Reality-TV Show…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    And, trust me, giving way to gallows humor is the only way to cope with the lunatic rantings and antics of both leaders.

    President Trump used his harshest language yet to warn North Korea on Tuesday that it will be ‘met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,’ if it does not stop threatening the United States. …

    Earlier in the day, North Korea said it would ‘ruthlessly take strategic measures involving physical actions.’ …

    Trump’s statement also followed a report in the Washington Post that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its ballistic missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.

    (Washington Post, August 8, 2017)

    Unsurprisingly, cable networks are beating the drums of war for all it’s worth – complete with war gaming and PSAs on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Never mind that they are unwittingly acting out Trump’s wag-the-dog playbook, which contains all kinds of stunts to counter his historically low poll numbers and divert media attention away from his alleged collusion with Russia.

    Incidentally, a key feature of that playbook has Trump continually blindsiding members of his administration with ill-tempered and ill-informed utterances. This was the case yesterday when he blindsided members of his own health commission.

    They thought he convened their briefing to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. Instead, the congenitally impulsive Trump used them as props to declare North Korea’s trademark rhetoric a cause for nuclear war. It speaks volumes in this respect that his wife and (startled) secretary of health and human services were sitting beside him, not his national security adviser and secretary of defense.

    Meanwhile, notorious lies and cartoonish bluster have characterized the first six months of Trump’s presidency. But the same have characterized North Korean regimes for the past six decades, which makes Kim Jong-un far more predictable than warmongering experts on TV would have you believe.

    In fact, the real story here is that Trump has so debased the stature and credibility of the US presidency that his threats are truly no more credible than Jong-un’s. Remember his threats to destroy ISIS, tame Iran, and withdraw from NAFTA – all with dispatch the world has never seen before? Hollow! As it happens, the same can be said about his pledge to get China to swallow the North Korean pickle he’s now gagging on.

    Sure enough, Jong-un demonstrated within hours just how hollow his threats are. He willfully (and predictably) crossed Trump’s red line of “fire and fury” by threatening to wipe the US territory of Guam off the map.

    Alas, this is the kind of cataclysmic brinkmanship Trump’s “black-swan” presidency has wrought. His A-team of cabinet secretaries were supposed to keep his impulses in check. But they are acting like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight:

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is warning about the casualties of war on the peninsula; CIA Director Mike Pompeo is championing the “strategic decapitation” of Jong-un’s regime; and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is channeling Rodney King, pleading for everyone to just be friends and get along.

    Which is why, despite this nuclear pissing contest, the advice I gave Obama — in “North Korea to The World: Nuke Off!” December 13, 2012 — remains the only effective way to deal with the menace North Korea poses.

    __________________

    Obama should convene a coalition of the willing among Asia-Pacific countries (APEC) to forge agreement on the following resolution, which, significantly, would not be subject to a UN-style veto by any country (namely, China or Russia):

    APEC

    • Recognizing that the United Nations is unable or unwilling to stop North Korea from violating its resolutions (most notably, res. 1718 against conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles) with impunity;
    • Finding that these violations pose an untenable threat to the Asia-Pacific region;

    Resolves that:

    1. Instead of continuing the feckless practice of bribing North Korea with cash, oil and food to get it to stop these violations, APEC shall henceforth impose the severest possible sanctions, unilaterally;
    2. If, either as a result of misfire or deliberate intent, any of North Korea’s missiles even threatens any APEC country, the United States shall lead the bombardment of all of its nuclear and missile facilities until they are incapable of even setting off firecrackers, let alone launching nuclear missiles.

    All else is folly.

    __________________

    To be fair, Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley deserves honorable mention for this:

    The UN Security Council unanimously approved tough new sanctions Saturday to punish North Korea for its escalating nuclear and missile programs including a ban on coal and other exports worth over $1 billion — a huge bite in its total exports, valued at $3 billion last year.

    US Ambassador Nikki Haley called the resolution ‘the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime’ and ‘the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation.’

    (Washington Post, August 6, 2017)

    Except that it took no time for news of North Korea’s miniaturized nuclear warhead, to say nothing of its threat against Guam, to make a mockery of this latest round of sanctions. But this validates my contention that all is folly until North Korea actually provokes a retaliatory strike – as my resolution stipulates.

    Therefore, I say keep calm and let North Korea carry on playing with its nuclear weapons. After all, it has been self-evident for decades that a preemptive military strike to stop it from doing so is prohibitive. Moreover, it only encourages North Korea’s mischief-making to react so hysterically every time it test-fires a ballistic missile harmlessly into the Sea of Japan.

    Related commentaries:
    North Korea nukes

  • Tuesday, August 8, 2017 at 8:50 AM

    Aping Mideast Dictatorships, Israel Bans Al Jazeera

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Israel plans to revoke media credentials of Al Jazeera journalists and close the network’s office in Jerusalem, the country’s communication minister has announced.

    Ayoub Kara made the announcement on Sunday during a press conference in Jerusalem, where Al Jazeera was barred from attending.

    ‘We have based our decision on the move by Sunni Arab states to close the Al Jazeera offices and prohibiting their work,’ Kara said, adding that the channel is being used by groups to ‘incite’ violence – an accusation the network has denied.

    (Al Jazeera, August 7, 2017)

    The putatively democratic Israel clearly has no qualms – not just about aping regional dictatorships but also about parroting their trumped-up reasons for suppressing the free press. Alas, this reflects the cognitive dissonance that has seen Israel continually use national security as a pretext to betray democratic values since its founding in 1948.

    But this marks a new low. What’s more, it is compounded by the fact that this Jewish state is actually taking sides in the latest flare up of the fight for the soul of Islam, which Sunnis and Shiites have been waging for over a thousand years. I commented on this flare up in “Blockading Qatar: Trump Makes Messy Middle East Messier,” July 13, 2017.

    Meanwhile:

    Senator John McCain, defending the media against the latest attack by President Donald Trump, warned that suppressing the free press was ‘how dictators get started.’ …

    ‘The international order established after World War Two was built in part on a free press,’ McCain said.

    (Reuters, February 19, 2017)

    McCain was just one of many US politicians, of all stripes, who denounced Trump for casting every news organization that reported negative stories about him as “the enemy of the American people.” Therefore, you’d think these politicians, who hail Israel as a beacon of democratic freedoms in the Middle East, would be denouncing it for actually banning Al Jazeera.

    Yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a single one, including McCain, who has done so. Hell, even CNN is too busy wallowing in Trump’s asinine and feckless tweets to be bothered.

    To be fair, though, there’s a prevailing reason for their deafening and damning silence. For the operating maxim that Israel can do no wrong has been one of the more vexing and perplexing features of American politics since World War II.

    It is vexing because it is based on the manifest fiction that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” This is a fiction not because there are other democracies in the region but because it whitewashes Israel’s original sin. That sin, of course, is the occupation of Palestinian lands and the legacy of apartheid it spawned.

    It is perplexing because most politicians in the United States, of all stripes, regard adherence to this maxim as an article of faith. This explains why they’d sooner criticize America’s original sin than even acknowledge Israel’s. That sin, of course, is the institution of slavery and the legacy of discrimination it spawned.

    I feel obliged, yet again, to register my disgust with Israel-can-do-no-wrong enablers in the US Congress. Because, instead of supporting the wholly informed warning Secretary of State John Kerry issued to Israel on Monday about becoming an ‘apartheid’ state, everyone from Tea Party conservative Senator Ted Cruz to left-wing liberal Senator Barbara Boxer reacted as if he uttered words that were as anti-Semitic as Donald Sterling’s were racist.

    (“Instead of Peace Israel Settling for Apartheid?” The iPINIONS Journal, May 1 2014)

    No Israeli prime minister has exploited this deference to procure unconditional US political cover and financial support than Benjamin Netanyahu. I have decried his hubris in this respect in many commentaries, including “Netanyahu, Obama’s Iago; Iran, His Desdemona,” October 2, 2013, “Chutzpah: Israeli PM to Address US Congress,” January 23, 20015, and “Netanyahu’s a Putz for Branding Obama a Judas over UN Resolution,” December 29, 2016 – to name just a few.

    Israel says it plans to build 2,500 more homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. …

    Settlements are widely viewed as an obstacle to peace by the Palestinians and the international community, and Palestinian officials have responded angrily to today’s announcement.

    ‘We are building — and will continue to build,’ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    (NPR, January 3, 2017)

    As it happens, Netanyahu’s chutzpah was on full display during a joint press conference at the White House on February 15. Specifically, when Trump said he’d like Netanyahu to stop building settlements, Netanyahu shrugged it off like a bad joke.

    In doing so, he clearly presumed that Trump was only paying lip service to this prerequisite for peace. Sure enough, Trump’s failure to utter a word (or tweet a character) about the plight of the Palestinians since then validates Netanyahu’s presumptuousness.

    To be fair, though, Trump was only doing what successive US presidents have done, albeit more diplomatically. In fact, Barack Obama afflicted the Israelis and comforted the Palestinians more than any president since Jimmy Carter. Yet even he proudly cites the following as one of the crowning achievements of his presidency:

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday thanked the United States for the ‘unprecedented’ and ‘historic’ defense aid package, hours before Israeli and US officials were to sign the $38 billion deal in Washington.

    ‘This agreement will ensure an unprecedented level of defense aid for Israel in the next decade,’ Netanyahu said in a statement. ‘This is the largest military aid package the US has ever given out to any nation.’

    (The Times of Israel, September 14, 2016)

    Therefore, one can hardly blame Netanyahu for thinking that this president – who wants to ban Muslims from entering the United States — couldn’t care less if he casts a Muslim news organization as the enemy of the Israeli people.

    That said, I am happy to report that Israel’s anti-corruption police and incorruptible prosecutors are its saving grace.

    Disgraced ex-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was released from prison on Sunday after serving 16 months of a 27-month sentence for fraud and bribery.

    Olmert, 71, became Israel’s first ex-prime minister to go to jail when he was convicted in 2014 of accepting bribes to promote a real-estate project in Jerusalem, and of obstructing justice.

    Before its decision to release him, the parole board said that he had undergone a rehabilitation process in prison, and that his behaviour had been ‘impeccable.’

    (The Telegraph – London, July 2, 2017)

    More to the point, here is why Israeli police and prosecutors are far more likely to humble Netanyahu than any US president would or could.

    Israeli police are expected to recommend charges be brought against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a pair of corruption cases against the Israeli premier, amid a newly signed deal with a key associate of the prime minister to turn state’s witness.

    (Times of Israel, August 4, 2017)

    With all due respect to Olmert, this could not happen to a worthier Israeli leader. And the cherry on top is that the police are expected to recommend separate charges be brought against Netanyahu’s imperious and spendthrift wife for living like an American-Jewish princess at the Israeli taxpayers’ expense.

    Related commentaries:
    Blockading Qatar
    Israel apartheid
    Netanyahu’s a Putz
    Obama’s Iago

  • Sunday, August 6, 2017 at 7:37 AM

    Gatlin Wins 100m, Becomes Skunk at Bolt’s Farewell Party

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Bolt insisted this would be the final individual race of his storied career – his swan song. This is why everyone was so anxious for him to go out on a high note.

    Alas:

    Olympic champion and world record holder Usain Bolt finished third in the men’s 100 meters in 9.95 seconds at the IAAF World Championships in London on Saturday evening. 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin of the United States won gold in 9.92 seconds with his compatriot Christian Coleman taking silver in 9.94.

    (Sports Illustrated, August 5, 2017)

    What gives this loss so much pathos is that everyone knows it’s the type of loss Bolt feared most. For he always said he never wanted to become one of those champions who stays around too long and ends his career being upstaged by an upstart.

    Taking his final bows after gold medal performances at last summer’s Rio Olympics would have sealed an unblemished legacy. Now, for the rest of his life, he’ll be thinking himself foolish for not doing so. Because, sure enough, upstart 21-year-old Christian Coleman upstaged him in this farewell race.

    But what must make this loss so humiliating is that an “old man” upstaged him too. After all, Gatlin is 35 years old, which makes Bolt look like a quitter for retiring at 30. What’s more, Gatlin denies him the crutch of old age, which Bolt could have leaned on to justify his retirement and/or rationalize this loss.

    But God help him if foolish pride compels him to forego retirement to redeem himself. Because I fear he’ll just end up like a junkie chasing the dragon

    Incidentally, the look of anguish on Bolt’s face – when it struck him that he did not win – rivals that look in Edvard Munch’s most famous painting. Priceless!

    Of course, my August 3 commentary makes clear that I thought upstart Canadian sprinter Andre DeGrasse was the only person who could upstage Bolt on this putatively ceremonial occasion. I felt certain the fix was in when DeGrasse (Bolt’s Puma teammate) withdrew at the last minute, presumably ceding the stage to the elder sportsman. But hey, who knew?

    That said, it’s noteworthy that resounding jeers greeted Gatlin when he was introduced for this race. Because those jeers foreshadowed critics bringing up his four-year suspension in 2006 for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) either to qualify his feat or to mollify Bolt’s defeat.

    But I maintain that the only difference between Bolt and Gatlin in this respect is that Bolt was smarter, luckier, or better protected. Bear in mind that Lance Armstrong managed to end his career without getting caught … too.

    Perhaps more foreboding, though, is that the IOC has already stripped Bolt of one of his nine Olympic gold medals. Granted, this was because a member of his relay team tested positive. But this did not stop me from imputing guilt by association in “Doping Charges Strike Usain Like a Lightning Bolt,” February 3, 2017. Because I am more persuaded by the proverb

    Birds of a feather stick together.

    Indeed, it’s noteworthy that Yohan Blake also ran in this fateful race, coming in fourth. For he is just one of a suspicious number of Bolt’s Jamaican teammates who, like Gatlin, have returned to competition after testing positive for PEDs.

    Actually, this might explain why Bolt was so keen to defend Gatlin against not just jeering crowds but sneering competitors as well. Whatever the case, I remarked on Bolt’s guilt by association with his Jamaican teammates in “Drugs as Rampant in Track as in Cycling,” July 16, 2013.

    Frankly, Carl Lewis is the last sprinter who I am absolutely convinced won this event drug free. That was at the IAAF World Championships in Tokyo way back in 1991. It’s too bad that, far from being the fun and lovable guy Bolt always was, Lewis was always an arrogant and surly jerk.

    But the irrepressible prevalence of PEDs (in all sports) is such that I think they should be legalized.

    Policing drugs in professional sports is not only Orwellian; it’s utterly futile. After all … athletes have always, and will always, do or take anything that might give them a competitive advantage. And if what they do or take poses no harm to anyone except themselves, who cares?!

    This enlightened attitude towards performance-enhancing drugs would have precluded the ‘scandals’ that now threaten the professional careers of Tour de France Champion Floyd Landis and Olympic Champion Justin Gatlin (100m); to say nothing of sparing them international ridicule as pathetic liars and cheaters.

    (“A Plea for Landis, Gatlin, et al: Legalize Drugs … Especially in Sports,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 3, 2006)

    Other commentaries like “Jones Admits Using Steroids: Why Marion, Why…?” October 12, 2007, chronicle my cynicism.

    Meanwhile, Gatlin served that suspension at the peak of his career (ages 24-28). That he’s the world champion today is an undeniable testament to his (natural) talent and hard work. So please think twice before joining the ignorant crowds who vilify Gatlin to glorify Bolt

    Hail, Gatlin!

    Related commentaries:
    Bolt’s fairytale ending
    IOC strips Bolt of gold
    Drugs rampant
    Decriminalize drugs

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Saturday, at 5:58 p.m.

  • Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 8:03 AM

    Maduro taking Venezuela on a flight of fancy, flying by the seat of his pants

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Venezuela’s controversial new assembly has opened despite fierce opposition at home and abroad.

    President Nicolás Maduro says the constituent assembly is needed to bring peace after months of crisis.

    But the opposition says the new body, which has the ability to rewrite the constitution, is a way for the president to cling to power.

    (BBC, August 4, 2017)

    We cry for you, Venezuela

    The truth is, he never loved you

    Despite Chavismo

    His revolution,

    He broke his promise

    Please find your senses.

    Related commentaries:
    Venezuela

  • Thursday, August 3, 2017 at 1:26 PM

    The Fix Is In for Usain Bolt to Have a Fairytale Ending…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Canadian Andre De Grasse, arguably the top rival to Usain Bolt, will miss the world track and field championships due to a strained right hamstring suffered Monday. ‘Andre had his final starting blocks session in preparation for Friday’s 100m heats,’ De Grasse’s agent said in a text message. ‘On his final run of the day, Andre pulled up with what he described as ‘a grab’ in his right hamstring.’

    (NBC Sports, August 2, 2017)

    Yeah, right.

    I smell a rat, especially given this:

    Usain Bolt’s management have refuted suggestions that the Jamaican had Canada’s Andre De Grasse ‘booted out’ of tomorrow’s Monaco Diamond League 100m race after reports that the eight-time Olympic champion was running scared of his younger rival.

    De Grasse, who won silver bronze behind Bolt at last year’s Rio Olympics, has been tipped as a natural successor to the Jamaican and was snapped up by Puma – who have long been associated with Bolt – for a seven-figure sum last winter.

    De Grasse is due to appear in Monaco, where Bolt will run 100m, but only as part of a Canadian 4x100m relay team – thus avoiding a head-to-head with the Jamaican, who has been well below par so far this campaign.

    (The Telegraph London, July 20, 2017)

    To be fair, fight promoters routinely bribe lesser-known boxers to “take a dive” to guarantee victories for reigning champions. The careers of everyone, from Muhammad Ali to Floyd Mayweather, are littered with such dubious bouts.

    But a better analogy might be the way Formula 1 teams order one driver to let the better teammate pass, or even win outright:

    Just three races into the new season, Mercedes has already imposed orders on Valtteri Bottas by telling him to make way for [Lewis] Hamilton twice in one race—Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

    One of the instructions came in the closing stages, when Bottas was ordered to let Hamilton pass so he could chase down Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

    (Associated Press, April 17, 2017)

    Therefore, one can hardly blame Puma for prevailing upon De Grasse to help fix a swan-song victory for Bolt. This seems the least it can do for the athlete who has been its cash cow for over ten years.

    What’s more, De Grasse is poised to inherit Bolt’s role (at Puma and on the track). And chances are very good that Puma will prevail upon a cash calf someday to do for his swan song what he is doing for Bolt’s today.

    All the same, I doubt this victory will ease the anxiety Bolt is bound to experience in retirement. For he’ll be wondering if or when doping, which I suspect he’s guilty of, will nullify the greatest victories of his career; you know, the way it nullified those of Lance Armstrong’s.

    Related commentaries:
    Bolt doping suspicions
    Armstrong

  • Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 7:18 AM

    The Inconvenient Truth about Gore’s Sequel

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Al Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his crusade against climate change. This, notwithstanding that his crusade amounted to little more than a “Powerpoint presentation” of alarming weather projections, which he marketed as an apocalyptic thriller titled An Inconvenient Truth. But it was a blockbuster, and an Oscar winner to boot!

    Except that, like the producers of Contagion, Twister, and other natural disaster movies, Gore would be hard-pressed to show what positive environmental impact his film has had. But, unlike them, he actually bears this burden of proof. After all, only he promoted his film as a bible of truths dramatized to save the planet.

    Of course, filmmakers base sequels on box-office receipts the originals grossed, not on the social, political, or environmental impact they had. Evidently, Gore is no different. In fact, the inconvenient truth is that his sequel, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, mostly documents what little impact the original film has had on climate change.

    The former Vice-President is still giving, and constantly updating, his presentation, and it is now filled with footage from climate-related disasters, ranging from the 2012 inundation of the 9/11 memorial to the painful, ongoing recovery from Typhoon Haiyan, the intense 2013 storm that killed more than six thousand people in the Philippines and affected some eleven million others throughout Southeast Asia. After a 2015 heat wave killed more than twelve hundred Pakistanis, Gore reports, cemeteries in the city of Karachi prepared for the following summer by digging anticipatory mass graves.

    (The New Yorker, July 29, 2017)

    Incidentally, another inconvenient truth is that the city of Karachi ended up having no need for those mass graves, making this just one of many false environmental alarms he has sounded over the years.

    The point is that the manifest fecklessness of his crusade is why Gore is to fighting climate change what Nancy Reagan was to fighting drugs. Therefore, when you see him all over mainstream and social media in the coming weeks, bear in mind that, despite channeling John the Baptist, he’s really just doing what filmmakers do – namely promoting his film (as he did on CNN last night).

    To be fair, though, this sequel is more than just a Powerpoint presentation with special effects. Not least because it features Gore preaching about saving trees with the same fire-and-brimstone fervor with which televangelists preach about saving souls …

    That said, I hasten to clarify that I am not one of those wacko climate change deniers. Indeed, this weblog is replete with commentaries affirming my environmental bona fides. It’s just that I prize enlightened environmental practices over apocalyptic climate rhetoric. And this invariably compels me to speak my own environmental truth to power – as the following two quotes attest.

    Do as I say…

    I take umbrage at rich Americans and Europeans lecturing us about the uses of what little energy resources we (in the Caribbean and others throughout the developing world) have to fuel our economic growth. Because, try as we might, even the most profligate amongst us cannot emit as much CO2 in one year as Al Gore emits in one week. He, after all, has to fuel everything from his Tennessee mansion to the private jets he travels in to spread his ‘convenient truth’ all over the world.

    (“Mother Nature Makes UN Report on Global Warming Seem Like a Flaming Hoax,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 12, 2007)

    Carbon credits and environmental indulgences…

    Apropos of hot air, Davos attendees are flaming hypocrites too. After all, the ever-looming apocalypse of climate change always features in their panel discussions. Yet reports are that as many as 1,700 private jets crisscross the pristine Alps each year, taking them to and fro. …

    To hear these rich folks lamenting about the depletion of the ozone, the increasing gap between haves and have nots, and the almost criminal waste of non-renewable energy, you’d think they jet-pooled to Davos on ethanol-fueled airplanes; whereas they all flew in on gas-guzzling, air-polluting private jets.

    (“Financial Times: Davos World Economic Forum Is ‘Moronic, Silly, Empty,’” The iPINIONS Journal, February 10, 2016)

    Clearly, I get no environmental inspiration from Gore’s newfangled crusade. Instead, I get it from the American conservation movement, which dates back to the 1890s. This movement gave rise to the Earth Day practices of the 1960s, which I hailed in “Happy 39th Earth Day,” April 22, 2009.

    __________________

    The environmental practices this day inaugurated have become so routine and universal that the symbolic replenishing of Earth’s natural resources — by planting trees — now seems trite, if not contrived. Granted, to hear all of the alarmist talk about climate change, you’d think it was Al Gore who transformed public consciousness in this regard only years ago with sermons from his environmental bible Earth in the Balance.

    But this celebration of and deference to Earth’s natural wonders should be distinguished from Gore’s convenient truths about climate change; so-called truths which include using fake images of melting glaciers in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth just to scare people.

    After all, the original Earth Day ushered in conservation and greening trends that have led to cleaner air, more potable (lead-free) water, and a much less polluted environment. Whereas, by Gore’s own admission, there has been ‘no improvement in the fight against climate change’ since he began prophesying about global warming.

    ____________________

    In other words, many people have done and are doing far more to save the planet than this self-righteous, self-promoting bore. They include

    • Politician and environmental pioneer Gaylord Nelson – who founded Earth Day;
    • Environmental and political activist Wargari Maathai – whose focus on literally planting trees made her truly worthy of her 2004 Nobel Peace Prize;
    • Politician and “climate change ambassador” Governor Jerry Brown of California – who is leading US efforts to implement the provisions of the Paris climate accord; and
    • Author and environmental activist Professor Bjorn Lomborg – whose TED Talk Global Priorities Bigger than Climate Change is to Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth what the Encyclopedia Britannica is to the Holy Bible.

    Still, apropos of inconvenient truths, nothing betrays the inefficacy of Gore’s environmental crusade quite like the way this sequel ends. Because, after lots of time documenting the heroic lengths to which he went to get world leaders to support the Paris climate accord, it ends with no less a leader than President Trump making a global show of refusing to do so.

    Except that this provided the perfect cliffhanger for the next installment of his “Inconvenient Truth” franchise. Again, it’s not about making an impact; it’s about making a buck … for the cause of course.

    Stay tuned.

    Related commentaries:
    Earth Day
    Paris climate change
    Polar ice caps
    Mother Nature
    Davos

  • Monday, July 31, 2017 at 7:13 AM

    Fail, Putin! All He Has to Show for His Meddling in the US Is More Sanctions

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Much has been made of the way Russian President Vladimir Putin meddled to get Donald Trump elected president of the United States. The prevailing view – in both Russia and the United States – was that a grateful or compromised Trump would do Putin’s bidding.

    The great expectation in this respect was that Trump would lift the sanctions that have been crippling Russia’s economy for years. Former President Barack Obama imposed them in early 2014, through a series of Executive Orders, after Putin annexed Crimea and began destabilizing the rest of Ukraine.

    Putin was banking on Trump wielding the kind of dictatorial powers in America he wields in Russia. And Trump did nothing to disabuse Putin of this misguided symmetry.

    But I found it stupefying that so many American commentators were giving credence to this. They seemed oblivious to powers Congress and the judiciary wield as coequal branches of government. I, on the other hand, was acutely mindful of those powers.

    It won’t be long before the bromance between Trump and Putin has its day of reckoning. …

    Whatever the nature of their He-man courtship, that fateful day could come … when Putin realizes that his puppet strings are no match for congressional and judicial powers, which place checks and balances on presidential powers. … He’s betting he can get Trump to use those powers to ease the sanctions that are crippling Russia’s economy and cramping the lifestyles of Russian oligarchs who help him misappropriate and launder tens of billions.

    (“The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected the Outcome of US Election,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 12, 2016)

    Sure enough:

    America’s ingenious system of checks and balances has so circumscribed Trump’s Putinesque impulses that all Putin has to show for his hacking and leaking is Russia suffering even worse economic sanctions and irreparable reputational damage. This pyrrhic effect is clearly not what Putin meddled for.

    (“France’s Marine Le Pen, Putin’s Latest Democratic Honey Trap,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 6, 2017)

    But I also found it stupefying that so many ignored the indelible and inexorable course of US foreign policy commitments, which would clearly preclude Trump appeasing Putin beyond idle flattery. I restated Putin’s looming disappointment in “Putin Blames ‘Little Green Men’ for Syrian Gas Attack – as Bloom Comes Off His Bromance with Trump,”  April 12, 2017.

    __________

    [T]he election collusion/bromance between Putin and Trump was doomed to implode. …

    Putin will finally realize that, despite his flirtation, Trump’s policies towards Russia (especially re Ukraine-related sanctions) will be no different than Obama’s.

    Frankly, the institutional constancy of US foreign policy is such that Trump could not alter its trajectory even if he wanted to. Nothing telegraphs this quite like Trump defying his own election rhetoric yesterday by signing a treaty to admit Montenegro into NATO, thereby expanding rather than disbanding it for being ‘obsolete.’

    In other words, Trump was bound to disappoint Putin – just as he was bound to disappoint the poor fools who thought he really would, or even could, get Mexico to pay for that wall. Which suggests that Putin is not nearly as smart as he’s reputed to be.

    __________

    All of which is why I wasn’t at all surprised last week when Congress defied Trump by slapping Putin in the face:

    The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to pass a bill increasing sanctions against Russia … establishing veto-proof majorities for the measure that also allows Congress to block President Trump from easing sanctions against Moscow. …

    Lawmakers [were] worried by hints that the Trump administration might make concessions to Russia, specifically sanctions that the Kremlin has sought to have lifted. …

    [T]he bill codifies existing sanctions and steps up sanctions against Moscow over Russia’s involvement in the wars in Ukraine and Syria, as well as allegations that it interfered in the 2016 US elections.

    (Washington Post, July 27, 2017)

    Incidentally, Trump boasted throughout his campaign that he would get Congress to rubber stamp his legislative agenda, so much so that his supporters would “get tired of winning.”  Remember that? Therefore, the irony cannot be lost even on him that this sanctions bill, which he lobbied heavily to kill, is the only significant legislative achievement of his beleaguered presidency.

    In any event, a duly disappointed Putin retaliated.

    Russia took its first steps on Friday to retaliate against proposed American sanctions for Moscow’s suspected meddling in the 2016 election, seizing two American diplomatic properties in Russia and ordering the United States Embassy to reduce staff by September.

    The moves, which had been threatened for weeks, came a day after the United States Senate approved a measure to expand economic sanctions against Russia, as well as against Iran and North Korea. The White House announced late Friday that President Trump would sign the bill.

    (New York Times, July 28, 2017)

    Except that this retaliation actually betrayed Putin’s weakness. Again, US sanctions are not just crippling Russia’s economy but cramping the jet-set lifestyle of the oligarchs he depends on to protect and sustain his kleptocracy. Indeed, it speaks volumes that the richest Russians, including Putin himself, have more money in American banks than in Russian ones. Of course, this is why they are so susceptible to US sanctions.

    Yet all he did was kick hundreds of consular staffers out of the country – many of whom are probably all too happy to leave. In fact, the only people who will be adversely affected are the Russians lining up every day for these staffers to process visas for them to visit America – many of whom will overstay their visas … indefinitely.

    What’s more, the way he retaliated for the first round of US sanctions in 2012 only reinforces this weakness. For he merely banned Americans from adopting helpless Russian babies.

    [T]he adoption ban was drafted in response to the Magnitsky Act, a law signed by President Obama this month that will bar Russian citizens accused of violating human rights from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there.

    (New York Times, December 27, 2012)

    This is why I fear the day of reckoning is nigh, when Putin will have to play the only card he has to justify the strongman reputation he has so carefully cultivated. That, alas, would be to launch military action somewhere that compels the US to retaliate … militarily.

    And, Trump might be unwittingly encouraging Putin to do so. Not least because he must seem to Putin (and other world leaders) like a clueless, hapless idiot tweeting his presidency away. He reinforced this impression just last week by tweeting to no avail to get

    • China to stop North Korea from launching ballistic missiles;
    • the US military to ban transgender troops; and
    • Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare.

    Weak!

    Meanwhile, Trump has been conspicuous in his unwillingness to tweet a condemnatory character at Russia for meddling in last year’s election and having the nerve to retaliate after being punished for doing so…?

    Incriminating!

    Related commentaries:
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    Putin blames
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  • Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 8:19 AM

    Republican ‘War’ to Repeal Obamacare Fails in Spectacular, Humiliating Fashion

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Republicans’ ‘Seven-Year War’ to repeal the Affordable Care Act appears dead. Last night, three GOP senators bucked their party and president, siding with Democrats to vote down a last-minute effort to repeal portions of the law. …

    After this, it seems unlikely that Republicans will revive their legislative campaign against Obamacare.

    (Washington Post, July 28, 2017)

    No doubt you recall that Trump made repealing and replacing this Act the signature promise of his presidential campaign. But if you think he’s the biggest loser, think again.

    For Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the one with egg all over his face. This is the only way to describe his look when the die was cast in the wee hours on Friday.

    Of course, this is the same McConnell of Kentucky who was the bane of Obama’s presidency. Because he spent every day executing an open and notorious Republican conspiracy to make Obama the worst president in US history.

    Here is how McConnell famously took pride in this conspiracy on the July 10, 2011, edition of FOX News:

    Well that is true, making Obama a one-term President is my single most important political goal along with every active Republican in the country.

    Repealing and replacing Obama’s signature achievement of healthcare reform was always their holy grail. And McConnell was hailed as such a master of the legislative process, everyone assume he could get his Republican caucus to pass this bill as easily as a DA could get a grand jury to indict a “ham sandwich.” This is why most will blame him more than Trump for this spectacular, humiliating legislative failure.

    But McConnell can still gloat over the unprecedented way he refused even to grant Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing during the final nine months of his presidency.

    Still, here’s to Mitch for failing – not only to make Obama a one-term president but also to vindicate that attempt by repealing Obamacare.

    That said, I’d be remiss not to note the obvious ironies inherent in Senator John McCain of Arizona killing this bill, which he did in the well of the Senate with a dramatic thumbs down.

    Most notably, McCain was the candidate Obama defeated for the presidency in 2008. More to the point, though, he is the war hero Trump famously dissed with this infamous riff:

    He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.

    (New York Times, July 18, 2015)

    What you may not know, though, is that Trump pulled a complete 180. Specifically, he started this week hailing McCain as a hero and ended it on the phone groveling for his vote – just minutes before McCain gave his now famous thumbs down.

    As I texted an old friend, this was McCain serving it cold with a side order of “How do you like your hero now, bitch!”

    Related commentaries:
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  • Friday, July 28, 2017 at 8:36 AM

    First Cancer, Then Divorce, Now Bell’s Palsy? ‘Please cry for me, Angelina’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Angelina Jolie is opening up about her difficult year, from a Bell’s Palsy diagnosis to her split from Brad.

    In a Vanity Fair cover story, Jolie reveals that in addition to high blood pressure, she developed Bell’s Palsy, a condition resulting from damage to facial nerves, which caused one side of her face to droop.

    (USA Today, July 27, 2017)

    I know my title conveys heartlessness toward this celebrity do-gooder. But Angie and me, we have history.

    That said:

    Poor pretty rich star

    How tortured you are.

    Dear God, what else can befall

    This fairest star of them all.

    Here is a reprise of my PSA from January 31, 2014. It explains why I suspect this much ado about her Bell’s Palsy is a justification for a face lift, just as the much ado about her cancer was for that boob job.

    **********

     

    Forget Angelina! Hannah’s the Breast Cancer Survivor Worthy of Praise

     

    Angelina Jolie famously elected to replace her healthy breasts with implants because she feared she might develop terminal cancer … someday. And she won near-universal praise for doing so. TIME magazine even ran a cover on May 27, 2013, heralding “The Angelina Effect” she would have on women.

    AngelinaJolieTombraiderI, however, stood virtually alone in pooh-poohing the hosannas to her. And I received near-universal flak for doing so. Notably, women got their panties in a twist because I dared to question whether Jolie was more interested in preserving the look of her two most bankable assets than preventing cancer.

    On Tuesday the New York Times published an op-ed by actress Angelina Jolie on her decision to have a double mastectomy. Almost immediately, she became the subject of media beatification the likes of which we have not seen, well, since Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president of the United States in 2008. …

    You’d never know from this coverage that tens of thousands of women, including lesser-known celebrities, have talked openly about having a double mastectomy. Alas, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, having an A-lister like Jolie do so somehow makes it okay, perhaps even fashionable. …

    Jolie did not opt to remain au naturel (i.e., flat chested). That would have been heroic, and truly worthy of media beatification. Instead, she got a boob job … too.

    Which raises the question: why hail Jolie as the patron saint of breast-cancer survivors when all she did was elect to look like every other actress in Hollywood who makes a living by showing off the most titillating fake breasts money can buy?

    (“Angelina Jolie’s ‘Heroic Decision’ to Get Breast Implants?” The iPINIONS Journal, May 16, 2013)

    Even more shocking and dismaying, however, is that my critics seemed not the least bit chastened five months later when Professor Kefah Mokbel of the London Breast Institute issued the following warning, which the New York Post reported on October 3, 2013:

    We’re seeing a large number of women requesting a preventive mastectomy for peace of mind, women who’ve been diagnosed but don’t have a genetic predisposition so wouldn’t benefit.

    These are patients who say, ‘Can you do for me what Angelina Jolie had done?’ They’re on the increase.

    Not even when, around the same time, researchers at the University of Minnesota presented a report at the 2013 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, which included the following dispositive finding (as reported in the October 7, 2013 edition of the Daily Mail):

    Women who have a healthy breast removed over fears they might later develop breast cancer may not improve their survival rate, according to new research.

    article-2547914-1B0D390200000578-367_306x423Well, given that scientific evidence did nothing to disabuse Angie’s avengers of their misguided praise, perhaps the sublime image of what a real patron saint of breast-cancer survivors should look like will. And, thanks to the March 2014 issue of Cosmopolitan no less, Hannah Foxley is a vision to behold, posing proudly, I dare say even seductively, with her bare, scared chest where her pert breast used to be.

    Hannah Foxley, who recently had a mastectomy, says she wants to show women you can still be beautiful even when you’ve had parts of your body removed.

    ‘I have learnt to love it and adopt a positive body image and I want to empower other women to do the same. I want them to see my pictures and say ‘she looks beautiful and I can too.’’

    Surely no woman in her right mind would praise the fake, Playboy-style body image Jolie represents over the real, naturally beautiful body image Foxley does … right?

    But let me hasten to clarify that nothing I’ve ever written on this subject is meant to convey any disrespect for women who opt for post-mastectomy reconstructive surgery.

    I just think a woman like Foxley is far more worthy of being hailed as the patron saint of breast-cancer survivors than Jolie. Don’t you?

    **********

    I hope that reprise suffices as, well, justification for my cynicism.

    In a similar vein, I hope you’ll forgive a final tidbit about this imperious Hollywood diva playing Mother Theresa in real life. It revolves around two quotes, which constitute Jolie unwittingly vindicating my cynicism.

    This first one is from the November 4, 2014, edition of Closer. It has Jolie swooning about her desire to be a good wife, mother, and homemaker.

    In a new interview with ‘Today’ correspondent Tom Brokaw, the Oscar-winning actress, 39, revealed since exchanging ‘I Dos’ in an intimate ceremony in the South of France Brad, 50, has inspired her to ‘be a better wife,’ and learn how to cook!

    This second one is from the August 2017 issue of Vanity Fair. It has Jolie still swooning about her desire to be a good … mother and homemaker.

    I’m just wanting to make the proper breakfast and keep the house. That’s my passion. At the request of my kids, I’m taking cooking classes. …

    I’ve been trying for nine months to be really good at just being a homemaker … but now I need to get my boots on and go hang, take a trip.

    Now bear in mind that she has six children between the ages of 9 and 15.  Yet she’s telling the world that she’s been trying to be a good homemaker only since her split from husband Brad Pitt. Further, that after only nine months of this re-commitment, she needs a break.

    One gets the sense that Jolie has no greater regard for marriage and motherhood than she has for movies – in which she’s always the star. This might explain why she appears to treat her home like itinerant movie sets, her kids like itinerant extras.

    No doubt Pitt would readily admit his faults. But it’s easy to see how Jolie’s episodic commitment to the prerequisites of home life might have contributed to the breakdown of their marriage.

    UPDATE

    Family friend affirms my cynical take on Jolie

    July 29

    I took a lot of flak for casting Jolie in such a cynical light, especially with respect to her using her kids as props. Well, as vindication goes, it doesn’t get any better than this:

    According to the family friend, Jolie’s candid conversation about the kids came as a shock, as Pitt’s main priority has always been to protect the privacy of their children, refusing to speak of them publicly. Because of that, it was unexpected to see the children’s lives at home exposed in the pages of Vanity Fair.

    ‘It’s surprising that Angelina would use the children to help herself in the story, especially after years where both were dedicated to protecting their privacy,’ the family friend told ET on Friday.

    (Entertainment Tonight, July 29, 2017)

    Related commentaries:
    Angelina Jolie
    More about implants than cancer
    Forget Angelina

  • Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 7:46 AM

    Russians Arming Taliban to Fight Americans in Afghanistan…? Duh

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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)

    To be fair, the Russians insist they are only enabling the Taliban to fight terrorists in Afghanistan. But this is rather like the Iranians insisting they are only enabling the Sadr brigade to fight terrorists in Iraq.

    Powerful Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr instructed his followers on Sunday to target US troops deploying to Iraq as part of the military campaign against Islamic State.

    US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Monday the Pentagon would dispatch 560 additional troops to help Iraqi forces retake the northern city of Mosul in an offensive planned for later this year.

    ‘They are a target for us,’ Sadr said.

    (Reuters, July 17, 2016)

    Or perhaps it is more like the Americans insisting they were only enabling the Mujahedeen to fight communists in Afghanistan (during the 1980s) …

    Whatever the case, the following two quotes explain why this news about the Russians arming the Taliban smacks of American chickens coming home to roost.

    Do unto others…

    [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 … Duh,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 10, 2009)

    The enemy of my enemy…

    A further irony is that the shoulder-fired missile that was used to take down this American helicopter is very likely a remnant from the stash the Americans supplied the Mujahedeen to help them take down Russian helicopters. … In fact, it was such deadly missile attacks on helicopters that forced the Russians to finally turn tail and run. …

    This is why nobody can blame the Russians for expressing unbridled schadenfreude over this unfolding comeuppance for the Americans today.

    (“Afghanistan: Obama Saluting War Dead…Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 10, 2011)

    But Russia using proxies to take pot shots at the United States is the least of what’s wrong with this never-ending war in Afghanistan. I have delineated the primary follies in numerous commentaries, including most recently in “Three More Americans Die for ‘Mistake’ in Afghanistan,” June 12, 2017. And that commentary includes links to many related commentaries, most notably “Obama’s Ironic Mission to Afghanistan,” March 3, 2010, which includes this prescient excerpt.

    __________________

    It is a fateful indication of how little progress the US has made in Afghanistan that President Obama had to deploy even more cloak and dagger maneuvers to visit there last weekend (over eight years into this war) than former President Bush did in 2006 (five years after launching it). …

    Yet the instructive irony of this embarrassing folly seemed completely lost on Obama. Only this explains him trying to rally war-weary troops by boasting that he’s ‘absolutely confident’ he’ll be able to stamp ‘mission accomplished’ on Afghanistan by July 2011.  Indeed, the irony of ironies is that he sounded every bit as delusional as his predecessor did when he made a similar boast about wrapping up the war in Iraq almost seven years ago. …

    The 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.

    Therefore, 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.

    The vietnamization of Afghanistan continues …

    __________________

    Clearly, I’ve been lamenting for years that America seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of Vietnam. Nothing reinforces my lamentation quite like this:

    When President Trump made his first major decision on the war in Afghanistan, he did not announce it in a nationally televised address from the White House or a speech at West Point.

    Instead, the Pentagon issued a news release late one afternoon last week confirming that the president had given the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, the authority to send several thousand additional troops to a war that, in its 16th year, engages about 8,800 American troops.

    (New York Times, June 18, 2017)

    Again, more US troops only means more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters to shoot.

    But even worse, these sacrificial troops also have to worry about getting shot in the back by the Afghan soldiers they’re training. The three who were killed and the lucky seven who were only wounded in separate “insider attacks” last month attest to this.

    The ubiquitous spectre of these “green-on-blue” killings have haunted America’s ill-fated war on terrorism from day one. I have bemoaned them in many commentaries, including recently in “Killing of US General Betrays Tragic Folly of US Presence in Afghanistan,” August 8, 2014, and “Obama’s Mission Creep in Iraq Channeling JFK’s Mission Creep in Vietnam,” November 12, 2014.

    Finally, Trump made quite a show of criticizing Obama for allowing Iran to do in Iraq what Russia is doing in Afghanistan. But think again if you think this loudmouth hypocrite is going to do anything to stop Russia.

    After all, if he’s too beholden to Putin to even criticize Russia for meddling in America’s elections, he’s hardly inclined to stop Russia from meddling in Afghanistan’s war. And this, despite the fact that Putin now has the blood of American soldiers on his hands.

    Of course, if Trump had any national pride or moral principles, he would be punishing Russia for meddling in last year’s presidential election. Beyond this, he would be arming Ukrainians to fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of their country. For American-armed Ukrainians would surely kill more Russians in Ukraine than the number of Americans Russian-armed Taliban are killing in Afghanistan.

    Instead, this narcissistic oaf of an American president is trying to absolve and reward Russia. Specifically, he’s trying to prevail upon Congress to lift the sanctions Obama imposed not only for Russia’s meddling in that election but also for its annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Eastern Ukraine.

    Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will reveal the ties that bind their antic bromance in due course. But it speaks volumes that even the Republican-controlled Congress defied Trump’s executive entreaty to appease Putin. It voted in rare-bipartisan fashion just yesterday to strengthen those sanctions by a veto-proof majority. The bill is now awaiting his signature.

    As is his wont, Trump thought it would help his entreaty to insinuate that Hillary’s campaign colluded with Ukraine the way his colluded with Russia.

    US President Donald Trump on Tuesday blasted the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s US election and raised questions, without offering evidence, about Ukrainian support for his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.

    In a pair of early morning tweets, Trump also said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had ‘taken a very weak position’ toward the Democratic presidential nominee and cited ‘Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – quietly working to boost Clinton’.’

    (Reuters, July 25, 2017)

    This would seem to preclude arming Ukraine: maybe, maybe not. One never knows with the fickle and unprincipled Trump.

    But what is most troubling is that his entreaty and insinuation are just two of many indicators that this leader of the free world is completely detached from political reality.

    God help us.

    Related commentaries:
    Iran arming America’s enemies in Afghanistan
    Saluting war dead
    Three more dead
    Obama’s ironic mission
    Killing of US general
    Mission creep
    Ukraine
    Ukraine...
    Crimea...

  • Monday, July 24, 2017 at 7:22 AM

    Trump Tweeting While Middle East Implodes

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Donald Trump assured the world that the only thing needed for peace in the Middle East was his ability to broker a deal and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s ability to manage it. He did it not only as political schtick throughout the campaign but even as government policy during the early days of his presidency.

    His assurances were patently absurd of course: Saudi Arabia showed just how when it reacted to Trump’s historic visit there in May by leading the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain in a blockade and embargo of Qatar. Israel did the same when it reacted to Kushner’s “peacemaking mission” there last month by imposing even greater, Apartheid-like restrictions on Palestinians.

    Saudi Arabia seemed determined to have its blockade and embargo of Qatar ape the futility of America’s 50-year embargo of Cuba. And, if it were up to the clueless Trump – who openly endorsed this Saudi-led “act of war,” that would’ve been the case.

    Except that, in what is becoming routine, his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is ignoring Trump’s clueless rhetoric. Specifically, Tillerson is leading efforts to end this blockade and embargo. What’s more, other Western powers, including the UK and France, are supporting those efforts.

    Not to mention that regional powers, notably Iran and Turkey, are showing that they are even more willing and able to help Qatar than the former Soviet Union was to help Cuba.

    Unsurprisingly, reports are that members of the Saudi-led group are now seeking a face-saving way to retreat. It speaks volumes that no less a paper than the Washington Post ridiculed this blockade and embargo in its July 18 edition as “a royal mess.”

    But I already commented too much on this all too predictable mess in “Blockading Qatar: Trump Makes Messy Middle East Even Messier,” July 13, 2017.

    Meanwhile, Israel’s restrictions are merely reinforcing its perennial mistreatment of Palestinians, namely as squatters on their own land. The latest ones require Muslims to pass through metal detectors to enter their own Al Aqsa Mosque. This has created the untenable spectacle of thousands of Muslims kneeling in the streets to pray.

    It speaks volumes that no less a person than former US President Jimmy Carter decried this mistreatment in his 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

    Truth be told, though, even President Obama was too politically attuned to Israeli crocodile tears about security to hear Palestinian cries for freedom.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continually played the religious card to get Obama to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only through the prism of the Holocaust. I continually denounced him for doing so, including most recently in “Netanyahu’s a Putz for Branding Obama a Judas Over UN Resolution,” December 29, 2016, which includes this excerpt.

    _________________

    Netanyahu seems hell-bent on emulating South Africa’s Apartheid leaders by turning Israel into a pariah state. …

    [He] is clearly playing the religious card by complaining about Obama and the UN ganging up on Israel throughout the peace process. But this is as factually and morally bankrupt as Trump playing the media card by complaining about Hillary and the media ganging up on him throughout the election process.

    Frankly, even in Trump’s ‘post-fact, post-truth’ world, there’s no denying that Netanyahu and his settlement policy have been the greatest obstacles to peace. Worse still, by expanding and fortifying this apartheid policy, Israel is rendering specious its clarion boast about being the only democracy in the Middle East. Indeed, with all due respect to Reagan, peace through strength to Netanyahu amounts to might makes right.

    And it does not bode well that Trump seems determined to parrot everything Netanyahu says and support everything he does. This would make a mockery of the role US presidents have traditionally played as honest broker in the Sisyphean Mideast peace process.

    ___________________

    The point (re Trump’s assurance) is that anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knew that, with all parties aping his reckless bravado, peace would become even more elusive during his presidency. Sure enough, the Palestinian Authority has now responded to Israel’s new restrictions in kind:

    President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who had cut short a trip to China to handle the spiraling crisis over the metal detectors, announced late Friday that he was freezing contacts with Israel at all levels until it canceled the new measures around the Jerusalem holy site. …

    The metal detectors were introduced after a brazen attack on the morning of July 14, when three armed Arab citizens of Israel emerged from Al Aqsa Mosque and fatally shot two Israeli Druze police officers who were guarding an entrance to the compound. …

    After the attack, in a rare move, Israel temporarily closed the contested and volatile holy site — which is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — and emptied it of all workers while the police conducted searches.

    (New York Times, July 21, 2017)

    Frankly, the only thing that is noteworthy about these imploding developments is that Trump is the first president since the founding of Israel nearly 70 years ago who, evidently, couldn’t care less.

    You’d think that, at the very least, he would be tweeting feckless admonitions for all parties to appreciate and respect his peacemaking assurances – no matter how patently inadequate. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a single tweet about the Qatar crisis or this Al Aqsa one in the puerile sh*t storm that is his Twitter feed.

    (His guilty conscience keeps him tweeting about Russia, trying in vain to deflect attention away from the alleged collusion that helped him pull off the biggest presidential-election fraud in the history of the United States.)

    Some might say he’s fiddling while the Middle East implodes. But, with all due respect to Nero, Neville Chamberlain seems the more appropriate inspiration. Because here’s the Chamberlainian re-assurance Trump provided a few weeks ago – just as that “royal mess” was getting even messier:

    Spoke yesterday with the King of Saudi Arabia about peace in the Middle-East. Interesting things are happening!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017

    Idiot.

    For his part, Kushner is probably too busy trying to stay out of jail to be concerned about what is happening in the Middle East. He, of course, is now the prime suspect in the unraveling of the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russians to help “The Donald” defeat Hillary.

    In fact, the Senate Intelligence Committee summoned Kushner for a closed-door interview on Capitol Hill today. Staff attorneys will grill him to explain the growing tally of his lies (of omission and commission) about the role he played.

    Alas, peace in the Middle East be damned … again.

    Related commentaries:
    Blockading Qatar
    Netanyahu’s a putz
    Netanyahu blames Palestinians
    Special prosecutor Russia

  • Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 8:01 AM

    Apparently, like her brother Michael, Janet Jackson has that recessive racial gene

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    That, of course, is the gene that causes their “biological” children to be born all-white.

    Fans got a first glimpse of Janet Jackson’s baby boy, Eissa, via the pop star’s website and social media on Friday.

    ‘My baby and me after nap time,’ Jackson wrote in the photo she shared that shows her hugging Eissa while he yawns.

    Jackson, 50, and her husband, Wissam Al Mana, welcomed their first child in January after a ‘stress-free healthy delivery,’ a representative for the singer said.

    (CNN, April 15, 2017)

    You really have to wonder about this, especially given that Janet would probably sing ring along with Michael that “it don’t matter if you’re black or white.”

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

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

    But you’d think it strained credibility enough for Janet to claim that she conceived and had a “stress-free delivery” at 50 …

    SMH

    Related commentaries:
    Grammys
    MJ file

  • Thursday, July 20, 2017 at 4:09 PM

    OJ Paroled: Juice on the loose again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have written many commentaries on the infamous O.J. Simpson saga, including on the occasion of his first parole hearing in “O.J. Simpson: He’s Baaaack,” May 15, 2013.

    In each I made clear my belief, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he is an unrepentant, even remorseless double murderer. This is why I greeted his conviction and incarceration on trumped-up burglary charges in 2008 with the proverbial: karma – it’s a bitch!

    But I see no point in joining the commentariat in turning today’s parole hearing into another national spectacle.

    A Nevada parole board granted O.J. Simpson [70] parole on Thursday after the former NFL star apologized for his role in a 2007 armed robbery, said he’d been a model prisoner, and promised that he’d have no conflicts if released. …

    Simpson has served nine years of a nine-to-33-year sentence for an armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas. He is expected to be released as early as October, and said he plans to move to his home in Florida.

    (CNN, July 20, 2017)

    I agree with the board’s decision. And I wish OJ well.

    Except that I fear he is far from rehabilitated. His apology was patently self-serving. After all, he insists that he has lived a “conflict-free life,” betraying that he has not come to terms with his well-documented history of domestic violence, let alone those two infamous murders.

    Frankly, the only redemptive thing about his plea for parole today was his apparent health. He has obviously lost a ton of weight since 2013, and looks back in fighting form … to commit more narcissistic mischief.

    For obvious reasons, I felt obliged to at least acknowledge this hearing. That done, I’m OJed out.

    Related commentaries:
    O.J. Simpson

  • Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 7:27 AM

    Trump Threatens Venezuela’s Dying Economy with Economic Sanctions

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Venezuela has been on a political and economic descent into the heart of darkness for years. I have bemoaned this unfolding tragedy in many commentaries, including most recently in “Venezuela’s Death Spiral of Recession, Protest, and Repression,” April 24, 2017.

    But it speaks volumes that so much is being made of Sunday’s pyrrhic reprieve – when millions of hapless and hopeless Venezuelans participated in a symbolic referendum.

    Venezuelan opposition leaders have called for their supporters to escalate street protests and support a 24-hour national strike later this week after more than 7.1 million people rejected a government plan to rewrite the constitution. …

    More than three months of opposition protests have left at least 93 people dead and 1,500 wounded [and more than 500 protesters and government opponents jailed]. …

    [President Nicolás] Maduro and the military dominate most state institutions, but the opposition controls the congress and holds three of 23 governorships.

    (London Guardian, July 18, 2017)

    Foremost, it is noteworthy that many of those taking to the streets these days to protest Maduro’s ineffectual rule were taking to the streets a few years ago to hail Hugo Chávez’s dictatorial rule. After all, Maduro is the personification of the primrose legacy Chávez left behind for the poor, misguided Venezuelans who supported him. I commented on their rude awakening in “Venezuela Finally Awakens from Chavismo Dream,” December 9, 2015.

    As it happened, during the waning years of his rule (which ended when he died in 2013), I began analogizing Venezuela’s impending doom to the one that befell Zimbabwe. Now President Trump is threatening to intervene with economic sanctions instead of humanitarian relief, which would only reinforce this analogy.

    US President Donald Trump threatened on Monday to take ‘strong and swift economic actions’ if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro goes ahead with plans to create a super-legislature known as a Constituent Assembly in a July 30 vote.

    ‘The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions,’ Trump said.

    (Reuters, July 17, 2017)

    Of course, the cruel irony inherent in that threat is completely lost on Trump. Not to mention that it betrays Trump’s declared, America-First intent to stay out of the domestic affairs of other countries.

    But, if he follows through, that would plunge millions of long-suffering Venezuelans into a living hell. After all, Maduro has already demonstrated a determination to emulate Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and successive North Korean dictators – who have defied similar “economic actions” for decades. But I fear civil war will erupt before Maduro seals his dictatorial legacy.

    In the meantime, there’s no denying the heartrending spectacle of so many once-proud Venezuelans living lives of Dickensian desperation – complete with increasing numbers scavenging for food:

    Some people had traveled across Venezuela to queue overnight hoping to cross [the border into Colombia] to buy food and other basics that are in short supply in Venezuela, which is steeped in an economic crisis. …

    Venezuela’s stores lack the most basic foods and medicines. Queues of hundreds and even thousands of people are common, and riots and looting are a daily occurrence.

    (Reuters, August 13, 2016)

    As indicated above, I marched in virtual solidarity with Zimbabweans on their descent into the heart of darkness. And, thanks to successive US presidents taking “strong and swift economic actions” to punish the Mugabe regime, long-suffering Zimbabweans are now 25-plus years into their living hell.

    Therefore, even if spared a civil war, things do not bode well for them. But I am loath to continue commenting on Venezuela’s in similar fashion, especially given that my commentaries did nothing to alter Zimbabwe’s death spiral.

    In fact, besides urging you to pray for Venezuela, I can probably do no better than to refer you to my April 24 commentary cited above, which includes this forlorn plea:

    We cry for you, Venezuela

    The truth is, he never loved you

    Despite Chavismo

    His revolution,

    He broke his promise

    Please find your senses.

    Related commentaries:
    Death spiral
    Venezuela awakens
    Zimbabwe

  • Monday, July 17, 2017 at 7:47 AM

    Wimbledon: Venus Triumphs Even In Defeat; Federer Pads Iconic Career with Victory

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Venus

    [Garbine Muguruza of Spain] powered her way to her first title at Wimbledon and second at a Grand Slam tournament Saturday, beating a fading Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 by claiming the final’s last nine games. …

    At 37, Williams was bidding for her sixth championship at the grass-court major, 17 years after her first. And she was so close to gaining the upper hand against Muguruza, holding two set points at 5-4 in the opener.

    (CBS News, July 16, 2017)

    Unfortunately, that Sjogren’s syndrome kicked in. That, of course, is the “energy-sapping autoimmune disease” Williams made famous. She was diagnosed in 2011 but was presenting telltale symptoms as early as 2009.

    In fact, despite many impressive results, she hasn’t had enough energy to win a Grand Slam tournament since winning this one in 2008. Sure enough, only Sjogren’s explains the way Williams appeared to just throw in the towel on Saturday – after losing a hard-fought first set.

    A win would have banked her eighth Grand Slam. And, entering Centre Court, she would have been forgiven for thinking it was money in the bank. After all, she had won five of her seven Grand Slams at this most prestigious one of them all (the other tournaments being the Australian Open, French Open, and US Open).

    Even so, Williams still managed to rewrite the record books. She became the oldest woman to make a Grand Slam final in the Open Era.

    Granted, her professional accomplishments pale in comparison to those of her trailblazing sister Serena, whose record-setting 23 Grand Slams make her the greatest of all time. But Venus remains not just my favorite Tennis player, but my favorite professional athlete.

    Nothing demonstrates why quite like the grace with which she handled this emotionally challenging development in the early stage of this tournament:

    Last week, it was revealed through a police report that Williams was found at fault in a car accident that left a 78-year-old man dead. …

    She was asked about the … car accident Monday [after her first-round match], and became very emotional. …

    The news conference ended shortly after with no further questions.

    (Sporting News, July 3, 2017)

    As it turned out, the police made a 180 just days later, releasing video surveillance to support a new finding that Williams was not at fault. Remarkably, this did not deter the man’s family from filing what can only be described as a vexatious wrongful death lawsuit.

    Therefore, in addition to dealing with the trauma this accident caused, Williams had to cope throughout with the intentional infliction of emotional distress this lawsuit caused. Two days after that emotional news conference, her lawyers filed an emergency court order to protect her as much as possible from litigious harassment. Perhaps that helped.

    This might prove her swan song, however. Because, given her record over the past eight years, she’s unlikely to ever repeat the improbable feat of making it to another Grand Slam final, let alone making it to two in one calendar year.

    Recall that she also made it to the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, where she lost in straight sets to Serena. But it’s arguable that Venus would not have reached the final of this tournament if Serena were not taking time off to have her first child.

    Still, I can think of no better tribute than to say farewell to Venus, the Grand Slam contender, the way I said hello to Venus, the Grand Slam winner, 12 years ago – the first year of this weblog:

    Here’s to Venus – the most athletic, graceful, intelligent and poised player ever in Women’s Tennis (and the most articulate too)!

    (“Venus Williams Wimbledon Champion…Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 4, 2005)

    Roger

    What can I say, especially given my declared preference for Women’s Tennis, which I first made in “Hail to 4-Time Wimbledon Champion Venus Williams,” July 9, 2007.

    Roger Federer became the first man to win Wimbledon eight times and extended his record to 19 Grand Slam titles with victory over Croatia’s Marin Cilic.

    The Swiss third seed won 6-3 6-1 6-4 as seventh seed Cilic struggled with a blister on his left foot and broke down in tears during the second set. …

    Federer surpasses Pete Sampras and William Renshaw, who won their seventh titles in 2000 and 1889 respectively, with only Marina Navratilova still ahead in terms of Wimbledon singles titles on nine.

    (BBC, July 16, 2017)

    Except that there is something to be said for Federer besting Williams by becoming the oldest man to win this tournament.

    Mind you, he’s only 35. Still, his performance smacked of rejuvenation given the context:

    Federer has now won three Grand Slam titles since turning 30, adding to his wins at Wimbledon in 2012 and at the Australian Open earlier this year. Only Rod Laver (four) and Ken Rosewall (four) won more majors after turning 30. Federer also becomes the second man at 30 or over to win multiple Grand Slams in a year since Laver completed the Calendar Slam – winning all four majors in a calendar year – in 1969.

    (ESPN, July 16, 2017)

    So kudos to Federer for his age-defying feat, which moved one match announcer to hail him as “the ageless wonder.”

    On the other hand, what are we to make of his cry-baby opponent, Cilic? After all, he took a three-minute timeout midway through the second set, during which he sobbed inconsolably because he developed a boo boo on his foot.

    That was bad enough. But the commentators kept speculating throughout the remainder of the match that a mysterious injury was hampering his play.

    In doing so, they undermined Federer’s eventual victory. And they compounded this unfairness by failing to mention that Cilic could only have suffered his alleged injury because the masterful Federer had him running all over the court like a chicken with its head cut off.

    Related commentaries:
    Venus Williams
    Serena Williams GOAT
    Hail Venus

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