The iPINIONS Journal


  • Thursday, March 5, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    Hey Stupid, Personal Tweet Is an Oxymoron

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    rs_500x280-140720115955-KUWTK_914_16I’m on record decrying much of social media as little more than a virtual oasis for attention-seeking showoffs.

    A selfie is not just about adoring one’s own reflection like Narcissus; it’s also about taking a picture of that reflection to publish for all the world to see. But am I the only one who rues the cognitive dissonance that has turned self-obsessed showoffs from laughingstocks into standard-bearers of what is now not only acceptable but required public behavior?

    You’d never know, for example, that just years ago any self-respecting man would be mortified if he were caught checking himself out in the mirror. Now the Internet is littered with as many selfies of preening men as women. But nothing irritates me in this context quite like the way people convey every private sentiment — from condolences to birthday greetings and romantic love — only by tweeting or facebooking it for everyone to read.

    (“Introduction,” The iPINIONS Journal, Vol. IX, p. xxi, 2014)

    Don’t get me started on the attention-seeking oafs who post the most outrageous things their addled minds can fathom because, evidently, this is the surest way of becoming a trending topic on social media. For them, the additional attention their inevitable apology generates is just icing on the cake. Nothing is more irritating/dismaying, though, than mainstream media trolling social media for such topics to broadcast as breaking news, which has become standard journalistic practice.

    But let me hasten to clarify that I’m also on record readily conceding that social media provide the most effective and cheapest ways ever to promote one’s business or, far more often than not, oneself. And I’m acutely mindful of the role social media can play (and have played) in organizing, galvanizing, and/or publicizing everything from political protests to flash mobs.

    Coco-Chanel-Surrounded-by-008I just shudder to think what it portends for Western civilization that a talentless twit like Kim Kardashian is an even bigger celebrity than a pioneering cultural icon like Coco Chanel ever was. Indeed, such is Kim’s trendsetting influence, across all social media, that designers like Karl Lagerfeld are falling all over themselves to feature her sister Kendall as their muse, hoping to bask in and profit from Kim’s reflected glow.

    What I fatefully lament, however, is the trend of people using social media to convey personal messages. A chat (via phone) I had yesterday with an old acquaintance threw this untenable form of “human interaction” into distressing relief.

    funeral_selfieFor, despite having access to my phone number and e-mail address, she demanded to know why I failed to acknowledge the “heartfelt condolences” she tweeted upon learning of a death in my family.

    But her indignation turned immediately to consternation when I asked her to explain why she posted her condolences on Twitter instead of conveying them to me on the phone (or via email). I kid you not, I might as well had asked a stupid question like, why do people go to restaurants instead of eating at home?

    Alas, I fear the expression of such sentiments these days is intended more to draw attention to the person expressing them than to comfort the person receiving them.

    Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 11.58.16 AMNonetheless, I respectfully submit that there’s something profoundly dehumanizing in people thinking that no thought, expression, or deed – no matter how personal or intimate – has any redeeming value unless it’s posted on social media.

    I realize of course that trying to correct this cultural trend is even more quixotic than trying to win the war on drugs.

    But, for the record, I am not, and never have been, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, or any other social media platform. It follows, therefore, that if you sent a message to me on any of them, I never saw it. Not that it was for my eyes only anyway….

    At long last, is nothing personal, intimate, or sacred…?

    Related commentaries:
    Keep your selfies to yourself

  • Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 5:36 AM

    Snowden Wants In from the Cold…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A Russian lawyer for Edward Snowden said on Tuesday the fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of the government’s mass surveillance programs was working with American and German lawyers to return home.

    ‘I won’t keep it secret … he wants to return back home.’

    (Reuters, March 3, 2015)

    Well, that didn’t take long. I thought he would hold out for at least a few years.

    But here is an excerpt from “I Said Putin Would Hand Snowden Over. I Was Wrong,” October 25, 2013, which explains why I never thought he’d enjoy life as a fugitive in Russia.

    ____________________

    0202121Snowden is enjoying his honeymoon period in Moscow, being fêted, oddly enough, by Westerners his WikiLeaks paymasters are flying in to sing his praises…

    Snowden seems destined to emulate British double agent Kim Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 and lived there (in Moscow), free of reprisals, until he died in 1988. It is instructive to note, however, that this fabled ‘Third Man’ lived out almost all of his 25 years in relative obscurity and penury, and not without palpable regret and abiding sorrows [which he drowned in the bottles of alcohol that eventually killed him]…

    So don’t be surprised if a disillusioned Snowden ends up drinking himself to death too. After all, Philby’s Russian spymasters had just cause to treat him like a national hero, yet he still felt like little more than a Western mascot almost from day one. By contrast, Snowden’s Russian wards have no reason to treat him like anything but a traitorous rat.

    ____________________

    snowden-edward-nsa-russiaWith all due respect to Snowden, however, the real story here is what his plea to return home says about life in Putin’s Russia. After all, here is a man making a perfectly rational decision to live as a prisoner in the United States instead of as a folk hero in Russia.

    Still, nothing has impressed me about Snowden’s reputed intelligence quite like this decision to announce his “Thanks, but no thanks” to Russia while Putin is busy trying to cover up his latest political assassination: how shrewd, and eminently worthy of a now-seasoned traitor.

    On the other hand, the timing of his announcement might have something to do with the documentary about his NSA leaks winning an Oscar ten days ago. After all, Snowden is so full of himself, he probably thinks this means that he’s such a bona fide national hero now that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be compelled to grant him a sweetheart plea deal.

    Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 8.35.38 AMYou know, similar to the slap on the wrist the DOJ announced yesterday it’s giving former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus for sharing classified information with his mistress, Paula Broadwell, to use in a book she was writing … about his heroic exploits. (The DOJ is recommending Petraeus serve two years probation and pay a $40,000 fine.)

    But even this Petraeus comparison might be unfair to Snowden. Not least because this self-righteous SOB has been insisting, from day one, that he should accorded the right to dictate terms for what he deems would constitute a fair trial … even before he sets foot in court. He couldn’t care any less that, for all its faults, the United States has the fairest criminal justice system in the world; or that no defendant anywhere has ever been accorded the right he feels entitled to.

    In any event, I hope Snowden is smart enough to anticipate that Putin will probably prolong his homesickness by seizing this opportunity to use him as a bargaining chip the way ISIS uses its Western hostages….

    But here’s to Edward Snowden soon going the way of Bradley/Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. Remember them…?

    He met failure as one day he would probably meet death, with cynical resentment and the courage of a solitary.

    (John le Carré, ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’)

    Related commentaries:
    Putin hand over Snowden
    Assassination of Russian opposition leader
    David Petraeus affair
    Snowden’s NSA leaks

  • Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 5:47 AM

    Political Confession (or Dying Declaration…?) of Mugabe of Zimbabwe

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    _744174_mugabe-fist300You’d be hard-pressed to find a non-African (or even a non-Zimbabwean) who has decried Robert Mugabe’s rule more than I.

    Here are two illustrative excerpts from the many commentaries I’ve written on point.

    • From “Zimbabweans Pray for Liberation from their Liberator – Robert Mugabe,” March 29, 2005.

    _____________________

    The Mugabe government of Zimbabwe is the most corrupt, dysfunctional, and incompetent in Africa. And on a continent that has the most corrupt, dysfunctional, and incompetent governments in the entire world, Mugabe’s achievement in this regard is a truly dubious distinction…

    Like his plan for Black economic empowerment, Mugabe’s plan for land reform has been an abject failure: Five years ago, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Sub-Saharan Africa; today, it’s a basket case of starving people. Five years ago, there were 4,000 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe; today, there are only 400 – mostly unproductive – farms left…

    According to a March 12 report in The Times:

    Most of the seized farms went to President Mugabe’s loyal cronies in government who used them for weekend retreats. Virtually every Cabinet minister and senior security official now has at least two farms.

    Zimbabwe’s courageous archbishop, Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, has even said a public prayer for a Ukrainian-style uprising to overthrow Africa’s lone reigning big dada.

    Alas, the conditions of poverty, disease, and hunger are so severe that Zimbabweans may not have the strength to march in the streets even if they wanted to.

    ____________________

    • From “Yes, Save Darfur! But What about Zimbabwe,” February 8, 2007.

    ___________________

    hqdefault (1)In November 2005, long-suffering Zimbabweans seemed to have won a reprieve when the BBC reported that Mugabe had finally agreed to ease his iron-fisted rule, after realizing that doling out White farms as patronage to Black cronies – who had no experience (or interest) in farming – did not guarantee his political legacy…

    Never mind the criminally negligent death by starvation of hundreds of thousands of his people that resulted from his seizure of White farms; or the rendering homeless of millions more after he bulldozed their homes pursuant to the ‘Operation-wipe-out-the-trash’ phase of his land reforms.

    However, notwithstanding that BBC report (which also cited the prospect of Mugabe soliciting many of the 3,600 White farmers he evicted to return to their farms), I expressed doubts about his conversion – in “Mugabe Finally Admits That Starving His Own People Was a Mistake. No Shit,” November 7, 2005 – as follows:

    My serially vindicated cynicism compels me to suspect that this mea culpa is just another amoral Mugabe ploy to elicit sympathy and extract financial aid from Western donors. After all, feigning regret for the suffering they’ve inflicted on their own people has always served Africa’s big Dadas (despotic rulers) well when courting rich countries (like the United States during the Cold War, and China today).

    Therefore, I was not at all surprised when the Washington Post reported this week (on February 5) that … Mugabe remains committed to keeping his country mired in the death throes of genocidal starvation:

    Zimbabwe’s national security minister has told the country’s last remaining white farmers that they will be jailed if they refuse to abide by a deadline that passed over the weekend for them to leave their farms.

    __________________

    These excerpts should explain why I was so unmoved (and why you should’ve been too) by a BBC report on Friday, informing the world that Mugabe has admitted, yet again, that his land reform program was an abysmal failure:

    Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has admitted failures in the country’s controversial land reform programme.

    ‘I think the farms we gave to people are too large. They can’t manage them,’ the 91-year-old leader said in unusually candid comments.

    (BBC, February 27, 2015)

    Too large?! No Mr. Mugabe, the problem was giving farms (of any size) to people who clearly intended to use them for anything but farming. Not that anybody expected these congenitally selfish SOBs to farm, mind you. After all, it was too easy for them to buy their food on the black market, despite the threat of economic sanctions, just as corrupt ruling elites from Iran to North Korea had been doing for decades?

    The poet George Eliot is credited with coining the maxim:

    It’s never too late to be what you might’ve been.

    She was wrong. Because, in Mugabe’s case, it’s much too late to be the Black liberator he might’ve been (and always pretended to be).

    Vatican Pope John Paul II BeatificationTo be fair, though, far from being just another amoral ploy to elicit sympathy and extract financial aid, this might be Mugabe’s way of confessing his sins before he meets his maker. Indeed, at 91, chances are that the only things he hears loud and clear these days are the Grim Reaper’s footsteps drawing nigh.

    Except that this is a man who based his nearly forty-year rule on blaming Western countries for executing neo-colonial policies, which he claimed not only undermined Zimbabwean independence, but starved millions of its people to boot. This, notwithstanding that those countries provided the only food millions of Zimbabweans got for many years, thanks to his confiscatory land reform.

    Therefore, to give himself the best possible chance of being escorted through the Pearly Gates, instead of the Gates of Hell, it behooves Mugabe to admit that demonizing the West for his catastrophic policies was also mistake.

    Grace MugabeMeanwhile, apropos of mistake, Mugabe seems intent on anointing his wife, Grace (49) as his successor. Granted, he would only be emulating the “democratic” precedent President Néstor Carlos Kirchner of Argentina set in 2007, when he effectively anointed his wife, Cristina Elisabet Fernández, as his.

    Incidentally, Mugabe and Grace seemed to be tempting fate when they threw a 91st-birthday party for him last month that was truly worthy of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

    mugabe-birthday-party-associated-pressSo much so that not since Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and Michele threw the last of their notoriously lavish parties has a dictator displayed such galling and wanton contempt for his chronically impoverished people. (For what it’s worth, that Duvalier party in 1986 proved to be the final straw for his dictatorial rule.)

    More to the point, though, nothing indicates how short his wife’s grace period would be quite like members of Mugabe’s own ruling ZANU-PF party already decrying her ambition and mocking his dotage. Not to mention the scramble for survival (or power) he set off recently when he:

    … fired his deputy, Joice Mujuru, and seven government ministers, his cabinet secretary … in the latest twist in a power struggle over the choice of his successor.

    The move took place days after Mugabe … publicly rebuked Mujuru, who was seen just months ago as the most likely to take his place when he dies or retires.

    (Reuters, December 9, 2014)

    Mugabe proffered the plainly spurious (if not paranoid) claim that his deputy and others were conspiring to overthrow and assassinate him.

    But whispers dismissing him as just a doddering old fool doing his wife’s bidding have become so loud that he prevailed upon The Herald, his state-owned newspaper, to publish a report on Friday under the headline, “I’m still in charge,” which included this telltale sign that he’s not:

    She is not the power behind my throne. She has come into politics in her own right.

    kb1hjboInterestingly enough, this dying declaration (politically speaking) came on the heels of an incident, which not only saw Mugabe fall from grace, literally, but caused him to sow seeds of fateful resentment among the bodyguards who have protected him all these years:

    [Twenty-seven] bodyguards of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe have been punished for failing to prevent him falling down the steps from a podium, in an incident that drew widespread mockery online

    The 90-year-old dictator was captured on camera as he stumbled on a red carpet and fell to his knees after addressing supporters who gathered to welcome him back from a trip to Ethiopia at Harare airport last week.

    (International Business Times, February 10, 2015)

    Mugabe spent nearly forty years cultivating an image as an iron-fisted strongman. Yet the irony seems completely lost on him that this image — of a doddering old fool, trying desperately to anoint his trophy wife as his successor — is the lasting one Zimbabweans will have of him. What’s more, having declared his intent to be re-elected in 2018, when he’s 94, Mugabe will only reinforce this image by withering away in full public view.

    mugabe-780708

    NOTE: Nothing demonstrates what a statesman and class act Nelson Mandela was quite like juxtaposing his career and character with Robert Mugabe’s.

    Related commentaries:
    Zimbabweans pray for liberation
    Save Darfur
    Hail Mugabe … again

  • Sunday, March 1, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    The Fated Assassination of Russian Opposition Leader Boris Nemtsov

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It’s arguable that an opposition leader in Putin-controlled Russia is an even more endangered species than a Christian leader in ISIL-controlled Syria.

    RUSSIA-articleLargeBut the best way to understand why opposition leaders in Russia invariably end up in prison, hopelessly marginalized, or dead is to understand that Putin eliminates them for the same reason the scorpion stings the frog….

    I coined the term ‘putinization’ to describe Putin’s neo-Stalinist tactics, which were (and are) clearly aimed at neutralizing all political dissent, quashing all civil liberties, and making him a latter-day Czar.

    (“Hail Putin,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 3, 2007)

    Nine years ago, an assassin took out former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. I commented back then in “Putin Probably Ordered the Hit. But There’s Nothing Anyone Can Do about It,” November 28, 2006.

    Here is an excerpt.

    ____________________

    Everyone – from government ministers to Litvinenko’s fellow defectors from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB, the successor agency to its infamous KGB) – has already fingered Putin, himself a former KGB spy, for this crime.

    Litvinenko fled Russia in 2000, after accusing the FSB of killing over 300 Russians in 1999 in a Machiavellian scheme to frame and discredit Chechen rebels. The prevailing suspicion is that Putin targeted him because Litvinenko was becoming too public (and credible) in his criticisms of the Kremlin. Further, that it was Litvinenko’s high-profile investigation into what many suspect was an FSB hit last month on another Kremlin critic, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, that prompted Putin to silence him now.

    ___________________

    video-undefined-262A061200000578-175_636x358Now comes this:

    Boris Nemtsov, a charismatic Russian opposition leader and sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down Saturday near the Kremlin, just a day before a planned protest against the government…

    Russia’s top investigative body said Saturday it is looking into several possible motives for the killing … including an attempt to destabilize the state, Islamic extremism, the Ukraine conflict and his personal life.

    (The Associated Press, February 28, 2015)

    But all you need to know about this investigative body is Putin’s declared intent to head it:

    Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president would take the investigation into Nemtsov’s death under personal control….

    (The Guardian, February 28, 2015)

    2635176000000578-0-image-a-24_1425206967832Clearly, most world leaders would be loath to act as investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury in a murder case, where he’s the prime suspect. But it’s an indication of the totalitarian power he wields at home, and of the respect that power has earned him abroad, that Putin has no compunctions whatsoever in this respect.

    Which is why you can bet this body will investigate every motive except the most obvious one: another hit Putin ordered to silence another Kremlin critic who became too credible for his own good.

    After all, it’s no coincidence that, like Litvinenko, Nemtsov was set to release irrefutable evidence affirming widely held suspicions about nefarious Kremlin activities. According to BBC reports, the evidence in this case shows the presence of Russian soldiers and armaments on battlefields all across eastern Ukraine, giving the “big lie” to Putin’s adamant and persistent denials.

    Incidentally, it might be helpful to highlight two points at this juncture:

    • Nemtsov’s girlfriend, who was strolling with him when he was assassinated, is Ukrainian.
    • The aforementioned Politkovskaya was assassinated in central Moscow in eerily similar fashion in October 2006 — complete with four bullets, just like Nemtsov. Prevailing suspicion was, and remains, that Putin ordered the hit as punishment for her reporting on war crimes the pro-Russian regime and Kremlin-dispatched mercenaries were committing in Chechnya.

    1420660749_1_9_mEtY16BLUnfortunately, Putin has gotten away with so many big lies, one can hardly blame him for thinking he can get away with another one in this case. Therefore, don’t be surprised if he blames pro-Western forces for hiring a Russian (or Ukrainian) hitman to assassinate Nemtsov in a misguided attempt to frame him and destabilize Russia. Putin could then use this big lie as a pretext to turn the country into even more of a police state to prevent such politically motivated assassinations … betraying no hint of irony or hypocrisy. And if you think this is just too cynical, how do you think Putin – who has never held a non-government job in his life – has gotten away with amassing a personal fortune, which Forbes estimates at $40 billion…?

    Trust me, Putin lords over a kleptocracy that has fleeced public funds on such an unprecedented scale that it makes kleptocracies headed by notorious African despots seem petty by comparison. Which of course is why he is so anxious to stoke the combustible geopolitical crisis in Ukraine to deflect the international media from drawing unavoidable parallels between Yanukovych’s illegal accumulation of wealth and his. Far better, for example, to get Russians drunk with pan-Russian pride than to have them pose sober questions about the billions he and his cronies embezzled from the $50-billion price tag for the Sochi Olympics.

    (“Ukraine’s (Peaceful) Orange Revolution Turns Red … with Blood,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2014)

    But you don’t have to take my word on the credibility and integrity of this Putin regime. Because here is the extraordinary way America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, accused Russia — during congressional testimony just this week — of telling bold-faced lies about its involvement in Ukraine:

    Russia has engaged in a rather remarkable period of the most overt and extensive propaganda exercise that I’ve seen since the very height of the Cold War.

    And they have been persisting in their misrepresentations, lies, whatever you want to call them, about their activities there to my face, to the face of others, on many different occasions.

    (The Associated Press, February 24, 2015)

    Alas, Nemtsov is on record bemoaning that Russians have become so cowered and brainwashed by Putin’s thuggish rule and shameless propaganda, they’ll believe any lie he propagates. Even I bemoaned this North Korean-like transformation of Russia’s national consciousness, which has even turned redoubtable Putin critic Mikhail Gorbachev into a Putin apologist.

    Many people were seized with shock and dismay yesterday as they listened to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev deliver his keynote speech at a forum marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall…

    Gorbachev delivered an anti-Western diatribe that one could be forgiven for thinking was written by Putin himself. He seemed primarily interested in chastising the West for dancing on the grave of the Soviet Union, ignoring the inconvenient truth that his Glasnost and Perestroika policies did more than anything else to bury it.

    (“Berlin Wall 2014: Mr. Gorbachev, Take Back that Speech,” November 10, 2014)

    Meanwhile, even more farcical than Putin heading the investigation into this murder is foreign heads of state, led by British Prime Minister David Cameron, calling on him to conduct a full, rapid, and transparent investigation to bring those responsible to justice. Never mind that, despite evidence showing that Litvinenko “was murdered by the Russian government” (as the December 12, 2012, edition of The Guardian reported), the British government has yet to bring anyone to justice. In fact, the British government waited until last July, nearly eight years after his murder, to announce that it was finally launching a formal investigation….

    German Chancellor Merkel, Russia's President Putin and French President Hollande attend a meeting on resolving the Ukraine crisis at the Kremlin in MoscowExcept that this patent farce is entirely consistent with European leaders, on the one hand, blaming Putin for orchestrating the rebellion in eastern Ukraine, while on the other hand, hailing him as an impartial peace broker to help end that rebellion. Which is rather like “chickens” relying on the fox to free those in the chicken coop it’s “guarding.”

    But nothing could have been more frustrating to Nemtsov than watching Putin toy with world leaders, while Russian soldiers are wreaking havoc in eastern Ukraine for the pyrrhic glory of helping Putin create his Novorossiya (New Russia).

    It just so happens that, from the outset of the conflict in Ukraine, I’ve been channeling his frustration in such commentaries as “Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland,” February 26, 2014; “Europeans Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Appeasement of Putin,” May 3, 2014; “A Ukraine Divided Is the Only Way It Will Stand,” May 6, 2014; “Russia Gobbling Up Ukraine: First Crimea, Now Donetsk … Next Odessa?” May 13, 2014; “Ukraine: a New (Post-War) Germany in the Making,” August 30, 2014; and “Russia’s Valentine to Ukraine: Be Mine, or I Kill You!” February 14, 2015, to name just a few.

    My abiding lament/foreboding throughout has been that, despite the lessons of history, today’s European leaders seem possessed of the same DNA that misled their predecessors into thinking they could stop Hitler’s military aggression with diplomatic negotiations. Whereas these leaders should’ve acted from the outset pursuant to the categorical imperative of standing up to Putin with military power worthy of the Cold-War principle of Mutual Assured Destruction.

    Mind you, given the congenital appeasement European leaders have demonstrated throughout, I wish Obama had seized this opportunity to show appropriate contempt for Putin’s criminal syndicate masquerading as a democratic government. Instead of parroting their calls for a prompt and transparent investigation, Obama could easily have done so by daring Putin to allow a UN special tribunal to investigate and prosecute, noting that only this will dispel reasonable suspicions that he’s only interested in covering up this sensational crime.

    But let me hasten to clarify that standing up to Putin does not require the kind of D-Day mobilization it eventually took to stand up to Hitler. For now, all it requires is Western leaders, collectively, doing a little more for the pro-Ukrainian forces than Putin is doing (or could afford to do) for the pro-Russian rebels they’re fighting against in eastern Ukraine. To date, they’ve done nothing but impose economic sanctions, which are having even less effect on Putin’s extraterritorial ambitions than the U.S. embargo had on Castro’s political ideology.

    Meanwhile, everybody knows, or should know, that only one thing will force Putin to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty: pro-Ukrainian forces sending Russian mercenaries home in body bags. This, you may recall, is the strategy former President Reagan deployed to help (then) pro-Western Mujahideen force leaders of the former Soviet Union to respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty – as chronicled, in instructive fashion, in George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War. European leaders would do well to take heed.

    All else is folly.

    Related commentaries:
    Putinization of Russia
    Litvinenko
    Ukraine’s Revolution
    Berlin Wall: Gorbachev
    Russia’s valentine

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Saturday, at 3:16 p.m.

  • Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 7:58 AM

    O’Really O’Reilly?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.49.36 PM

  • Friday, February 27, 2015 at 5:09 AM

    FCC: Long Live Net Neutrality!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As I followed public debate on net neutrality over the past few years, I was stupefied by the number of people who pleaded ignorance about the issues involved as well as the consequences at stake.

    For it struck me, from the outset, that keeping the Internet open and free, which is the principle behind net neutrality, is as basic a democratic imperative as equal pay.

    This is why it did not surprise me that big “old” corporations (most notably Internet Service Providers AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast) wanted to screw people by turning the Internet into a de facto pay-to-play universe. These are the same corporations, after all, that have been screwing women (so to speak) by refusing to give them equal pay for equal work since time immemorial.

    Consumers have long been guaranteed the right to call any phone number they desire and phone companies have to treat all calls equally.

    (Yahoo! Finance, February 26, 2015)

    Clearly, based on the same principle, Internet Service Providers should be required to treat all logons equally. Net neutrality really is that simple.

    Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler greets commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel at the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington

    Therefore, despite all of the posturing by politicians and lobbyists — who are little more than vassals of corporate America, I never doubted that this Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would do the right thing. Not least because it was inconceivable that an FCC comprised of five Obama appointees would codify discrimination in favor of big corporations. This, after all, would betray the abiding mission of his presidency, which is to level playing fields and increase opportunities for the poor and historically disadvantaged.

    How shrewd of these commissioners, though, to fashion a 3-2 decision to provide some consolation for these big losers. But seriously, as with the composition of the Supreme Court, one should bear the composition of the FCC in mind when voting for president. Because there’s no gainsaying that, if these were five McCain or Romney appointees, net neutrality would now be dead, and the Internet segregated and costly.

    So here’s to this (Obama) FCC for voting to keep net neutrality alive, and the Internet open and free:

    That means sites like Netflix (NFLX) or Google’s (GOOGL) YouTube won’t have to pay extra fees or face sluggish connections with their users. And new sites and services will be able to reach everyone on the Internet on the same terms as the big players.

    (Yahoo! Finance, February 26, 2015)

    This latter point is particularly germane. Because it means that you’ll be able to continue accessing and browsing my little rinky-dinky site with ease. Whereas, without net neutrality, if I could not afford (or refused) to pay Verizon a premium for the fastest broadband service, your experience could suddenly become as backward as it was during the good old days of AOL dial-ups.

    In other words, if like me you’re a Mac user, just imagine trying to access your favorite site and having to watch as that “Spinning Beachball of Death” spins, for longer than cable companies put you on hold, before any page loads. That’s what your life online would be without net neutrality.

    151583-ssbod_188_original

  • Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 5:52 AM

    Who Knew Lady Gaga Could Sing?! Actually, I did

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    oscars-lady-gaga_3208665cThe Oscars marked the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music on Sunday by having Lady Gaga perform a medley of its signature songs.

    Evidently, she shocked many people with her performance, none more so than the star of this beloved musical, Julie Andrews:

    It appeared that Andrews was just as in awe of the performance as the audience was.

    (Billboard, February 23, 2015)

    GaGa_01_1348297aBut viewers can be forgiven their shock (and awe). After all, even when performing jazz standards with Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga seems more interested in showing off her quirky personality/fashion than her beautiful voice. Oddly enough, her offstage theatrics even affect the sound of her recorded music.

    I’m not sure why people are so gaga over Lady Gaga.

    Ironically, her costume-heavy act probably never looked so ‘been there, done that’ as when she came out for a somber duet with Elton John, who – as we all know – elevated the spectacle of theatrics over talent to its zenith 25 years ago.

    Maybe, like Elton, she will come to realize someday that her talent alone is enough to make her superstar – cuz the girl can sing.

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

    Never mind reasonable suspicions that the voice we hear on her recordings is about as real as the face we see on Beyoncé’s Instagram. Which is why I cannot overstate that:

    Most performers seem to think the key to success is looking and behaving in a way off stage that makes what they do on stage seem almost irrelevant: Exhibits A and B: Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj [or, for you older folks, think of all of the off-stage exhibitionism that rendered the music of artists like Grace Jones and Madonna irrelevant.]

    By sterling contrast, Adele not only sings like an angel, she might just be the music industry’s saving grace. Unfortunately, this [industry has] so little to do with musical talent these days that Adele performing [on any music awards show is] rather like Andrea Bocelli performing on So You Think You Can Dance.

    (“2011 MTV Video Music Awards,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 30, 2011)

    Hell, in these days of Twitter and Instagram, singers seem more interested in attracting followers than in selling records. In this sense, they aspire to be more the queen of social media than the queen of pop, soul, hip-hop. (Imagine the fate of a culture that celebrates Paris Hilton/Kim Kardashian above Aretha Franklin/Adele….)

    In any event, it took five years, but here’s to Lady Gaga for finally having enough respect for her voice to just show up on stage (Adele-like) and sing. Of course, I appreciate that, for her “Little Monsters,” listening to Gaga sing like Andrews was tantamount to listening to a peacock sing like a canary.

    lady-gaga-julie-andrews-oscars-sound-of-music-2015-billboard-650

    Related commentaries:
    52 Grammys
    MTV

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 5:56 AM

    DOJ Agrees with Me: No Fed Charges Warranted in Zimmerman Case

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Here is an excerpt from “George Zimmerman: Not Guilty, but Hardly Innocent,” July 15, 2013, which I wrote after a Florida jury acquitted him of killing Trayvon Martin.

    ____________________

    While most Blacks (being led by the NAACP no less) are now calling for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to file criminal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, I’m calling on the DOJ to stay out this case.  Not least because, as I indicated in my original commentary, “The Vigilante Killing of Black Teenager Trayvon Martin,” March 12, 2012, a successful civil rights action could be sustained based solely on public outrage/pressure, not legal reasoning.

    I fully appreciate that this was the recourse Black supporters of Rodney King were forced to take to get justice for him. But, as systematic attempts by Whites to suppress the votes of Blacks in last year’s presidential and congressional elections attest, the NAACP and DOJ have far more consequential civil rights battles to fight.

    What’s more, if the killing of innocent Black kids is to become a civil rights cause, surely Zimmerman has nothing on Black men who kill Black kids every day in even more depraved and indifferent ways. Yet when was the last time you heard reports about the likes of Sharpton and the NAACP calling on the DOJ to file civil rights charges in those cases after local police and prosecutors failed to render justice…?

    I say let Zimmerman’s fate take its course. For I suspect that, just like O.J., he will eventually get what’s coming to him. The last time I checked O.J. was rotting away in prison on a 33-year sentence stemming from a completely unrelated crime – for which he was probably (legally and factually) innocent. How’s that for poetic justice….

    ____________________

    george-zimmerman-mugshot-550x450I am loath to dignify Zimmerman by commenting on the living purgatory his life has been since his sensational trial and stunning acquittal. Except that, given the above, I feel obliged to share this:

    The Justice Department said Tuesday its independent investigation found ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge George Zimmerman with federal civil rights violations in the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

    Attorney General Eric Holder said the evidence did not meet the ‘high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution,’ but the decision should not end efforts to explore racial tensions in the justice system.

    (USA Today, February 24, 2015)

    I fully appreciate, of course, that those who took to the streets to avenge Trayvon’s death will not see this DOJ decision as justice served. What’s more, I am all too mindful that they are the same protesters/rioters who took to the streets to avenge the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

    But this Zimmerman decision should temper their equally restive demands for the DOJ to file charges against White officers Wilson and Pantaleo – who killed Brown and Garner, respectively. After all, even Al Sharpton must concede that, if the facts in the Zimmerman case “did not meet the high standard for a federal hate crime prosecution,” the facts in these two other cases don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of meeting it.

    Moreover, when AG Holder went to Ferguson, raising unreasonable expectations among these avenging supporters, he knew, or should have known, his DOJ investigation would not lead to federal charges in any of these cases. So, if you’re wondering why he made such a public show of going there, I have two political, not legal, words for you: racial pandering….

    three1

    Mind you, for the lawyers and so-called civil rights activists who prevailed upon the DOJ to investigate these cases, justice has more to do with criminal convictions leading to millions in their pockets from civil settlements, than to years in prison for the policemen who killed these unarmed Black men. And that’s not me just being my cynical self:

    Al Sharpton is all about the Benjamins, a daughter of police chokehold victim Eric Garner claims in a bombshell videotape.

    (New York Post, February 24, 2015)

    In any event, it was awfully shrewd of the DOJ to announce this decision in the dead of winter. After all, common sense might not cool off misguided passions, which could compel folks to take to the streets again, but Mother Nature surely will. Not to mention that their rallying cries of “no justice, no peace” will now ring hollow – given that justice in this case was dispensed by a DOJ headed by a Black man, for a government headed by another … brother.

    Related commentaries:
    Zimmerman
    Garner, Brown cases

  • Monday, February 23, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    Netanyahu’s Call for Jewish Exodus more Sharpton than Moses

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Despite my seasoned cynicism, the chutzpah of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never ceases to amaze me.

    (“Netanyahu, Obama’s Iago; Iran, His Desdemona,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2013)

    Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 5.35.09 PM

    Frankly, the best way to get my disdain for Netanyahu’s politics is to understand that there’s no event too farcical or solemn for him to exploit for political gain or self-aggrandizement. This exploitation invariably has him playing the Holocaust card, which is why he can be fairly thought of as little more than Al Sharpton’s political brother from another mother.

    Still, it might be helpful to understand that Netanyahu suffers messianic delusions laced with Tourette-like episodes of paranoia. This causes him to see:

    A world in which Israel is surrounded by enemies, including the president of the United States; in which peace negotiations are aimed at destroying Israel; in which Israel’s left is aligned with all the hostile forces, and even rightists who oppose Netanyahu want to carry out a coup through the instrument of elections.

    (The American Prospect, December 17, 2014)

    I’ve written many commentaries denouncing Netanyahu as little more than a warmongering chickenshit. The most recent – “Congress Invites Israeli PM Netanyahu to Respond to Obama’s State of the Union Address?!” January 23, 2015 – includes this unanswerable indictment:

    The Jewish Zionists, Christian fundamentalists, and political neo-cons – who [House Speaker] Boehner and Netanyahu consider their bilateral base – would like nothing more than to kill Obama’s [diplomatic initiatives to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons]. This, they figure, would provide their pretext for this president (or the next) to bomb Iran … in an Iraq-style misadventure to protect Israel.

    I’ll write more about Netanyahu’s fixation on Iran below. For now, I’d like you to recall how, just weeks ago, French President Francois Hollande personally pleaded with him to stay away from that historic anti-terrorism parade in Paris. Hollande did so because Netanyahu was on record doing all he could to frame the Charlie-Hebdo attacks as part of a Holocaust-inspired, worldwide persecution of Jews.

    FRANCE-ATTACKS-CHARLIE-DEMOIt hardly mattered to him that the vast majority of people killed in those attacks were non-Jews, including Muslims. More to the point, Netanyahu not only showed up, he paraded front and center, like the proverbial skunk at a garden party. Anyone who knows anything about Sharpton, America’s most notorious Black activist, knows that this is something he would do … and relish doing so.

    At any rate, Netanyahu seems to think Israel can get by with a little help from its friends – even if those friends comprise just a small faction of Christian fundamentalists and neo-cons within the U.S. Republican Party. Only this explains why he decided to add to the antics that have alienated Obama and Hollande by engaging in antics that seem bound to alienate the leaders of every country in Europe.

    Specifically, Netanyahu responded to the terrorist attacks in Denmark two weeks ago (on Valentine’s Day), which killed one Jew and one non-Jew, by issuing a clarion call for all Jews to begin a mass exodus from Europe to Israel:

    Jews deserve protection in every country but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters, Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe,

    (Reuters, February 15, 2015)

    exodusnwThis would be laughable, of course, if European Jews were not so predisposed to heeding his call.

    More than 7,000 French Jews migrated to Israel in 2014, double the number from the year before…

    Shlomo Avineri, an Israeli professor of political science, described Mr. Netanyahu’s call as ‘an intellectual and moral mistake’ and accused him of taking a populist stance for electoral purposes.

    (New York Times, February 15, 2015)

    In fact, European leaders, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, are so unnerved they are condemning Netanyahu’s call with as much indignation as European Jews, led by Chief Rabbi Jair Melchoir of Denmark, are pleading for people to ignore it.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 7.08.10 PMMind you, any Jew immigrating to Israel is more likely to be killed by a terrorist attack there than by an anti-Semitic one in the European country from which she emigrated.

    But Netanyahu couldn’t care any less. He simply could not pass over the opportunity to grandstand in the shoes (or sandals) of no less a person than Moses – who led the exodus of Jews from persecution in Egypt, way back in the Bible days, to the Promised Land. Indeed, Netanyahu’s delusions are such that he fully expects to be hailed as a latter-day Moses.

    To be fair, though, there’s some method to his apparent madness. Because anyone familiar with the Zionist concept of “Aliyah” will appreciate that Netanyahu’s call is not just about protecting Europe’s one million Jews. His ulterior motive is to use them to settle areas of that proverbial Promised Land, which are now unsettled, settled by Palestinians, or considered parts of hostile neighboring countries, namely, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

    In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.”

    (Genesis 15:18)

    Not to mention that the more Netanyahu has the world focused on his self-serving concerns about Iran, the more he detracts world attention from — what no less a person than former President Jimmy Carter denounced as — his “apartheid” treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories….

    Still, there’s no denying the all-eggs-in-one-basket folly of presuming to ensure the survival of the Jewish people by exhorting all of them to flee from every corner of the earth to settle in Israel – even if Netanyahu can get away with creating his greater Israel faster than Putin can create his greater Russia. After all, if Iran (or any other regional country Netanyahu perceives as Israel’s mortal enemy) ever acquired a nuclear bomb, and really wanted to complete Hitler’s “final solution,” having all Jews in this one place would seem pursuant not to Netanyahu’s clarion call, but to Allah’s providential design. No?

    To fully appreciate this folly, it might help to imagine President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf responding to the notorious killing of two unarmed Black men by White officers in the United States by issuing a clarion call for all Black Americans to come home to Liberia. How well do you think that would go over…?

    Never mind that every Jew living in Israel is acutely mindful of this cautionary taunt, which Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reportedly issued as Islamic Jihad’s counter to Aliyah:

    Nasrallah said their aim was to return the Jews to Israel and rebuild their temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, over the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

    However, Nasrallah added, ‘if they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.’

    (The Daily Star Lebanon, October 23, 2002)

    F110921GPO31Let me hasten to clarify, for the record, that I couldn’t care any less who governs Israel. But I do care about its security. More to the point, notwithstanding Netanyahu’s political histrionics suggesting otherwise, Obama does too. In fact, here is what the phonetically named Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister from 2007-2013, said about Obama’s commitment to and support of his country’s security:

    I am saying very clearly that this administration in regard to Israel’s security – and we are traditionally supported by each and every American president in our generation – but under this administration we went even further into a clear, deep, deep commitment to the security of Israel. And beyond. I see the administration is ready to veto steps which go against or are perceived by us as being against the interests of Israel.

    (Charlie Rose, March 24, 2010)

    imrs (2)This brings me back to Netanyahu’s fixation on Iran. In my January 23 commentary cited above, I mocked the absurdity inherent in Republican House Speaker John Boehner inviting Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress a week from today.

    Boehner and congressional Republicans would have you believe that he is the most qualified person in the world to address the American people on the categorical imperative of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Notwithstanding that Obama has not only been doing a pretty good job of addressing this imperative, but is actively engaged in the final stages of multilateral negotiations towards that end.

    The most egregious problem with this invitation, however, is that Netanyahu lost what little credibility he had left on this issue years ago.

    29israel-popupNot least because he warned the entire world (during a September 2012 address to the United Nations General Assembly) that Iran was only nine months away from crossing his red line, which he insisted represented the last opportunity to stop it from developing nuclear weapons.

    As I noted in “Obama Dissing Israeli PM Netanyahu?” September 12, 2012, Netanyahu has been issuing such Chicken-Little warnings about Iran being just months away from going nuclear since the 1990s. Indeed, if it were up to him, the United States would now be embroiled in a war with Iran over nukes that do not exist, emulating the march of folly that had it embroiled in a war with Iraq over WMDs that did not exist.

    And let us not forget that these are the same congressional Republicans who invited Netanyahu in 2002, as the most qualified person in the world, to make the case for that war against Iraq. Sure enough, much of what he’s saying today (about the apocalyptic, existential dangers Iran’s poses) he said back then about Iraq….

    Meanwhile, opinion polls show that a vast majority of people in the United States and Israel think this scheduled address is just a political stunt:

    On the one hand by Republicans to undermine Obama’s signature foreign policy objective … a nuclear deal with Iran.

    Their unwitting championing of Putin as a more admirable leader than Obama betrays the fact that far too many Republicans hate their president more than they love their country. Which is why they will say or do anything to undermine his presidency — the welfare of the country be damned.

    (“Makes more Sense for Obama to Negotiate with Terrorists than Republicans,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 7, 2014)

    Clearly it’s no stretch for Republicans – who hail wannabe-Stalin Putin as a more admirable leader – to use wannabe-Moses Netanyahu as a black knight to foil Obama’s negotiations with the Iranians. I’ve been ridiculing their spiteful politics in this respect for years in such commentaries as “Success of Obama’s Policies Confounding, Vexing, Defying Republican Critics,” December 29, 2014.

    And on the other hand by Netanyahu to posture as Israel’s most indispensable and dependable Zionist leader … ahead of national elections scheduled for March 17.

    This speech, which was born in sin as part of an election campaign, endangers the security of the citizens of Israel and the special relationship it has with the United States. With all due respect to his campaign, Bibi must lead as a patriot, and not throw Israel’s security under the bus of the election.

    (Jerusalem Post, February 20, 2015)

    This is the biblical way Isaac Herzog, the politician most likely to unseat Netanyahu as prime minister, condemned Speaker Boehner’s congressional invitation. In fact, the number of Jewish political and civic leaders (in Israel and the United States) calling on Netanyahu to cancel his address is fast approaching critical mass.

    Abrahm Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League said that the political uproar ignited by Netanyahu’s invitation to speak to a joint meeting of Congress makes such a move unhelpful and therefore it should be scrapped.

    (Haaretz, February 6, 2015)

    Not to mention the grassroots organizations that are heeding the clarion call I issued (in my January 23 commentary) to boycott his address. They are certainly putting members of Congress in the hot seat with their “#SkiptheSpeech” petition:

    On January 27, Jewish Voice for Peace, along with our partners at the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Roots Action and CodePink, launched an online campaign calling on elected officials to skip Prime Minister Netanyahu’s March 3 speech before a joint session of Congress.

    (Jewish Voice for Peace, February 4, 2015)

    Benjamin-Netanyahu_2858086b

    It speaks volumes, though, that Speaker Boehner and his Republican leadership would accord Netanyahu the distinguished and coveted honor of addressing a joint session of Congress knowing full well that Israeli prosecutors could indict him any day now on a battery of corruption charges:

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hired top criminal lawyer Jacob Weinroth on Thursday to defend him in the criminal investigation that could emerge from allegations of abuse of funds at the Prime Minister’s Residence…

    According to suspicions … the Netanyahus systematically used state funds to finance private expenses.

    (The Times of Israel, February 19, 2015)

    Mind you, nothing makes Netanyahu more worthy of being dismissed as Sharpton’s political brother than having his career dogged by such suspicions, just as Sharpton’s has been….

    Vladimir-Putin-Abdul-Fatah-SisiFinally, apropos of putting all eggs in one basket, Netanyahu has been so obsessed with Iran that it seems he failed to notice Egypt taking steps to become a nuclear power in its own right.

    But leave it to Putin, the only world leader with greater delusions of grandeur and paranoid ideations, to make quite a show of signing agreements to help Egypt become a nuclear power. Never mind that Putin’s only reason for doing so is to demonstrate that Russia has as much power to determine which countries are allowed to join the nuclear club as the United States.

    Which raises the question: Will Netanyahu declare Egypt’s nuclear program as grave a threat to Israel’s security as Iran’s; or will he have the political good sense to recognize that, unlike Iran, Egypt, with whom Israel signed the famous Camp David Peace Accords, has done nothing to forfeit its sovereign right to develop nuclear weapons?

    I shall end with this instructive excerpt from “Resolving the “North Korean Menace,” September 21, 2005.

    ___________________

    The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a joke – as [unofficial nuclear powers] Israel, Pakistan, and India can attest.

    Besides, every country has the right to develop and possess any weapon it chooses for its national defense; provided, however, that that country is not led by religious fanatics (e.g., Iran) who claim divine authority to determine which countries have a right to even exist; or that that country is not led by a delusional, genocidal, paranoid, megalomaniacal and certifiably insane dictator (e.g., North Korea) whose notion of diplomacy is threatening to nuke the country of any leader with whom he has a political disagreement.

    Moreover, where countries like Iran and North Korea forfeit their right to develop and possess weapons of mass destruction, history dictates that the United States and its coalition of the willing are the only agents capable of disarming them … as Libya can attest!

    ___________________

    In other words, instead of Netanyahu lecturing any country, let alone the United States, on nuclear weapons, this self-righteous hypocrite needs to just shut up!

    Related commentaries:
    Congress invites Netanyahu
    Obama dissing Israeli PM
    Netanyahu Chicken-Shit PM
    Obama’s Iago
    Success of Obama’s policies
    Makes more sense
    North Korea

  • Monday, February 23, 2015 at 5:57 AM

    And the Oscar Goes To…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Well, first things first – if you haven’t read “The Oscars 2015: My Picks,” I suggest you scroll down to do so before continuing here.

    That said, I’ve read enough reviews of last night’s show to feel utterly vindicated for having written this after watching last year’s show:

    I’m never going to waste my time watching The Oscars ever again. Because it amounts to Chinese water torture for the producers to make us sit through three and a half hours of painfully uninteresting TV just to have the four most interesting awards hurled at us in the last four minutes of the show.

    No offense to screenwriters, cinematographers, costume designers, makeup artists, et al, but surely I’m not alone in thinking it would make for a much more entertaining show if they presented one of the six major awards every 30-40 minutes….

    (“And the Oscar Goes To…, The iPINIONS Journal, March 3, 2014)

    Waking up to this headline from The Huffington Post said it all:

    Hollywood’s Biggest, Boringest Night!

    25F8327A00000578-2959076-image-a-19_1424657935781On the other hand, after hailing first-time host Neil Patrick Harris as the best thing to happen to The Oscars since Billy Crystal, I feel obliged to acknowledge the chorus of reputable critics saying he sucked: Too much Broadway, not enough Hollywood – with all that entails…?

    Whatever the case, this opening line from the Washington Post’s review of his performance said it all:

    It was bound to happen eventually. Neil Patrick Harris, the man who can host anything, finally stumbled.

    Still, kudos to him for at least trying to make The Oscars look less lily White by featuring so many Blacks, most notably Oprah, in his comedic bits. Granted, the director was trying also by continually panning the audience for Black faces; you know, the way they do at Republican national conventions to give the appearance of diversity.

    Too bad Harris came across, insofar as I can tell at any rate, like a White guy trying a little too hard to endear himself on Amateur Night at the Apollo. I mean, enlisting the admittedly Mammy or Aunt Jemima-looking Octavia Spencer as The Help with some running lock-box gag about his Oscar picks? WTF, Neil?!

    Ah well.

    The Awards

    • Best Actor in a Supporting Role: My pick was J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

    The winner was J.K. Simmons.

    • Best Actress in Supporting Role: My pick was Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

    The winner was Patricia Arquette.

    • Best Actress in Leading Role: My pick was Julianne Moore in Still Alice

    The winner was Julianne Moore.

    • Best Actor in Leading Role: My pick was Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

    The winner was Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. Ooops.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 10.28.37 AM

    • Best Director: My pick was Alejandro G. Iñárritu in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

    The winner was Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

    • Best Picture: My pick was Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

    The winner was Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

    I wrote an inordinate number of commentaries criticizing Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. Therefore, I also feel obliged to acknowledge that Citizen Four, the documentary chronicling those leaks, won the Oscar for Best Documentary. But I gather host Harris’s best line of the night was when he responded to this all too predictable victory by quipping that:

    Edward Snowden couldn’t be here for some treason.

    (ABC News, February 22, 2015)

    That’s a wrap!

    Related commentaries:
    The Oscars 2015: My Picks
    Oscar 2014

  • Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    The Oscars 2015: My Picks

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With all due respect to critics and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), how much a film makes, not whether it wins an Oscar, is the generally recognized measure of its success. Especially considering that winning an Oscar is more the result of crass political campaigning than any assessment of artistic achievement. Indeed, it might surprise, if not disillusion, many of you to learn that studios covet the Oscar for best picture primarily because – as Sumner Redstone, the owner of Paramount, conceded in a moment of extraordinary candor – it guarantees millions more in box office receipts.

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

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

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

    GTY_neil_patrick_harris_jef_150129_16x9_992My annual rant aside, I’m a little encouraged that Neil Patrick Harris is hosting for the first time. Because, with all due respect to Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, Seth MacFarlane, and even accidental comedian James Franco, Harris is the first person with the versatile, vaudevillian talent to emulate the best host ever, Billy Crystal.

    Harris is famous for his TV starring roles on Doogie Howser, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother. But he demonstrated his sublime suitability for hosting The Oscars with his recurring, JV-hosting gigs at The Tonys (for performances on Broadway) and The Emmys (for performances on TV).

    Hope springs eternal….

    Meanwhile, much is being made about members of the Academy not nominating a single Black in any of the major categories this year.

    awards

    I’ve been in the vanguard of those decrying this blackout (pun intended) as the inevitable result of a membership that remains over ninety percent White. But I’ve also been keen to point to black swan years, when these same lily-White members of the Academy not only nominated Blacks but awarded them Oscars. This was the case, most notably, in 2001, when Denzel Washington won for actor in a leading role and Halle Berry won for actress in a leading role.

    Not to mention just last year, when 12 Years a Slave won for best picture, Lupita Nyong’o won for actress in a supporting role, and John Ridley won for adapted screenplay.

    This is why I continually urge Blacks to focus on integrating the Academy instead of blasting its members every time they fail to fill some unspoken quota of Oscar nominations for Black folks. I also urge them to diversify their work product.

    Apropos of the latter, you undoubtedly recall the straight-jacketing racial stereotypes former Sony chairman Amy Pascal was caught recently joking about in leaked e-mails. Well, nothing reinforces such stereotypes quite like leading Black actors, directors, and producers limiting themselves to depictions of the Black experience, which members of the Academy can be forgiven for categorizing as “Black movies.” This, in part, is what inspired my commentary, “Oscar Snubs Selma. Good!” January 16, 2015. Frankly, I think we can do without another movie about slavery or the Black civil rights movement for at least twenty-five years….

    Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 1.46.00 PMThe point is that there’s a little hypocrisy afoot. But I can think of no better way to comment on it than to share the Black-on-Black criticism critically acclaimed actor Charles S. Dutton hurled at no less a talent than playwright August Wilson. I watched, in affirming shock, last night as Dutton did so on the latest episode of the Emmy-winning documentary series American Masters on PBS.

    Wilson of course is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such plays as The Piano Lesson, Fences, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. But Dutton was fulminating with racial indignation at the way Wilson made such a show of criticizing Whites for not doing more to support Black theatre.

    Dutton thought this reeked of hypocrisy. Not least because Wilson was propagating his criticism at a time when he was not only the most successful and influential playwright in the history of Black theatre, but also generally recognized as belonging in the pantheon of the greatest playwrights in U.S. history – alongside the likes of Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams. Yet, as Dutton inveighed, Wilson wasn’t opening his plays in Black theatres. He was opening them on Broadway (aka The Great White Way).

    By the same token, I think influential Blacks like Oprah making a show of criticizing Whites for not nominating Blacks also reeks of hypocrisy. Not least because these Blacks seem too busy doing business with White members of the Academy to even think about integrating their ranks.

    Enough said?

    Here are my picks in the only six categories most people care about:

    • Actor in a Leading Role

    x001_BM_06511Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): For the same reason the Academy awarded Oscars over the years to seemingly washed-up actors like Christopher Plummer in 2012 and Jeff Bridges in 2010: good old-fashioned sentimentality.

    I would be remiss, though, not to mention the commendable performances of British actors Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. What’s more, the X-factor in this category is that many members might vote for Redmayne just to expiate the guilt of telling lies for so many years about reading Stephen Hawking’s celebrated tome, A Brief History of Time. (Chances are very good that seventy-five percent of them had never even heard of his less celebrated The Theory of Everything until it became the title of his biopic.)

    • Actress in a Leading Role

    Julianne Moore in Still Alice: Because most Academy voters, whose median age is 62, can so easily identify with her portrayal of a woman struggling with the early ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

    • Actor in a Supporting Role

    jk-simmons-closerjpg-0a52c9_1280wJ.K. Simmons in Whiplash: Because this is a chance for the Academy to finally reward him for his body of outstanding work – even though the most acclaimed of which he performed on TV. Simmons is arguably one of the best actors of his generation, but his lack of leading-man good looks has typecast him as a perennial character actor.

    • Actress in a Supporting Role

    Patricia Arquette in Boyhood: For the same reason her co-star Ethan Hawke would have won, if not for the categorical imperative of awarding J.K. Simmons his de facto lifetime achievement award: the twelve years she committed to making this film amount to the kind of gimmicky feat superficial members of the Academy like to reward. It ranks right up there, for example, with such acting feats as actors gratuitously losing and gaining lots of weight for roles. Never mind reviews suggesting that the best thing about her performance is the restraint she showed over those twelve years by not having any plastic surgery….

    • Best Director

    Alejandro G. Iñárritu in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): For having the good sense to cast sentimental favorite Keaton as his lead, and then riding his coattails all the way to Oscar glory.

    1D274907620046-today-best-picture-150115.blocks_desktop_large

    • Best Picture

    Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

    Let the 87th Academy Awards show begin!

    Related commentaries:
    Oscar snubs Selma
    Oscars 2014

  • Sunday, February 15, 2015 at 8:09 AM

    The iPINIONS Journal Is 10 Today!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 10.13.16 AM

     

    As improbable as it seemed when I launched this weblog, today marks the 10th anniversary of The iPINIONS Journal.

    Remarkably enough, I enjoy writing my commentaries even more now than I did back then. It might be a little more challenging, but I have no doubt that I’ll be writing them for at least another ten years.

    Apropos of which, I marveled when I read in his CBS obituary (dated November 5, 2011) that Andy Rooney, one of my favorite commentators, wrote 1,097 commentaries during his 30 years at ’60 Minutes.’ I’m amazed and humbled, in equal measure, that I’ve written 3,251 to date. (At least 500 more if I include the updates I write exclusively for my annual compilation. My 10th volume is scheduled for publication in mid-March.)

    Of course, I’d consider myself very lucky indeed if you find my commentaries half as interesting as I found Andy’s.

    Thank you for your support, especially the cherished few who have read every commentary and provided feedback from day one!

    Cheers,

    ALH

    P.S. I think I’ll celebrate by taking this week off. See you on Monday, February 23.

  • Saturday, February 14, 2015 at 2:19 PM

    Russia’s Valentine to Ukraine: Be Mine, or I Kill You!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’ve written many commentaries over the years on the Ukrainians. Most notably, in “My Favorite Ex-Communists…,” October 2, 2007, I bemoaned the chronic political dysfunction that had Ukrainians emulating the Italians’ promiscuous penchant for changing governments; and in “Ukraine: a New (Post-War) Germany in the Making,” August 30, 2014, I decried the political and military machinations that had events playing out in Europe just as they did in the years before the outbreak of World War II.

    With respect to the latter, here is an excerpt from “A Ukraine Divided Is the Only Way It Will Stand,” May 6, 2014.

    __________________

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has 40,000 to 60,000 troops revving up their tanks on Ukraine’s eastern boarder awaiting his order to invade … if civil unrest continues. Meanwhile, he has operatives all over eastern Ukraine spreading pro-Russian propaganda and fomenting that unrest.

    Therefore, it’s no wonder he’s winning – not just the hearts and minds of pro-Russian Ukrainians, but also the psychological war he has been waging against Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders ever since they ousted his puppet president, Viktor Yanukovych, three months ago…

    It’s clearly foolhardy for pro-Western leaders in Kiev to continue ordering troops to wage plainly feckless battles to retake government buildings in eastern Ukraine, which thugs have seized and claimed as property of their separatist pro-Russian republic. Nothing dramatizes this fecklessness quite like having old, basket-swinging, pro-Russian babushkas continually repel their military advances…

    By the same token, though, having stood by as Putin annexed Crimea (without firing a shot) and doing little now to help Ukrainians prevent him from annexing the rest of eastern Ukraine (with the proverbial one thousand little cuts), it’s equally foolhardy for Obama and other Western leaders to continue threatening Putin with economic sanctions … if he continues to do what he seems determined to continue doing.

    ___________________

    This is why I find a cartoon by Adam Zyglis in today’s edition of the Buffalo News, lampooning the latest efforts to broker peace in Ukraine, so perversely fitting.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 8.06.15 PM

    Meanwhile:

    As fighting erupted throughout eastern Ukraine on Friday before a cease-fire begins on Saturday night, the United States accused Russia of joining separatist rebels in an all-out attack on Ukrainian forces around the contested town of Debaltseve…

    The intensity and scope of the violence raised concerns that the agreement signed this week, rife with ill-defined and ambiguous provisions, might prove as ineffective as the first cease-fire pact, signed in September.

    (New York Times, February 13, 2015)

    Duh.

    In fact, all indications are that, in the few hours remaining before this latest ceasefire is scheduled to take effect, both sides seem determined to give new meaning to that infamous oxymoron, “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

    What’s more (and with all due respect to Daesh and Boko Haram), Putin seems determined to emulate Hitler’s march of folly (as I foreshadowed in “Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland,” February 26, 2014) — even if it leads to World War III….

  • Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 6:52 PM

    African Migrants Turning Mediterranean into Vast Cemetery

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    article-2596907-1B3F569900000578-306_634x505History is replete with episodes of people migrating in droves from one place to another in search of a better life. And, in far too many cases, their migration challenged them to make it through a known hell to get to an uncertain heaven. Hispanics/Haitians migrating to America blighted the twentieth century in this respect. Africans/Arabs migrating to Europe seem destined to blight the twenty-first.

    I have written a fair amount on both. More to the point, though, I wrote a foreboding lament, in “Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s Haitian Problem,” October 7, 2013, after 300 Africans drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in their desperate bid to make it to Europe.

    Here is an excerpt.

    __________________

    As tragic as this event was, political dysfunction, economic stagnation, and civil strife on the Dark Continent are such that Africans will continue to risk life and limb to seek a better life. For, just as no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Caribbean Sea has stemmed the tide of Haitian migrants setting off for America, no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea will stem the tide of African migrants setting off for Europe.

    I should clarify here that I’m using Haitian migrants in this context because of their obvious parallels with African migrants. But I hope it’s self-evident that migrants from Mexico, Central, and South America constitute the vast majority of those who populate America’s “migrant streams.” Haitians are just the most tragic … and undesirable (i.e., from a U.S. immigration perspective)…

    In a similar vein, even if less evident, migrants from Turkey, the Middle East, India, and Pakistan constitute the vast majority of those who populate Europe’s migrant streams. Africans are just the most tragic … and undesirable (i.e., from an EU immigration perspective)…

    It speaks volumes that Europeans are ascribing no blame for this Lampedusa tragedy to the African governments that have failed their people so abysmally. This failure, after all, is the only reason why so many Africans, utterly bereft of hope at home, are fleeing to Europe in desperate pursuit of peace, prosperity, and happiness. But I suppose this self-recrimination among European governments demonstrates how difficult it is for them to sever that umbilical cord of colonial obligation.

    I just hope the damning irony is not lost on any proud African that, 50 years after decolonization, hundreds of Africans (men, women, and children) are risking their lives, practically every day, to subjugate themselves to the paternal mercies of their former colonial masters in Europe.

    ___________________

    Now comes this:

    Some 300 migrants who tried to cross the frigid Mediterranean in open, rubber boats, were reported missing Wednesday by survivors as the U.N. refugee agency and other aid groups sharply criticized the new EU rescue operation as insufficient and costing lives.

    (Associated Press, February 11, 2015)

    38484305migration500_enBBC World News reported yesterday that 3,500 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2014. What’s more, I maintain that one has to wonder how many of them perish along the way, every day, without being able to even send out an SOS….

    In any event, this latest tragedy merely affirms the foreboding I sounded in my October 2013 commentary: the bobbing crucible at sea will never deter Africans from trying to escape their living hell at home.

    The slogan “African solutions for African problems” has gained considerable currency on that Continent in recent years. Well, I can think of no African problem more in need of an African solution, ASAP, than living conditions that compel so many Africans to migrate, come what may.

    In the meantime, it can only add insult to the grief of proud Africans to see European leaders accusing each other of not doing enough to rescue African migrants adrift at sea, trying to flee the abject misery African leaders have wrought.

    Pope Francis addresses the Council of Europe in StrasbourgIndeed, notwithstanding the specter of neo-colonial noblesse oblige, no less a person than Pope Francis entreated European leaders, during an address before the European Parliament on November 25, 2014, to do for these desperate souls what African leaders have failed to do: give them the opportunity to pursue a better life.

    As Reuters reported, Francis remonstrated:

    We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.

    Alas, the Mediterranean has already become a vast cemetery … where many others seem bound to meet their maker.

    Related commentaries:
    Lampedusa tragedy

  • Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    Replace Retired Jon Stewart with Suspended Brian Williams … and Vice Versa? Noooo!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Brian Williams, America’s top TV news anchor, became a national laughingstock last week when videos of him telling all manner of self-aggrandizing lies went viral. It spoke volumes, however, that he responded in self-aggrandizing fashion by announcing that he was taking himself off the air “for a few days” – presumably until the next viral scandal relegates his to the dustbin of the twitterverse.

    I thought he presumed too much and duly wrote, in “Brian Williams Pinocchios His Career,” February 7, 2015, that NBC’s internal investigation did not bode well for him.

    maxresdefault (1)Now comes this:

    Brian Williams, the embattled NBC news anchor whose credibility plummeted after he acknowledged exaggerating his role in a helicopter episode in Iraq, has been suspended for six months without pay, the network said on Tuesday night.

    ‘This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position,’ Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News.

    (New York Times, February 10, 2015)

    Except that this makes about as much sense as a wife telling her cheating husband to leave the marital home for six months, then inviting another man to perform all husbandly duties during his absence.

    Williams would be a fool to think that NBC would invite him back into that anchor chair, come what may. For surely he – who spent as much time on TV promoting himself as Kim Kardashian spends online promoting herself – knows better than any other anchor that it’s out of sight, out of mind with viewers. And, even though a rich man, being fined roughly $5 million, which his suspension “without pay” constitutes, only adds insult to his professional injury.

    Capture3-300x165In a similar vein, it would be foolish for NBC to invite him back – even if ratings for Nightly News falter with Lester Holt, now his official substitute. After all, in the eyes of the millions who watched him on TV (as opposed to the tens of millions who gossiped about him on social media), Brian’s face has become indelibly associated with boldfaced lies. The breach of trust already documented is irreparable. And I remain convinced that NBC’s internal investigation is bound to uncover other lies and practices that will seal his fate.

    All of which means that regaining his gravitas as a trustworthy news anchor will be even more daunting than Bill Cosby — who more than thirty women have accused of drugging and raping them — regaining his reputation as America’s favorite Dad. Indeed, with its top newsman now being outed as a pathological liar, so soon after its top entertainer was outed as a serial rapist, NBC can be forgiven for wanting to sever all ties with Williams, just as it has with Cosby.

    Meanwhile, fake news anchor Jon Stewart shocked the world yesterday by announcing his retirement from The Daily Show.

    In a surprise move, Jon Stewart has announced that he’s retiring as anchor of The Daily Show.

    Stewart broke the news to his audience while taping Comedy Central’s satirical news program Tuesday.

    (CBS News, February 10, 2015)

    I get why so many now think Brian’s fall from grace is as fortuitous as it is serendipitous. Who better to replace Stewart…?

    brianjimmymainAfter all, one got the impression from his regular appearances on late-night comedy shows that Williams felt more comfortable in that setting than on the set of Nightly News. Today’s opinion-forming report in the New York Times — about Williams lobbying to replace Jay Leno on The Tonight Show before NBC anointed comedian Jimmy Fallon as Leno’s successor (think The Late Shift) — did nothing to dispel this impression.

    And, given his penchant for telling lies, it would seem fitting, ironically enough, for Williams to begin presenting fake news not just to show off, but for his daily bread.

    I fear, however, that he would be humbled by the world of difference between delivering scripted one-liners as a guest on late-night comedy shows and interviewing celebrities as a host of one of those shows, especially given that drawing laughs from some celebrities can be like drawing blood from a stone.

    16978186-mmmainOn the other hand, I hope Stewart resists all of the hype about a perfect symmetry that would have him shift from presenting fake news on The Daily Show to presenting straight news on Nightly News – as Brian’s permanent replacement.

    Not least because this presumes, mistakenly methinks, that Holt will prove an abject failure as his temporary replacement. But nothing would make a greater mockery of the journalistic and ethical principles that compelled NBC to suspend Williams than replacing him with a comedian like Stewart.

    I suspect, though, that Stewart is smart enough to know that his shift from The Daily Show to Nightly News would probably make for even more cringeworthy television than Katie Couric’s shift from the perky Today Show to the serious Evening News. (Remember that?)

    article-0-195E69FB000005DC-62_634x353Incidentally, who better to replace Williams than the demonstrably qualified Holt – who would also break the monopoly White folks have held on the anchor chairs of network news for far too long…? But, mark my words, if NBC News does to Lester Holt what it did to Ann Curry (Remember that?), its president, Deborah Turness, would lose her job faster than the chairman of Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal, lost hers last month – after hackers leaked her racist e-mails about President Obama. (Remember that?)

    Stewart won critical acclaim last year for his directorial debut in Rosewater. He would probably do well to pursue a career in film directing. For his part, Williams might want to pursue a career in fiction writing. After all, the tales of derring-do that got him suspended suggest that he could probably come up with storylines that make even writers like John LeCarre blush with envy.

    NOTE: CBS News deserves honorable mention for not blurring the line between news and entertainment – the way every other network does these days, so wantonly. Indeed, the best thing NBC News can do to repair the damage to its reputation is to forbid its anchors and reporters from moonlighting (especially on social media) as celebrities.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at 1:27 PM

    Unlike NSA Leaks, HSBC Leaks Actually Serve Public Interest

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    edwardCIA-NSA-Edward-Snowden_1I have written many commentaries denouncing Edward Snowden as more traitor than hero for leaking NSA secrets. Here are illustrative excerpts from two of them.

    • From “Judge Ruling on NSA Spying…,” December 18, 2013.

    __________________

    I too would be championing Snowden’s professed cause if he had taken his treasure trove of NSA secrets to a reputable newspaper, like the New York Times or Washington Post, instead of entrusting it to a news hustler like the then-obscure lawyer/journalist/blogger [Glenn] Greenwald.

    Recall that Snowden initially claimed his only mission was to inform the American people about the NSA’s surveillance activities. Well, with apologies to George W. Bush, he had just cause to declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ six months ago.

    Moreover, rather than fleeing like a fugitive, Snowden could have become a confidential informant (like a latter-day Deep Throat), continued on with his seemingly idyllic life in Hawaii, and left it to his newspaper of choice to expose all of the secrets that are fit to print … in a manner that does not compromise national security.

    Instead, this narcissistic, self-righteous, naive and self-appointed arbiter — not only of what metadata the government can collect, but also of what documents it can classify as top secret — conspired with Greenwald to make his face every bit as famous as his leaks. In the process he unwittingly (or wittingly) handed the ‘NSA’s crown jewels’ over to America’s two most-formidable adversaries, China and Russia, on a silver platter. No Chinese or Russian spy could ever have achieved such a feat – even in his wildest dream.

    ___________________

    • From “Ignorance Prevails re NSA Spying and Snowden Leaking,” June 14, 2013.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 12.14.03 PM

    __________________

    In this age of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and WikiLeaks people have developed the schizophrenic need not only to share everything about everything, but also to keep private everything they routinely share in every venue – from social networks to shopping malls. (TMI might as well stand for, Tell me … immediately!)

    Alas, just as there’s no reconciling their schizophrenia, there’s no rationalizing their outrage over the NSA monitoring their promiscuous and indiscriminate footprints (online and via telephone).

    For, evidently, these nincompoops think it’s okay for Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and others to spy on them to sell them stuff, but not okay for the NSA to do so to keep them safe. And don’t get me started on how they blithely give up truly sensitive personal information for the privilege and ease of buying stuff with credit cards, which makes the generic phone records the NSA collects seem even less intrusive than a traffic cop’s speed gun.

    __________________

    Mind you, despite all of the media coverage, there was nothing illegal or, I maintain, unethical about any of the NSA activities Snowden revealed. What’s more, neither Snowden nor any of his supporters have ever cited a single case where the NSA used its surveillance techniques to violate the privacy rights of any law-abiding person … anywhere. (I noted – in such commentaries as “I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy,” July 2, 2013, and “Germans Exposed as Spying Hypocrites. Others Will Be Too…,” August 20, 2014 – how subsequent leaks about the surveillance activities of other intelligence agencies vindicated my initial take on Snowden’s NSA leaks.)

    HSBC-Skandal_Informant_fordert_mehr_Schutz-Swiss_Leaks-Story-438387_630x356px_1_sBjRkPJu2VyW_Now, by instructive contrast, I am proudly hailing Hervé Falciani as far more hero than traitor for leaking HSBC secrets.

    HSBC’s Swiss banking arm helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars of assets, doling out bundles of untraceable cash and advising clients on how to circumvent domestic tax authorities, according to a huge cache of leaked secret bank account files…

    The HSBC files, which cover the period 2005-2007, amount to the biggest banking leak in history, shedding light on some 30,000 accounts holding almost $120bn (£78bn) of assets.

    (The Guardian, February 8, 2015)

    swissbankUnfortunately, like Snowden, Falciani undermined his noble cause by fleeing Switzerland and trying to peddle these files for a windfall. That cause, of course, is outing tax cheats from every corner of the earth who use Swiss banks to conceal their misdeeds.

    Fortunately, as reported on Sunday’s edition of CBS’s 60 Minutes, even though he found refuge in France, Falciani found nobody willing to pay his price. So, by default, he ended up entrusting the files to the universally respected International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which includes reporters at Le Monde in Paris and the BBC in London.

    In any event, the secrets in these files are just the latest revelations to make a mockery of Switzerland’s vaunted reputation as the neutral home to eminently trustworthy brokers of world peace, makers of expensive timepieces, and managers of secret bank accounts.

    Here, for example, is how I commented years ago on leaks from pre-Falciani whistleblowers, which provided incriminating evidence for the U.S. Congress to hoist Switzerland’s biggest bank, UBS, up by its own petard:

    Frankly, I’ve always been stupefied by the fact that Switzerland has been able to thrive in the international community by laundering cash from narco-traffickers, kleptomaniacs, and tax cheats, while countries like Columbia (during the 1980s) and Guinea-Bissau (today) have been condemned as narco-states.

    (“U.S. Forcing Swiss to Give Up Its Hallowed Bank Secrecy Laws,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 20, 2009)

    Mind you, despite the relative lack of media coverage, the public interest Falciani’s Swiss leaks serve is not limited to outing 100,000 private tax cheats, including celebrities like singer David Bowie, actress Joan Collins, and model Elle Macpherson. Never mind that even I am intrigued by the fact that thousands from 30 countries in the wider Caribbean are being outed by the ICIJ’s February 8 repot; not least 202 HSBC customers in The Bahamas, my place of birth, who hold secret bank accounts totaling $7 billion.

    But his leaks also implicate a fair number of politicians, including the late Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier of Haiti, the late Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Bashir al-Assad of Syria, and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Which is very incriminating, of course, because secret bank accounts in their case are as probative of theft of public funds as videotapes of politicians hauling away cash directly from national banks.

    54ca8fc87e4b004120bb2253_imageThis is not the forum to delve too deeply into what these leaks portend for politicians. Especially considering the greater worry that, if past leaks are prologue, very few, if any, of these tax cheats will ever be criminally prosecuted … as all of them should.

    But it would be remiss of me not to mention how similar leaks have made a mockery of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s carefully crafted reputation as a public servant of very modest means (and desires).

    For example, reports based on pre-Falciani leaks gave me cause to comment here:

    It should have come as no surprise when Bloomberg published a September 17, 2013 report headlined, ‘Vladimir Putin, the Richest Man on Earth’ – with an estimated fortune of $40-60 billion. And bear in mind that he comes from peasant stock and has never held a non-government job in his life.

    (“Ukraine’s Never-Ending Europe Spring,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 3, 2013)

    Similar reports followed, here:

    Two associates of President Vladimir Putin profited from a state scheme to buy expensive medical equipment – and sent money to Swiss bank accounts linked to a property known as ‘Putin’s palace.’

    (Reuters Investigates, May 21, 2014)

    And most recently here:

    Drawing on firsthand accounts from exiled Russian business tycoons, writers and politicians, as well as the exhaustive research of scholar and best-selling Putin’s Kleptocracy author Karen Dawisha, the film examines troubling episodes in Putin’s past, from alleged money-laundering activities and ties to organized crime, to a secret personal fortune said to be in the billions.

    (“Putin’s Way,” PBS Frontline, January 7, 2015)

    This is why inviting Putin to a summit of world political leaders makes about as much sense as inviting a drug lord to a meeting of world business leaders. But I digress.

    The point is that, with all due respect to Swiss chocolatiers (and watchmakers), Falciani’s leaks reveal that Switzerland is becoming as known for bankers who facilitate financial frauds as Columbia is for dealers who manufacture illegal drugs.

    download (13)But at least Columbia appears to be mending its ways, which is far more than I can say for Switzerland. Frankly, helping rich people cheat tax collectors seems rather fitting for Swiss bankers. After all, they sealed their secret reputation for skullduggery by helping German Nazis expropriate the wealth of Jews they planned to exterminate.

    Silly me, I thought they repented from their wicked-banking ways over a decade ago. The leaks back then exposed the way officials at UBS shredded documents pursuant to a scheme to deny legitimate claims by Holocaust survivors to their old bank accounts. This landed Swiss bankers in the hot seat before the U.S. Congress, where they not only promised to make restitution but professed unqualified repentance to boot.

    I duly commented, betraying naïve hope, in “The Belated Conversion of Hitler’s Swiss Bankers,” April 25, 2005.

    Here is an excerpt.

    __________________

    Investigators revealed that – to ingratiate themselves to their preferred Nazi customers – Swiss bankers routinely violated the terms of accounts held by Jews by simply informing them, “The situation has changed.” The bankers then ‘aryanized’ those accounts by selling them to Nazi sympathizers at a fraction of their value. No doubt records of these fraudulent transactions (among others) are what the bankers were shredding so anxiously.

    Thus exposed as Nazi collaborators, institutional fraudsters and congenital liars, the Swiss conceded to settlement terms with the U.S. government and World Jewish Congress which, in part, called for the Swiss to establish a $1.25 billion fund to compensate all Holocaust survivors. The global significance of this concession, however, cannot be overstated. Because it not only indicted Switzerland’s banking practices but also shattered its carefully cultivated acclaim of being a safe-harbor (of neutrality) as war raged in Europe during WWII.

    __________________

    Meanwhile, it’s hardly surprising that the Swiss government now considers Falciani as much of a traitor as the U.S. government considers Snowden. It is disappointing, though, that the international media are according Falciani’s leaks only a fraction of the notoriety they accorded Snowden’s. Granted, Snowden’s leaks garner about as much media coverage these days as a Julian Assange press conference. (Exactly.)

    In any case, I maintain that a whistleblower like Falciani, whose leaks expose illegal banking activities on a global scale, is far more worthy of praise than a blowhard like Snowden, whose leaks did little more than compromise the ability of law-enforcement officials to prevent terrorist attacks.

    Related commentaries:
    Judge ruling
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    Germans exposed
    US forcing Swiss to give up its hallowed bank secrecy laws
    Ukraine…
    Hitler’s bankers
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  • Monday, February 9, 2015 at 8:43 AM

    The Grammys? A Friggin’ Snoozefest!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Frankly, I haven’t experienced such scripted boredom since my classes in Organic Chemistry thirty-something years ago.

    blog 61

    So much was so wrong about last night’s broadcast that I shan’t dignify any of it with a comment.

    Except that I feel constrained to lament the way digital voice enhancements are doing to music what digital image enhancements are doing to pictures. This is why so many singers sound as ugly as so many selfies look without those enhancements, respectively.

    Most performers seem to think the key to success is looking and behaving in a way off stage that makes what they do on stage seem almost irrelevant: Exhibits A and B: Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj.

    By sterling contrast, Adele not only sings like an angel, she might just be the music industry’s saving grace. Unfortunately, this [industry has] so little to do with musical talent these days that Adele performing [on any music awards show is] rather like Andrea Bocelli performing on So You Think You Can Dance.

    (“2011 MTV Video Music Awards,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 30, 2011)

    But this is just the most glaring reason why The Grammys has finally jumped the shark.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, February 7, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Brian Williams Pinocchios His Career…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 8.54.50 AM

    No doubt you’ve heard how superstar anchor Brian Williams has been regaling not just family and friends, but viewers of his top-rated NBC Nightly News over the years with brazen lies about the life-and-death adventures he experienced reporting – everywhere from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina to Iraq during the Gulf War.

    Scrambling to contain a crisis engulfing one of its most prominent on-air personalities, NBC will begin an internal investigation into Brian Williams, the embattled evening news anchor who has admitted he misled the public with a harrowing tale of a forced helicopter landing in Iraq…

    ‘Brian apologized once again, and specifically expressed how sorry he is for the impact this has had on all of you and on this proud organization,’ [Deborah Turness, the president of NBC News] said.

    (New York Times, February 6, 2015)

    This investigation does not bode well for Williams, especially given reports that it will scrutinize, for evidence of dissembling, every report he’s ever filed and every boast he’s ever made throughout his long and, heretofore, enviable career. Investigators are bound to find more than enough to make keeping him in the anchor chair untenable for NBC … journalistically. And mocking references on social media, which will ensure his tall tales live on in infamy, are bound to undermine any attempt to whitewash the results.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 12.14.24 PMGranted, telling lies about his professional adventures does not mean that Williams can’t read the news, which reliable reporters gather and producers script for him to read from a teleprompter. But who wants to be informed about anything by an anchor who has been outed as a serial liar…?

    Except that Williams is probably the most honest news anchor, and NBC the most reliable news network, in broadcast journalism.

    My disdain for what passes for journalism these days is well documented. And CBS’s 60 Minutes, the reputed standard bearer of broadcast journalism, only reinforced my disdain on Sunday when public outrage forced it to issue a pathetic apology for reporting one man’s delusions of grandeur as facts.

    (“Journalism is ‘Having a Very, Very Pathetic Moment,’” The iPINIONS Journal, November 13, 2013)

    So, a plague on all broadcast networks…?

    One could be forgiven for decreeing as much; not least because network news now amounts to little more than repackaging stories already trending on social networks. Indeed, it is as ironic as it is telling that Twitter was all atwitter about Brian’s whoppers long before they became breaking news in the mainstream media, triggering a crisis at NBC.

    Related commentaries:
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    * Cartoon courtesy of David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Star

  • Friday, February 6, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Tiger’s Back, but His Back Won’t Let Him Play?! Puhleeze

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Tiger Woods reveled in the media fanfare that occasioned his return to the PGA tour. In fact, he waxed even more triumphal during his pre-tournament press conference last week than Tom Brady did during his post-Super Bowl press conference this week … after winning the Super Bowl!

    Specifically, Tiger regaled reporters not only about feeling great but also about playing better than he has in 15 years.

    Except that he then proceeded to play the worst opening rounds of his career, and missed the cut. More to the point, as he slinked away in dismay, Tiger admitted that his game fell apart but that his back held up just fine.

    golfNow comes this:

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

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

    (ESPN, February 6, 2015)

    Except that this is the sixth time in his career Tiger has withdrawn from a tournament; and it’s telling that all six withdrawals came after that infamous domestic dispute in November 2009. After all, the back he’s blaming for his premature withdrawals is the same back that, before then, had held up for thirteen years, during which time he not only won more tournaments than any other player on the tour, but had more extramarital affairs than any other husband on the planet to boot.

    I just hope he takes time out from his counseling (marriage and psychological) to practice so that, whenever he returns, there’ll be more public interest in his victories on the tour than in his conquests in the bedroom.

    Fans will readily forgive him of course. But winning tournaments in his inimitable fashion is the only way to eradicate bacchanalian images of his private life from public consciousness – even if not from the tabloids.

    (“Tiger Escapes to Safe Haven,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 14, 2009)

    download (12)Theories abound about why Tiger can’t find his game. Before he took his first swing last week, I pooh-poohed his media triumphalism – in “Tiger’s Back, But He’s Brown, Not Black?!” January 29, 2015 – by noting that he needs to find himself before he can find his game.

    But, as my quote above from “Tiger Escapes…” indicates, I’ve been advancing this theory since day one of his fall from grace … and from the PGA leaderboard. In fact, here is an excerpt from “Tiger, Tiger, Losing Fight,” August 15, 2011, which explains everything, including why Tiger is just using his back to save his face.

    ___________________

    It is impossible to resist engaging in pop psychology to explain why he can’t even buy a win these days. Apropos of this, I cannot help remarking on how delusional Tiger sounded on Friday after what had to have been the most humiliating performance of his professional career:

    It’s a step back in the sense I didn’t make the cut but a giant leap forward in the sense that I played two straight weeks healthy.

    (BBC Sport, August 12, 2011)

    A giant leap forward? Hell, if merely staying healthy, physically, for two straight weeks is a giant leap forward, then actually winning another major might take a miracle…

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

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

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

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

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

    ____________________

    Enough said?

    In fact, unless Tiger wins another major, I shall have nothing further to say about him. In the meantime, I fear we are witnessing the biggest career meltdown/choke in the history of professional sports; soon his poor play will make him look more pathetic than sympathetic. And God help Tiger when his poor play begins evoking more mockery than sympathy.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Thursday, February 5, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    Harper Lee: To Milk a Mockingbird

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    gregory-peck-portrays-attorney-atticus-finch-in-the-1962-film-to-kill-a-mockingbird-b90b03b6d581ac59I enjoyed reading To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s classic 1960 novel about racism and criminal justice in early twentieth-century America, more than any other required reading in high school. And I don’t mind admitting that I found the 1962 film adaptation even more enjoyable; so much so that I’ve watched it over and over again and found enjoyment anew each time.

    Therefore, you’d think I would be among those cheering this week’s breaking news about Lee publishing a purported follow-up novel, Go Set a Watchman, about goings on in the lives of To Kill a Mockingbird’s main characters 20 years later. Except that, having read about the dubious provenance of this sequel, I just feel like jeering.

    To begin with, Go Set a Watchman is reportedly based on a completed manuscript Lee’s editor persuaded her to put aside in order to publish To Kill a Mockingbird. This alone raises far too many obvious, but now unanswerable, questions. Most notably: Why was Go Set a Watchman deemed unworthy of publication back then? And what has changed to make it worthy today … 55 years later?

    _74987389_harper-leeIncidentally, are we supposed to believe that Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird as a prequel but published it as an original, making Go Set a Watchman a novel she wrote as an original but is now publishing as a sequel…? Does that make any sense to you?

    Then, of course, there’s the disqualifying fact that Lee (88) suffered a stroke in 2007, leaving her severely incapacitated and confined to an assisted living home. Which raises all kinds of questions about her fitness to approve publication of this manuscript, assuming she actually wrote it. The publisher is an imprint of HarperCollins called Harper, deceptively enough. But there is simply no way Harper can authenticate any of the words it is ascribing to Lee in these regards.

    This, from a refreshingly skeptical report in yesterday’s Daily Mail, is particularly damning:

    Alice Lee, who died in November at 103, told a reporter before her death that her sister … ‘can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.’

    254F2CA300000578-2938046-image-a-2_1422989572065Lee’s big sister Alice was generally recognized as her most dedicated lawyer, companion, and protector. (Vincent had Theo; Harper had Alice….)

    Yet, just months after Alice’s death, we have young Alabama lawyer Tonja Brooks Carter, who Alice hired right out of law school in 2006, claiming not only that she was the gatekeeper between Lee and the outside world, but also that she just happened to stumble upon the manuscript while sorting through Lee’s archives. But it requires a willing suspension of disbelief to buy her story about suddenly finding what neither Lee nor Alice could for 55 years….

    2579392C00000578-0-image-a-35_1423423457656Again, Lee suffered that stroke within a year of Alice hiring this literary gold digger.

    It was a moment of serendipity that led to the blockbuster literary news, one in which Ms. Carter played a key role, the publisher says.

    (Wall Street Journal Law Blog, February 4, 2015)

    Serendipity? Try jackpot.

    Above all, though, it speaks volumes that, for 50-plus years, Lee declared no intent to publish this “long-lost manuscript” (as the New York Times hails it so disingenuously), or any other work for that matter. What’s more, her publisher can cite no public statement signaling any intent to the contrary; not least because Lee was so reclusive and media averse she made J.D. Salinger look like the Kim Kardashian of literary one-hit wonders.

    Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 11.14.17 PMBut frankly, whatever the provenance, and no matter the publisher’s assurance, here is why I’m not buying the hype about Go Set a Watchman being the fortuitous discovery of a literary masterpiece:

    It occurred to me that, if [producers] could make it appear like Michael had risen from the dead to perform live on stage, they could probably make it sound like he had risen from the dead to record new songs in studio too. This would surely put a new spin on the dubious practice of selling ‘previously recorded but unreleased songs’ after a singer’s death. After all, the reason most songs remain unreleased is that the singer thinks they suck.

    (“More Proof Michael Was Not ‘Gone Too Soon,’” The iPINIONS Journal, June 20, 2014)

    In other words, the reason Go Set a Watchman has remained unpublished all these years is that Lee thinks it sucks. I am cynical enough to believe, however, that this publisher has retained editors to make it read more like Lee than To Kill a Mockingbird does.

    ‘I ain’t cynical, Miss Alexandra. Tellin’ the truth’s not cynical, is it?’

    (To Kill a Mockingbird)

    Moreover, it just strains credulity for those who have conspired to publish this second/first novel to have us believe that:

    Ms. Lee wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of releasing it but was persuaded after a handful of people read it and reassured her it was worth publishing.

    ‘After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication,’ she said.

    (New York Times, February 3, 2015)

    After all, where, pray tell, were these handful of persuasive people for those 55 years, during which Lee surely thought and clearly hesitated….

    Truth be told, I think the greatest literary fraud in the history of publishing is afoot, constituting a brazen betrayal and exploitation of one of America’s most beloved literary figures.

    To their credit, Michael’s executors are up front about their intent to milk songs that he, in his sound mind, clearly did not consider worthy of releasing. Even though not as forthcoming, Lee’s guardians are not as forthcoming, but they are manifesting similar intent to milk this manuscript that she, in her sound mind, clearly did not consider worthy of publishing.

    And that, notwithstanding this:

    People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.

    (To Kill a Mockingbird)

    Wink, wink….

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