The iPINIONS Journal


  • Friday, April 19, 2019 at 6:37 AM

    My Good Friday Sermon

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I grew up the son of a preacher man. One of the things I found most dispiriting about this was having to listen to the same sermon over and over again, knowing full well that my Daddy expected me to be moved by the Holy Spirit anew each time.

    In fact, by the time I was ten, my mind, body, and soul had become inured to “inspired” sermons from the pulpit, all of which I could parrot (almost verbatim) from my church pew. Only the wife of a vainglorious politician could possibly relate.

    Yet I never grew tired of the rituals that attended the Easter season. Indeed, I could never disguise the spirit of suspended animation that got me through it all — even as others affected the countenance each occasion warranted (i.e., by being appropriately maudlin on Good Friday to mourn the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and joyous on Easter Sunday to celebrate his resurrection).

    Never mind that my animated countenance was due entirely to the anticipation of what fun Easter Monday would bring — as the first beach holiday of the year in the Caribbean Commonwealth.

    But oh! the guilt I suffered for supplanting religious pathos with this hedonistic inspiration during Christianity’s holiest days!

    Thank God I deduced before my puberty was in full bloom that He will forgive me: Not only for my sinful thoughts, but also for the diabolical pleasure I derived from playing one of the soldiers who flogged Jesus Christ (as he crawled his way to Golgotha) in the passion plays our Church performed every Easter.

    This brings me to the essence of my Good Friday sermon. I address it particularly to those Christian parents who will force their children to abide church services throughout this weekend, just as my parents forced me to do when I was a child:

    God will forgive the little ones for not getting all worked up each year for the scripted homage to his son’s crucifixion and resurrection. He will even forgive them for not writhing with the Holy Spirit on cue at revivals, at which it seemed only the souls of mischievous children, not those of sinful adults, needed salvation.

    Moreover, he will not ruin their lives if the only spirit that moves them at Easter time is the one they hope will get them to the beach on Easter Monday; trust me!

    Amen.

    goodfridaybThat said, if you really must wallow in the macabre passions of the season, I suggest you watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ today. Because, more than any Easter homily or play, this movie will evoke the funereal emotions and convey (in refreshing and entertaining fashion) the expiatory significance of these familiar words:

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

    (The Holy Bible, John 3:16)

    Given the above, it would probably surprise none of you to learn that the elders of my church damned me to Hell for being a “backsliding reprobate” long ago. But this had more to do with the Pharisaic standards that govern conduct in most churches than any unpardonable sin I may have committed.

    Indeed, I believe it is duly recorded on God’s Heavenly scroll that I am more spiritual, and live a more Christ-like life, than almost all of the tartuffes who bored me to distraction with their sermons in my youth!

  • Thursday, April 18, 2019 at 4:55 PM

    Mueller Report: Obstruction Enough to Make Nixon Blush…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Frankly, nothing in Mueller’s 448-page report should surprise anyone who knows anything about Trump’s presidency. I skimmed enough to know that he merely substantiated what the mainstream media had been reporting, and some of us had been asserting, for years. I finally delineated my assertions in “Mueller Report: No Collusion Conclusion. But Our Long National Nightmare Is Far from Over,” March 25, 2019.

    Therefore, I shall suffice to share what CNN published as the “11 key lines from the Mueller report,” which Attorney General Barr (a.k.a. Trump’s new fixer) finally released today:

    ____________________

    1. Trump campaign ‘expected’ help from Russians but did not conspire
    2. Trump asked campaign aides to find Hillary Clinton’s emails
    3. Mueller ‘does not exonerate’ Trump on obstruction
    4. Aides refused to help efforts to obstruct
    5. Mueller says Congress can pursue investigation of Trump obstruction
    6. Trump’s written answers to Mueller’s questions were ‘inadequate’
    7. Could not prove Trump Jr. ‘willfully’ broke law with Trump Tower meeting
    8. Ivanka and Hope Hicks knew Don Jr. was seeking dirt on Clinton
    9. Trump misled the public on the Trump Tower meeting, but it wasn’t criminal
    10. Sarah Sanders misled the media about the firing of the FBI director
    11. Trump dropped F-bomb after Mueller got the job

    ____________________

    Ironically, the most newsworthy thing about this report was the way Barr channeled Trump to mis-characterize it before releasing it. Most notably, he parroted Trump’s “big lie” about no obstruction. This, even though he knew full well that Mueller cited at least 10 counts.

    If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.

    (“Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election,” Volume II, March 2019)

    Barr should be holding his head in shame. But, like Trump, he clearly has none.

    In fact, Mueller made clear that he felt obligated to honor the DOJ’s ban on indicting a sitting president. This is why he also made a point of exhorting Congress to use its “Article I powers” to hold this rogue president to account.

    Except that this is like a parent telling two two-year-olds to clean up their own mess, which will only result in a bigger mess: Democrats who control the House could easily file articles of impeachment against Trump. But they would need Republicans who control the Senate to convict him. And Republicans now worship Trump like such a Golden Calf, the report could have indicted him on 10 counts of murder and they would still spin themselves into pretzels to exonerate him.

    This means that they’re just going to treat us to sound and fury signifying nothing like nobody has ever seen before. And it will be thus until the 2020 presidential election either finally exonerates Trump or condemns him to a post-presidency purgatory.

    Apropos of which, there’s no denying the damning indictment Mueller lays out against Trump. But the far more consequential indictment is the way the American people have normalized all manner of political lies, obstruction and other high crimes and misdemeanors.

    I would be remiss, however, not to note the way Mueller documents Trump repeatedly scheming to get aides to lie and fire people … to protect him. After all, Trump makes a bullying pretense of being a tough guy. Granted, his notorious cowering in the presence of strongmen like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un betrayed that pretense long ago. But, given the cowardice he displays in this report, Trump should have a capital “C” for coward etched on his forehead.

    That said, enjoy the circus! Trust me, we’ll never see another like it in our lifetime, especially with the inimitable Trump as ringmaster.

    Related commentaries:
    No collusion conclusion
    Golden calf

  • Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at 7:48 AM

    Aping Egypt’s Ouster of Mubarak, Sudan Ousts Bashir

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Sudanese protesters have been forced to block an apparent attempt to break up their sit-in outside the defence ministry in Khartoum, where demonstrators have been pushing for a quick transition to civilian rule after Omar al-Bashir was ousted as president.

    On Thursday, Sudan’s army announced it had removed and detained Bashir after three decades in power and was setting up a transitional military council to run the country [for two years].

    Since then the heads of the council and Sudan’s powerful intelligence services have both been replaced, as protesters have continued to call for change.

    (The Guardian, April 15, 2019)

    We’ve seen this kind of surprising uprising before. And, given how it played out in neighboring Egypt, these Sudanese protesters would do well to take heed.

    No doubt you recall the mass protests of 2011 (a.k.a. the Arab Spring). They triggered the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power … too.  But just the titles to some of my commentaries on what followed there give a sense of what portends in Sudan:

    • “Army Pledges No Force against Protesters,” February 1, 2011;
    • “Protesters Return to Tahrir Square,” June 6, 2012;
    • “Egyptians Continue March Back to the Future,” December 20, 2013;
    • “Egypt’s Arab Spring Spawns Brutal Military Dictatorship,” March 25, 2014;
    • “Egypt Sentences Morsi to Death: Exposes Fecklessness of US Mideast Policy,” May 20, 2015;
    • Sisi Completes Egypt’s Vicious Cycle by Releasing Mubarak,” March 24, 2017; and
    • “Egypt’s Sisi Aping Russia’s Putin to Continue Serving … for Life,” March 26, 2018.

    The first of these turned out to be most prescient, including as it does this sobering and equally relevant observation:

    With all due respect to the protesters, the issue is not whether Mubarak will go, for he will. … The issue is who will replace him. And it appears they have not given any thought whatsoever to this very critical question. …

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

    I fear that, like the Egyptians, the Sudanese will end up replacing one devil with another. I just hope theirs is more benign.  

    In the interim, precarious is the fate of any civilian leader who succeeds Bashir. One need only look at what has befallen Mohamed Morsi.

    He presumed Egypt’s military leaders, including then General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, would allow him to govern according to his historic democratic mandate. But today he’s rotting away in prison – perhaps even thanking Sisi for commuting his death sentence.

    Now president, Sisi is doing all he can to help Sudan install a leader like him. He is clearly doing so because championing “democratic dictatorships” in surrounding countries will help secure his own in Egypt.

    But he’s also doing so in furtherance of a new world order of metastasizing dictatorships – headed by Xi of China and Putin of Russia. Indeed, it’s noteworthy that, like Sisi of Egypt, Déby of Chad is following this China-Russia model of the strongman leading for life. And, like Sudan, both Libya and Algeria have wannabe strongmen now engaged in a deadly battle of wits to emulate Sisi, respectively.

    Meanwhile, President Trump seems more interested in comradery with dictators wielding autocratic power than fraternity with protesters seeking democratic freedoms.

    At the White House today, President Trump hosted his Egyptian counterpart, and the two addressed each other like old friends. That worries human rights groups. The Egyptian government has jailed tens of thousands of people as it cracks down on political activity, and it is trying to tighten state control even further.

    (NPR, April 9, 2019)

    In fairness to Trump, though, the fraternity his predecessor, Barack Obama, showed Egyptian protesters did them no good. This might explain why no Western leader seems even remotely interested in what becomes of Sudan. Of course, Brexit has European leaders so awash in political futility these days, they could be forgiven feelings of utter fecklessness where Sudan is concerned.

    In any case, the result is that, for the first time in modern history, democratic leaders from the West are effectively ceding influence all over Africa to dictatorial leaders from the East.

    That said, I couldn’t be happier to see Bashir ousted. To give a sense of the many reasons why, here is an excerpt from “Alas, the ICC Charging President Bashir of Sudan with Genocide Means Nothing!  July 15, 2008:

    ____________________

    The only reason Bashir has been able to get away with his alleged crimes is that the US has not deemed stopping him a matter of national (economic) interest.

    This raises the question: What is the point of charging him if the ICC has no power to arrest him?

    I submit that the ICC has announced these feckless charges in a vain attempt to assuage the collective guilt of western countries. After all, they did not lift a finger to stop Bashir’s Arab militias from killing over 300,000 black Africans and forcing another 2 million to flee their homes in Darfur. This, because they dared to oppose his Islamic-based government.

    The UN, US, and EU had promised that, never again, would they allow anyone to perpetrate another Rwandan-style genocide in Africa. This genocide made a mockery of that promise.

    ____________________

    Bashir knew he had nothing to fear from the ICC but fear itself. This, especially given the lengths to which even democratic countries like South Africa were willing to go to help him escape justice. I vented dismay in “Abetting Sudan’s Bashir Betrays All That’s Wrong with African Leaders,” June 15, 2015:

    ____________________

    African leaders are beaming with foolish pride today over the way they conspired to help Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir abscond from justice. They perpetrated this conspiracy during an African Union summit in South Africa last weekend. …

    Instead of abetting him, you’d think black African leaders would want to tar and feather Bashir. Except that far too many of them have more in common with him than their own people. None more so than Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe — who has implemented policies and ordered brutal crackdowns that have killed and displaced as many, if not more black Africans during his 35-year dictatorship.

    ____________________

    This is why I cannot blame the people of Sudan for taking matters into their own hands. And I commend the Sudanese Professional Association and other NGOs for coordinating non-violent efforts to keep the eyes of protesters on the prize: a civilian-led government and a re-secularization of the country away from the Islamization Bashir imposed.

    But I fear that, despite making one political concession after another, Sudan’s military leaders will continue to wield the kind of power they did during Bashir’s dictatorship. They have too much vested in seeing another military strongman succeed Bashir – the way Sisi succeeded Mubarak. Again, one need only look at what has become of Egypt’s “civilian-led government.”

    In a similar vein, I fear that, despite pretending to prosecute him, Sudan’s military will make sure Bashir lands with a golden parachute, eventually – the way Egypt’s made sure Mubarak landed, eventually.

    This is why protesters would have banked some consolation if they had completed the job – the way the people of Libya did when they ousted Muammar Gadaffi after four decades in power. I duly commented/celebrated in “Gadaffi Is Dead,” October 21, 2011.

    In any event, I wish the people of Sudan well. And, for what it’s worth, if I were there, I’d be protesting too.

    Related commentaries:
    Sisi completes cycle
    charging Bashir
    Abetting Bashir
    Gaddafi is dead

  • Monday, April 15, 2019 at 2:55 PM

    Notre-Dame Is Burning

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Ode to Esmeralda …

    A few places of worship transcend religion. Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris is one. Indeed, it speaks volumes that it was a must-see even for a convicted apostate like me. As the opening line of this commentary indicates, Victor Hugo’s classic The Hunchback of Notre-Dame inspired my pilgrimage in 1983.

    Yet I cannot put into words the emotions I’m feeling as I watch (helplessly, hopelessly) this devastation unfold:

    A fire has broken out at the famous Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris and has spread rapidly across the building.

    The cause is not yet clear, but officials say that it could be linked to renovation work.

    A major operation to tackle the blaze is under way at the 850-year-old Gothic building, but the cathedral’s spire and roof have collapsed.

    (BBC, April 15, 2019)

    This damage cannot be repaired; nor can it be measured in euros. And I’m not even thinking of all the iconic art and religious relics Notre-Dame housed. Besides, if you’re concerned about such artifacts, you’re probably still bemoaning the far more consequential damage the US invasion of Iraq triggered. No?

    Reports are that the fire broke out after closing. This made it easy to evacuate staff and others who remained in the cathedral. Therefore, as of now, there are no fatalities.

    Even so, I cannot escape flashes of the Twin Towers in New York City burning to the ground. And I’ve had cause to comment too often in recent years on the way disillusioned immigrants and aggrieved workers alike were setting so much of Paris alight. Those commentaries range from “World Beware: French Riots Affect Us All,” November 8, 2005, to “The Yellow Vests: Paris Is Burning … Again,” December 6, 2018.

    Accordingly, the only possible consolation in this case is that restoration efforts, not arson or terrorism, appear to have sparked this fire. But oh! the irony, especially unfolding as it is during this Holy Week of Easter …

    In any event, like so much of Notre-Dame right now, I stand utterly gutted.

    Related commentaries:
    yellow vests

  • Monday, April 15, 2019 at 6:47 AM

    Tiger Masters ‘The Masters’ … Again!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A moment was delivered on Sunday in Augusta, Georgia, that many thought they’d never see again in this lifetime. With a final round 70, Tiger Woods cruised on Sunday to his fifth victory at The Masters. …

    The 2019 Masters victory serves as the 15th major win of Tiger’s career, which now puts him just three back of the legendary Jack Nicklaus (18).

    (CBS Sports, April 14, 2019)

    You don’t have to be a golf fan, or even a sports fan, to appreciate this historic comeback/redemption. Frankly, if you feel no impulse to hail Tiger, you’re either inhuman or have been living under a rock for the past 11 years.

    But, as CBS suggests, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sports analyst who is on record declaring his belief that this day would come. This, because

    1. the humiliation of Tiger’s notorious sex scandal sapped his once-invincible spirit; and
    2. the pain from Tiger’s chronic back injuries hobbled his body.

    The confluence of these two made winning again seem impossible.

    I duly commented on his travails in commentaries like “Tiger’s Wife Serves Him a Fat Lip for Thanksgiving,” November 29, 2009, “Tiger’s Back, but His Back Won’t Let Him Play?! Puhleeze,” February 6, 2015, and “Tiger! Tiger! Driving Drugged,” June 1, 2017. More to the point, though, I laid out the path to his redemption early on in “Tiger Escapes to Safe Haven,” December 14, 2009:

    I just hope he takes time out from his counseling (marriage and psychological) to practice. That way, whenever he returns, there will 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.

    Still, I never doubted this day would come. And I’m on record declaring so as far back as “Tiger! Tiger! Losing Fight,” August 15, 2011, and as recently as “US Open: Tiger Woods Becoming the Hugh Hefner of PGA Players,” Monday, June 18, 2018.

    As the latter indicates, I did so even as I mocked his historic failure to win another major. After all, Jack’s inevitable winless streak on the way to his record-setting 18 majors lasted six years. Tiger’s on the way to his record-chasing 15 lasted eleven.

    The point is that I remained mindful of the great expectations Tiger had for his own career after he won his 14th major in 2008. Here is how I put this into context in that June 2018 commentary cited above:

    ____________________

    Tiger will win again; and not just some rinky-dink tournament, but a major. The problem is that Tiger himself made surpassing Jack’s 18 majors the standard by which we should judge his career.

    Tiger knows better than anyone that he will not be able to fully redeem his professional reputation until he wins another 5 majors (i.e., from among the Masters in April, US Open in June, British Open in July, and PGA Championship in August).

    (“Tiger Won…Finally,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 5, 2011)

    ____________________

    Apropos of which, what I noted in that August 2011 commentary – also cited above – puts today’s win into further context:

    To appreciate how difficult it is for one player to dominate the majors the way Tiger did, bear in mind that 13 different players have won the last 13 major championships.

    In a similar vein, bear in mind that no single golfer has won more than three majors over the past decade. And Tiger needs to win three more just to tie Jack’s record.

    Well, as much as I believed this day would come, I do not believe that day ever will.

    But, hey, today is a day to celebrate. Let us rejoice and be happy for Tiger…and for golf!

    Related commentaries:
    Tiger’s wife
    Tiger driving drugged
    Tiger escapes
    Tiger’s back
    Tiger becoming Hef
    Tiger losing fight

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 7:39 p.m.

  • Saturday, April 13, 2019 at 7:07 AM

    World Press Photo of the Year!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As it happens, I featured this photo in “Separating Migrant Children from Parents. This Is America…Too!” June 20, 2018.

    Its plainly heartrending nature compelled me to begin that commentary as follows:

    On too many occasions in the course of human events, man’s inhumanity to man provokes commentaries that inflame passions more than shed light. This is one of those occasions. But I hope what follows sheds light more than inflames passions.

    Given that, this comes as no surprise:

    A viral image of a crying Honduran child at the U.S.-Mexico border has won the 2019 World Press Photo contest’s Photo of the Year prize.

    The Amsterdam-based World Press Photo Foundation announced the winners of the annual awards on Thursday, honoring the best photojournalism of the prior year.

    (Huffington Post, April 12, 2019)

    Except that no viral images have shown more heartrending depictions of human migration than those of Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Not least because, instead of children crying, those images often showed them dying.

    What’s more, I have been bemoaning such images for years. I refer you to such commentaries as “Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem,” October 7, 2013, and “Europeans Erecting Fences to Maintain Good Relations with African Neighbors,” October 8, 2005.

    Which raises the question: Why did this image of a crying Honduran girl at the US-Mexico border win the Photo of the Year prize, but no image of any dying African child in the Mediterranean Sea ever did?

    Related commentaries:
    separating migrant children
    Lampedusa tragedy
    Europeans erecting fences..

  • Friday, April 12, 2019 at 7:57 AM

    My New Book!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Book review: The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events of 2018 by Anthony L Hall

    Reprinted from Caribbean News Now

    By Caribbean News Now contributor

    Around this time each year, Anthony L Hall, a weekly op-ed columnist for Caribbean News Now, delivers a collection of his frequently outspoken and controversial thoughts and opinions concerning the preceding political year and this year is no exception, with the publication of “The iPINIONS Journal Volume XIV – Commentaries on the Global Events of 2018”.

    Once again, Hall has connected a diverse list of compelling world events, immensely varied and of the utmost significance to anyone concerned in global events and politics. Delving straight into it in his introduction, the author addresses the unprecedented risks many journalists are taking these days to defend the news against “the war on truth,” the sensational murder of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and that no person had greater influence on the global events of 2018 than President Donald Trump.

    Apart from his commentaries on Trump, Hall covers a truly extensive and varied set of topics covering all continents; his sections including Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas and, of course, a large part on the United States alone. This comes before he delves even further into The Global Sphere, Sports and Entertainment.

    Within his sections and chapters, there is much weighty material to digest, he displays sound writing on topics such as Brexit, the yellow vest protests in Paris, the political crisis in Venezuela, Russia taunting Britain with brazen assassinations, the Venezuelan situation, confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to United States Supreme Court, Special Counsel Mueller’s Russian investigation and the ban on Muslims entering the United States.

    In the sports section, Hall gives witty “iPINIONS” on the world of sports from the NBA, Danica Patrick, Tiger Woods, the Stanley Cup, Kentucky Derby, the Winter Olympics and other milestones in 2018.

    In the entertainment section, Jay-Z gets political and criticized Trump for taking credit for lowering black unemployment, which led to a war of words between the rap mogul and Trump on Twitter. Hall also gave his views on Jay-Z being snubbed at the Grammys.

    Without a doubt, all of the bases are covered in “The iPINIONS Journal Volume XIV”, which contains useful information combined with clever opinions for any booklover, as Anthony Hall flexes his in-depth understanding and wide-ranging awareness on a seemingly infinite range of worldwide matters.

    Hall sets the stage in his introduction which uniquely qualifies him to voice his “iPINIONS” on diverse world events:

    “I grew up in the Caribbean; I attended schools in the United States and England; I have degrees in political economics and law; I am licensed to practice in four foreign jurisdictions; and I have traveled extensively. All of this gives me a relatively unique perspective on global events and frames my commentaries.”

    This is a highly recommended go to book for all those that are yearning to stay well-versed and informed on global events, politics, sports and entertainment.

    The iPINIONS Journal Volume XIV – Commentaries on the Global Events of 2018 is available at all major booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

    AUTHOR’S NOTE: Caribbean News Now is the most widely read newspaper in the Caribbean, my home region. I have been one of its featured columnists for nearly 15 years. It also syndicates my commentaries to other news outlets across the world wide web.

    Chances are you are one of the many readers who have contacted me over the years to share your surprise at coming across one of my commentaries in some nether region of the Internet. Never mind that far too many news organizations republish them without permission.

  • Thursday, April 11, 2019 at 8:47 AM

    UK Arrests Wikileaker Julian Assange (for Extradition to US) … Finally!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A little background on this international farce seems warranted. Accordingly, here is what I wrote nearly eight years ago in “Ecuador Grants Wikileaker Julian Assange Asylum … in London,” August 20, 2012:

    ____________________

    Such is the nature of groupthink among Western commentators that you’d be hard-pressed to find any who oppose, as I do, Ecuador’s decision to grant Julian Assange asylum. The nature of his alleged sexual offenses [against two Swedish women] warrants prosecution. …

    To be fair, Assange maintains that he does not fear criminal prosecution in Sweden. He fears that, if extradited, Sweden will promptly extradite him to the United States to face the death penalty for publishing a treasure trove of classified government documents on his infamous site, WikiLeaks.

    But I hasten to clarify that, if extradited, tried, and convicted under the Espionage Act, Assange would be sentenced to prison, not death. After all, the United States stopped executing people for espionage decades ago. It’s also instructive that prosecutors have already declared they will not be seeking the death penalty against Bradley Manning, the US soldier who stole those classified documents for Assange.

    This is why the only issue here is whether Ecuador – in the person of its wannabe-Chávez president, Rafael Correa – can be allowed to frustrate Britain’s obligation under international law to extradite Assange to Sweden to face charges for crimes he allegedly committed there. I say no. …

    I am stupefied that so many Western commentators are standing in solidarity with Assange. Not least because they are doing so at the expense of his alleged victims who have been waiting for years for this narcissistic, self-righteous crusader to be brought to justice. …

    In the meantime, the world is being treated to a Mexican standoff. There’s no way Ecuador can sneak him out of the embassy, let alone the country; therefore, Assange could be inside for a very long time. …

    That said, if Assange were exposing government corruption or activities that betray the public trust, I would be his most ardent supporter. But he’s leading a foolhardy and untenable crusade for ‘complete transparency’ in diplomatic relations. Instead of winning converts, this will only ensure that diplomats will be even more secretive in their dealings to avoid even the remotest possibility of being ‘exposed.’…

    But it’s truly mind-boggling that his supporters do not even seem concerned that Assange’s cult-like mission has ruined the careers and endangered the lives of scores of innocent diplomats.

    ____________________

    Incidentally, here is how Sweden rationalized the shameless triumph of Assange’s defiance over the rule of law in this case:

    Swedish prosecutors have dropped their preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, bringing an end to a seven-year legal standoff.

    ‘In order to proceed with the case, Julian Assange would have to be formally notified of the criminal suspicions against him. We cannot expect to receive assistance from Ecuador regarding this.’

    (The Guardian, May 19, 2017)

    What’s more,  from the day Assange absconded, the media covered him more like a celebrated political dissident than the disgraced fugitive rapist he was. I duly vented my disgust in commentaries like “Hey Media, Wikileaker Assange Is Still a Self-Promoting, Bail-Jumping Rape Suspect,” August 29, 2016.

    That said, you might wonder why Ecuador is finally giving him up. Well, here’s why:

    Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno traveled to London on Friday for the ostensible purpose of speaking at the 2018 Global Disability Summit. … The concealed actual purpose of the president’s trip is to meet with British officials to finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange, in place since 2012; eject him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London; and then hand over the WikiLeaks founder to British authorities.

    [A]s former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told The Intercept in an interview in May, Moreno’s government has returned Ecuador to a highly ‘subservient’ and ‘submissive’ posture toward Western governments.

    (The Intercept, July 21, 2018)

    But elections have consequences! Donald Trump demonstrates this every day – even to the dismay and regret of an increasing number of his supporters.

    Yet nobody could have imagined Lenín would play Ecuador’s international trump card, which Assange personifies, so differently. After all, he not only shared Correa’s leftist bona fides, but was hailed as Correa’s protégé.

    This is why Lenín’s shift to the right is causing as much dismay and regret at home as surprise and delight abroad. Nothing is more alarming with respect to this shift at home than his decision to investigate all of his former comrades, including Correa himself, for corruption.

    More to the point, though, nothing is more alarming with respect to this shift abroad than his decision to allow British police to do this:

    WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has been arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London [They literally dragged him out in handcuffs kicking and screaming]. …

    Ecuador’s president said it withdrew his asylum after repeated violations of international conventions. But WikiLeaks tweeted that Ecuador had acted illegally in terminating Mr Assange’s political asylum ‘in violation of international law’.

    (BBC, April 11, 2019)

    No doubt this self-entitled SOB acted over the past seven years as if he were doing embassy staff a coveted favor by allowing them to provide refuge for him.

    Far more interesting, though, is Lenín’s shift. Because this is like Mike Pence succeeding Donald Trump and proceeding not only to order criminal investigations into Trump’s misdeeds, but also to revoke every executive order Trump signed to roll back President Obama’s orders – on everything from healthcare to immigration.

    That said, I know enough about the extradition process to know that it could be years before the US gets hold of Assange. For example, the infamous case of Islamists al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary took 14 years.

    Apropos of which, when he was CIA director, now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear that the United States sees little difference between Assange and these Islamists.

    ‘It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is — a nonstate, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,’ CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday.

    Pompeo went as far as to lambast WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as a ‘darling’ of terrorist groups, saying a member of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) recently thanked Assange on social media for ‘providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned.’

    (Voice of America, April 13, 2017)

    Mind you, this terrorist designation holds notwithstanding the open and notorious collusion Trump had with WikiLeaks during his presidential campaign. Indeed, unlike Sweden, the United States seems prepared to wait until Hell freezes over to get Assange.

    Prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia unsealed a conspiracy charge against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. …

    The case accuses Assange of conspiring to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer when working with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, who released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and war logs in 2010.

    (The Washington Post, April 11, 2019)

    In any event, Assange seems fated to spend the rest of his life in prison. And, to that I say, good riddance!

    Related commentaries:
    Ecuador grants asylum
    Hey media

  • Tuesday, April 9, 2019 at 7:50 AM

    The End of March Madness: Hail, Women of Baylor, Men of Virginia!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Organizers hype the annual NCAA Division 1 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments as “March Madness.” They do so to exploit “the thrill of victory and agony of defeat” of watching low-seeded teams (a.k.a. Cinderellas) upset top-seeded ones — often with buzzer-beating hail marys. Unfortunately, the tournaments rarely live up to this hype, respectively.

    True to form, the women’s did not: On one side of the bracket, both top-seed Baylor and second-seed Iowa made it to the Final Four; on the other side, both top-seed Notre Dame and second-seed Stanford made it. There was not a Cinderella in sight.

    The men’s, however, provided a little more drama in this respect: On one side of the bracket, top-seed Duke did not even make it to the Final Four. This, despite the best efforts of Zion Williamson – who the media were hyping as so dominant, he looked like LeBron James playing against high-school kids.

    In fact, Virginia was the only top seed – in any of the four regions – to make it. The others were second-seed Michigan, third-seed Texas Tech, and fifth-seed Auburn.

    Mind you

    I decided years ago to forego the cheap thrill of filling out brackets and feigning agony as my picks got knocked off like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery. Granted, if I were still an indentured servant at a big law firm, I would’ve welcomed the respite from drudgery, which Bracketology for office pools provides. The aim is clearly not to guess the result of each game; it’s to see whose bracket sustains the least number of casualties throughout the tournament.

    (“NCAA March Madness — and Then There’s the Women of UConn,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 30, 2017)

    As the title to that March 2017 commentary indicates, I’ve been trying for years to draw more media attention to the women’s game. Unfortunately, what I wrote in this regard a decade ago remains as relevant today as it was back then.

    Here is my forlorn pleading from “UConn Routs Louisville to Win NCAA (Women’s) Championship,” April 8, 2009:

    ____________________

    Instead of commanding network coverage in primetime, like the men’s tournament final, the women’s was relegated to cable last night, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. TV executives wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league — the WNBA. Well, it might have something to do with the way they keep dissing women’s college basketball in this fashion.

    Moreover, what does this disparate coverage say to female college athletes, as well as to young girls, who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys? Frankly, it says that chauvinism, sexism, and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated.

    ____________________

    Sure enough, chances are that, on Sunday night, you were binge watching a series on Netflix or zombie watching American Idol, World of Dance, or the 54th Annual Academy of Country Music Award on network TV. This, while teams in this year’s women’s final were putting on the most exciting performance in sports in decades. But, again, they were doing so in the proverbial wilderness on cable TV.

    It was a rematch seven years in the making as No. 1 Baylor and No. 1 Notre Dame squared off in the national championship for the first time since 2011-12.

    This time around, the top seeded Fighting Irish were hoping to defend their title and take down the Bears — a feat they weren’t able to accomplish in their first title meeting. But, history would repeat itself as the Kim Mulkey-led Bears claimed their third national championship with an 82-81 win.

    (The Sporting News, April 7, 2019)

    I clearly couldn’t care less who won. In hindsight, though, I wish it were Notre Dame. This, because I was so heartened by the clarion call head coach Muffet McGraw made last week. After vowing henceforth to hire only female assistants, she called on coaches and athletic directors across all college and professional sports to do the same.

    Her laughable first name notwithstanding, McGraw offered this very serious reason for doing so:

    I’m getting tired of the novelty of … the first female governor of this state … the first female African-American mayor of this city. When is it going to become the norm instead of the exception?

    When you look at men’s basketball and 99 percent of the jobs go to men, why shouldn’t 100 or 99 percent of the jobs in women’s basketball go to women? … People hire people who look like them … that’s the problem.

    (NPR, April 6, 2019)

    In a similar vein, McGraw might have railed against the unfairness of college athletes generating fat paychecks for everyone associated college sports, including her, while being unable to even afford tickets for their parents to watch them play.

    As it happens, I’ve been in the vanguard of those calling for the NCAA to pay all “student athletes.” It should pay them commensurate with the revenues they generate for their respective colleges.

    I’ve delineated my argument for this in many commentaries, including “Student Athletes Make Billions (for Colleges) but Most Graduate Poor…and Dumb,” January 16, 2014, “Salaries of College Coaches Reflect Enduring Master-Slave Relationships,” October 28, 2016, and “Reggie Bush Forfeits Heisman Trophy,” September 16, 2010.

    In that last commentary, I pooh-poohed the manifest fraud of insisting that big-time college basketball and football are still amateur sports. Interestingly enough, the NCAA formed a special committee recently to redress the root causes of this fraud.

    ‘The recent news of a federal investigation into fraud in college basketball made it very clear the NCAA needs to make substantive changes to the way we operate, and do so quickly,’ [NCAA president Mark] Emmert said. …

    Emmert and the NCAA have put together a committee that will be chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice … to rework the sport’s weaknesses.

    (CBS Sports, October 11, 2017)

    It’s an open secret that much of this fraud stems from third parties paying student athletes crumbs under the table. Yet this committee’s recommendations did not even address the indentured servitude inherent in players generating so much for so little. In truth, its recommendations made about as much sense as blaming lapses in policing for the scourge of drugs in American society.

    And, as if all that is not damning enough, there’s this unfolding scandal:

    Lawyer Michael Avenatti continued to attack Nike on Monday, accusing the sports apparel giant of engaging in bribery in order to entice top college athletes into lucrative contracts and reprising a previous claim involving Duke University star Zion Williamson. …

    ‘For years, Nike and its executives have been funneling payments to amateur players, high school players, and to their handlers and family members, in an effort to get them to go to colleges that were ‘Nike colleges’ and ultimately to …. sign a shoe deal with Nike,’ Avenatti recently told CBS News’ Jericka Duncan.

    (CBS Sports, April 8, 2019)

    Truth be told, Avenatti has a well-earned reputation for being a grandstanding, self-aggrandizing shyster. But the reason his accusations against Nike resonate is that they seem more systemic than shocking.

    More to the point, though, Avenatti is only pissing on our cause and throwing poor, mostly black college athletes (and their parents) under the bus. And he’s reportedly doing this because Nike refused his extortion demand for over $20 million to keep these wink-wink payoffs secret.

    Michael Avenatti, a high-profile attorney and critic of President Trump, was arrested in New York on Monday and charged in what prosecutors called a brazen bid to extort millions of dollars from Nike by threatening to damage the company’s image.

    Simultaneously, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles filed separate charges accusing Avenatti of wire fraud and bank fraud, alleging that he took a client’s settlement money and used it to cover costs related to Avenatti’s coffee shop business and other personal expenses. Avenatti is accused of concealing from the client where the money was.

    (The Washington Post, March 25, 2019)

    Like I said, this man is an incorrigible shyster who makes my profession seem even more disreputable than stereotypes suggest.

    Meanwhile, last night’s men’s final played out on network TV. This assured the game of so many viewers, it made those who scavenged the night before to watch the women’s seem like members of a sports cult.

    But frankly, I have already said all I care to about the men’s tournament. Not to mention that the nature of college sports is such that anyone who attended college fancies himself an expert. This is why commenting on the game itself – even by professional sports analysts – has the drowning impact of tossing a pebble into the ocean.

    Therefore, in the spirit of Coach McGraw, I shall suffice to give the men’s tournament this short shrift:

    A year after exiting the court as a picture of embarrassment, the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in the men’s N.C.A.A. tournament, Virginia left wearing a crown on Monday night.

    The Cavaliers defeated Texas Tech, 85-77, in overtime for the university’s first national basketball championship, which carried with it immeasurable redemption.

    (The New York Times, April 8, 2019)

    But I’d be remiss, perhaps even disloyal, if I fail to acknowledge that the Cavaliers hail from my home state. So rah rah for the home team, eh.

    Congratulations to Baylor and Virginia!

    Related commentaries:
    NCAA 2018
    Indentured servitude

  • Monday, April 8, 2019 at 7:36 AM

    Parents in College Admissions Scandal: It’s Really About Them, Not the Kids

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Professional commentators often give me cause to wonder if they’re plagiarizing my commentaries. (I know this makes me seem even more immodest than usual.)

    But that wonder usually amounts to no more than a pause. This was not the case, however, with my commentary on “Operation Varsity Blues.” That of course was the sensational sting that netted helicopter parents paying bribes to land their social-media kids at elite colleges.

    With all due respect to their spoiled-and-entitled kids, the parents’ motivation is the most interesting part of this still-unfolding scandal. Most commentators took at face value that they were just scheming to get their kids the best education money could buy. But I suggested that their motivation was far more perverse and less parental.

    Here is what I wrote about them in ‘Varsity Blues’ Exposes Deviant Strain of Affirmative Action for Rich White Students,” March 14, 2019:

    ____________________

    Meanwhile, memes on social media are mocking the irony of these parents spending millions and risking prison for kids who clearly don’t even belong in college. No doubt it’s crazy that parents go to such ridiculous, even illegal, extremes to get their kids into the best colleges.

    But I submit they do so for the same narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, and materialistic reason they throw their kids the most lavish birthday parties and wedding receptions; namely for nothing more than bragging rights among their social set (i.e., the idiomatic keeping up with the Joneses). It’s really all about them.

    And it’s no wonder their kids are turning out to be just as narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, and materialistic. This is why so many of them only “wannabe” Instagram influencers like Kylie (i.e., keeping up with the Kardashians).

    ____________________

    Frankly, the media are not paying enough attention to this angle of the story. This is why I was so encouraged when no less a commentator than Amanda Hess of The New York Times, echoed my take.

    Here is what she wrote nearly two weeks later in “People Don’t Bribe College Officials to Help Their Kids. They Do It to Help Themselves,” March 27, 2019:

    ____________________

    I can’t know what discussions the Giannulli family may have had about Olivia Jade’s future, but honestly: How important is it for a person like her to attend a fancy university, other than to satisfy her elders?…

    If an elite school is a branding exercise, that brand is perhaps more valuable to rich parents than to rich kids. … [T]hey’ve fudged the results so they can drop ‘U.S.C.’ in conversations instead of ‘A.S.U.’

    ____________________

    Plagiarism? No, just imitation … the sincerest form of flattery.

    In any event, nothing betrayed how much this scandal is really all about the parents quite like the way Jade’s mother, B-list actor Lori Loughlin, showed up for her command appearance in court last week.

    Because she acted as if she were attending the red-carpet screening of a Hollywood blockbuster – complete with her not just waving and smiling to rubbernecking pedestrians but even stopping to sign autographs.

    How’s that for “spoiled and entitled” … and utterly clueless?

    Related commentaries:
    varsity blues

  • Saturday, April 6, 2019 at 7:09 AM

    Barr’s take on Mueller Report? Evidently, his take on ‘War and Peace’ was a big clue

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The New York Times and Washington Post reported that some of Mueller’s investigators were frustrated about the limited information Barr included in his four-page summary [of Mueller’s 400-page report] submitted to Congress on March 24.

    Members of the special counsel’s team complained to associates that the evidence they compiled on whether Trump obstructed justice was ‘alarming and significant.’

    Both news outlets noted that Mueller’s team had prepared its own summaries of the report, expecting that they would be publicly released and were disappointed when they weren’t.

    (CNN, April 4, 2019)

    “While I appreciate that you’ve turned your book report in early,

    ‘It’s about war and peace’ doesn’t cut it.”

    Related commentaries:
    Mueller report

  • Monday, April 1, 2019 at 8:04 AM

    The Americas: China Encroaching, Migrants Caravanning, US Retreating, CARICOM Flailing, Venezuela Failing, Russia Reclaiming… It’s All a Trumpian Mess!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [Note: I have written 4,135 commentaries on this weblog over the past 15 years. What follows is the longest by far … Reports are that even a 33-character tweet tests the attention span of most people these days. Therefore, I fully appreciate how daring (or foolish) it is to publish this 21,000-character commentary. And no, this is no April Fool’s Day joke.

    As the title indicates, this commentary led inexorably into so many geopolitical streams, the length was unavoidable. In deference to your attention span, however, I won’t publish another commentary this week. So read this one in bits … if that’s what it takes.]

    China Encroaching

    Ever since the end of the Cold War, China’s influence supplanting America’s has defined the geopolitics of the Americas. This, in furtherance of China’s manifest destiny to change the global balance of power, which has already seen it encroach on America’s sphere of influence on every continent.

    America predicated its influence on cultivating shared values. China predicates its influence on manipulating mutual interests.

    For example, China has induced nearly every developing country to betray diplomatic relations with Taiwan. And, in most cases, it did so by offering to finance everything from sports stadiums and resort hotels to deep-water ports and other development projects.

    ‘Nearly every island in the Caribbean, from the smallest on up, currently has a substantial investment from China,’ said David Jessop, managing director of the Caribbean Council, a London-based consultancy that works with Caribbean governments. ‘It seems that what nobody knows is what is motivating China.’

    (Public Radio International, April 21, 2011)

    Except that it does not take an expert in geopolitics to figure out “what is motivating China.” Even I have been writing/warning about its motivation for years.

    Here, for example, is the alarm I sounded over a decade ago in “China Buying Political Dominion over the Caribbean (Latin America and Africa),” February 22, 2005:

    ____________________

    Vice President Zeng Qinghong is expected to consolidate China’s geopolitical strategy of co-opting the economies of the Caribbean. He reveled in the Santa Claus-like reception he got at every port of call during his tour of the region.

    However, allusions to Christopher Columbus might be more fitting. Because the Chinese search for new markets is really a quest for dominion. And, with massive direct investments and Chinese tourists boosting visits to unprecedented levels, China will soon become indispensable to countries throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa. Naturally, this would enable China to exercise unprecedented and unchallengeable political influence. …

    What happens if China decides that converting the container ports, factories, and chemical plants it has funded throughout the Caribbean into dual military and commercial use is in its geostrategic interest? Would these countries comply? Would they have any real choice? And when they do comply, would the U.S. then blockade the island(s) at issue, namely the way it blockaded Cuba during the Missile Crisis?

    Now consider China making similar strategic moves in Latin America where its purportedly benign Yuan diplomacy dwarfs its Caribbean operations. This new Cold War could then turn very hot indeed.

    ____________________

    I continued my Cassandra-like warnings in many subsequent commentaries, including “China Putting Squeeze on The Bahamas. Your Country Could Be Next,” October 22, 2010, “China’s Deficit? No Moral Authority to Lead,” November 16, 2011, and “China Invading US Sphere of Influence in Caribbean,” April 11, 2012, which includes this fateful assessment:

    The United States ended up on its costly 10-year misadventure in Afghanistan because it left its flank exposed in that region after helping the Afghan Mujahideen defeat the Soviet Union. Now it seems doomed to end up on another costly, even if less bloody, misadventure. This time in the Caribbean (to reclaim its sphere of influence from China) because it left its flank exposed in that region after winning the Cold War.

    Stupid Americans … they’ll never learn.

    America has been preoccupied with Vietnam-style wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the past 18 years. This provided the perfect opportunity for China to supplant it as a superpower patron to countries not just throughout the Americas but around the world.

    More to the point, America wasted trillions fighting those unwinnable wars. But its political and security interests would have been far better served if it had spent just a fraction of that amount on development projects in its own backyard.

    That said, developing countries could be forgiven for seeing China’s direct investments not as a gift horse but as a Trojan horse, which I fear many of its foreign direct investments will turn out to be. Just ask Sri Lanka:

    Every time Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned to his Chinese allies for loans and assistance with an ambitious port project, the answer was yes.

    [But] Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.

    The transfer gave China control of territory just a few hundred miles off the shores of a rival, India, and a strategic foothold along a critical commercial and military waterway.

    (The New York Times, June 25, 2018)

    I warned poor countries about such structured debt traps in commentaries like “World Beware: China Calling In (Loan-Sharking) Debts,” February 3, 2010 and “Countries Queuing Up to Become as Indebted to China as US,” September 15, 2011.

    Yet still I had cause to bemoan its adhesive debt-collection tactics in “China Using Loans to ‘Colonize’ Developing World,” August 20, 2018.

    President Trump is utterly clueless about practically every geopolitical issue. But he seems to have an idiot savant’s understanding that China poses as many challenges to America’s economic power today as the Soviet Union posed to its military power during the Cold War.

    Except that every US president proved eminently capable of dealing with the challenges the Soviet Union posed. But Trump seems uniquely incapable of dealing with those China poses: Exhibit A is the self-defeating trade war he launched nearly a year ago.

    President Trump insists that his trade war will make America better off. … But it is small-business owners like Mr. Vari, and his customers, who are largely footing the bill for Mr. Trump’s tariffs. …

    While details [of a trade agreement] are still being discussed, the agreement does not appear to require the sweeping changes to China’s economy that prompted Mr. Trump to begin the trade war.

    (The New York Times, March 4, 2019)

    Duh.

    Meanwhile, this trade war is being surpassed in its harebrained fecklessness by Trump insisting that his public wooing of Kim Jong-un will get North Korea to denuclearize. Reports are that Trump has only succeeded in showing the world that this malevolent dictator is actually more affable, likable, and sensible than he. But I digress …

    Migrants Caravanning

    America is facing a seemingly intractable migration crisis on the US-Mexico border. But, as I asserted above, it could have avoided this crisis. It only needed to spend relatively little time and money in recent years helping countries in Central America combat the root causes, most notably chronic poverty and gang violence. Not least because the latter is often related to the trafficking of drugs that end up hooking and killing thousands of Americans each year.

    I wrote at length about the manifest necessity of engaging in this combat in “Separating Migrant Children from Parents. This Is America … Too!” June 20, 2018, and “Despite Trump, This Migrant Caravan Must Be Stopped!” October 22, 2018.

    I duly criticized Trump for failing to deal with this migration crisis. But I also criticized his Democratic critics for failing to delineate steps they would take to stem the untenable and unsustainable flow of migrants. However, those commentaries are still so fresh, I see no point in elaborating.

    US Retreating

    For reasons we now understand all too well, America’s xenophobic and impetuous president has just made this migration crisis much worse:

    In a stunning about-face, State Department officials said that President Donald Trump is cutting off all direct assistance to the so-called Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

    These three countries are the primary source of migrants to the U.S.

    (ABC News, March 30, 2019)

    In typical Captain-Chaos fashion, Trump tweeted this about-face less than 48 hours after his secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen M. Nielsen, signed a “first-of-its-kind” regional agreement in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

    ‘I look forward to implementing this historic agreement and working with my Northern Triangle counterparts to help secure all of our nations and to end the humanitarian and security crisis we face,’ said Nielsen.

    The MOC – the first ever multilateral compact on border security – aims to better synchronize cooperation between the countries in order to bolster border security, prevent the formation of new migrant caravans, and address the root causes of the migration crisis through better synchronized efforts.

    (Department of Homeland Security, Press Release: March 28, 2019)

    This agreement makes clear why cutting off direct assistance would be tantamount to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. The consequences would be devastating. Yet they would pale in comparison with those that would befall both the United States and all of Central America if Trump follows through on his boy-who-cried-wolf threat to close the US-Mexico border this week.

    Foremost, don’t be surprised if the leader in each of those Northern Triangle countries reacts with his own version of Fidel Castro’s Mariel boatlift. I warned about this in “Despite Trump, This Migrant Caravan Must Be Stopped!” October 22, 2018, which I referenced above at “Migrants Caravanning.”

    You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

    CARICOM Flailing

    Much is being made of the ham-handed meeting Trump held with CARICOM leaders on March 22 at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

    Among the attendees were Prime Minister Allen Chastanet of Saint Lucia, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis of The Bahamas, Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica, and President Jovenel Moise of Haiti, all CARICOM member states, along with President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic.

    One of the potential results of the meeting involving US investment drew the ire of [Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston] Browne, and he stated that it was apparent that CARICOM’s solidarity is being undermined by those who are also determined to relegate the region to an object of history.

    ‘The irony about all this, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is already operating in these countries, and China offers better credit terms: developmental loans over 20 years at 2 percent interest with a five-year moratorium,’ Browne contended.

    (Caribbean News Now, March 27, 2019)

    Frankly, I find the ire this meeting incited bemusing. Not least because it manifested in other CARICOM leaders calling those who attended everything from weak-minded dupes to high-minded traitors.

    No doubt their meeting with Trump would have been far more effective if they were speaking with one regional voice. Indeed, regional leaders founded CARICOM precisely to leverage their collective influence in dealings with major powers like the United States, China, and the European Union.

    Except that anyone who knows anything about CARICOM knows that, as sensible as such solidarity would be, its leaders have never shown it to any significant degree. I have written many commentaries lamenting this fact. But here is how I crystallized my lamentation in “CARICOM and Its Groundhog Meetings,” February 21, 2013:

    ____________________

    The Heads had discussions on redoubling integration efforts, strengthening regional crime and security measures, bolstering regional trade, preserving tax haven status consistent with extraterritorial demands from the United States, among other items.

    But I know all too well that, despite the seriousness of these matters, discussions on them hold no real consequences. For nothing has distinguished CARICOM throughout its forty-year history quite like the failure of lofty words to find habitation in actual deeds.

    From day one, for example, the Heads spoke of the ‘free movement of skills and professional persons’ as a founding, fundamental principle. Yet, since then, more discussions have been held at CARICOM meetings on ways to limit such free movement than on ways to facilitate it.

    I am mindful that my take on this legacy of futility is hardly authoritative. Therefore, I trust you will find it instructive to know that no less a person than Edwin Carrington, former Secretary-General of CARICOM (1992-2010), felt constrained to lament the following in June 2001 – more than 35 years into ‘the ongoing project we call the CARICOM Single Market and Economy’ and its precursor, the Caribbean Free Trade Agreement:

    I am convinced that the dream which was shared by our predecessors of CARICOM being a people and a region united in a common bond promised a great deal which has not yet been achieved.

    (ANSA MACAL Breakfast, CARICOM Secretariat, June 22, 2001)

    In other words, despite decades of groundhog meetings like the one it held in Haiti this week, Hell will freeze over before CARICOM fulfills its founding promise of regional integration. And all indications are that Carrington’s lament is as relevant today as it was when he made it 13 years ago.

    ____________________

    This is why criticisms in this case seem born more of jealousy than principle.

    Frankly, I doubt there’s a single CARICOM leader who would have rejected an invitation to attend this meeting. And I say this with all due respect to head critic St. Vincent and Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. Honoring Trump’s invitation was, and will always be, the right thing to do.

    Here is just one foreboding illustration of why that is the case:

    The Supreme Court upheld Trump’s ban on travel to the United States from Muslim countries. Therefore, this notoriously thin-skinned racist does not even need a colorable pretext to ban all travel from CARICOM countries. Just imagine the disruption that would cause to the lives of all who live in the Caribbean.

    In truth, China could invest 1000 times more than the United States throughout the region. Yet nobody residing there would want to even countenance life without the relative ease of being able to shop, vacation, and attend school in the United States.

    Moreover, if Trump ordered such a ban, it would not take long for every CARICOM country to become even more of a dysfunctional basket case than Venezuela is today. And, as our Haitian brothers and sisters will attest, we would not be able to seek refuge by walking into neighboring countries the way 3 million Venezuelans have already done.

    Not to mention that the people of any CARICOM country would not tolerate, for one month, their leader inflicting upon them the dire straits Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has inflicted upon his people for years.

    Venezuela Failing

    Reports are that Trump met with CARICOM leaders to ensure their support as he escalates his Mexican standoff with Maduro. The tipping point in this standoff came in late January. That’s when Trump

    • recognized Venezuela’s National Assembly leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader, providing cover for most other Western leaders to do the same but obliging the leaders of China and Russia to declare their continuing support for Maduro; and
    • demanded that Maduro must go, drawing the kind of red line he criticized former President Obama for drawing with respect to Syria, when he demanded that Assad must go.

    [Trump] promised them that a high-level delegation from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation [OPIC], the U.S. development lender, would visit their nations in the next 90 days, the White House said. …

    [CARICOM] has officially advocated for talks between President Nicolas Maduro and Guaido, and most of its members have rejected resolutions by the Organization of American States supporting Guaido. The backing of the five for Guaido led to the meeting with Trump.

    (Reuters, March 22, 2019)

    Except that Trump promising CARICOM leaders investment financing through OPIC rings about as hollow as former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez promising them oil financing through PetroCaribe. I sounded alarms with respect to the latter in many commentaries, including “PetroCaribe: Let’s Look This Gift Horse in the Mouth,” June 30, 2006, and “PetroCaribe Chickens Coming Home to Roost,” November 19, 2013. The following is an excerpt from the former:

    ____________________

    If one buys Chávez’s sales pitch, PetroCaribe promises to

    contribute to the energy security, socioeconomic development and integration of the Caribbean countries, through the sovereign use of the energy resources.

    I am loath to suggest that Chávez is selling snake oil instead of the crude oil that is supposed to fuel this pact. But I have grave misgivings about the viability of PetroCaribe as a reliable source of ‘discounted’ energy for Caribbean countries.

    Except that I have no standing. Therefore, I shall cite similar misgivings Bahamian Minister of Energy and Environment Dr. Marcus Bethel voiced during a Senate debate on the 2006/2007 budget. …

    Dr. Bethel’s deft (technical) explanation suffices as plausible diplomatic cover for any country disinclined to join PetroCaribe. But I feel obliged to expound on its plain meaning:

    I have often lamented the failure of Caribbean countries to implement the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) agreement. And it just so happens that I often cite the Bahamian government’s imperious, parochial and self-interested approach to regional negotiations as a major contributing factor. …

    In truth, though, it is just one of many regional governments that seem congenitally averse to regional economic integration. Each seems pathologically confident in its ability to negotiate bilateral agreements that offer far greater benefits than any regional agreement ever could. …

    The more intriguing dynamic afoot, however, is the extent to which Chávez is acting in concert with Venezuela’s new political patron, China. Because it is undeniable that, even more than he, Chinese leaders have been strategically buying up political influence throughout the Caribbean and Latin America in recent years.

    Except that the Soviet Union saw Fidel Castro as a useful idiot to antagonize America in its own backyard. But China sees Chávez as a useful conduit to help satisfy its economic needs at home (oil!).

    ____________________

    Nothing indicates what a pipe dream PetroCaribe has turned out to be more than this:

    The decline in Venezuela’s oil production, which began under Maduro’s mentor Hugo Chavez, has accelerated in the past two years. As output plunges toward 1 million barrels a day, the lowest level in seven decades, the country is running out of cash to pay for food and medicine.

    (Bloomberg Businessweek, January 25, 2019)

    I presaged and lamented Venezuela’s demise in many commentaries, including most recently in “Cry for Venezuela,” March 4, 2019. This too is so fresh that I see no point in elaborating.

    Russia Reclaiming

    Like the United States, Russia has no regard for the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. More to the point, President Vladimir Putin has made clear his intent to interfere whenever and wherever possible to reclaim as much of the sphere of influence the Soviet Union wielded during the Cold War:

    Putin is possessed by such delusions of grandeur that he is aching for a rematch of the Cold War to avenge what he famously claims was ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the 20th century, namely, the disintegration of the Soviet Union. …

    The danger of course is that Putin knows the only way he can play on the world stage is to flex his military muscles. And he seems quite willing to do so to feature Russia’s role in the economic-superpower dynamic the United States and China are now playing out.

    (“Russia: The Restoration of Vladimir Putin,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 5, 2012)

    What’s more, where Russia cannot reclaim Soviet-style influence, namely in Western democracies, Putin has demonstrated a cunning intent to sow destabilizing discord. This was the aim and unprecedented effect of Russia’s infamous interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

    Accordingly, Russia is all too happy to stand with China in backing Maduro. More to the point, Cold-War ideations explain why Putin is testing Trump’s nerve by deploying Russian troops to Venezuela, aping the way Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev tested JFK’s by deploying nuclear missiles to Cuba.

    ‘Russia has to get out. If Russia doesn’t leave Venezuela,’ Trump said: ‘We’ll see,’ re-asserting that ‘all options are open’ – amid the political, economic crisis and a push for regime change being pursued by the Trump administration.

    (Caribbean News Now, March 29, 2019)

    Unfortunately, Trump’s record of “we’ll-see” bluster is such that Putin has good reason to believe he has nothing to fear but fear itself.  In other words, Trump does not have the cojones to kick Maduro out of Venezuela; you know, the way George H.W. Bush kicked Manuel Noriega out of Panama. And everyone knows he won’t lift a finger, let along deploy US troops, to kick the Russians out.

    To be fair, though, one can hardly blame Putin. After all, since the end of the Cold War, America seeking to enlist every member of the Warsaw Pact into NATO has defined the geopolitics of Europe.

    In “Bush Digs His Spurs into Butt of Already Scorned Russian Bear,” April 2, 2008, I warned that this was needlessly pushing Russia into a corner. Moreover, that it was bound to provoke, if not goad, Putin into replaying the dynamics of the Cold War.

    For a little perspective, in “Putin Took Crimea More Out of Resentment and Fear than Imperial Ambition,” March 24, 2014, I asked:

    How do you think any American president would feel if Russia struck a military alliance with Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba? Especially if that alliance not only called for Russia to fortify them with all of the latest military hardware, including long-range missiles and missile defense systems, but also pledged that any act of aggression against any of them shall be deemed an act of aggression against Russia too.

    The point is that Russia is only doing in Venezuela today what America has been doing all over Eastern Europe for years, including as late as 2017 when it enlisted Montenegro into NATO. This raised its membership to 29 – nearly doubling the 15 it had when the Cold War ended in 1989.

    Incidentally, Putin began his Cold-War-reclamation mission by emulating Stalin at home and throughout “The Near Abroad.” I presaged his machinations in this respect in commentaries like “President Putin Reforming Russia in His Own Image,” March 25, 2005, and “The Putinization of Russia Extends to Georgia,” November 2, 2006.

    But nothing betrays Putin‘s intent to expand Russia’s sphere of influence (or sphere of interests) quite like the way he’s playing godfather to like-minded dictators around the world.

    Russia has been steadily expanding its military influence across Africa, alarming Western officials with increasing arms sales, security agreements and training programs for unstable countries or autocratic leaders.

    (The New York Times, March 31, 2019)

    Putin reclaimed Crimea without firing a shot. He can be forgiven for thinking he can reclaim a sphere of influence throughout the Americas in similar fashion. This, especially given that Trump is even less likely to risk war with Russia to enforce his red line against Maduro than Obama was to enforce his against Assad.

    In any event, nobody is happier than Putin to see history repeating itself — in this and many other respects.

    Epilogue

    As indicated above, China has shown no compunction about leveraging its economic influence to affect political outcomes that further its national interests. But, unlike the United States and Russia, China prides itself on non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.

    China couldn’t care less if the country it’s dealing with is a Jeffersonian democracy or a Hitlerian dictatorship, so long as that country is stable enough to do business. This is why, even though it supports Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela, China is loath to use the economic leverage it has over countries throughout the Americas and beyond to force them to support him.

    But there’s no denying the vested interest both China and Russia have in seeing countries abandon Western-style democracy to adopt their totalitarian style of governance. Obviously, the more totalitarian regimes become the norm, the more secure their totalitarian regimes become, respectively.

    Finally, as long as this commentary is, I am not even commenting on the way Trump is

    • cultivating the fascist tendencies of the “Trump of the Tropics,” namely Brazilian President Jair Bolsonoro;
    • jeopardizing passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement with his hollow but reckless threat to close the US-Mexico border;
    • giving Canada the impression that America considers North Korea a better ally with his open and notorious dissing of that country’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau; or
    • fraternizing with so many dictators, one could be forgiven the impression that this leader of the free world has a greater vested interest in normalizing totalitarian regimes than the leaders of China and Russia.

    I’m bushed …

    Related commentaries:
    China buying political dominion…  China putting squeeze on The Bahamas…  China bans Dalai Lama…  China’s deficitSeparating familiesMigrant Caravan…   China invading USWorld bewareLoans to colonize world…  CARICOM groundhog…   Consolidating ties with VenezuelaCountries queuing up to become indebtedPetroCaribeCry for Venezuelathe restorationCrimea…  Putin reforming Russia…   Putinization of Russia

  • Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 8:13 AM

    British elites once ruled the world. Now they can’t even rule Britain.

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Brexit supporters swarmed through the streets of London on Friday as lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal for a third time. …

    The protest comes after Prime Minister May was forced to ask the EU for an extension to the Article 50 process in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit, after her Withdrawal Agreement was twice rejected in the House of Commons.

    MPs rejected her Withdrawal Agreement for a third time Friday, likely consigning her deal to history and raising the possibility of a no-deal Brexit or a much longer Brexit extension.

    (CNN, March 29, 2019)

    Related commentaries:
    Exit Brexit

  • Thursday, March 28, 2019 at 6:51 AM

    White Actor Ralph Fiennes Pours Scorn on ‘Black Bond’… and Rightly So

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Shooting began on the latest Bond film earlier this week. Reports are that this will be the last one featuring Daniel Craig as 007, hence all the speculation afoot about his replacement.

    No speculation has been more fevered than the prospect of a black actor playing James Bond. But frankly my friends, the campaign behind it has me shaken and stirred.

    What bothers me most are the putatively proud blacks in the vanguard of this campaign. These, after all, are the same blacks who have been accusing whites of cultural appropriation for everything from white girls braiding their hair to white boys singing rap songs. I poured scorn on this phenomenon in “Calling BS on ‘Cultural Appropriation’,” February 28, 2018.

    But consider how you would feel if whites mounted a campaign to get a white actor to play T’Challa/Black Panther. Because, far from the amorphous notion of cultural appropriation, this would be a glaring case of intellectual misappropriation … and laziness.

    This is why any proud black person should object to a black actor playing Bond. Yet I have been among only a handful of blacks willing to decry the championing of this intellectual misappropriation and laziness.

    Most notable in the vanguard of our campaign is actor Yaphet Kotto. Significantly, he gained international fame and acclaim as Bond’s nemesis, Mr. Big, in Live and Let Die.

    Here is how he poured scorn on this prospect:

    Political correctness be damned, we have to stay with what is literally correct. [Bond] was established by Ian Fleming as a white character, played by white actors.

    Play 003 or 006 but you cannot be 007.

    (The Independent, April 9, 2015)

    My informed indignation was such, however, that I preempted even Kotto. For here is how I poured scorn, laden with racial humiliation, in “A Black James Bond? No, Hell No!” December 26, 2014:

    ____________________

    Frankly, casting a black actor would require too much suspension of disbelief for anyone who knows anything about the zeitgeist in which Bond was born, and still thrives. To say nothing of the wanton disrespect to Fleming’s oeuvre, or the insult to reasonable expectations of existing fans, it would entail. …

    I prefer to emphasize my opposition by noting that Idris Elba playing James Bond would be every bit as ludicrous as Michael Fassbender playing John Shaft, despite rumors that he might be anatomically correct for the part in at least one respect.

    What’s more, I refuse to believe, and Elba should be loath to affirm, that it is so untenable for Hollywood to create iconic black characters that it has to cast black actors to play firmly established white ones. …

    Instead of playing along, Elba should at least challenge Sony executives to greenlight a Bond-like character for him to play. …

    Indeed, if Hollywood has become so bereft of creativity, Sony executives could turn John Luther, the detective Elba popularized on TV, into a movie star to rival James Bond or Jason Bourne. Hell, they could even introduce him as John Luther 009, the mysterious, unnamed MI6 agent Fleming refers to in Thunderball. (Contrary to popular belief, agents 001 through 007 are already named characters.)

    But Elba as Bond? No, hell no!

    ____________________

    Which brings me to Ralph Fiennes risking curtains on his career to stand up for Bond’s intellectual integrity and creativity:

    Ralph Fiennes has walked into a major casting row by saying that 007 should never change gender. Nor, he believes, should James Bond be played by a black actor.

    Fiennes, who succeeded Dame Judi Dench as spymaster M, insists black or female stars should be given their own action films to showcase their talents, away from the Bond franchise.

    (The Daily Mail, March 17, 2019)

    Come to think of it, though, it’s hardly surprising that Fiennes would be the first A-list white actor to pooh-pooh these misappropriations. After all, here is how I was moved nearly a decade ago to describe the integrity of his acting:

    As Ralph Fiennes demonstrated in Schindler’s List, it takes real talent to make a Nazi bastard seem endearing.

    (“82nd Annual Academy Awards: And the Oscar Goes To…,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 6, 2010)

    Many of you might know Fiennes only from his role as Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter movies. Therefore, you probably scoffed at this character actor replacing Dench as M. But you’d do well to see why Fiennes was so eminently worthy by checking him out in other films like The English Patient, The End of the Affair, and (my favorite) The Constant Gardener.

    (If you’re into Harry Potter, I suspect it would be too much to suggest even more compelling performances in classics like Onegin, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra.)

    I just hope Fiennes can withstand the kind of bullying tweets that forced former bond actor Roger Moore to cower after standing up in similar fashion. Mind you, in doing so, Moore only reinforced my critique of him as the least convincing (or “manly”) of the six actors who have played this iconic role. Compared to Sean Connery, for example, Moore came across like a “Richie Rich” playing cops and robbers.

    As it happens, I also laid the groundwork for Fiennes to stand up against a female playing Bond. I refer you to “Female James Bond Is Just a Cinematic Perversion of Stockholm Syndrome,” May 7, 2018. I wrote this to disabuse the likes of Diane Kruger – who have been lobbying for a female Bond the way Idris Elba has been for a black Bond.

    Related commentaries:
    cultural appropriation
    A black bond
    Female James Bond

  • Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 7:20 AM

    Trump – Sent by God to Save the Jews…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Evidently, America’s evangelical Christians think so. What’s more, one of their deacons induced Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to say as much:

    In an interview in Jerusalem, the Christian Broadcast Network’s Chris Mitchell asked Pompeo, ‘could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?’ Esther is the main heroine of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which was celebrated this week.

    ‘As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,’ Pompeo said.

    (CNN, March 22, 2019)

    As a Christian, I believe that’s bullsh*t.

    But I fully appreciate why it makes sense to evangelical Christians who also believe Trump was “chosen by God” to Make America Great Again”. All of these hosannas to Trump would be laughable if so many Christians were not gullible enough to believe them.

    To be fair, Trump seems to cast a cult-like spell over nearly everyone who works for him. Only this explains an erstwhile intelligent man like Pompeo joining this delusional evangelical chorus.

    After all, this secretary of state seems as oblivious as those evangelicals to the geopolitical contradiction and danger inherent in America recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel.

    After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2019

    That, of course, is the kind of Orwellian doublespeak(tweet) we’ve come to expect from this dystopian warlord. Because, far from enhancing Israel’s security and regional stability, Trump is jeopardizing the former and upending the latter. He’s also undermining what little remains of America’s role as an honest broker (and guarantor of peace) in the Middle East.

    In this vein, America is now having to compete with Russia for the kind of sphere of influence throughout the region that defined the Cold War. In fact, nothing indicates how much Trump has weakened America’s status as the world’s only superpower quite like Russian President Vladimir Putin daring to do this right in its backyard:

    Two Russian military planes landed in Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday, reportedly carrying dozens of troops and large amounts of equipment. …

    It comes three months after the two nations held joint military exercises. …

    Russia has also vocally opposed moves from the US to impose sanctions on the government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro.

    (BBC, March 25, 2019)

    Arguably, this is Trump’s version of the Cuban missile crisis. Except that, instead of standing up to Putin the way President JFK stood up to Khrushchev, Trump is appeasing him the way British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain infamously appeased Adolf Hitler.

    But just imagine the outrage among chicken-hawk Republicans if Putin had done this during Obama’s presidency. I digress …

    The Middle East has a bona-fide reputation for being a hornet’s nest. But Trump has shown time and again that he either has no clue or couldn’t care less about the consequences of his actions. Only this explains why he seemed unbothered about setting the region abuzz with this:

    President Trump on Wednesday formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy and setting in motion a plan to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to the fiercely contested Holy City. …

    But he offered little solace to the Palestinians, making no mention of their long-held hopes for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state. … Pope Francis and the Chinese foreign ministry joined the chorus of voices warning that the move could unleash a wave of violence across the region.

    (The New York Times, December 6, 2017)

    That is also why nobody should be surprised that he’s now doubling down:

    Syria, which lost control of a third of the strategic Golan region to Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and has not given up hope of getting it back, slammed the U.S. policy shift as ‘an act of aggression’ and vowed to regain control of the area ‘by all available means.’ …

    Many U.S. allies, including the European Union, Egypt and Turkey, also expressed opposition to the shift, which overturns decades of U.S. policy on the status of the Golan Heights.

    (The Washington Post, March 22, 2019)

    Meanwhile, this gives Putin just cause to call on America to recognize Crimea as part of Russia. And maybe that too was the point (with all due respect to Special Counsel Robert Mueller).

    Apropos of which, much has been made of the way Putin interfered in the 2016 US presidential election to help Trump win. But, with his tweet on the Golan Heights, Trump has interfered far more brazenly in next month’s Israeli prime-ministerial election to help Netanyahu win. Yet it’s an indication of how he continually normalizes abnormal presidential behavior that nobody over here or there seems to care.

    Still, the real shame in this case is the way ostensibly proud Israeli Jews continually invite American crusaders to make a mockery of their faith and “Promised Land” with evangelical presumptions.

    After all, Israel is clearly willing and able to protect itself. Not only is it the most powerful nation in the Middle East but, despite existential threats from its Muslim neighbors, it is the only one with the nuclear arsenal to wipe any other country off the map.

    This is why I have wondered for years why Israelis subjugate themselves to this Christian condescension – as the following attests:

    I’ll spare you my sermon on the ‘biblical’ alliance between these two polarizing religious sects. Suffice it to consider the condescension/bigotry inherent in these Christians deeming it an article of their faith – not only to protect Jews (whom they hail as ‘God’s chosen people’), but also to convert them to Christianity to ensure they make it into Heaven.

    Never mind the contradiction inherent in God needing self-professed evangelicals to convert his chosen people for his rapture.

    (“Alas, Bush Still Being Misled/Goaded by Cheney,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 4, 2015)

    My daddy was himself an evangelical deacon. Therefore, I know all too well the religious presumptions Christian jihadists like those at the Christian Broadcast Network are proselytizing.

    They’ve been traducing the political alliance between the United States and Israel with their eschatological fantasies ever since the latter’s founding in 1948. But this is the first time they have a president of the United States who couldn’t care less.

    Trump has shown time and again that all he cares about is doing whatever will get people to sing his praises and fund his family businesses. This preternatural narcissism and self-interest explain his willingness to

    • coddle a Saudi Crown prince who butchered an American resident to death;
    • declare his love for a North Korean dictator who tortured an American student to death;
    • curry favor with a Zionist Israeli prime minister who marginalized not just Palestinians but non-Jewish citizens of Israel as well; and
    • strike common cause with a Russian dictator who seems hell-bent on destroying not only the democratic institutions that made America great but also the Western alliances that gave the world an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity.

    In short, Trump is recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel because evangelical Christians hail him as a latter-day Queen Esther and the Israeli prime minister hails him as a latter-day King Cyrus. Accordingly, the Mideast peace process, as well as America’s geopolitical interests, be damned.

    [Note: Evangelicals betraying their Christian values to support Trump should beware that their kids might end up disrespecting and resenting them. They need only look at the parents who were ensnared in “Operation Varsity Blues” — the sensational cheating scandal that has tainted many of America’s elite universities. Because their kids not only resent and disrespect them now but are taking to social media to let the world know just how much.

    Of course, this is how one should expect kids to feel about parents who so willfully betray core values that once made them seem so respectable as to be perfect.]

    Related commentaries:
    Bush Cheney…  Israel only for Jews…  Trump chosen by god
    Crimea…  Trump loves Kim Jong unSaudi crown prince
    Jerusalem: Trump and NetanyahuTrump as kind Cyrus…  Varsity blues

  • Monday, March 25, 2019 at 5:48 AM

    Mueller Report: No Collusion Conclusion. But Our National Nightmare Is Far from Over.

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I was wrong.

    The day after the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller, I wrote the following in “Special Counsel to Investigate Trump-Russia Ties. Checkmate!” May 18, 2017:

    ____________________

    With past being prologue, it could take months, if not years, for Mueller to complete his investigation. Alas, [Republican] congressional committees will continue their dog-and-pony investigations, and Trump will continue to tweet; hence no reprieve from the political grandstanding and media hysteria that have characterized their investigations and dogged his presidency, respectively.

    But rest assured that, unlike Trump’s hopelessly compromised DOJ, Mueller and his team of special prosecutors will hold to account anyone who colluded with Russia. As it was with Nixon’s enablers, I fully expect many of Trump’s to end up in prison.

    Of more interest, this team will finally uncover the extent to which Trump’s (financial) ties to Russia explain his antic bromance with its predaceous president, Vladimir Putin, as well as his antic loyalty to the venal Michael Flynn. Not to mention that Mueller is bound to subpoena Trump’s tax returns and depose him – posing even greater legal jeopardy for him than special prosecutor Ken Starr posed when he deposed Bill Clinton.

    This is why I plan to refrain from any further commentary on this aspect of the Trump presidency until Mueller completes his investigation. Frankly, his appointment came not a moment too soon. After all, this is just day 118 of 1460 and I’ve already had enough of his presidency.

    ____________________

    I share that because, unlike far too many commentators, I have no problem admitting when facts prove me wrong.  That is the case today.

    Mind you, I was right about many of Trump’s enablers ending up in prison, chief among them

    • his national security adviser, Michael Flynn;
    • his campaign manager, Paul Manafort; and
    • his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

    But I was wrong about the extent to which Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia.

    Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not find that Donald Trump or his campaign schemed with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. …

    On the question of whether the president might have sought to obstruct the high-profile investigation, Mueller’s team did not offer a definitive answer.

    ‘The Special Counsel … did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.’

    (The Washington Post, March 24, 2019)

    In fact, Mueller found that he could not prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to help him get elected president of the United States. Evidently, the Russians only needed to use Facebook for that.

    But Mueller found that many members of Trump’s campaign had many suspicious contacts with the Russians. It’s just that those contacts had little to do with winning the election.

    I’m convinced that they repeatedly lied about those contacts because they were trying to strike all kinds of shady business deals, most notably that infamous Trump Moscow Tower. Not to mention all of the compromising financial (and personal) entanglements Trump had with shady-Russian oligarchs long before he launched his campaign.

    Again, nobody thought Trump had a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. This explains why he and everyone around him were using his campaign to enhance their brand and forge business ties – all of which they hoped would bring untold riches after their failed campaign. I was so disgusted by their obvious intent that I wrote the following in real time:

    The legacy of his publicity stunt masquerading as a presidential campaign should be a Trump brand so tarnished that the only people willing to patronize his businesses are the fools who voted for him.

    (“‘I Can’t Hear, or See, or Say that Name [TRUMP] Without Spitting,’” The iPINIONS Journal, March 14, 2016)

    On the other hand, it is self-evident that Mueller could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice because Trump famously refused to sit for an interview.

    His lawyers argued – shamelessly and with no consciousness of his guilt – that they feared Trump would lie through his teeth, which would have compelled Mueller to charge him with perjury. And his newly appointed attorney general, William Barr, ruled (a la James Comey) that no reasonable prosecutor would file obstruction of justice charges because Trump routinely committed it so openly and notoriously.

    Except that this is rather like Trump committing murder on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight, and the Manhattan DA saying he can’t file criminal charges because Trump refused to speak to his investigators. That is the patent absurdity Barr is perpetrating here.

    In any case, Trump’s refusal to sit for an interview explains why this is only the end of the beginning of our long national nightmare. More to the point, Democratic congressional committees, district attorneys (particularly from the Southern District of New York), and state attorneys general are just getting started with their own, far more consequential, investigations into his corrupt presidency and even more corrupt business affairs.

    But, as it was with Mueller’s investigation, I see no point in joining maddening crowd of commentators in speculating on every development in every case as it unfolds.  Indeed, my contempt for their rank speculation masquerading as informed opinion moved me to write “Special Counsel Should’ve Indicted US Media Along with Russian Hackers,” July 16, 2018.

    Switch to any cable news station today or tomorrow and it’ll take only seconds for you too to become seized with contempt …

    In the meantime, I feel obliged to respond to readers who had the Trumpian gall to ask me to apologize for accusing Trump of collusion. Here is what I say to them (and I urge others being asked to apologize to say the same):

    • I will apologize after Trump apologizes for accusing Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, of being an African con man.
    • I will apologize after Trump apologizes for accusing most Mexicans of being criminals, drug dealers, and rapists.
    • I will apologize after Trump apologizes for accusing all Muslims of being potential terrorists.
    • I will apologize after Trump apologizes for accusing blacks of having a laziness trait.
    • I will apologize after Trump apologizes for accusing immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean of coming from shithole countries.
    • I will apologize after Trump apologizes for accusing American intelligence agencies of being less trustworthy than Russian ones on the question of Russia’s cyberattacks during the 2016 US presidential election.
    • I will apologize…

    I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

    Related commentaries:
    special counsel…checkmate…  all the president’s men…  Michael Cohen
    I can’t … without spitting…  investigating Trump’s businesses…  birther
    Mexican migrantsMuslim ban…  shithole countries…  US intelligence

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 6:16 p.m.

  • Saturday, March 23, 2019 at 8:18 AM

    UPDATE: New Zealand Bans Assault Weapons. US Should Take Heed.

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand on Thursday announced a national ban on all military-style semiautomatic weapons, all high-capacity ammunition magazines and all parts that allow weapons to be modified [the way the Las Vegas shooting did to carry out his massacre]. …

    Ms. Ardern is expected to encounter little resistance to the weapons ban in Parliament; the largest opposition party quickly said it supported the measures.

    (The New York Times, March 21, 2019)

    It is notable that New Zealand’s equivalent of America’s NRA fully backs this legislation. More to the point, this shows how easily politicians can enact sensible gun-control legislation if they value saving lives above selling guns.

    This is why it speaks volumes that, even though gun massacres are now commonplace in America, politicians here refuse to enact legislation that merely requires background checks before purchasing assault weapons. This, despite polls showing that over 80 percent of Americans support such legislation.

    Many marvel at the cult-like influence President Trump wields over congressional Republicans. But the NRA was wielding similar influence long before Mr. Trump came to Washington. Because the NRA realized long ago that, if it could credibly threaten to unseat a member of Congress, it could get that member to support anything.

    And, for its special interest, that means getting that member to support the unfettered sale of weapons of war to civilians. This, despite the all too foreseeable prospect of madmen using those weapons to kill innocent people, including school children.

    Alas, members of Congress have demonstrated time and again that they

    • really are just craven and venal stooges; and
    • couldn’t care less about the consequences of their failure to enact legislation to ensure the general welfare of the American people. (Besides gun-control, think of their failure to enact legislation to control budget deficits, reduce the national debt, and combat climate change.)

    Given that, only God knows what it’s going to take for the United States to emulate Australia and New Zealand by banning weapons of war for civilian use.

    Related commentaries:
    New Zealand massacre

  • Saturday, March 23, 2019 at 7:59 AM

    Donald and Melania … Being Best

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, March 22, 2019 at 7:47 AM

    Ban Anonymous Comments to Save the Internet

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have been among those crusading for years for every online platform to ban anonymous comments. This, based on the self-evident truth that people would be less inclined to bully, insult, lie, harass, defame, etc. if they had to own their comments.

    I disabled the comments feature on this site years ago. Far too many visitors were using it to publish comments that had nothing to do with my commentaries or hurl insults at other readers (i.e., the ignorant and juvenile snark that seems standard fare on Twitter and Facebook).

    Not to mention those who commented anonymously or under fake names because they didn’t have the balls to stand by, or the brains to defend, their comments.

    (“More Websites Banning Public Comments,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 23, 2014)

    Incidentally, nobody has criticized Facebook more than I for, among other things, selling its users private data like hot cakes. Not to mention breaking news about a “glitch” that allowed every employee to see the passwords of nearly 600 million users … for years.

    But I commend Facebook for standing virtually alone in requiring users to use real names to join … and comment. Unfortunately, this commendation is undermined by too many notorious cases where its moderators failed to prevent truly offensive postings. This was the case just last week when they allowed that white supremacist to livestream his massacre of Muslims in New Zealand.

    I should also note here that requiring commenters to use real names does not prevent crime victims, corporate whistleblowers, political dissidents, et al. from using other means to sound alarms anonymously.

    That said, I am encouraged that Arthur Brooks has joined this crusade. He is the president of the American Enterprise Institute – who The New York Times hails as a distinguished scholar of public policy.

    On March 2, that paper published his opinion piece titled “Our Culture of Contempt.” I read it; and it was indeed redolent of scholarship.

    Brooks blames social media for much of this contempt and diagnoses anonymous comments as a metastasizing cancer in this context. But that piece was only an executive summary. Because he followed up with a full report in what I can fairly laud as the bible for this age of social media.

    He published it on March 12 with the appropriately biblical title Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt. As it happens, though, I felt obliged just days ago to say that I am loath to recommend books. And I am not going to do so here.

    Instead, I shall suffice to share a little of how Brooks sermonized on anonymous comments during an interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show on March 18:

    The two things that I recommend, two things for individuals is number one, never be anonymous on the Internet … say everything under your own name – you’ll be empowered and happier. Number two, never engage with somebody who’s anonymous, no matter how tempting it is, and no matter how much they provoke you.

    The third thing is actually my piece of advice to the social media companies [because] anonymity is destroying their platforms: they need to find a way to fight against anonymity, to verify people’s identities, and they need to do it now.

    The essence of his message is that social media is dehumanizing enough without people dehumanizing others (and themselves) by hiding behind anonymous comments. And all the decent people say, Amen.

    Except that, President Trump has so normalized all manner of offensive comments, affixing real names might make people feel empowered …

    Yet there’s no denying that Brooks is preaching the gospel. Because every social media platform is already a vast wasteland of narcissistic, depressed, insecure, contemptuous, and ironically lonely people … just like Trump.

    Related commentaries:
    banning websites

  • Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at 8:43 AM

    A Tale of Two Floods: Nebraska and Mozambique

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Nebraska

    Ice chunks the size of small cars ripped through barns and farmhouses; baby calves were swept into freezing floodwaters, washing up dead along the banks of swollen rivers; farm fields were now lakes.

    The record floods that have pummeled the Midwest are inflicting a devastating toll on farmers and ranchers at a moment when they can least afford it, raising fears that this natural disaster will become a breaking point for farms weighed down by falling incomes, rising bankruptcies and the fallout from President Trump’s trade policies.

    (The New York Times, March 18, 2019)

    ____________________

    Mozambique

    Cyclone Idai has triggered a ‘massive disaster’ in southern Africa affecting hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, the UN has said. …

    Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi called it ‘a humanitarian disaster of great proportion’.

    He said more than 1,000 people may have been killed after the cyclone hit the country last week.

    (BBC, March 20, 2019)

    ____________________

    I hasten to clarify that, while thousands of pigs have died, only two people have and two others are missing in Nebraska. By contrast, despite what that country’s president said, 200 people have died and 100,000 are “stranded” in Mozambique.

    That said, you have probably heard or read lots about the devastation in Nebraska. But I’d be surprised if you’ve heard or read anything more than a headline about the devastation in Mozambique.

    I am loath to belabor this difference. It’s just that the juxtaposition of so much media coverage on the loss of farm pigs in Nebraska with so little on the loss of human lives in Mozambique has been stark. Arguably, this reflects the “misplaced values” that govern the global village that is the world today.

    Of course, Nebraska will recover, not least because those affected compose much of President Trump’s political base.

    In other words, they will not suffer the salutary neglect President Bush infamously showed the flood-ravaged victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans — most of whom, he had good reason to suspect, did not vote for him. Nor, indeed, will they suffer the similar neglect Trump himself infamously showed the flood-ravaged victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico … for the same political reason.

    Amid a chilly dampness that has become all too familiar in these parts, Vice President Mike Pence delivered a message: America is here for Nebraska. …

    During a three-hour visit that included an aerial survey of floodwaters and meetings with first responders and victims, Pence said the federal government will expedite disaster relief in response to the historic flooding that has affected much of the Midwest.

    (Omaha World-Herald, March 20, 2019)

    On the other hand, I am all too mindful that a confluence of compassion fatigue and chronic fecklessness (with respect to foreign aid) informs how many news organizations cover disasters in Africa, which seem so commonplace. This, especially when natural disasters like these floods have nothing on the man-made disasters that account for so much of what plagues this Dark Continent.

    Here, for example, is how I bemoaned this juxtaposition with respect to the constant plague of famine in “‘Another African Famine?! Nobody Cares!’ Then Call Me Nobody,” May 2, 2014:

    ____________________

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

    Every American can fairly ask: Why should I care about starving kids in Africa when African leaders are the ones starving them, and their fellow Africans don’t seem to give a damn?

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

    And don’t get me started on countries like Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and others competing to become the Taliban paradise Afghanistan used to be. …

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

    It’s clearly foolhardy for foreign governments to continue giving aid directly to African governments, only to have local leaders use that aid to line their pockets and oppress their people.

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

    Accordingly, I can never tire of doing what little I can to support them and keep the humanitarian work they do in public consciousness.

    ____________________

    It is impossible to fully appreciate or even assess the scale of this devastating cyclone, which to a lesser extent is also impacting the neighboring countries of Zimbabwe and Malawi. But it’s noteworthy that many news organizations are referring to it as the “worst humanitarian crisis ever” in the Southern Hemisphere. And that’s saying a lot.

    At least half a million Mozambicans have been displaced by cyclone Idai, but that figure may rise to four times that in the aftermath of the devastation, United Nations officials warned on Tuesday.

    The World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, and other UN agencies launched an appeal for immediate international funding and logistical support to save hundreds of thousands who remain isolated and with no access to food or clean water.

    To see the many ways you can donate to recovery and relief efforts, click here.

    Related commentaries:
    Another famine…nobody cares
    Katrina/Puerto Rico

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