• Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 5:41 AM

    American Idol Jumps the Shark

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    You’d be wrong if you think American Idol had its largest TV audience of the season last night because it was the finale or because it was Simon Cowell’s farewell show. Because the only reason for this spike in viewership (in what has been a season of plummeting ratings) was the duly hyped special appearance by former judge Paula Abdul.

    But you can be forgiven for having no clue in this respect. Because when Paula was unceremoniously dumped a year ago, almost every TV critic said that the show would not only survive but thrive without her distracting and seemingly drug-induced ramblings.

    By contrast, here, in part, was my prescient admonition:

    I know conventional wisdom has it that most people tune in to watch Simon rip untalented fools masquerading as wannabe idols to shreds with his nasty, acerbic comments. But hasn’t his shtick become a bit trite and predictable?

    On the other hand, I’ve seen enough episodes of this show to assert that just as many people probably tune in to watch Paula.  And that they do so for the same reason so many people tuned in to watch the human train wreck that was The Anna Nicole Show; namely, because her seemingly drug-induced ramblings made for perversely suspenseful and entertaining TV.

    Not to mention the side drama of wondering which new talent might end up being the object of her Mrs. Robinson-style mentoring… It’s undeniable: Paula was good for ratings.  And her absence is bound to result in significantly lower ratings for “Idol” next season.

    (“Paula Abdul quitting American Idol,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 9, 2009)

    Enough said.

    And now Simon’s leaving?! Clearly there can be no greater indication that American Idol has jumped the shark. (Maybe Simon read what I wrote about his shtick becoming trite and predictable….)

    For the record, though,  Lee DyWze was crowned this season’s American Idol. But I have no doubt that he will soon fade into entertainment oblivion like so many previous winners.

    “The biggest loser” in this respect is Ruben Studdard who is barely recognizable now, having lost almost half of the 400 pounds he weighed during his Idol days. More to the point, except for Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, the rest of them have had as much success getting performing gigs as winners of The Bachelor have had getting married.

    Apropos of success, Ellen DeGeneres is having even less of it in prime time than Jay Leno.  Frankly, the folks at FOX must have been taking advice from the geniuses at NBC. For only this explains why they thought Ellen’s folksy humor, which only appeals to the vanilla, stay-at-home moms who tune in to her daytime show, would appeal to the diverse people who tune in to Idol during primetime. 

    For the sake of her career, I urge Ellen to stick to daytime.

    That’s a wrap!

    Related commentaries:
    Paula quitting Idol

  • Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 5:29 AM

    Fergie caught in Royal sting…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, has been little more than a public embarrassment for the British Royal family ever since she married Prince Andrew in 1986, notwithstanding the popular myth about her injecting a bit of life into the moribund monarchy.  And, frankly, this stemmed far more from her own insecurities, which compelled her to exhibit public displays of buffoonery for attention, than from her sense and sensibilities as a commoner.

    In fact, here’s how Fergie lamented this fact in her 1996 memoir, My Story:

    The harder I pushed, the more things fell apart… Even at my dizzy height of popularity, I knew that the clock would strike 12 and I’d be seen for what I was: unworthy, unattractive, unaccomplished.

    Is it any wonder Andrew divorced her? 

    Moreover, as if to prove that the demands of royal life were the least of her problems, she moved on and traded on her erstwhile royal personage to amass a king’s ransom (from such high-brow pursuits as serving as a pitchwoman for Jenny Craig) only to lose it all by spending it like a drunken sailor. 

    This of course is what led to her latest embarrassment. For reporters from the London tabloid News of the World caught Fergie on tape last week blithely smoking and swilling red wine as she peddled access to Andrew, in his capacity as British trade envoy for the UK, for £500,000 in cold, hard cash.

    I very deeply regret the situation and the embarrassment caused. It is true that my financial situation is under stress however, that is no excuse for a serious lapse in judgment and I am very sorry that this has happened. (Reuters, May 23, 2010)

    To be fair, though, Fergie is not the first member of the royal family to be caught on tape displaying a very serious lapse in judgment. Remember the “Sophie tapes” on which Prince Edward’s wife could be heard not only trading on her royal title but also bad mouthing everyone from the prime minister to the Queen?

    Anyway, there’s no denying the royal mess Fergie has gotten herself into now. And no matter how inclined Andrew is to continue cleaning up after her, I fear she may have dug herself into a hole so deep this time that even Prince Valiant could not rescue her royal standing … in Britain.

    On the other hand, I have no doubt she could earn another fortune in no time amongst us commoners here in America, where she’d do well to seek permanent residency now  since even a royal outcast would be treated like … royalty.  I just hope she manages to live within her means this time….

  • Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 8:06 AM

    Political Fraternization with Drug Gangs Come Home to Roost in Jamaica

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Given the way Jamaican celebrities like Bob Marley have glorified ganja (marijuana), foreigners can be forgiven for thinking that it is the national crop of Jamaica.  And Jamaicans can be forgiven for making folk heroes of men who defiantly use marijuana, or even profit from the sale of it. After all, it has undisputed medicinal benefits and is arguably no more anti-social than alcohol.

    On the other hand, despite foreign media reports, I doubt there’s more than a handful of Jamaicans who glorify the use of cocaine or, even worse, make heroes of men who peddle this inherently destructive and anti-social drug. This is why it must have incited national shock and dismay when gunbattles erupted on Sunday, right in the heart of the capital Kingston, between security forces and thugs associated with a reputed cocaine kingpin.  How did it come to this…?

    Well, it began many years ago when Jamaica’s main political parties began relying on gangs to cultivate grass-roots support amongst the many poor people who live on their turf.  This explains why successive Jamaican governments have been loath to intervene over the years in the gang-related activities that led the BBC in 2006 to designate this island paradise, paradoxically, as the murder capital of world.

    In any event, it is in this context that the now governing Jamaica Labour Party  (JPL) established a Faustian alliance with the aptly named Christopher “Dudas” Coke. More to the point, the JPL knew full well that Coke was a drug kingpin who ruled one of the major “political slums” (Tivoli Gardens), where white-shoe politicians dare not tread, like a feudal lord.

    But all Jamaican political leaders must have known that the American government would not turn a blind eye to the activities of anyone involved in trafficking drugs wholesale into the United States. Indeed, given its open and notorious efforts to extradite Columbian and Mexican drug lords (not to mention even invading Panama to arrest that country’s president Manuel Noriega on suspicion of narco-trafficking), it was only a matter of time before Coke’s operations became too big to ignore.

    And so the inevitable came some nine months ago when the Obama administration submitted an extradition request – after labeling Coke, 42, as one of the most dangerous drug lords in the world and indicting him on a battery of cocaine trafficking and gun-running charges.

    Of course, notwithstanding being in bed with Coke, regard for national sovereignty dictated that Prime Minister Bruce Golding, the leader of the JPL, put up legal challenges to this request. After all, even with no such political ties to Bahamian drug kingpin Samuel “Ninety” Knowles, the government of The Bahamas fought a similar extradition request for almost six years before being legally and politically compelled to hand him over to U.S. authorities.

    Therefore, it was hardly surprising to learn – as reported yesterday by the Associated Press, that:

    Prime Minister Bruce Golding had stalled Coke’s extradition request for nine months with claims the U.S. indictment relied on illegal wiretap evidence.

    What is surprising, if not stupefying, is that Golding misled the Jamaican people about the extent of his efforts to stave off Coke’s extradition.  Frankly, given his party’s well-known association with Coke, one wonders what political fallout he feared from this revelation. For here’s how Jamaican information Minister Daryl Vaz alluded to his country’s record of cross-party political fraternization with the likes of Coke, which implies that any party leader caught in Golding’s position would have done the same thing:

    As far as I’m concerned, the prime minister did what he had to do, and the fact is that those who are calling for the prime minister to resign and for the Government to resign have no moral authority to call for anybody to resign based on their past and their history.

    (Caribbean360, May 13, 2010)

    Golding did not demonstrate a profile in courage, however, when he agreed last week to hand over Coke after only nine months of … stalling. Especially since he seemed to cave in not to legal and political pressure from U.S. officials but to plainly partisan carping from local politicians over his furtive efforts in this respect. (To be fair, though, the fact that Jamaica is looking to the U.S.-controlled IMF to bailout its economy once again might have softened Golding’s spine….)

    Unfortunately, this made a mockery of his protestations of standing on constitutional principles and smacked of a betrayal of his party’s long-standing association with Coke.

    Evidently, it is this perceived betrayal that provoked gangs from other turfs across the island to join Coke’s “Shower Posse” (so named for their menacing inclination to unload their firearms) in a battle to defy any attempt to arrest him pursuant to an extradition warrant.  And thousands of slum dwellers in his Tivoli Gardens – who regard Coke more as a latter-day Robin Hood than as a murdering drug dealer – are not only serving as human shields but also providing very vocal moral support.

    Here’s how Caribbean Net News quoted one of them in a report today protesting their misguided loyalty:

    He is next to God. Just like how Jesus died on the cross for us, we are willing to die for Dudas.

    Or is that Judas…?

    Anyway, so far they have torched local police stations and killed two police officers in the frenzy of violence that shows no signs of abating.  And things are bound to get much worse.  Not least because, thanks to the JPL giving a wink and a nod over the years to Coke’s gun-running enterprise, local gangs now have just as much fire power as the security forces.

    If Coke is somehow able to hold out and formally establish his community as a state within a state, then Jamaica’s future is bleak.

    (Brian Meeks, a professor of government at Jamaica’s Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, London Guardian, May 25, 2010)

    The JPL created this monster.  And given that Coke’s domain of Tivoli Gardens is located in his constituency,  Golding must feel particularly responsible. 

    All the same, it’s clearly far better now, for obvious reasons, to seize this opportunity to kill Coke (and all others like him) than to extradite him. And Golding seems determined to do just that:

    The threats that have emerged to the safety and security of our people will be repelled with strong and decisive action. The state of emergency will remain in effect for a period of one month… This will be a turning point for us as a nation to confront the powers of evil that are penalizing our society and earned us the unenviable label as the murder capital of the world. We must confront this criminal element with determination and unqualified resolve…

    I appeal to all law abiding citizens to remain calm and support these necessary measures.

    (PM Golding addressing the nation on Sunday evening, Agence France-Presse, May 24, 2010)

    A turning point indeed; frankly, it behooves all  political parties to sever ties with their political gangs in light of this unfolding and all too predictable national tragedy.

    I wish my friends and the rest of the people of Jamaica well.

    NOTE: This violence affects a very small area of Jamaica that is far removed from most hotels and tourist sites. Therefore, despite the pro forma travel advisory the U.S. State Department issued on Monday, it remains as safe as ever to travel there….

  • Monday, May 24, 2010 at 5:21 AM

    The Oil Has Landed…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Ever since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 there has been a surreal vigil for the beaches and marshlands along the Gulf Coast.  Well, the oil has landed. And it is giving a new ecological meaning to the dreaded term,” Black Death;” because the environmental damage will be catastrophic.  Oil has now washed up on over 65 miles of Louisiana coastline….

    It was not at all surprising early on when the finger-pointing began: with BP blaming subcontractor Transocean because its blowout preventer, which was supposed to close off the well in the event of disaster, failed; Transocean blaming BP because it signed off on every flawed aspect of the offshore operation in order to save time and maximize profits; Halliburton blaming BP because, in its rush to get the oil, BP never allowed Halliburton to properly close off the well with a cement plug; and the Obama administration blaming BP for the whole mess.  And if none of this makes any sense to you, you are a perfect candidate for an executive position at BP.

    What is surprising, however, is the extent to which environmentalists and other supporters of President Obama are now blaming him. In fact, no less a person than liberal egg head James Carville was all over TV yesterday spouting off about how “lackadaisical” and “naïve” Obama was for leaving BP in charge of the clean up.

    Meanwhile, notwithstanding the finger pointing, BP has already accepted full responsibility not only to clean up the mess but also to pay for it.  And nobody doubts that that includes paying for all consequential damage to beaches and marshlands as well as fair compensation to the fishermen whose livelihoods have been adversely impacted.

    Moreover, it is clear that BP has been doing everything humanly possible to plug the leak from a ruptured pipe that, according to CBS News, has been gushing over four million gallons of oil a day for 34 days … and counting. And in open and notorious fashion, the company has dutifully telegraphed and televised all of its failed efforts in this respect; notwithstanding the tone-deaf PR spin by its top executives to downplay the environmental impact of this spill.

    Actually, no matter how driven by the bottom line, BP is acutely aware that its survival as an ongoing business in the United States depends of maintaining good faith not just with the government but with the American people as well.  As Obama’s point man, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, says:

    This is an existential crisis for one of the world’s top companies. (CNN, May 23, 2010)

    No doubt this is why BP’s corporate mission now is to “top kill” the well instead of doing anything to extract any more oil for profit.

    Likewise, it is clear that the Obama administration has been doing everything humanly possible to get BP to plug the leak.  And Secretary Salazar reinforced this point rather poignantly over the weekend:

    I am angry and I am frustrated that BP has been unable to stop this oil from leaking and to stop the pollution from spreading. We are 33 days into this effort and deadline after deadline has been missed… [The federal government has sent a team of] scientific all-stars, that are now leading an Apollo 13-type effort, to BP’s Houston headquarters. They have pushed BP in every way that they can to kill the well and they have pushed BP in every way that they can to stop the pollution.

    (Reuters, May 22, 2010)

    And there’s the rub. Because what most critics find utterly incomprehensible is that Obama is relying on a British petroleum company to deal with what is looming as the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history. What they fail to appreciate, however, is that the mighty US government does not have the technical expertise or the drilling resources to do any better than BP. And this makes all of Salazar’s talk about “keeping a boot on the neck of BP” and “pushing them out of the way if they don’t do what they’re supposed to” nothing more than hollow political bluster.

    In any event, the irony seems lost on Obama’s critics that they are partly responsible for this untenable dependency.  After all, fear of incurring the political wrath of liberals and environmentalists has inhibited the U.S. government from exploring the deep sea for oil the way it explores deep space for God knows what.  If this were not the case, instead of dispatch scientists to offers suggestions, Obama would clearly have been able to dispatch a NASA-like team to do what BP is trying so haplessly to do.

    For the record, though, Obama has ordered a bipartisan commission to determine the causes of the spill and all indications are that he will direct the Justice Department to prosecute if this commission finds that BP was criminally negligent.

    Nonetheless, some criticism of Obama is warranted. Because having no ability to plug the leak is one thing; but not doing everything humanly possible to prevent the oil from washing ashore is another. And Obama could have done a lot more to marshal resources for this effort.

    Instead, he has maintained a Nero-like detachment as local politicians fought daily with BP for permission to mount desperate self-help missions to keep the oil at bay, and avoid a catastrophe.  Frankly, it is incomprehensible that Obama did not nationalize this aspect of BP’s operation weeks ago and dispatch the Army Corp of Engineers to organize the clean-up effort.

    So, if there’s any sense in which this BP spill can be fairly called Obama’s Katrina, it would stem from his Bush-like failure to send in the cavalry long ago, not to plug the leak but to prevent the spillover effect it’s having on the ocean and Gulf Coast.

    Related commentaries:
    Oil spill: Obama’s Katrina

  • Monday, May 24, 2010 at 5:02 AM

    Left Lost by “Lost”?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    For six seasons I was convinced that Lost was just like Seinfeld: a very entertaining series about nothing (or everything depending on how much you’re into surreal ideations about life, death and all things in between).

    And last night’s finale only confirmed this. No doubt much to the chagrin of the suckers who were expecting nirvana-like revelations. Instead, all they got was the kind of sappy hookups between the characters (all in heaven one presumes) that one would expect of a typical daytime soap opera – complete with this bit of banal sophistry:

    Everyone dies… There is no now … here.

    No shit…!  And so the search for signs of intelligence, or something coherent, in this show continues….

  • Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 5:36 AM

    Graduates, welcome to the real real world. MTV lied…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, May 21, 2010 at 5:34 AM

    Thailand’s Tiananmen Square

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    For over seven weeks about 100,000 poor farmers – calling themselves the Red Shirts – held Thailand practically hostage. They barricaded themselves in encampments in the middle of downtown Bangkok where they held daily rallies demanding dissolution of parliament, early elections, and a battery of democratic reforms.  And most of them were clearly motivated by their abiding support for former PM Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006.   

    Comparisons between their protests and those of the protesters who encamped in Tiananmen Square two decades ago were unavoidable. Of course these Thai protesters were hoping to succeed where their Chinese comrades failed so spectacularly. However, Thailand’s government was just as determined as the Chinese government to squash their democratic ambitions.

    And so it came as no surprise on Wednesday when the Thai army launched a Tiananmen Square-like crackdown on the Red Shirts, ending the protests with dispatch while, remarkably enough, killing only 14. For the record, though, reports are that 74 were killed and nearly 1,800 wounded in sporadic skirmishes since the protests began in Mid-March.

    Unfortunately, just like the democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, the protesters in Bangkok ended up with none of the demands they sought.

    However, the Red Shirts could be forgiven for thinking they would have their way. After all, similar protests in recent years resulted in the ouster of two prime ministers. In fact, here, in part, is how I commented on the most recent of them:

    After months of protests – growing so formidable in size and nihilistic determination that not even the country’s vaunted military could squash them – the court ruled yesterday, again somewhat expediently (not to mention belatedly), that PM Somchai’s governing coalition committed electoral fraud.  Then, affirming mob rule, the court banned him from politics.

    So here’s to hoping that Thailand’s third prime minister this year can prove beyond all doubt not only that he thoroughly hates Thaksin but also that he is completely loyal to the king. Otherwise the protesters are bound to return to the streets and to the airports [where protesters barricaded themselves on this occasion]….

    (“Thailand suffers another coup – this time by an angry mob,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 3, 2008)

    As this quote indicates, these past protesters – calling themselves the Yellow Shirts – were clearly motivated by their abiding opposition to former PM Thaksin. No doubt this is why the government held such a hard line against the Red Shirts, knowing full well that it could summon just as many Yellow Shirts into the streets in a show of support. This means, however, that Thailand is on an inexorable course towards a civil clash between the Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts….

    What is also troubling is that these protests have exposed long-simmering resentment over the fact that so much of the country’s wealth is held by so few.  This is probably why the protesters (aided to be sure by criminal opportunists) torched so many commercial buildings in downtown Bangkok as they retreated on Wednesday, including Thailand’s stock exchange, the main power company, banks, a movie theater and one of Asia’s largest shopping malls.

    Moreover, given this tortured legacy of protests, it’s only a matter of time before fractious Thais take to the streets again. This now seems a never-ending mess, which poses irreparable harm to Thailand’s international reputation as one of Asia’s most stable and tourist-friendly countries.

    In the meantime, notwithstanding the Tiananmen precedent, this has to be a bad omen for China.  Because close to one billion poor farmers have been engaging in similar protests in the countryside for years.  And it’s only a matter of time before they emulate their Thai comrades by taking their protests to the new glittering metropolises that have popped up all over China in recent years. 

    Related commentaries:
    Thailand suffers another coup
    Gap between rich and poor in China sowing seeds of resentment

  • Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 5:32 AM

    Malawi Imprisons Couple for Being Gay

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I was surprised at the number of friends and colleagues who knew nothing about Malawi until Madonna stirred international controversy by going there in 2006 to adopt the first of two Malawian babies. (She adopted the second one last year.)

    But now Malawi is stirring international controversy on its own. For, according to a report in yesterday’s London Times, a Malawian court convicted a gay couple on May 18 of “unnatural acts and gross indecency.” Today the presiding judge sentenced Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, to the maximum 14 years in prison.

    Clearly this is abominable. What is even more so, however, is that homosexuality is still a crime in over 80 countries, including Ghana, India, Jamaica, and the Turks and Caicos Islands (my ancestral home).  And it’s punishable by death in many of them, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Afghanistan (where American soldiers are dying on a futile nation-building mission).

    Of course, I fully appreciate that there are many religious fanatics even in the United States who believe that homosexuality is an abomination unto God that should be punishable by death. Indeed, it’s an indication of how retarded otherwise progressive countries are on this issue that the U.S. only decriminalized all sodomy laws a few years ago with the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

    Frankly, given ongoing battles worldwide to ban gay marriage and the ordination of gay priests, I can’t think of a single country that has the moral authority and political influence to lead the fight against the persecution and prosecution of gay people. But hypocrisy has never inhibited rich and powerful countries from imposing their notions of morality and human rights on others.

    Therefore, I wonder why they aren’t doing more to end the apartheid systems that are oppressing homosexuals in countries all over the world the way they exerted pressure (via economic and political sanctions) to end the apartheid system that was oppressing blacks in South Africa.  Especially since Malawi relies on Western donors for over 40 percent of its development budget.

    In the meantime, though, given that celebrities now wield as much influence in many countries as foreign heads of state, perhaps Madonna will use hers to prevail upon the Malawian government to not only pardon this couple but repeal the country’s laws against homosexuality. After all, reports are that she got this government to change its adoption laws to facilitate the adoptions mentioned above.

    NOTE:  The British government has a special duty to help repeal anti-gay laws in many countries around the world because many of these laws were enacted under British colonial rule.

    Related commentaries:
    Madonna adoption of African boy

  • Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 5:44 AM

    Sex, lies, and spin: politics as usual

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Most political pundits would have you believe that yesterday’s primary contests were critical in determining the fate not only of the Democratic-controlled Congress but also of President Obama’s presidency.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

    Remember all of the consequential extrapolations these same pundits made right after Scott Brown won a special election in Massachusetts a few months ago?  Well, his election has turned out to be so inconsequential that he hardly warrants mention these days.

    So I hope you’ll forgive me for attributing no national significance whatsoever to the fact that 30-year incumbent Senator Arlen Specter (r) lost a Democratic primary challenge in  Pennsylvania (despite switching from the Republican Party recently to ensure his reelection); that incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln (l) was forced into a Democratic primary runoff in Arkansas; or that Tea Party poster boy Rand Paul (c) won a Republican senate primary in Kentucky.  Instead, two political scandals that erupted yesterday seem far more worthy of comment. And, as if to prove that no party has a monopoly on political rectitude, these scandals involve one Democrat and one Republican.

    First, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was considered a sure bet to win the senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Chris Dodd this November. But a report in yesterday’s New York Times has lowered his prospects considerably.  Alas, it seems Blumenthal has been telling whoppers about having served in Vietnam:

    What is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events.

     (New York Times, May 18, 2010)

    In fact he received five deferments and never set foot in Vietnam.  And just to establish his bona fides as a pathological liar, the Times also reported that he has been telling tall tales about being the captain of the Harvard University swim team; whereas, in fact he was never even on the team….

    Meanwhile Blumenthal, who served as Connecticut’s attorney general since 1988, did nothing to enhance his credibility during a hastily arrange, damage-control press conference yesterday by putting a spin on his lies that would make even Bill Clinton blush.  For instead of admitting that he deliberately misled people about his service, Blumenthal insisted that he merely misspoke a few times. Specifically, he said his honest mistake was saying he served “in” Vietnam when he meant to say he served “during” Vietnam … safely back home in the Reserves.

    Nevertheless, my allusion to Bill Clinton stands for the proposition that all politicians are liars: remember “It depends on what the meaning of is is”? But given a choice between one who lies about getting drafted to go to war and one who lies about getting the country into war, I would choose the former.  This is why I think he’ll survive, even thrive.  Indeed, it speaks volumes that so many veterans who did serve in Vietnam stood beside Blumenthal yesterday, supporting him the way so many political wives stand by their cheating husbands.

    This brings me to the second scandal, which was practically lost in the ferment of yesterday’s media coverage of meaningless political races and Blumenthal’s exposé by the Times.  It involves a public confession by yet another family-values Republican that he had cheated on his wife.

    This betrayal was particularly hypocritical because Congressman Mark Souder – an eight-term congressman from Indiana – was shtupping a (married) female member of his staff.  Even worse, she also happens to be the woman who helped him promote his abstinence-only campaign, which encouraged young people to “abstain from sex until in a committed, faithful relationship.” (Associated Press, May 17, 2010)

    If these politicians were not lead vocals in a chorus of moral crusaders, I would not give their sexual escapades a moment’s thought. For the unadulterated pleasure of afflicting these hypocrites, however, I don’t even mind being bedfellows with a publicity-seeking hustler like Larry Flynt [who once vowed to out them all].

    (“Why ‘hypocritical politician’ is becoming redundant,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 18, 2009)

    To his credit, though, Souder had the decency not only to spare his forgiving and still-devoted wife the stand-by-your-man appearance during his press statement, but also to resign – effective immediately.

    Related commentaries:
    So much for the Scott Brown effect
    Why “hypocritical politician” is becoming redundant

  • Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 5:16 AM

    Miss USA Trumps Another Ethnic Stereotype

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Donald Trump is the owner of the Miss Universe Organization, which includes Miss USA but not Miss America.  And reports abound that he handpicks the winners in his pageants:

    TMZ obtained an audio tape recorded during the pre-show screening portion of the 2009 [Miss USA] pageant, in which Trump can clearly be heard exercising “The Trump Rule” — which guarantees a certain number of “beautiful” women will advance in the contest.

    (TMZ, November 12, 2009)

    More specifically, there’s this:

    [T]hanks to an interview with the pageant choreographer, we now know that The Donald himself … flies in the day before the telecast and hand-picks six of the ladies, and has been doing so since 1995.

    (Guanabee, September 3, 2009)

    Of course one might wonder how he then guarantees who actually wins. Well, let’s just say that it’s very easy for him to indicate to his hand-picked judges who he thinks should be crowned the fairest of them all.  And it’s reasonable to assume that none of the judges would want to disappoint The Donald.  Interestingly enough, nothing betrayed the fact that the fix was in for Sunday’s Miss USA contest night quite like the Associated Press reporting the following on an interview with the winner, Miss Michigan Rima Fakih:

    She told reporters later that she believed she had won after glancing at pageant owner Trump as she awaited the results with the first runner-up, Miss Oklahoma USA Morgan Elizabeth Woolard. ‘‘That’s the same look that he gives them when he says, ‘You’re hired,'” on Trump’s reality show, she said.

    But, frankly, I couldn’t care any less that Trump rigs his beauty pageants … lucky bastard.  The only reason I’m bothering to comment is to herald the fact that he crowned an Arab-American Muslim.  After all, this one gesture will probably engender more goodwill for the United States in the Muslim world than one hundred speeches by President Obama ever could.

    Moreover, that Rima is winning so much praise in so many Arab and Muslim countries reflects the limited impact of the extremist ideology the Taliban and al-Qaeda proselytize. Actually, I can think of no greater repudiation of the notion that Muslim women should not be heard and only be seen covered (from head to toe) in a burqa than this Muslim woman being crowned Miss USA. Hell, did you see Rima strutting her stuff on stage in her teeny weeny bikini…?!

    If you’re black, just try to recall the sense of pride you felt when Vanessa Williams became the first black woman to win a national beauty pageant (Miss America in 1984).  So here’s to this 24-year-old Lebanese immigrant for making all Arabs proud and for serving as yet another symbol of the unparalleled opportunities people of diverse backgrounds have here in the good old USA.

    Meanwhile, it did not take long before right-wing media folks began propagating a Prejean complaint: i.e., that first runner-up Morgan, a blond with bee-stung lips, was robbed of the crown because she gave a politically incorrect answer to her final question about Arizona’s new immigration law.

    She said that she’s against both illegal immigration and racial profiling; that she’s a firm believer in states’ rights; and that Arizona had every right to enact its law, which was a perfectly reasonable answer.  Indeed, I thought Morgan’s answer was far more poised and informed than Rima’s answer to her final question about insurance coverage for birth control pills.  Not to mention that it wasn’t Morgan, but Rima who tripped over her evening gown.

    The problem, however, is that those stoking this controversy ignore the fact that this is a beauty contest, and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder – in this case The Donald’s, as I delineated above.  Never mind that nobody welcomes another controversy like this more than Trump because it only generates highly coveted free publicity for him and his pageant.

    But if Morgan plays her cards right, she’ll end up being far more famous than Rima. After all, we all remember last year’s first runner-up Carrie Prejean, but how many of us remember the winner? Of course, it would help Rima if raunchy, nude photos of her were to suddenly surface on the internet….

    Apropos this, nothing was more contrived than the moral outrage being aired during the week before Sunday’s broadcast over pictorials of the contestants in sexy lingerie.

    For this was an obvious tease to generate interest in the show. And, more to the point, their spreads were chaste compared to the semi-pornographic fare that is featured every year in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and every day in Victoria Secretcatalogues.

  • Monday, May 17, 2010 at 5:22 AM

    AG Holder’s ignorance of the law is no excuse

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    After Arizona passed its new immigration law on April 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder was in the vanguard of those condemning it.  No doubt it was his presumptively authoritative criticisms that informed, and perhaps even incited, many of the millions who soon took to the streets in protest.  In fact, Holder said on NBC’s Meet the Press only a week ago Sunday that the Arizona law “has the possibility of leading to racial profiling.”

    This is why I was so utterly stupefied when he admitted in congressional testimony on Thursday that he had not read this contentious law:

    I’ve just expressed concerns on the basis of what I’ve heard about the law. But I’m not in a position to say at this point, not having read the law, not having had the chance to interact with people are doing the review, exactly what my position is. 

    (Holder testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Washington Times, May 13, 2010)

    This admission must have come as a profound disappointment, if not embarrassment, to everyone – from President Obama in the White House to the illegal immigrant marching in the streets – who has voiced public opposition to it. Not to mention the currency it gave to supporters of this law, especially since they routinely dismissed its opponents as partisan hacks or impudent immigrants who didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

    As it happens, I was amongst those who condemned this immigration law when it was first enacted. But I did so because, having read it, I knew full well the disparate and discriminatory impact it would have on Hispanics; i.e., that they would be racially profiled.

    This is why I was relatively pleased when Arizona legislators rushed on May 3 to enact several amendments to:

    …make it crystal clear and undeniable that racial profiling is illegal, and will not be tolerated in Arizona.

    (Governor Brewer after signing the bill of amendments on April 30, CNN, May 1, 2010)

    But these amendments still do not address the inherent flaw in this legislation, which stems from this state’s attempt to preempt a power that the Constitution delegates to the federal government.  Specifically, Arizona’s attempt to enforce immigration law, no matter how amended to mirror federal law, is unconstitutional. This, notwithstanding its admittedly persuasive argument that it was only trying enforce a national law that the federal government is unwilling or unable to enforce.

    In any event, these amendments only made Holder’s subsequent testimony on this matter all the more incomprehensible: first of all, if only to defend his political credibility, he should have said that his concerns were based on briefings by some of the best lawyers in the country who work for him at the Justice Department; and then he should have acknowledged Arizona’s attempt to cure the faults that gave rise to his initial criticisms – while maintaining that its law is  unconstitutional.

    Instead, he just sat there squirming – with his self-righteousness competing with his ignorance over which was the greater cause for his humiliation – as some heretofore unknown congressman exposed the inherent contradiction, if not hypocrisy, in his criticism:

    It’s hard for me to understand how you would have concerns about something being unconstitutional if you haven’t even read the law. 

    (Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Texas, Washington Times, May 13, 2010)

    Holder’s his ignorance of the law is no excuse for being so politically inept. He did a huge disservice to the Obama administration as well as to the cause of immigration reform.

    But Obama has demonstrated a spineless inclination to allow officials who disappoint him to wither away over several months instead of firing them: Remember Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Desiree Rogers…?

    Therefore, I fully expect that to be the case with Holder.  And, given his Hamletian dithering since last November over trying terror suspects in New York City, his absurd quibbling over whether it’s okay to say that the Muslim terrorist who tried to blow up Times Square might have been influenced by radical Islam, and now this, Holder seems due to wither away any day now. 

    Related commentaries:
    Arizona scapegoating Hispanics

  • Saturday, May 15, 2010 at 6:40 AM

    New Playboy: Now you can look and touch. But husbands beware…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, May 14, 2010 at 5:53 AM

    The Day the Grand Ole Opry Flooded the Music Did Not Die

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    But for the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, the global efforts to bailout Greece, or the general elections in the UK, the historic floods that left much of Tennessee under water two weeks ago would have received Katrina-style media coverage. Hell, just the flooding of the Grand Ole Opry would have been cause for “BREAKING NEWS” on every media outlet. 

    As it happened, this catastrophe unfolded with nary a mention in the mainstream media. Despite the fact that 34 people died, thousands of homes were ruined, and half of Tennessee’s Counties were declared disaster areas. 

    It is also interesting to note that precious few of the celebrities who normally rush to help raise funds for victims of such disasters have been conspicuously absent.  Perhaps this has to do with the longstanding view of country music as the bastard sibling of the blues. And this, in turn, might explain why A-listers like Brad Pitt would readily plead for relief on behalf of poor black folks in New Orleans but not on behalf of poor white folks in Nashville.

    Of course, with the celebrity of country music stars like Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift rising to the stratosphere where that of A-listers reside, they can easily do for Nashville what stars like George Clooney and Sandra Bullock have done for New Orleans.

    But I commend comedian Jerry Seinfeld for offering to donate all proceeds from his concert on Friday to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and the American Red Cross to help ongoing relief efforts. I urge you to donate whatever you can by contacting the Red Cross here.

    NOTE: For my take on the outcome of the British General Election at Caribbean Net News, click here.

  • Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 5:33 AM

    Obama Nominates Elena Kagan to Supreme Court

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Given the purportedly transformative nature of his presidency, which the passage of healthcare reform actually reinforced, one could be forgiven for wondering what is so transformative about President Obama nominating Elena Kagan on Monday to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens (90) on the United States Supreme Court. 

    Especially since the White House has gone out of its way to deny rumors about what would constitute the most transformative aspect of her nomination; namely, that Kagan would become the first (openly) gay person to serve on the Court. Mind you, this is the same White House that has vowed to repeal the self-abnegating policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which applies to gays serving in the military. So much for courting the gay vote….

    (For the record, a number of her friends have come forward to testify that Kagan is not gay, which, of course, only raises suspcicions that she is….)

    Granted, her sexual orientation has no bearing on her fitness to serve on the Supreme Court. But if she is gay, it would help for her (and the White House) to proudly acknowledge this for the same diversity-affirming reason Obama nominating Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic to serve was so important.

    In any case, Kagan is even more assured of Senate confirmation than Sotomayor was. Not least because this Senate confirmed her just last year as Obama’s nominee to become the first woman to hold the post of Solicitor General – the nation’s chief advocate.  (Ah, perhaps this is what makes her a transformative nominee….)

    Of course Kagan also happens to be supremely qualified, having risen to the top of the ivory tower, from which so many justices have been plucked, when she became the first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School (2003-2009).

    Yet, predictably,  Republicans are spewing partisan criticisms about her not being fit to serve because she lacks judicial experience and would just be a liberal rubber stamp for the Democratic Party’s political agenda.  Never mind the inconvenient truth that conservatives on the Supreme Court rubber stamped the Republican Party’s political agenda when they gave the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000 in the infamous Bush v. Gore case. Or the fact that these are the same Republicans who heralded the nomination of the academically and professionally challenged Clarence Thomas as divinely inspired.

    Unfortunately, the nation must now endure the patented dog-and-pony show that passes for the confirmation process these days.  Ironically, here’s how no less a person than Kagan once decried this process:

    When the Senate ceases to engage nominees in meaningful discussion of legal issues, the confirmation process takes on an air of vacuity and farce, and the Senate becomes incapable of either properly evaluating nominees or appropriately educating the public. 

    (Kagan, book review of Professor Stephan L. Carter’s ‘The Confirmation Mess’, University of Chicago Law Review, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev. 919, p.920)

    Nonetheless, she will blithely participate now in this vacuous (political, not judicial) farce as the star witness. And once confirmed, Kagan (50) will become the youngest member of the Court.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama nominates Sotomayor

  • Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 5:06 AM

    Lena Horne, pioneering entertainer and civil rights activist, is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m almost embarrassed to disclose that I have only seen one Lena Horne movie: Stormy Weather – a 1943 musical based on the life and times of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson featuring many of the other top black entertainers of the day, including Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, and the Nicholas Brothers. 

    Even worse, I do not own a single recording by this four-time Grammy-award winning singer; not even the eponymous song from the one movie I saw, which actually became her signature.

    Instead, just as it was with my tribute to Eartha Kitt upon her death, this tribute to Horne stems solely from my appreciation for the pioneering steps she took for the advancement of black people.

    I was particularly impressed by the fact that she utterly shunned the self-abnegating farce of “passing” for white during the Jim Crow period, which lasted from the 1880s to the 1960s, when so many other light-skinned blacks did. But her I’m-black-and-I’m-proud activism extended far beyond this act of affirmative self-identification. 

    For Horne was a trailblazer for racial equality and integration all over the world long before it occurred to Rosa Parks in 1955 to stand up for black civil rights by sitting down in the white section of an Alabama bus.

    She was often cited as a show business triple threat for being an accomplished singer, dancer, and actor, which earned her the pioneering distinction of becoming the first black to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. But I suspect she’d rather be remembered for fighting with righteous indignation to integrate places of entertainment that coveted her talent but denied access to blacks.

    I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn’t work for places that kept us out. … It was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world.

    (Horne as quoted by photographer Brian Lanker in a collection entitled Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.)

    So instead of parroting accolades for her contributions to the arts, I pay this modest tribute for the profile in courage she showed as a civil rights pioneer. 

    Horne died on Sunday in New York City. She was 92.

    Farewell, Lena.

    Related commentaries:
    Eartha Kitt

  • Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 5:15 AM

    Democratic Silver Lining in Zimbabwe’s (de facto) Dictatorship

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Last year I joined the chorus of political commentators all over the world in hailing the coalition government between President Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party as the best hope for democracy in Zimbabwe. And we did so knowing full well that this coalition was forged only because Mugabe refused to cede power after losing at the polls.

    But here’s the business-as-usual note I sounded:

    Now Mugabe can afford to be magnanimous. Indeed, I suspect he would be happy to confer the title of prime minister upon his politically cuckolded foe, Tsvangirai; provided, however, that that title is conferred with all of the political power wielded by a Nubian Eunuch.

    (“Zimbabwe forms (improbable) coalition government,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2009)

    This is why it came as no surprise to me when Mugabe immediately sought to wield dictatorial control over this coalition by rejecting the MDC’s nominee for deputy agriculture minister, Roy Bennett. And it only reinforced Mugabe’s intent to brook no opposition that he did this by having Bennett arrested on clearly trumped up charges of treason; namely, plotting a coup d’état.

    What is surprising, however, is that a Zimbabwean court acquitted Bennett on all charges yesterday.  Because, given that the judiciary routinely did his bidding, this acquittal represents a transformative challenge to Mugabe’s 30-year dictatorship. It also marks an ironic triumph for a white Zimbabwean at a time when Mugabe is attempting to rid the country of the few who remain: a silver lining indeed.

    Recall, after all, the economic disaster Mugabe created six years ago when he executed his national land reforms. These reforms amounted to nothing more than seizing farms from the white farmers who made Zimbabwe the bread basked of Sub-Saharan Africa and redistributing them among his black cronies. Unfortunately, this new landed gentry knew nothing, and cared even less, about farming, which soon turned the country into the agricultural basket case it has become. 

    Now Mugabe has vowed to execute an indigenization and empowerment program.  This will require all foreign companies to transfer at least 51% of their shares to black Zimbabweans.  And nobody doubts that this program will do for business in Zimbabwe what Mugabe’s land reforms did for agriculture, which is why the neutered MDC raised such existential opposition to it.

    In the meantime, that Bennett is happy to have been acquitted is clearly understandable. What is not, however, is his resolve to continue the good fight against Mugabe’s confiscatory oppression. (Bennett’s farm was among the first seized in 2004 under Mugabe’s land reforms.)

    Good  has triumphed over evil. I’ve been standing resolute with the people of Zimbabwe who’ve been undergoing the same persecution. But it’s made me more resolute and fortified me more in my fight towards real change in Zimbabwe.

    (Bennett, BBC, May 10, 2010)

    Perhaps he should have ended this statement by quoting American Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale who lamented that “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” More importantly, though, the irony should not be lost on Zimbabweans that the person with the most moral authority to lead their downtrodden country is this white man.

    Related commentaries:
    Zimbabwe forms (improbable) coalition government
    Mugabe swears himself in as president for life
    Zimbabwe land reforms

  • Monday, May 10, 2010 at 5:19 AM

    Remembering Stalin exposes tensions between Putin and Medvedev

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    When Vladimir Putin plucked Dmitry Medvedev from obscurity in 2007 to succeed him as president of Russia, the consensus opinion was that Medvedev would be nothing more than a lap dog doing Putin’s bidding until Putin could resume his role as president in 2012. 

    (The Russian Constitution provides that no president can serve more than two consecutive terms. So instead of hammering through a self-interested amendment, Putin seemed content to serve as president for life with four-year interregnums by his chosen lap dogs to preserve the patina of democratic legitimacy. Nevertheless, he did prevail upon the Russian parliament to extend presidential terms from four to six years, prospectively; i.e., so that it does not extend Medvedev’s current term by two years, but takes effect only in 2012 when he clearly expects to be reelected. This will then give him a more comfortable twelve instead of eight years between interregnums.)

    In point of fact, Medvedev promptly vindicated universal disregard for his presidency by declaring the following in his first speech as president:

    Russia has reclaimed its proper place in the world community. Russia has become a different country, stronger and more prosperous… In order to stay on this path, it is not enough to elect a new president who shares this ideology… That is why I find it extremely important for our country to keep Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin at the most important position in the executive power, at the post of the chairman of the government [i.e., prime minister].

    (New York Times, December 12, 2007)

    But a funny thing is happening as Medvedev settles into his role as Putin’s lap dog: he’s beginning to balk at rolling over and playing dead on Putin’s command.  And nothing demonstrates this quite like the way he has taken lately to chastising Putin (in tail-wagging-the-dog fashion) for fomenting Soviet-style nationalism and building his cult of personality by selectively praising Stalin’s reign of terror.

    Here, for example, is what Putin has been saying:

    It’s obvious that, from 1924 to 1953, the country that Stalin ruled changed from an agrarian to an industrial society. We won the Great Patriotic War [the Russian name for the Second World War]. Whatever anyone may say, victory was achieved. Even when we consider the losses, nobody can now throw stones at those who planned and led this victory, because if we’d lost the war, the consequences for our country would have been much more catastrophic.”

    (London Times, December 4, 2009)

    To be fair, though, Putin readily conceded in this same Times article that:

    There was repression. This is a fact. Millions of our citizens suffered from this. And this way of running a state, to achieve a result, is not acceptable. It is impossible.

    Yet here’s how Medvedev pointedly rejected even this qualified praise of Stalin’s totalitarian rule, which, after all, is rather like hailing Hitler for the engineering feats of his Third Reich:

    The Great Patriotic War was won by our people, not by Stalin or even the generals… Millions of people died as a result of terror and false accusations … But we are still hearing that these enormous sacrifices could be justified by certain ultimate interests of the state.

    I am convinced that neither the goals of the development of the country, nor its successes or ambitions, should be achieved through human suffering and losses. It is important to prevent any attempts to vindicate, under the pretext of restoring historical justice, those who destroyed their own people….

    (London Times, December 4, 2009)

    Of course, both men are keen to downplay any perceived tension, and invariably insist that they work together effectively.  But it’s becoming increasingly clear that Medvedev is just as keen to disabuse the Russian electorate of the notion that he’s just Putin’s lap dog.

    Moreover, his creeping ambition will make the 2012 presidential elections far more contentious than anyone could have anticipated two years ago. In fact, here’s the shot across the bow Medvedev delivered when asked recently if he intends to run for reelection … against his putative master:

    If Putin doesn’t rule out running, neither do I rule myself out.

    (London Times, December 4, 2009)

    In the meantime, it’s an indication of who won this spat that plans to hang posters of Stalin along the route for yesterday’s Victory Day parade were summarily scrapped.  

    Game on….

    Related commentaries:
    Putin’s puppet, Medvedev

  • Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    Oil Spill Will Give Cajun Cooking a Whole New Meaning…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related Commentaries:
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  • Friday, May 7, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    British Elections End in Stalemate

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    What a bloody mess!

    In a self-fulfilling prophecy yesterday, voters gave Britain the hung parliament that was so devoutly to be wished.    For preliminary General Election results indicate that none of the three main parties will end up with the outright majority of 326 seats needed to govern alone.  Instead, according to BBC projections, the Conservatives will have 306;  Labour 258; and the Liberal Democrats 57.

    Now the horse trading begins.  Actually, it began during the debates with incumbent Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown unabashedly wooing Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to form a coalition government. And he will no doubt redouble his efforts now by assuring Clegg that it’s only through coalition with Labour that the Lib Dems will get the electoral reform – to allow proportional representation – that will guarantee them many more seats in future general elections.

    But Brown will fail; not least because Clegg stated – as an article of faith – throughout the campaign, and reiterated this morning, that the party that ends up with the most seats should be given the first opportunity to form a government.  And if Brown cannot seduce Clegg, he will have to resign – since he cannot form a governing coalition without the Lib Dems.

    More to the point, though, Cameron seems so intent on becoming prime minister that he might even try to govern with a minority government that excludes the Lib Dems. Especially since he is constitutionally opposed to the electoral reform Clegg must necessarily extract as the price for his party’s participation in any coalition government. Of course, politicians being what they are, it would not surprise me to see both Cameron and Clegg compromise on stated principles to consummate a marriage of convenience.

    Therefore, when all is said and done, Cameron will be prime minister: either in coalition with a cowered and compromised Clegg and his Lib Dems or with a spattering of smaller parties.  This of course will fulfill the prophecy I made almost five years ago:

    This very English man has all the right stuff to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom… He is as young (at 39), telegenic, impudent, and glib as current PM Tony Blair was when he was catapulted to the leadership of the Labour Party at the politically precocious age of 41.

    And, if they stick to their let’s emulate Labour’s 1994 to 1997 playbook (1997 being the year Blair upset incumbent PM John Major to win his first election), it’s very likely that the Conservatives will be returned to government – with Cameron moving into No. 10 Downing Street – after the next general elections.

    [The next British prime minister, TIJ, December 7, 2005]

    Related commentaries:
    The next British PM
    The Debates

  • Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 5:18 AM

    The Rise and Fall of Enron … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Long before predatory trading in shady financial instruments – with no intrinsic value – caused Lehman Brothers to fail, the fall of Enron symbolized the fateful fallacy of building profits based on manipulations of corporate balance sheets.

    In fact, Enron’s trading in such exotic “commodities” as broadcast time for advertisers, weather futures and Internet bandwidth was considered every bit as flawed, and in many cases fraudulent, as Lehman’s trading in such exotic instruments as Collaterized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps. For example, Enron made billions on a trading scheme called ‘death star,’ in which it finagled payment for moving energy to relieve congestion without actually moving any energy or relieving any congestion.

    This, of course, makes one wonder why Wall Street banks did not learn the lessons of Enron.  Especially since the fallout from their corporate schemes in 2008 made that which followed the fall on Enron in 2001 seem not only like ancient history but also like nothing major.

    Which brings me to Enron – the play: because after a spectacular rise to the top of the theatre world in London, this elaborate farce suffered a spectacular fall on Broadway this week.

    No doubt the production itself was first rate.  It’s just that the real-life farce surrounding the fall of the masters of the universe on Wall Street over the past 18 months made selling a play about the fall of Enron in New York seem rather like selling ice to Eskimos.  Perhaps this is why it received such chilly reviews by the hit-making theater critics of the New York Times and the Associated Press.

    Indeed, I can imagine nothing more entertaining in this context than congressional hearings that were held recently on the Wall Street financial crisis – complete with senators spewing political and moral indignation laced with profanity at disgraced investment bankers.  Specifically, no matter how compelling actors can make Enron’s leading characters (Jeff Skilling, Andy Fastow and Ken Lay) appear on Broadway, their portrayal could hardly match the drama that unfolded when Wall Street’s leading characters (Lloyd Blankfein, Dick Fuld, and Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre) appeared on Capitol Hill.

    This I suspect is why Enron was conspicuously absent when the Tony nominations for best play were announced on Tuesday.  And this snub evidently precipitated yesterday’s announcement that the play will fold on Sunday after only 15 performances. 

    There’s absolutely no argument that what Skilling and Fastow and Lay did was terrible and wrong. However, is there also something in us – which means that we are bound into this boom and bust situation – that we constantly create these bubbles out of excitement and fervor and then destroy ourselves? And it happens again and again and again.

    This is the pithy exposition playwright Lucy Prebble offered of her own play in an interview with NPR on April 30, 2010.  Ironically, it explains the flaw inherent in her art-imitating-life play – since life, in this case, is so much more dramatic, interesting, and entertaining than art.

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