• Monday, January 31, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    Egypt on fire…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [Author's note: This commentary was originally published on Friday at 8:50 pm.  The crisis in Egypt remains acute: Mubarak is ignoring persistent and defiant calls to step down, over 100 protesters have been killed yet tens of thousands continue to ignore increasingly rigid curfews, burning and looting are now widespread, and the initially accommodating military is beginning to show signs of Tiananmen-Square envy.]

    Revolutionary forces used the occasion of Friday prayers today to organize calls for Hosni Mubarak, the 82-year-old president who has ruled Egypt by emergency decree for almost 30 years, to resign. 

    Emulating their Tunisian counterparts, protesters duly fanned out from mosques all over the country shouting “Mubarak must go!” More daringly, they defied police and security forces by hurling rocks and setting buildings and cars on fire with relative impunity.

    Nevertheless, the most shocking thing about these protests since they began four days ago has been Mubarak’s conspicuous silence. That changed tonight when he finally delivered an address that was, alas, as bizarre as it was delusional. 

    Bizarre because he delivered it after midnight local time, when most Egyptians were probably fast asleep. Though, more to the point, he issued a defiant declaration about being the only one who can ensure law and order, and warned that he would not allow anyone to threaten the stability of the state.

    He reminded his people that only he stands between them and an Islamist regime (namely the Muslim Brotherhood) that would make the Taliban seem positively Jeffersonian. This has been his bogeyman story throughout his rule and he’s sticking to it….

    He then addressed the issue that concerned those of us watching in foreign countries almost as much as it concerned anxious Egyptians; namely, whether or not he would go.  He said he would not. 

    Instead, in a delusional attempt to appease the protesters, he deployed the same strategy Tunisian President Ben Ali deployed before he was ousted. Specifically, Mubarak offered his entire cabinet as sacrificial lambs, announcing that he had fired the lot of them and would appoint a new government - by the very authoritarian fiat protesters are raging against.

    But he then undermined this putative concession by promising many of the same political, social and economic reforms that he has been promising, and willfully breaking, for decades.

    The protesters will not be impressed, and Mubarak knows this all too well. No doubt this is why he has mobilized the army to reinforce police efforts to restore law and order…. 

    Significantly, President Obama followed Mubarak by delivering an address of his own. He began by informing the American people, indeed the world, that he had just had a frank discussion with the besieged Mubarak.

    He then proceeded to layout what he told the Egyptian president are the necessary conditions he must meet to retain the support of the American government as well as the Egyptian people, including refraining from using violence to squash the protests, restoring civilian access to the Internet, and following through on promises to hold free and fair elections.

    Of course, Obama and other Western leaders cannot afford to be too politically sanctimonious here. After all, they need a friendly government in Egypt not just to help in the war on terror, but also to limit hostile incursions across Israel’s Southwestern front and keep shipping lanes in the Suez Canal open. Their ambivalence therefore is understandable.

    In any event, I suspect these revolutionaries  will be no more appeased by Obama’s words about the universal imperatives of democratic freedoms and human rights than they were by Mubarak’s. After all, not only Obama, but all U.S. presidents have been saying much the same for decades too.

    This does not bode well.  All depends now on whether the army executes orders to crackdown or defies them – thereby forcing Mubarak to flee like Ben Ali.

    Whose next: Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah of Jordan, Saleh of Yemen … Khadafi of Libya? The prospects make me positively giddy. When Obama spoke of HOPE and CHANGE during his presidential campaign these are not the transformations I anticipated; but I’ll take them.

    Allah-u-akbar!

    NOTE: A month ago, no one in his right mind would have predicted these protests, let alone a revolution in Tunisia. Therefore, is anyone willing to join me in predicting whether this revolutionary fire will catch on in Cuba too? I think not…

    Related commentaries:
    Tunisian revolution – catching fire elsewhere…?

    * This commentary was originally published last night, Friday, at 8:50.

  • Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 6:12 AM

    Beware of Arab dictators seeking friends on Facebook

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Whose next: Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah of Jordan, Saleh of Yemen … Khadafi of Libya? The prospects make me positively giddy.

    (Egypt on fire, The iPINIONS Journal, January 29, 2011)

    Related commentaries:
    Egypt on fire

  • Friday, January 28, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    Tunisian Revolution – Catching Fire Elsewhere…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [Author's note:  The following commentary was originally published on Tuesday, January 25, at 5:53 am.  I have decided to reprise it because the protests the Tunisian revolution triggered across the Middle East will likely reach a tipping point today.  I have also appended an update based on recent developments in Tunisia.]

    Eleven days ago, Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country with his immediate family in tow.

    He did so to escape what he no doubt feared would be a repeat of the 10 days of mass protests in 1989 that led to the summary execution of Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena. 

    Then, as now, the protests began innocuously enough: In Romania, the harassment of a lowly dissident priest ignited nation-wide protests over the lack of everything from basic food supplies to basic human rights. In Tunisia, that spark was a poor fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire in frustration, despair and utter humiliation after a local official not only took away the scale he needed to sell his fruits, but slapped him in the face when he refused to pay the customary bribe to get it back.

    But in both cases, it was the killing of a protester by local riot police, as well as rumors about the killing of dozens more, that incited their revolutionary fervor.

    Of course, Tunisian protesters might have also derived inspiration from so-called people revolutions that ousted totalitarian regimes in places like Czechoslovakia (the Velvet Revolution) and Ukraine (the Orange Revolution).  

    But, given the way Iran brazenly squashed similar protests (dubbed the Green Revolution) in 2009, it took commendable courage for Tunisian protesters to remain vigilant in the face of an attempted crackdown.

    In fact, these protesters have become so formidable and inexorable in their determination to purge their country of anyone who was even remotely associated with Ben Ali’s regime that the police – who were defending the interim government just last week – are now locking arms with them.

    Thus far they have shunned all efforts to placate them, including offers to release all political prisoners, pay compensation to those persecuted by the old regime, and hold democratic elections within six months.

    The interim government has even made quite a show of rounding up all of Ben Ali’s family members who did not manage to escape.  But this hardly compares to the vigilante justice protesters have already executed on their vast property holdings throughout the country.

    It seems calm will only be restored once protesters - now being led by trade-union bosses and opposition leaders returning from exile - are satisfied that their “national salvation government” is completely Ben-Ali free.

    It’s worth noting, though, that Ben Ali was that rare Muslim leader who was doing in the open what other Muslim leaders were doing on the down low; namely, helping the United States fight its amorphous war on terror.   

    Therefore, U.S. authorities must be wondering what this revolution portends in this respect. They should be reassured, however, that Tunisia is not just among the most secular of Muslim states, but has aggressively routed out the types of Islamists who are now threatening its alliance with countries like Yemen. 

    Actually, all indications are that the democratic freedom fighters behind Tunisia’s “Tweet Revolution” might prove even more worthy as allies than the autocratic Ben Ali. Albeit, ironically, this also means that a democratic government might, indeed should, be less inclined to torture and rendition terror suspects at Washington’s behest the way Ben Ali did.

    Meanwhile, apropos of inspiration, folks are setting themselves on fire all over the Muslim world in an attempt to spark similar mass protests. And this revolutionary fire is catching on, especially in places like Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen where protesters are defying government bans on public gatherings to demand new leadership, democratic freedoms and an end to corruption.

    For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region – and we achieved neither.  Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.

    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced this revolutionary change in U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East at the American University in Cairo on June 20, 2005.  And it’s arguable that this change is what ignited the spark that has led to the revolutionary fires now burning all over the region. 

    Incidentally, I am not like so many political commentators now jumping on this revolutionary bandwagon. For here is how I criticized the lack of democratic freedoms in this region, in Egypt in this case,  long before U.S. government officials and media organizations saw the light:

    Western leaders still consider Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a pioneer for democracy in the Arab world – despite the fact that during his 25 years in power he never allowed a single candidate to oppose his “re-election” as president…

    International media hardly reported that political dissident Ayman Nour’s imprisonment confirmed Egypt’s notorious retreat from the path toward democracy, which Mubarak promised his American benefactors he would follow.  Not to mention that the U.S. government has given this zealously pro-American tyrant almost $50 billion during his 25-year reign. But Mubarak has been repaying this debt lately by extracting information from renditioned prisoners the Americans were too squeamish to “interrogate”.

    (Political dissidents doing hard time in political vacuum, The iPINIONS Journal, December 30, 2005)

    Unfortunately, U.S. entanglements across this region remain so fraught with double standards and conflicts of interest that it is in no position to provide any more than moral support to these protesters. In the meantime, it’s the Iranian precedent that seems to be taking hold elsewhere – as police and security forces are being unsympathetic and unsparing in their crackdown. And in this vein, I am mindful that daily anti-government protests persisted in Iran to no avail for over six months, during which over 70 prostesters were killed.

    Indeed, I fear the only lesson other de facto dictators (like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt) will learn from Tunisia is this:

    Better to share more of the loot from the national treasury with the security forces who protect you than allow the people you oppress to think that mass protests would be sufficient to oust you too.

    Only God knows how all of these protests will turn out. All the same, I stand in virtual solidarity with all those who dare to sound the clarion call of American revolutionary hero Patrick Henry:

    Give me liberty or give me death!

    UPDATE

    Arrest warrant issued for deposed president

    Leaders of Tunisia’s interim government issued international arrest warrants earlier this week for Ben Ali and his family members-evidently determined to show that they harbor no lingering loyalties. 

    These warrants also request the freezing of all foreign bank accounts they may have. As it happens, though, they flew the coop with hundreds of millions of dollars in cash too….

    Reports are that Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, which puts this country’s ruling royal family in somewhat of a bind: 

    • Do they betray a fellow Muslim dictator by handing him over?
    • Do they ignore the warrants and risk sympathetic uprisings at home?  
    • Or do they prevail upon Ben Ali to seek refuge in a country like China or Iran that would have no compunction about harboring him, or in Sudan where he and that country’s Muslim dictator, President Omar al Bashir, himself facing an international arrest warrant, could commiserate over their fugitive status?

    I suspect the Saudis will opt for this third option. Nobody is going to arrest Ben Ali.

    Related commentaries:
    Revolution in the Middle East
    Political dissidents doing hard time

  • Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 5:49 AM

    Jack LaLanne, Fitness Pioneer, is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Long before Arnold Schwarzenegger and other freaks pumped up on steroids distorted public perceptions about health and fitness, Jack LaLanne was the pied piper exhorting people to get in shape the old-fashioned way: with proper nutrition and daily exercise.

    The only way you can hurt the body is not use it. Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late. I tell the truth, I practice what I preach. I’m helping people to a better life.

    (Jack LaLanne, ABC News Obituary, January 23, 2011)

    Trust me, there was no greater indication of the popularity and influence of this “Godfather of Fitness” than my own Mummy heeding his call to get off her couch and do side bends with him on his TV show.

    Of course, it speaks volumes that his fitness show was as big a hit from the 1950s to the 1970s as The Biggest Loser is today.

    Indeed, LaLanne must have been profoundly dismayed that the more he preached the virtues of health (even resorting in recent years to infomercials to hawk his power juicer), the more obese Americans became. 

    But talk about living the life you preach about: LaLanne reportedly exercised two hours every day and, just to prove the benefits of all of that exercise, he continually performed Houdini-like feats of fitness – like marking his 65th birthday by towing 65 boats a mile on Japan’s Lake Ashinoko near Hakone, southwest of Tokyo, on Oct. 15, 1979. He clearly enjoyed longevity and vitality in equal measure.

    LaLanne died of pneumonia on Sunday at his home in California. He was 96.

    Farewell, Jack.

  • Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:31 AM

    2011 State of the Union Address

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have listened to enough State of the Union Addresses to know that they invariably amount to a triumph of style over substance.  And nothing demonstrates this quite like the most memorable thing about President Obama’s first address last year being not something he said, but a congressman yelling, “You lie.”

    Nevertheless, Obama can take credit for delivering an address tonight that had a few truly memorable flourishes. Most notable was his disarming appeal to Republicans to marshal their self-righteous patriotism in a national effort to defeat the Chinese and Indians, educationally and economically, instead of becoming consumed by self-defeating partisanship in a misguided effort to destroy his presidency.

    He called this appeal America’s “Sputnik moment,” echoing JFK’s appeal for a national effort to defeat the Soviets in the 1960s race to the Moon. Brilliant!

    That said, Obama’s address still had to compete for media attention with all of the juvenile hoopla about Republicans and Democrats sitting together in a symbolic show of bipartisanship.  All this did was set up the spectacle of people tuning in more to see where politicians were sitting than to hear what Obama was saying.

    At any rate, as one who was actually paying attention to what he was saying, I was somewhat put off by Obama beginning his address with yet another tribute to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was nearly assassinated recently. Because, with all due respect to her and all those affected by this tragedy, the national memorial Obama headlined in their honor a couple of weeks ago was surely tribute enough. In a similar vein, I wish Giffords well, but I’m beginning to resent the media reporting on every step of her recovery as breaking news.

    Why the president is trying to make 9/11-like heroes out of these folks is beyond me.  Not to mention the way the media are turning Daniel Hernandez, Giffords’s admittedly brave intern who reportedly helped save her life, into the Susan Boyle of politics….

    Mind you, apropos of the triumph of style over substance, if Obama had called for reasonable gun control tonight it would stand less than a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming a reality.  After all, the NRA has most politicians convinced that it is more important to grant citizens the right to own guns that can shoot a plane out of the sky than it is to grant them the right to affordable healthcare.

    In fact, the State of the Union Address is rather like a Shakespearean soliloquy that speaks of presidential ideals and aspirations that everyone knows will be summarily frustrated by the overweening demands of special-interest politics. And I cite President George W. Bush sounding the clarion call for America to break its addiction to foreign oil only to see that addiction grow each year of his presidency as Exhibit A in this respect….

    Yet this, I fear, will be the fate of Obama’s litany of (mostly recycled) initiatives, including such things as investments in innovation and education to put the sputtering U.S. economy into overdrive, as well as in clean energy technology to, you guessed it, break America’s addiction to foreign oil.  Especially since he must now deal with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives whose members seem afflicted with the Tea-Party delusion that the only role for the federal government is to fund America’s imperial military industrial complex.

    Hell, these folks are now convinced that government investment in infrastructure (to create jobs and fuel Obama’s economic agenda) is just liberal code for deficit spending, which itself is a Trojan horse to further a socialist agenda for a government takeover of every facet of life in America. Got that?! Truth be told, though, they just can’t abide Obama getting credit for rebuilding all of the crumbling ports, bridges, roads, and railroads to keep pace with the 21st Century infrastructure countries like China and India are building today.

    This is why when I heard him say, “We need to out innovate, out educate and out build the rest of the world,” my immediate thought was, in your dreams (or soliloquies).

    Obama even proposed a five-year freeze on non-defense spending to cater to purported Republican determination to reduce the deficit at all cost.  Never mind that using this freeze to reduce the deficit is rather like using a spoon to bailout the sinking Titanic. To be fair, though, nobody recognizes this more than Obama who also proposed additional measures to reduce government spending, inefficiencies, and abject waste.

    Incidentally, when you hear Republicans railing against government spending, beware that what they are really calling for is a confederacy where each state is free not only to make its own laws (on everything from abortion rights to gay rights), but also to decide who can live within its borders (think Arizona…).

    So, while Obama is proposing a progressive agenda to create a more perfect Union, the Republicans are proposing a regressive one to return America, ironically enough, to something resembling the warring states of Europe before they embarked on a course to emulate America by creating a European Union. But I digress….

    The only other noteworthy thing about tonight’s spectacle was the way Obama was greeted in the chamber like a conquering hero. This, of course, was unimaginable after his party took a shellacking at the polls in November. But oooh what a December to remember:  For, when even his fellow Democrats were writing his political obituary, he engineered such legislative feats in this month alone that most presidents would be proud to claim over an entire presidency.

    These include ratification of START (reducing the number of nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia), repeal of DADT (allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military), passage of a major tax compromise (extending unemployment benefits and granting tax relief for middleclass as well as rich folks), passage of a bill providing health benefits to Ground Zero responders (allowing them to get the medical treatment and workers’ compensation that, incomprehensibly,  they had been denied for over eight years), and passage of another food safety bill as the icing on the cake.

    Not to forget that he also pulled the country from the brink of another Great Depression, saved the auto industry, and passed healthcare reform - just to name a few more of his remarkable accomplishments.

    Everybody loves a winner….

    Hail Obama!

    Related commentaries:
    Bush calls for end of dependence of foreign oil …again
    Shellacking in November to December to remember

    * This commentary was originally published last night, Tuesday,  at 10:38.

     

  • Monday, January 24, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    NFL Championship Sunday

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Anyone who knows anything about football knows that the most exciting day of the NFL season is Conference Championship Sunday, not Super Bowl Sunday.

    And, true to form, yesterday’s NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears (which the Packers won 21-14) and AFC Championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets (which the Steelers won 24-19) did not disappoint.

    Unfortunately, my enjoyment of this day of football revelry was undermined by the lingering sour taste of watching the Packers eliminate my team, the Philadelphia Eagles, from the playoffs two weeks ago.  Naturally, this was reason enough for me to root for the Bears to rout the Packers.

    But not only did the Packers win, they even rubbed the Bears’ own folklore in their faces. Specifically, Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji intercepted a pass and rumbled like a “freezer” for a critical second-half touchdown, emulating Bears folk hero William “The Refrigerator” Perry, a defensive lineman who rushed for a touchdown to help the Bears win Super Bowl XX.

    In a similar vein, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has done such a stellar job of filling the shoes the legendary Brett Favre left behind in Green Bay that fans there can be forgiven for forgetting he ever even existed.

    To be sure, Favre did little to engender fond memories with his poor play on the field this season (for the Minnesota Vikings). But it was the revelations about his crude and sexually compromising play off the field, which made Tiger Woods look like choir boy, that sealed his fall from grace.

    On the other hand, I wanted the Steelers to win the AFC game.  Not least because I’m already sick of the media hyping Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez as the next Joe “Broadway” Namath. And they were only encouraged in making this presumptuous comparison by the sophomore Sanchez boldly predicting a win yesterday.

    We can do it. You can’t play not to lose. We’ve got to play to win the game, and that’s what we’ll do.

    (NFL Post, January 23, 2011)

    Okay, so it wasn’t all that brash a prediction, but the Jets were talking smack all week.  And no one was more disrespectful in this respect than their toe-sucking coach, Rex Ryan. (And if you haven’t seen the porno clips of him and his wife acting out their toe fetish, well, lucky you.) Frankly, they should’ve have entered this game with a little more respect for their opponents, considering that the Steelers have won seven AFC championships and the Jets have won … none!

    Therefore, it was tremendously gratifying that by half time, the Steelers had pretty much won the championship, leading the Jets 23-3.

    Oh, did I mention the friendly wager I made with my old college roommate? We’re both Eagles fans, but he chose the if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em route and began rooting for the Packers.  I chose the Steelers to go all the way….

    Mind you, I was a bit nervous when the Jets came out for the second half and scored 18 unanswered points to come within a touchdown of tying the game.  This, notwithstanding what I felt certain was a death knell when the Steelers raised their steel curtain to mount a goal-line defense against the surging Jets – who ran 17 plays over eight minutes during this period only to come up empty.

    So here’s to the Steelers adding to their claim on the most Super Bowl victories in history by defeating the Packers in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas on February 6; and to me having yet another reason to gloat over my old college roommate….

    Related commentaries:
    Rehabilitation (and vindication?) of Michael Vick
    NFL Conference Championship Sunday 2010

  • Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 6:56 AM

    Nature of U.S.-China Relationship

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related commentaries:
    Mr Hu comes to Washington

  • Friday, January 21, 2011 at 5:49 AM

    More Mothers Should Be Tiger Mothers

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Nothing reflects the schizophrenic and indulgent nature of parenting in America today quite like non-Asian mothers wanting their kids to be just as educated and talented as Asian kids, while venting self-righteous indignation at the way Asian mothers raise their enviable kids. 

    Well, a Chinese mother has finally addressed this parenting pathology among non-Asian mothers in her very provocative but instructive book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The author is Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School. And she makes a compelling case for what it takes to raise “super-human” kids.

    Her simple thesis is that non-Asian mothers cuddle their kids too much and indulge too many of their idle wishes – acting in many respects like doting grandparents instead of responsible parents; whereas, Asian mothers enforce a strict code of conduct which focuses their kids on academic and extracurricular activities (like playing the violin) – acting in many respects like a Marine drill sergeant preparing soldiers for war.

    Not surprisingly, even stereotypically, Chua’s two daughters are straight-A students and musical virtuosos on the piano and violin.

    Also, not surprisingly, non-Asian mothers are heaping all kinds of invectives at Chua for the manner in which she raised her children, depriving them – as she did – of such rites of passage as sleepovers, watching too much TV, and playing too many video games. 

    Other examples of the Tiger Mother abuse she supposedly heaped on her children include forcing one of her daughters to do 2,000 math problems a night after a Korean (i.e., another Asian) kid beat her in a math competition; threatening to burn the stuffed animals of another unless she played a piece of music correctly; and tearing up birthday cards both daughters gave her because they clearly did not put enough thought into selecting them.

    To be fair, Chua makes clear that she laced her heavy doses of discipline with appropriate expressions of love and motherly devotion. Not that you’d know this given the way the media are portraying her; i.e., making her look like a Mommie Dearest on steroids.

    There’s no gainsaying her results, however. And if you ever wonder why kids from the Caribbean are invariably more educated and well-mannered than non-Asian American kids, it’s because we too were raised by Tiger Mothers like Chua; and I’ll bet none of us would have it any other way.

    So instead of berating and envying her in equal measure, non-Asian-American mothers would do well to adopt some of the parenting methods she delineates in her book.  And Americans wonder why the Chinese are eating their lunch….

    Incidentally, it would seem Asian fathers are no more involved in the raising of their highly disciplined and overachieving kids than non-Asian fathers are in the raising of their highly entitled and underachieving kids.

  • Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 5:18 AM

    The Return of “Baby Doc”?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As if the Haitian people have not suffered enough….

    Talk about an earthquake; psychologically, this might be an even bigger blow. Never mind the few poor, misguided souls who greeted former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier like their Lord and Savior when he returned out of the blue on Sunday. 

    For I suspect the vast majority of Haitians would have preferred to see him necklaced – the preferred method of summary execution (by forcing a rubber tire, filled with gas, around a person’s chest and arms, and setting it on fire) that was meted out against his supporters after he was forced into exile in 1986.

    But one has to wonder why any Haitian would settle for this proverbial Barabas, when the real Messiah, Jean Bertrand Aristide, is still waiting in exile to make his triumphal return. But I digress…. 

    [B]laming the Americans for Haiti’s dystopia is rather like Robert Mugabe blaming the British for Zimbabwe’s.  Never mind that the foreign aid the world has lavished upon Haiti over the past 50 years has more than compensated for whatever damage this conspiracy may have caused. So blame people like Papa Doc, not Thomas Jefferson, for ‘destroy[ing] the dream that was Haiti.’

    Haitians are living a serial nightmare. And even though white foreign faces appear as evil forces from time to time, black indigenous faces (like those of the Tonton Macoutes, FRAPH, and even Lavalas devotees) are the constant, central and catalytic characters….

    (Haitians: returning to Africa…? The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2010)

    I see no point is waxing too indignant, or at length, about this admittedly shocking turn of events.  For the reign of terror Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Baby Doc exerted over Haiti for 29 years is all too well documented.

    But, given that last year’s earthquake raised Haiti’s misery index higher than it has ever been, it’s worth noting that trading on the misery of the Haitian people was the only plan for economic development the Duvaliers ever implemented. Accordingly, foreign aid (from governments, humanitarian organizations, and religious groups) became the primary source of national income – none of which found its way to the poor.

    This was the genocidal legacy Baby Doc left behind. It was implemented so insidiously, however, that “Le Misere”(selling the misery – as Duvalierist insider Elizabeth Abbott-Namphy refers to it) remains the country’s only source of national income even to this day.  And, of course, Mother Nature only reinforced this last year with her devastating earthquake.

    Theories abound about why Baby Doc returned – ranging from it being pursuant to a political plot orchestrated by the U.S. and France, to a desperate attempt by him to fulfill a condition Swiss banking authorities have placed on the release of what remains of his ill-gotten gains. 

    Whatever the case, I fear no contradiction in asserting that Baby Doc returning to Haiti makes about as much sense as Idi Amin returning to Uganda.  It is also why I am convinced he has returned from exile because he’s now either certifiably insane or terminally ill.  And judging from his rather frail and jaundiced appearance, I suspect it’s the latter. Alas, he’s probably suffering heroic delusions of dying on home soil.

    All the same, I applaud Haitian authorities for launching an immediate investigation to hold him to account not just for the violent crimes his dreaded Tonton Macoutes executed, but also for the financial crimes he perpetrated.

    I just hope he stays alive long enough to face the judge before he faces his maker.

    Related commentaries:
    Haitians returning to Africa…?
    Haiti earthquake one year later

  • Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 5:31 AM

    Mr. Hu Comes to Washington

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It’s clear why China timed the first public display of its new stealth bomber a couple of weeks ago to coincide with the first visit by a U.S. defense secretary in more than ten years: China wanted to signal its rise not just as an economic superpower, but as a military one too.

    I’ve been concerned about the development of the anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles ever since I took this job. They clearly have the potential to put some of our capabilities at risk and we have to pay attention to them. We have to respond appropriately with our own programs.

    (U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, London Independent, Reuters, January 8, 2011)

    Mind you, the amount the U.S. spends on its military buildup is almost equal to the amount all other countries of the world spend … combined, including China. For example, according to the independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. spends over $650 billion annually; whereas, China, which ranks second, spends less than $100 billion.

    Which makes U.S. concerns about China in this context rather like an elephant being concerned about a flee flittering about its ass. Not to mention the arrogant and self-righteous hypocrisy inherent in them.

    Instead, what really worries the U.S. is the leverage China is developing as an economic superpower. In fact, President Hu Jintao meeting with President Obama today is rather like a banker meeting with his richest, but most indebted, customer. No doubt this is why political commentators are saying Obama is laying out the red carpet to curry favor with Hu.

    But even here, putative U.S. worries are unwarranted. Here’s why:

    [A]ny real attempt by China to squeeze the U.S. financially would amount to an unprecedented case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. After all, the U.S. market is even more indispensable to China’s economic growth than China’s credit is to the U.S.’s.

    (World beware, China calling in its (loan-sharking) debts, The iPINIONS Journal, February 3, 2010)

    Both China and the U.S. are acutely mindful that any unilateral alteration in this mutually dependent economic relationship would amount to mutually assured destruction (MAD).  This is why, just as the U.S. and Soviet Union balanced their military relationship based on this MAD concept, the U.S. and China are now balancing their economic relationship on the same concept.

    Moreover, instead of sworn enemies who must grudgingly show mutual respect (as was the case with the U.S. and Soviet Union), the U.S. and China are like two people in an unhappy marriage who dare not divorce (for whatever reason) and therefore continue to put on a happy face.

    This is not to say they won’t have frank discussions about the U.S. deficit spending and China currency manipulation that have created a seemingly terminal, but untenable bilateral trade imbalance in China’s favor.  But this will be tantamount to that unhappily married couple arguing for the one-hundredth time about the wife’s profligate spending habit and the husband’s self-righteous lectures on fiscal responsibility.

    So when all is said and done, the U.S.-China trade imbalance will continue to redound to China’s favor - with the U.S. falling even further in its debt…. 

    In the meantime, just as this couple would be competing for enabling allies within their circle of friends, the U.S. and China are doing all they can to win friends and influence countries in the international community.   And, in this context, U.S. concerns are truly warranted. 

    After all, China is rapidly supplanting the U.S. as the indispensable superpower in many countries throughout the developing world.

    China has lent more money to other developing countries over the past two years than the World Bank, a stark indication of the scale of Beijing’s economic reach and its drive to secure natural resources.

    (Financial Times, January 18, 2011)

    This means that, even though China dares not flex its loan-sharking muscles against the U.S., it could squeeze many other countries, including U.S. allies, so tight they’d agree to do China’s bidding even if it undermines U.S. interests. 

    Reports abound about the way these two superpowers are variously competing or collaborating to influence or control North Korea’s nuclear ambition. Less reported is the way China has been buying up allies in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America with success the Soviet Union could never have imagined.

    The U.S. finally seems to be waking up to this stealth operation. But here’s how I warned years ago not only of China’s rebirth as a global empire, but of the consequences:

    What happens if China decides it is in its strategic national interest to convert the container ports, factories, and chemical plants it has funded throughout the Caribbean into dual military and commercial use? Would these governments comply? Would they have any real choice? And when they do comply, would the U.S. then blockade that island – the way it blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis? Now consider China making such 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….

    (China buying up political dominion, The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2005)

    And here:

    This episode should serve as a warning to all countries around the world that are not just lapping up China’s largesse, but heralding it as a more worthy superpower than the United States. Because if the Chinese can spit such imperious and vindictive fire at the U.S. over a relatively insignificant matter like meeting the Dalai Lama, just imagine what they  would do to a less powerful country in a conflict over a truly significant matter.

    (World beware, China calling in its (loan-sharking) debts, The iPINIONS Journal, February 3, 2010)

    Of course, this is not to say that all is hunky-dory in China.  But there’s nothing like state control of all media to ensure that all problems with the government’s modernization plans are overlooked. Yet even I was sufficiently aware of China’s indigenous problems to comment as follows five years ago:

    Despite a rate of growth that is the envy of the world, China’s economy is, in fact, a ticking time bomb. Because the one billion people providing cheap labor to fuel its boom represent mushrooming fuel demands that portend its bust…

    Not to mention that the  affectations of modernity and freedom in China’s big cities are designed to divert attention from the feudal, barren and collectivized rural areas where the vast majority of its people still reside … and where unreported restiveness is simmering  among gentrified, marginalized and disaffected farmers.

    (Gap between rich and poor in China sowing seeds of terminal unrest, The iPINIONS Journal, December 22, 2005)

    In any case, Obama is duly rolling out the red carpet for Hu not because China has the U.S. by the proverbial balls financially, but because China is becoming almost as influential in the global community as the U.S. And no country is more worthy of such honor and respect.  

    I only hope he does a better job of hosting Hu than his predecessor did in 2006, when Hu’s welcoming ceremony was marred by a Falun Gong worshiper (think Scientologist) heckling him as an ungodly murderer.  (I suspect President Bush had a very difficult time convincing Hu this outburst was not orchestrated by the U.S. just to embarrass China….)

    Finally, I regret to inform my liberal friends that purported U.S. concerns about human rights in China will figure about as prominently in discussions during Hu’s visit here as China concerns about gun violence in the U.S. figured in discussions during Obama’s visit to China last year.

    Specifically, Obama will proffer the same platitudes about universal human rights every U.S. president has proffered since Nixon opened relations with China in the early 1970s. And Hu will offer the same mind-your-own-business reply every  Chinese leader has offered in kind. 

    But the U.S. might want to temper its moral indignation a little - given that just 50 years ago blacks in America were suffering the kind of human rights abuses that make those Chinese citizens are suffering today seem positively benign.

    Related commentaries:
    World beware
    Gap between rich and poor

  • Monday, January 17, 2011 at 6:17 AM

    Happy MLK Day!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    If Dr Martin Luther King Jr. were here today, he would undoubtedly be as thrilled as anybody that Barack Obama is doing so well as the first black president of the United States.

    Yet he would be the first to remind us that we are far from reaching the Promised Land that inspired his prophetic dream. 

    Obama himself is all too mindful today that his election is only one small step in the march toward economic and social equality for all Americans.  Indeed, it did not take long for the fatuous notion of a post-racial election to be dispelled.

    (It might be helpful to recall that Obama was the only black person in the U.S. Senate; still, white Democratic leaders did all they could to block the swearing in of the black man who was appointed to replace him….)

    Nevertheless, it speaks volumes that, of all the great Americans who have ever lived, MLK is the only private citizen to have a federal holiday declared in his honor

    Hell, even Washington and Lincoln have to share one holiday on Presidents Day.  And now MLK will be joining them on the Mall later this year when his own monument will be dedicated.

    But today’s holiday is not just a testament to MLK’s greatness; it’s a symbolic down payment on the promissory note, which represents the unpaid (indeed unpayable) debt America owes the descendants of its former slaves.  

    That said:

    This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

    And I can think of no better way to mark this MLK Holiday than by pledging henceforth to tune out all politicians and talking heads who traffic in the kind of incendiary rhetoric that can inspire political assassinations. 

    NOTERelated commentaries:
    Obama inauguration commemorates Lincoln…
    Burris finally sworn in to replace Obama in Senate
    MLK on the Mall at last

  • Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 6:42 AM

    The memorial over, Congress returns to bickering as usual…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related commentaries:
    Arizona shooting rampage

  • Friday, January 14, 2011 at 5:26 AM

    Haiti Earthquake One Year Later

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With the media still focused, almost obsessively, on last Saturday’s shooting rampage in Arizona, which killed 6 and wounded 14, one would have been hard-pressed to find any mention on Wednesday of  the one-year anniversary of the horrific Haitian earthquake, which killed 316,000 and wounded hundreds of thousands more.

    But lack of media attention has to be among the least of concerns for the survivors. After all, even one year later, they are still living in squalid conditions surrounded by the ruble that has become the catastrophic tomb for tens of thousands of unrecovered dead bodies.

    Usually, the anniversary of a tragic event gives those involved a chance to look back on the hell that was. Unfortunately, this anniversary finds Haitians still suffering and living this tragedy.  And, with precious little of the billions pledged to rebuild Haiti being delivered so far, there seems no end in sight to their living nightmare.

    Meanwhile, the lucky few who managed to escape to America in the wake of this quake, as well as the tens of thousands who were living here illegally before it, are now facing the cruel and inhuman prospect of being deported. For the Obama administration has decided that, even though it’s still not safe to return Cuban refugees to their relatively rich country, it’s perfectly safe to return Haitian refugees to the tent cities their country has been reduced to.

    [Ironically enough, it was another Democratic president, Bill Clinton] who initiated the inherently unfair, if not racist “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy during his presidency, which stipulates that seafaring Cuban refugees who make it to U.S. shores must be assimilated, unconditionally; whereas, seafaring Haitian refugees (fleeing even greater persecution and privations) who make it must be repatriated, summarily.

    (Compassion fatigue for Haitian migrants, The iPINIONS Journal, July 31, 2009)

    I commend Clinton for heading international efforts to rebuild Haiti; never mind that, as indicated above, there’s virtually no evidence of any progress in this respect. But I think this is the least he can do to atone for this discriminatory policy.

    In any case, Obama’s refugee roundup will now lead to the ironic spectacle of Haiti’s jails being populated more with deportees from America than with local criminals - many of whom escaped when the prison fell apart during the earthquake, and have yet to be recaptured. Frankly, if the U.S. wanted to make good on its financial pledge, it would do well to start by helping these refugees get settled in America instead of deporting them like common criminals.

    I’d say God bless the Haitian people, but that might seem like just a cruel joke.

    Related commentaries:
    Hurricane Tomas adds to Haiti’s living nightmare

  • Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    WikeLeaks’s Assange Fears Guantanamo … and Assassination

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Remember when WikiLeaks was dominating news coverage a few weeks ago the way the Arizona shooting rampage is today?

    Back then I got a lot of flak from my liberal friends for writing the following about what the U.S. should do to WikiLeaks’s founder, Julian Assange:

    [I]f these leaks pose (or have caused) the kind of damage U.S. officials claim, then  Julian Assange, the defiant revealer of all government secrets who heads WikiLeaks, should be either dead or sitting in Guantanamo Bay.

    (WikiLeaks more U.S. secrets, The iPINIONS Journal, November 29, 2010)

    Well, it seems no less a person than Assange’s own lawyer thinks that’s exactly what the U.S. is planning to do. For, in defending his infamous client against being extradited to Sweden to be interrogated on allegations of rape and sexual assault, his lawyer made clear his fear that this would lead inexorably to being extradited to the U.S.

    Specifically, he argued during an extradition hearing in London on Tuesday that:

    …there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere … there is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty. It is well-known that prominent figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr. Assange should be executed.

    (London Guardian, January 11, 2011)

    Frankly, Assange is either certifiably insane or criminally naive if he thinks he can do more to undermine U.S. foreign-policy interests than Osama bin Laden and get away with it. The British court is expected to rule on his extradition to Sweden in early February….

    Related commentaries:
    WikiLeaks more U.S. secrets

  • Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:03 AM

    Arizona Shooting Rampage

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [Author's note: I am truly amazed at how coverage of this tragedy is still dominating all media.  It also seems to be the only thing most people, including friends and colleagues in Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, want to talk about these days.  This focus will only be heightened today when President Obama leads a federal delegation to Arizona for a national memorial service for the dead and, it seems, for the entire nation. 

    Personally, I don't get it. But, given the if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them nature of the interest, I have decided to reprise my Sunday commentary on this shooting rampage.]

    A suspect is currently in custody, but we don’t yet know what provoked this unspeakable act.  A comprehensive investigation is currently underway, and at my direction, [FBI] Director Bob Mueller is en route to Arizona to help coordinate these efforts… This is more than a tragedy for those involved.  It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country… We’re going to get the bottom of this, and we’re going to get through this….

    (President Obama, whitehouse.gov, January 8, 2011)

    In delivering this address to the nation, President Obama was doing his best to act as both comforter and commander in chief in the immediate aftermath of a shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday.

    Given the way federal, state, and local authorities are reacting to this shooting, to say nothing of the way the media are covering it, you’d think this was another 9/11-style attack by al-Qaeda.  

    In fact, a lone gunman ambushed a meet-and-greet session Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding at a local supermarket.  Eye witness accounts indicate that he simply pulled out his gun, shot Giffords, his primary target, and then began shooting randomly.

    Before he was reportedly tackled and restrained by two civilians, six people were dead, including a nine-year-old girl, 14 wounded, and Giffords was left clinging to life after his bullet passed through her brain.

    Incidentally:

    I’m constrained to wonder why the media always reward these psychotic people by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds?

    You’d think that – given the record of these psychotic and vainglorious episodes since Columbine – we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the shooter to: May God have mercy on your soul as you burn in hell!

    (Massacre in Omaha, The iPINIONS Journal, December 7, 2007)

    Anyway, in pledging to get to the bottom of this, President Obama unwittingly left the impression that there was some way to make sense of this clearly senseless act; whereas there is not. After all, the gunman has been identified, not surprisingly and arguably by definition, as an anti-government lunatic with paranoid delusions.

    This is not to say that he is legally insane, however. Because I think he was fully able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his murderous rampage, and should be prosecuted accordingly.

    Yet many political commentators are laying blame for his “unspeakable act” squarely at the feet of right-wing firebrands like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, and Sarah Palin.

    Granted, this blame might seem warranted in Palin’s case – given the map she prominently displayed on her website with the crosshairs of gun sights targeted over the districts of Democrats she wanted to take out, including Giffords. In fact, no less a person than Giffords herself expressed grave concerns about Palin inciting others to violent action by targeting her and other politicians in this way:

    We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.

    (MSNBC, March 25, 2010)

    Still, I suspect that ascribing blame in this context might have more to do with political scapegoating than getting to the bottom of this tragedy. Not least because political rhetoric by left-wing firebrands has been, and can be, equally incendiary.

    It’s simply unfair to argue that Palin knew or should have known that her “don’t retreat, instead reload” rhetoric and this map would cause this wacko to attempt to assassinate Giffords. And let us not overlook the fact that many of the talk show hosts now damning politicians who traffic in incendiary rhetoric are the very ones who prattle on almost every day about that rhetoric to gin up ratings.

    Frankly, there are no clear answers. To be sure, though, we would benefit tremendously if political discourse were more about shedding light than heat. And I commend Palin for getting rid of that misguided map. But instead of just blaming the firebrands, it behooves us to question why so many of us consume their “inflammatory crap” like brain-dead twits.

    No doubt technology proliferates and disseminates fiery rhetoric on a scale today that was heretofore unimaginable. This means that many more impressionable lunatics might be on the receiving end….

    But I am acutely mindful that there has never been a time in U.S. history when political firebrands did not incite violence. Indeed, I can imagine similar soul searching, finger pointing, and scapegoating taking place after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

    This is why I am convinced that nothing will become of this post-mortem political debate or of Obama’s pledge to get to the bottom of this.

    In this latter respect, similar presidential pledges were made after the assassination of JFK, the assassination of MLK, the Oklahoma bombing, the shooting rampages at Columbine and Virginia Tech, and many other such unspeakable acts. Yet, in each case, subsequent acts of senseless violence rendered those pledges hollow….

    No laws can prevent these kinds of human tragedies. Incidents like this bring into stark relief the fact that it’s not guns, but insane and troubled people – with motives no one can possibly anticipate or comprehend – who commit murderous rampages…

    Therefore, let us look to psychologists to help us understand what triggers such psychotic human behavior; not to politicians to legislate against it or pundits to cast blame.

    (Massacre at Virginia Tech, April 17, 2007)

    In fact, given the way American laws make guns so readily available, and the way this culture glorifies gun violence, we really should be thanking our lucky stars that there aren’t many more rampages like this.   

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of all those affected.

    NOTE: Am I the only one who finds it ironic that, in a state where guns are reportedly as commonplace as mobile phones, nobody managed to draw a gun and shoot this bastard…?  And am I the only one who is thanking God today that the shooter was not an Hispanic illegal immigrant…?

    Related commentaries:
    Massacre in Omaha
    Massacre at Virginia Tech
    Arizona scapegoating Hispanics

    * This commentary was published originally on  Sunday, January 9, at 2:30 pm

  • Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    Floods Over Australia

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Tropical rains continue to exacerbate the worst floods Australia has experienced in some 50 years.   Reports are that some areas of Queensland have been hit with over 13 inches in just the past 24 hours – complete with raging waters overturning cars and downing trees with tornado-like force.

    Since the downpour began in late November, 18 people have been killed, 72 have gone missing, over 200,000 have been displaced, and hundreds of businesses have been impacted. And, sadly, there seems no end in sight to the devastation that will flow from these floods.

    You want to cry.  It’s going to go up to the roof.

    (Hotel manager Jess Philpot, Associated Press, January 9, 2011)

    Yet you can be forgiven for having no clue about the enduring nature of this natural disaster. After all, except for a few reports on how so many Australians were spending their Christmas holidays dodging crocodiles and snakes in flood waters surrounding their homes, there has been relatively little coverage.

    This stands in stark contrast to the 24/7 coverage that invariably attends natural disasters in poor countries like Pakistan. Not to mention the outpouring of sympathy and support this coverage evokes.

    I understand, of course, that the same natural instinct that compels us to give up a seat on the train – not to the young and strong, but to the old and frail,  also compels us our interest in the suffering – not of the (relatively) rich and resourceful, but of the poor and defenseless.

    All the same, I am all too mindful that the suffering is exactly the same for a person whose modern home is swept away by floods in Australia as for one whose provincial shack is swept away by floods in Pakistan. 

    This is why we should not withhold our sympathy for the Australians now suffering the wrath of Mother Nature – even if the media gives it short shrift and we are naturally inclined to withhold our support.

    Related commentaries:
    Floods over Pakistan

  • Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    Happy (Orthodox) Christmas !

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    To my Serbian, Greek and Russian friends and to all of my Orthodox Christian readers around the world who celebrate Christmas on January 7.

  • Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    Happy New Year!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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