• Friday, September 30, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    Michael Jackson death trial: Murray is guilty, but MJ is not without blame

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have no doubt that Michael Jackson was the greatest entertainer of all time. But I also have no doubt that he was partly to blame for his own “timely” death.

    Of course, I appreciate that for most of his fans these two points are irreconcilable. Therefore, all I’m going to say about Michael’s blame is that his (prescription) drug habit, as well as the doctor shopping he engaged in to feed it, was an open secret.

    Dr. Conrad Murray was only the latest quack who jumped at the chance to make a quick buck ($5 million to be exact) by serving as Michael’s in-house drug dealer in the guise of serving as his doctor.

    That said, I have no doubt that Murray is guilty of involuntary manslaughter as charged. For there’s clear and convincing evidence that the care he provided Michael was not just sub-standard, but criminally negligent.

    For example, it was bad enough that he was administering the drug propofol to the clearly addicted king of pop in his home, when any responsible and competent doctor knows that this drug should only ever be administered in a hospital under the care of a properly trained anesthesiologist.

    But when Michael was presenting obvious symptoms of dying from an overdose, the evidence indicates that Murray seemed not only unable to perform CPR competently, but also more concerned about getting rid of the evidence of his criminally negligent care before calling 911.

    Then there’s the fatuous defense that he administered the propofol on every occasion except on that fatal occasion when Michael overdosed. Because this is rather like a parent pleading that she gave her kid valium to treat his ADHD on many occasions except on that fatal occasion when he overdosed.

    As a lawyer, I certainly appreciate all of the procedural due process unfolding in that California courtroom. But there’s no gainsaying that celebrity trials these days are more about star-gazing, TV-pundit-making hype than about justice.

    Incidentally, my heart goes out to the Jackson family. But mindful as I am about the estrangement that existed between Michael and almost all of them, I cannot help wondering about the ulterior motives behind their publicity-grasping show of support. His sister La Toya is tweeting from the courtroom everyday as if she’s an analyst providing color commentary on a sporting event for Christ’s sake.

    And am I the only one who thinks there’s a delusional gene running through that family – given their insistence that Michael fathered those three white kids … naturally?

    Nothing is more pathetic than watching his siblings on TV going on about how they look just like Michael – oblivious to the fact that surgically or cosmetically altered features (like his pointed nose, bleached-white skin and wigged-out long, straight hair) cannot be inherited.

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

    In any case, Murray has been a guilty man walking ever since Michael died on June 25, 2009. The only real issue now is whether he’ll be sentenced to the max, which in this case is only four years. I say yes.

    Related commentaries:
    MJ: worth more dead than alive
    52nd Annual Grammy Awards

  • Friday, September 30, 2011 at 5:40 AM

    China prevailing upon South Africa to ban the Dalai Lama … again?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There was worldwide condemnation two years ago when South Africa denied the Dalai Lama a visa to join fellow Nobel Peace Laureates at an international peace conference in Johannesburg. The organizers ended up canceling the conference in protest. China just smiled….

    But I’m on record – dating back to February 2005 in a commentary entitled China buying up political influence in the Caribbean – not only warning about the petty and vindictive lengths to which China would go to keep the Dalai Lama in check, but also decrying the extent to which far more powerful countries than South Africa seemed prepared to kowtow to it in this respect.

    Apropos of this latter point:

    Western leaders have made a mockery of their condemnation of the brutal crackdown on Tibetan monks by heeding China’s warning against meeting with the Dalai Lama in any official capacity. In fact, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeased the Chinese by refusing to meet with him at No. 10, choosing instead to meet only at the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This enabled Brown to claim that he was meeting the Dalai Lama “in a spiritual rather than political capacity”.

    (Punishing China for its brutal crackdown on Tibet? Hardly…, The iPINIONS Journal, July 28, 2008)

    Therefore, it was hardly surprising to me when South Africa caved two years ago. Nor is it surprising that it’s about to do the same again:

    The South African government is considering blocking the Dalai Lama from attending the 80th birthday of fellow Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu so as not to offend China, according to opposition politicians.

    Tutu has invited the Tibetan spiritual leader to give a lecture as part of his birthday celebrations in Cape Town on 8 October. Officials from the former archbishop’s office started the visa application process in June, but have yet to get approval for the Dalai Lama’s visit and fear it may not come

    (London Guardian, September 27, 2011)

    No doubt there is just cause to criticize the ways the U.S. and U.S.S.R. wielded their superpower during the Cold War. But China is giving every indication that it intends to wield its superpower in ways that make the way they lorded over their respective spheres of influence seem relatively genteel.

    Mind you, its obsessive determination to blacklist the Dalai Lama would be understandable if he had the power of the Ayatollah of Iran. But he’s the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. Moreover, no less a person than the president of the United States has conceded that Tibet is a part of China. Not to mention that China has imposed de facto martial law over this region for the past 52 years for Christ’s sake!

    They’re only directing that the Dalai Lama should be shunned today. But who knows what extraterritorial directive the Chinese will issue pursuant to their perceived national interest tomorrow…? Just consider for a moment what passive-aggressive hegemony they have in mind if they already presume that they can dictate who the president of the United States can invite to the White House….

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

    Enough said.

    Related commentaries:
    World beware
    Countries queuing up

     

  • Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 5:15 AM

    Turning Haiti’s historic sites into tourist destinations

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Is it appropriate to sail into the idyllic port of Labadee, Haiti on a pleasure cruise when the dead remain unburied and the impoverished country writhes in chaos?

    (Cruise Law News, January 19, 2010)

    Labadee is an enclave that Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd carved out of the north coast of Haiti as a “private paradise” for passengers on its Caribbean cruise. It did this pursuant to a long-term lease with the Haitian government beginning in 1985.

    But few people had ever heard of Labadee before the provocative question above stirred a media debate in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake. More to the point, you’d think this question would’ve posed some kind of moral/social conflict for Royal Caribbean. But it did not.

    For in an interview with National Public Radio on January 19 (just one week after the quake), its president, Richard Goldstein, said that the decision to continue business as usual in Haiti was a “no-brainer.”

    The cruise line insisted that it could do more by donating one million dollars to Haiti’s recovery and rebuilding efforts from revenues generated on Labadee. Never mind that, according to a September 28, 2011 report by Bloomberg Businessweek, Royal Caribbean raked in $6.8 billion in 2010; or that its rival Carnival donated six million dollars even though it does not profit off Haiti the way Royal Caribbean does….

    That said, the point of this commentary is not to hurl belated moral indignation. Not least because I am all too mindful that the mindset that allowed Royal Caribbean to treat post-quake misery just miles from Labadee as if it were unfolding in Bangladesh reflects that of resort developers throughout the Caribbean who have been invited over the years by local governments to treat vast areas of their pristine coastline as exclusive, almost hermetically sealed enclaves for visiting tourists.

    Instead, I would like to suggest a way Royal Caribbean can make itself a better corporate citizen and earn an unprecedented amount of international goodwill.

    One of my favorite TV programs is Frontline, which is a less commercialized version of 60 Minutes. On Tuesday night it featured a truly compelling report by Adam Davidson entitled “An Optimist in Haiti”, which posed this quixotic question:

    Can one man’s unlikely tourism plan turn around Haiti’s economy?

    That man is Lionel Pressoir. And the central feature of his plan is a restaurant he’s building to accommodate hundreds of tourists on a daily basis in the small, impoverished town of Milot; notwithstanding that, according to the report, he has never seen a single tourist there.

    But Pressoir’s plan “to turn Milot into a major international tourist destination … a cultural and historical mecca” is not as unhinged as it may seem. Because it is grounded in the absolutely stunning and irresistable fact that Milot is home to Haiti’s most historic sites:

    1. the ruins of the Palais de Sans Souci – the residence of Haiti’s revolutionary war hero and first president (1807-11) Henri Christophe; and
    2. the Citadelle Laferrière – the fort he built to fend off what every citizen in the early days of this first independent black nation in the new world feared would be an avenging attack by the French to reclaim it as a colonial possession.

    Call him crazy, but Pressoir has an abiding belief that if these sites were included in a slick promotional campaign and roads were built to make them more accessible, tourists would come in droves. I agree.

    Of course, with all of the other infrastructural demands on what little of the billions pledged to rebuild Haiti has been received, nobody expects roads to be built anytime soon that could take the few tourists who fly to major cities like Port au Prince to Milot. In fact, no less a person than Bill Clinton, in his capacity as UN Special Envoy to Haiti, visited Milot way back on October 2, 2009 with a delegation of potential investors and pledged to build the roads to facilitate access to the area by tourists. Yet not a single drop of tar has been laid pursuant to his pledge.

    This is why Pressoir is so focused on luring tourists from Royal Caribbean’s captive enclave of Labadee, which is only a tantalizing 10 miles along one rickety road from Milot. The problem is that he’s barking up the wrong tree by trying to get the Haitian government to buy into his plan.

    Hence my suggestion: specifically, I am convinced that if Royal Caribbean were persuaded that, in addition to sunbathing and frolicking on the beach, its passengers would enjoy an excursion to Milot’s historic sites, Pressoir’s plan would be realized in a flash.

    This is where all of you come in. Because if everyone contemplating a Caribbean cruise were to express a firm interest in visiting these sites, Royal Caribbean would find a way to make it happen – even if that means adding a one-dollar surcharge to raise the $20 million Pressoir thinks is necessary to build a proper road between Labadee and Milot. Given its $6.8 billion in annual revenues, though, that $20 million is chump change.

    But even if you have no interest, contact them anyway to say you’d be interested if this excursion were available. And you might mention that going on a cruise to Haiti and not visiting the Palais de Sans Souci and the Citadelle Laferrière is rather like going on a cruise to Greece and not visiting the Parthenon and the Acropolis. Unthinkable, right?!

    So please contact Royal Caribbean, and get your family and friends to do the same: Contact Us

    Related commentaries:
    Haiti earthquake one year later

  • Wednesday, September 28, 2011 at 5:10 AM

    Michael Vick’s lament: Why is everybody always picking on me?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m a big fan of NFL football player Michael Vick. But four years ago, when he was in the dog house (no pun intended) and every sports writer was writing obituaries on his career, I wrote the following - more as one who understands the business of professional sports than as a fan:

    Let me hasten to disabuse you of any doubt about Vick’s football career. Because the only question is: which team will offer him the most lucrative contract once he pays his debt to society…?

    Therefore, ignore all of the his-career-is-over chatter by sports analysts. And do the same with the politically correct talk by the NFL commissioner about expelling Vick for violating the league’s ‘morals clause’. After all, if the NFL has no moral qualms about employing men (like Larry Johnson of the Kansas City Chiefs) who routinely abuse women, then it should have no qualms at all about employing a ‘reformed’ man (like Vick) who routinely abused dogs.

    (Dogfighting fiend Vick cops a plea, The iPINIONS Journal, August 21, 2007)

    So clearly it was vindication enough when the Philadelphia Eagles hired him as a third-string quarterback after he served two years in prison (2007-09) and forfeited his $100 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.

    But that vindication was surely complete this summer when the Eagles rewarded (and secured) his spectacular play by offering him a $100 million contract extension. This made Vick  the fourth-highest paid player in the League (at $15.9 million per year) – behind Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts ($23 million), Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams – whoever he is…($18.4 million), and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots ($18 million).

    With that, you’d think Vick would do everything possible to endear himself not just to Eagles fans, but to everyone in America who was justifiably outraged by his barbaric dogfighting hobby.

    Yet he stirred up a racially tinged controversy on Sunday with this woe-is-me, teammate-bashing lament (and, yes, it is racially tinged only because Vick is black):

    The refs have to do their job and I’m not blaming the referees by any stretch, so let’s not get it twisted here. I’m just saying I think everybody on the field should do their job…

    I’m on the ground constantly. All the time. Every time I throw the ball, in all my highlights and just watching film in general, every time I throw the ball, I’m on the ground, getting hit in the head, and I don’t know why I don’t get the 15-yard flags like everybody else does…

    I mean, obviously at some point, something catastrophic is going to happen. I broke my hand.

    (The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 25, 2011)

    Not blaming the referees?! I suppose he meant that he was not just blaming them, but publicly calling out the sorry offensive line that is supposed to protect him from ending up “on the ground constantly” as well.

    Of course, this latter point won’t endear him to his teammates either. And we saw hints of this alienation of esprit de corps during Sunday’s game when he was sitting off on his own whenever the defense was on the field.

    But calling out his teammates the way he did is not cool; because every player knows that if you have a beef with the way your teammates played, you have it out with them in the locker room, not at a friggin’ one-man press conference.

    To be fair, I suspect much of what Vick said stemmed from frustration over leading his team to a second-consecutive loss and a 1-2 start to this season. Because all indications are that he and the Eagles actually bought into the hype by sports analysts about them matching the perfect season Brady and the Patriots had in 2007.

    Moreover, given the way he and the Eagles fell apart during the playoffs last season, Vick can be forgiven the onset of anxieties about doing little more for the Eagles than the $100 million quarterback he replaced, Donovan McNabb.

    Whatever the case, there he was at his postgame news conference with a broken hand that will probably sideline him for weeks and quite possibly extend their losing streak for just as long. Unfortunately, he didn’t just come across as a sore loser, but as one who was crying racism to assuage his anxieties.

    But, frankly, Vick’s racially tinged lament deserves about as much sympathy in the world of sports as Al Sharpton’s racially loaded rants evoke in the world of politics. Not to mention that anyone who knows anything about football knows that any quarterback in the league could make the same lament.

    Hell, no less a player than Tom Brady could have done so on Sunday too after leading the Patriots to their first loss in over a decade against the Buffalo Bills. And Tony Romo of “America’s team”, the Dallas Cowboys, took so many shots in week two that he ended up with a fractured rib and a punctured lung. Yet here’s the only lament he offered:

    That’s part of playing football. If they’re able to get a clean shot on my ribs consistently throughout the game, then we’re probably not doing that well anyway.

    (Tony Romo, ABC Washington, September 23, 2011)

    What is particularly instructive here is how Romo not only honored the inherent nature of the game, but also gave his offensive line a little ribbing for not protecting him as well as they should.

    In fact, it was clear for all to see on Sunday that the reason Vick was constantly on the ground is that defensive players were constantly running either over or right through his offensive line and knocking him on his ass … fair and square.

    That’s football.

    Therefore, Vick would do well to issue a public apology to the referees for implying that they have a bias against him. Because there’s simply no evidence to support his assertion that they are refusing to protect him with penalty flags the way they protect “everybody else”.

    In the meantime, he should have a serious (locker-room) chat with his offensive linemen. Since the only way to prevent “something catastrophic” from happening is for them to “do their job” of protecting him.

    Related commentaries:
    Dogfighting fiend

  • Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 5:31 AM

    Saudi women granted voting rights

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Liberal and conservative pundits alike are scoffing at the “decree” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued on Sunday granting women the right to vote and run in local elections. The king also announced that for the first time women will be appointed to the Majlis Al-Shura, the kingdom’s de facto (rubber-stamp) parliament.

    These pundits note, quite fairly, that women still will not have the basic right to drive or travel without the permission of a male guardian. Moreover, they insist that this decree will have about as much impact on redressing the religious (sharia) strictures that subjugate Saudi women as the drop of a pebble in the Red Sea. Not least because it is not even scheduled to take effect until 2015.

    I submit, however, that their scoffing is a little misguided, if not misinformed. Because the king’s decree actually represents as much of a tipping point in the struggle for civil rights for women in Saudi Arabia as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 represented for blacks in America.

    Why not tomorrow? I think the king doesn’t want to shake the country, but we look around us and we think it is a shame … when we are still pondering how to meet simple women’s rights.

    (Prominent Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Hawaidar, Associated Press, September 26, 2011)

    To be sure this right is all too belated and far too circumscribed. But when blacks got the right to vote it was even more belated and circumscribed. Indeed, for many years Jim Crow laws made it virtually impossible for them to exercise that right.

    Of course, any criticism of Saudi Arabia must be viewed through the prism of the crack-like dependency Western democracies have on its oil exports. In other words, where it was feasible to mount an international boycott against the Apartheid regime of South Africa, it is not feasible to do so against the ruling monarchy of Saudi Arabia on whom these countries depend to fuel their respective economies.

    This is why, despite the high-minded criticisms of liberal pundits, Western governments will welcome and abide every baby step Saudi Arabia takes on the path towards democracy.

    Meanwhile, there’s no gainsaying that the king’s decree is part of a calculated plan, which included announcing $93 billion in employment and other welfare benefits in April, to forestall the kind of restiveness among Saudis that has led to the downfall of dictators in other countries throughout the Arab Spring.

    King Abdullah’s only concern seems to be striking the right balance between managing his people’s growing hunger for democratic freedoms and staying true to the religious dictates of his kingdom’s (Wahabist) interpretation of Islam, which, in many cases, are inconsistent with those freedoms.

  • Monday, September 26, 2011 at 5:30 AM

    Hail Putin … again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Saturday’s announcement of the scheme to restore Vladimir Putin as president of Russia was about as surprising as April’s announcement of the campaign to reelect Barack Obama as president of the United States.

    Actually, the only thing noteworthy about Putin’s announcement is the stupefaction pundits around the world are expressing about the way Russia’s incumbent president, Dmitry Medvedev, not only stepped aside, but publicly endorsed it. This, however, is because they all bought into the ruse of a simmering rivalry that Putin and Medvedev have played out over the past four years – complete with Medvedev publicly chastising Putin for his Soviet-style rhetoric and hinting that he would welcome a challenge from this putative nemesis to take his job.

    By contrast, I did not buy into any of it. In fact, here are just a few excerpts from previous commentaries that affirm my informed view that Putin effectively installed Medvedev as nothing more than a bench-warming Constitutional nicety; i.e., to get around the prohibition against any president serving more than two consecutive terms:

    On his popularity

    The putinization of Russia continues apace and Papa Joe Stalin must be very proud indeed… Putin’s power and influence have become so totalitarian that national polls show Russians have more faith in him than in their Church or any other organ of the state.

    (Putin reforming Russia in his own image, The iPINIONS Journal, March 25, 2005)

    On his tactics

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

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

    Finally, on his selection of Medvedev

    (Please note especially my take on what Medvedev said in his inaugural address about the role Putin would continue to play even during his (Medvedev’s) presidency. Because this belies any subsequent pretense of a rivalry between them and exposes the stupefaction over his endorsement of Putin’s return to the presidency for the willful ignorance it reflects.)

    Even though his Stalinist intent to rule Russia for the rest of his life has been self-evident for years, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to bedevil political observers with his Kremlin maneuvers…

    The only thing that explains Medvedev’s selection is the fact that he will be even more deferential to Putin than Zubkov – especially on matters of national security and foreign affairs. Although, since Medvedev ran Gazprom, the state gas company that is allegedly the source of so much of Putin’s wealth, this is why Putin may deem it critical for him to be a part of his St Petersburg troika (of Medvedev, Zubkov and Putin) that will rule Russia for the foreseeable future.

    At any rate, Medvedev went out of his way during his first televised address yesterday to assure the Russian people (and warn the world?) that Putin shall continue to be the most powerful man in Russia.[Here's a little of what he said]:

    ‘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.’

    This just happens to coincide with Putin’s reorganization plan. Because, upon accepting the United Russia Party’s ‘invitation’ to become its leader in October, Putin asserted that even though the constitution prevents him from serving a third consecutive term as president, it provides no prohibition against his becoming prime minister – a prospect he declared then as “entirely realistic”.

    Well, all indications are that it’s a fait accompli…. Hail Putin!

    (Putin taps his protégé, Medvedev, as his successor, The iPINIONS Journal, December 12, 2007)

    That said, I feel compelled to point out a chilling contradiction in the way Western leaders, without exception, are greeting Putin’s return as just another confirming instance of Russia’s intent to stay on the path of democracy.

    Specifically, the tumult of the Arab Spring has been characterized by these leaders calling on dictators throughout the Arab World, who have ruled their respective countries with an iron fist for decades, to step down. Yet all of them would be hard-pressed to cite what distinguishes the way Putin has ruled Russia (even during the Medvedev interregnum) from the way Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt. After all, Mubarak adhered to constitutional niceties too.

    Granted, there’s nothing particularly new about this kind of international double standard. And nothing demonstrates this quite like the black eye America sports for having a solicitous and mutually dependent relationship with communist China on the one hand, while still enforcing a 50-year embargo against communist Cuba on the other.

    I just think it’s worth noting that, even though America is the best country in the world in almost every respect, the double standard its embrace of Putin represents explains why increasing numbers of people around the world have just cause to resent, if not to hate, the U.S.A.

    Frankly, what makes this embrace so disheartening is that Putin has never made any attempt to disguise his determination to emulate Joseph Stalin - who ruled the old Soviet Union (effectively from 1922-53) in a way that would make even the dictators now withering away in this Arab Spring seem positively Jeffersonian.

    NOTE: In keeping with my reference to his St Petersburg troika, Putin announced on Saturday that Medvedev should (i.e. shall) become Russia’s next prime minister – pursuant to what I alluded to above as his master plan to rule Russia for life.

    Related commentaries:
    Putin reforming Russia
    Hail Putin
    Putin taps his protégé
    Putin’s master plan to rule Russia for life

  • Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    Obama’s Sister Souljah moment

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The media have been replete with complaints lately (most notably by talk-show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton Professor Cornell West) about President Obama governing in the interest of every other group except poor black folks. Therefore, many political pundits expected Obama to use the occasion of his keynote address at last night’s annual awards dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus to plead for a little more patience and understanding.

    But instead he chastised his most loyal and longsuffering supporters by telling them – in affected broken English that was both patronizing and paternalistic – to:

    Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do. I need your help.

    (Washington Post, September 25, 2011)

    This wasn’t just a political “fuck you” to Tavis and others who are expressing disillusionment and disaffection, but a dare to all blacks to vote Republican (or not at all) and see how much love that gets them.

    Of course, Obama knows that nothing will endear him to coveted independent white voters quite like him publicly telling blacks that they’re not entitled to any special favors from him. But he didn’t have to do it in such a disrespectful manner that only reinforces negative stereotypes about his own race. Never mind the irony that blacks are actually doing worse under his presidency than they did under George W. Bush’s.

    In fact, far from sitting around in bedroom slippers and waiting for a handout, as Obama implied, blacks have been pounding the pavement in their working shoes – often showing up in the thousands and waiting in line for hours for a shot at  one of only a few job openings. This is why they can be forgiven for still feeling proud that Obama is president but now wondering aloud, “what have you done for [us] lately?”

    Yet instead of greeting Obama’s indignant flourish in kind with boos, the black folks in attendance egged him on with repeated applause and standing ovations. And they wonder why he and every Democratic president since LBJ have taken their vote for granted.

  • Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 7:35 AM

    Obama the peace maker…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It might come to this:

    Related commentaries:
    Showdown over Palestinian statehood

  • Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    Temper tantrums over Facebook changes

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    You’d think the free-loading couch potatoes who use Facebook are actually paying for it.  Never mind getting what you pay for, the indignant, ungrateful, spoiled trolls who populate this community of virtual friends are getting far more than they deserve.

    So they should shut up already with their complaints about new apps that allow Facebook to prioritize their inane Wall posts and enable them to create and maintain a Timeline of every second of their boring lives.

    Having said that, am I the only one who thinks Mark Zuckerberg should be smacked upside the head for so depersonalizing traditional notions of friendship?

  • Friday, September 23, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    Jennifer serving revenge cold to Brad (and Angie)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Just last week Brad Pitt was being hailed in the media for his performance in the baseball-themed movie, Moneyball. In fact, there seemed to be an open conspiracy among critics to ensure that it earns him his first Oscar.

    Yet all of that seems to have been lost in the fog of gossip this week about some ill-chosen words Brad used to describe his failed marriage to Jennifer Aniston. In essence, he said in a recent interview with Parade magazine that it was a dull marriage that did not inspire much in the way of love, ambition or creativity in him.

    Well, who knew that Jennifer’s rabid fans could wield as much influence in the movie industry as Sarah Palin’s ideological supporters wield in the Republican Party. Because Brad’s apparent diss has provoked Jennifer’s avenging minions to launch a campaign to boycott Moneyball that has him bending over backwards to clarify his words and assure them that he and Jennifer are still … friends.

    Of course, if they really are still friends, one wonders why Jennifer hasn’t come to his defense – knowing, as she surely does, how any adverse publicity can not only spell death for his movie at the box office, but also render even the most expensive and sophisticated campaign to confer an Oscar upon him null and void.

    But I suppose the hypocrisy and spite that misled Jennifer to steal another woman’s man (namely, her current boyfriend Justin Theroux) after complaining about how “uncool” it was that Angie stole hers, is the same hypocrisy and spite that is now misleading her to let Brad twist in the wind as her misguided fans do all they can to ruin the greatest opportunity of his career.

    This, my friends, is Jennifer – still clearly a woman scorned – serving revenge cold….

    But, frankly, I couldn’t care any less about what Brad said about, or what happened in, his marriage with Jennifer. I just think he has earned such good will with his Make It Right foundation, which has built over 50 homes in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, that he deserves a pass for whatever perceived insult he may have hurled at Jennifer.

    Therefore, I urge you to see Moneyball this weekend and make it a homerun at the box office. The awards will follow….

  • Friday, September 23, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    Rational Markets vs. Keynesian economics

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Last week there were record gains on Wall Street; this week there are record losses. But trying to get even the savviest market analyst to provide a rational explanation for this is rather like trying to get a monkey to do algebra.

    In fact, major markets around the world continue to rise and fall based primarily on idle-minded rumors which trigger wild swings between investors’ hopes that governments will implement fiscal policies to stabilize their respective economies and fears that they will not.

    But am I the only one who finds this ironic? Markets, after all, are supposed to be self-regulating and self-correcting … by some invisible hand, no?

    I do not think Obama should be blamed for the fact that investor confidence on Wall Street is so fickle these days that any idle-minded rumor can cause the market to plummet 500 points in a minute [i.e. the fundamentals of the market be damned].

    (Obama … Hope … Doom, The iPINIONS Journal, The iPINIONS Journal, February 24, 2009)

    It has become fashionable in America to talk about the government destroying jobs and the market creating them. Yet nobody can cite a single instance where the government was responsible for the cycles of economic bubbles and busts that have characterized the U.S. economy in recent decades; except insofar as the government failed to adequately regulate the irresponsible, if not corrupt, market practices that caused each and every one of them.

    Frankly, I have always believed that the concept of “rational markets” is theoretical nonsense more worthy of a financial con-artist like Charles Ponzi than of a celebrated economist like Friedrich Hayek. For markets are, and have always been, only as rational as the ability of insider traders to rig them.

    It is not surprising therefore that the only people still arguing that governments should let the markets sort out this economic mess, which this misguided belief in the markets caused in the first place, are delusional political ideologues (like Rick Perry) who probably don’t know F.A. Hayek from Jesus Christ.

    In fact, nothing vindicates the necessity of having the very visible hand of government stimulating economic growth, regulating business activities and stabilizing markets with sound fiscal policy quite like major corporations and small businesses alike complaining about uncertainty over government policies in these respects hampering their productivity.

    Hell, these oxymoronic free marketeers would have you believe that uncertainty is a black cloud that suddenly appeared over the markets on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States. Never mind that, since then, there has been enough certainty that they have realized record profits, and are now sitting on trillions in cash instead of reinvesting it to hire people and expand their businesses, which sound business practices clearly dictate.

    In any case, I applaud Obama for finally proposing a Keynesian jobs bill that focuses more on government spending to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and improve other areas (like education and law enforcement) than on catering to financial institutions that do little more than inject irrational exuberance or irrational fear into the economy.

    Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.

    (Father of Keynesian economics John Maynard Keynes, quoted by A. Gary Shilling, Forbes (1993) v. 151, iss. 4, pg. 236)

    Related commentaries:
    Obama … Hope … Doom
    Chickens come home to roost on Wall Street

  • Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 6:34 AM

    Showdown at UN over Palestinian statehood

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have written repeatedly that Hell will freeze over before the Palestinians and Israelis resolve all of the issues that are forestalling Palestinian statehood.

    Here, for example, is the utter cynicism I expressed when President Obama began aping former President Bush by making patently fatuous pronouncements in this respect:

    Given this Bush precedent, not to mention the 60-year futility of Mideast peace initiatives, you’d think Obama would be loath to make a similar declaration about brokering a peace deal within a year.

    (Obama Aping Bush on Mideast peace too, The iPINIONS Journal, September 7, 2010)

    Therefore, I am sympathetic to the dramatic, fed-up step Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to take this week of applying directly to the United Nations for the Palestinian Territories to be granted statehood. I just think his timing sucks. Not to mention all the talk (on both sides) about this step precipitating all-out war between these two perennially factious parties….

    The issues involved are well known to anyone who has had the slightest interest in the plight of the Palestinians over the years. This is true especially of the utterly feckless role every U.S. president has played as “honest broker” in negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

    Indeed, the intractable nature of these issues is why nothing Obama said in his address at the UN today (as brilliant, compelling and unassailable a defense of continued negotiations as it was), and nothing Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will say in theirs on Friday, will do anything to advance the cause of peace between them.

    Therefore, I shall suffice to note a few ironies that attend this seminal occasion and end with some observations that belie criticisms of Obama for causing this diplomatic mess.

    Ironies

    It is ironic that, on the one hand, his Israeli critics (and their Republican enablers) are painting Obama as a Muslim appeaser who is naïvely and ill-advisedly pursuing common cause with those who want to see Israel wiped off the map; while on the other, his Palestinians critics (and their Democratic enablers) are painting him as a Jewish appeaser who, like all other U.S. presidents, is just paying lip service to their right of self-determination while supporting every Israeli effort to keep them under occupation.

    It is ironic that the Palestinians could have given the finger to any American president over the past 60 years by taking their claim for statehood to the United Nations – just as the Jews did in 1948. Yet they have decided to give it to Obama - who is clearly the most sympathetic to their cause of any president in U.S. history.

    It is ironic that Obama – who has predicated his foreign policy on the primacy of international institutions - is now entreating the Palestinians to eschew the UN in favor of continuing their 60-year kabuki dance with the Israelis.

    Even more so that Obama is threatening to stand on the wrong side of history by becoming the president who vetoed the Palestinians’ application if they ignore his entreaties.

    Observations

    Obama’s critics (namely, Republicans and right-wing Jews) insist that had he not so naïvely and ill-advisedly raised expectations for a peace settlement Abbas would not be taking this unilateral action. However, nothing demonstrates how Obama-centric (or racially motivated) their criticisms are quite like the fact that former President George W. Bush – whom they hail to this day as the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House – raised expectations in much the same way.

    Here is how I put criticisms in this respect into perspective a few years ago:

    It is generally accepted that U.S. presidential candidates make promises they know they cannot keep. But it smacks of unconscionable and irresponsible pandering for a U.S. president to do so. Yet that is precisely what President George W. Bush did yesterday when he promised to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians:

    ‘I believe there’s going to be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office . . . I’m on a timetable . . . I’ve got 12 months.’

    (President Bush’s peace in his time pipe dream, The iPINIONS Journal, January 11, 2008)

    Again, one wonders why Abbas did not petition the UN after Bush (or even Bill Clinton) failed to deliver on his promise of peace in his time and, moreover, why the Republicans and right-wing Jews now criticizing Obama did not criticize Bush for being naïve and ill-advised.

    That said, whatever recognition the Palestinians get this week, I suspect it is going to fall far short of statehood – given all of the conditions that are bound to be attached to any UN resolution in their favor.

    Meanwhile, narrow-minded supporters of Israel are urging Obama to threaten to withdraw billions in funding – not just for the Palestinian Authority, but also for the UN itself – if Abbas goes ahead with his application for (unconditional) statehood.

    But they seem oblivious to the fact that China would be all too happy to replace the U.S. as the superpower patron in both respects - with all of the regional and international influence that would entail.

    In point of fact, I have written many commentaries expressing grave concerns over the number of countries around the world that are weaning themselves off U.S. aid – with all of its conditions about democracy and human rights attached – in favor of lapping up Chinese aid – that is invariably devoid of such conditions.

    This means that votes in the UN General Assembly will increasingly reflect China’s interests and values more than those of the U.S. Think about that for a minute….  More to the point, though, this is why the Palestinians may not fear the loss of U.S. aid as much as Obama’s nincompoop critics think.

    In addition, anger at the U.S. within the Arab World over its seemingly unconditional support for the Israelis - at the expense of the Palestinians – is such that countries like Saudi Arabia have already pledged hundreds of millions to help wean the Palestinians off U.S. financial aid. And, perhaps even more troubling, fallout between Israel and its erstwhile friend Turkey (the first Muslim country to recognize it in 1949) over an Israeli raid on a “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” has Turkey now competing with Iran to isolate Israel in the Muslim World.

    Therefore, withdrawing support would only amount to a diplomatic cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Not to mention that the Republicans who are urging Obama to cut off the few billions the U.S. commits to pursue peace in this respect are the very ones who are urging him to continue committing hundreds of billions to prosecute wars. Or that the Israelis themselves are on record stating that withdrawing this support would compromise Israel’s security because the Palestinian security forces would no longer have any incentive to prevent incursions into Israel by would-be terrorists.

    Finally, even if the UN Security Council were to grant the Palestinians full statehood, or if the General Assembly were to grant them the less provocative “enhanced observer status”, this would prove a symbolic victory at best. Because it would do nothing to settle the territorial, security, immigration (Palestinian right of return) and other issues on the ground that have bedeviled peace negotiations for decades.

    As frustrating a prospect as it clearly is, only direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis will bring about a Palestinian state and lasting peace in the Middle East. And it was shrewd of Obama to cite the precedent set by the negotiated settlements that led to the new state of South Sudan and peace in Northern Ireland.

    Accordingly, it behooves die-hard supporters on both sides to heed his admonition that:

    There is no short cut to the end of a conflict which has endured for decades…  Peace is hard [and] will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN – if it were easy, it would have happened by now… Peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, and our votes have been counted. That is the path to a Palestinian state.

    (Obama UN Address, Associated Press, September 21, 2011)

    Hear, hear.

    NOTE: Despite all of the palaver about Obama throwing the Israelis under the bus, or about Jews turning on him, polls consistently show that the vast majority of Jews – not only in America, but also in Israel - support his efforts as well as the pragmatic approach  he is taking to broker peace in the Middle East.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama aping Bush
    Bush peace in his time

    * This commentary was published originally yesterday, Wednesday, at 11:04

  • Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 5:24 AM

    Women complain about Obama’s all-boys club

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Just two days ago I had cause to jump all over author Joe McGinnis for writing a biography of Sarah Palin that was more worthy of a hack reporter for the National Enquirer than the critically acclaimed author he purports to be. Well today I am compelled to comment on another book.

    This one is by critically acclaimed journalist Ron Suskind, whose book, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President:

    …paints a vicious portrait of the Obama White House economic team, alleging that rivalries, dysfunction and insubordination were all present amid the worst financial crisis of our time.

    (The Washington Post, September 19, 2011)

    Alas, the most interesting thing about Suskind’s book is the extent to which it mirrors books that have been written about virtually every White House in modern times.

    In fact, no less a paper of record than the Post ran a story in 2007 on the Bush White House under the headline, Book Tells of Dissent in Bush’s Inner Circle. And the Post’s own Bob Woodward, the most authoritative spinner of such inside-the-Beltway yarns, chronicled the rivalries, dysfunction and insubordination that attended the early years of the Clinton White House in his book, The Agenda.

    More to the point, in the great scheme of history, these books amount to little more than the gossip one finds everyday on the infamous “Page Six” of the New York Post.

    That said, unlike the McGinniss book, which has absolutely no redeeming value, Suskind’s has at least one. It stems from his portrait of women in the Obama White House. Of course, given all of President Obama’s political rhetoric about gender equality and diversity, you’d think this would be a very progressive and transformative portrait. But it’s not.

    Here, for example, is what Suskind quotes former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn saying:

    This place would be in court for a hostile workplace. … Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.

    He also quotes former chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers Christina Romer saying that she felt “boxed out” of key meetings and that she “felt like a piece of meat.”

    No doubt if Suskind had quoted women saying these things in a book on the Bush White House, most media outlets would be portraying these women as latter-day suffragettes instead of highlighting their on-second-thought attempts to discredit his reporting.

    But the reason I find his regressive portrait of women in the Obama White House entirely credible is that I myself painted a similar portrait almost two years ago.

    Here, in part, is the admittedly tongue-in-cheek way I presaged what Suskind has now chronicled in his book:

    Who would’ve thought that President Obama, the first black president of the United States, would be liable to criticism for fostering extracurricular White House activities that exclude women? Yet, ironically, that is precisely the case.

    This criticism reached a tipping point last week when he invited only male members of his Cabinet and Congress to the White House to play basketball. And when a reporter asked him during an interview on Wednesday if he thought his boys-only outings (especially to play golf) were sending the wrong message, he dismissed the criticism as ‘bunk’ insisting that:

    ‘I don’t think it sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever… [I have] hired women into some of the most important decision-making positions in this White House…’

    Fair enough, but Obama’s defensiveness betrayed political insensitivity and tone-deafness that are truly stupefying. In fact, he seemed utterly clueless about the fact that this is precisely the kind of rationalization white men once used to defend their good ole boys network, which invariably entailed bonding and doing business on the golf course.

    To his credit, though, Obama is nothing if not a quick study. Indeed, even before he completed that fateful interview, he was probably thinking of a way to redress this egregious oversight.

    Therefore, it was hardly surprising that cameras caught Melody Barnes, the Domestic Policy Council Director, lumbering with clubs in tow across the front lawn of the White House over the weekend heading out for a PR round of golf with Obama.

    And thus was another gender barrier broken. It’s just too bad that cameras did not confirm whether Barnes was actually invited to play or merely to serve as the president’s caddy….

    (Obama finally admits women to his all-boys club, The iPINIONS Journal, October 27, 2009)

    I hope it is clear from this excerpt that I had no clue how truly hostile a workplace it was for women back then. And I’m familiar enough with the organizational chart of the White House to reasonably suspect that Obama was just as clueless.

    For the record, the women quoted in Suskind’s book all deny every word. Unfortunately, their denials smack of those of battered women who insist that their husbands never laid a hand on them. Here, these women are clearly loathed to give the impression that Obama is just as chauvinistic as all of his predecessors or, worse, that they would rather see a Republican in the White House next year.

    To be fair, though, Suskind actually notes in his book that Obama was already taking steps to make the White House a less hostile workplace for women – a point I duly noted in my 2009 commentary. In fact, he can justly take pride in claiming that he has appointed more women to top positions than any other president in U.S. history.

    All the same, it behooves his PR team to launch a major counteroffensive to assure the American people that there is absolutely no disconnect between Obama’s rhetoric on gender equality and the treatment of women in his White House.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama finally admits women

  • Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 5:14 AM

    The Beatles were Civil Rights pioneers?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have always been a bigger fan of the politics The Beatles advocated than of the songs they sang. I especially admired their anti-war views which, to their credit, they actually sang about in songs like Revolution and Give Peace a Chance.

    But it seems I may have just cause to become an even bigger fan of their politics. Because reports are that at a time when major American entertainers like Elvis Presley were blithely playing to segregated audiences across the country, The Beatles refused to do so.

    According to the BBC, they not only insisted that their contract specify that they would “not be required to perform in front of a segregated audience“, but John Lennon is quoted saying with righteous indignation that:

    We never play to segregated audiences and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose our appearance money.

    (BBC, September 18, 2011)

    Clearly John was prepared to stand up for racial equality Here, There and Everywhere? But lest you think he was imposing his progressive views on the band, here are a few lyrics Paul McCartney wrote in 1968 in a symbolic song called Blackbird, which, ironically, was featured on The White Album:

    Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly
    All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise

    Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see
    All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free

    Black-bird fly
    Black-bird fly, into the light of a dark black night…

    Who knew…?

  • Monday, September 19, 2011 at 6:28 PM

    A tweet: Kissing Trump’s … brass ring

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    What is it with Republican presidential candidates queuing up to seek Donald Trump’s blessings as if he were the friggin’ Pope?! Last week Rick Perry ascended the stairs of his gilded, eponymously named tower in NYC for this purpose; Mitt Romney is scheduled to do the same next week; and Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann made their pilgrimages some time ago.

    If Trump had any balls or real political gravitas he would run for president himself. Instead, he seems content to play a tease while making a mockery of the process by treating it as just another storyline in the life of his reality-TV persona. Frankly, he reminds me of the little scary cats at summer camp who we used to tease mercilessly for being too afraid to jump into the deep end of the pool where the rest of us were frolicking with carefree abandon.

    Therefore, it does not say much about the character of these wannabe presidents that they are kowtowing to this huckster who has shown time and again that he’s “all hat, no cattle.”

  • Monday, September 19, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    A tweet: Obama on debt and taxes

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    This morning Obama unveiled a comprehensive package of reasonable and balanced measures to cut the debt by $3 trillion and reform America’s tax code, which is now so heavily rigged in favor of rich folks that a school teacher pays a higher tax rate than a billionaire investor like Warren Buffet.

    Yet, true to form, the Republicans are already saying, no! They insist that it’s a prescription for “class warfare … socialism [and] killing jobs.” Never mind that they have no basis in fact for saying so, or that much of what Obama is proposing are measures they once supported as an article of Republican faith.

    But disgruntled supporters who criticize Obama for continuing to seek common cause with Republicans in Congress should be advised that this is just the latest manifestation of his rope-a-dope strategy. Because he knows that at some point before elections next year, more than enough voters will come to realize that the Republicans’ strategy for governing the country is about as effective and responsible as Nancy Reagan’s strategy for fighting the war on drugs.

    And let’s face it, everything the Republicans have been saying since day one of his presidency, and everything Obama is saying now, has everything to do with winning the 2012 elections.

    Sad … but true.

  • Monday, September 19, 2011 at 5:35 AM

    Sarah Palin’s ‘fetish for black guys’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A critically acclaimed author like Joe McGinniss writing a biography of Sarah Palin is akin to a critically acclaimed TV critic like Tom Shales writing a review of The Jersey Shore.

    It’s no wonder therefore that the New York Times dismissed McGinniss’s book, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin, as nothing more than “unsubstantiated gossip [that] is dated, petty and easily available to anyone with Internet access.”

    But the Times was far too generous in at least one respect:

    A friend says, ‘Sarah and her sisters had a fetish for black guys for a while.’

    (McGinniss, The Rogue…)

    McGinniss saw fit to include this tidbit based solely on speculation about Palin having a one-night stand with former NBA superstar Glen Rice when they were both still in college. Not that there would have been anything wrong with her making a booty call on Rice or being attracted to black guys in general.

    But this reeks of the kind of race-baiting stereotypes that reinforced miscegenation laws and stigmatized black men as being capable only of raping white women, not loving them. Moreover, by fetishizing Palin’s alleged interest, he willfully perpetuates the notion that any white woman who dates a black man has to be possessed of some kind of freakish desire to be defiled or violated.

    I’m no fan of Sarah Palin. And McGinniss writing that she’s “an absolute and utter fraud … a vindictive hypocrite … [and that] people who know her best like her least” will come as news only to someone who has been hiding under a rock over the past four years.

    But he should be ashamed of himself for peddling that patently racist and anachronistic crap about her … fetish.

  • Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    A tweet: Mayweather vs. Ortiz

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    After we were treated to Mike Tyson biting off one of Evander Holyfield’s ears, I did not think boxing could descend into any more of a farce. Yet this erstwhile sport has never ceased to amaze me in this respect ever since.

    Evidently, last night’s bout between Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz was no exception. For reports are that the hype going in was matched only by the farce of Ortiz stunning Mayweather with a cheap head butt, and Mayweather responding in kind by knocking out Ortiz with an even cheaper right-left combo while the referee was still trying to separate them. That was it: show over … in round 4.

    Frankly, I cannot remember the last time a major fight generated buzz more for great boxing than for stupid brawling and trash talking. Boxing, once celebrated as a sweet science, seems like little more these days than an offshoot of the spectacle professional wrestling has become. Which makes me wonder why people continue to pay $60 for pay-per-view and hundreds for arena seating just to have two clowns leave them with a bitter taste in their mouths.

    Meanwhile the boxers are laughing all the way to the bank, with reigning champ Mayweather standing to make as much as $40 million and Ortiz $2 million for last night’s performance, and both indicating that they can’t wait to give more of the same to the suckers who keep paying for it.

    Only in America folks….

  • Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    This suspected terrorist was actually trying to avoid blowing up his underwear…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    A tweet: Rehabbed Charlie?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I caught a bit of Charlie Sheen’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last night. He claims to have had a successful stint in rehab and that he is now “absolutely sober”. Never mind that he couldn’t remember the last time he took drugs or drank alcohol. Or that this short-term memory loss indicates that he’s still suffering the effects of too much drugs and alcohol.

    In any case, if what I saw is the rehabbed Charlie, he should ask for a refund.

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