The iPINIONS Journal


  • Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 5:41 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 7 – Lindsey Vonn: the Return of the Queen

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Super-G

    Lindsey Vonn is easily the most successful female skier in history. She racked up a record-setting 81 wins on the World Cup tour between 2002 and 2018. But, despite opportunities at five Olympic Games over that period, she has only one career-crowning gold medal.

    To be fair, untimely injuries, which she chronicled with viral impact on social media, account for this lack of Olympic glory. In fact, she was arguably in her prime when injury prevented her from competing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    This is why a healthy Vonn was understandably anxious, after days of weather-related delays, to start winning as many gold medals as possible at these her fifth and likely last Olympic Games:

    I won a gold medal at the 2010 [Vancouver] Olympics that changed my life. It all helps establish a legacy, and now, here’s one more shot.

    (New York Times, February 16, 2018)

    She is far from my favorite winter Olympian, but I was really pulling for Vonn. And she seemed headed for gold until, ironically, she made a rookie mistake, overshooting one of the final gates and losing precious time.

    • Ester Ledecka of Czech Republic won gold, Anna Veith of Austria, silver; and Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, bronze

    Vonn ended up sixth. Next, the Downhill, her best event. Then again, the Giant Slalom was Mikaela Shiffrin’s, and she ended up off the podium in fourth.

    That said, I’d be remiss not to hail Ledecka’s improbable win. Forty-five women competed in this event, but commentators assured viewers that only the first 19 had any chance of winning.

    Sure enough, after the 19th skier finished well off the podium, they announced Veith as the winner. Moreover, Veith began celebrating as such.

    Then came Ledecka, the 26th skier, and all hell broke loose — complete with the commentators eating crow.

    Her victory is all the more remarkable because she’s primarily a snowboarder, so much so that the 22-year-old Ledecka had to borrow skis to compete in this event. In fact, she is the first and only Olympic athlete to compete in both skiing and snowboarding. Now she has an Olympic gold medal in the former to go with her World Championship title in the latter.

    Bring in the clowns (from North Korea). Where are the crowds?

    My abiding pet peeve is the eyesore of empty venues at Olympic Games. I decided to hold off venting in this case because the weather has been so inhospitable, events themselves have been postponed. But the weather has been near perfect these past few days. Yet, empty venues abound. WTF!

    I mean, there was virtually nobody in the stands for one of the feature events of these Games, the Women’s Giant Slalom.

    I hoped the screed I wrote four years ago would be instructive. Here is an excerpt from “Sochi Olympics: Day 1,” February 8, 2014.

    ____________________

    I have a gripe about something that is becoming as much a staple at Olympic Games as the Opening Ceremony.

    I find it more than a little difficult to reconcile all of the Chinese hype about these Olympic Games being such a source of national pride with all of the empty seats at so many events.

    (“Beijing Olympics,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 15, 2008)

    Sure enough, the first day of competition in Sochi makes clear that we’re going to be treated to the dispiriting eyesore of empty seats here too. To be fair, Western media have done all they possibly could to scare away spectators with their hysterical reporting on potential terrorist attacks.

    Still, you’d think the Russians would have learned from the Chinese, or heeded my advice:

    Again, it’s not as if the London organizers were not aware that this might be the case. It boggles the mind, therefore, that they did not enlist tens of thousands of volunteers (from pensioners to school kids) to show up at a moment’s notice to fill seats if ticket holders do not show up. They could have warned in print on all tickets that the holder forfeits the seat if it is not occupied by [45] minutes before the scheduled start of the event.

    (“London Olympics: Day 1,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 28, 2012)

    ____________________

    That said, I feel a bit foolish. After all, Chinese organizers had 1.3 billion people from which to draft and even they couldn’t ensure all venues were jam-packed to save face. Therefore, it seems foolhardy to expect any other host country to do so.

    What’s more, South Korean organizers are reportedly trying desperately to do something about it.

    Groups of South Korean schoolchildren have been a common sight, bused in for field trips as part of a program by the Ministry of Education to educate young Koreans about winter sports.

    They also fill empty seats quite nicely.

    (New York Times, February 15, 2018)

    Accordingly, I hereby put this pet peeve to rest. But I remain convinced that, as dispiriting as it is for me to see empty venues, it must be doubly so for Olympians to compete in them.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 19; Germany 15; Netherlands 13

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-6
    Sochi Day 1

  • Friday, February 16, 2018 at 3:35 PM

    South Africa Replaces Corrupt Zuma with Captured Ramaphosa

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The ruling African National Congress (ANC) gave President Jacob Zuma an ultimatum on Monday: resign by Wednesday or be impeached on Thursday (via vote of no-confidence).

    True to form, the hopelessly beleaguered Zuma strutted and fretted his case on TV until the eleventh hour and then resigned. No doubt he’s now hoping the sinecure he negotiated will prove secure against prosecution on over 700 pending charges of corruption.

    Whatever the case, his antic farewell said and done, Parliament elected his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, the 5th president of post-apartheid South Africa yesterday.

    As it happens, I have been telegraphing this day ever since South Africans elected Zuma nine years ago. I refer you to attesting commentaries like “South African President Mbeki Forced to Resign. Hail Zuma?!” September 22, 2008, “Zuma Doing to South Africa What Mugabe Did to Zimbabwe,” December 12, 2015, and “Wither South Africa,” April 10, 2017.

    Therefore, I’m not surprised that South Africa ousted Zuma this week much as Zimbabwe ousted Mugabe three months ago. And, with all due respect to viral memes, the metaphor is not South Africa kicking Zuma to the curb on Valentine’s Day. It is Zuma leaving South Africa a politically corrupt, economically depressed, and drought-stricken mess.

    Granted, there’s a silver lining in South Africans not waiting 37 years to rid themselves of his corrupt and corrosive leadership. This means that the mess Zuma left Ramaphosa pales in comparison to that which Mugabe left his successor.

    Nonetheless, it beggars belief to think that Ramaphosa will do much to clean it up. After all, he’s the poster boy for the corruption and cronyism that enabled political elites to benefit most from the country’s black empowerment and affirmative action policies. Those policies were supposed to lift poor South Africans out of poverty.

    Not to mention that he is more captive to the state-capture scandals that defined Zuma’s presidency than Zuma himself.

    State capture is more systematic than plain vanilla (banknote-stuffed envelope) corruption, which seeks to exploit existing opportunities. State capture goes one better by changing personnel, regulations and laws to work in one’s favour.

    (Financial Times, October 17, 2017)

    Only this explains Forbes ranking him among the richest South Africans with a net worth of $450 million. Even accounting for his unbridled greed and ambition, this has to be more wealth than Ramaphosa ever imagined amassing.

    Nelson Mandela, the father of black South Africa, reportedly tapped Ramaphosa 20 years ago as his preferred successor. Therefore, South Africans can be forgiven for hoping that he is now free to fully (re)commit himself to the poverty alleviation and sustainability programs that inspired Mandela to do so.

    Apropos of which, Mandela and Lee Kuan Yew, the father of modern Singapore, enjoyed a mutual admiration society. I suspect this was based on Mandela’s interest in modeling South Africa’s development on Singapore’s and Lee’s interest in basking in the reflected glow of Mandela’s moral authority and statesmanship.

    In any event, the best thing South Africans can do at this point is vote for Mmusi Maimane and his Democratic Alliance (DA) in next year’s general elections. Because he personifies the leadership and the DA champions the values Mandela saw in Ramaphosa and the ANC, respectively.

    Meanwhile, ANC leaders have so betrayed their party’s founding values that it will take a generation or two for new leaders to rediscover them. And you don’t have to take my word; ANC stalwarts like Nobel Laureates Nadine Gordimer and Desmond Tutu have bemoaned this fact.

    I duly commented on their disaffection and disillusionment in commentaries like “South Africa Betraying Its Values,” May 13, 2011, “Massacre at South Africa’s Lonmin Marikana Mine,” April 17, 2012, “Chief Prosecutor Condemns SA President Zuma and His Ruling ANC,” October 21, 2013, and “South Africa Joins Ranks of Countries Selling Its Sovereignty to China,” October 3, 2014.

    But nothing damns the ANC quite like this from the universally acclaimed French economist Thomas Piketty – as quoted in the October 6, 2015, edition of The Guardian:

    We are 25 years after the fall of apartheid … [but] inequality is not only still very high in South Africa, but has been rising and in some ways income inequality is even higher today than 20 years ago.

    Amandla! … Ngawethu!

    Related commentaries:
    Mbeki resign
    Zuma doing to SA
    Wither SA
    Zimbabwe outs Mugabe
    SA betraying values
    Massacre at Lonmin
    Chief prosecutor
    SA selling sovereignty

  • Friday, February 16, 2018 at 5:42 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 6 — Mikaela Shiffrin Begins Her Heiden Quest

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Giant Slalom

    Here is how I reveled in Mikaela Shiffrin’s humbling introduction to Olympic competition in Sochi:

    You probably know that Lindsey Vonn of the United States was being billed as the darling of these Games until a recurring injury prevented her from even participating. What you probably don’t know is that the jingoistic American media anointed first-time Olympian Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States as Vonn’s heir apparent. This, despite the participation of far more accomplished Alpine skiers like Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, Anna Fenninger of Austria, and Tina Maze of Slovenia.

    Well, Shiffrin made her big debut today and was properly left in the snow. …

    Shiffrin has one more event, the Women’s Slalom, not only to live up to her billing as Vonn’s golden heir but also to salvage what little remains of Team USA’s reputation for having the best Alpine skiers in the world. For, of the 22 medals that have already been awarded in this sport, Team USA has won only 3 — none of them gold

    (“Sochi Olympics: Day 11,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 18, 2014)

    But oh, what a difference four years make.

    • Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States won gold; Ragnhild Mowinckle of Norway, silver; Federica Brignone of Italy, bronze.

    Not only did she avenge this loss but media worldwide are hyping her as the darling of these Games in ways Vonn never experienced. In fact, only Eric Heiden can relate to the expectation of winning five golds in a single Winter Olympics.

    Except that, despite this golden start, Shiffrin’s mother/coach has already lowered expectations. Five days of weather delays mean that Shiffrin would have to compete for six or seven consecutive days to complete her feat. This, Shiffrin’s mother says, would be too much.

    As it happened, she had less than 24 hours before she was competing again in the Women’s Slalom, her best event.

    Women’s Slalom

    Despite lowered expectations, Shiffrin could not live up to the hype. NBC commentators began telegraphing (and making excuses for) an upset after she finished the first of two runs well behind the leader. Shiffrin then tipped her own hand when she made quite a show of “puking buckets” before her second run, which she would later blame not on competitive nerves but on some obscure virus (slalomcitus upsetus?).

    Still, everybody seemed shocked when, far from winning what seemed a guaranteed gold, she did not even win bronze.

    • Frida Hansdotter of Sweden won gold; Wendy Holdener of Switzerland, silver; and Katharina Gallhuber of Austria, bronze.

    Shiffrin finished fourth, matching the Olympian disappointment Shaun White must have felt (and caused) in Sochi when he too finished fourth in his guaranteed-gold, best event, the Men’s Halfpipe (see Day 5). To be fair, unlike White, Shiffrin is no one-gold wonder. After all, she has already won one gold at these Games, and still has two opportunities to win more.

    That said, there must be some second-guessing her mother’s decision to withdraw from today’s Super-G. But I suspect avoiding head-to-head competition with Lindsey Vonn, the dowager ice queen of these Games, had a lot to do with that decision. Vonn will be making her long-delayed debut.

    Men’s Downhill

    This is easily the premier event at the Winter Olympics, much as the Men’s 100m is at the Summer Olympics. … Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway was my favorite to win. … He made a lasting impression when I saw a documentary years ago on the dedication and effort he put into his rehabilitation. …

    Alas, it was not to be … Svindal finished fourth, just off the podium.

    (“Sochi Olympics: Day 2,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 9, 2014)

    Svindal (35) was the oldest man in this field – a fact commentators apparently felt they needed to share repeatedly. But I take middle-age pride in watching older athletes triumph over younger ones – as Shaun White (31) of the United States did on Day 5 when he bested upstart Auymu Hirano (19) of Japan to win gold in the Men’s Halfpipe.

    This is why I couldn’t have been happier with the results in this event.

    • Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won gold; Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, silver; and Beat Feuz of Switzerland, bronze.

    That said, realizing that I am old enough to be Svindal’s father must be one of those signposts of growing old. Granted, he would have made me a very young baby daddy.

    Skeleton/Luge vs. Bobsled

    Am I the only one who wonders why bobsledding is even worthy of Olympic competition?

    Skeleton/Luge involves athletes sledding down the ice track, at speeds nearing 80mph, not sitting snugly in soapbox-like sleds called Bobsleds, but lying facedown, head-first/flat on their backs, feet-first – completely exposed on snowboard-like sleds. Which makes it fair to assert that Skeleton/Luge is to Bobsled what the NFL is to Touch Football, no?

    Skeleton/Luge is clearly more dangerous to race. Indeed, Georgian luger Nodar David Kumaritashvili suffered a fatal crash during a practice run on the morning of Opening Ceremony for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. His death effectively turned that ceremony into a wake. But it’s this obvious danger that makes Skeleton/Luge so much more thrilling to watch than Bobsled.

    Which makes it fair to question why Bobsled is getting so much more media attention, no? Oh, right – slapdash teams still trying to soak up attention and rake in dough like Jamaica’s “Cool Runnings” team from the 1988 Calgary Olympics. But I digress …

    In fact, the only reason I’m commenting on these sports is to hail host country South Korea for wining its second gold in Men’s Skeleton.

    • Yun Sungbin of South Korea won gold; Kikita Tregubov of Russia, silver; Dom Parsons of Great Britain, bronze.

    Sungbin made history by becoming the first Asian to win gold in this event.

    Men’s 10,000m Speedskating

    I am commenting on this event only to memorialize Sven Kramer’s disappointing performance.

    To put what happened into context, imagine that, instead of winning gold in the 100m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, Usain Bolt got disqualified and won silver, respectively. Now imagine his all-consuming desire for redemption at the 2016 Rio Olympics. More to the point, imagine the interest worldwide, to say nothing of it in Jamaica, in watching Bolt achieve it.

    Indeed, the interest back home in the Netherlands was such that teachers reportedly suspended classes so students could join the rest of the nation in watching him. That’s what Kramer had riding on this event.

    But on Day 2 – in commenting on his three-peat victory in the 5000m – I wrote that “I fear disappointment awaits again” in the 10, 000m. Sure enough, Kramer looked a winded shell of himself as the effectively waddled across the finish line … in sixth place.

    • Ted-Jan Bloemen of Canada won gold; Jorrit Bergsma of the Netherlands, silver; Nicola Tumolero of Italy, bronze.

    Incidentally, my sense is that Dutchmen were as shocked and saddened watching Kramer get so soundly beaten as Jamaicans were watching Bolt pull up lame in his final event at the World Championships in London last year.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 17; Germany 15; Canada 13

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-5
    Sochi Day 11
    Sochi Day 2
    Bolt pulls up lame

  • Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 8:53 AM

    Target Parkland, Florida – Another School Shooting in Gun-Crazy USA

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There had already been 17 school shootings in the United States just this year; then came this:

    A heavily armed young man barged into his former high school about an hour northwest of Miami on Wednesday, opening fire on terrified students and teachers and leaving a death toll of 17 that could rise even higher, the authorities said.

    (New York Times, February 14, 2014)

    This is a truly dystopian sequel to the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. But it speaks volumes about gun violence in America today that this massacre ended with 17 dead, most of them schoolchildren; whereas the one back then ended with 7 dead, most of them gangsters.

    Not to mention the Groundhog-Day spectacle afoot. In fact, nothing is more despairing than watching politicians spout platitudes about gun rights, gun control, and/or mental illness after these shootings.

    They affect the same emotion anew each time – complete with “heartfelt condolences” for grieving families. Yet they steadfastly refuse to do anything to stop them, which renders their words not only hollow but also hypocritical.

    This is especially the case with craven, NRA-obeying Republicans. These, after all, are the sons of bitches who took pride in repealing an Obama-era regulation that made it difficult for mentally deranged people to buy guns. Now Trump is leading the chorus of these same Republicans in paying lip service to the categorical imperative of doing everything possible to prevent mentally deranged people from buying guns.

    As Don King, Trump’s African American, would say: “Only in America,” folks.

    Meanwhile, whether attending school, a concert, or even church, no place is safe from the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

    I’m on record dismissing what politicians say in tragic times like these – as commentaries like “This Gun-Control Debate Is Insane,” April 5, 2015, attest.

    This is not the commentary to delve into the gun debate. But I would be remiss not to note that these politicians know full well that blaming the scourge of mass shootings in America on mental illness is rather like blaming the scourge of drug trafficking throughout the Americas on poverty.

    Everybody knows the most effective way to stop mass shootings is to stop gun manufacturers from peddling assault weapons the way cartels traffick drugs. I have already written about this cause and effect in far too many commentaries, including “NRA Cares No More about Gun Violence than Drug Cartels Do,” June 17, 2014.

    This is why I think it’s time for gun-control activists to adopt the bloody tactics of anti-fur activists. Namely, they should seek out politicians who oppose gun-control measures (at the behest of their NRA paymasters) and douse them with red paint, symbolizing the blood of schoolchildren they have on their hands.

    All else is folly. And nothing is more so than the wallowing media coverage that invariably attends these mass shootings. I’m on record decrying this perverse feature here:

    I don’t know 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 on the front page of every major newspaper … worldwide, and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds. Isn’t it clear to see, especially in this age of instant celebrity, why some loser kid would find this route to infamy irresistible?

    You’d think – given the record of these psychotic and vainglorious episodes since Columbine – that 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)

    And here:

    No less a folly, though, is the way law-enforcement officials hold rolling news conferences to do little more than pat themselves on the back, or the way news organizations feature lucky survivors regaling us with tales of their harrowing heroics.

    (“Target Las Vegas: Another Mass Shooting in Gun-Crazy USA,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2017)

    So, then, until the next mass shooting interrupts 24-7 coverage of the scandals and blunders of the Trump presidency.

    Related commentaries:
    Gun Crazy USA
    Gun control debate insane
    NRA like Drug cartels
    Target Las Vegas
    Orlando Shooting

  • Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 5:25 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 5 — The Pyrrhic Redemption of Shaun White

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Unfortunately, bad weather is continuing to upstage the athletes at these Games. Most notably, it forced cancellation of Alpine events for a third day yesterday.

    Men’s Halfpipe

    Here is what I wrote about how Shaun White fared at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

    ____________________

    I joined the peanut gallery of those heaping scorn on Shaun White for withdrawing from Slopestyle. He is easily the biggest name in snowboarding. Yet he claims it’s too dangerous. Worse still, he admits he withdrew to give himself a better shot at gold in Halfpipe.

    Except that, after watching snowboarder after snowboarder crash-land all manner of exotic tricks, I began thinking that White unwittingly ended up competing in the more dangerous event.  Apropos of which, with Slopestyle, Halfpipe, and other snowboarding events, the IOC is clearly trying to grow interest in the Winter Olympics by featuring events that have made the Winter X-Games must-see TV.

    No doubt White fully appreciated that, if he didn’t win Halfpipe after withdrawing from Slopestyle, his agony of defeat would be surpassed only by his stigma of humiliation.

    Well, here’s to the schadenfreude I fully anticipated would come: White did not even make the podium in Halfpipe! Frankly, I think it’s fair to say that never before in the history of the Olympic Games has an athlete so hyped to win gold failed to even win bronze. He finished fourth. …

    I wish White lots of luck in pursuing what seems to be his greater interest these days anyway, namely, becoming a rock star!

    ____________________

    Of course, we all love a redemption story. And narcissistic presumptions are such these days that White just knew everyone would want to see every breath he takes along his comeback trail. Only this explains his documentary SnowPack: Shuan White and the U.S. Snowboard Team.

    His selfie-indulgence aside, I enjoyed watching every run of this competition. It helped that I’ve become so informed, I could almost predict the score for each one.

    Sure enough, I heralded his triumph while everyone else was enduring an agonizing wait for the official score.

    • Shaun White of the United States won gold; Ayumu Hirano of Japan, silver; and Scotty James of Australia, bronze.

    With that, White emulated teammate Chloe Kim (Day 4) by living up to the hype. And he did it in far more dramatic fashion.

    Kim scored a high of 98.25 on her third and final run. But she had no pressure because she already had a lock on gold, which made that run merely ceremonial. By contrast, White needed to score above 95.25 on his third and final run. He scored 97.75.  And he performed air-to-fakies with a slightly higher degree of difficulty than Kim’s. Thrilling!

    As it happened, though, he barely had a chance to celebrate. Because media reports about a sexual-harassment lawsuit began tarnishing White’s gold even before he got it. Lena Zawaideh, a former drummer in his rock band, filed it in 2016.

    And here’s where my Sochi excerpt comes in. Zawaideh alleged that he reacted to his humiliation in Sochi by subjecting her to all manner of sexual humiliation. This ranged from texting her Anthony Weiner-style penis pictures to showing her feces-themed porn, featuring a priest and nun no less.

    The lawsuit also said White … shoved a bottle of vodka into her mouth and forced her to drink from it … stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them … and tried to kiss [her].

    (Associated Press, February 14, 2018)

    She was 17. White settled.

    Of course, the irony is that he would have escaped this #MeToo reckoning if he hadn’t won, hence the pyrrhic redemption. Instead, his fall from grace began at his gold-medal news conference.

    It’s a testament to his popularity that the reporter who asked about Zawaideh’s lawsuit came across like a skunk at a garden party. But, as he struggled to answer, White looked and sounded like he belonged not atop the Olympic podium but in the rogue’s gallery of sexual harassers.

    He dismissed her allegations as mere gossip. But this is how Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, and others tried to no avail to escape the truth and consequences of their sexual harassment.

    This is why I’d be shocked if any new sponsor would touch him with a ten-foot poll. More to the point, his current sponsors might drop him like a hot potato.

    He now has dozens of endorsement deals worth millions of dollars each, ranging from contracts with global corporations like AT&T to more niche companies like GoPro.

    (Yahoo! Sports, February 13, 2018)

    As if that were not bad enough, White incited viral outrage when, as part of his emotional celebration, he dragged the US flag in the snow. However, given the potential fallout from his sexual-harassment case, he could fairly dismiss this outrage as the overweening blandishments of idle-minded jingoists.

    But God help him if #MeToo’s avenging angels begin demanding he be stripped of his Olympic medal. Because he need only look at what happened when they demanded the likes of Charlie Rose be stripped of their awards.

    MEDAL COUNT: Germany 12; Netherlands 11; Norway 11

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-4
    Sochi Shaun
    Anthony Weiner
    Charlie Rose et al

  • Wednesday, February 14, 2018 at 5:37 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 4 – The Rise of Chloe Kim

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Women’s Halfpipe

    Chloe Kim is a phenom – whose breathtaking athleticism is surpassed only by her endearing personality. But I can think of no better way to hail her Olympic performance than to say it was every bit as awe inspiring as Shaun White’s was at the 2006 Turin Olympics. White won gold at those Games, where the Halfpipe debuted as an Olympic sport.

    Mind you, I watched Hannah Teeter win the women’s event in Turin. But I’m comparing Kim to White because, as impressive as Teeter was, she looked like a Halfpipe beginner compared to White.  By contrast, the athleticism Kim displayed was every bit as pioneering as that which White displayed back then. What’s more, it was comparable to that which White and other male Olympians are displaying today.

    In other words, Kim has closed the athleticism gender gap in this sport beyond what women like Teeter could have imagined just 12 years ago.

    • Chloe Kim of the United States won gold; Liu Jiayu of China, silver; and Arielle Gold of the United States, bronze.

    Incidentally, nothing indicates the level of hype surrounding Kim quite like NBC featuring this 17-year-old on promotional posters as one of Team USA’s triumvirate, alongside the 31-year-old White and 33-year-old Lindsey Vonn. Arguably, she lived up to hers. It remains to be seen if the other two can live up to theirs.

    Mind you, unlike these one-hit wonders, Mikaela Shiffrin is a triple threat. Therefore, she might wonder why every promotional poster does not feature her front and center.

    That said, this seems a good occasion to commend the diversity of Team USA. This constitutes a redoubtable strength, which no other team can match. And, as the daughter of South Korean immigrants, Kim personifies this diversity.

    No surprise, then, that South Koreans took as much pride in her Olympic triumph as Americans. And, with all due respect to the xenophobic President Donald Trump, such common bonds foster comity not just between South Korea and the United States but among all nations.

    Incidentally, apropos of diversity, it speaks volumes that eight different countries won the eight gold medals awarded in eight different events today (namely, Austria in men’s Alpine, Sweden in women’s Cross Country, Norway in Cross Country, Canada in Curling, Germany in Luge, Italy in Speedskating (Short Track), USA in Snowboard, and the Netherlands in Speedskating).

    Women’s 500m Speedskating (Short Track)

    I try to limit commentary to events that inspire awe. But I cannot resist sharing the derision this event evokes.

    For the uninitiated, Short-Track Speedskating is to Long-Track Speedskating what Arena Football is to the National Football League, or what Bumper Pool is to Billiards. And, at the risk of offending its fans, this sport seems like little more than Roller Derby on ice – complete with bumps landing skaters on their ass and out of contention.

    Elise Christie of Great Britain is the world record holder in this event. She bumped her way to an unprecedented trifecta of disqualifications in Sochi (in the 500m, 1000m, and 1500m).

    Therefore, she must have spent the past four years praying for redemption. And it seemed at hand after she cruised into yesterday’s final by setting a new Olympic record in her qualifying heat.

    Alas, she fell, she cried, and then she whined:

    I was knocked over, I didn’t fall on my own. I’ve worked so hard for the 500 and it was taken away from me.

    (Reuters, February 13, 2018)

    • Arianna Fontana of Italy won gold; Yara Van Kerkhof of the Netherlands, silver; and Kim Boutin of Canada, bronze.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 11; Netherlands 10; Canada 10

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-3

  • Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 5:29 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 3 – The Grit of Cross Country and the Crash of Slopestyle

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Bad weather forced the postponement of more Alpine events. On Day 1, I hailed the grit Cross Country skiers display as a matter of course. Sure enough, they competed despite the weather.

    Women’s Biathlon 10km Pursuit

    Again, you really have to watch one of these Cross-Country events to fully appreciate the athleticism and skill these Olympians display. And none has been more impressive than Laura Dahlmeier.

    She made history by becoming the first woman to win both the 7.5km Sprint and 10km Pursuit in one Olympics. This feat was all the more impressive given that she won the latter just two days after the former.

    • Laura Dahlmeier of Germany won gold; Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia, silver; and Anais Bescond of France, bronze.

    Men’s Biathlon 12.5km Pursuit

    Yes, I watched the men’s event too.

    • Martin Fourcade of France won gold; Sebastian Samuelson of Sweden, silver; Benedikt Doll of Germany, bronze.

    Women’s Slopestyle

    Americans are dominating Olympic Slopestyle the way they dominate Olympic Basketball. In fairness to the men, though, watching women ski Slopestyle is rather like watching women play Basketball. Have you ever seen any woman “play like Mike”?

    Granted, unprecedented wind gusts caused the women to ski the course like first timers on bunny slopes.

    Even so, it did little for the quality of Olympic competition that, while performing basic tricks, virtually every skier crash-landed on her butt.

    [F] our out of every five Olympians crash-landed thanks to 31 kilometre per hour gusts of wind.

    Nick Pope, a commentator for BBC Sport, said on Twitter that the Pyeongchang slopestyle was like ‘the world’s most beautiful graveyard.’

    (Business Insider, February 12, 2018)

    This is why it only took landing on her feet for Jamie Anderson to defend her title.

    • Jamie Anderson of the United States won gold; Laurie Blouin of Canada, silver; and Enni Rukajarvi of Finland, bronze.

    Women’s Speedskating 1500

    Perhaps the only noteworthy thing about this event is that it ended the prospect of the skating Dutchmen sweeping all major events.

    But what I found most interesting was watching Marrit Leenstra, who finished just off the podium in fourth in Sochi, supplant teammate Lotte Van Beek, who finished third.

    • Irene Wust of the Netherlands won gold; Miho Takagi of Japan, silver; and Marrit Leenstra of the Netherlands, bronze.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 9, Germany 7, Netherlands 7

    NOTE: Figure Skating awarded its first medals yesterday in the Team Event. But I have no interest in watching any of the events in this sport. Which I suppose is rather like watching the Summer Olympics but tuning out Track and Field or Swimming events. I did say from the outset that I would be discriminating.

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1-2

  • Monday, February 12, 2018 at 6:48 PM

    Ex-White House Staffer Rob Porter Is Not ‘a Domestic Abuser.’ He’s a Wife Beater!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    White House staff secretary Rob Porter abruptly resigned last week. He was forced to do so after the Daily Mail uncovered a White House cover-up of his history of spousal abuse.

    Two ex-wives reportedly told the FBI over a year ago that Porter abused them (physically, psychologically, and emotionally). One of them even produced an incriminating photo of the black eye he gave her. More to the point, the FBI immediately informed the White House of this alleged abuse.

    Which means that the Trump administration allowed Porter to continue serving as the gatekeeper of the nation’s top secrets for nearly a year, knowing full well that he failed his FBI security clearance.

    But nobody should be surprised that White House staffers defended Porter as if they were defending their pussy-grabbing boss himself. Nor should anybody be surprised that Trump could not resist providing his own self-serving support:

    Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. … There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

    In truth, one can hardly blame staffers for showing so little concern about the national security risk Porter posed. After all, the personally and financially compromised Trump poses the biggest (blackmail) risk of all.

    This prevailing fact renders all the indignant reporting on the timeline – establishing which staffer knew what when – much ado about nothing. The only relevant timeline is the one showing red flags of racism, xenophobia, narcissism, and misogyny, which spanned from the day Trump declared his presidency to the day voters elected him president of the United States.

    That said, reporters and commentators are bending over backwards to avoid calling Porter a wife beater. Instead, they are calling him a “domestic abuser.”

    I don’t know if they’re trying to be politically correct, or if they’re just too lazy to think twice about what they’re saying.

    Either way, there’s a glaring flaw in using this term – cognitive dissonance notwithstanding. Because, in every other context, “a domestic” is a “hired household servant.” Ergo, a domestic abuser is one who abuses a household servant; and domestic violence can refer to abuse of both wife/husband/spouse and servant.

    This is why, far from showing intended sympathy, reporters and commentators are unwittingly referring to Porter’s ex-wives as the household servants he abused.

    Accordingly, I urge all to stop calling a man who beats his wife a domestic abuser. Call this spade a spade, namely, a wife beater. If that’s too harsh for you, spousal abuser will do.

    Related commentaries:
    Trump sexual abuser

  • Monday, February 12, 2018 at 5:49 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 2 – The Youthful Abandon of Red Gerard

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Bad weather is forcing postponement of events at these Olympics in ways it used to force postponement of matches at Wimbledon. The Men’s Downhill and Women’s Giant Slalom are among the casualties. Except that no amount of preparation could insulate Alpine events from disorientating and dangerous wind gusts.

    Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle

    This event debuted four years ago in Sochi. But I can explain terms like jibs, backsides, fakies, and corks no better today than I could back then, despite watching many events.

    Slopestyle is like performing trampoline-style acrobatics while going downhill on snowboards or skis. And this only gives a sense of the daring and skill involved in this sport. For example, Shaun White won gold when the death-defying Halfpipe debuted at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Yet he begged off competing in this event because it proved too taxing on his aging 31-year-old body.

    That said, I was tremendously gratified when I pierced the inscrutable nature of Slopestyle scoring to predict the upset victory for one of the youngest competitors at these Games.

    • Redmond Gerard of the United States won Gold; Max Parrot of Canada, silver; and Mark McMorris of Canada, bronze.

    Gerard won the first gold of these Games for Team USA, emulating the feat Sage Kotsenburg performed when he won this same event in Sochi. This 17-year-old phenom also happens to be the first athlete born in this millennium (namely 2000) to win an Olympic Gold Medal. How old does that make you feel?!

    Women’s Moguls

    Truth be told, I watched this event only to see how the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters of Canada would fare. This, because I was so impressed four years ago by their NBC profiles and even more so by their performances. Youngest sister Justine and middle sister Chloe won gold and silver, respectively, but oldest sister Maxine finished a humbling 12th.

    As it happened, Justine was the only one who made it to the final round this time. But she was unable to defend her title.

    • Perrine Laffont of France won gold; Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Canada, silver; and Yulia Galsheva of Kazakhstan, bronze.

    Men’s 5000m Speedskating

    One of the most thrilling and agonizing moments of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics was watching Sven Kramer, the “flying Dutchman,” win the 10,000m. Because, thanks to a truly bizarre disqualification, his thrill of victory soon turned to the agony of defeat. That he was not even at fault only compounded matters. Evidently, his coach directed him at some point to make an illegal lane crossover. He lost that race but won the hearts of millions everywhere.

    Even I cheered when he defended his title in the 5000m four years later in Sochi. I thought the form he displayed augured well for vindication in the 10,000m. Unfortunately, he fell short, managing only a relatively disappointing silver-medal performance.

    He is off to a similar start at these Games, completing a rare three-peat feat in this event yesterday. But it remains to be seen if he can finally vindicate that disqualification in Vancouver by winning the 10,000m. Having failed in 2014, I fear disappointment awaits again.

    • Sven Kramer of the Netherlands won gold; Ted-Jan Bloemen of Canada, silver; and Sverre Lunde Pedersen of Norway, bronze.

    Speedskaters Eric Heiden, Bonnie Blair, and Shani Davis are more famous on this side of the Atlantic. But this gold makes Kramer the most decorated speedskater in Olympic history. And, as indicated above, he’s bound to pad his record with more medals at these Games.

    MEDAL COUNT: Norway 8, Netherlands 5, Germany 4

    NOTE: Am I the only one who finds it laughable that the IOC banned Russia, yet Russians are figuring in media coverage almost as much as North Koreans…?

    Related commentaries:
    Day 1

  • Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 8:03 AM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Day 1 – What Shall I Watch, What Shall I Say?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Athletes will be competing in 102 events covering 15 sports over 16 days. But, even though I will be very indiscriminate in my viewing (on TV and the Internet), I will be very discriminating in my commenting. For example, Curling is one of my favorite sports to watch. But it’s hardly worthy of commentary.

    Women’s 15km Skiathlon

    To the uninitiated, Cross-Country Skiing might be to the Winter Olympics what Speed Walking is to the Summer Olympics. If such thinking has caused you to shun Cross Country, I urge you to give any of the events in this sport a try.

    You will see Olympic skiers displaying such athleticism and stamina (including mental), they make Iron-Man triathletes look like mere weekend warriors. If nothing else, you will find the excited utterances of the color commentator for Cross-Country events, Chad Salmela, entertaining enough. Trust me, he’s even more entertaining than Football’s John Madden or Tennis’s John McEnroe.

    This Skiathlon event is particularly exciting because it’s the only one that requires athletes to be proficient in both Classical and Freestyle techniques. (The details of each are not important. The best analogy I can think of is a race on water that requires athletes to be proficient at both rowing a boat and paddling a canoe.)

    That said, I remember well seeing Charlotte Kalla of Sweden lose gold to perennial favorite Marit Bjorgen of Norway in Sochi four years ago.  Well, turnabout is fair play, because Kalla avenged that loss yesterday. Never mind that Bjorgen still upstaged her by becoming the most decorated Winter Olympian in history. This five-time Olympian has won six gold, four silver, and one bronze for a total haul of 11 medals.

    • Charlotte Kalla of Sweden won gold; Marit Bjorgen of Norway, silver; and Krista Parmakoski of Finland, bronze.

    In addition to avenging that loss in Sochi, Kalla earned the distinction of winning the first gold medal of these Games.

    Women’s 3000 Speedskating

    The skating Dutchmen (too) swept four Speedskating events in Sochi, establishing that they are as dominant in Olympic Speedskating as the Jamaicans are in Olympic Sprinting. Well, they seem poised for a two-peat sweep of the same at these Games.

    • Carlijn Achtereekte of the Netherlands won gold; teammate Ireen Wust, silver; and teammate Antoinette De Jong, bronze.

    Women’s Biathlon 7.5km Sprint

    This event is even more challenging than the Skiathlon referenced above. It requires athletes to be proficient in both the gritty slog of Cross Country Skiing and the tantric skill of Rifle Shooting. No surprise, then, that I find it even more exciting to watch.

    • Laura Dahlmeier of Germany won gold; Marte Olsbu of Norway, silver; and Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic, bronze.

    Men’s 1500m Short Track Speedskating

    Short Track Speedskating is to South Korea what Basketball is to North America. That explains the jingoistic cheers that reverberated throughout this race. Sure enough, South Koreans seemed poised for gold and silver, until a crash left one of them in last place.

    • Hyojun Lim of South Korea won gold; Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands, silver; and Semen Elistratov of (Banned) Russia, bronze.

    This is the first medal of these Games for the host country. And, given the way the South Korean women performed in qualifying heats today, it won’t be the last.

    MEDAL COUNT: Netherlands 4, Norway 4, Germany 2

    Related commentaries:
    Opening Ceremony

  • Friday, February 9, 2018 at 8:47 PM

    PyeongChang Olympics: Diplomatic Brinkmanship Upstages Opening Ceremony

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The United States did more than any county to establish norms in every aspect of international relations. This is why it seems so surreal to watch it flout them in ways one would expect only of a rogue nation.

    US Vice President Mike Pence continued that flouting today as he executed his boorish mission to avoid any interaction with any North Korean.

    Although misguided, it would have been understandable if he were just playing bad cop to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s good cop. But all the president’s men are clearly doing diplomacy by the seat of their pants.

    Trump himself betrayed this fact months ago when he famously chastised Tillerson for offering to meet with the North Koreans – even if, as he entreated, it’s only to talk about the weather.

    In any event, universal norms of civility should have compelled Pence to attend the private reception his host, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, held for 12 prominent dignitaries. Those norms should have compelled him further to engage in polite conversation with other guests, including Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean president.

    That did not happen. Pence made a brief appearance and left early [as in well before the first course].

    (Yahoo! Sports, February 9, 2018)

    He did the same hours later at the Opening Ceremony. But this time, the entire world saw Pence running away with his nose in the air and his tail between his legs.

    He knew he had to run if he wanted to avoid any contact with Yo-jong – who was sitting just over his right shoulder. Any any self-respecting man in his position would have done the manly, gentlemanly, and statesmanly thing, namely, approach her, shake hands, and exchange pleasantries. And Pence should have done this despite North Korea’s obvious intent to hijack these Games with goodwill stunts; but better stunts than bombs.

    This might help put his behavior into context:

    Imagine hosting a dinner party to celebrate a big promotion at which you invite, among few others, your boss, your parents, and your estranged sister – with whom you’re trying to rekindle ties. How would you feel if your boss (a) behaved the way Pence did just because he did not like your sister – for whatever reason, and (b) then tried to get you to stop talking to your sister just to vindicate his behavior?

    Now times the awkwardness, rudeness, and potential consequences of your situation by 2.5 billion, and that’s basically what happened here.

    Incidentally, I imagine the topic of conversation for the rest of your dinner party would involve each guest venting shock and dismay (perhaps even disgust) at your boss’s crass behavior. What’s more, such a slight might cause you to be even more solicitous of your sister’s kinship.

    I imagine the president of South Korea presided over a more diplomatic version of the same after Pence left. What’s more, this slight might cause the South to be even more solicitous of détente with the North, defying imperial pre-conditions the United States set.

    In “PyeongChang: Olympics and Politics Playing Out like Marriage and Divorce,” February 7, 2018, I expressed hope that Trump had not so debased Pence’s Midwestern sense and sensibility that he would behave like a typical ugly American; well, so much for that. No doubt Trump and Pence think such boorishness makes them look strong. The irony, of course, is that it makes them look weak.

    The arrogant folly is that they think they can willfully annoy, insult, and upstage the South Korean president and then get him to thank them for doing so.

    Unfortunately, they seem quite happy to have the United States play this emperor-wears-no-clothes role on the world stage. Sure enough, Pence made it a complete laughingstock today – notwithstanding his permanent countenance of constipated sincerity.

    Apropos of laughingstock, the only thing more perverse than his behavior was the media covering Kim’s little sister Yo-jong as if she were, well, Kim’s little sister Kylie.

    South Korea, North Korea, and the United States were clearly playing a propaganda game. And the way Jong-un’s little sister performed at the reception and Opening Ceremony was enough for North Korea to win the gold medal. But when you factor in his goodwill performers and cheerleaders, looking like airline stewardesses from the 1950s, it was a lock.

    On a completely different note, there was this far less serious but equally viral controversy:

    Speedskater Shani Davis didn’t attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics after losing a coin flip to carry the U.S. flag and lead American athletes into the stadium.

    (Associated Press, February 9, 2018)

    Of course, anyone who knows anything about Speedskating knows that Davis is a five-time Olympian. And, more to the point, that he’s a black man with a boulder-size chip on his shoulder.

    I see no point in commenting on slights, real and perceived, that have caused him to train separately from his Olympic teammates since the 2006 Turin Olympics. Except, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I’m on record supporting some of his claims of unfair treatment. But this explains a lot:

    They try never to say the wrong thing around him and hope to avoid the wrath of Cherie Davis, who acts as her son’s manager and gatekeeper and habitually fires off e-mail messages — ‘blasts,’ as I heard them called — to media members, team officials, agents representing other athletes and anyone else she believes has wronged him.

    Among the dozens of pictures on U.S. Speedskating’s official Web site, you won’t find one of Davis, an oddity that would be akin to the Yankees’ airbrushing Derek Jeter out of all their promotional material.

    (New York Times, February 4, 2010)

    Given that, who can blame American corporations for never lining up to sign him to Tiger-like endorsement deals.

    It’s bad enough in this case that Davis looks like a sore loser for boycotting the Opening Ceremony after losing that coin toss. And nobody with any common-sense cares why he did so. But he surely lost what little esprit de corps he had left with his teammates when he then cried racism:

    I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event. @TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018

    — Shani Davis (@ShaniDavis) February 8, 2018

    Good luck, Shani … and then good riddance!

    Meanwhile, the dynamics afoot in the VIP box completely upstaged all performances on the field. Which I suppose is just as well. Because, truth be told, there was nothing spectacular about this Opening Ceremony.

    The technological wizardry, choreographed precision, and sheer grandeur of everything on display during last night’s Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics kept me so mesmerized – in such shock and awe – that I even sat through the commercials.

    In fact, I found myself continually exclaiming – ‘How did they do that?!’ Specifically, I marveled at the serene manner in which the Chinese fused twenty-first century technology with ancient graphics, costumes and choreography to remind us that they were the world’s only superpower for centuries before the Americans even thought about fighting the British to give birth to the United States of America.

    (“Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympics: Unprecedented, Spectacular, Awe Inspiring,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 9, 2008)

    I’m afraid Beijing ruined it for every other host city. Because I’m realizing with each successive Opening Ceremony that, once you have seen Beijing, you’ll always miss that zing.

    That said, I could not help thinking that South Koreans were showing off their technological advancements primarily to trigger or tap into desires for reunification among their North Korean brothers and sisters – most of whom are living primitive lives of quiet desperation. If there were any doubt about the South Koreans’ intent, that benedictory rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” erased it.

    On the other hand, their show could trigger a jealous Kim Jong-un to bomb them back into the stone age just to squash those desires.

    With that unsportsmanlike thought in mind, I say, let the Games begin!

    NOTE: As usual, this will be a politics free zone over the next two weeks, while I comment on the Olympics. That is, unless something truly noteworthy develops; you know, like Trump getting indicted or better still …

    Related commentaries:
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    Shani Davis

  • Thursday, February 8, 2018 at 1:38 PM

    Money-Pit Budgeting and the Fallacy of America’s underfunded Military

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans are hailing a new budget deal that will increase military spending to $700 billion for 2018 and $716 for 2019.

    Arguing for increased spending, McCain said more men and women in uniform are dying in avoidable training accidents than in combat. ‘Where’s the outrage? Where’s our sense of urgency to deal with this problem?’

    (Reuters, September 18, 2017)

    In fact, Senator John McCain of Arizona and other Republicans spent much of Obama’s presidency venting such outrage. They even blamed his “gutting of the military” for those training accidents.

    Except that military spending was higher each year under Obama than it ever was under his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Significantly, before congressional sequestration limited funding, it reached $721 billion in 2010, which is higher even than President Trump’s projected budget for 2019.

    Mind you, Trump scoffs with indignation at the notion of the United States playing policeman of the world. Therefore, gutting the military now seems in order. Indeed, he could save tens of billions annually by airlifting US troops from military quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq and bringing them home.

    This is why I say to congressmen: Ask not what more the military needs. Ask what the military is doing with the funding it gets. After all, you’d think the least it could do with hundreds of billions each year is ensure that every soldier has the best equipment and training available to any soldier anywhere.

    Which constrains me to share this from “Smart China Spending Less on Military; Stupid US Spending More,” March 6, 2017.

    ____________________

    The $610 billion the United States spent [in 2014] was more than the $601 billion the next seven countries spent that year – combined. More to the point, though, far from aping the Soviet Union by challenging the United States to an arms race, China is ceding the (pyrrhic) victory. …

    The United States will be spending even more on military hardware it does not need. Meanwhile, nearly 50 million of its citizens remain mired in poverty. By enlightening contrast, China will be spending even less. This will enable it to continue lifting tens of million out of poverty each year. …

    China has clearly learned from the Soviet Union’s mistake. Reducing its military expenditure below 2 percent of GDP demonstrates this. After all, nothing hastened the disintegration of the Soviet Union quite like its misguided folly of measuring its status as a superpower primarily by the size of its military.

    ____________________

    I assure you, no politician can credibly explain why the United States needs to spend six times more on military expenditures than China or Russia. Therefore, it beggars belief for anyone to complain that the US military is not spending enough.

    Waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the military industrial complex explains much of this disconnect. Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned more than 50 years ago that it would be thus. But nothing belies the need for increases in military spending quite like this:

    From spending $150 million on private villas for a handful of personnel in Afghanistan to blowing $2.7 billion on an air surveillance balloon that doesn’t work, the latest revelations of waste at the Pentagon are just the most recent howlers in a long line of similar stories stretching back at least five decades.

    (The Nation, April 11, 2016)

    Incidentally, if the American people knew (and cared) how many billions most government departments waste each year, there would be a storming of the Capitol that would make the storming of the Bastille look like a picnic. Unfortunately, cognitive dissonance in this respect is such that Pentagon waste on things like hundreds for a hammer and thousands for a toilet are now fodder for late-night comedy.

    This is not the forum to delve any further. Instead, I highly recommend the Politico investigation published on December 12, 2015, under the damning headline:

    How do you buy $7 billion of stuff you don’t need?

    However, I would be remiss not to note that this bloated military budget comes on the heels of Republicans passing $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for big corporations and rich individuals. Because, by supporting these deficit-busting measures, Republicans have forfeited all claims of fiscal responsibility; just as, by supporting this pussy-grabbing president, Evangelicals have forfeited all claims of moral authority.

    Meanwhile, the Pentagon is scrambling to execute Trump’s order for a mine-is-bigger-than-yours military parade. And, far from honoring the troops, everyone knows he just wants to make North Korean President Kim Jong-un drool with envy. Never mind that authoritarian leaders like Jong-un order such parades only to reinforce their dictatorial powers.

    Alas, Trump has thoroughly debased protocols, principles, and priorities in Washington. This explains Republican appropriators seeing nothing wrong with cutting food programs for the poor to feed “Cadet Bone Spur’s” authoritarian envy.

    But just imagine the spectacle of this president treating military personnel and equipment like toys for his personal diorama. Unprecedented!

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 6:33 AM

    PyeongChang: Olympics and Politics Playing Out like Marriage and Divorce

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The 2018 PyeongChang Olympics get underway tomorrow. Yet the media are dedicating relatively little coverage to the Opening Ceremony or the athletes.

    Instead, they are focusing on the nuclear brinkmanship between North Korea and the United States, which will hover over South Korea (and these Games) like a Damoclean sword.

    But one can hardly blame the media. The titles to just a few of my recent commentaries on point explain why:

    • “Trump Double Dares After Jong-un Crosses His Red Line … Again,” August 12, 2017
    • “America’s Trump vs. North Korea’s Jong-un: the Ultimate Reality-TV Death Match,” August 9, 2017
    • “‘Leading from Behind’ – Trump Depending on China to Protect Us from North Korea,” April 21, 2017

    Not to mention recently declassified CIA documents, which show the extent to which North Korea was determined to terrorize the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

    North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul – and blew up a South Korean airliner that killed 115 in an effort to deter people from attending the games.

    (Fox News, January 9, 2017)

    In fact, just weeks ago, it was threatening to terrorize these Games. But I never regarded that as anything more than a bargaining feint.

    Granted, apocalyptic rhetoric between North Korea and the United States unnerved and potholed the run-up to these games. But I have less concern about war breaking out today than I did twelve years ago, when I wrote the commentary titled:

    • “Why Do World Leaders Even Give North Korea’s President the Time of Day,” October 4, 2006

    Frankly, as crazy as Jong-un and/or Trump might seem, each knows it would be Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to trigger a war that would likely end in an exchange of nuclear weapons.

    But what truly distinguishes these Games from Seoul in 1988 is the courting North and South Korea engaged in to present to unified front. In other words, North Korea is clearly more interested this time in participating than boycotting … and blowing things up.

    This is why participating countries breathed a sigh of relief when the Koreas certified their shotgun wedding. Its consummation will see athletes from both countries not only marching under a unified flag but also competing as a unified team. Never mind that, in nearly every case, the latter will amount to South Koreans competing and North Koreans cheering – complete with squads from its 500-member rah-rah delegation of pompom girls, marching band, and performance artists deployed to all major venues.

    The United States is the only major country not willing to shut up and forever hold its peace. But this is just the latest case of the Trump administration isolating it from multilateral agreements — among them the Paris Climate Change accord, the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, Jerusalem status quo, and the Iran nuclear deal.

    In this case, Vice President Mike Pence will be executing a passive-aggressive protest by playing the kind of gamesmanship Donald Trump played during his presidential campaign.

    In a move sure to annoy Pyongyang, US Vice President Mike Pence will take the father of the late Otto Warmbier, an American student who was jailed in North Korea, to the Opening Ceremony.

    (CNN, February 5, 2018)

    This is reminiscent of the shameful stunt Trump pulled at his second presidential debate against Hillary. In that case, he held a pre-debate news conference with four women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and then invited them to sit center stage for the main event.

    That Warmbier stunt would have been enough to make the United States the idiomatic skunk at this Olympic party. But Pence just launched this stink bomb – from a safe distance in Japan – in advance of his arrival in South Korea for Friday’s Opening Ceremony:

    I’m announcing today the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever. And we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all.

    (Reuters, February 7, 2018)

    Frankly, imposing sanctions to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program is rather like building a wall to get drug cartels to abandon their trafficking.

    But Pence is also floating the idea that this announcement might entice the North Koreans into direct talks behind the scenes at these Games. Except that this is even crazier than Trump continually insulting Democrats and then wondering why he can’t get them to vote for his legislative agenda.

    Meanwhile, North Korea responded by announcing that it will be sending the beloved sister of its “Dear Leader” to the Opening Ceremony. The clear message is that she will be bearing flowers to cover up the stench of America’s stink-bomb diplomacy. And Trump would have the world think Jong-un is the crazy one …

    I just hope Trump hasn’t completely debased Pence’s Midwestern politeness. Because South Korean President Moon Jae-in might orchestrate a chance encounter between him and Jong-un’s sister. And it would be a shame if, trying to reinforce his Trumpian rhetoric, Pence comes across like a typical ugly American.

    But it speaks volumes that the United States is spoiling for a fight at these “Peace Olympics,” which a longstanding ally is hosting no less. This is what the exercise of American soft power has been reduced to: juvenile stunts, performed by hollow men, full of “fire and fury,” accomplishing nothing.

    All the same, there’s no denying simmering resentment among

    • South Korean athletes over having their esprit de corps disrupted.
    • South Korean nationalists over the eagerness of their leader to pacify Jong-un turning these Game into a North Korean pantomime.

    • North Korean athletes over being gawked at and treated like the first blacks to integrate white schools in the United States.

    • Serious politicians everywhere over concerns that this shotgun marriage is just continuing to normalize and reward North Korea’s extortionist brand of nuclear brinkmanship.

    I trust it’s obvious why all groups feel the way they do. And you can probably sympathize with each one.

    But, as indicated above, informed indifference has guided my feelings towards North Korea for more than a decade. I am also mindful that political leaders have always used athletes as pawns. And athletes have always had little choice but to play along. It was thus, for example, when

    • German Chancellor Adolf Hitler used athletes to showcase his Nazi propaganda during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

    • African leaders used athletes to register their opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime by boycotting the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
    • US President Jimmy Carter used athletes to register his opposition to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan by boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko did the same when he retaliated by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s used athletes in state-sponsored program of doping for national glory at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (This compelled the IOC to ban Russian Track and Field athletes from the 2016 Rio Olympics and forbid the Russian flag from even being flown at these 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Russian athletes who qualify to compete must do so under a neutral flag: So, from fake national glory to abject national disgrace. Thanks, Putin!)

    This is why one can fairly argue that the Olympics are just politics by other means.

    Apropos of which, I would not be surprised if South Korea has contracted to appease North Korea by granting it full sway to produce the Opening Ceremony. No doubt North Korea would seize this international platform to put on a brazenly jingoistic display, hence the 500-member delegation of performers mentioned above. In fact, a pair of figure skaters are the only two of its twenty-two athletes who actually qualified to compete. Therefore, it can hardly rely on athletic performances to vindicate its ostentatious national pride.

    On the other hand, producing parades is to North Korea what producing movies is to Hollywood. And nothing would bring this hermit kingdom more Olympic glory than putting on a show that rivals the one China put on for the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

    The technological wizardry, choreographed precision, and sheer grandeur of everything on display during last night’s Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics kept me so mesmerized – in such shock and awe – that I even sat through the commercials.

    In fact, I found myself continually exclaiming – ‘How did they do that?!’ Specifically, I marveled at the serene manner in which the Chinese fused twenty-first century technology with ancient graphics, costumes and choreography to remind us that they were the world’s only superpower for centuries before the Americans even thought about fighting the British to give birth to the United States of America.

    (“Opening Ceremony of Beijing Olympics: Unprecedented, Spectacular, Awe Inspiring,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 9, 2008)

    Bring it on … Koreas!

    Finally, as is so often the case with shotgun marriages, this one will end in divorce as soon as organizers extinguish the Olympic flame. And the Korean Peninsula will return to the status quo ante, where North is North, and South is South … until political expedience marries the two again.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, February 5, 2018 at 6:43 AM

    Eagles Soar Over Patriots to Win Super Bowl LII 41-33

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The National Anthem

    I usually comment on this ritual just to pooh-pooh it. Because I invariably measure each performance against the rousing rendition Whitney Houston gave at Super Bowl XXV in 1991. And no performer has ever measured up. I doubt any ever will.

    Perhaps this is why Pink attempted to preempt criticism and bank sympathy by leaking stories about battling the flu. To be fair, she did better than I would’ve expected even if she were perfectly healthy.

    Never mind that her voice might’ve sounded better if she were singing upside down from her now familiar circus wires.

    Lucky for her, most viewers were probably too busy looking to see which, if any, football players were kneeling. After all, thanks to President Trump, this sideline protest became the focus of most games this season.

    President Trump on Sunday morning renewed his demand that NFL owners fire or suspend players who kneel during the national anthem in protest, again urging that fans should boycott the sport to force change.

    (Washington Post, September 24, 2017)

    This explains why players began kneeling as much to give the finger to Trump as to further their declared intent of protesting police brutality and racial injustice.

    But not a single player kneeled tonight, which was very sensible as it punted Trumpian distraction. In fact, the only people who kneeled during the anthem were the ones holding that gigantic, unfurled flag. Oh, the irony.

    The Game

    After the teams matched each other with impressive opening drives that ended in field goals, I thought it was going to be another one of those close games, which the Patriots invariably win.

    Then the Eagles ended their second drive with a 34-yard bomb for a touchdown, but they botched the gimme extra point. Except that the Patriots ended their second drive by botching a gimme field goal.

    I knew then that my Eagles were destined to win. Nick Foles affirmed this when he upstaged Brady by showing how a quarterback is supposed to catch a pass on a trick play. Brady fumbled his catch off his fingertips; Foles caught his for a touchdown no less, bringing the halftime score to 22-12.

    Everything had lined up for the New England Patriots to once again storm to a last-minute Super Bowl victory, but Brandon Graham, a standout defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles, shot through the offensive line and his strip sack of Tom Brady ended the threat, handing the Eagles a shocking 41-33 upset in Super Bowl LII and the team’s first championship since 1960.

    (New York Times, February 4, 2018)

    It was a fun game; that is, if you’re into those all-star games where the defense lets the offense drive and score at will. It’s almost shameful that these teams racked up 1,151 yards between them, the most in NFL history – by far. Brady passed for 505 of those yards, the most for any playoff game; Foles, for 373.

    Incidentally, with all due respect to Gisele, the most interesting question this off season will not be whether her husband Tom will return next year after this loss. It will be whether backup Foles will return as the starting quarterback for the Eagles after this win.

    With all due respect to him, I don’t think he will. Moreover, I don’t think he should. After all, starter Carson Wentz had an MVP run of regular-season games before he got injured. And, but for that run, Foles would not have had the opportunity for his once-in-a-lifetime run of playoff games.

    A healthy Wentz has earned the right to start and only bad play should cause him to lose that right. Besides, let’s not forget that Foles began this season as a journeyman backup quarterback for good reason.

    Sorry, Nick.

    I will only add that I was all too mindful that the Patriots trailed the Falcons 3-21 at halftime last year and still came back to win 34-28. So the mere thought of this made me sick to my stomach. Which brings me to Justin Timberlake’s performance.

    The Halftime Show

    Whether fronting the boy band NSYNC or imitating the king of pop Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake has never impressed me as a singer. I mean, what does it say that background vocals and instrumentals are always the best parts of his songs?

    Ironically, he is never more entertaining than when he sings for sketch performances (of bits like “Dick in a Box” and “Motherlover”) on comedy/talk shows like Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show.

    Therefore, Timberlake paying any kind of tribute to Prince could only strike me as a vaudevillian spoof. At least he was sensible enough to play Prince’s own vocals over his when he performed “I Would Die 4 U.” But this hardly compensated for the wanton disrespect he showed last week. This punk threw an alcohol-fueled listening party for his latest album at teetotaler Prince’s Paisley Park … because he could afford to. The friggin’ nerve!

    Yes, they played this game in His Purple Majesty’s beloved Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is why it smacks of tone-deafness that the NFL failed to nab Bruno Mars for this gig. After seeing his tribute to Prince at the 2017 Grammys, league officials should have pursued any means necessary to sign him – even if that meant canceling contractual obligations to Timberlake. I doubt any viewer would have begrudged Mars making his third halftime appearance, for such a worthy tribute, instead of Timberlake making his second.

    Apropos of which, you probably recall that “Nipplegate” stunt he pulled off with Janet Jackson during their Super Bowl performance in 2004. What you may not know is that he let her suffer all the backlash.

    It is widely believed that Timberlake’s career continued to skyrocket after the performance, while Jackson was, as one Jackson family member told People, ‘blackballed’ from major performances.

    (Vanity Fair, February 4, 2018)

    This is why my lack of interest in him as a singer is surpassed only by my lack of respect for him as a man. Incidentally, a browse of most female Instagram accounts will put the puritanical social mores of just 14 years ago into disrobing relief.

    But the irony is not lost on me that, in this #MeToo moment, it is he and not she who has been so redeemed as to be invited back. No doubt this is why Janet responded with such indignation and shade to frenzied speculation about her joining Timberlake as his surprise guest. Notably, she didn’t even mention his name, but these words spoke volumes:

    I will not.

    — Janet Jackson (@JanetJackson) February 3, 2018

    So, yeah, I spent most of his halftime show taking a leisurely bathroom break.

    The Commercials

    The most memorable Super Bowl commercials of all time have no celebrity faces. Hell, some even feature animals.

    Therefore, I can only regard it as a despairing homage to our celebrity-driven culture that so many of these commercials featured celebrities. Hell, one got the impression of watching a special celebrity edition of Super Bowl commercials.

    I could not have been less interested. Not to mention this abiding lament, which I first sounded in “NFL Conference Championship Sunday: Hail, Broncos! Hail, Panthers!” January 25, 2016.

    ____________________

    I would be remiss not to comment on the annual hype surrounding Super Bowl commercials — for which companies are paying $5 million for a 30-second spot this year. Frankly, we are treated to so many previews that, by game time, they hold about as much interest as those eye-rolling commercials for erectile dysfunction.

    I gather that companies release them early to become trending topics online. Except that, like most topics on social media, people suck them up and spit them out in a viral flash.

    Not so long ago, even die-hard fans waited with bated breath to see them air during the game; and the best ones trended, in real life, for days and weeks thereafter. These days, most people just see them as opportunities to go to the toilet.

    Which raises the question: Why pay millions to run a commercial on TV during the Super Bowl, only to have people ignore it, when you can pay pittance to release it online during Super Bowl week, and generate viral interest? Surely it’s only a matter of time before this fact dawns on companies.

    Then, of course, there’s this: I have watched many funny, even interesting Super Bowl commercials over the years. But none has ever moved me to purchase the product being advertised. You?

    ____________________

    Ditto this year!

    Frankly, using MLK’s inspiring words to sell Ram trucks is the surest way to get me to boycott all Fiat Chrysler products. But here is why I am not at all surprised that his heirs have reduced his legacy to this form of crass commercialism:

    King’s legacy has not been enhanced by the squabbling amongst his four children – pitting two of them who regard it as their inheritance to use for their personal benefit against the other two who regard it as a public trust for them to manage as zealous trustees. …

    Now both sides have hired lawyers to hurl pot-calling-the-kettle-black accusations at each other about misusing and abusing their parents’ legacies for personal gain. …

    MLK and Coretta must be rolling over in their graves.

    (“Children of Martin Luther King Jr. Continue Family Feud Over His Legacy,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 15, 2008)

    That said, I feel compelled to call out Morgan Freeman. After hawking the wonder of Turkish Airlines last year, I didn’t think he could do any more to sellout his cool image and “hot” voice.

    Reports are that the airlines fired hundreds of workers and froze the salaries of remaining employees in order to pay Freeman millions. But I suppose, if you sell yourself once as a TV-commercial mercenary, the only question you have thereafter is: How much?

    And PepsiCo probably paid him twice as much. Only that explains his lip-sync rap battle against Peter Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) to hawk this corporate hegemon’s Doritos and Mountain Dew brands.

    I also feel compelled to note the irreparable harm Matt Damon did to his wholesome reputation with his boneheaded comments about sexual harassment. His commercial made this painfully clear.

    Unlike the mercenary Freeman, he was pitching the charitable cause of providing clean water for poor people in developing countries. Yet he came across like a Catholic bishop extolling the virtues of missionary work in Africa, knowing it’s just a pun for pedophile priests routinely raping little boys over there.

    That’s a wrap!

    Related commentaries:
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    Conference championship Sunday
    MLK legacy

    * This commentary was originally published Sunday night, February 4, at 10:21 p.m.

  • Saturday, February 3, 2018 at 3:39 AM

    You might think Putin is ROFL over the Russian mess in Washington but…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    He couldn’t possibly comment

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  • Thursday, February 1, 2018 at 3:31 AM

    Treasonous Trump Releasing Fake Memo to Frame FBI and Hide Russian Ties

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Much is being made in Washington today about a classified Republican memo. It reportedly delineates all kinds of trumped-up allegations of FBI misconduct and bias – all aimed at discrediting congressional and special investigations into how (and why) Russia helped Donald Trump get elected president of the United States.

    However, with all due respect to that memo and those investigations, nothing is more incriminating than the way Trump allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to continually disrespect him with impunity. This, after all, is the self-proclaimed master counterpuncher.

    More to the point, Trump showed what little it takes for him to strike (back) when he targeted the Khans, “Gold Star” parents of a dead American soldier, because of a perceived slight. He insisted doing so was a matter of public principle and personal pride. Of course, his counterpunches against North Korean President Kim Jong-un are most infamous and perhaps most relevant.

    With Putin, though, Trump continually turns the other cheek. This clearly compels one to question why.

    As it happens, the latest episode of Putin disrespecting Trump played out earlier this week:

    The US on Tuesday released dramatic video of a Russian fighter jet buzzing a Navy spy plane in the Black Sea Monday, the first unsafe incident of its kind since a close encounter nearby in November.

    (Fox News, January 30, 2018)

    The American media made much of these menacing flybys. But you should bear three things in mind:

    1. They happen often;
    2. American fighter jets do the same to Russian planes; and
    3. They are unlikely to lead to a dogfight (notwithstanding that Russian pilots could exercise a little more professional care).

    That said, commentators failed to mention the only newsworthy aspect of these encounters of the Russian kind. That, of course, is the disrespect they showed for this American president and his vaunted military might.

    The reason this was so newsworthy is that Trump spent most of the Obama presidency tweeting that Russia was menacing US planes only because Putin has no respect for Obama.

    I believe Putin will continue to re-build the Russian Empire. He has zero respect for Obama or the U.S.!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2014

    On top of the disrespect shown by Russia, don’t forget they still have Snowden, who has given them (& everyone) massive US secrets.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2014

    By the way, last I checked, “they still have Snowden.”

    And, lest you think Putin had a momentary relapse this week and thought he was still messing with “weak” Obama, consider this from “Russians Dupe ‘Stupid’ Trump and White House Staff,” May 12, 2017:

    I am constrained to note that Trump also spent much of his campaign ridiculing Obama as a weak and feckless president who commanded no respect on the world stage. To support his contention, he often cited the way Russian fighter jets continually menaced US warships, as well as the way North Korea kept testing ballistic missiles and throwing American citizens in prison.

    Except that Russian fighter jets are still menacing US warships, and North Korea is still testing ballistic missiles and throwing American citizens in prison (adding a fourth just this week). Which must make Trump an equally weak and feckless president who commands no respect on the world stage, no?

    But the focus of this commentary was not those disrespectful flybys. Instead, it was the way Trump’s consciousness of guilt about his Russian ties caused him to ban US photographers from his meeting in the White House with the Russian ambassador and his delegation.

    Apropos of this, the “dupe” in my title refers to Putin making him an international laughingstock. Because he not only promptly released photos the Russians took but also revealed the humiliating assurance Trump provided, namely, that firing FBI director James Comey – as he had just done – would cause the Russia investigations to go away.

    Again, such episodes should compel you to question why this self-proclaimed, counterpunching strongman is allowing Putin to disrespect him in ways he vowed would never happen if he were president. Here is the explanation I offered over a year ago:

    It would be enough if Putin were simply stroking his infantile ego. But what really explains Trump’s antic infatuation is the same Russians who hacked the DNC warning him that they have compromising, if not incriminating, information on him and/or his family.

    (“The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected Outcome of US Election,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 12, 2016)

    Sure enough, no less a news authority than CNN soon affirmed my take:

    Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

    (January 10, 2017)

    And only such compromising information explains this:

    The Trump administration has announced it will not impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite Congress passing a law [419-3 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate requiring] the President to do so.

    (London Independent, January 30, 2018)

    And this:

    Long-simmering tensions between the President Trump-led Republican Party and federal law enforcement erupted into open battle Wednesday, with the FBI issuing an extraordinary public rebuke of a controversial memo that House Republicans and the White House are preparing to make public.

    In a statement sent to reporters, the FBI says it has ‘grave concerns’ about the memo, suggesting that it omits key facts and is thus inaccurate.

    (Washington Post, January 31, 2018)

    If that were not damning enough, Trump’s handpicked Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein joined his handpicked FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in warning not just House Republicans but Trump himself. Yet they seem intent on persisting.

    Meanwhile, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is to Trump what Kryptonite is to Superman. But even Trump understands that firing Mueller, the way he fired Comey, would be tantamount to political suicide.

    This is why he is trying to so hard to undermine Mueller’s criminal investigation, hoping to mislead a critical mass of Americans to dismiss its institutionally objective findings as just another partisan hit job (i.e., much like the Republican “intelligence” memo causing so much hullabaloo today).

    You’ve probably heard that Republican Representative Devin Nunes is using this fake memo in his witch hunt for corrupt FBI agents. This is eerily reminiscent of Republican Senator Joe McCarthy’s infamous 1950s witch hunt for communist sympathizers.

    In “Republicans Exploiting FBI Texts the Way Trump Exploited DNC E-Mails,” December 15, 2017, I denounced Nunes and other Republican flunkies for conjuring up this poisoned chalice of a memo.

    ____________________

    House Republicans are exploiting the private text messages of agents at the FBI to undermine special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into the role Russia played in helping Trump get elected. They are making prurient fodder of these messages in the name of government oversight. …

    They are part of an open conspiracy among Republicans to undermine Mueller’s investigation. Which is just the latest example of them sacrificing what little principles they had at the altar of Trump’s presidency.

    Even worse, these erstwhile chest-thumping, law-and-order patriots seem deliriously unconcerned that they are helping Trump not only propagate a false equivalence between the FBI and the (old Russian) KGB, but also erode public confidence in the integrity of all democratic institutions.

    ____________________

    Which brings me back to Trump and Putin, his Russian puppet master. Forget The Manchurian Candidate! Trump is behaving like a Manchurian president. No doubt because Putin is every bit as manipulative as the fictional Mrs. Iselin.

    But just imagine Trump’s tweets about treason if Obama had taken the word of any foreign leader over the unanimous word of the directors of US intelligence agencies.

    Trump said he took Putin at his word that Russia did not seek to interfere in the US presidential election last year, despite a finding from US intelligence agencies that it did.

    (CNN, November 11, 2017)

    Enough.

    Philanthropist Tom Steyer released his latest impeach-Trump ad on Tuesday to coincide with the State of the Union Address. In it, he imagines all the destruction this president could cause in just 30 seconds, citing everything from firing an FBI director to launching a nuclear war.

    Ending the ad, he asks this existential question:

    How bad does it have to get before Congress does something?

    Steyer’s question could not be more timely. After all, as noted above, Trump just flouted (in open and notorious fashion) his constitutional duty to “take care that the [law imposing sanctions against Russia is] faithfully executed.”

    His refusal to do so, coupled with the complicit acquiescence of the Republican-controlled Congress, makes a mockery of the checks and balances that form the foundation of American democracy. Not to mention the clear and present danger refusing to punish Russia portends for free and fair elections and national security – in democracies everywhere.

    There seems no bounds to Trump’s egocentric and paranoid determination to undermine the very foundations of American democracy just to save his own face … and behind. And the only thing that explains his treasonous behavior is his fear of Putin releasing compromising information on him.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 8:33 AM

    Grammys Rapfest Snubs Jay-Z

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Producers hyped Sunday’s telecast of the Grammys as a smorgasbord of music performances. What they presented smacked of a Hip-Hop binge – complete with R&B and pop performers featuring rappers as condiments; you know, like ketchup on hotdog.

    Granted, according to a Nielsen report on January 3, 2018, last year saw Hip-Hop finally surpass Rock & Roll as the most popular music genre. No doubt producers based their catering on that report.

    But they had three and a half hours. Therefore, they could easily have included more “diverse” performances, especially from genres like Alternative Rock (Grunge), Blues, and Jazz.

    As the telecast played out, viewers not into Hip-Hop must have felt like producers were jamming it down their throats. Which probably explains this:

    Ratings for the 2018 Grammys slipped over 20 percent from last year’s event, putting Music’s Biggest Night in danger of securing its lowest ratings in modern history.

    (RollingStone, January 29, 2018)

    That said, this was supposed to be the Jay-Z show. It was enough that he led all nominations with eight for 4:44. But his A-list peers hailed him like royalty at the annual Clive Davis and Recording Academy’s pre-Grammy gala on Saturday night, at which they crowned him with a special Industry Icon award.

    But talk about anticlimactic:

    He didn’t win a single award. Jay-Z has had a complicated relationship with the show for a long time (he boycotted for years until Beyoncé was nominated) and also declined to perform on Sunday’s telecast.

    (Washington Post, January 29, 2018)

    Jay-Z reportedly declined to perform simply because he didn’t feel like it – as if other superstars like U2 performed because they needed the exposure.

    Mind you, this is the icon who boycotted the Grammys for years for dissing Hip-Hop. Yet he made a mockery of that purportedly principled stand by giving this lame explanation (at that pre-Grammy gala) for finally getting over … himself:

    I realized, man, all this is super subjective, and everyone’s doing their best, and the Academy — they’re human, like we are, and they’re voting on things that they like; it’s subjective.

    (People, January 28, 2018)

    Duh.

    But I fear this humiliating snub might cause him to have a boycott relapse – much as trauma might cause an addict to have a drug relapse.

    In any event, it speaks volumes that it was Bruno Mars who upstaged Jay-Z on what was produced as Hip-Hop’s biggest night at the Grammys – ever. After all, Mars is a classic R&B artist, who actually looks and performs like the musical progeny of a hookup between Prince and Michael Jackson.

    Again, Jay-Z’s 4:44 was nominated for eight. He won none. Mars’s 24K Magic was nominated for six. He won all six, including the top three awards for Album, Song, and Record of the Year.

    This bring me to the conspicuous absence of women as winners in any of the major categories. This, on a night when women were making quite a show of their newly realized empowerment with the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

    SZA, the woman with the most nominated, won zero; Lorde, the only woman nominated for album of the year, lost to Bruno Mars; and in the pop-solo-performance category, in which four women were nominated along with Ed Sheeran, it was the lone (absent) man who won.

    (Vanity Fair, January 29, 2018)

    The telecast featured many women as performers. But Alessia Cara, who won Best New Artist, was the only woman featured as a Grammy winner.

    I am fully supportive of the reckoning for sexual harassers, which these movements portend. But I’m not so bothered by this practical shut out because I fully appreciate the irony.

    Frankly, it seems perversely fitting that women would be so disrespected on a night orchestrated to celebrate the dominance of Hip-Hop. After all, no other music genre has misogyny so rooted in its DNA.

    For the record, though, hashtag protests like #OscarsSoWhite and #GrammysSoMale are becoming trite. Not least because results will continue to be thus, so long as members of the respective voting academies remain mostly white males. More diversity will preclude such sour-grapes protests.

    Incidentally, I do not recall anyone protesting #GrammysSoFemale after Adele dominated in 2016. Not to mention that I had cause just last year to write “#OscarsSoDiverse…,” January 27, 2017. Just sayin’.

    Meanwhile, there were a few memorable performances. My best three:

    • SZA – “Broken Clocks”
    • Kendrick Lamar – medley, including “XXX” and “DNA”
    • Patti LuPone – “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”

    Alas, there were many forgettable ones. My worst three:

    • Sam Smith – “Pray”
    • Sting and Shaggy – “Englishman in New York”
    • John Legend – for upstaging 91-year-old Tony Bennett. Evidently, this upstart couldn’t resist hitting a higher note and holding it longer during their bit performance of Bennett’s signature song “New York, New York.”

    With that, I shall end on a confessional note in homage to Jay-Z’s confessional album.

    I reveled more with each of his eight humiliating snubs. Mind you, I like 4:44. What’s more, I think it was worthy of at least one Grammy. Yet I reveled because I realized instantly that karma was being meted out.

    It stems from what I wrote about his marriage in “For LGBTs in North Carolina, Beyoncé Is a Sellout,” May 6, 2016.

    ____________________

    Lemonade is all about Beyoncé playing her fans for suckers; you know, the way Donald Trump plays his supporters.

    In fact, the women who believe her I-am-woman-hear-me-roar-against-my-cheating-husband shtick are no smarter than the rednecks who believe his ‘Make-America-Great-Again’ shtick.

    Frankly, even the Kardashians can’t keep up with the way Bey and Jay exploit the intimacies of family life, including infidelities. Which is why it’s hardly surprising that he’s planning to mix his ‘Iced Tea’ with her Lemonade.

    ____________________

    To be fair, I was wrong about Jay-Z. His mix with Beyoncé’s Lemonade turned out to be not “Iced Tea,” but 4:44. (They were both born on the 4th day (4) and married on April 4th (44).) In any case, I’m sure royalties will help them get over his Grammy humiliation.

    Interestingly enough, Beyoncé led all nominations last year with nine for Lemonade. She won two. Except that, if she were properly snubbed for that album, the way Jay-Z was for this one, she would have 20 career Grammys to his, still, 21.

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  • Sunday, January 28, 2018 at 6:22 PM

    Black Unemployment: Jay-Z Dragged Trump for Fronting on Obama’s Record

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On Saturday’s inaugural edition of The Van Jones Show, Jay-Z took issue with Trump taking credit for lowering black unemployment.

    Specifically, Jones asked if it’s OK for Trump to diss blacks as long as he “put[s] money in our pockets.” Truth be told, Jay-Z gave a rambling answer – filled with rich-man platitudes about money not buying happiness and laced with a riff that ended with him calling Trump a racist “superbug.” This sums up what he said:

    It goes back to the whole thing – ‘treat me really bad and pay me well.’ It’s not going to lead to happiness, it’s going to lead to, again, the same thing – everyone’s going to be sick.

    (CNN, January 28, 2018)

    True to form, the thin-skinned Trump perceived a mortal slight that warranted this presidential tweet:

    Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2018

    For the record, the 2008 financial crisis caused black unemployment to rise to a high of 16.8 in March 2010.

    • Thanks to Obama’s policies, that rate fell to 7.9 in November 2016, the month Trump was elected president of the United States.
    • Thanks to Trump’s policies, which mostly continued Obama’s, that rate has now fallen to 6.8.

    The point is that, under Obama, black unemployment fell from 16.8 to 7.9, for a truly praiseworthy drop of 8.9 percent. Under Trump, it fell from 7.9 to 6.8, for a thanks-for-not-f*cking-up-this-trend drop of 1.1 percent.

    Yet, after jumping on the trend near this record low, Trump is taking all the credit. Frankly, this is as lame as a runner joining the Marathon at mile 23 (of 26.2) and expecting everyone to cheer him for setting a new world record. Unfortunately, the gaslit media will let him get away with this “big lie” (too).

    Mind you, at 6.8, the black unemployment rate is still twice the white rate of 3.7. But this hardly matters to Trump’s big lie about creating more jobs for blacks than any president in US history.

    If they were not so easily manipulated, however, reporters would be challenging him to explain what specific policies he’s implementing to bridge that unemployment gap. He wouldn’t be able to, of course, because he has no such policies.

    NOTE: Lest Trump trolls accuse me of sharing fake data, all of the unemployment data cited above come courtesy of the Trump administration’s own Bureau of Labor Statistics extracted on: January 28, 2018 (5:20:44 PM).

  • Sunday, January 28, 2018 at 2:08 PM

    Federer Pads Numbers of Iconic Career at Australian Open

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The match announcer hailed 35-year-old Roger Federer as the “ageless wonder” after he won his 19th grand slam at Wimbledon last summer.

    Well, the wonder that is Federer continues.

    Federer won the Australian Open championship with a five-set win over Marin Cilic, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. In the past 12 months, Federer has won back-to-back Aussie Open titles and three Grand Slam championships in all to bring his total to 20 (extending his own record).

    (ESPN, January 28, 2018)

    For a little perspective, consider this:

    • Tiger Woods made surpassing Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors the holy grail of his career. But he has been stuck at 14 since 2008, and it will take a miracle for him to win his 15th.
    • Federer made surpassing Pete Sampras’s record of 14 grand slams the holy grail of his career. And he not only did so, but has set a new standard for the holy grail in his sport six times since.

    Imagine the deifying media coverage if Woods were continually setting new standards in Golf the way Federer is in Tennis. Hell, Woods got more (global) coverage this weekend, after merely making the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, than Federer got, after winning the Australian Open.

    Meanwhile, Croatia’s Milan Cilic risks becoming to Federer’s grand slams what the Washington Generals are to the Harlem Globetrotters’ exhibitions: an entertaining foil. After all, here is what I wrote after he played that role for Federer’s 19th:

    What are we to make of his cry-baby opponent, Cilic? He took a three-minute timeout midway through the second set, during which he sobbed inconsolably because he developed a boo boo on his foot.

    That was bad enough. But the commentators kept speculating throughout the remainder of the match that a mysterious injury was hampering his play.

    In doing so, they undermined Federer’s eventual victory. And they compounded this unfairness by failing to mention that Cilic could only have suffered his alleged injury because the masterful Federer had him running all over the court like a chicken with its head cut off.

    (“Wimbledon:…Federer Pads Iconic Career,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 17, 2017)

    This time he was crying about the cold. He was reportedly expecting to play Federer in an open-air arena, in Australia’s sweltering summer heat. Instead, tournament organizers had them play in an enclosed, air-conditioned arena. Now he’s complaining that their decision to approximate optimal playing conditions threw him off his game. #CrybabyCilic

    That said, perhaps nothing puts Federer’s win into perspective quite like the relief Caroline Wozniacki expressed after winning the women’s draw.

    The 27-year-old’s maiden and elusive major makes her the first Danish player to win a grand slam singles title after prevailing over a fearsome and spirited Simona Halep in three brilliant sets, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4.

    (The Guardian US, January 27, 2018)

    No doubt her relief stemmed from the fact that this was her first grand slam win in 43 appearances during her 12-year career.

    Except that, apropos of perspective, this compels me to note that Serena Williams has won 23. Moreover, like Federer, she seems bound to pad the numbers of her iconic career when she returns to the tour after fully recovering from giving birth last September.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 7:51 AM

    Shade: Trump requests expensive art. Museum sends golden ‘shithole’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters. …

    The curator’s alternative: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled ‘America’ that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country.

    (Washington Post, January 25, 2018)

    Alas, Trump has neither the intelligence nor the sense of humor to appreciate this clever insult, which lampoons not only his potty mouth but also his ‘America’ as a shithole.

    He couldn’t buy class as a billionaire real-estate mogul. He can’t even borrow it as the president of the United States. What a laughingstock!

    In any event, this has to be the best case of throwing shade in the history of mankind. So go ahead, Guggenheim. Drop the mic!

    Related commentaries:
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