• Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:21 AM

    Technology is God. Jobs is Moses! And iPad is His 4th commandment

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Technology’s Commandments … 

    (according to Apple)

     Thou shall buy a Mac

    Thou shall buy an iPod

    Thou shall buy an iPhone

    Thou shall buy an iPad…

    Somehow I’m managing to get by without obeying any of them.

  • Friday, January 29, 2010 at 5:47 AM

    J.D. Salinger, literary one-hit wonder, is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In this day and age when being famous for being famous is a consummation so devoutly to be wished, it is probably hard to imagine anyone becoming famous for not wanting to be famous.  But this latter phenomenon, in a nutshell, can serve as an epitaph for J.D. Salinger.

    His ironic, if not iconic, fame stems of course from the publication of his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. Like most people my age, I read it in high school.

    But, honestly, what I remember most about this book was thinking back then how odd it was that my teacher would assign a book that reads like a sojourn through the sex-addled mind of an alienated, angst-ridden, rebellious 1950s teenager.  I’m not sure what lesson she was hoping to teach, but it was probably completely lost on this 1970s teenager.  Because, for so many reasons, I simply could not relate….

    If reading it was no longer a rite of passage when you were in high school, and you’ve never bothered to read it, just imagine your teacher assigning the viewing of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for literary or cultural insight. 

    It is a curious thing, though, that so many people claim to have related to this novel; after all, you’d think that the “cool kids” would have seen in Holden all of the poor saps they picked on in school.  So why their coming of age problems became required reading had to have been a mystery. Imagine what a loser you had to be to pay for sex and not only fail to get laid, but end up with a fat lip….

    All the same, this novel has reportedly sold 65 million copies, and continues to sell hundreds of thousands each year.  No doubt the mystery surrounding Salinger’s doggedly reclusive life fueled sales. (Never mind that his reclusiveness might’ve had something to do with wanting to conceal his predilection for teenage literary groupies….)

    You could be forgiven for thinking, though, that he never wrote another novel. But he wrote three others – all of which were relatively successful. Moreover, he probably thought all of them were just as good, if not better.

    Therefore, it must have been a source of profound humiliation, perhaps even resentment, that none of them came close to matching the critical acclaim and commercial success of Catcher. Why subject one’s talent (and oneself) to a world in which people are too stupid and superficial to appreciate real literary merit, eh?

    In fact, his last book was published in 1963. And, according to The Washington Post, no new writing of any kind has been published since a short story appeared in The New Yorker in 1965. This is why I have always regarded him variously as the most notorious sufferer of writer’s block and the most enigmatic literary celebrity of the 20th century.

    Rumors abound that he spent much of his time in seclusion writing as many as 11 masterpieces, all of which remained locked in a vault in manuscript form.  But if his three published, post-Catcher novels proved so forgettable, I’m not sure why anybody thinks these masterpieces, if they exist, would be any better. 

    Nevertheless, just as it was with Michael Jackson, Salinger’s death provides a unique (and fleeting) opportunity for the executors of his estate to maximize sales from the release of any new material….

    Salinger reportedly died on Wednesday of natural causes.  He was 91.

    Here’s to catching little children as they’re about to fall off a cliff….

    Farewell J.D.

  • Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 5:54 AM

    Obama’s first State of the Union Address

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As speeches go, it was vintage Obama:  hopeful, skillfully drafted, brilliantly delivered (often with a disarming charm), and chuck full of soaring rhetoric.

    More importantly, though, he demonstrated why, despite his critics, he’s still America’s (and the world’s) best HOPE for leadership in this age of economic and political transformation. 

    In fact, I’m sure the inside-Washington joke was watching well-known Republican partisans get so rapted up in the speech that they were jumping to their feet with unbridled applause. Frankly, this, like most of his speeches, was so flawless, that all I feel worthy to do here is to share some highlights

    He cited the reasons why he gave himself a B+ for the first year of his presidency:

    We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

    Because of the steps we took, there are about 2 million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.

    He reminded everybody why the country is in the state it’s in:

    At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

    He heralded a new era of fiscal responsibility:

    Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.

    He positioned his administration squarely on the side of Main Street versus Wall Street:

    Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t… I supported the last administration’s efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.

    To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

    He focused on creating new jobs:

    We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow… There are projects like that [high speed rail] all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services and information… We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. 

    The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

    He reiterated his push for a new age, green economy:

    I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

    He declared his bloodied but unbowed determination to pass health insurance reform:

    I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.

    I took on health care because of the stories I’ve heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage, patients who’ve been denied coverage and families – even those with insurance – who are just one illness away from financial ruin…. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people…

    There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close.

    He had relatively little to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or about the global war against terrorism. 

    Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who’s to blame for this, but I am not interested in relitigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough.

    As we take the fight to al-Qaida, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as president. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August…  But make no mistake: This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.

    He chastised the Bush-dominated Supreme Court:

    Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.

    He reserved his most ennobling flourish for a frontal assault on the partisan politics that has turned Washington into a schoolyard of bickering do-nothings:

    Now, I am not naive. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony and some post-partisan era… But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is election day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can.

    But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.  So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics.

    To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.

    Finally, he put the challenges to deliver on Change people can believe in into perspective:

    I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it. But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy or that I can do it alone…

    Our administration has had some political setbacks this year and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on…

    We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

    Hell, his speech was so good that when he was done, I felt like smoking a cigarette ... and I don’t even smoke.  But that’s Obama the smooth talker for you:

    After all, as even his liberal friends at Saturday Night Live lampooned recently, despite talking up a transformative global agenda, he has precious little to show for it.  And this will only provide more fodder for his critics who already ridicule him as all talk and no action.

    [Obama awarded (Affirmative Action) Nobel Peace Prize, TIJ, October 10, 2009]

    But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the cold water The New York Times has thrown on all of the swooning going on over this speech:

    By the end of his first year in office, they had expected to have overhauled the health care system, enacted a market-based cap on carbon emissions blamed for climate change, imposed a new regulatory system on financial institutions, closed the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and signed a new arms control treaty with Russia. None of those have happened….

    So, time to put up or shut up Obama! Because no matter how many taxes you cut and how many jobs you “save,” unless you can check off, at the very least, healthcare reform and jobs created on your report card, voters will give you a F instead of that B+ in 2012….

    Related commentaries:
    Obama awarded Nobel Peace Prize

  • Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 5:51 AM

    Copperfield “rape victim” arrested for prostitution

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    This alleged crime occurred on a small island Copperfield bought from the Bahamian government last year; which he has magically transformed into a bohemian paradise called Musha Cay… One can certainly understand why this woman probably assumed that he was immune to criminal charges there, and why he probably presumes that what Copperfield wants on Musha Cay, Copperfield takes…

    It also allows Copperfield to cover up whatever sex crime he may have committed by arguing – with professional indignation – that everything that happens on his island is pure illusion…by design (and implied consent)! Just kidding folks

    [Copperfield accused of rape?! Maybe it was just an illusion, TIJ, October 23, 2007]

    This, in part, is the tongue-in-cheek way I commented on the sensational allegation of rape that  Lacey L. Carroll filed against illusionist David Copperfield in 2007.  And, as you can probably well imagine, I was raked over the coals by the sisterhood of surfing feminists for it.

    I am not in the habit of making light of such allegations of course. But there were so many inconsistencies in her story that making allusions to Copperfield’s art of illusion seemed appropriate.

    For example, even if he graduated from the same school of bimbo management as Tiger Woods, I did not believe that Copperfield would have offered her $2 million, as she claimed, to buy her silence; and, more to the point, I did not believe that she would have rejected it if he did….

    Now it seems that my take on her allegation has been vindicated by a report in Tuesday’s Seattle Times, which read in part as follows:

    The 23-year-old model who has accused magician David Copperfield of rape is now facing misdemeanor charges of prostitution and filing a false report after she allegedly tried to solicit $2,000 for sex from a man in Bellevue. The charges were filed Tuesday by the Bellevue City Prosecutor’s Office against Lacey L. Carroll of Kirkland, who represented the City of Kirkland and was first runner-up in the 2010 Miss Washington USA pageant.

    On Dec. 2, the pair rented a room at the Hotel Bellevue. Inside the room, the two engaged in a sex act until the woman allegedly told him, ‘put $2,000 in my purse and you can have it all,’ according to the man’s statement to police. When he refused, he said, she left the room. The man told police he went to the lobby and found the woman claiming to hotel staff that she had been ‘taken advantage of.’

    No doubt this explains why the FBI and federal prosecutors dropped their investigation into her 2007 claim against Copperfield two weeks ago.

    But never mind me, just direct your apologies to Copperfield; because this allegation nearly ruined not only his personal but also his professional reputation.  

    Related commentaries:
    Copperfield accused of rape

  • Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 5:27 AM

    Obama: what we have here is a failure to communicate…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The same pundits who, just a year ago, were propagating the notion Obama’s historic election signaled the end of the Republican Party as a viable force in American politics. Now they would have you believe that the Brown’s upset election signals the end of the Democratic Party….

    [Election of Scott Brown: sound and fury signifying nothing, TIJ, January 20, 2010]

    This quote sums up my take on the handwringing and finger-pointing among Democrats on the one hand, and the gloating and chest thumping among Republicans on the other in the wake of last week’s stunning upset victory of Republican Scott Brown to fill the “Democratic Senate seat” vacated by the late Sen Edward Kennedy.

    Of course, I expected no more from the partisan hacks who masquerade on Capitol Hill in Washington as this nation’s political leaders.

    But I was profoundly disappointed when even President Obama reacted as if Brown’s election to the Senate signaled every bit as great a transformation in American politics as his election to the White House.

    For nothing made him seem just like the rest of them quite like the way he tried to rationalize the failure of his presidential coattails to take Democratic candidates to victory in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, as well as in this Senate race in Massachusetts:

    If there’s one thing that I regret this year is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values.

    (Obama in an interview last week with George Stephanopoulos of ABC)

    A failure to communicate?!

    The only problem with this of course is that the very articulate Obama has spent more time speaking directly to the American people than any other president in the first year of his presidency. In fact, in “Obama’s First Year: By the Numbers,” CBS news documents that he gave 411 speeches, comments and remarks; 158 interviews; 42 news conferences; and 23 Town Hall meetings.

    This begs the question: What the hell does Obama think he was talking about all year – if not about core values like good jobs and healthcare, and about fixing the economy and reforming health insurance coverage to match up with those values?

    In fact, only two months into his presidency, he was spending so much time talking to the American people and not enough time getting stuff done that I felt constrained to offer the following cautionary observation:

    Researchers have determined that President Obama has made more media appearances at this point in his presidency than any of his predecessors… Critics can be forgiven the impression that he’s doing more to compete with the likes of the “Octomom” and Lindsay Lohan for media coverage than to fix the ailing US economy.

    [Is Obama’s familiarity breeding contempt…? TIJ, March 25, 2009]

    But God help him if he thinks all the American people need is more of his mug on TV talking … at them. Because the one criticism that has really resonated this year is that he’s turning out to be all talk and no action.  And the fact that most Americans would be hard-pressed to cite any of the stuff he was so busy getting done only reinforces this perception.

    Therefore, after he delivers yet another scheduled speech tomorrow night (his State of the Union Address), I urge him to spend less time talking and more time creating jobs, combating terrorism and reforming healthcare.

    And, who knows, maybe that absence from TV will allow the American people to rekindle the fondness they had for him a year ago.

    I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.

    (Obama in an interview yesterday with Diane Sawyer of ABC News)

    In the meantime, though, when he does speak it would help if he is a little more straightforward with the American people instead of saying things that sound good but mean absolutely nothing. For example, he knows full well that any president who has a good (never mind a really good) first term automatically gets a second term; which makes his attempt to seem principled and courageous by declaring no interest in being a mediocre two-term president patently specious.

    That said, what is certain is that, if employment is still languishing over 8.5 percent in September 2012 (or God forbid, if there’s another 9/11 attack), Obama will be a failed one-term president – fated to be rated even worse than Jimmy Carter. This, no matter what or how many changes he makes in political strategy and White House personnel (with all due respect to David Plouffe).

    Related commentaries:
    Election of Scott Brown
    Is Obama’s familiarity breeding contempt

  • Monday, January 25, 2010 at 5:03 AM

    NFL Championship Sunday: Favre intercepted … again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I had mixed emotions watching the NFC game. Because on the one hand, I wanted the Packers to win to further vindicate the decision of their elderly quarterback, 38-year-old Brett Favre, to play this season. Especially since virtually every sports writer said his best days were way behind him, and that there was no way he could help his team improve on last year’s 8-8 regular season record.

    Therefore, despite their loss on Sunday, which, unfortunately, he aided in part by throwing a critical 4th-quarter interception, Favre should derive considerable consolation from the fact that he led the Packers to a remarkable 13-3 record this year.

    [NFL Championship Sunday, January 24, 2008]

    This quote confirms the uncanny similarities between the 2008 NFC League Championship Game and yesterday’s, which, interestingly enough, was played two years to the exact day.  The most notable similarity of course is that, against all odds, Brett Favre figured prominently in both.

    This year’s game was between the (Hurricane Katrina-inspired) New Orleans Saints and Favre’s new team, the Minnesota Vikings. But, given how improbable it was that he was playing in 2008, that he was even in yesterday’s game was in itself truly remarkable. 

    Yet the now 40-year-old Favre was not only on the field; he was easily the most dominant player.  Alas, in the end, this second miracle season turned out to be more Groundhog Day than a day of triumph. 

    For, just as it was in 2008, Favre was on the cusp of leading his team to the Super Bowl when he threw another 4th-Quarter interception.

    That led to overtime, when the Saints, after winning the coin toss, marched the ball down the field to position their field-goal kicker to take them to the Promised Land with a 40-yard chip.

    This 31 to 28 victory paves the way for their first appearance in the Super Bowl in franchise history.

    So, just as it was in 2008, Favre ended this storybook season, which really should be his last, with an interception that cost his team the League Championship.   And even though the Vikings had a respectable 12-4 record this year, I doubt Favre will derive any consolation from this at all.

    So here’s to his retirement … and for real this time Brett!  But, hey, thanks for the memories man…

    Meanwhile, in a rather ho-hum AFC League Championship Game, the seasoned Indianapolis Colts defeated the upstart New York Jets 30 to 17 to earn their second Super Bowl berth in three years, having won Super Bowl XLI in 2007. 

    Super Bowl XLIV will be played in Miami on February 7. 

    The Colts are favored to win. But I’m betting on the Saints not only to beat the 5-point spread but to actually win in an upset reminiscent of the 1969 Jets’ win over the then Baltimore Colts. Though, frankly, I can’t imagine anyone, except die-hard Colts fans, not praying for the Saints to provide this miraculous outcome for the Katrina-ravaged people of New Orleans.

    This should be a very exciting game….

    Related commentaries:
    NFL League Championship Sunday

  • Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 6:35 AM

    The most socially redeeming rap song ever!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    NOTE: For my update on Haiti at Caribbean Net News click here

  • Friday, January 22, 2010 at 5:49 AM

    Air France: obese passengers must pay for two seats!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The only fair and equitable way to deal with obese passengers is to require them to purchase two seats – the second one perhaps at half price.

    [Bar obese passengers from flying? TIJ, September 11, 2009]

    Air France has become the first airline to take up this suggestion for dealing with obese passengers. The airline explained its new policy in a press release yesterday, which read, in part, as follows:

    People who arrive at the check-in desk and are deemed too large to fit into a single seat will be asked to pay for and use a second seat. They will be charged 75 per cent of the cost of the second seat.

    (Monique Matze, an Air France spokesman)

    I have no doubt that other airlines will soon follow suit

    But when contacted yesterday, British Airways informed reporters that they will only advise fat passengers to buy a second seat “for their own comfort and safety.”

    This, of course, is typical of the patronizing, condescending and plainly disingenuous way the British deal with people. After all, everybody knows that the only reason to offer such advice to obese passengers is to ensure the safety and comfort of the passengers who might get smothered sitting next to them.

    Related commentary:
    Bar obese passengers from flying?

  • Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    The Late Shift Part II

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Late Shift is a dramatization of the behind-the-scenes machinations that led to Jay Leno instead David Letterman taking over The Tonight Show in 1992; notwithstanding that Johnny Carson clearly wanted Letterman to succeed him.

    After watching this movie in 1996, I became convinced that far too much of Leno’s public persona as “America’s male sweetheart” is as phony as Tiger’s public persona as a faithful husband has turned out to be. 

    Leno is portrayed as a sniveling, whining, back-stabbing, self-righteous jerk.  And he has only validated this portrayal by the way he has conducted himself on camera during this most-recent late shift at NBC.

    For example, on Tuesday night I watched in utter stupefaction as he sat behind his desk and delivered a deadly serious “state of the network speech,” which he laced with this patently disingenuous plea: “don’t blame Conan O’Brien … don’t blame Conan” for the late-night mess at NBC.  After all, as Letterman pointed out, “nobody, but nobody is blaming Conan.” 

    In fact, most people are blaming Jay for pushing Conan out today just as he pushed Dave out in 1992.  But he’s just too self-righteous to get it….

    Though, let me hasten to note here that I am not particularly sympathetic to any of the multimillionaires involved in this public spat over who gets what show at what time. After all, Conan is getting a $33 million severance, and Jay will be getting even more to move back to The Tonight Show at 11:30 after failing spectacularly with his prime time show at 10.

    And am I the only one who finds the jokes Jay and Conan have been telling every night about their NBC bosses just spineless and trite? Frankly, this is like government workers poking fun at the faceless bureaucrats who are their bosses. And, just for the record, Conan might be a terrific comedy writer, but he sucks as a standup comedian and talk-show host.

    Far more interesting has been the zingers Jay and David have been trading across networks about each other’s personal life: 

    Hey Kev, you wanna know how to get David Letterman to ignore you?  Marry him!

    Which convinces me that there’s still a lot of bad blood between them from that late shift over 17 years ago.

    Meanwhile, it is a curious thing that celebrities, who famously tweet about all things private and public these days, have been so conspicuous by their silence on this spat; fearful, no doubt, about being blacklisted from these shows.

    The notable exception is the liberated Rosie O’Donnell.  Then again, if she had the balls to take on the Hollywood whale – by commenting on the Sapphic nature of Oprah’s relationship with her gal pal Gayle – then commenting on this spat is rather like beating up a baby seal….  

    At any rate, here’s how she summed up this winter of discontent at NBC:

    It was a really crappy move on Leno’s part. Conan moved his family across the country and his entire staff to get a shot at what he worked 17 years for only to get it taken away by the bully on the playground who doesn’t want to let go.

    That’s a wrap!

  • Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    The election of Scott Brown: sound and fury signifying nothing

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Tonight, Democrat Martha Coakley suffered a stunning defeat by Republican Scott Brown in a special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by the late Sen Edward Kennedy. 

    Stunning, of course, because Massachusetts is a heavily Democratic state that Obama won by 26 points over John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.  And, despite the well-documented shortcomings of Coakley’s campaign, it was generally expected that she would win this “Democratic seat” that Kennedy held for 47 years almost by acclamation. 

    Brown’s victory will change the Democratic majority in the US Senate from 60-40 to 59-41. But listening to political pundits you’d think that he alone now holds the power not only to defeat Obama’s policy agenda (most notably healthcare reform), but also to render him a failed one-term president.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Not least because I doubt this wannabe a full-term senator will risk the wrath of Massachusetts’ liberal voters by siding will rabid, hoping-Obama-fails conservative Republicans on very many issues.

    These pundits are propagating the notion that Obama needs 60 Democratic votes in the Senate to enact progressive legislation.  Yet this is belied by the fact that President Clinton amassed a pretty impressive legislative record not only with a smaller Democratic majority of 56-44 during his first term, but even as an impeached president with a Democratic minority of 55-45 during his second term.

    I appreciate, of course, that political strategy today is informed by such reflexive and visceral thinking that even Democratic leaders seem clueless about these instructive (and reassuring) precedents.  But acting as if a minority of 41 Republicans could or should dictate the national agenda is as untenable as it is surreal.

    More to the point, though, these pundits know full well that Obama has a number of options at his disposal to pass healthcare reform.  The only question is deciding which one will be most politically palatable to Democratic members of Congress who face uncertain reelection prospects this fall. Especially since many of them are so spooked by Brown’s victory that they’re beginning to sound like Republicans – declaring healthcare reform dead while making patently disingenuous overtures to negotiate a more bipartisan bill.

    Never mind the hypocrisy inherent in Brown and Republicans blaming Obama and Democrats for banding together to pass this seminal legislation while they’re all banding together to oppose it. Indeed, am I the only one who finds the hypocrisy of this Republican strategy surpassed only by its self-righteousness…? 

    And, does anybody really believe that Republican  ideas for reforming healthcare are any better for America and have a better chance of becoming law than the Democratic ideas now being considered…?  If so, then ask yourself why the Republicans never even attempted to enact any of their ideas when they controlled both the House and Senate during much of George W. Bush’s presidency….

    But there they go again: because much of what these pundits are spouting off as insightful and reliable analysis about the state and fate of Obama’s presidency today is essentially the same analysis many of them were proffering about the state and fate of Reagan’s presidency after his first year in office. 

    It is also noteworthy that these are the same pundits who, just a year ago, were propagating the notion Obama’s historic election signaled the end of the Republican Party as a viable force in American politics. Now they would have you believe that the Brown’s upset election signals the end of the Democratic Party….

    No doubt this is a humiliating defeat for the Democratic Party. And no doubt more than a few of its members will lose their seats in the fall – just as was the case when many members of the Republican Party lost their seats in midterm elections during Reagan’s first term. 

    But enough of this inside Washington stuff.  Just rest assured that, in very short order, talk of Brown’s election and the perils it portends for Obama and the Democrats will be reduced to sound and fury signifying nothing. Especially after Obama signs healthcare reform legislation and begins promoting more populist items on his domestic agenda, like creating middle-class job and taxing the profits of rich bankers.

    NOTE: Ironically, the only people who might be more disappointed than Democrats by Brown’s win are Republican wannabe presidents like Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin.  Because fickleness and opportunism in politics today are such that it’s only a matter of time before Brown is being hyped for a meteoric rise from the Senate to the White House following the trail blazed by Obama himself.   So, Brown is the new black, eh…?

  • Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 5:35 AM

    Google finds its own “Chinese medicine” hard to swallow

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Google won international praise last week for merely announcing that it intends “to review our business operations in China” after Chinese agents hacked into the Google email accounts of human-rights activists – who are deemed to be enemies of the state.

    Meanwhile, far too few pundits are bothering to note that these hackers just did to Google what Google has done to others in China. For, as the price for entry into the lucrative Chinese market, Google followed the compromised path laid by Microsoft and Yahoo by agreeing to spy on the Internet activities of ordinary citizens on behalf of the Chinese government:

    How odious and hypocritical that American corporations – after exploiting  democratic freedoms to make their names and untold fortunes – are now collaborating with a totalitarian regime to deny people in the most populous country on earth similar democratic freedoms.

    [Yahoo becomes China’s most-favored thought police, TIJ, September 12, 2005]

    Google made a mockery of its motto: “Don’t Be Evil”… Was its corporate conscience, at long last, predicated upon a cost-benefit analysis for its own bottom line?

    [Google adopts…motto of moral relativism, TIJ, January 26, 2006]

    Of course, I welcome Google’s belated pang of corporate conscience. But the best I can do is damn it with faint praise.  Because frankly, there’s no escaping the manifest hypocrisy in Google now complaining about  the application of the Golden Rule after striking a Faustian bargain with China.

    More importantly, though, Google’s dance with the Devil should serve as a warning to other multinational corporations hoping to exploit the Chinese market.  It should also give pause to all foreign governments that are currying favor with China for financial gain  and even hailing it as a worthy replacement for the US as the world’s only superpower.

    Mind you, I’m no apologist for the United States. After all, my commentaries are replete with criticisms of its business-centric domestic policy and egocentric foreign policy, both of which persist even under the transformative presidency of Barack Obama.

    But China’s totalitarian rule at home and the wholly mercenary ties it pursues abroad, which includes cuddling a genocidal maniac in Darfur, Sudan, compels me to offer this pithy admonition to those still banking on China:

    Better the American Devil we know, than the Chinese Devil we don’t.

    I am also acutely mindful that it’s one thing to vow to stop doing business in China, but quite another to actually stop – as Microsoft’s failure in this respect has demonstrated so poignantly:

    Microsoft’s constrained conscience has caused it such unbearable headaches that, in a dramatic plea for corporate redemption, it has professed its intent to stop doing business not only in China but also ‘in all non-democratic countries.’

    [Microsoft vows to leave China to save its soul, TIJ, November 3, 2006]

    So hold your praise for Google, and stop holding your breath for Microsoft…

    Related commentaries:
    Yahoo becomes China’s most-favored thought police
    Microsoft vows to leave China to save its soul
    Google adopts…motto of moral relativism

  • Friday, January 15, 2010 at 9:57 PM

    Haiti’s Three Rs: Relief, Recovery, and Reconstruction

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It is simply heart-rending to watch the images (which I see no point in republishing here) of Haitians living among the dead as they wait for food and water; to say nothing of those waiting for emergency medical treatment or to be rescued before earthquake rubble becomes their tomb.

    But this emotion is mollified somewhat by an unprecedented outpouring of support from around the world that easily constitutes the most ennobling affirmation of our shared humanity in my lifetime.  Indeed, to see rescue teams from China, Venezuela, Iceland and other countries practically competing with teams from the United States to save Haitian lives is truly heart-warming.

    It’s just so disheartening that earthquake-ravaged roads and the damaged seaport are encumbering not only these time-sensitive rescue missions, but also the delivery of emergency supplies to the tens of thousands who have been without food and water for three days – with the suffering for far too many of them compounded by untreated wounds.

    I am convinced, however, that all is being done to execute this relief effort as expeditiously as humanly possible. And I trust it is now plain for the world to see that no country is more willing and able to lead this effort than the United States of America.

    Responding to a disaster of this magnitude will require every element of our national capacity: our diplomacy and development assistance, the power of our military and most importantly the compassion of our country … This is one of those moments that call out for American leadership.

    (President Barack Obama)

    Actually, China, Brazil, Venezuela and France have all made politically opportunistic attempts  to lead this effort.  But the Haitian government endorsed America’s exceptional standing in this respect by granting the US exclusive and indefinite command and control of the airport, which has become the nerve center of this relief effort. 

    More to the point, though, the US is not only providing the vast majority of all emergency supplies and financial aid, but an advance team of military forces were already handing out supplies and helping the Haitian police enforce law and order within hours of landing this afternoon. A force of 10,000 US troops is scheduled to be on the ground by Monday….

    All the same, the story of this tragedy is the biblical suffering of the Haitian people – who are eating, sleeping, washing and going to the bathroom on the ground where they lay. And with decaying dead bodies all about them, just imagine the stench…. 

    Meanwhile, Rev Pat Robertson intruded on the commiserating pathos of their suffering by proselytizing this headline-grabbing religious fable:  

    They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it’s a deal.

    This earthquake, he sermonized, is just the latest installment in the eternal penance Haitians are paying for striking that bargain with the Devil. It is cruel, irresponsible and patently un-Christian of course.  But nothing demonstrates how fallacious it is quite like the fact that only their faith in God has prevented these Haitians from rioting en masse out of sheer despair and frustration.

    Unfortunately, recovery and reconstruction will soon test even their faith and long-suffering nature.  Because even though recovery will come within weeks, as tent cities are erected and food and other supplies become readily available, reconstruction will take years.  And as indicated in my related commentary below, I pray that governments that seem so eager to provide emergency aid today do not fail to honor their commitments to help build a Haiti that can sustain itself, govern itself and police itself.

    The United States will be working with the Haitian people, their government and other governments in the Western Hemisphere, as well as nongovernmental organizations and the private sector … to rebuild a society that is more durable and more successful in the long run… This is part of the long-term commitment that we have to Haiti.

    (Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley)

    Finally, am I the only one who wonders why there’s such a hard drive to get us to donate cash for this effort? Not that I mind, in fact I have.  But this is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion where charity is the currency of the day.  Therefore, the notion that private charities need our cash to purchase supplies seems … inconsistent. 

    Why aren’t people like Obama and Clinton getting manufacturers, producers, airlines, et al to donate their supplies and services, and directing our cash contributions towards Haiti’s long-term rebuilding effort…? For example, it only took a little public shaming by government officials to get banks and credit card companies to stop charging processing fees on charitable donations.

    NOTE: The Red Cross estimates the death toll at around 50,000; whereas,  Haitian government officials insist that it’s at least 200,000.  In any case, it is bound to rise above 50k given the number of people who remain buried under rubble all over the country. 

    But since the greater the number of dead, the greater the amount of cash donations, one can understand why some Haitian officials have estimated the death toll at 500,000. Of course, whether 50k or ten times that number, the tragedy unfolding in Haiti compels us to give whatever we can to support the relief effort.

    Related commentaries:
    Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake
    Rev Pat Robertson’s false prophecies

    * This article was originally published on Friday at 9:57 pm

  • Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 8:11 AM

    Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake (updated)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Haiti has never been salvaged from the political strife and unconscionable poverty, hunger and disease that have earned it the perennial dishonor as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere….

    American presidents are almost as responsible for creating the nightmarish living conditions in Haiti as the succession of incompetent, corrupt and ruthless leaders they’ve sponsored throughout Haiti’s modern History…

    The American government must honor its unfulfilled obligations to help build a Haiti than can sustain, govern and police itself.

    [Compassion fatigue for Haitian migrants, TIJ, July 31, 2009]

    Regular readers know that I’ve been chronicling the perils of Pauline that characterize life in Haiti for many years. No doubt this is why so many of them contacted me this afternoon, asking for my thoughts on the earthquake that had just hit this Godforsaken country.

    (Is there any wonder so many people in this “Catholic country” practice Vodou…?)

    And if we thought Haitians posed a menacing refugee problem before, just wait….  But I beg all regional countries to show understanding, kindness and compassion in dealing with them.  These are, after all, our Caribbean brothers and sisters.

    But frankly, it seems fated that Haitians are now pleading for emergency aid to help them cope with the most devastating earthquake to hit the Caribbean in over 200 years.  It struck with a 7.0 magnitude, and was followed by aftershocks as high as 5.9.

    And, as if to maximize the damage, the epicenter surfaced near the capital of Port-au-Prince, the most densely populated area of the country with 3 million. Latest reports are that tens of thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands more wounded.

    But Haitians are blessed with survival instincts and resiliency that are unparalleled.  Therefore, I fully expect many more of them to pull through than would be the case if this earthquake had struck elsewhere.

    Indeed, I am heartened by reports that, even though the presidential palace was destroyed, President Rene Preval and his family escaped unharmed.

    Haiti’s ambassador to the US, Raymond Alcide Joseph, was on CNN from his office in Washington, DC less than an hour after the quake, pleading for the US and “all friends of Haiti” to provide as much emergency aid as possible.

    The ambassador also stressed his abiding fear that the vast majority of homes in Haiti were so poorly constructed and situated that they were “a catastrophe waiting to happen.” In the end, he betrayed his utter despair and helplessness by saying that:

    I think it’s real a catastrophe of major proportions… The only thing I can do now is pray and hope for the best.

    Meanwhile, President Obama demonstrated his keen awareness of America’s unfulfilled obligations by acting with greater dispatch to provide aid to the people of Port-au-Prince after this quake than President Bush did to provide aid to the people of New Orleans after Katrina.  And the irony is not lost on me that Obama has now enlisted President Clinton, as well as Bush, to serve as a special envoy for America’s  “all-out effort” relief effort.

    The US will be providing both civilian and military disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

    (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton)

    Furthermore, with all of the aid being pledge by governments around the world, this quake could prove a blessing in disguise.

    I just hope this outpouring of support is coordinated and sustained enough to help the Haitian people build a 21st century infrastructure, as well as the political and civic institutions to manage it. For, as pledges in the wake of the Indonesian Tsunami proved, governments that rush for the limelight to make grand pledges often hide in the shadows when it comes to honoring them.

    Finally, let us too offer our thoughts and prayers for the long-suffering people of Haiti. But please do not hesitate to do your part by donating whatever you can to the relief effort that is now underway: UN World Food Programme

    NOTE:  24/7 coverage of this tragedy has taken the media glare of shame off Wall Street bankers who are testifying before Congress today. Therefore, as a thank you for this divine intervention, I urge those bankers to divert a significant percentage of the billions in taxpayer-funded bonuses at issue towards the rebuilding efforts in Haiti.

    Related commentaries:
    Compassion fatigue for Haitian migrants

    * This commentary was originally published Tuesday at 8:11 pm

  • Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 5:03 AM

    McGwire admits the obvious: he used steroids

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Disgraced former baseball player Mark McGwire finally admitted yesterday that steroids fueled his stellar career, which was highlighted by the 1998 season when he out-juiced Sammy Sosa to become home-run king. Fittingly, he was dethroned by another juiced-up superstar, Barry Bonds, in 2007.

    Unfortunately, this admission is every bit as tainted as McGwire’s home runs. For it’s clear that he finally made it, not because his conscience compelled him to, but because it was a necessary precondition to his not only being allowed back into baseball (as a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals) but also being considered (more favorably) for the Hall of Fame.

    Not to mention that this oaf is still dissembling by insisting that he took the steroids to help him get over injuries, not to help him hit home runs.

    In any event, what I wrote on this subject three years ago seems even more relevant today:

    Even though his name will likely appear on the ballot in years to come, it’s highly unlikely that anyone who voted against [his admission to the Hall of Fame] this year will ever change his mind unless McGwire admits publicly what every sports fan knows: that he relied on a stealth cocktail of steroids to slam many of his home runs.

    Indeed, if McGwire finds the courage to make this admission, as other players like Jose Conseco have done, I think his chances of being inducted would increase immeasurably. After all, I suspect that most members of the Baseball Writers Association of America feel as I do, namely, that the use of steroids alone should not preclude induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, crying and lying about it before a Congressional Committee (as McGwire did) should be as automatic a disqualifier as hitting over 500 home runs is a guarantee.

    Therefore, I hope other notorious steroid abusers like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa will find McGwire’s fate instructive and confess their sins long before they become eligible for induction (five years after they retire). After all, I’m sure they do not want to join the rogue’s gallery – headed by Pete Rose – of Baseball MVPs who will be wandering outside the Hall for the rest of their lives simply because they refuse to come clean (in Rose’s case about gambling on Baseball games).

    Besides, what have they got to lose? Since, after Congress gave Rafael Palmeiro a walk – despite clear and convincing evidence that he perjured himself – no Baseball player faces any legal jeopardy for admitting that he took steroids; provided, however, that he was not also involved in trafficking the stuff.

    [McGwire rejected by Baseball Hall of Fame for lying about steroids, TIJ, January 10, 2007]

    And, at the risk of seeming even more prescient than usual, the way Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig greeted McGwire’s belated admission affirms everything I said back then:

    This statement of contrition, I believe, will make Mark’s re-entry into the game much smoother and easier.

    Related commentaries:
    McGwire rejected by Hall of Fame

  • Monday, January 11, 2010 at 5:48 AM

    Book exposes top Democrats dissing Obama

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Washington’s liberal establishment is “shocked, shocked” by the allegedly patronizing and racist things Bill Clinton and Sen Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly said about Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

    In fact, Clinton, Reid and many other politicians are exposed as preening hypocrites in Game Change – a book by TIME’s Mark Halperin and New York Magazine’s John Heilemann, which, not surprisingly, is being published today.

    Of course, nobody in Washington should be surprised by this book’s behind-the-scenes revelations that betray the public images and political spin of those involved in the 2008 race for the presidency. But everybody else will probably find them very surprising indeed; especially the revelation that, in private, the saintly, cancer-stricken Elizabeth Edwards is an abusive, potty-mouth, condescending bitch.

    In any event, Clinton is quoted reasserting his political indignation at the nerve of uppity Obama to launch his “fairytale” campaign against his wife Hillary as follows:

    A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee….

    And Reid is quoted chalking up Obama’s appeal to the fact that he is:

    … light skinned … with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.

    However, even though politically incorrect, neither of these quotes seems particularly offensive, let alone racist. Not to mention that they both happen to be true:

    Obama stands the best chance of any black, including Condi, of being elected for the simple reason that he’s half-white….

    [It’s TIME: Run Obama Run, TIJ, October 24, 2006]

    Meanwhile, the black arbiters of what constitutes racist language these days have granted Clinton such a special dispensation in this respect that he could probably call Obama a Nigger and get away with it.

    Instead, these revelations merely expose the hypocrisy of liberal Democrats who invariably ascribe to conservative Republicans the paternalism and presumptions of white supremacy inherent in these quotes.  And liberal self-righteousness in this regard was never more on display than when Democrats demanded that Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott resign his leadership position for saying the following in 2002:

    When [segregationist] Strom Thurmond ran for president [in 1948], we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.

    No doubt liberals will proffer pretty persuasive arguments to distinguish the degrees of political incorrectness and/or racism between what Lott said and what Clinton and Reid said.  And Reid wasted little time offering a politically correct apology, which he buttressed with the political deeds that he clearly feels entitles him to a pass:

    I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans for my improper comments.  I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda.

    Obama duly accepted … “without question.”

    Nevertheless, given the precedent Democrats set by scalping Lott’s perfectly coiffed head, I think Reid should resign … as Majority Leader. It is instructive to recall, after all, that Democrats deemed Lott’s remarks unsuitable only for a Senate leader, not an ordinary member. And it hardly helps Reid’s case that his apology seems rather contrived compared to the heartfelt one Lott offered in a vain attempt to save his hide.

    For these reasons, if he refuses to resign, it would compound not only his hypocrisy but that of all Democrats as well.

    I am mindful, however, that a double standard governs moral outrage among Democrats on matters of race.  Therefore, I harbor no illusions that he will do the right thing. Nor do I expect his fellow Democrats to emulate Lott’s fellow Republicans by urging Reid to resign.  After all, here’s what I wrote four years ago about the incomprehensible impunity liberals enjoy in this respect:

    As Sen Ted Kennedy – who recently referred to a Republican black female judge as a Neanderthal (ape) – can attest, white liberals will never pay a political price for insulting blacks – who either don’t realize they are being insulted or don’t care … or both.

    [Hillary: Republicans treating Democrats like slaves… That’s ridiculous, isn’t it, TIJ, January 23, 2006]

    Related commentaries:
    It’s TIME: Run Obama Run
    Hillary: Republicans treating Dems like slaves
    Clintons playing race card
    Kennedy calls black judge Neanderthal

  • Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 8:54 AM

    Airport security: please take off your shoes … and your underwear

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Here’s to getting over prudish self-consciousness and welcoming all-seeing, full-body scans…. Mind you, nothing demonstrates what a haphazard farce airport security has become quite like the fact that, after the shoe bomber bungled his attempt in December 2001, we were led to believe that every passenger had to take off his/her shoes for separate scanning to ensure air safety. For if this made any logical sense, after this underwear bomber bungled his attempt, surely every passenger would have been required henceforth to take off his/her underwear for separate scanning…, no?

    [Terror in the sky … another close call, TIJ, December 29, 2009]

    NOTE: I appreciate why this one bungled act is commanding so much government attention and media coverage.  But please bear in mind that it’s far more likely that a disgruntled worker (or an alienated student) will shoot up a bunch of people at his office (or school) than it is that an Islamic terrorist will succeed in blowing up an airplane.

    Related commentaries:
    Terror in the sky

  • Friday, January 8, 2010 at 5:12 AM

    (UPDATE) Obama: We screwed up … the buck stops with me!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Obama met on Tuesday with his Cabinet and national security team to discuss the intelligence failures that led to the near catastrophic terrorist attack on Christmas Day. 

    But it was clear from the press statement he delivered after that meeting that he can offer no explanation for the slew of “red flags” telegraphing this attack that all went unheeded – other than to concede that it was a serial “screw up.” 

    No doubt this is why he made such a point of conveying unbridled indignation on Tuesday when he said the following:

    When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way. It’s my responsibility to find out why and to correct that failure so we can prevent such attacks in the future.

    This was not a failure to collect intelligence. It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already have. The information was there… It is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged. That’s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it….

    Accordingly, he announced a series of new information-sharing protocols yesterday. These are designed to help intelligence officials do a better job of “connecting the dots” to capture or kill the next wannabe suicide bomber before he (or she) boards a plane destined for the United States.

    Alas, the problem is that there really isn’t much more that Obama, or any leader, can do.  After all, America’s alphabet soup of intelligence agencies were all integrated under the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 precisely to “fully analyze” and “fully leverage” such intelligence.

    Moreover, no matter how many enhanced, “seen and unseen” screening measures are implemented at airports across the US, there’s no way to ensure that similar measures will be implemented at every airport across the globe from which over two thousand flights depart for the US each day. Even if they were, poorly trained screeners (as they invariably are) at these airports are even more likely to miss red flags than the highly trained (US) intelligence officers who missed the red flags that led to this Christmas Day fiasco.

    Meanwhile, what these new measures will succeed in doing is exacerbating the frustrations and apprehensions that accompany airline travel these days.  Most notable in this respect is Obama’s order requiring all US-bound travelers from 14 countries suspected of harbouring terrorists to be subjected to full-body, pat-down searches and “enhanced interrogations” about the purpose and other matters related to their travel.

    But even this seems designed more to score political points than to ensure airline safety.  After all, I see no point in burdening travelers from Cuba in this way when no airline terrorist has ever hailed from that country.

    More to the point, it is manifestly clear that all a terrorist has to do to avoid this heightened scrutiny is to board a plane for the US from a less suspicious country like the UK.  Never mind that the UK is probably harbouring more terrorists today than Cuba or many of the other countries on that list….

    This is why I don’t blame Fidel Castro for denouncing his order as a “hostile action.” And it is why I don’t blame my friends in Nigeria (the country with the largest Muslim population in Africa) for accusing Obama of ascribing guilt to 150 million of them based on the misguided act of one citizen. 

    Not to mention the insult this will add to the grief the Nigerian father of this wannabe terrorist must be feeling. After all, he literally warned US intelligence officers about his son’s intent, and their failure to act has now resulted in his nation being designated a haven for terrorists. Well, so much for Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world, eh….

    Actually, instead of stoking the kind of anti-Americanism that only fuels al Qaeda’s recruitment drive, which this order is bound to do, Obama should lead, and the US should fund, a global initiative to standardize airport security. And more priority should be given to training airport personnel to properly screen or profile travelers based on established factors than to having them frisk people, including old ladies, indiscriminately.

    Ultimately, though, I cannot reiterate enough how delusional it is to think that America can win this war against terrorism – when the mere threat of an al Qaeda attack or even a man carelessly walking into a restricted area of an airport is enough to panic and disrupt the country from coast to coast.

    This of course makes Obama’s following declaration ring hollow:

    … we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don’t hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. That is exactly what our adversaries want. And so long as I am president, we will never hand them that victory.

    News flash Mr President, the victory is already theirs!

    Then there’s the truly terrifying fact that al Qaeda has become so sophisticated that it was able to turn a Jordanian doctor – who US intelligence officials say was their “best al-Qaeda informant in years” – into a suicide bomber who took out seven CIA agents in Afghanistan last week…. 

    I will hold my staff, our agencies and the people in them accountable when they fail to perform their responsibilities at the highest levels.

    Apropos words ringing hollow, Obama gave credence to the caricature of him as being “all bark and no bite” when he refused to fire anyone for the alarming security breach that occurred last November during the first State Dinner of his presidency.  Now I fear he will only reinforce this caricature if he refuses to fire anyone for this screw up. 

    Related commentaries:
    Terror in the sky
    Crashers at Obama State Dinner

  • Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 5:42 AM

    Obama: we screwed up

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Obama met yesterday with his Cabinet and national security team to discuss the intelligence failures that led to the near catastrophic terrorist attack on Christmas day. 

    But it was clear from the press statement he delivered afterwards that his meeting produced no explanation for the slew of red flags about this attack that all went unheeded – other than it was a serial “screw up.”  No doubt this is why he made such a point of conveying unbridled indignation:

    When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way. It’s my responsibility to find out why and to correct that failure so we can prevent such attacks in the future.

    This was not a failure to collect intelligence. It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already have. The information was there… It is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged. That’s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it….

    The problem of course is that there’s precious little Obama, or any leader, can do.  After all, America’s alphabet soup of intelligence agencies were all integrated under the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 precisely to fully analyze and fully leverage such intelligence.

    Frankly, it’s an indication of how hollow Obama’s get-tough words are that all he’s doing “to correct that failure” is exacerbating frustrations at airports worldwide by mandating even more feckless security rules.  Most notable in this respect is his new order for security officials to perform full-body, pat-down searches on US-bound travelers from 14 countries that are suspected of harboring terrorists. 

    But even this seems designed more to score political points than to ensure airline safety.  After all, I see no point in subjecting travelers from Cuba to this extra layer of scrutiny, when no airline terrorist has ever hailed from that country.

    More to the point, though, it is manifestly clear that all a terrorist has to do to avoid this heightened scrutiny is to fly into the US from a more tolerable country like the UK or, indeed, like Amsterdam, which is where the underwear bomber flew in from.

    This is why I don’t blame Fidel Castro for denouncing his order as a “hostile action.” And it is why I sympathize with my friends in Nigeria (the country with the largest Muslim population in Africa) who are accusing Obama of ascribing guilt to 150 million of them based on the misguided act of one citizen.  Never mind that the Nigerian father of this wannabe terrorist literally warned US intelligence officers about his son’s intent. Well, so much for Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world, eh….

    Indeed, instead of stoking the kind of anti-Americanism that only fuels al Qaeda’s recruitment drive, which this order is bound to do, Obama should hire more (and better train) intelligence officers to do their jobs more intelligently.  And this has more to do with connecting the dots that could capture or kill would-be bombers before they get to the airport than with monitoring expensive bomb-detecting scanners and frisking old ladies to no avail.

    In any case, I cannot reiterate enough how delusional it is to think that America can win this war against terrorism when the mere threat of an  al Qaeda attack is enough to panic and disrupt the country from coast to coast. Not to mention the truly terrifying fact that al Qaeda has become so sophisticated that it was able to turn a Jordanian doctor – who US intelligence officials say was their “best al-Qaeda informant in years” – into a suicide bomber who took out seven CIA agents in Afghanistan last week. 

    Finally, given his refusal to fire anyone for the White House gatecrasher fiasco, I fear Obama will only reinforce the caricature of him as all bark and no bite if he refuses to fire anyone for this screw up.  Therefore, after completing his review, I urge him to make quite a show of firing the person(s) most responsible.

    Related commentaries:
    Terror in the sky

  • Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 5:30 AM

    Black is beautiful! Just not in South Africa

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Fifty years ago, when everything white was right, it should have come as no surprise that little black girls preferred white dolls – as psychologist Kenneth Clarke showed in his seminal 1954 experiment.

    But it came as a disheartening surprise in 2005 when a similar experiment by a racially conscious high-school student, Kiri Davis, showed that little blacks still preferred white dolls. After all, one would have expected the pervasive influence black culture has had on white culture in recent decades to change such self-loathing preferences.  

    It’s amazing that two generations after the ‘Black Is Beautiful’ mantra of the 1960s, some African Americans still believe that it’s not. It’s amazing that four decades after James Brown’s chart-topper, ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud,’ so many African Americans aren’t. It’s amazing that in the same year hip-hop artist Kanye West told the world that ‘President Bush doesn’t care about black people,’ Davis was discovering that neither do [little black girls] in Harlem. (Yuqing Feng, diversity.com)

    To be fair, though, I have no doubt that if similar experiments had been conducted amongst black American adults, if not aesthetic preference, then racial pride would have compelled the vast majority of them to choose black faces – even back in 1954. And I would expect the results to be even more ethnocentric amongst black adults in Africa and the Caribbean.

    This is why I am so disappointed by the results of a poll that was conducted last year by a South African publishing company to determine “the most beautiful stars” in the world.  This company, iafrica.com, claims to be the most established portal and one of the biggest web brands with one of the largest, loyal user bases in the country.

    Yet, despite its predominantly black adult readership, the consensus winner of this poll was the very white Scarlett Johansson.   Even worse, the only black star to make the top 10 was Thandie Newton.  But my cynical mind suspects that they chose her as their token black (instead of, say, Halle Barry) only because she’s African … and half-white, though not necessarily in that order.

    And let me hasten to note I am loath to believe that the lingering psychological scars of Apartheid have so affected them that the racial pride of adults in South Africa today is no more evolved than that of little black girls in America back in the 1950s. 

    For the record, the full results, in the order of preference iafrica.com’s “South African based readers” chose, were:

    1. Scarlett Johansson, 2. Charlize Theron (white South African), 3. Rachel McAdams, 4. Megan Fox, 5. Lee Ann Liebenberg (white South African), 6. Kate Beckinsale, 7. Audrey Hepburn, 8. Katherine Heigl, 9. Kate Winslet, 10. Thandie Newton.

    Now, who do you think are some of the obvious non-white stars that should have made this list?

    I, for one, would’ve thought that Continental pride alone would have compelled these South Africans to choose Kenyan supermodel Iman over a quaint beauty like Audrey Hepburn, for example.  Not to mention that other black supermodel, Naomi Campbell, who never tires of telling people that Nelson Mandela adopted her as his (honorary) granddaughter.

    Hell, given the results of this poll, it’s a wonder South African President Jacob Zuma did not choose a white woman to become his third wife at the elaborate wedding ceremony that was held yesterday.   Although, reports are that he has already chosen another fiancee to become his fourth wife, so perhaps she’ll be the chosen one….

    This poll? Polygamy? A witch’s brew to fight HIV/AIDS?!  All of these make South Africa look more like a pre-colonial bush country than the thoroughly modern society it purports to be….

  • Monday, January 4, 2010 at 5:36 AM

    Secret Pentagon Report: Training Afghans is hopeless … and dangerous

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I wholly agreed with candidate Barack Obama when he argued during the 2008 presidential campaign that Afghanistan was “the good war.”

    For me, however, this only meant the US had a just cause (namely, avenging 9/11) to launch it – juxtaposed to Iraq (the bad war) for which it had no just cause.  After all, I was convinced that, even before Obama announced his candidacy, President Bush’s neglect (by diverting key resources to Iraq) had already turned Afghanistan into an unwinnable war:

    Not so long ago, some of us considered the war in Afghanistan as much an unqualified success as we deemed the war in Iraq an unmitigated failure. But a new crop of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are beginning to surpass die-hard insurgents in Iraq in their ability to undermine US efforts to “stand up” a democratic Afghan government… Alas, victory in Afghanistan may prove another casualty of the war in Iraq.

    [Meanwhile over in Afghanistan: snatching defeat from the hands of victory, September 18, 2006]

    This is why I was so puzzled when, instead of cutting US losses, a now President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan by ordering the deployment of an additional 47,000 troops:

    I appreciate of course that Obama is merely fulfilling his campaign promise to fight and win this war.  But the changed circumstances on the ground today – viz  the political mess that would compromise even a perfect military strategy – makes his decision to follow through almost as foolhardy as Bush’s decision to follow through with his invasion of Iraq even after it was clear that there were no WMDs there.

    [Obama escalates Afghan war: the die is cast on his presidency, TIJ, December 2, 2009]

    Nevertheless, I retained some HOPE that Obama’s decision was informed by the classified reports he received during his (Hamletian) strategy review last year.  This, notwithstanding my informed view that he was giving these additional troops a truly impossible mission: to train an Afghan army to defend the country and a police force to maintain law and order by July 2011 (when he has vowed to BEGIN withdrawing US troops).

    Therefore, imagine my shock and dismay last week when leaked Pentagon Papers revealed that the situation in Afghanistan is not only every bit as unwinnable as I’ve argued but even more dangerous than anybody could have imagined.

    For here, in part, is how Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, reported (on the December 29 edition of the Nightly News) what these papers say about the chances of American military success:

    … The main mission of the United States Army, all of the different forces that are there, is to train the Afghan security forces so that American forces can ultimately leave. That is the No. 1 priority… The ANA (which is the Afghan National Army) above company level is not at war… Nepotism, corruption, and absenteeism among ANA leaders makes success impossible…

    It’s more than sobering. It says that this is a serious challenge. It goes on to say that rehabilitating the Afghan security forces will not take one year, it will take a long time…  [By July 2011?]  That is impossible according to this study…  Another key finding in this report says that the numbers of Afghan troops and police on the ground are inaccurate, that some battalions will over-report by 40-50 percent, inflate their numbers.

    This clearly begs a few critical questions, most notably:

    1. Did Obama have access to this report during his strategic review?
    2. If not, why not?
    3. If yes (which seems more likely), how could he possibly justify deploying more troops given these findings? and
    4. Does this not vindicate my assertion that his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan is just as foolhardy as Bush’s decision to invade Iraq?

    Meanwhile, if this report were not sobering enough, just consider all of the other recurring reports about desertion and drug use among army recruits, as well as those about the incidents (and looming danger) of “trained” Afghan soldiers intentionally killing US and other coalition forces….

    The US legacy in Afghanistan will be distinguished either by a terminally wounded national pride as American forces beat a hasty retreat in defeat (following the Russian precedent in Afghanistan), or by tens of thousands of American soldiers being lost in Afghanistan’s “graveyard of empires” as they continue fighting this unwinnable war (following America’s own precedent in Vietnam)…. And more troops only mean more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters.

    Therefore, Obama would be well-advised to cut America’s losses and run ASAP; to let the Afghans govern themselves however they like; and to rely on Special Forces and aerial drones to “disrupt and dismantle” Taliban and al Qaeda operations there.

    [‘Without (or even with) more forces, failure in Afghanistan is likely’, TIJ, September 23, 2009]

    Frankly, these Pentagon Papers convince me more than ever that, instead of closing Gitmo, Obama should have made withdrawing from Afghanistan the first major military decision of his presidency.

    Because the only instructive precedent here is the one President Johnson set in Vietnam, which should warn Obama not to allow a military quagmire to doom his presidency the way a similar quagmire doomed Johnson’s.

    [Karzai submits to runoff election, TIJ, October 21, 2009]

    Ultimately, though, one has to wonder how many more American soldiers will die in vain between now and July 2011 just so that Obama can establish his commander-in-chief bona fides.

    This means that troops are bound to be returning home in body bags throughout his entire presidency. Because, frankly, given the military quagmire Afghanistan has become, sending 20 (or even 40) thousand additional troops amounts to the proverbial tossing of a 50-foot life line to a man drowning 100 feet away.

    [Picture of Obama saluting war dead the defining image of his presidency?  TIJ, October 30, 2009]

    Related commentaries:
    Obama escalates Afghan war (which contains all of the above TIJ quotes)

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