• Friday, December 31, 2010 at 5:40 AM

    Putin Decrees Khodorkovsky, his Political Nemesis, a Russian Madoff

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Much is being made in the Western media about yesterday’s sentencing of the erstwhile richest man in Russia, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, to six years in prison after being convicted of stealing oil from his own company and laundering the proceeds.  Never mind that his conviction and sentencing were as predictable as the Sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

    What is noteworthy, however, is the fact that Khodorkovsky’s trial amounted to a violation of the generally recognized principle of double jeopardy – since he was already serving an eight-year sentence after being convicted on similar charges in 2003. Now he’ll be rotting away in his Siberian prison cell until 2017 … at least.

    But the real story here is how this kangaroo trial reinforced Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s manifest determination to quarantine anyone who poses any credible threat to his authoritarian rule.  Indeed, his rubber-stamp State Duma passed a law in 2008 allowing a defendant to be retried if new evidence suggests that he committed more serious crimes, which prosecutors proffered as the basis for Khodorkovsky’s retrial.

    This means that, since Putin seems equally determined to serve as Russia’s most powerful politician for life, Khodorkovsky will either face more trumped-up charges to keep him in prison or die suddenly (under suspicious circumstances) before 2017.  

    In fact, Putin may have unwittingly telegraphed his intent in this respect a couple of weeks ago when he decreed, and thus preempted, the outcome of Khodorkovsky’s retrial by comparing him to Bernie Madoff (the American Ponzi schemer who is serving 150 years).

    Specifically, he declared, with authority that would make even Joseph Stalin blush, that:

    A thief must sit in prison.

    (Moscow Times, December 17, 2010)

    Truth be told, though, I knew Khodorkovsky’s fate would be thus when I first commented on his case over five years ago:

    Today marks a milestone in Russia’s ambivalent transition from totalitarianism to democracy. And, alas, it does not bode well for the Russian democratic reformers in whom so many Western companies and governments invested their fortunes and political goodwill. Because Russian President Vladimir Putin (himself a former KGB agent) has effectively resurrected one of the most feared tools of repression in the old Soviet Union: the use of KGB agents to arrest and toss into the gulag anyone suspected of opposing Communist rule or dissenting from the Party line.

    Indeed, as if to dramatize his zero tolerance of dissent, it seems Putin decided to make an example of the richest man in Russia (who, not insignificantly, is also a Jew). Therefore, on one day in October 2003, Mikhail Khodorkovsky went from running one of Russia’s most profitable companies and funding democratic reformers, to being arrested and thrown in prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion. And, thus began an ordeal that ended today with a prison sentence of eight years (presumably to be served in the infamous Russian Gulag Archipelago).

    Nevertheless, it is important to appreciate that Khodorkovsky is merely road kill on the seemingly inexorable march towards the Putinization of Russia. After all, Putin has declared, unabashedly, his regret at the loss of the authoritarian powers that held Russia and the satellite states of the Soviet Union together for almost 50 years. And, he seems determined to reclaim those powers by consolidating absolute control within Russia….

    (Putin sends Khodorkovsky off to the Gulag, The iPINIONS Journal, June 1, 2005)

    So, Russia is as Putin does.  As for Khodorkovsky, I fear that all of the Western expressions of political outrage will do nothing to alter his fate. After all, given what little regard Putin showed for George W. Bush’s platitudes about democracy and the rule of law, he’s bound to show unbridled contempt for similar exhortations coming from leaders like President Obama and Chancellor Merkel (of Germany).

    Moreover, given the way Western governments continued their solicitous relationships with Russia even after he was implicated in the assassination of a rogue Russian spy in London and the killing of a number of journalists in Moscow, Putin can be forgiven for deducing that his persecution of Khodorkovsky will have no adverse impact whatsoever on Russia’s relationship with Western countries.

    Hail Putin….

    Related commentaries:
    Putin sends Khodorkovsky off to Gulag

  • Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 5:33 AM

    The Rehabilitation (and Vindication?) of Michael Vick

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There can be no greater testament to the rehabilitation of Michael Vick than having the president of the United States commend, and comment on, his success.

    And that’s precisely what happened last week when President Obama called Jeffrey Lurie, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. Reports are that Obama praised him for taking a chance on Vick after he served 21 months in prison for running a brutal dog-fighting ring, and lamented that, even after paying their debt to society, ex-cons rarely get such a second chance.

    Unfortunately, this call has ignited a firestorm of criticism:

    On the one hand, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are hurling moral indignation at Obama for showing sympathy for a man whom they have deemed utterly beyond redemption

    On the other hand, sports commentators are lambasting him for being an opportunist trying to exploit the MVP year Vick is having for political gain: They wonder, for example, why the president did not make this call a year ago when Vick was withering away on the bench as a third-string quarterback (behind Donavan McNabb who was traded to the Washington Redskins this year, and Kevin Kolb whose injury early this season gave Vick the opportunity he’s still running with).

    But, frankly, PETA’s criticism has to be taken with a grain of salt; not least because their obsessive zoophilia often causes them to say (and do) misanthropic things.  Not to mention that, if one of Vick’s pit bulls were being put down for killing a human being, PETA activists would have no compunctions about calling for that dog to be given the second chance they want to deny Vick. 

    The guy did his time, forfeited a $100-million contract, is lecturing all over the country on the horrors of dogfighting, and the terms of his three-year probation, which ends in 2012, prohibit not only him but even his kids from owning a dog. So what more do these animal-rights jihadists want from him: a pound of his human flesh?!

    As for the sport commentators’ criticism, let me first assert that Obama’s sentiments are unassailable. After all, it’s in America’s national interest for all ex-cons to be given a second chance. 

    Nevertheless, I would like to think that he was motivated to express these sentiments – more because he’s acutely aware that black men are disproportionately affected by shortsighted bias in this respect than because Vick has become such a national sensation on the football field….

    That said, there’s no gainsaying the sports commentators’ point about the belated timing of Obama’s call.  In fact, the only thing to be said is that he is hardly alone in waiting until Vick was rehabilitated as a sports superstar before speaking out about his rehabilitation as a human being

    Indeed, many of these sports commentators – who are now zealously praising Vick – are the very ones who were leading the chorus of those calling on the NFL to ban him for life after he was arrested and pleaded guilty. 

    By contrast, here’s what I wrote about giving Vick a second chance back then:

    I wish that some of this public outcry against Vick for abusing dogs would be heaped upon other professional athletes for routinely abusing women…

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

    (Vick, dog-fighting fiend, cops a plea, TIJ, August 21, 2007)

    As it turned out, that team was the Philadelphia Eagles, and the rest, as we say, is history. Now all that’s left for his remarkable rehabilitation to evolve into sweet vindication is for him to finish this year as the MVP – not only of the regular season but also of the Super Bowl.

    Meanwhile, the Eagles were forced to play a rare Tuesday-night game against the Minnesota Vikings in Philadelphia last night after the NFL postponed their game on Sunday because of snow.  But here’s what Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell had to say about this postponement:

    I think it’s a joke… This is football! Good lord, Vince Lombardi would be spinning in his grave that we canceled the football game for the snow… I was looking forward to this. It would have been a real experience. This is what football is all about. We’re becoming a nation of wussies.

    (Fox News 29, December 26, 2010)

    I agree.

    More importantly, though, Vick and the Eagles did not live up to their hype in losing to the hapless Vikings 24-14. Actually, Vick may have played himself out of contention for the regular season MVP, which most likely will now be awarded to Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. 

    But the Eagles are still in good shape for the playoffs, having already clinched their division championship. This loss only means that the path to their rendezvous with destiny in Super Bowl XLV will be a little more challenging, having now lost their home-field advantage….

    Related commentaries:
    Vick cops a plea

  • Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 5:46 AM

    Obama goes from a Shellacking in November to a December to Remember

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In the days following November’s midterm elections, left-wing Democrats were competing with right-wing Republicans to see who could write the most damning obit on Obama’s presidency.  And who can blame them? 

    After all, the consensus opinion across party lines was that the shellacking the Democrats took was in fact a referendum on his presidency.  And that the only thing left for Obama to do was to survive the ensuing lame-duck session of Congress, as well as the “lame-duck final two years” of his presidency, without Republican-fueled cognitive dissonance turning him into a black Jimmy Carter.

    Well, what a difference a few weeks and a few milestone pieces of legislation make.  For instead of retreating to the White House to lick his wounds, Obama mounted an aggressive campaign to get vanquished Democrats to take bold action during this peculiar interregnum (between November when they lost power in the House and January when they will finally be obliged to relinquish that power).

    The result of course was what Obama himself described last week, quite proudly and properly, as “the most productive lame-duck session since World War II.” 

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

    What is truly remarkable about these accomplishments, however, is the extent to which pundits and supporters alike are propagating the fiction that, but for them, Obama’s presidency would have been a failure.  After all, Obama had already amassed an enviable record of accomplishments, which led him to describe the 111th Congress that enacted his agenda items as “the most productive Congress in decades.”  

    These accomplishments include a stimulus package (pulling  the U.S., if not the world economy, from the precipice of another Great Depression), bailout of the auto industry (saving it from imminent and terminal collapse), landmark healthcare reform (providing health insurance to over 30 million Americans and prohibiting adhesive insurance practices), financial regulation (overhauling the financial industry for the first time in generations – complete with a consumer bureau to protect borrowers against abuses in mortgage, credit card and other types of lending), the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (launching a new era of national service and volunteerism), the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (making it easier for women to sue for equal pay), the expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP – providing health, dental and vision coverage to poor children), easing restrictions on stem cell research, appointing the first Hispanic, Sonia Sotomayor, to the Supreme Court, and student-loan reform (making the government, not loan-sharking commercial banks, the originator of student loans), just to name a few.

    Given this, one can only conclude that the results of November’s so-called referendum stemmed far more from the prevailing ignorance and myopia of the American electorate (enabled to be sure by Tea-Party propaganda) than from any fair or objective assessment of Obama’s presidency.  

    In any case, nothing will ensure Obama’s reelection in 2012 quite like Republicans following through on their threat to do everything in their power to make him a one-term president.  For I am convinced that the vast majority of Democrats and Independents – who were either too disinterested or disaffected to vote in these midterm elections – will not allow this cynical Republican strategy of obstruction and nullification to be vindicated. 

    Not to mention that in 2012 even Tea-Party zealots will probably think twice about rejecting this transformative president and all of his salutary accomplishments, in favor of a Republican president whose agenda amounts to little more than providing tax cuts for the rich and scapegoating the Hispanics they hire as domestic servants.

    NOTE: Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh is the conservative pied-piper who declared – just days after Obama was inaugurated – that “I want to see him fail.”  And he has been relentless ever since in his efforts to rally his ditto heads to this unpatriotic cause.

    But nothing demonstrates what a big, fat, gas bag of irrelevant banter he is quite like Obama having the most successful first two years of any president in U.S. history despite his efforts.

  • Monday, December 27, 2010 at 1:59 PM

    Here’s to the Winter of 2010

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, December 24, 2010 at 7:06 AM

    Merry Christmas! But beware the specter of gifts overload…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Wednesday, December 22, 2010 at 5:05 AM

    UConn Continues Longest Winning Streak in Sports History

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Is anybody interested in the fact that the UConn women’s team is about to complete a second-consecutive perfect season by winning another NCAA championship tonight? Now just imagine the media hoopla if North Carolina [or any men’s team] had won its championship in such convincing fashion [by defeating its opponents by an average of 33 points]…

    I posed this rhetorical question in a commentary earlier this year because the NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament gets virtually no media coverage compared to that which always attends the men’s tournament. But it’s the second part of this lamentation that compels me to reprise it here.  Because the death of John Wooden constrains me to note that a men’s team has in fact posted a record that even this phenomenal UConn women’s team has yet to emulate. 

    That team, of course, was the UCLA Bruins, which Wooden coached to 88-consecutive victories over three seasons from 1971 to 1974.

    (John Wooden … is dead, The iPINIONS Journal, June 14, 2010)

    When I wrote the above last summer, the UConn women’s basketball team was en route to a second-consecutive perfect season, amassing an astonishing, though (as indicated) not unprecedented, 78-consecutive victories. 

    Well, on Sunday, UConn matched what was once thought to be UCLA’s unmatchable record of 88-consecutive victories; although, given the scant media coverage of this historic milestone, you can be forgiven for having no clue.  By contrast, because the media made such a big deal of it, you probably know that the Miami Heat was on a paltry 12-game winning streak until the Dallas Mavericks snapped it on Monday night.

    Ironically, the media have dedicated more self-flagellating coverage to UConn Coach Geno Auriemma’s condemnation of them for failing to cover his team’s historic feat than to this feat itself.  Of course, my opening quote betrays the fact that I have long harbored Auriemma’s indignation at the media. 

    In point of fact, when I expressed similar condemnation after UConn’s first perfect season in 2009, I was roundly accused of overhyping the women’s accomplishment and overdramatizing their relative lack of media coverage.

    But I doubt anyone can read below what Auriemma said at a press conference on Sunday (after UConn matched UCLA’s record) and not feel moved to join him in condemning the media:

    I just know there wouldn’t be this many people in the room if we were chasing a women’s record. The reason everybody is having a heart attack the last four or five days is a bunch of women are threatening to break a men’s record, and everybody is all up in arms about it.

    All the women are happy as hell and they can’t wait to come in here and ask questions. All the guys that loved women’s basketball are all excited, and all the miserable bastards that follow men’s basketball and don’t want us to break the record are all here because they’re pissed. That’s just the way it is.

    Because we’re breaking a men’s record, we’ve got a lot of people paying attention. If we were breaking a women’s record, everybody would go, ‘Aren’t those girls nice, let’s give them two paragraphs in USA Today, you know, give them one line on the bottom of ESPN and then let’s send them back where they belong, in the kitchen.’

    (UConn Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma, ESPN December 20, 2010)

    Auriemma is clearly bitter and resentful. But there’s no denying the truth of what he said. More to the point, though, I suspect that he expressed the feelings not only of the women on his team but of all women who play college and professional sports.  

    Therefore, I hope all participants in, and fans of, women’s sports derive some consolation from the fact that the UConn women broke the UCLA men’s once-vaunted record last night by defeating FSU 93-62 to seal its run of 89-consecutive victories.  They have not lost since April 6, 2008, during that year’s NCAA tournament semifinals.

    And, by the way, the notion that UConn’s streak is less newsworthy than UCLA’s because there’s less competition in the women’s game is just as specious and chauvinistic as the notion that a female swimmer who wins eight gold medals at one Olympic Games would be less worthy of international acclaim than Michael Phelps.

    I also see no merit in the claim by sports writers and commentators that this winning streak is undermined by the fact that the UConn women never played their arch rivals, the Lady Vols of Tennessee, during this period.  For, whatever the petty, and allegedly personal, reason legendary Tennessee Coach Pat Summit decided in 2007 to discontinue their regular-season match-ups, the fact that her team has suffered 13 losses during this same period renders this claim moot. 

    That said, I feel constrained to explain that I so accurately presaged two years ago what Auriemma lamented just two days ago – not because of clairvoyance but because of empathy. Indeed, if I were the coach, or a member, of this history-making UConn team, I would be bitter and resentful too.

    Alas, I am not an influential editor at the New York Times.  All the same, I want the women of UConn to know that I am at least one man who truly gets and appreciates that theirs is a remarkable and (now) unprecedented achievement – not just in the annals of women’s basketball but in the annals of all sports, period.

    NOTE: Because of the way Auriemma condemned and shamed them on Sunday, the media – in typical reactionary, parasitic and herd-like fashion – are now all over this story….

    Related Commentaries:
    UConn routs Louisville
    John Wooden … is dead

  • Tuesday, December 21, 2010 at 5:56 AM

    Gays in the Military: Don’t ask don’t tell repealed!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I don’t know why anyone would want to serve in the U.S. military these days – when chances are very good that he or she will be shipped right out to the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan.  All the same, I celebrate the belated recognition of gays and lesbians to do so … openly:

    The government’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a violation of due process and First Amendment rights. Instead of being necessary for military readiness, the policy has a direct and deleterious effect on the armed services…

    In order to justify the encroachment on these rights, defendants [the U.S government] faced the burden at trial of showing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act was necessary to significantly further the government’s important interests in military readiness and unit cohesion. Defendants failed to meet that burden.

    (From ruling of U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips, The Washington Post, September 10, 2010)

    In an unusual session on Saturday, the U.S. Senate effectively ratified Judge Phillips’s landmark ruling when it voted to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act (DADT), which amounted to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

    DADT was implemented early in the Clinton administration as a way of accommodating the homophobia that prevailed amongst top military brass back then.  This, notwithstanding that:

    Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar… You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.

    (Conservapedia)

    This very famous and compelling quote is attributed to “Mr. Conservative” Barry Goldwater, the former senator and Republican Party’s nominee for president in 1964.  Therefore, it speaks volumes that a liberal president like Bill Clinton felt compelled to implement DADT in a misguided attempt to appease military leaders.

    Meanwhile, gay activists have rightly argued all along that this treatment was akin to the segregation of blacks in the military. This is why its repeal is no less than a belated recognition of the  civil right of gays and lesbians to serve openly.

    Not to mention what a cut-nose-to-spite-face policy this was. Not least because, pursuant to it, the military has discharged over 13,000 service members, including, most notably, hundreds of highly trained linguists whose fluency in Arabic would have been instrumental in helping the U.S. Army bridge the language barrier that has so bedeviled its nation-building missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    In any event, I am convinced that the same civil right that  now allows gays and lesbians to serve openly should also allow them to get married … legally.  After all, this too is akin to anti-miscegenation laws that once banned interracial marriages between whites and blacks. 

    From the sublime to the ridiculous, I have commented extensively on the metamorphosis of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) – since he lost his presidential bid to Barack Obama – from an open-minded, “mavericky” politician who took pride in opposing his party’s orthodoxy, into a narrow-minded, me-too partisan who now takes sycophantic pleasure in championing the Republican Party’s conservative policies. 

    This has led to the unseemly spectacle of McCain publicly disavowing many of his once-strongly held views. Most notable in this respect was the mockery he made of his erstwhile support for immigration reform by suddenly exhorting the government to “build the dang fence”.

    Unfortunately, McCain’s antic flip-flops also extended to gays and lesbians serving in the military.  For, despite standing shoulder to shoulder with Obama in the vanguard of those calling for the repeal of DADT, he soon became the poster boy for continuing this bigoted and anachronistic policy.

    It is helpful to know that after a 10-month review, the Pentagon concluded that:

    The risk of repeal of Don’ Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. 

    (The Washington Post, November 30, 2010)

    Nevertheless, in his “neo-segregationist” diatribe during Saturday’s historic debate, McCain compounded his new-found prejudice by propagating the demonstrably false notion that repeal will cause “severe damage” to military effectiveness.  And, to add insult to injury, he insinuated that it is motivated by a political agenda – not to advance a civil right but to engage in a social experiment.

    This led a columnist for the Washington Monthly to write yesterday that:

    He’s now a bitter, cantankerous hack who’s trashed any hopes he might have had about a respectable legacy.

    Hear, hear; frankly, his pathetic metamorphosis gives a whole new meaning to being a sore loser….

  • Monday, December 20, 2010 at 7:47 AM

    UPDATE: Arrest and Bail of Julian Assange…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Nine days ago, Assange surrendered to British authorities. He reportedly did so out of fear that CIA operatives would snatch him off the streets to bring him under the vortex of American justice – just as they have done with countless suspected-terrorist collaborators around the world.

    It came as little surprise, however, when his lawyers got him released on bail on Thursday after a British High Court upheld an earlier lower court ruling that the facts and circumstances surrounding the rape allegations in Sweden were insufficient basis to keep him locked up in Britain.

    All the same, the court placed prohibitive restrictions on his freedom, including confiscating his passport and requiring him to wear a monitoring ankle bracelet.  To his credit, the irony was not lost on computer-wiz Assange who described his situation as being under “hi-tech house arrest”.

    But, as house arrests go, he will be doing his time in style – ensconced in the English countryside estate of one of his many rich patrons (some of whom also put up the $373,000 for his bail). He will reside there until the ruling on his extradition to Sweden is handed down early next year. 

    Meanwhile, reports are that U.S. authorities are plotting to deny him a get-out-of-jail free card if Swedish authorities are unable to extradite him or, if they do, are unable to convict him on the rape charges.

    Specifically, the Justice Department is trying to determine whether Assange encouraged or enabled the Army intelligence officer who leaked the treasure trove of information at issue.  (Incidentally, this officer, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, is now in military custody pending a court martial that is likely to end with him being sentenced to life in prison.)

    In any event, they seem hell-bent on conjuring up some colorable charge under the U.S. Espionage Act to arrest Assange as soon as practicable.

    Whatever his fate, though, his damage has already been done; i.e., the genie is out of the bottle. Indeed, it must have been particularly galling to U.S. authorities to have WikiLeaks releasing embarrassing, even compromising, cables on an almost daily basis while he was in jail. 

    Even worse, Assange seemed to be daring them to come after him by making a point of announcing yesterday that he has only released about one percent of the damaging information that Army officer leaked to him. 

    Game on….

    NOTE: I am on record stating that I think these leaks are much ado about nothing. I also stated, however, that Assange should be either dead or in Guantanamo Bay – given that U.S. authorities have declared them a severe blow to national security.  In any event, I’m convinced that when all is said and done, he will end up in a U.S. prison.

    Related commentaries:
    WikiLeaks more U.S. secrets

    * This commentary was originally published on Saturday, December 18 at 7:17 am

  • Sunday, December 19, 2010 at 7:21 AM

    TIME honoring Facebook is like the 8-track tape honoring the CD

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, December 17, 2010 at 5:23 AM

    CNN’s Larry King is Live No More

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The word icon is used to describe so many people of dubious distinction that it has virtually no meaning. Yet I can think of no other word to describe talk show host Larry King. In fact, I can assert without fear of contradiction that no media personality has done more to inform more people about current events than he.

    For the past 25 years, Larry has chronicled the major events of the day by interviewing the principals involved. And his particular genius, or appeal, has been his ability not only to seem interested in everything everyone he interviewed had to say, but also to ask the precise questions of each one that viewers like me wanted answered. In this respect, it speaks volumes that he’s famous for saying that he thrives on asking questions that other interviewers dare not ask.

    There’s no denying, though, that A-list entertainers, sports stars, and political leaders, including U.S. presidents and foreign heads of state, figured most prominently amongst his guests. 

    Here, for example, is a sample of those he interviewed, courtesy of the Mail Online:

    Richard Nixon, Al Pacino, Marianne Pearl, Prince, Barbra Streisand, Martha Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, Oprah Winfrey, King Hussein of Jordan,  Tony Blair, Marlon Brando, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, George W. Bush and Laura Bush, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Carter and Roslyn Carter, Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bette Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Mark “Deep Throat” Felt, Gerald Ford and Betty Ford, Jackie Gleason, Mikhail Gorbachev, Billy Graham, Audrey Hepburn, Bob Hope, L. Ron Hubbard, Michael Jordan, Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Pete Rose, Michael Phelps, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ken Lay, Monica Lewinsky, Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney.

    Actually, just naming his guests is rather like a code for insights into world history over the past 25 years. Some of his more notable shows for me, however, include the one featuring a debate between Ross Perot and VP Al Gore on NAFTA, his coverage of the O.J. Simpson car chase, and his 20-consecutive nights of shows on Hurricane Katrina as its tragic aftermath was unfolding.

    I also thought it was interesting that Wesley Snipes appeared on his show 10 days ago to make a last-ditch, and ultimately futile, appeal to avoid having to report to prison to begin serving a three-year sentence for tax evasion.

    Unfortunately, prevailing tastes are such that Larry’s in-depth interviews with newsmakers of the day cannot compete with the ratings that partisan political talk shows (like The O’Reilly Factor) or mind-numbing reality TV shows (like The Jersey Shore) generate. 

    Accordingly, despite Larry’s face-saving talk about leaving voluntarily to spend more time with his family, considerations for the bottom line forced CNN to cancel him

    He hosted his final show last night, which featured an eclectic mix of guests, including the hottest politician in America today, former President Bill Clinton, paying homage and bidding farewell. 

    Apropos of the dumbing down of talent and taste, CNN is replacing Larry with tabloid newspaper editor, pop-culture interviewer and America’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan.

    We’re really gonna miss you Larry. Thanks for all of the great interviews.

    So long…

  • Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 5:48 AM

    Chavez Pulling a Christmas Ambush?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With all of the media attention focused these days on the menacing antics of North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it’s easy to forget that – not so long ago – Venezuela’s  Hugo Chávez was the foreign leader who gave the United States the most political heartburn

    For when he wasn’t talking about fomenting socialist revolutions to challenge American hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, he was hurling personal insults at American presidents that made it seem as though he was begging for a fight, mano-a-mano.

    Well, Chávez’s antics are being featured as breaking news again.  He is probably dumbfounded, though, that the American media are raising all kinds of red alerts about his latest political power grab.

    Not least because they virtually ignored his acquisition from Russia last year of 1,800 shoulder-fired missiles of the type, ironically enough, that Afghan fighters acquired from the U.S.  to fend off Russian hegemony in the early 1980s.  How’s that for geopolitical symmetry….

    Anyway, they’re reporting – as a Christmas ambush – the fact that Chávez asked his rubber-stamp congress on Tuesday to grant him special powers to enact laws by decree – specifically to deal with national disasters. 

    The president will use the authorization to ensure fast-track approval of laws aimed at helping the nation recover from severe flooding and mudslides that left thousands homeless and in government shelters.

    (Vice President Elias Jaua, The Washington Post, December 14, 2010)

    Mind you, Chávez is only asking for the kind of executive power to declare and manage national disasters that U.S. presidents enjoy.  Not to mention that he is only doing now what he has done repeatedly throughout his presidency.

    In fact, I duly noted this when his political power grabs really were breaking news – as I did here:

    I have no doubt that he will continue to flex the formidable powers he retains under the existing constitution to rule Venezuela like, well, a de facto dictator.  And with another five years left on his term in office, it would be naïve to assume that this is the last we’ve heard of Chávez ‘s efforts to codify his socialist ideology and win popular support for his perennial presidency.

    (Referendum defeat actually vindicates Chávez, The iPINIONS Journal, December 4, 2007)

    And in one of many follow-ups here:

    Accordingly, those who were dancing just over a year ago are probably in mourning today. Because, in a wholly predictable redo of his earlier defeat, Chávez won a resounding victory on Sunday on a referendum that will allow him now to serve as president for life.

    (Viva Chávez, The iPINIONS Journal, February 17, 2009)

    Viva Chávez indeed.

    Related commentaries:
    Referendum defeat
    Viva Chávez

  • Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 5:29 AM

    Africa’s Democratic Despots Now Includes Gbagbo of Ivory Coast

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    African leaders once personified unbridled despotism. Now they’re personifying the growing spectacle of leaders refusing to give up power after losing free and fair elections; hence their oxymoronic designation: democratic despots.

    This has led to an untenable new norm developing on the Continent where opposition leaders – who win clear and convincing elections – are being forced to either enter into shotgun marriages (i.e., coalition governments) with sore losers or lead civil wars to oust them by force.  Here, for example, is how I commented in 2008 when this phenomenon was playing out in Kenya – the putative beacon of democracy in Africa:

    Almost four months after contested election results plunged Kenya into tribal warfare that killed 1,500 and left 600,000 displaced, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Opposition Leader Raila Odinga held a joint press conference to announce that they had finally signed a National Accord and Reconciliation Act (NARA) to form a coalition government. Never mind the consensus among international election observers not only that Kibaki’s ruling Party of National Unity (PNU) had lost control of parliament, but also that he had been duly ousted as president…

    Which brings me to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe: Because like Kibaki and his ruling party, all indications are that he and his ruling ZANU-PF party lost national elections that were held on March 29. Yet, like Kibaki, Mugabe refused to concede defeat, which also plunged Zimbabwe into post-election violence.

    (Kenya forms grand coalition: a model for Zimbabwe? The iPINIONS Journal, April 24, 2008)

    Sure enough, though, Mugabe soon emulated Kibaki, compelling me to duly comment as follows:

    I predicted that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the undisputed winner in presidential elections last March, would ultimately agree to serve in a coalition government under his perennial oppressor, President Robert Mugabe. This, despite Tsvangirai vowing repeatedly that he would heed the near-universal admonition of world leaders to not only insist that Mugabe must resign but also avoid serving with him like the plague.

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

    More to the point, I described the marital arrangement between this democratic despot and his democratically elected challenger as follows:

    Of course, Mugabe can now afford to be magnanimous. Indeed, I suspect he would be happy to confer the subordinate title of prime minister upon his hapless foe; provided, however, that that title is conferred with all of the political power wielded by a Nubian eunuch.

    (Mugabe swears himself in as president for life, The iPINIONS Journal, June 30, 2008)

    Now it seems that President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast is determined to follow suit. Because, like Kibaki and Mugabe and their respective ruling parties, Gbagbo and his ruling party have summarily invalidated election results that gave opposition leader Alassane Ouattara  a 10-point victory in last month’s presidential election.

    Also, like Kibaki and Mugabe, Gbagbo has given the finger to patently feckless international demands – most notably from United Nations, France, the United States, the European Union, the African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS – for him to step down.

    Meanwhile, Ouattara is doing his best to force the issue by forming a separate government and calling for a national “pacifist struggle … to install the legitimate authorities of Ivory Coast.”

    Unfortunately, it’s an indication of how little influence he has that Ivoirians are already engaging in the kind of partisan violence that followed stolen elections in Kenya.

    This does not bode well; not least because Gbagbo now has an even firmer grip on the military and police forces than his dubious mentor, Kibaki, had on similar forces in Kenya. Moreover, if it persists, he seems quite prepared to order them to squash this unrest by any means necessary.

    Gbagbo thusly consolidated his power in 2002 after a failed coup against his government by mostly Muslim rebels in the North, where Ouattara – himself a Muslim – derives most of his support.

    Accordingly, chances are very good that Ouattara will be lucky if he can muster enough political leverage to entice Gbagbo into forming a coalition government in which he (Ouattara) consents to play the chief eunuch.

    And so it goes in Africa.  But, who knows, if President Obama loses to Sarah Palin or some other Republican in 2012, perhaps the African in him (his daddy was from Kenya no less) might compel him to pull a similar ploy to hold onto power….

    NOTE: Ouattara is married to a white Catholic woman. So, prevailing prejudices on the Continent being what they are (in this case both racial and religious), one would have thought this fact alone would have disqualified him from elective office.

    Therefore, it speaks volumes about the progressive minds of the people of Ivory Coast that they voted so overwhelming for him to become their duly elected president.

    Related commentaries:
    Kenya forms grand coalition
    Zimbabwe forms (improbable) coalition government
    Mugabe swears himself in

  • Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 5:37 AM

    UPDATE: the Madoff suicides…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As indicated in my original commentary, I thought Madoff might commit suicide to escape the public shame and legal consequences of his historic scheme. It turns out, however, that one of the fund managers who unwittingly feed victims to Maddoff was the first to do so.

    Specifically, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchett, 65, lost $1.4 billion of his clients’ money by investing it with Madoff to guarantee inflated returns for them and commensurate commissions for himself.  Unable to cope with clients demanding their money and with lawsuits flooding in, de la Villehuchett reportedly locked himself in his Madison Avenue office last night, where he was found dead this morning with his wrists slashed.

    (Madoff suicides begin, The iPINIONS Journal, December 23, 2008, Vol. IV, p. 389)

    This quote clearly indicates that I thought more than a few of those implicated in Bernie Madoff’s $50-billion-ponzi scheme would opt for suicide instead of facing what would surely be grave criminal, civil, financial and social consequences. 

    And, sure enough, a couple of other suicides since then have been attributed to fears in this respect. But I suspect that others were lulled into a false sense of relief by the inordinate amount of time it has taken to investigate the labyrinthine nature of this scheme. 

    Well, that all changed a few weeks ago when the trustee charged with recovering money for Madoff’s victims began filing nearly 60 lawsuits seeking more than $40 billion from dozens of banks,  hedge funds, and individuals.  The defendants are all being accused of knowing about the fraud but covering it up and profiting from it. And the most notable among them are Madoff’s two sons and even his grandchildren – for whom trust funds had been established with ill-gotten gains.

    The flood of litigation came as Irving Picard hit a deadline for seeking compensation on Saturday, the second anniversary of Mr Madoff’s 2008 arrest. The lawsuits represent the product of more than 1,100 subpoenas and two years of investigation by Mr Picard’s law firm…

    (The Financial Times, December 12, 2010)

    More to the point, I have no doubt that it was the reality of these lawsuits, not some gallows commemoration of the second anniversary of his father’s arrest, that led Mark Madoff to commit suicide on Saturday by hanging himself with a dog leash in his New York City apartment.

    Meanwhile, the FT confirmed that the U.S. attorney in Manhattan is still conducting parallel criminal investigations that could last another three years.  This means that, after civil lawsuits land those involved in this scheme in the poor house, criminal trials will land them in jail.

    Accordingly, chances are that, like Mark, many more of them will find having the twin damoclean swords of poverty and imprisonment hanging over their heads too much to bear….

    Related commentaries:
    Madoff appeal

  • Monday, December 13, 2010 at 5:05 AM

    Student Protesters Assault Prince Charles and wife Camilla

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    One of the hallmarks of Western democracies is the right of citizens to take to the streets to protest government policies.  Indeed, that Chinese citizens do not have this right is one of the principle reasons why China will never surpass the United States as the world’s most admired, respected, and envied country – even if it surpasses the U.S. in building the world’s largest economy.

    Unfortunately, some citizens in Western democracies have begun abusing this right. Most notably, we have witnessed the spectacle of anti-globalization protesters blithely causing tens of millions in damage to commercial businesses from vandalism and lost sales in cities where the WTO was holding conferences on free trade.

    All the same, these protesters – even the purported anarchists amongst them – rarely showed any interest in causing bodily harm to the government officials who devised, enacted, or embodied the policies that incited their rage. This is why the assault by student protesters on the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall was so shocking.

    It came after students had taken to the streets of London on Thursday to protest the passage of a bill in Parliament that will increase university tuition fees from $5,000 to $15,000.  (Incidentally, I have no doubt that there would be no talk today about criminal prosecutions if student protesters had limited their assaults to riot police.)

    As it happened, chance (or incompetent police work) led the motorcade carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to a royal performance at a local theater right into the midst of these students – as they were dispersing from a day of protest. And, mob inertia and mentality being what they are, the students duly took out their residual frustrations on them.

    Frankly, this confluence of the privilege they and their Rolls-Royce limousine embodied with the burdens this tuition bill will impose on these students was as ironic as it was combustible. 

    So what began as mere sound and fury – complete with the republican yell, “off with their heads” – soon led to projectiles being hurled at their limo, shattering windows and scaring the daylights out of Camilla. 

    Luckily neither of them was hurt, and reports are that Camilla regained her regal composure as soon as her urgent request for a stiff shot of brandy was supplied.  And, yes, the show went on….

    But a red line – insofar as the right of citizens to protest is concerned – had clearly been crossed.  This is why detectives from Scotland Yard have been busy over the past few days arresting anyone who was in the vicinity of those who assaulted the royals.

    This included the arrest just yesterday of Charlie Gilmore, son of Pink Floyd legend David Gilmore, who may have also committed a far more serious offense by swinging on the Union Flag at the Cenotaph (the national memorial to Britain’s war dead) at one point during the protest.

    Meanwhile, if you’re wondering why Britons are protesting a rise in university fees that still amounts to less than what many Americans pay in kindergarten fees, the following proclamation by Daisy Jones, student union president at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, should suffice:

    In Britain we believe in free education as a social good for all, and education should be based on social values and have nothing to do with money and consumerism.  It should be a right for everyone.

    (London Daily Mail, December 12, 2010)

    Of course, this reflects the welfare state of mind that has been nurtured in Britain and throughout Europe for generations. It is why the austerity measures being imposed over there to deal with the fallout from the 2008 global financial crisis are being met with such existential resistance. And it is probably why even the son of a wealthy rock legend like Gilmore would feel moved to join in these student protests….

  • Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 12:16 PM

    Oprah’s sapphic dilemma: proving she’s not a lesbian without protesting too much…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related commentaries:
    Oprah: I’m not gay

  • Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 12:21 AM

    Mutiny against Obama over Bush Tax Cuts?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am still on sick leave, but I’m getting sicker watching far-left Democrats Carterize President Obama over the compromise he struck with Republicans yesterday to, effectively, extend Bush-era tax cuts for the rich in exchange for extending unemployment benefits for the poor.  In fact, this has incited such mutinous rage among these folks that they seem even more determined now than far-right Republicans are to see Obama’s presidency fail.

    Of course I understand why they are so beside themselves. For this was probably the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back when it comes to Obama reneging on campaign promises that far-left Democrats thought they could believe in. 

    But, as my October 2006 commentary entitled Run Obama Run will attest, I was a die-hard Obama supporter long before most of these disillusioned folks even knew his name. More to the point, I have always known and accepted that the key to his appeal as a transformative politician was his pragmatism.

    I was also mindful, however, that the bane of his presidency would be left-wing ideologues who would mistake his pragmatism for weakness. But I was confident that Obama would always have enough self-confidence to make pragmatic compromises despite carping from the left:

    I’m sure the congenitally pragmatic Obama will have a moderating influence on Congressional Democrats, which will prevent them from pursuing a radical agenda that could undermine his presidency….

    (Bad omen for Republicans, TIJ, October 28, 2008)

    This is why I was not at all surprised when he began angering liberals by,  well, governing just like Bush:

    In what has to be the most ironic, and potentially implosive, development of his nascent presidency, Barack Obama is being dogged more by criticisms from liberals than from conservatives. 

    Specifically, liberals are simmering with disillusionment over the fact that he has been systematically adopting many of Bush’s war-on-terror tactics, which they, and he, routinely condemned during last year’s presidential campaign

    (Obama angers liberals by governing just like Bush, The iPINIONS Journal, May 14, 2009)

    Given this, it is hardly surprising to me that Obama is now reneging on his promise to end the Bush tax cuts which have so favored millionaires and billionaires. More importantly, I am convinced that he is doing so simply because it is the only pragmatic thing to do under the circumstances. 

    Never mind that there’s scant evidence to support Republican assertions that these tax cuts will stimulate jobs; not least because all they stimulated during the Bush administration were huge deficits and high unemployment.  This renders demonstrably specious their warning that the failure to extend them will trigger a double-dip recession….

     

    Frankly, I see no point in commenting on all of the political arguments left-wing Democrats are proffering to justify their rage. But nothing demonstrates how ignorant, hysterical, and misguided this rage is quite like their fulminating about Obama not fighting hard enough against the Bush tax cuts; i.e., arguing that “he caved”. 

    Because Obama spent the entire summer and fall decrying these cuts and warning about what dire consequences would befall the country if Republicans had their way. In fact this was the main theme of his stump speech as he campaigned on behalf of Congressional Democrats. Yet, despite his best efforts, Republicans gave Democrats a “shellacking” in midterm elections.  And now they will have their way: that’s politics; that’s democracy. 

    Therefore, I shall suffice to quote a little of what Obama proffered during his press conference yesterday to justify his decision to strike this compromise:

    Let me say that on the Republican side, this is their holy grail, these tax cuts for the wealthy. This is — seems to be their central economic doctrine.  And so, unless we had 60 votes in the Senate at any given time, it would be very hard for us to move this forward…  

    I’ve said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts.  I think it’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers, unless the hostage gets harmed.  Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy.  In this case, the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.

    I’m focused on making sure that tens of millions of hardworking Americans are not seeing their paychecks shrink on January 1st just because the folks here in Washington are busy trying to score political points… And in exchange for a temporary extension of the high-income tax breaks — not a permanent but a temporary extension — a policy that I opposed but that Republicans are unwilling to budge on, this agreement preserves additional tax cuts for the middle class that I fought for and that Republicans opposed two years ago…

    A long political fight that carried over into next year might have been good politics, but it would be a bad deal for the economy and it would be a bad deal for the American people.  And my responsibility as President is to do what’s right for the American people.  That’s a responsibility I intend to uphold as long as I am in this office.

    So this notion that somehow we are willing to compromise too much reminds me of the debate that we had during health care.  This is the public option debate all over again.  So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats had been fighting for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people, that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise.

    Now, if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done… This is a big, diverse country.  Not everybody agrees with us…  And that means because it’s a big, diverse country and people have a lot of complicated positions, it means that in order to get stuff done, we’re going to compromise…

    I don’t think there’s a single Democrat out there, who if they looked at where we started when I came into office and look at where we are now, would say that somehow we have not moved in the direction that I promised.

    Take a tally.  Look at what I promised during the campaign.  There’s not a single thing that I’ve said that I would do that I have not either done or tried to do.  And if I haven’t gotten it done yet, I’m still trying to do it….

    (The White House Blog, December 7, 2010)

    Enough said … about the substance of this matter.  Unfortunately, far-left Democrats seem more interested in Obama’s style in dealings with Republicans than in what substance he derives from those dealings.  So for all those who are still harboring some perverse desire to see Obama go gangsta on Republicans, I reiterate the following:

    The real narrative arc of course is that columnists (like Dowd) who once fawned over Obama’s style are now criticizing it. But I hope Obama shows the same indifference towards their criticisms that he showed when they were swooning over him not so long ago. Because it would be a travesty if he were to try now to emulate that emotional chameleon Bill Clinton – who these same media prima donnas ridiculed for continually feigning emotions just to curry political favor.

    (Spill turns swooning over Obama toxic, June 7, 2010)

    “To thine own self be true” Obama.  Far-left Democrats will come to their senses soon enough….

    Related commentaries:
    Run Obama run
    Bad omen for Republicans
    Obama angers liberals
    swooning over Obama turns toxic

  • Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 5:26 AM

    North Korea Attacks the South with Impunity … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The United States and South Korea wrapped up four days of “war games” in the Yellow Sea yesterday – in what can only be described as an accidental response to North Korea’s manic shelling of a fishing village and military base in the South on November 23.

    I dismiss it as accidental because these games were scheduled long before this (latest) North Korean attack, which killed two civilians and two military personnel. In fact, the U.S. and South Korea routinely play these games pursuant to the 1953 Mutual Self Defense Treaty, which obligates the U.S. to defend South Korea. 

    More to the point, though, North Korea can be forgiven for regarding their war games as nothing more than feckless saber rattling given that the U.S. and South Korea reacted with nothing more than hollow threats after North Korea torpedoed a South Korean naval ship earlier this year (on March 26), killing 46 sailors. 

    Even worse, it has now developed a perverse incentive to continue this form of shotgun diplomacy because, instead of punishment, these countries have invariably rewarded it with everything from fuel to food and even cold hard cash.

    Of course North Korea has made it demonstrably clear that it is certifiably insane.  Therefore, I wonder if it occurs to the U.S. and South Korea that occasional shelling and torpedoing of South Korean targets might just be the North’s version of war games…? 

    In any case, we’re being entertained again by all manner of talk about getting tough with the North – complete with the U.S. calling on China to finally discipline its adopted problem child.

    Yet all indications are that no country is going to do anything to check North Korea’s reckless and deadly behavior until it launches an attack so large in scale that it threatens the very existence of South Korea.  Then we’ll be talking full-scale nuclear war….

    But I warned it would be thus. Here, for example, is the sober note I sounded last year when North Korea was provoking none other than the mighty USA:

    Pay no mind to all of the talk about President Obama taking military action (like interdicting North Korean ships on the high seas), putting pressure on China to intervene, or turning Japan into a nuclear power to check North Korea’s now-patented nuclear gamesmanship. 

    After all, if this country’s provocations with nuclear weapons did not compel Bush to deploy any of these enhanced tactics, it’s plainly disingenuous for anyone to suggest that its kidnapping of two [American] women will compel Obama to do so.  And this is hardly a Somali-pirate situation where Navy Seals can fire a few shots and end it….

    (North Korea adds kidnapping to its diplomatic arsenal, The iPINIONS Journal, June 8, 2009)

    And so this doomsday clock continues to tick….

    Related commentaries:
    North Korea adds kidnapping

  • Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 5:09 AM

    Spider-Man … on Broadway?!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I don’t know who came up with the harebrained idea of turning Spider-Man into a Broadway musical. But for some reason – that must be equal parts egotistical and masochistic – Tony Award-winning director Julie Taymor of Lion King fame eventually teamed up with rock-n-roll übermenschen Bono and The Edge of U2 to stage it under the too-clever-by-half title Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  (I guess the folks behind the Batman movie franchise had already copyrighted “Dark Knight”.)

    Indeed, such is the star power behind this Spidey production that 60 Minutes ran a feature on Sunday night marveling at the behind-the-curtain infrastructure – with its high-tech gadgetry – that have made it (at $65 million) the most expensive production in Broadway history

    But as I sat watching this shameless TV ad masquerading as an objective report, I exclaimed that this Spider-Man seemed like a big turkey – no doubt aided in this choice of metaphor by the Thanksgiving meal that was still digesting in my big tummy.

    I damned it for its utter lack of creativity and suggested that it was bound to get tangled up in its own web of self-indulgence. I even wondered aloud what, apart from the U2 score, would distinguish this production from the very impressive Cirque Du Soleil shows (like Mystère and ) that have been wowing audiences with Spider-Man-like flights, fights, and aerial acrobatics since 1993.

    This led to my final exclamation that it has all of the makings of a Broadway Ishtar – a reference to the 1987 movie starring acting übermenschen Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman that ranks one of the most expensive flops in Hollywood history. It was so bad in fact that it damaged the box-office appeal of Beatty and Hoffman irreparably, and effectively ended the career of its director, Elaine May.

    Little did I know however that, at that very moment, when I was sitting on my couch shouting thumbs-down exclamations at my television set, people were sitting in the Foxwoods Theatre on West 42nd Street watching this Broadway show and whispering similar exclamations.  For Sunday night also marked the opening of preview shows for Spider-Man. No doubt the producers thought this was a rather serendipitous bit of timing given the feature on 60 Minutes.

    Unfortunately, the actual performance on Broadway made a mockery of this brilliant marketing ploy. In fact, here’s how the New York Times began its very influential review, which was published almost immediately, perhaps, to put the producers out of their misery:

    All $65 million of the new Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark took flight on Sunday night at its first preview performance, but not without bumps. The show stopped five times, mostly to fix technical problems, and Act I ended prematurely, with Spider-Man stuck dangling 10 feet above audience members, while Act II was marred by a nasty catcall during one of the mid-performance pauses.

    To be fair, though, this is what previews are for: to work out the bugs (pun intended) before the real opening night, which in this case is scheduled for January 11, 2011.  But there’s no gainsaying what a bad omen it is that a Broadway show of this magnitude, in every respect, performed so poorly (even on the opening night of previews) that the admittedly low-brow New York Post felt justified in beginning its review as follows:

    Last night’s opening preview of Broadway’s most expensive production ever, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, was an epic flop as the $65 million show’s high-tech gadgetry went completely awry amid a dull score and baffling script, theatergoers griped. Stunned audience members were left scratching their heads over the confusing plot – when they weren’t ducking for cover from falling equipment and dangling actors.

    But I’m not prepared to call it an epic flop … just yet. For I’m all too mindful that a flawless performance on opening night in  January could inspire reviews that are as glowing as these ones are damning.  And that alone would guarantee Spider-Man a long and very profitable run on Broadway.

    In fact, my critical wrath had nothing to do with the quality of the production; after all, I was reacting only to its buildup on 60 Minutes. Instead, my stentorian outrage was incited by watching the producers talk about spending so much money in this redundant fashion (in these hard times) and calling it visionary entertainment.  And a flawless performance on opening night will do little to quell it.

    Hell, original plays on Broadway are already an endangered species.  So just imagine what the success of this show will breed: a great white way populated with nothing but musical productions about comic-book heroes.  That’s entertainment?!

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