• Friday, April 30, 2010 at 5:43 AM

    The Blind Side: this time life imitates art

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Given the title, you might think this commentary is about the fact that – after playing the mother of an adopted black boy in the movie The Blind Side – actress Sandra Bullock revealed this week that she has adopted a black baby in real life.  It is not.

    Yet I shall take this opportunity to commend Sandra for subjecting her maternal instincts to the four-year process involved in adopting her child from Katrina-ravaged New Orleans instead of following the Madonna-Jolie fashion of flying off to Africa to buy one on the spot … as if it were a celebrity perk.

    That said, this commentary is actually about some white folks in a Texas town who adopted the (all black) members of Haiti’s national soccer team recently.  Of course I use the term “adopted” rather loosely; since their intent was not to parent but to help them prepare for international competition.

    Here, in part, is how Janet Shamlian reported this heart-warming story on the April 28 edition of NBC Nightly News:

    With putting greens, swimming pools, and tennis courts, the T Bar M is a family vacation spot. But for two weeks for Haiti’s national soccer team, it’s been a home away from their homeland.

    “We definitely said yes before we had a plan. It was bring them and we’ll figure it out. And we did.” (Mary Jaffeth, associate executive director of the San Antonio Sports Foundation) 

    Back home there was no way to prepare. Their building is in ruin, their field filled with tents…. And so it became what you might call a community adoption: from a grocery chain donating food to doctors treating aches and pains.  Haiti’s team is getting ready for next week’s match with Argentina deep in the heart of Texas…

    “If they win it would lift the spirit of their nation and we want them to have every opportunity to do the very best that they can and not feel that they’re at an incredible deficit for not having had a field to practice on or a place to stay or good food to eat.” (Mary Japhet)

    Despite the passion for the game, the players know next week’s match isn’t entirely about soccer.

    With a helping hand, playing for Haiti with a goal of easing a nation’s pain.

    So here’s to Sandra and the good folks of San Antonio for reminding us of the importance of showing love and compassion towards those displaced by natural disasters as well as the simply forsaken even when it’s not so fashionable to do so.

  • Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 5:46 AM

    Greece just another panhandling PIG in Europe

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Greece may be the cradle of civilization but it’s being regarded throughout Northern Europe these days as little more than a beggars’ colony. This is because Greece is now looking to richer member states of the European Union, like Germany and France, to bail it out of an existential financial mess.   

    No doubt many Europeans would like to swat away the Greeks the way they swat away the Roma (Gypsies) who panhandle all over the continent. They are all too mindful, however, that Greece’s membership in the EU means that if it implodes financially, the collateral damage for the rest of them would be incalculable.

    All the same, Greece might be the least of the EU’s problems.  Because just yesterday Standard & Poor downgraded Spain’s debt too, turning it into the third financial ticking bomb in the South, along with Portugal and Greece, that rich EU countries from the North must now diffuse. 

    It seems to be one (downgrade) after the other. Only a few months ago it looked like it was contained to Greece and in the last 24 hours we are seeing the contagion effect having a firm grip across Europe.

    (Manoj Ladwa, senior trader at ETX Capital in London. Reuters, April 28, 2010)

    Actually, here, in part, is how I diagnosed this financial virus over a month ago:

    [T]he so-called “PIGS” (namely, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain) have been arguing that the sovereign debt crisis that is threatening to plunge their respective countries into bankruptcy is a burden all of Europe should bear. And everybody knows that a default by any of these PIGS will cause the disunion of the European Union.

    (“A Europe divided by debt cannot stand,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 25, 2010)

    Remember too big to fail? The US government felt compelled to bail out Wall Street because failure to do so would have sent the U.S. economy into a great depression. Well I predict that the EU will feel compelled to bail out these PIGS based on similar reasoning.

    It is hardly surprising, though, that most Europeans are developing as much contempt for the PIGS as most Americans now have for the bankers on Wall Street.  Not least because rich member states in the North believe that their poor relations in the South have nothing to blame for their financial woes but their own “Club Med” approach to fiscal discipline:

    [A]t the end of the day, everybody wants to be in Greece because it’s a fun way to get away from your problems.

    (Zoe Kazani, a 22-year-old art gallery director in Athens, Reuters, April 28, 2010)   

    Meanwhile, here’s how Bild, a leading German newspaper, reported (April 27) on the resentment this crisis is inciting among Germans (as well as citizens of all of the other non-swine member states):

    Greece is just a bottomless pit. And now anger is increasing in Germany, with many asking why they should pay for things like the luxury Greek pension system.

    You’d think that having to go to their betters in the North – hat in hand – would humble the Greeks. Instead, public sector workers have gone on strike in a self-indulgent effort to pressure their government against imposing any austerity measures as a condition for receiving a bailout package from the EU (and IMF).

    Workers are protesting public wage cuts, a pensions freeze and tax hikes imposed by the government to try to pull Greece out of a fiscal crisis that has shaken markets worldwide and driven Greece’s borrowing costs to a 12-year high.

    (Reuters, April 22, 2010)

    Therefore, who can blame the Germans (the French and others in the North) for harboring resentment over having to indulge this Zorba-like attitude among the suntanned citizens of the PIGS…? And I imagine recognizing that refusing to bail them out would be tantamount to cutting off nose to spite face only intensifies their resentment.

    Related commentaries:
    A Europe divided by debt cannot stand

  • Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 5:43 AM

    Reforming Wall Street? Fuhgettaboutit!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yesterday the U.S. Senate held an all day dog and pony show – in the guise of a committee hearing – on the role Goldman Sachs played in precipitating the great recession of 2008. But within minutes it became dramatically clear that this financial crisis was caused in large measure because the brainiacs on Wall Street were behaving as if they were running casinos instead of investment banks.

    Nothing demonstrated this quite like the fact that only one of the four erstwhile masters of the universe who testified could state without equivocation that Goldman had a duty to act in the best interest of its client.

    There’s a fundamental conflict in Goldman’s selling to clients home-loan securities that company e-mails showed its own employees had derided as “junk” and “crap” – and then betting against the same securities and not telling the buyers… They’re buying something from you, and you are betting against it. And you want people to trust you. I wouldn’t trust you,”

    (Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, Associated Press, April 27, 2010)

    Indeed, this begs the question: why would anyone want to do business with this bank if its business purpose is only to make money for its fat-cat partners and overpaid employees?

    But here’s the more fundamental question for the long-term health of the U.S. economy: If bankers (at Goldman and other investment banks) see nothing wrong with gambling away their clients’ money and then looking for tax payers to bail them out, what hope is there of ever reforming Wall Street?

    In Las Vegas people know the odds are against them. They play anyway. On Wall Street, they manipulate the odds while you’re playing the game.

    (Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada, Associate Press, April 27, 2010)

    Talk about a moral hazard….

  • Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 5:41 AM

    U.S. and France pulling train on Manuel Noriega

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Fourteen years before former President George W. Bush launched a war of dubious justification against Iraq, his daddy, former President George H. W. Bush, launched a war of equally dubious justification against Panama. 

    Actually, baby Bush seemed hell-bent on a personal vendetta to get Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for allegedly plotting to assassinate his daddy. And daddy Bush seemed hell-bent on a personal vendetta to get Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega for mocking the U.S.’ extraterritorial power throughout the Americas and for calling him a whimp (as well as other profane names that would make even brash Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez blush).

    But where we will be living with the adverse consequences of baby Bush’s war for decades to come, all of the adverse consequences of his daddy’s war have long been relegated to the dustbin of history.

    Nevertheless, for those who think that, by invading Iraq, baby Bush did more than any president in history to undermine the moral authority of the United States, it’s worth recalling what his daddy did. For it can be argued that baby Bush’s actions were just fruits of the poisonous tree his father planted by invading Panama in willful defiance of international law. Moreover, his claim of doing so because Noriega was orchestrating the shipment of drugs into the U.S. was every bit as fatuous as baby’s Bush’s claim of invading Iraq because Saddam possessed WMDs.

    To be fair, though, daddy Bush also made patently specious claims about Noriega rigging elections, representing a threat to American security, and threatening to block the Panama Canal. But, even if true, such claims would have given the U.S. just cause to invade half of the countries on planet earth.

    Of course, nothing damns this perfidious lineage quite like the fact that the CIA created both of these putative dragons for daddy and baby Bush to slay, respectively. Except that where baby Bush’s dragon was captured, tried and executed, daddy Bush’s was captured, tried and thrown in a U.S. prison….

    Which brings me to the point of this commentary: because Noriega has now been plucked from the dustbin of history after serving 20-years behind bars. In fact he was scheduled to be released in 2007. But France filed an extradition request shortly before his release date, claiming that Noriega laundered $3 million from his drug trade by purchasing an apartment in Paris.

    So after wasting away for another three years in prison while his lawyers fought in vain to stave off extradition, the 75-year old Noriega was finally dusted off yesterday and put on a plane bound for Paris yesterday to face these additional charges.

    The U.S. acted just like the corrupt policeman of the world it was always accused of being when it arrested and imprisoned Noriega. But this move by France to pile on reeks of cynical and pusillanimous high-handedness.  And, ironically, the best way to illustrate this is by reference to the fate that befell Saddam.

    Recall that France was in the vanguard of countries that opposed the invasion of Iraq on sound legal and moral grounds.  So just imagine the hypocrisy if, just before Saddam was scheduled to be executed, France filed a request to have him extradited to face money laundering charges.  For that, essentially, is what it is doing in this case.

    And remember, just as it was with Iraq, the U.S. invasion of Panama provoked international outrage.  Therefore, it is beyond unconscionable for the French to be exploiting this invasion now by snatching Noriega on such specious charges.

    What makes this extradition so hypocritical, however, is that the French routinely hosted a far more corrupt strongman, former President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, without giving any apparent thought to prosecuting him. And they did this knowing full well that he was accused of laundering billions in ill-gotten gains by purchasing, among other things, an apartment on Avenue Foch in Paris as well as a palatial villa at Cap-Martin on the French Riviera.

    (Not to mention the open secret that Sese Seko too was a creature of the CIA, having launched his 32-year dictatorship by backing his 1965 coup….)

    In any event, this prosecution (or persecution) of Noriega proves that, when it comes to behaving like a self-righteous bully on the world stage, the U.S. has nothing on France – as my friends in Northwest Africa know all too well.

    Meanwhile, within hours of his arrival this morning, Noriega appeared at a bond hearing where a French judge ruled that he must remain in jail pending trial. Curiously enough, he was already tried and convicted in 1999 by a French court (in absentia because he was in a U.S. prison) on the same money laundering charges he’s now facing. Therefore, he is virtually guaranteed of being reconvicted after what, in effect, will be a retrial.

    He faces 10 years, which means, alas, that he will probably end up spending the rest of his life in prison.

  • Monday, April 26, 2010 at 5:26 AM

    Arizona Scapegoating Hispanics Instead of Combating Illegal Immigration

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona made quite a show on Friday of signing what is generally regarded as the most draconian anti-immigration state law in the United States.

    The law authorizes police officers to require anyone they reasonably suspect of being an illegal immigrant to produce documentation to prove his/her legal residency. Failure to do so could result in that person being arrested, fined, jailed, and deported (if he/she turns out to be an undocumented alien). 

    This, of course, is the hallmark of any police state: requiring people to carry a pass which must be produced on the spot, you know, the way Nazi officers used to demand, “Your papers, please!” 

    But what makes this Arizona law so anathema is that it targets Hispanics whether they are legal or not.  For what, other than Hispanic features, would give police any reason to suspect that a person is an illegal immigrant? The inescapable answer is … nothing!

    Put another way, this Arizona law legalizes racial profiling. This is why no less a person than President Obama condemned it as misguided effort:

    … which threatens to undermine the basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between the police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. (ABC News, April 23, 2010)

    Not surprisingly, its legality is already being challenged in court, and I predict that even this conservative Supreme Court will rule it unconstitutional in due course.

    Let me hasten to note, however, that I am entirely sympathetic with the desperate and despairing effort of Arizona lawmakers to combat this problem. After all, Arizona’s border with Mexico has become the most favored crossing point for illegal immigrants – 460,000 of whom have now settled in this state.

    Even worse, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (September 2008), these immigrants are not only putting untenable (and unfair) stresses on public services, but are also responsible for increasing incidences of all manner of crime.

    Nevertheless, turning Arizona into a police state (for Hispanics) is not the answer.  Not to mention that this law will do no more to stop this menace than a band aid can do to stop a hemorrhaging wound. Continuing this analogy, the best way to stop the hemorrhaging is to seal the U.S.-Mexico border and have National Guards troops (perhaps redeployed from Iraq and Afghanistan) patrol it.

    But the best way to cure this wound is for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. And its key provision should set out a clear path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million long-settled illegal immigrants (a.k.a. amnesty). It should also provide a transparent system for migratory labor, which severely penalizes anyone who employs illegal immigrants for cheap labor. This system is critical of course because most (Hispanic) illegal immigrants come looking not to make America their home, but to work to send money back home. 

    Which brings me to the silver lining in the passage of this Arizona law: It has provided the perfect pretext for the Democrats who control Congress to leap frog immigration over energy and climate change on this year’s legislative agenda….

    In the meantime, even though brown and black people comprise the vast majority of illegal immigrants, it would be helpful for progressive politicians to remind folks that white people are illegal immigrants too:

    [I] find unconscionable the scapegoating of Hispanics who cross the Mexican border, while Europeans who fly in or cross the even more porous Canadian border enter the country scot (and stigma) free.

    (“US declares zero tolerance immigration policy … yeah right!” The iPINIONS Journal, October 20, 2005)

    Related commentaries:
    US declares zero tolerance

  • Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 5:16 AM

    Dorothy Height, “godmother of the civil rights movement,” is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It might seem incomprehensible that one could take a college course on the 1960s civil rights movement and not recall anything about Dorothy Height.  Yet this was my embarrassing state of black consciousness back in the early 1980s.

    Perhaps it was caused by the second-hand smoke I blithely inhaled during my college days. But the more literate answer is that Rosa Parks so dominated what little reference was paid to women in the movement that others like Height were lucky just to receive honorable mention.

    Nonetheless, as it was with other academic subjects, I acquired and retained more knowledge by reading informally about the civil rights movement after college than I ever did during my college … daze. And it was during this autodidactic phase that I came to appreciate the unsung heroics of Dorothy Height.

    In fact, her activism dates back to the New Deal, which preceded Parks’s seminal decision to sit in the front of the bus by more than two decades. This means that even before Martin Luther King Jr. came on the scene she was already lobbying everyone from presidents to school superintendents on such issues as voting rights, public housing, and school desegregation.

    As a teenager, Height marched in New York’s Times Square shouting, “Stop the lynching.” In the 1950s and 1960s, she was the leading woman helping King and other activists orchestrate the civil rights movement, often reminding the men heading the movement not to underestimate their women counterparts.  (nytimes.com, April 20, 2010)

    The vehicle Height used to drive most her activism was the National Council of Negro Women, which she led for 40 years. Of particular note is the fact that she established common cause with white women – through her “Wednesdays in Mississippi” meetings – to pursue racial justice and gender equality as one holistic cause for human rights. Further to this end, she was a founding member, along with feminists like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, of National Women Political Caucus in 1971.

    It seems clear, however, that Height was ever mindful that her crusade for civil rights for blacks and equal rights for women were both rooted in the withering black family. No doubt this is why the National Black Family reunions, “a three-day cultural event” that began in 1986, figured so prominently later in her life.

    Yet, like MLK, she was always keen to point out that beyond making life better for blacks and women, the aim of her activism was to make America a more perfect union.

    Having worked hard for civil rights and opportunities, I was excited… The fact that we won the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which eliminated legal segregation, made the country better not just for black people, but for white people, too. (washingtonpost.com, April 20, 2010)

    Height was the recipient of many honorary degrees and prestigious awards. Most notably, she was awarded two of the nation’s highest civilian awards: the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 from President Bill Clinton and the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2004.

    After standing next to MLK 47 years ago when he delivered his “I have a Dream” speech, it must have been a dream come true for Height to be sitting on the podium last year when Barack Obama took his oath to become the first black president of the United States.  President Obama paid tribute to her yesterday by calling her:

    …the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement and a hero to so many Americans. (whitehouse.gov)

    According to CNN, Height, who never married, died of natural causes at Howard University Hospital on Tuesday. She was 98.

    Farewell Dorothy…

  • Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 5:19 AM

    Icelandic Volcano grounds air travel over Europe

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Six days ago, an Icelandic volcano with a name (Eyjafjallajoekull) nobody can pronounce erupted, spreading ash clouds all over Europe.  This forced airport authorities to ground tens of thousands of flights that were scheduled to land on or depart from this continent, stranding millions of passengers literally all over the world.

    And just when they thought it might be safe to fly again, the Associated Press reported yesterday that ash clouds from this still belching volcano could hamper travel for days, if not weeks, to come….

    But I hope I’ll be forgiven for not feeling too concerned about the disruptions and economic hardships this is causing.  After all, when Mother Nature unleashes her wrath upon my people down in the Caribbean with her hurricanes and earthquakes, it invariably results in death, destruction and dislocation of unspeakable proportions.

    Whereas, the only things those affected by her indigestion in this case have to complain about is having to sleep in airports or resort to trains, taxis and ferries to get home.

    But hell, how bad can it be when the British government has already dispatched the royal navy to rescue stranded Britons, and other governments are mobilizing similar efforts for their respective citizens?

    So instead of whining about missing home, or even worse that all important business meeting (webinar, videoteleconference…?), these folks would do well to get a little perspective.

    That said, my heart does go out to exporters in poor countries – from Asia to Africa – who are suffering irreparable economic losses because they are unable to fly their perishable exports to markets in Europe. I am especially concerned for people in these countries who might lose their subsistence jobs….

  • Monday, April 19, 2010 at 5:39 AM

    Tea Party craze

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I was amused by a cartoon recently, which depicts the members of the Tea Party, America’s latest political movement, as mostly resentful white folks who have been ginned up with existential fear by right-wing demagogues.

    The cartoon shows one of them reacting to the instruction to fill out this year’s Census form with a blue or black pen as if it were yet another attempt by the federal government (i.e., President Obama) to take away his freedom. So, to “take [his] country back,” he decides to fill it out with a red crayon, which symbolizes his infantile defiance.  This, I submitted, illustrates the utterly fatuous nature of most Tea Party protests.

    I am all too mindful, however, that the irrational rage depicted in this cartoon does not capture the racism that motivates most its members (a.k.a. tea baggers). Nothing demonstrates this quite like the fact that George W. Bush has done more than any other president to plunge the country into debt by launching an ill-advised war in Iraq and funding supply-side tax breaks for the super rich. And, more to the point, he was the one who socialized the US economy by bailing out rich bankers on Wall Street. Frankly, this liberal record makes President Obama’s move to save jobs in the auto industry and provide access to healthcare for poor people on Main Street seem, well, conservative. 

    Yet few, if any, of these folks ever took to the streets to protest against Bush the way they are protesting against Obama. Among other things, they’re accusing him of being “a socialist” who does not share their American values, and of running a “gangsta administration” that rammed healthcare reform down the throats of the American people.

    Never mind that, far from “taking away their freedoms,” Obama’s plans to save manufacturing jobs and lower taxes (even for the vast majority of Tea Party members) will give them greater freedom to pursue their happiness in every respect.  And the way they’re going on about their guns you’d think that Obama has proposed a law to ban them. In point of fact, he has not even hinted at restricting the use of firearms….

    This should expose the big lie behind their Tea-Party label, which is a plainly cynical attempt to co-opt the just cause of Boston revolutionaries whose iconic tax revolt in 1773 led to the War of Independence.

    In fact, this craze is nothing more than a shrewd and willful attempt to wrap naked racism in the so-called traditional values of limited government and lower taxes. Of course, there is precedence for this:

    For not so long ago, everyone from presidents to chief justices of the Supreme Court cited nothing less than the Constitution for the proposition that black Americans were not entitled to the same civil rights as white Americans. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that a significant number of white people are now buying into the proposition that a black man is not entitled to be president of the United States.

    This is why Tea Party agitators were (and still are) propagating all of the nonsense about Obama being a Muslim who was not even born in this country. And it is why they are doing all they can to undermine his presidency.

    Not to mention that stoking the simmering racial resentment of these folks makes good politics for the Republican Party (i.e., its Southern strategy) as well as good business for conservative talk radio and FOX News.  Why else would the governor of Virginia issue a proclamation to celebrate the glories of the Confederacy without bothering to mention that its racist determination to preserve and protect the institution of slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War?  And how else could Sarah Palin have racked up over $12 million less than a year after quitting her job as governor of Alaska?

    The only question is whether the Tea Party has any greater power to return America back to the halcyon days when segregation made the prospect of a black president impossible, than the KKK had to stop the inexorable force of the racial integration that made Obama’s election possible?

    It does not, ironically, in large measure because of the lessons of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. And, despite spreading anti-Obama fever with their incendiary rants about him taking away people’s freedoms and trampling over states’ rights, not even rabble-rousing demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck believe that the Tea Party poses any real threat to Obama’s presidency.

    Instead, for these pied pipers, all of this talk is just entertainment, and they use their artistic license to tell lies shamelessly…. 

    This is not to say that these Tea Party protests pose no danger.  In fact, in an interview on Friday commemorating the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, here’s how no less a person than former President Bill Clinton drew comparisons between the anger and resentment of tea baggers and those of right-wing extremists who were venting during his presidency:

    Before the bombing occurred, there was a sort of fever. The fabric of American life had been unraveling… There were more and more people having trouble figuring out where they fit nit … we see some of that today…

    This tea party movement can be a healthy thing if they are making us justify every dollar of taxes we raise and every dollar of money we’ve spent.  But when you get mad, sometimes you end up producing the exact opposite result of what you say you are for … words really do matter. (politico.com)

    Unfortunately, there’s nothing any government can do to protect us against a “lone wolf” like Timothy McVeigh.  I will note, however, that because of his act of terrorism, the FBI is doing a much better job of infiltrating right-wing, anti-government militias. 

    Because, on the one hand, the Tea Party just provides a venue for white, angry men – who feel the presumptions and prerogatives of their race are unraveling – to blow off steam. On the other hand, these militias actually train them for a day of reckoning when they can “take their country back” (to give back to the Indians, the original owners, perhaps…?). But the FBI proved its effectiveness in this respect by arresting 9 anti-government militiamen just a few weeks ago for plotting a guerilla war against law enforcement officers….

    This is why I am less worried about Tea-Party rhetoric escalating into acts of domestic terrorism than I am about that rhetoric inciting some wacko to channel John Wilkes Booth by attempting to assassinate Obama:

    Let us pray that as Obama begins to look more and more like the truly inevitable Democratic nominee (and the next president of the United States), his Secret Service bodyguards will redouble their efforts to protect him. Because the last thing America needs right now is another assassination that triggers all of the lost hope and incendiary rage of the killing of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr… combined!

    [Hillary wins New Hampshire; Defies pundits, but not her ill-fated destiny, TIJ, January 9, 2008]

    Ultimately, notwithstanding their protestations of political independence, when push comes to shove, I suspect tea baggers will turn out to be nothing more than temporarily insane Republicans. This means that – apart from forcing Republican politicians to pander to their neo-Confederate fantasies – their national impact will be marginal at best.

    In the meantime, though, one can be forgiven for thinking that the Tea Party constitutes a far greater political force. But this is only because the media devote a disproportionate amount of coverage to the antics of its members. And they do so of course for the same reason they provide blanket coverage of train wrecks and  freak shows: tea baggers make good television!

    Related commentaries:
    Party crashers exposes Obama’s vulnerability to would-be assassins

  • Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 6:59 AM

    An illustration of the utterly fatuous nature of Tea Party protests…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, April 16, 2010 at 5:39 AM

    Underdog wins Britain’s historic election debate

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In an event purportedly as historic as the first televised US presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon 50 years ago, the leaders of Britain’s three major parties – Labour’s  Gordon Brown, the Conservative’s David Cameron, and the Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg – engaged in the country’s first televised election debate in Manchester last night. 

    But just as it was with the Kennedy-Nixon debate, the winner, according to a YouGov post-debate poll, was not the candidate who made the best case for his leadership, namely Mr. Brown, but the one who looked most telegenic making his case, Mr. Clegg.

    This is not to say, however, that the debate was a total triumph of style over substance. For there was a fair amount of give and take among the candidates on substantive matters of policy, ranging from the economy to immigration and all domestic issues in between. More to the point, each of them demonstrated such command of their respective party’s talking points that one would be hard-pressed to declare a winner based solely on the merits. It was certainly not the “game changer” so many pundits and commentators predicted.

    That said, any Briton with only a remote interest in British politics must have found this overhyped debate inherently anticlimactic. After all, what made the first Kennedy-Nixon debate so historic was the fact that it was the first time the vast majority of Americans had ever seen or heard either one of them on TV.  By contrast, these candidates have become omnipresent on British TV (even sparring for the cameras on a regular basis during “Prime Minister’s Question Time”). This is why, for the vast majority of Britons, listening to them last night must have been like listening to ex-wives bitch for 90 minutes.

    Alas, this brings me back to the matter of style, and to why Clegg probably won.  He did a masterful job of staying above the fray and looking at ease (i.e., “presidential”). However, this must have been the debate strategy the American advisors both Cameron and Brown hired (from team Obama) wanted them to execute. Ironically, it was Clegg who ended up giving an Obama-like performance….

    But nothing was more effective during this debate than the way the underdog Clegg proselytized his party’s clean hands, saying, in effect, a pox on both your parties: not only for the MP expenses scandal that has brought parliament into such disrepute, but also for the banking crisis that nearly plunged the economy into the death throes of depression.  

    Meanwhile, far from looking at ease, Cameron seemed to be suffering an acute case of performance anxiety. He was touted as the best debater, but he looked shell shocked throughout – as if his makeup artist injected too much Botox in a vain effort to make him look good.

    For his part, at least Brown made up for his dour countenance and soporific voice by letting rip the only zinger of the night, accusing Cameron of airbrushing his policies the way he airbrushed his campaign posters. Moreover, by repeatedly saying, “we agree with Nick,” he shrewdly appealed to the critical mass of voters who are clearly hoping for a hung parliament on the one hand, while flattering Clegg who will be the king maker if (or when) it comes to forming a coalition government on the other.

    Finally, I found it particularly interesting to see both Brown and Clegg put Cameron on the defensive for retaining the notorious Lord Ashcroft as party paymaster. For only a month ago, Ashcroft was exposed as a “non-dom” who has been domiciled in the tax haven of Belize over the past decade. This enabled him to avoid paying taxes on income and capital gains on the more than one billion dollars he reportedly earned outside the UK during this period.

    I don’t have a dog in this fight. But I think it’s ridiculously premature to be writing Cameron’s political obituary because of his mediocre performance in this one debate. In fact, with all due respect to Clegg’s Obama-like performance, here’s what I wrote about Cameron’s Blair-like trajectory towards national leadership almost five years ago:

    This very English man has all the right stuff to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom… He is as young (at 39), telegenic, impudent, and glib as current PM Tony Blair was when he was catapulted to the leadership of the Labour Party at the politically precocious age of 41.

    And, if they stick to their let’s emulate Labour’s 1994 to 1997 playbook (1997 being the year Blair upset incumbent PM John Major to win his first election), it’s very likely that the Conservatives will be returned to government – with Cameron moving into No. 10 Downing Street – after the next general elections.

    [The next British prime minister, TIJ, December 7, 2005]

    Election Day is May 6. May the best man win….

    NOTE: Fellow Turks and Caicos Islanders should rest assured there will be no change in Britain’s commitment not only to clean up the political and economic mess in our country but also to fund the prosecution and asset recovery efforts now underway – even if there’s a change in government. For last month’s FAC report on the progress of these efforts reaffirms, beyond all doubt, Britain’s supervening legal and moral obligation to do so.

    Related commentaries:
    The next British PM
    Britain’s parliament of thieves

  • Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 5:32 AM

    Today is Tax Day: be afraid, be very afraid…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    This is my message to all Americans who are still hiding cash from the IRS in tax havens down in the Caribbean.  Because if the IRS can navigate its way through Switzerland’s labyrinthine secrecy laws to find tax cheats there, then it’s only a matter of time before they show up at offshore locations throughout this region to find you:

    Here, for instance, is how President Obama telegraphed his intent to deploy IRS agents on this seafaring mission to the Cayman Islands, where one building, the now notorious Ugland House, serves as headquarters for over 19,000 US-based corporations:

    That’s either the biggest building in the world or the biggest tax scam in the world. (Obama, bbc.com, March 31, 2009)

    On guard….

    Related commentaries:
    Swiss cave to IRS

  • Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 5:44 AM

    Polish Tragedy in Russia…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The scope and irony of this tragedy cannot be overstated:

    On Saturday, all members of a Polish delegation – comprised of political, military, and religious leaders – were killed in a plane crash on their way to a memorial service in the Katyn forest of Russia, where Josef Stalin’s secret police executed thousands of Polish military officers 70 years ago. In fact, there were no survivors among the 97 passengers on board.

    All of Poland is now in the midst of a week of mourning, which will culminate on Sunday with a state funeral for the president, Lech Kaczynski, and his wife Maria

    Kaczynski was held in such esteem by his peers around the world that President Obama interrupted a plenary session of the summit on nuclear security in DC yesterday to lead the 49 world leaders assembled in a moment of silence in his honor.

    Indeed, there can be no greater tribute in this respect than Obama usurping Vice President Biden’s ceremonial role by announcing that he will be leading the US delegation to attend Kaczynski’s funeral.

    Meanwhile, Poles can be forgiven their suspicions that “Russia engineered this crash,” given the Katyn massacre and, moreover, the post-war dominion the Russians (as masters of the Soviet Union) exercised over them. After all, they only managed to break that dominion in 1990, when  the Solidarity Movement led by Lech Walesa won political self-determination for the Polish people after a decade of non-violent civil agitation. But no one remained more leery of Russia’s totalitarian and imperial machinations, which continually fed these suspicions, than Kaczynski who:

    … vocally opposed what he branded as Russian “imperialism” in ex-Soviet states such as Georgia and Ukraine, even braving bullets during Moscow’s short war with Tbilisi in 2008 to show his solidarity with President Mikheil Saakashvili. (Reuters, April 11, 2010)

    Nevertheless, I have been impressed by the outpouring of sympathy among Russians.  And their sympathizer-in-chief has been none other than their neo-Stalinist prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who rushed to the crash site to join the Polish prime minister in paying respects and has vowed to oversee the investigation himself.

    This is our tragedy as well. We are grieving with you, our hearts go out to you. (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Reuters, ibid)

    More to the point, though, the irony of ironies is that this tragedy appears to have been caused, not by Russian treachery but by pilot error.  Specifically, the pilot made several attempts to land in dense fog near a Smolensk airport. Reports are that he was determined to land because of pressure from the president himself to get his delegation to the ceremony on time

    In doing so, however, the pilot was pointedly ignoring warnings by Belarusian air-traffic controllers to land elsewhere. Polish Prosecutor General Andrzej Seremet effectively confirmed this fateful error when he reported that:

    Polish investigators talked to the flight controller and flight supervisor and “concluded that there were no conditions for landing.” (ibid)

    An ironic tragedy indeed; but all indications are that it was just an accident.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to my Polish friends in America as well their compatriots back home in Poland during this week of national mourning.

    Related commentaries:
    Russia declares Georgian territories independent

  • Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 6:17 AM

    The Masters: Tiger returns impressive! He played pretty well too

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Corporate sponsors and media executives alike must be salivating with anticipation over the boon this scandal will deliver in television ratings once he returns. And trust me, there’ll be no shortage of corporations not only eager to replace any that dumps Tiger but also willing to pay even more for the privilege of having him as their spokesman.

    [Tiger escapes to “safe haven,” TIJ, December 14, 2009]

    Of course … no group will be happier to see him back on the links than his fellow players. Because, even though he routinely kicks their butts, they all have Tiger to thank for the millions in their bank accounts.

    So here’s to Tiger not only playing but actually winning The Masters … in expiating fashion.

    [Tiger’s back on the prowl, um, er, for golf titles that is, TIJ, March 12, 2010]

    [Author’s Note:  The above was published on Saturday at 6:17 am – midway through The Masters.  Below is today’s update.]

    Well, he didn’t win. 

    It is noteworthy, however, that Tiger has raised expectations about his winning ways to such a degree that many people are dismissing his fourth-place finish as a failure. Whereas, the fact that he was able to rise from his fall from grace to play that well, especially after a five-month layoff, I think was nothing short of remarkable.

    It’s just too bad that he made a mockery of his vow to not throw profane temper tantrums – along with his golf club – in disgust after hitting a bad shot.  Because he did just that on many occasions, and the media dutifully recorded and replayed, ad nauseam, such outbursts as, “Tiger you suck…goddamn it!”

    This, of course, left him open to the ironic, though inevitable, charge that he showed as much regard for this professional vow of good behavior as he did for his marital vow of fidelity….

    Even worse for Tiger’s now defiled image, however, was the appealing contrast presented by the classy and thrilling way Phil Mickelson won this championship. Not to mention the way he then celebrated by quietly embracing his cancer-stricken wife with tears streaming down his cheeks. 

    I just wish the image of the notoriously unfaithful John Edwards embracing his cancer-stricken wife did not intrude on my appreciation of this heart-warming moment.

    Related commentaries:
    Tiger escapes
    Tiger’s back on the prowl

  • Monday, April 12, 2010 at 8:25 AM

    Obama’s summit on nuclear security

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Barack Obama was the first non-white male to be elected president of the United States.

    He then became the first president to sign a universal healthcare bill, despite the heroic efforts of other presidents to do so for over 100 years.

    He then became the first president since Ronald Reagan to sign a significant nuclear reduction treaty with Russia. 

    And today, he has become the first president ever to host a summit on nuclear security. 

    This is a record any president would be proud to claim after a full term in office. Yet President Obama has already achieved all of this within the first two years of his presidency: a record of achievement that should erase all (reasonable) doubts about him becoming a transformative president “like Ronald Reagan.”

    Meanwhile, his two-day summit on nuclear security marks the first time since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 that so many world leaders (47) have answered the call of a US president to come to America to address one issue. Which is clearly a testament to his preeminent stature as a world statesman – much to the chagrin of the Tea-Party, Republican-nutjob detractors who are trying so desperately to undermine, if not delegitimize, his presidency.

    Having said all that, I have no idea what protocols these world leaders hope to come up with that will guarantee the security of all nuclear weapons and materials around the world. After all, I recall reading many credible reports about “loose nukes” proliferating as collateral damage with the disintegration of the Soviet Union during the 1990s.  

    Not to mention more recent reports about Pakistan’s notorious scientist, A.Q. Khan, selling that country’s nuclear technology like a commodity on the open market. This means, of course, that the leader of Pakistan has the most ‘splanin to do.

    In this respect, I think it was an egregious oversight that Obama did not even invite the leader of North Korea – who clearly has even more ‘splanin to do.  After all, where Iran has become a menace by playing chicken with Israel and the US with nukes it does not have, North Korea has become a pariah by playing a similar game with South Korea and the US with nukes it actually has. Besides, didn’t Obama run on a pledge to reach out to rogue states like North Korea….?   

    In any event, trying to implement global measures to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists like al Qaeda seems rather akin to trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.  But it’s a noble effort, and I wish Obama and his fellow leaders well …  for the sake of mankind. 

    Mr. Obama told reporters Sunday that terrorist organizations like al-Qaida are trying to secure nuclear weapons, and if they succeed it could change the global security landscape for years to come. He said terrorists would not hesitate to use those weapons. (VOANews.com, April 12, 2010)

    It is worth noting, though, that even if he only gets these leaders to sign on to a non-binding agreement, that would be far more than presidents from Bush Sr to Bush Jr – all of whom voiced concerns about the menacing threat of loose nukes – managed to do. 

    On the other hand, there’s a real chance that this summit will end up producing little more than political carping about what gives countries like the US the right to determine which countries  have the right to possess nuclear weapons.  Not least because of the glaring double standards that the US applies in Israel’s favor in this respect.  No doubt this is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled instead of showing up to face this carping….

    Apropos cancellations, anyone who can afford to cancel showing up for work in DC today and tomorrow would be wise to do so because most of the city is in literal lock-down, and the rest of it will be a virtual parking lot.

  • Friday, April 9, 2010 at 5:46 AM

    Russians treat Chávez like a rich fool

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin traveled to Venezuela a week ago today to sign a series of multibillion-dollar agreements with President-for-life Hugo Chávez. These agreements are purportedly aimed not only at helping Chávez build a space industry and develop a nuclear program but also at deepening military, energy and financial ties between their two countries.

    Of course, all of this would evoke unbridled laughter if it did not portend such unconscionable privations for the Venezuelan people. Nonetheless, the Obama administration could not resist this tongue-in-cheek take on Chávez’s foolhardy ambitions:

    We would note that the government of Venezuela was largely closed this week due to energy shortages. To the extent that Venezuela is going to expend resources on behalf of its people, perhaps the focus should be more terrestrial than extraterrestrial. (State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, nytimes.com, April 2, 2010)

    And here we all thought Chávez wanted to emulate former Cuban President Fidel Castro – by lording over a “socialist paradise” with enough petrodollars to fund cradle-to-grave welfare programs. Instead, it appears he wants to emulate North Korean President Kim Jung Il – by lording over a country with nothing to offer its people except military hardware and nuclear waste.

    This is why all of the talk about Chávez igniting an arms race in Latin America is patent nonsense; after all, that would require the leaders of countries like Columbia and Brazil to be foolish enough to begin spending more on their military than their economy too. And only that poor fool in Bolivia, President Evo Morales, seems inclined to follow Chávez over this cliff….

    Not to mention that the US will be all too prepared to supply any country in the region with enough conventional weapons (at cut-rate prices) to deter any threat posed by Venezuela’s stockpile of Russian-bought weapons. Indeed, this would present a strategic opportunity for the US to recycle the unprecedented inventory of excess weaponry that will undoubtedly pile up as it downsizes military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    On the other hand, given ongoing international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, does anyone think Venezuela stands a snowball’s chance in hell of even building a nuclear plant?!  Chávez may have no regard for the precedent set by the Cuban missile crisis but, trust me, the Russians do.

    Yet who can blame them for treating Chávez like a rich fool to be parted with his money (by selling him snowballs to take to hell … to complete the metaphor)? As for his space program, well, maybe he’s planning to finally develop that vacant space between his ears….

    More to the point, with all due respect to the Obama administration, here was my tongue-in-cheek take on Chávez’s delusions of military grandeur after Russian President Medvedev played him for a sucker two years ago, just like Putin played him again last week:

    [F]lush with cash from oil revenues, Chávez presented himself as just another fool looking to be parted with his money. In fact, as he was talking folly about forging a military alliance to take on the United States, the Russians were busy executing deals to supply Chávez with $5 billion worth of military hardware that they know will do nothing but grow moss in the Venezuelan jungle.

    [Chávez tries to resuscitate Cold War tensions between Russia and the US, TIJ, July 25, 2008]

    Ka-ching, ka-ching….

    Related commentaries:
    Chávez tries to resuscitate Cold War tensions

  • Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 5:32 AM

    Coal mine tragedies (in China and the US)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Statistics show that China’s coal mines are the deadliest in the world – with accidents killing 2,631 miners there last year. Therefore, it came as little surprise when 153 of them were trapped in a flooded mine two weeks ago. Miraculously, 115 have been rescued, but 33 remain unaccounted for (and must be presumed dead).

    What was most noteworthy about this latest tragedy, however, was the righteous indignation it incited among some American mining experts.

    For instance, I heard one of them on CNN asserting that Chinese authorities are so hell-bent on mining coal to fuel China’s booming economy that they couldn’t care any less about enforcing standards to ensure a safer work environment for miners. The implication being that American authorities put safety first by exerting far more rigorous oversight.

    But, as I listened to him last week, this expert seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the US has its own record of mining tragedies, including one in Utah in 1984 that killed 27 and another in West Virginia in 2006 that killed 12.

    Therefore, the tragic irony was not lost on me when news broke on Monday that tragedy had befallen miners in West Virginia … again. Specifically, there was a methane gas explosion that killed 25 and trapped 4 (who must be presumed dead despite ongoing efforts to “rescue” them). Even worse, reports are that the owner of this mine, Massey Energy Co., was cited over 600 times over the last 18 months for “unwarranted failure to comply with safety standards.”

    This clearly makes a mockery of any claim about providing a safe work environment for American miners. Moreover, it exposes the mining industry’s dirty little secret; namely, that Massey and other owners rake in so much from cutting corners that revenues from one day’s worth of extracted coal can literally pay off fines from thousands of safety citations.

    Not to mention their cynical practice of retaining lawyers to contest these citations, which results in the vast majority of them never even being paid.

    My father was a coal miner in West Virginia in the 1930s. He told me of running out of a coal mine as fine silty dust trailed behind him. It appears mining is NO safer now than it was then! (Member of a mining family commenting on ABC’s Good Morning America, abc.com, April 6, 2010)

    There’s no denying that China’s deadly record stems from carelessly putting it’s miners at risk to grow and sustain its superpower economy. But, in addition to demonstrating the inherent dangers of mining, this latest tragedy in the US also confirms that the motto of “profits over safety” applies as much here as it does in China.

    It should be noted, however, that miners in America receive high pay for the high risks they assume. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for their counterparts in china.

  • Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 5:34 AM

    Obama planting political seeds for success

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The title of this commentary might suggest a reference to the food garden that first lady Michelle Obama has grown into such an attraction at the White House.  But it is not.

    Instead, it refers to the fact that, within weeks after President Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, I found myself having to caution patience upon some of his liberal supporters.  I felt obliged to do this because they were already whining about Obama’s failure to implement some of the policies that are near and dear to their bleeding hearts. And their impatience in this respect has only been marginally pacified by Obama signing of “a watered down” healthcare bill a couple of weeks ago.

    But I got so fed up with their myopic complaints that I finally published a commentary entitled Obama’s swing right alienates left (November 9, 2009), in which I explained that:

    [F]ar too many liberals are being swayed by conservative spin about Obama’s domestic policy agenda being too unfocused and his foreign policy being too soft. Not to mention the political naiveté being displayed by those who are already calling him a “sellout”.

    After all, they fail to appreciate that Obama is merely planting political seeds this year (e.g., on the economy, healthcare, Iran and even in his dealings with rabidly partisan Republicans) that he reasonably expects will blossom (i.e., pay dividends) in due course: specifically, on domestic matters, before congressional elections in November 2010, and on foreign affairs, before his presidential reelection in 2012.

    Well, Obama’s writers must have read this. Because here’s how he used the final passage of the healthcare bill to lampoon the impatience of his critics and supporters alike during a town hall address last week:

    Every single day since I signed the reform law, there’s been another poll or headline that said, ‘Nation still divided on health care reform.  Polls haven’t changed yet.’

    Well, yeah. It just happened last week. It’s only been a week. Can you imagine if some of these reporters were working on a farm?  You planted some seeds, and they came out the next day, and they looked, and nothing’s happened! There’s no crop!  We’re going to starve!  Oh, no!  It’s a disaster!

    Touché: I couldn’t have said it better myself Mr. President.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama’s swing right

  • Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    Duke tops Butler 61-59 to win NCAA men’s championship

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have only two things to say about this year’s tournament:

    1. It seems every one – from seasoned sports analysts to President Obama, a self-proclaimed expert – failed to pick a single team that ended up in the Final Four, let alone picking Duke or Butler to win the championship.

    This should finally disabuse all of us of the rational expectation that the most talented team will win.  For, more than any other sporting event, the NCAA tournament seems susceptible to the triumph of emotion over talent.  What else explains Duke and Butler….

    2. Am I the only one who got the eerie sensation that I was watching a time-capsuled game from the 1950s; i.e., in the very early days of desegregation…? Frankly, it looked like an over-hyped high-school game, which had me  wondering if any of those white boys could even jump high enough to dunk….

    Meanwhile, does anybody care that UConn’s women’s team is about to complete a second-consecutive perfect season by winning another NCAA championship tonight?

    Objectively speaking, however, the biggest story in basketball this year is the way Connecticut (UConn) crowned a perfect season by winning the NCAA (women’s) championship last night in a rout over Louisville 76-54. Because UConn not only ended its season 39-0, its players were so dominant that they won each game with unprecedented ease by double digits.

    Now just imagine the hoopla if North Carolina [or Duke this year] had won its championship in such convincing fashion.

    [UConn routs Louisville…, TIJ, April 8, 2009]

    Well, they’re about to do it again. Yet they get no respect, not even from Obama !

  • Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 6:21 AM

    Steve Jobs: the P.T. Barnum of the information age

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Because, like Barnum, Jobs has proved with the launch of the iPad that there’s (still) a sucker born every minute.  Are you one of them….?

  • Saturday, April 3, 2010 at 6:39 AM

    Video games about rape are no worse than video games about murder !

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Western reporters and commentators were spewing moral indignation this week about Japanese adult “hentai games.” Specifically, they were condemning the marketing of an interactive video game entitled RapeLay, which challenges players to stalk and rape nubile girls to win.   

    Their lay reasoning of course was that these games not only desensitize players to rape but might even encourage them to act out their virtual exploits in reality.

    Which begs the question: why aren’t these indignant censors even more outraged by the marketing of American video games that challenge players to stalk and kill people to win…? 

    More to the point, though, if grownups get off on pretending to rape cartoon images on their computer screens, I say let them. For if the correlation between violent video games and murder has not led to a ban on those games, then calls for a ban on hentai rape games seem specious at best.

    My only complaint is that this game and other hentai porno (I did a little research for this piece…) invariably feature Caucasian, not Asian, girls.  What’s up with that?!

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