• Saturday, July 30, 2011 at 5:35 AM

    Governing concepts that mean absolutely nothing to Tea Party revolutionaries

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related commentaries:
    Game of chicken over US debt ceiling

  • Friday, July 29, 2011 at 5:43 AM

    Airbrushed models banned in the UK. Hallelujah!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With all of the focus lately on sublime issues like African famine, celebrity deaths and brinkmanship over the U.S. debt ceiling, perhaps this commentary on the ridiculous trend of airbrushing images of women will provide a welcome diversion.

    A female friend sent me an airbrushed photo of herself a couple days ago and asked what I thought. She’s a beautiful woman. Yet she frequently remarks on aging lines and wrinkles, as well as her imperceptibly disjointed nose and thin upper lip, all of which she considers facial flaws.

    In this photo, however, all of her purported flaws were gone. Therefore, I suppose she expected me to say that she looked, well, flawless.

    In fact, all I could think to say was that she looked like a Madame Tussauds wax work. Everything was just a little too perfect.

    This prompted a discussion on the proliferation of airbrushing of images in magazines and on the internet that make the notion of natural beauty seem quaint, or even anachronistic.

    As it happened, I had read a report in the Guardian earlier that day on the heroic and instructive decision by Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ban L’Oreal ads featuring actress Julia Roberts and “supermodel” Christy Turlington because they promoted “overly perfected and unrealistic images” of women.

    My friend seemed heartened when I told her about this decision, but insisted that it would have no impact on women’s aspirations to look like the women in those misleading ads: sad, but probably true….

    I am sensible enough to know, however, that it would take someone far more credentialed in sociology and psychology than I to disabuse even my own friend of such misguided aspirations.

    Therefore, I sufficed to suggest that any woman who thinks an airbrushed photo will help her enhance her sex appeal is only setting herself up for disappointment, or worse.

    That said, I will assert here that the deception inherent in airbrushing images is only a more high-tech form of the deception inherent in plastering one’s face with makeup. And nothing demonstrates this quite like magazine issues featuring celebrities “caught” without their masks, um, er, makeup.

    For what it’s worth, I would be irretrievably turned off if the difference between the way a woman looks the first time we go to bed and the way she looks after washing her face the next morning were like night and day.

    And don’t get me started on deceptive features like hair extensions and boob implants…. Yikes!

    Thank God I’m no longer playing the dating game.

    Related commentaries:
    Skinny model fired..
    .

  • Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 7:06 AM

    A Note on Amy Winehouse

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [Dear Readers,

    Yesterday I wrote a note on the passing of Amy Winehouse as a mere afterthought to my commentary on the passing of Lucian Freud. Yet I suppose I should not have been surprised by the passions my note inflamed.

    Many of you found it “ignorant”, “disrespectful”, “unfair”, and “mean-spirited”. With respect, however, this compels me to suggest that you either misread my note or that “you can’t handle the truth!” Whatever the case, I am reprising it for reconsideration … and clarification.

    ALH]

    _____________________

    Based on emails I’ve received in recent days, many of you probably expected me to publish a tribute to the drug-addled Amy Winehouse, who died on Saturday.

    But I’m not writing about her all too predictable death for the same, obvious reason I would not bother writing about Charlie Sheen’s if he were to die today.

    Frankly, there was nothing unique or pioneering about Amy Winehouse. Admittedly, she had a great, soulful voice … for a white girl. But a blue-eyed soul sister named Teena Marie had already been there and done that. Not to mention her own peers like Lady Gaga, Adele, and Joss Stone….

    In fact, the only thing that really distinguished Amy, and contributed to her celebrity, was her apparent determination to follow the self-destructive path to early death that was trail blazed by more accomplished artists like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain.

    The fact that, like them, she died at age 27 is not reason enough to imbue her with the legendary status they earned. And it seems a dubious honor at best that her death accords her membership in the macabre “27 Club“.

    Her life was a train wreck just waiting to happen. And, truth be told, many fans now mourning her death found this perversely entertaining. Simply put, her popularity and album sales had almost as much to do with her fucked-up lifestyle as with her smoke-tuned voice.

    Like Marilyn Monroe, she was discovered by one of her employees sprawled out dead in her London apartment. Her toxicology report is pending. But since foul play has been ruled out and a 27-year-old hardly ever drops dead of natural causes, it’s reasonable to deduce that her death was drug and/or booze related.

    May she rest in peace.

  • Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    Lucian Freud, realist painter, is dead. (So is Amy Winehouse…)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In this age of pop music, hip hop, Twitter, Facebook and even Google doodles, I fully appreciate that the notion of an old portrait artist being a celebrity seems rather quaint. Yet there’s no denying that artist Lucian Freud was an A-list celebrity.

    Granted, the fact that he was the grandson of one of the most celebrated men of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud, had a great deal to do with his popularity. But Lucian’s celebrity was also greatly enhanced by the fact that he was so utterly disdainful of the media outlets other artists rely on to cultivate their celebrity status. Actually, the more he shunned fame, the richer, more famous and honored he became. In this truly enviable respect only Greta Garbo was his peer.

    Then, of course, there was his remarkable talent. With him, the portrait was the thing. And it spoke volumes that each one generated as much media buzz in the art world as a Lindsay Lohan court appearance generates in la-la land.

    What made his fully-body, often naked portraits so unique and therefore coveted was the way he eschewed all of the tricks other artists used to flatter their subjects. Instead, he seemed particularly interested in capturing on canvas all of the insecurities they harbored about their looks – with bags under the eyes, double chins, love handles, and cellulite all figuring quite prominently.

    Yet never was ugliness so beautiful than when it was painted by Lucian Freud.

    I like it if people say very contradictory things about my work: ‘It’s very ugly.’ ‘It’s very beautiful.’

    (Freud as quoted by The Washington Post, July 22, 2011)

    Perhaps this sojourn, with every stroke, into the deep recesses of the psyche of those he chose to sit on his couch was an unwitting way of paying homage to his grandfather.

    But it was indeed a privilege to be laid bare by him. For nothing increased his professional reputation quite like refusing requests by such notables as Princess Diana and Pope John Paul II to be painted.

    Apropos of this, though, I am constrained to wonder if racism had anything to with the subjects he chose. After all, insofar  as I can tell, the only thing black he ever painted was the black eye he sported in one of his very famous self-portraits (pictured above left). He produced hundreds of works, so I could be wrong. Therefore, I invite anyone to disabuse me of this impression.…

    Anyway, to give you a sense of how coveted and valuable his paintings were / are, consider that one of them, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” (pictured above right), was sold for $33.6 million at auction in 2008. And since nothing increases the value of a work of art quite like the artist dying, owners of his paintings are sitting pretty well today.

    Lucian Freud died a week ago today in London. He was 88.

    Farewell, Lucian.

    Special note on Amy Winehouse

    Based on emails I’ve received in recent days, many of you probably expected me to publish a tribute to the drug-addled Amy Winehouse, who died on Saturday.

    But I’m not writing about her all too predictable death for the same, obvious reason I would not bother writing about Charlie Sheen’s if he were to die today.

    Frankly, there was nothing unique or pioneering about Amy Winehouse. Admittedly, she had a great, soulful voice … for a white girl. But a blue-eyed soul sister named Teena Marie had already been there and done that. Not to mention her own peers like Lady Gaga, Adele, and Joss Stone….

    In fact, the only thing that really distinguished Amy, and contributed to her celebrity, was her apparent determination to follow the self-destructive path to early death that was trail blazed by more accomplished artists like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain.

    The fact that, like them, she died at age 27 is not reason enough to imbue her with the legendary status they earned. And it seems a dubious honor at best that her death accords her membership in the macabre “27 Club“.

    Her life was a train wreck just waiting to happen. And, truth be told, many fans now mourning her death found this perversely entertaining. Simply put, her popularity and album sales had almost as much to do with her fucked-up lifestyle as with her smoke-tuned voice.

    Like Marilyn Monroe, she was discovered by one of her employees sprawled out dead in her London apartment. Her toxicology report is pending. But since foul play has been ruled out and a 27-year-old hardly ever drops dead of natural causes, it’s reasonable to deduce that her death was drug and/or booze related.

    May she rest in peace.

  • Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 5:24 AM

    UPDATE: President and Speaker give dueling TV addresses on debt ceiling

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Last night President Obama (for the Democrats) and House Speaker John Boehner (for the Republicans) gave back-to-back, nationally televised addresses on the stalemate in negotiations to raise the government’s debt ceiling to avoid default as well as the economic Armageddon that would trigger. But anyone hoping to hear anything that would indicate a resolution to this looming crisis is at hand would have been sorely disappointed.

    In fact all each of them did was spout off to a prime-time audience the same talking points they’ve been proselytizing during daily dueling press conferences for months.

    I finally weighed in on this farce just yesterday. I urge you to read that commentary in full – not least because it is more informative and insightful than the addresses Obama and Boehner delivered last night.

    But here, in part, is how I framed the problem:

    Republicans … consider the notion of any compromise with Democrats, which is inherent and absolutely necessary in a democracy, tantamount to treason.

    (Washington’s political food fight over debt ceiling, The iPINIONS Journal, July 25, 2011)

    Decrying the “3-ring-circus” in which he has been ring master, here, in part, is how Obama framed it:

    The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government… They’re fed up with a town where compromise has become a dirty word… If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.

    (Associated Press, July 25, 2011)

    Here, in part, is how Boehner framed it:

    The president has often said we need a ‘balanced’ approach, which in Washington means we spend more, you pay more… The sad truth is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today. That is just not going to happen.

    (Associated Press, July 25, 2011)

    You can be forgiven for thinking that Democrat is Democrat, and Republican is Republican, and never the twain shall meet. And no less a person than Speaker Boehner himself indicated this was the case when he flatly rejected any prospect of Republicans compromising in their dealings with Democrats in a December 2010 interview on 60 Minutes.

    But l reiterate my informed belief that, even though they will probably do nothing to fix the structural problems that give rise to recurring budget deficits and an ever-escalating national debt, these kabuki-dancing, game-of-chicken-playing politicians will find a way to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default.

    Related commentaries:
    Washington’s political food fight

  • Monday, July 25, 2011 at 8:00 AM

    Washington’s political food fight over the debt ceiling

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I appreciate that many of you are surprised, if not disappointed, that I have not commented on the ongoing bickering between Republicans (led by House Speaker John Boehner) and Democrats (led by President Barack Obama) over raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling.

    Truth be told, I’ve just been loath to dignify the sausage-making process these politicians are engaged in with any comment. But it’s becoming a little like ignoring the proverbial white elephant (and white donkey) in the room.

    So here’s my two cents worth:

    The U.S. has raised its debt ceiling 74 times since 1962, including seven times during the previous presidency of George W. Bush. The U.S. has done this whenever there was a risk of its revenues falling short of its debt obligations. It’s rather like having the ability to raise your own credit card limit to pay your bills whenever the amounts owed exceed your personal income/savings. And just as you would probably abuse this option, the U.S. government has done so with reckless abandon (printing money without any real concern about making structural changes to stop piling up its debts).

    So why all the fuss this time? Well, that’s the $14.3 trillion dollar question; and the answer depends on whether you’re asking a Republican or a Democrat:

    Republicans insist that, despite customary practice, the time has finally come to put America’s fiscal house in order. But they are being insanely dogmatic in their insistence that the only way to do this is to cut spending on entitlement programs that generally benefit the poor and middle class. This, while refusing to raise any taxes on the rich – not even to close loopholes that give them tax breaks for using their corporate jets.

    Republicans, of course, are all too mindful that the Tea Party’s clarion call to reduce the national debt and balance the budget is what marshaled voters to give the Democrats a “shellacking” in midterm elections last year. Therefore, they consider honoring this call an article of political faith (or a matter of political survival). More to the point, they consider the notion of any compromise with Democrats, which is inherent and absolutely necessary in a democracy, tantamount to treason.

    Ominously, these born-again Tea Partiers do not seem the least bit bothered by the scientific certainty (based on warnings by Moody’s and other rating agencies) that failure to raise the debt ceiling would destroy the hallowed “full, faith and credit” of the United States. This would plunge the country into default for the first time in history and trigger a global financial crisis that would look more like 1929 than 2008. Nevertheless, for them, it seems the only thing more devoutly to be wished than this economic Armageddon is the religious Armageddon they’re so fond of preaching about.

    I warned it would be thus:

    It’s troubling enough that Tea Partiers think that they can go to Washington and get things done without working with any Democrat, including the president. But to have someone like Sen. John McCain actually fueling this fallacy is a recipe for partisan gridlock the likes of which Washington has never seen before….

    (Elections becoming freak show contests, The iPINIONS Journal, October 19, 2010)

    Democrats agree that the time has come to get America’s fiscal house in order. But they are quick to remind Republicans that the last time it was in order was when a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, stood firm on the balanced approach of cutting spending and raising taxes (i.e., an informed compromise) that President Obama is now proposing.

    This is why Democrats insist that, given customary practice, it’s demonstrably clear that Republicans are creating an economic crisis merely to further the only agenda they’ve had since Obama was elected: to destroy his presidency.

    Well that is true, making Obama a one-term President is my single most important political goal along with every active Republican in the country.

    (GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, FOX News, July 10, 2011)

    Frankly, it is clear to any reasonable person that Obama and the Democrats have the far more sensible position. Not least because Republicans are proposing the same fiscal policies that turned the billions in budget surpluses that Clinton left behind into the billions in deficits that Bush left. Unfortunately, negotiating with Republicans these days is rather like negotiating with suicide bombers. Yet, despite this kabuki dance (or game of chicken – complete with dueling daily press conferences), I have no doubt that the debt ceiling will be raised before the August 2 deadline.

    Beyond this, though, the best way to prevent this spectacle of partisan bickering and gridlock becoming a permanent feature of American politics is for the American people to re-elect Obama and give him a veto-proof Democratic majority in both houses of Congress in general elections next year.

    Alternatively, they can do McConnell’s bidding and throw him out of office. In which case it behooves them to also give the new Republican president a veto-proof Republican majority in both houses; otherwise, Democrats would surely do to that Republican president what Republicans are doing to Obama.

    Having said all that, it seems clear that what troubles many Republicans is not the national debt, but the fact that Obama is the first black president of the United States. None of them would admit this of course.

    But there probably isn’t a single black politician in the country who does not believe this. And no doubt it was untenable frustration in this respect that led one of them to call this spade a spade on the floor of Congress recently:

    I am particularly sensitive to the fact that only this president, only this president, only this one has received the kind attacks and disagreements and inability to work; only this one. Read between the lines. What is different about this president that should put him in a position that he should not receive the same kind of respectful treatment of when it is necessary to raise the debt limit in order to pay our bills, something required by both statute and the 14th amendment? I hope someone will say that what it appears to be is not in fact accurate. But historically it seems to be nothing more.

    (Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) The Hill, July 15, 2011)

    Regular readers will attest to the fact that I have often criticized black politicians for playing the race card. But the only ones who have done so since Obama was elected have been white Republicans. Their brazen objective is to undermine his authority and delegitimize his presidency.

    They have tried to do this, among other things, by making absurd claims about him being a Muslim who was born in Africa. Not to mention the insidious racial contempt that made them think it’s suddenly okay to disrupt the president’s State of the Union Address by shouting out jeers like, “You lie!”

    So if you think it’s just a coincidence that Washington under this (first black) president is the most polarized it has been since the Civil War, you’re whistling Dixie.

    Related commentaries:
    Why I’m so utterly dismissive of the Tea Party
    Elections becoming freak show contest
    Nutjob Republicans…defeat bailout bill

  • Saturday, July 23, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    Norway’s Timothy McVeigh perpetrates national massacre

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    UPDATE
    (Sunday, July 24 at 4:40 pm)

    His motive

    As I indicated in my original commentary below, expecting psychopaths to have a reasonable explanation for their behavior is oxymoronic. And the explanation this one is proffering for his rampage only reinforces this point.

    According to his self-published manifesto (and no psycho worth his salt would be caught dead without one these days: remember the Unabomber’s?), he did it to take revenge against white Europeans for betraying their heritage by supporting immigration from African and Muslim countries. Of course, if this anti-Muslim, white supremacist had any balls, he would have gone to a Black Muslim country in West Africa, where many of the people he hates emigrated from, and carried out his one-man Christian crusade there.

    Ironically, Norway’s justice system is so humane that he’ll probably be released from prison within 20 years, still in the prime of his life. At least in America his victims would have derived some consolation and “closure” from seeing him fried in the electric chair, which was the “inhumane” punishment McVeigh received.

    Of course, it’s easy to have humane laws if one’s society is relatively free of violent crimes and mass murders like this. I have to think that Norway will now re-examine its view of crime and punishment with a view towards amending laws to ensure, not that he is executed, but that he spends the rest of his life in prison.

    NOTE: The police have revised the death toll down to 76 (8 in Oslo and 68 on Utoya island).

    _____________________

    Islamic jihadists have instilled such terror in people all over the world that whenever there’s a bombing anywhere we immediately think “oh, oh, another 9/11”.

    What far too many of us forget, however, is that long before al-Qaeda terrorists struck the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in DC, a good ol’ American boy named Timothy McVeigh struck a government building in Oklahoma, making it painfully clear that, when it comes to terrorism, we have as much to fear from domestic/Christian terrorists as from foreign/Muslim ones.

    Well, now it seems Norway has been struck by this latter form of home-grown terrorism. For preliminary reports are that a man as native to Norway as McVeigh was to the USA perpetrated what is being described as that country’s 9/11.

    Specifically, a 32-year-old Norwegian has been linked to a massive bomb blast at the offices of the prime minister and other government officials that killed seven in Oslo yesterday. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was not among the casualties.

    Even more tragic, this same Norwegian has been identified as the “lone wolf” who, disguised as a police officer, opened fire a few hours later at a political youth camp on an island 50 miles north of Oslo, killing more than 80.

    When the police finally arrived on the island – one and a  half hours after he began shooting these kids like sitting ducks – this coward surrendered without putting up any resistance. He may be psychotic, but he’s clearly sensible enough to appreciate that in order to fully enjoy his 15 minutes of infamy, he had to be taken alive.

    I don’t know why the media always reward these psychopaths by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds?

    You’d think that – given the record of these psychotic and vainglorious episodes since Columbine – we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the shooter to: May God have mercy on your soul as you burn in hell!

    (Massacre in Omaha, The iPINIONS Journal, December 7, 2007)

    More to the point though:

    It must be understood that no matter their collective resolve, there’s absolutely nothing law enforcement officials can do to prevent such attacks.

    (London 7/7 terrorist attacks, The iPINIONS Journal, July 8, 2005)

    But let this be a reminder that we do not need al-Qaeda when one of “our own” can visit such devastating terror – the worst gun rampage by a single man in history – upon us.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Norway.

    Related Articles:
    7/7 terror attacks in London
    Massacre in Omaha
    Massacre at Virginia Tech

  • Friday, July 22, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    Somalia: another famine and drought crisis in Africa

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I know, I know: reading about the scourge of famine and drought in Africa is like reading about the menace of guns and drugs in America. And, truth be told, I harbor no illusions that anything I write will have any bearing on the looming fate of millions who are now competing with wild animals for food and water.

    (Kenya facing famine and drought of biblical proportions, The iPINIONS Journal, September 21, 2009)

    This is how I began my appeal for donations to aid international efforts to combat famine and drought in Kenya two years ago. Clearly, even back then, my frustration with, if not cynicism about, this recurring theme in Africa was unbridled.

    This paled in comparison, however, to my abiding humanitarian concern for the innocent victims of this and the other myriad plagues – far too many of them anthropomorphic (i.e., caused by wars) – that have beset this Dark Continent from time immemorial.

    So here I am, once again, begging for donations for yet another African country facing a humanitarian catastrophe. It’s bad enough that Somalia is a failed state at war with itself. But I’m also acutely mindful that it hardly evokes much sympathy given everything from the legacy of “Black Hawk Down” to the menace Somali pirates now pose on the High Seas.

    Yet if the U.S. and other nations can launch a war (purportedly) to save thousands of innocent lives in Libya, surely they can donate funds to save millions of innocent lives in Somalia. (In fact, famine and drought are ravaging much of the Horn of Africa, which also includes Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan.)

    An estimated 10 million people have been affected in East Africa by the worst drought in more than half a century. More than 166,000 desperate Somalis are estimated to have fled their country to neighbouring Kenya or Ethiopia. The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said $300m (£186m) was needed to address the famine in the next two months

    (The BBC, July 20, 2011)

    Ghana’s former president Jerry Rawlings is arguably the most admired and respected leader in Africa today – except of course for a now very frail Nelson Mandela. He now serves as the African Union’s High Representative for Somalia. Here is how he reconciled my cynicism and concern, which I suspect most of you share, in his appeal for aid:

    A potential disaster is staring us in the face. The world must now focus on tackling this unfolding catastrophe if we are to prevent further needless loss of life. [I call on the international community to] demonstrate compassion for Somalia. Its people should not be viewed through the prism of the country’s long conflict.

    Prejudice or fatigue on account of the last twenty years would only serve as deterrents or impediment to the delivery of help. We must instead see the millions of men, women and children who are the innocent victims of this situation.

    (Ghana News Agency, 20 July, 2011)

    Instead of waiting for governments to act, however, there’s something you can do right now:  Experts from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are leading relief efforts.  Please visit their website and make a donation to help them scale up their efforts: wfp.org

    Related commentaries:
    Kenya facing drought and famine
    Jerry Rawlings

  • Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 5:21 AM

    UPDATE on UK phone hacking: the Parliamentary hearings

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Professionals in the Northeast were as tuned in to Tuesday’s Parliamentary hearings as soccer moms in the Midwest were tuned in to Sunday’s World Cup match. Where watching the match was a thrill a minute, however, watching the hearings was like watching white paint dry – with the only moment of excitement coming when a fly lands to take a shit.

    But in my commentary previewing these hearings I predicted that the Murdochs and Brooks would do little more during their appearance than convey contrition:

    Let me just say one sentence: This is the most humble day of my life.

    This was how Rupert set the tone. It seemed terribly contrived when he interrupted James’s opening remarks to say this. But there’s no gainsaying that his body language spoke of a man—looking every bit his 80 years—who has been truly humbled by these developments.

    In any event, this did not prevent him from insisting, according to script, that he knew nothing about the phone hacking. Nor did it prevent him from throwing unnamed News Corp executives under the bus, insisting that they let him down, that they betrayed him, and that they alone should “pay”. He made it clear, however, that he was not referring to his son or to Brooks, both of whom he implied were also betrayed.

    In their own defense, James and Rebekah also insisted that they had no knowledge of, or complicity in, any wrongdoing at NOTW. Duh….

    Accordingly, the fly-landing moment came when Rupert’s third wife, a Chinese-born 42-year-old named Wendi, leapt to his defense by landing a volleyball-like spike on the butterball head of a well-known prankster who attempted to smash a shaving-cream pie in his face.

    Wendi is being universally praised – as if she were a tiger mom pouncing to protect her cub. But I can’t help thinking that she would not have felt compelled to do so if she were not married to a feeble old man – 38 years her senior – who clearly could not defend himself. Call me old-fashioned, but I would feel emasculated if my wife felt the need to protect me from a pie-wielding assassin.

    Frankly, this episode only reinforced the fact that Rupert is just another rich old fool who thinks his gold-digging trophy wife married him for love.  But I digress….

    Not surprisingly, the media are spending more time reporting on who got creamed than on anything the witnesses said, which only demonstrates how truly un-newsworthy these hearings were. You’d think, though, that they would do a little reporting on the very serious security lapse this interruption represented.

    But am I the only one who smells something fishy about this distraction?  After all, it beggars belief that this guy, who was clearly dressed like a misfit in this setting (he was wearing a plaid, clownish shirt for Christ’s sake!), could get through Parliament’s phalanx of security with a foam pie in his possession, and then blithely walk past everyone in the select committee room and sock Rupert the way he did….

    In any case, I will publish no more commentaries on this scandal unless the Justice Department uncovers similar phone hacking in America, which would make the Murdoch’s troubles in England seem like a petty consumer complaint by comparison.

    Related commentaries:
    UK phone-hacking scandal

  • Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    UK phone-hacking scandal: Resignations, a beleaguered PM, summonses and a dead body…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Dear Readers

    I apologize for the technical difficulties that prevented many of you from accessing this site yesterday. Because of this, I have decided to reprise yesterday’s post, which was published at 5:17 am. I appreciate your patience. Thank you.

    ALH

    ___________________

    I know this story is playing out like a television drama series: Dallas or Dynasty comes to mind. But I’m eschewing the tabloid (or Twitter) impulse to comment on every episode. Instead, as related commentaries linked to below will attest, I’m only doing so when truly pivotal events occur – as was the case over the past 48 hours.

    Who polices the police?

    (BBC News, July 18, 2011)

    This is the central question Home Secretary Theresa May posed and answered during a statement to Parliament yesterday. Most notably, she announced an official inquiry into the corrupt relationship between the police and media that facilitated phone hacking on “an industrial scale” – as former PM Gordon Brown, himself a target of it, remonstrated.

    She also announced that the country’s two top cops, Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson (left) and Assistant Commissioner John Yates, both resigned within the past 24 hours so that Scotland Yard could begin the process of regaining the public’s trust. But nobody doubts they were effectively fired: Stephenson for hiring a former Murdoch crony to do PR work for the metropolitan police, and Yates for whitewashing a police investigation into complaints of phone hacking back in 2009.

    As I lamented in my original commentary, the most troubling aspect of this scandal is the extent to which the police were complicit in such egregious wrongdoing. Getting fired therefore is a small price to pay for their failures in this context.

    Meanwhile, just as this scandal is becoming an albatross around the neck of Murdoch’s business empire, it is also becoming one around the neck of PM David Cameron’s political career. Indeed, speculation is rife that daily revelations about the ‘cozy relationships” he nurtured with executives at News Corp may force him to resign in due course too:

    He reportedly spent Christmas with Rebekah Brooks, the ex-NOTW editor who was forced to resign on Friday as head of all of Murdoch’s UK newspapers; and, like Commissioner Stephenson, he hired Murdoch crony Andy Coulson – who presided as editor of the rogue and now defunct NOTW during the years when much of the phone hacking at issue occurred – as director of communications for 10 Downing Street. This, despite early, private warnings from journalists at the Guardian – who finally exposed the full extent of phone hacking at the NOTW and are becoming the Woodward and Bernstein of the UK – that Coulson was up to his eyeballs in this unfolding scandal.

    So it was bad enough for him when Coulson was arrested on July 8. But then came Brooks’s arrest on Sunday (bringing to 10 the number of News Corp executives who have been arrested since this scandal broke two weeks ago). This latest arrest bodes especially ill for Cameron because he nurtured an even cozier relationship with her, which included attending a Christmas party at her home last December. Even worse, reports are that he was so deferential to the media power Brooks wielded that he hired Coulson merely to curry favor with her.

    All the same, Cameron is clearly doing everything necessary to hang on to his job – even if only by the skin of his teeth. And he will. The pivotal moment in this respect came last week when he stood in Parliament and issued a fulsome and abject apology for getting in bed with Coulson and Brooks. And nothing demonstrates how determined he is to ride out this scandal, instead of being ridden over by it, quite like the way he cut short his state visit to South Africa—not just to attend the special session of Parliament he called for tomorrow, but also to take credit for the two high-profile resignations at Scotland Yard.

    We have helped to ensure a large and properly resourced police investigation that can get to the bottom of what happened, and wrongdoing, and we have pretty much demonstrated complete transparency in terms of media contact.

    (Cameron, Associated Press, July 18, 2011)

    Now comes today’s scheduled appearance by Rupert, his son James (chairman of British Sky Broadcasting), and Brooks before the Parliamentary select committee investigating this matter, which the media are hyping as if it were high noon at the O.K. Coral.

    They were summoned to testify about what they knew and when they knew it. But just as it always is with congressional hearings in the U.S., I suspect we will be treated more to political grandstanding by the committee members than to incriminating revelations by the witnesses.

    In fact, besides sticking to their say-nothing scripts and emulating Cameron’s public contrition, I fully expect them to insist that the ongoing investigation into their alleged criminal misconduct by the now thoroughly discredited Scotland Yard precludes them from answering any difficult questions. This is too rich with irony.

    Yet I’m willing to bet that it’s only a matter of time before James goes the way of Brooks; i.e., by being forced to resign and then getting arrested. Because I can’t imagine Coulson and Brooks falling on their sword for him; especially since all indications are that he not only knew about the phone hacking years ago, but was the paymaster behind News Corp’s efforts to buy the silence of anyone who could expose it. In any case, his unwitting  proffer of willful blindness cannot possibly sustain him through all of the criminal and civil proceedings he now faces.

    On the other hand, Rupert will escape arrest (if only because he really can plausibly deny having any clue). But the way News Corp is hemorrhaging market value ($8 billion and counting), he’ll be lucky to retain control of “his company”. That hemorrhaging will become a BP gusher if the congressional and law-enforcement investigations that are now underway in the U.S. uncover evidence that his new-age journalists also hacked the phones of Americans, especially the relatives of 9/11 victims as is being alleged.

    Murdoch has been at the head of News Corp and its Australian predecessors since 1952, and he and his family have maintained an iron grip on the company ever since. Yet, citing two anonymous sources, Bloomberg writes that people within the company ‘have begun questioning the company’s response to the crisis and whether a leadership change is needed.’

    (Huffington Post, July 18, 2011)

    Finally, the whispers about a cover up became outright screams yesterday after the dead body of Sean Hoare, the NOTW reporter who blew the whistle on his tabloid’s phone-hacking criminal enterprise, was found in his home. I drew immediate parallels with the shocking suicide of the scientist, David Kelly, who blew the whistle on efforts by the government of former PM Tony Blair to “sex up” its dossier on WMDs to justify the UK joining the U.S.-led coalition to invade Iraq.

    In this case, Hoare revealed that his erstwhile close friend and former boss Coulson was not only aware of the phone-hacking by NOTW journalists, but actively encouraged them to use this illegal device to gather highly profitable, exclusive scoops.

    I suspect, however, that, Hoare either died of a sudden heart attack or killed himself because he could not handle the stress of his new-found and fast-growing notoriety. In other words, I’m not buying into suspicions of foul play. After all, Coulson, Brooks and (James) Murdoch might have been stupid and arrogant enough to think they could get away with phone hacking, but even they (and anyone else who fears being implicated) must appreciate that it’s impossible to cover up their misdeeds by killing everyone, including police officers, who might now decide to confess and finger others to save their own hides….

    Stay tuned….

    Related commentaries:
    PM Brown fuels public anger against

  • Monday, July 18, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    Japan defeats U.S. to win World Cup

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Now, after defeating France (3-1) in seemingly invincible fashion on Wednesday, the media are heaping praise upon them and stoking grand expectations for a national victory on Sunday when the U.S. plays Japan for the World Cup championship. Japan advanced after defeating Sweden (3-1) in equally invincible fashion also on Wednesday…

    Even so, my underdog sentimentality is such that I’ll be pulling for Japan; not least because, after this year’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, the Japanese can really do with a good shot of national pride.

    Go Japan!

    (Belated, fickle interest in Women’s World Cup, The iPINIONS Journal, July 15, 2011)

    Clearly I’m delighted Japan won; although, I suspect even those who were cheering for the U.S. are not too devastated. Hell, even the U.S. players don’t seem upset:

    If any other country was to win this, then I’m really happy and proud for Japan. Deep down inside I really thought it was our destiny to win it. But maybe it was Japan’s.

    (U.S. player Carli Lloyd, USATODAY, July 18, 2011)

    But talk about missed opportunities … literally. The U.S. easily outplayed Japan for virtually 98% of the match. This was highlighted by the fact that the U.S. had almost four times as many direct shots on goal, yet ended up at the end of regulation and extra time in a 2-2 tie with Japan.

    Then Japan just seemed to be fulfilling its destiny as it easily defeated the U.S. 3-1 in the penalty shootout to win the championship. Indeed, nothing demonstrates what a matter of manifest destiny this was quite like Japan’s record of 25-consecutive losses to the U.S. in previous matches. In other words, the U.S. women choked! (It is also interesting to note that the U.S. won its celebrated 1999 World Cup by defeating China 5-4 in a penalty shootout. Turnabout, as we say, is fair play.)

    More to the point, though, if ever there were a sporting event that transcended sport, this World Cup match was it. But I see no point in belaboring the obvious reasons for, or the prescience of, my sentimental pick.

    Therefore I shall suffice to congratulate Japan on winning its first World Cup. No doubt this will do more to restore this country’s ravaged national pride than any rebuilding effort.

  • Saturday, July 16, 2011 at 7:14 AM

    Debate on U.S. debt limit: the pragmatist vs the ideologues…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, July 15, 2011 at 5:11 AM

    Belated, fickle interest in Women’s World Cup

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It would be easy to blame media focus on stories like the Casey Anthony murder trial, the UK phone-hacking scandal, or even the political bickering over America’s debt ceiling for the relative lack of coverage of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. This quadrennial soccer tournament has actually been playing out over the past few weeks.

    Truth be told, however, it did not take competition from sensational news stories for the media to ignore this event. After all, the media almost always give women’s sports short shrift. And since soccer is among the least popular of all professional sports in America, it gets virtually no coverage at all.

    For example, basketball is easily the most popular women’s sport, but the WNBA playoffs get only a fraction of the coverage that is routinely lavished on the NBA playoffs. More to the point, though, what little coverage soccer gets mostly goes to men’s matches – which relatively generous media coverage of last year’s FIFA Men’s World Cup in South Africa demonstrated.

    That said, international sports competition incites so much jingoism that the media would lavish coverage on a women’s Curling team if it were about to win a World or Olympic championship. No doubt this is why women’s soccer is suddenly getting the most coverage it has had since the U.S. women’s team won the World Cup in 1999.

    For, even though this year’s team won a number of thrilling matches in the early rounds, the media – led, interestingly enough, by the women of The Viewdid not begin significant coverage until after the women defeated perennial powerhouse Brazil in the quarterfinals, which was highlighted by a dramatic penalty shootout.

    Now, after defeating France (3-1) in seemingly invincible fashion on Wednesday, the media are heaping praise upon them and stoking grand expectations for a national victory on Sunday when the U.S. plays Japan for the World Cup championship. Japan advanced after defeating Sweden (3-1) in equally invincible fashion also on Wednesday.

    Of course, if they lose, this same fickle media will be instrumental in deeming team USA a national failure. Even so, my underdog sentimentality is such that I’ll be pulling for Japan; not least because, after this year’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown, the Japanese can really do with a good shot of national pride.

    Go Japan!

    Related commentaries:
    Men’s World Cup South Africa

  • Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 7:25 AM

    UPDATE: ‘Egyptian Revolution Part II’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Even as I celebrated the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian protesters earlier this year, I felt compelled to make this ironic and cautionary observation:

    I fear these wannabe revolutionaries have become so intoxicated with their own ‘people power’ that they seem every bit as dictatorial now as they’ve accused Mubarak of being.

    (Mubarak concedes…, The iPINIONS Journal, February 2, 2011)

    After all, pursuant to their demands, the military forced Mubarak to resign; pursuant to their demands, the military froze his assets and vowed to prosecute him and his family for decades of corruption; and pursuant to their demands, the military not only promised to cede power to a democratically elected government, it appointed an interim council of elders to manage the transition and address the protesters’ pesky concerns about:

    …who should rule, how they should rule and who should decide the way they rule….

    (New York Times, July 12, 2011)

    So, given the three decades of oppression their country suffered under Mubarak’s dictatorship, you’d think these newly-baptized revolutionaries could cool their heels for just one more year while the council facilitates the drafting of a new constitution and the implementation of new policies and procedures to guarantee democratic elections.

    But most of them are kids whose frame of reference is informed not by history or personal experience, but by social networking. As such they seem to think that transitioning from dictatorship to democracy should be as quick and easy as downloading a good-governance app to their PDAs.

    We have a feeling the regime is still there, somehow. They sacrificed the icons of the regime, but the cornerstone is still there… Sit-in! Sit-in! A sit-in until the regime is put on trial.

    This, according to the New York Times (July 12, 2011), is what compelled Tarek Geddawy, 25, to return to Tahrir Square on Friday, where he joined hundreds of thousands vowing to stay until what they’re calling Egypt’s ‘second revolution’ (in six months) is over. The regime they’re referring to of course is the military. Never mind that the military is the only institution that is keeping the country together these days.

    Beyond this, to execute their demands to dismantle “the cornerstone”, the military would have to purge all of Egypt’s civic institutions of anyone who had any ties to the Mubarak regime. But these nincompoops fail to appreciate that, after a 30-year dictatorship, by definition, anyone with any ability to do anything to help their country through this transitional had ties to the regime.

    Apropos of this, Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s famous antiquities minister who for decades has been almost as big a draw for tourists as the pyramids themselves, exclaimed in utter stupefaction this week that the protesters are fomenting a “witch hunt” even against him.

    Again, as I observed in my opening quote, these protesters have become so intoxicated with their power to get the military to do their bidding that they are too drunk (and naive) to grasp the folly inherent in their demands. But I warned it would be thus:

    With all due respect to the protesters, the issue is not whether Mubarak will go, for he will. (The man is 82 and already looks half dead for Christ’s sake!) Rather, the issue is who will replace him. And it appears they have not given any thought whatsoever to this very critical question.

    The devil the Egyptians know might prove far preferable to the devil they don’t. Just ask the Iranians who got rid of the Mubarak-like Shah in 1979 only to end up with the Ayatollah – whose Islamic revolution they’ve regretted (and have longed to overturn) ever since….

    (Army pledges no force against protesters, The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2011)

    Frankly, it seems the only thing that will satisfy these protesters – who clearly have no ability to lead Egypt’s transition and have no faith in the ability of anyone else to do so – is replicating throughout the entire country the festive state of anarchy that reigns among them in Tahrir Square.

    And, if that were not discouraging (or troubling) enough, their protests are even taking on the spectre of anti-Americanism that fueled the Iranian revolution – just as I presaged with my reference to the Iranian revolution above. And we all know how that turned out.

    The United States is viewed less favorably in much of the Arab world today than it was during the final year of the Bush administration, and President Obama is less popular in the region than Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    (The Boston Globe, July 13, 2011)

    God help them, and Egypt.

    Related commentaries:
    Mubarak concedes
    Army pledges no force

  • Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 5:53 AM

    Former PM Brown fuels public anger against Murdoch over phone hacking

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    When the latest news about phone hacking by UK tabloids first broke last week, most commentators focused on the tolling of the death knell for the country’s most popular tabloid, the News of the World (NOTW). But I was convinced from the outset that there had to be much more to this scandal and that the NOTW was not the only tabloid involved:

    That’s 4,000 people hacked by just one investigator for just one tabloid folks. Therefore, just imagine how widespread this practice must have been given the competitive and hyena-like nature of Britain’s tabloid press…

    Interestingly enough, the police will have to launch an internal investigation as well because a number of officers have been accused of taking bribes from the NOTW to help facilitate this phone-hacking spree.

    (Britain’s shocking (and still unfolding) phone-hacking scandal, The iPINIONS Journal, July 8, 2011)

    Sure enough, no less a person than former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is now claiming that his tax returns, bank accounts, lawyers files, and children’s medical records were all hacked by other tabloids in Rupert Murdoch’s News International Ltd., which published the NOTW and still publishes The TimesSunday Times, and the Sun.

    This was a culture in both The Sunday Times and in other newspapers in News International where they really exploited people — I’m not talking so much about me here now, I’m talking about people who were at rock bottom — and rock bottom was the rock upon which The Sunday Times founded their reputation, and other newspapers in News International founded their reputation, for purely commercial gain and in some cases to abuse political power…

    I just can’t understand this — if I, with all the protection and all the defences and all the security that a Chancellor of the Exchequer or a prime minister, am so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, to unlawful tactics, methods that have been used in the way we have found, what about the ordinary citizen?

    What about the person, like the family of Milly Dowler, who are in the most desperate of circumstances, the most difficult occasions in their lives, in huge grief and then they find that they are totally defenseless in this moment of greatest grief from people who are employing these ruthless tactics with links to known criminals?

    (Former PM Gordon Brown, Associated Press, July 12, 2011)

    To be fair, News International not only denies any hacking against Brown, but claims that his wife gave consent for The Sun to run the story about his son’s cystic fibrosis, which he claims made both he and his wife cry in anguish when it was published….

    Whatever the case, much of the shock and outrage being expressed by Brown and other commentators reflect a collective amnesia that is itself shocking and outrageous. After all, these folks all seem to forget that, despite all of the protection, defenses, and security surrounding the royal family, UK tabloids were clearly hacking the phones of Prince Charles and Princess Diana way back in the early 1990s.

    Specifically, I remember well when The Sun published transcripts of the infamous “squidgy tapes” on which Diana could be heard cooing like a teenager to her lover, as well as the “tampon tapes” on which Charles could be heard telling his then mistress (now wife) Camilla how much he envied the access her feminine products had to her body.

    What’s more, reports are that News International even paid a corrupt royal protection officer to feed its tabloids personal details about the Queen and Prince Phillip.

    The difference is that back then the public was so fascinated by the prurient details the phone hacking revealed about the private lives of the purportedly genteel royals that nobody seemed in the least bit bothered by the criminal methods the tabloids used to get those details. It did not even matter that trusted members of the royal staff as well as members of the metropolitan police had to have been involved.

    This is why my interest in this still-unfolding scandal is now focused primarily on:

    –  Whether Murdoch will deem any of his other UK newspapers (like the The Times) too toxic to survive. I think not;

    –  Whether any of his U.S. newspapers (like the New York Post) will be implicated. I think so; and

    –  Whether, after all of the parliamentary hearings and police investigations that are now underway, those ending up in jail will include members of Rupert Murdoch’s family, if not Murdoch himself. I think his son James and former NOTW editor Rebekah Brooks are headed to the pokey, but plausible deniability will spare Rupert. (The parliamentary committee investigating this matter has summoned all three of them to appear next week.)

    [I]n the face of serious legal jeopardy, [former NOTW editors] Brooks and Coulson might be induced to implicate James and Rupert himself. Which explains the Murdochs’ surprisingly defiant together-we-stand,-divided-we-fall support for them.

    (Britain’s shocking (and still unfolding) phone-hacking scandal, The iPINIONS Journal, July 8, 2011)

    Meanwhile, in my original commentary I exclaimed, with justification, that nobody should shed a tear for any financial loss Murdoch suffers. But that was because the NOTW represented such a small fraction of his global media empire.

    Now, however, the toxicity that forced him to close the NOTW is metastasizing. The most acute symptom of this is that parliament is expected to pass the following motion today:

    This House believes that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB [the British Sky Broadcasting company].

    (Labour.org, July 12, 2011)

    This motion will effectively force him to forfeit his $19 billion bid for full control of BSkyB, a satellite pay-TV company in which he’s now a minority (39%) owner. The leaders of all major political parties have made it plain that they are moving it as a way of vindicating the public anger that has become so palpable.

    Do the decent and sensible thing, and reconsider, think again, about your bid for BSkyB. Rupert Murdoch is now in town in London seeking to sort things out. I would simply say to him: ‘Look how people feel about this, look how the country has reacted with revulsion to the revelations.’

    (Nick Clegg, Deputy PM and Lib-Dem leader, BBC News, July 11, 2011)

    Indeed, it’s an indication of how toxic Murdoch himself has become that Conservatives, most of whom always regarded him as a political godfather, seem just as eager to quarantine his influence as Labourites, most of whom always regarded him as a political gangster.

    Incidentally, control of BSkyB would make Murdoch’s News International Ltd. a bigger media company in the UK than even the BBC. And many politicians are clearly co-opting public anger to exact personal revenge against Murdoch for all of the bad, and arguably unfair, press his publications have inflicted upon them over the years.

    Notwithstanding all that is unfolding in the UK, however, his greatest fear must be that the cancer now eating away at his holdings there, which constitute only a small percent of his media empire, might metastasize throughout his holdings worldwide. And of particular concern in this respect must be America, where FOX News and the Wall Street Journal give him a considerable amount of both media and political power.

    News Corp, his parent company with total assets of $60 billion, has already lost over $7 billion in market value. He excised the NOTW like a tumor in a drastic attempt to save his UK publications; he may now have to excise his UK publications in an even more drastic attempt to save his global media empire.

    NOTE: It would constitute poetic justice if law enforcement officials were to hack the phones and email accounts of Murdoch and top News Corp. executives based on the probable cause that they may now be engaged in a desperate conspiracy to cover up their illegal activities.

    Related commentaries:
    Britain’s shocking … phone hacking scandal

  • Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 5:20 AM

    Alas, Thailand’s first female PM is just a puppet

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I don’t agree with the coup, but now that they’ve done it, I support it because Thaksin has refused to resign from his position… Allowing Thaksin to carry on will ruin the country more than this. The reputation of the country may be somewhat damaged, but it’s better than letting Thaksin stay in power.

    (University student Sasiprapha Chantawong, CBS News, September 19, 2006)

    This reflected the prevailing view among Thais after the military ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra five years ago. The military justified this coup by accusing him of engaging in the kind of personal enrichment at the public’s expense that led to the celebrated ouster of Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.

    But here, in part, is how I commented on this coup back then:

    I appreciate how difficult it would be to disabuse anyone of the sentiment this student expresses. And I suspect that the vast majority of Thais share his (resigned) rationalization about this coup.

    Nonetheless, even a benign (i.e., popular and bloodless) coup is not only inherently inconsistent but also politically untenable in a democracy. After all, no matter the extent of Thaksin’s corruption (highlighted by an insider’s deal where he allegedly sold his family’s stake in a state telecommunications company to Singaporeans for $1.9 billion), constitutional provisions were in place to either impeach him or vote him out of office at elections that were due to be held within months.

    (Thailand’s benign coup, The iPINIONS Journal, September 20, 2006)

    This is why it seemed almost schizophrenic when Thailand descended into years of political instability after this coup, pitting Thaksin loyalists (aka Red Shirts) against opposition forces (aka Yellow Shirts). I chronicled these developments in appropriately cynical fashion:

    Recall how Thais reacted with blithe resignation to the 2006 military coup against Prime Minister Shinawatra. It seems ironic therefore that they took to the streets – defying the military and eventually taking over Thailand’s two main airports last week, stranding over 300,000 tourists – to protest against his democratically elected successors.

    Specifically, Thais protested first against Samak Sundaravej – whom they accused of being a Thaksin puppet. Samak succeeded Thaksin after democratic elections in December 2007. He was eventually ousted in September 2008 after the court ruled, somewhat expediently, that he violated conflict of interest laws.

    Then they protested against Somchai Wongsawat – who succeeded Samak and whom they also accused of being too loyal to the ousted Thaksin, his brother-in-law.

    At any rate, after months of more protests – growing so formidable in size and nihilistic determination that not even the country’s vaunted military could squash them – the court ruled yesterday, again somewhat expediently (not to mention belatedly), that Somchai’s governing coalition committed electoral fraud. Then, affirming mob rule, the court banned him from politics.

    So here’s to hoping that Thailand’s third prime minister this year can prove beyond all doubt that he not only thoroughly hates Thaksin but is also completely loyal to the king.

    (Thailand suffers another coup, this time by an angry mob, The iPINIONS Journal, December 8, 2008)

    Well, that third prime minister turned out to be Abhisit Vejjajiva. There was even great hope that his December 2008 election would finally usher in a period of stability in Thai politics – given that Thaksin fled into exile in August 2008 before the end of his trial on corruption charges. Unfortunately, this only led to more unrest which was highlighted last year when thousands of Red Shirts took to the streets:

    For over seven weeks about 100,000 poor farmers held Thailand practically hostage. They barricaded themselves in encampments in the middle of downtown Bangkok where they held daily rallies demanding dissolution of parliament, early elections, and a battery of democratic reforms. Most of them were clearly motivated by their abiding support for former PM Shinawatra… These Red Shirts could be forgiven for thinking they would have their way. After all, similar protests in recent years resulted in the ouster of two prime ministers…

    By contrast, the Yellow Shirts were poised to mount counter protests – clearly motivated by their abiding opposition to former PM Thaksin. No doubt this is why the government held such a hard line against the  farmers (Red Shirts), knowing full well that it could summon just as many Yellow Shirts into the streets in a show of support.

    (Thailand’s Tiananmen Square, The iPINIONS Journal, May 21, 2010)

    This brings me to national elections that were held, again, on July 3. Most commentators are hailing the outcome because Thailand elected its first female prime minister. But I fear her election will only set the stage for more civil unrest; not least because she happens to be Thaksin’s wholly inexperienced younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra (44), who everyone believes is just his political puppet.

    Thaksin himself was not eager to raise her profile within the party, and was more focused on finding ways to keep his own hand active in politics.

    (Former Deputy Prime Minister and “close Thaksin ally” Sompong Amornvivat to U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Eric John from WikiLeaks cable of their meeting on September 9, 2009)

    Well, he clearly found a way; not that Yingluck was ever remotely interested in even appearing to be standing on her own – given that her stump speeches were punctuated with this unabashedly nepotistic plea:

    If you love my brother, will you give his younger sister a chance?

    Anyway, even though Prime Minister Abhisit conceded graciously and military leaders duly saluted her victory, I doubt the Yellow Shirts will stand by and allow Thaksin to rule over them again – by proxy from exile in Dubai.

    Especially because Thaksin seems to believe that his little sister’s top priority should be forcing the government to grant him amnesty and return the $1.2 billion in assets it confiscated after he fled.

    But the reason I am truly conflicted about her election is that nobody has been a more avid champion of woman power in politics than I:

    Here’s to “the fairer sex” – not only as indispensable guardians of home and hearth but also as invaluable (and capable) stewards of the ship of state!

    (Bachelet becomes first female president in South America, The iPINIONS Journal, December 12, 2005)

    Nevertheless, just as electing an obvious dingbat like Sarah Palin as president of the United States would do nothing to advance the noble cause of women in politics, electing an obvious puppet like Yingluck as prime minister of Thailand will do nothing to advance this noble cause.

    Related commentaries:
    Thailand’s benign coup
    Thailand’s Tiananmen Square

  • Monday, July 11, 2011 at 5:14 AM

    Betty Ford, astonishingly outspoken first lady and drug-treatment pioneer, is dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It speaks volumes about the impact Betty Ford had on politics in America that her death on Friday evoked almost as much outpouring of sympathy and eulogies as her husband’s did five years ago (December 27, 2006)

    As our nation’s first lady, she was a powerful advocate for women’s health and women’s rights. After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment.

    (President Barack Obama, PBS, July 8, 2011)

    No doubt it was her very public battle with and triumph over her addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol that endeared her to most Americans. But she sealed her legacy by co-founding the Betty Ford Center in 1982, a world-renowned clinic for the treatment of substance abuse that is based on her own treatment and rehabilitation.

    Never mind that most people now know it as the place where celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Ozzy Osborne, Robert Downey Jr, and Lindsay Lohan go more to rehabilitate their reputations than to be treated for their addictions.

    But my tribute to her stems from the pioneering way she used her platform as first lady to speak as openly, honestly and progressively about women’s rights and abortion rights as she did about pre-marital sex and smoking pot.

    Perhaps it was unusual for a first lady to be as outspoken about issues as I was, but that was my temperament, and I believed in it.

    (Betty Ford, Washington Post, July 10, 2011)

    In fact, it’s an indication of how far in the vanguard of the feminist movement Mrs. Ford was that Nancy Reagan, who succeeded her as the next Republican first lady in 1980, seemed like a stepford wife when she used her platform to advance traditional causes like encouraging abstinence from drugs and sex (remember “Just Say No”?) and updating the White House china.

    Like her husband who died at the enviable age of 93, she too was 93.

    Farewell, Betty.

    Related commentaries:
    Former president Gerald Ford is dead

  • Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 8:50 AM

    South Sudan, welcome to the global family of nations!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    ‘The upcoming referendum is a choice between being a second-class in your own country, or a free person in your independent state.’

    (BBC, January 5, 2011)

    This was rather loaded way Salva Kiir, the presumptive president of Africa’s newest state, framed the choice the predominantly Christian-animists of South Sudan faced in last month’s referendum on secession from their Muslim compatriots in the north…

    What looms, however, may cause the southerners’ Independence Day, which they will mark on July 9, to turn into a pyrrhic celebration.

    Because, even though both sides are expressing words of mutual recognition and respect, lingering mutual enmity and mistrust are bound to rear their ugly heads over the next five months as they negotiate terms for sharing Sudan’s all-important oil revenues as well as the final border demarcation….

    Not to mention that, just as Tunisians inspired Egyptians to launch their own revolution, these southerners might inspire Darfurians in the west to hold an independence referendum too.

    (South Sudan secedes, The iPINIONS Journal, February 9, 2011)

    This was the rather cautious note I sounded on the eve of that fated referendum. Well, even though there have been many skirmishes since then, today is undeniably independence day for South Sudan.

    So, happy Independence Day!

    I wish this new African country well….

    Related commentaries:
    South Sudan secedes

  • Saturday, July 9, 2011 at 7:06 AM

    Casey Anthony’s new BFF: OJ

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Apropos of fate, karma finally caught up with O.J. – who is now spending the rest of his life in prison on unrelated charges. So I fully expect that same karma to befall the criminally self-obsessed and clinically psychopathic Casey – who is clearly also a pathological liar

    (Casey Anthony gets away with murder, The iPINIONS Journal, .July 6, 2011)


    Related commentaries:
    Casey Anthony gets away with murder

  • Friday, July 8, 2011 at 5:21 AM

    Britain’s shocking (and still unfolding) phone-hacking scandal

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Few people seemed concerned about the legal and ethical implications earlier this year when the News of the World (NOTW), Britain’s most-popular weekly tabloid, issued a public apology and paid over $150,000.00 to actress Sienna Miller for illegally hacking her cell phone and eavesdropping on her voice messages.

    This did not change even when it became clear that the NOTW was not the only UK tabloid hacking the phones of celebrities – most notably married soccer players whose philandering provided such salacious and profitable fodder.

    But nobody could have fathomed the depth and breadth of this practice, which is only now coming to light:

    Scotland Yard has revealed up to 4,000 people may have been the target of phone hacking by a private investigator working for the News of the World.

    (SKY News, July 7, 2011)

    That’s 4,000 people hacked by just one investigator for just one tabloid folks. Therefore, just imagine how widespread this practice – of so-called journalists sitting on their asses and having front-page stories fed to them digitally – must have been given the competitive and hyena-like nature of Britain’s tabloid press.

    Even so, if the targets were all public figures and professionals (like shady investment bankers), I doubt this revelation would have incited much moral outrage. It turns out, however, that among those the NOTW targeted were the grieving relatives of servicemen who died in Iraq and Afghanistan and victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London:

    Relatives’ personal details have been found by police combing the files of former NOTW investigator Glenn Mulcaire.

    (Daily Telegraph, July 7, 2011)

    What is most shocking and appalling in this respect is the revelation that this tabloid targeted the mobile phone of a missing schoolgirl named Milly Dowler and deleted messages when her voicemail inbox became full. The NOTW clearly had no scruples about raising false hope in her worried parents (whose phones were also hacked) that Milly was still alive. In fact she was already dead … murdered.

    That British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to condemn it during a joint press conference with President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan indicates how much this one revelation has offended the collective conscience of the British people:

    If they are true this is a truly dreadful act and a truly dreadful situation. What I’ve read in the papers is quite shocking, that someone could do this knowing that the police were trying to find this person and find out what happened…

    There is a police investigation into hacking allegations … they should investigate this without any fear, without any favour, without any worry about where the evidence should lead them.

    (Cameron, London Guardian, July 5, 2011)

    Interestingly enough, Scotland Yard will have to launch an internal investigation as well because a number of police officers officers have been accused of taking bribes from the NOTW to help facilitate this phone-hacking spree. Labour home shadow secretary, Yvette Cooper, expressed her party’s indignation in the same Guardian report as follows:

    Everyone across the country will be deeply disturbed and horrified at this shocking news. The idea that private investigators working for a newspaper would hack into the phone of a missing 13-year-old girl is truly despicable.

    But nobody is more concerned about the legal and ethical implications of these latest revelations than the NOTW’s owner, Rupert Murdoch. Because in light of the apology and amount of cash he gave to settle with Sienna Miller, only God knows what it’s going to take for him to settle 4,000 or more similar claims, many of which are bound to evoke far greater sympathy.

    In any case, the fate of his prized tabloid became clear after nearly all of its major advertisers began abandoning it like rats from a sinking ship. No doubt it was this, and not some pang of conscience, that compelled Murdoch to decide that Sunday’s edition of the NOTW will be its last.

    Here, in part, is how his son James, Deputy Chief Operating Officer, News Corporation, and Chairman, News International, made the announcement today:

    You do not need to be told that the News of the World is 168 years old. That it is read by more people than any other English language newspaper. That it has enjoyed support from Britain’s largest advertisers. And that it has a proud history of fighting crime, exposing wrong-doing and regularly setting the news agenda for the nation…

    The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself…

    In 2006, the police focused their investigations on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose.

    (Financial Times, July 7, 2011)

    No shit. Unfortunately, this dramatic execution, which amounts to cutting off his nose to save his face, will do nothing to save the hides of all the reporters, editors, and executives involved in this scandal.

    Because, as James alluded to in his statement, all who knew or should have known about the hacking will probably end up in jail too … and deservedly so. And it is noteworthy that the suspects include former NOTW editors Rebekah Brooks, a reputed close friend of PM Cameron, and Andy Coulson, Cameron’s former press spokesman.

    Not to mention that, in the face of serious legal jeopardy, Brooks and Coulson might be induced to implicate James and Rupert himself. Which explains the Murdochs’ surprisingly defiant together-we-stand,-divided-we-fall support for them.

    On the other hand, nobody should shed a tear for any financial loss Murdoch suffers. This, after all, is the über businessman who sold MySpace for $35 million just days ago – only six years after purchasing it for $580 million; i.e., $545 million down the drain. Besides, in this case, industry experts speculate that he will simply refashion another of his existing tabloids (like The Sun), or create a new one, to effectively continue publishing the NOTW on Sundays … only by another name. And he’ll get away with it too.

    Finally, Labour leader Ed Miliband was quoted in the Guardian yesterday lamenting that this hacking scandal “represents one of the darkest days in British journalism”. But, frankly, this is an almost galling understatement. As a matter of fact, the irony is not lost on me that this scandal is unfolding in the UK where public figures always insisted that privacy laws gave them far greater protection against the kinds of prurient media intrusions they experience in the USA.

    Hell, the NOTW was conducting the kind of spying on British citizens that Westerners routinely condemn the Chinese government for conducting on its citizens: This “represents [just] one of the darkest days in British journalism”? No, Mr Miliband, it’s a bloody national disgrace!

    NOTE: I’m just waiting for a similar phone-hacking scandal to hit the New York Post, Murdoch’s flagship American tabloid. Because only this kind of illegal eavesdropping explains this paper’s many headline-grabbing scoops, as well as the juicy gossip items that have made its ‘Page Six’ section so popular.

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 7:51 pm

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