• Monday, December 30, 2013 at 5:31 AM

    South Sudan Descending into the Heart of Darkness

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    111212051649-south-sudan-independence-story-topI joined the chorus of those heralding the birth of South Sudan as a new nation in Africa – fathered not by colonial masters but by Africans themselves. But I felt constrained to sound this cautionary note:

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

    I just hope and pray these southerners – who are composed of all kinds of Black tribes – can avoid the kind of tribal conflicts that continue to beset so many other countries in Africa.

    (“South Sudan Secedes,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 9, 2011)

    Sure enough, their celebration was pyrrhic. Because here I am, less than three years later, feeling obliged to comment on South Sudanese cannibalizing each other:

    South Sudan’s army fought on Sunday with ‘White Army’ ethnic militia, accusing rebels of mobilizing the force despite its offer of a truce to end the conflict in the new country.

    Two weeks of fighting have left at least 1,000 dead and split the oil-producing country barely two years after it won independence from Sudan. It has also raised fears of an all-out civil war between the main Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups which could destabilize fragile East Africa.

    (Reuters, December 29, 2013)

    darfur3Clearly there’s farcical irony (or is that tragicomedy?) in calling a bunch of Black militiamen – who cover their faces with ash as insect repellant – a “White Army.” Given their look and haunting tactics, one would’ve thought “ghost army” would be more fitting. But I shall leave it to experts to comment on the socio-psychological legacy of colonialism their curious appellation reinforces.

    Instead, I shall suffice to bemoan this prescient/foreboding lament I sounded six years ago (in “Politics of Corruption in Kenya,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 31, 2007) when Kenya was on the precipice on a similar tribal/ethnic conflict:

    This sets up the all-too-familiar prospect of Africans resorting to tribal warfare to settle their political disputes… And those of us who are still hoping against hope for a political awakening in Africa cannot help but look on in despair as Kenya … descends back into the heart of darkness – where bloodlust gives rise to Idi Amins and Rwandan genocides.

    Except, to be fair, I should note that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, with his government troops comprised mostly of Dinka tribesmen, and sacked deputy president Riek Machar, with his rebel forces comprised mostly of Nuer tribesman, have dispatched delegations to peace talks in Ethiopia. But nothing indicates how fated those talks are to fail quite like both men also deploying more troops to escalate their civil conflict.

    In fact, the most noteworthy thing about this Ethiopian peace initiative is the lead role Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is playing. For, ironically and perhaps instructively, prosecutors in The Hague have been trying for months to extradite him to face trial for crimes against humanity that were committed during Kenya’s tribal/ethnic conflict six years ago.


    I am willing to bet my life savings that President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta will never set foot in The Hague; and, if convicted in absentia, he will never serve a day in jail. Honestly, all things considered, who could blame him if he proceeded now to use his position as president, as well as prevailing anti-ICC sentiment throughout Africa, to shield himself from arrest?

    (“No (Equitable) Justice in ICC Prosecuting Kenya’s Kenyatta,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 25, 2013)

    Indeed, it’s just another indication of how determined African leaders are to reject The Hague’s jurisdiction over them that they are all heralding and supporting the “indispensable” role Kenyatta has assumed – to bring peace to South Sudan even if it takes deploying Kenyan troops.

    In the meantime, the death toll rises, and almost one million people have been displaced since fighting erupted last month.

    God help South Sudan. God help Africa….

    Related commentaries:
    Birth of South Sudan….

  • Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    The Rise of ‘Duck Dynasty’ and Fall of American Civilization

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall


    We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty. His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.

    (Variety, December 1, 2013)

    This, in part, is how A+E explained its decision to suspend Duck Dynasty’s Bible-thumping “patriarch” from his family’s reality-TV show. Here’s just a sample of his inspired utterings that supposedly left it no choice:

    Regarding gays:

    Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there: bestiality … the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself; it’s not right… It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus.

    (TPM, December 18, 2013)

    Regarding Blacks:

    I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any Black person… The Blacks worked for the farmers … they’re singing and happy…

    Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

    (Yahoo! December 18, 2013)

    duck-dynasty-cast__130813194923-575x383No doubt you’re aware of the way fundamentalist Christians and right-wing politicians began complaining about A+E persecuting this idiot the way Romans persecuted Jesus Christ. But what you may not know is that the other members of this family called A+E’s bluff by insisting that they would not tape a single episode without their patriarch.

    This presented the network with a moral/commercial dilemma: cancel the show and forfeit the billions it generates in revenues; or eat its words and look like venal cowards. But was there ever any doubt which way A+E would go?

    After discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming ‘Duck Dynasty’ … with the entire Robertson family.

    (Washington Post, December 27, 2013)

    After all A+E reinstating this unapologetic and unrepentant redneck was as predictable as a crackhead returning to his pipe after just a few days of sobriety. The only difference is that A+E’s drug of choice is the almighty dollar. Not to mention that it could not have paid for more ratings-generating publicity/interest than this controversy has stoked.

    In other words, the network is daring offended gays and Blacks to prove that their outrage/boycott could do more damage to its bottom line than canceling this show.

    But forget A+E; because the real story here is that a show about nothing more than the (scripted) rantings and antics of rednecks is the highest-rated show in the history of cable TV – more than filling the void left by Honey Boo Boo. Yet I suppose this should come as no surprise given the popularity of Twitter, which thrives on the snarky, ignorant, often homophobic and racist tweets of attention-seeking twits.

    And don’t get me started on the delusions of grandeur inherent in these redneck peddlers of duck paraphernalia referring to this nincompoop as their “patriarch.”

    Talk about the dumbing down of culture; given this, how can one not fear for the future of American civilization….

  • Monday, December 23, 2013 at 8:26 AM

    Financial Analysts Misread QE Too

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Have you ever noticed that financial analysts talking about markets often sound like anxious mothers talking about kids? They seem to have more reasons for markets behaving badly than mothers have for two-year olds throwing temper tantrums.

    D2106FN1How often, for example, have you heard analysts trying to explain market volatility by citing the never-ending conflict in the Middle East, rumors about a new Apple product, political dysfunction anywhere from Washington to Islamabad, a hurricane brewing way out in the Atlantic, or fear of one kind or another…?

    ‘Sell in May and go away’ sounds like just the sort of old saw that lazy stockbrokers cling to when they need an excuse for a holiday and have nothing better to say to their clients. But as an explanation of why investors the world over have been selling shares since May 11th, it makes more sense than many others doing the rounds.

    (“The Viagra of Volatility,” The Economist, May 25, 2006)

    Indeed, the irony is that the only reliable thing financial analysts can say is that markets go up for the same reasons they go down; or that they can go up or down for no reason at all.

    This was brought into stark relief earlier this year when financial analysts sounded the alarm about markets plunging based solely on rumors about the Federal Reserve beginning its quantitative easing program — the monetary equivalent of a mother weaning her child off breast milk:

    Analysts have been warning that any signs the money taps were about to be turned off or that the global economy was not recovering as expected would be taken badly by the markets.

    Thursday’s rout began with comments late on Wednesday from the Federal Reserve suggesting that America could end its quantitative easing, or QE, programme in the near future.

    (London Guardian, May 23, 2013)

    Well, guess what happened on Wednesday when the Fed finally gave a clear sign that the money taps are about to be turned off? Far from reacting like two-year olds upon being told it’s time for bath and bed, the markets reacted like two-year olds being told it’s time for milk and cookies.

    U.S. stocks soared to new highs Wednesday even though the Federal Reserve announced that it would begin gradually dialing back on its market-friendly bond-buying program….

    (USA Today, December 18, 2013)

    6ED3-CB-DowPlunges200Financial analysts are cleverly covering their asses by insisting that their call for panic turned out to be a cause for joy because the Fed is only “tapering not tightening” its market-friendly bond-buying program.

    Which I suppose is rather like a mother expressing relief that her two-year old reacted with joy instead of panic when she told him he’d be getting a quick shower instead of a long bath.

    But their misreading (and misguidance) on this QE program, which is arguably the most important monetary policy of our time, is just the latest example of why there’s precious little difference between financial advisers and carnival soothsayers.

    A number of people have asked why I have written so little about the sub-prime mortgage mess and its impact on the US economy.  I often replied that I didn’t have a clue what to make of the mess or what it portends…

    Little did I know, however, that the masters of the universe on Wall Street were even more clueless.

    (“Chicken’s Come Home to Roost on Wall St. Main St Might Be Next,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 16, 2008)

    Related commentaries:
    Chickens come home
    Stimulus vs. Austerity: verdict
    Banking scandal is redundant

  • Sunday, December 22, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Indians, Crazed with Anti-American Outrage, Mistake Freeman for Mandela

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    imagesEvidently, despite reports to the contrary, Indians remain very proud and protective of their caste system.

    Only this explains why they are still venting anti-American outrage over the NYPD daring to arrest a high-caste Indian diplomat on December 13 “just because” she was treating her low-caste Indian housekeeper like an indentured slave.

    But you’d think even Indians would appreciate that just because Hollywood cast Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela does not mean that Morgan Freeman is Nelson Mandela for all other intents and purposes.

    Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 12.39.42 PM

    An owner of a billboard dedicated to Nelson Mandela was red-faced on Thursday after the discovery that a photo of actor Morgan Freeman was used instead of one of the anti-apartheid hero.

    The billboard was erected on the side of a road in Coimbatore as part of memorials across India and the world to Mandela, who died on December 5.

    (Brietbart TV, December 20, 2013)

    I’m reliably informed, however, that Mandela would’ve reacted by saying he’s flattered by the mistake…

    On the other hand, given the jingoistic outrage Indians are venting over the treatment of that diplomat, just imagine their outrage if some redneck in Appalachia attempted to honor Mahatma Gandhi by putting up billboards featuring the mug of Ben Kingsley.


    This would probably make the protests that redneck pastor incited among fanatical Muslims a few months ago, by threatening to burn a pile of Qurans, seem like Sunday picnics by comparison.

    images-1Meanwhile, apropos of that diplomat, it’s yet another indication of how great America is that the chief prosecutor in this case is Preet Bharara. Because he’s a naturalized citizen who hails from India and, therefore, understands all too well the cultural prejudices that are inciting those indignant protests back home.

    Here’s how Bharara dismissed the Indian government’s claims about her arrest being unjustified and an insult to national pride:

    [The diplomat’s conduct showed that] she clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers…

    And one wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?…

    She had been accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded. [But she had been] fully searched in a private setting by a female deputy marshal [which] is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself.

    (New York Times, December 18, 2013)

    All the same, because America’s relationship with India so often involves America assuaging India’s superpower envy, the Obama Administration will undoubtedly prevail upon Bharara to back off and settle this matter diplomatically.

    As a lowly consular officer she did not enjoy the full privileges and immunities accorded higher-ranking diplomats. Therefore, the State Department will have to grant her transactional immunity.

    Alas, in the meantime, the Indian government is only adding fuel to the national hysteria (and betraying its envy) by arresting same-sex partners of American diplomats, stripping diplomats of their immunity and privileges, and removing security barriers from around the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The protests are shameful enough; but Indians everywhere should be ashamed by the Indian government’s irresponsible (petty, petulant and pathetic) reaction to this NYPD arrest.

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Saturday, at 7:17 am

  • Friday, December 20, 2013 at 6:39 AM

    Egyptians Continue March Back to Future

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    You’d be hard-pressed to find another commentator who warned, at the height of the Arab Spring nearly three years ago, that today Egyptians would be hailing as their savior a military dictator who makes Mubarak look positively Jeffersonian. Or one who warned that the world would be witnessing Mubarak’s imprisoned-kleptomaniac kids acquitted on corruption charges, while members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratically elected government, including former president Mohamed Morsi himself, are imprisoned on political charges.

    imagesYet here’s how the media are reporting on the rise of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi:

    In one shop in this bustling capital’s core, Egypt’s top army chief is everywhere: giving a speech, getting kissed by a beautiful girl, marching in uniform — all images imprinted on chocolate.

    ‘He saved the country from the Muslim Brothers,’ said sweet shop owner Bahira Galal of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose visage can be ordered on a sheet cake or on a batch of bright red balloons with the phrase ‘Long Live Egypt.’

    (USA Today, October 29, 2013)

    Gamal-and-Alaa-Mubarak-008And here’s how they’re reporting on the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons:

    Two sons of ousted autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak, along with his last prime minister, were acquitted Thursday on corruption charges in a case that suggested a reversal of fortune for members of the government overthrown in the so-called Arab Spring of 2011.

    The acquittal of Mubarak’s two sons Gamal and Alaa, together with Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak, was a reminder of the near-total power once enjoyed by the president and his inner circle.

    Four retired generals were acquitted as well, according to Egyptian state media.

    (Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2013)

    a-huge-chunk-of-egypt-is-angry-that-their-democratically-elected-president-was-overthrownBut I warned it would be thus, here with respect to ousting Mubarak with another dictator:

    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 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)

    Here with respect to his sons getting off:

    I suspect that having him wheeled into court on his hospital bed every day during trial and this reported health crisis now are all part of a charade orchestrated by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – the military generals who still (and will continue to) rule Egypt – to exaggerate Mubarak’s downfall and suffering. Furthermore, I suspect that he agreed to play along because he was assured not only that his sons would be acquitted, but that they would be able to keep millions in ill-gotten gains to live a very comfortable life in exile (no matter what additional show trials they must endure in the short term).

    Not to mention that the “prison” where Mubarak has been (and will continue) living out his last days would probably make the retirement home of any multimillionaire seem like a humble shack.

    (“Protesters Return to Tahrir Square,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 6, 2012)

    close-us-egypt-military-ties-forged-on-american-soil-1373403139-3774And here with respect to Obama propagating the fatuous prospect of the military ushering in a new era of democracy:

    I also find it curious that Obama is effectively calling on the Egyptian military to guarantee the protesters’ democratic aspirations. Ironically, he and other Western leaders seem to believe that the best way to transition from Mubarak’s dictatorship to democracy is by installing a de facto military dictatorship.

    The problem, however, is that in almost every case where this strategy has been deployed (e.g. in Pakistan and Burma) the military ends up overstaying its welcome … by years, if not decades.

    (“Crisis in Egypt: the End Game,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 4, 2011)

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
    Army pledges no force
    Protesters return
    Crisis in Egypt

  • Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 6:17 AM

    One Man, Four Wives? Yes. But Why Not…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    polygamyRFD-sfSpanA federal judge ruled last week that a Utah law “forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the 1st and 14th amendments” of the Constitution.

    The ruling, which distinguishes between polygamy and bigamy, was the result of a lawsuit filed in 2011 by Kody Brown, star of the reality series ‘Sister Wives,’ now in its fourth season on cable TV’s TLC. Brown has four “wives” — who together have 17 children — but is legally married only to his first, Meri Brown.

    (Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2013)

    Yet listening to pundits (religious and legal) fulminate about its implications, you’d think this ruling makes it legal for men to marry as many women as their hearts (or other throbbing parts) desire.

    Whereas, it merely recognizes the freedom a legally married couple (or even an unmarried couple) has to invite as many consenting adults into the privacy of their home as they wish. And whether it’s to cohabitate or just to comingle for a night is nobody’s business but theirs.

    Think about it: committing adultery is not illegal; having a mistress or two or more (even if you call them “sister wives”) is not illegal; cohabitating with one’s mistress(es) is not only not illegal, but arguably quite civilized; and having children out of wedlock is not illegal.

    So why was this a federal case? In a word: Mormonism.

    Specifically, given the popular and abiding misapprehension that Mormons practice bigamy, to say nothing of polygamy, who can blame Utah – where they comprise 58 percent of the population – for making a federal case out of the lifestyle depicted on Sister Wives.

    one+woman+many+men+pictureAfter all, this ruling now makes clear (for all the world to see) that Mormons do not practice bigamy or polygamy any more than Christians do.

    My only issue with Sister Wives is the generally accepted sexism it promotes. I mean, is “Brother Husbands” (i.e., polyandry) really so farfetched these days, when women are increasingly taking on gender roles traditionally played by men?

    What’s more, with same-sex marriages being legal now in so many states, well, you get the point.

  • Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 6:47 AM

    Judge Ruling on NSA Spying Amounts to Judicial Selfie

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    images-2A heretofore-obscure federal judge ruled on Monday that the National Security Agency’s program of collecting phone and email metadata from millions of Americans is “probably illegal.” Yet to listen to news reporters and legal pundits frothing at the mouth over his “powerful rebuke of mass surveillance,” you’d think it had the legal force of the Supreme Court ruling that all NSA surveillance programs are illegal.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

    In fact, this judge’s ruling is the judicial equivalent of a selfie – written more to draw attention to himself than to set any kind of legal precedent. Indeed, it seems just as contrived as the statement a then-obscure congressman made when he shouted, “You lie,” as President Obama was addressing a Joint Session of Congress in September 2009.

    More to the point, though, just as that outburst earned that congressman his 15 minutes of fame from a now scandal/selfie/tweet-obsessed media, this ruling is duly earning this judge his. (I’m refusing to dignify either one of them by publishing his name, let alone his picture, for the simple reason that 15 days from now this judge will be firmly saddled back in his life of professional obscurity, just as that congressman is.)

    In any case, you should bear in mind that more than one then-obscure federal judge ruled that Obamacare and same-sex marriages are illegal, until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. But it speaks volumes about how self-indulgent and narcissistic this judge’s ruling is that it presumes to overturn repeated rulings by the far more relevant and influential 11-member United States Foreign Intelligence Court (aka the FISA Court) that this NSA program is definitely legal.

    Incidentally, all you need to know to appreciate how the Supreme Court would rule, if his ruling ever makes it that far, is that Chief Justice John Roberts appointed every member of the FISA Court.

    You are probably aware that President Obama appointed a commission to recommend cosmetic changes to the NSA programs. But he only did so to avoid having to point out how stupid the American people are for buying into Snowden’s self-righteous and misguided outrage. After all, the NSA collects metadata for the sole purpose of trying to keep them safe.

    prism-square_0By contrast, these outraged nincompoops are showing nary a concern about tech companies tracking every move they make online for the sole purpose of trying to sell them stuff, to say nothing of peddling their personal data to third parties for indeterminate uses. Which makes the open letter Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and AOL sent to Obama last week complaining about NSA surveillance a classic case of pots calling the kettle black. And, trust me, ISPs (like Verizon and Comcast) are the worst harvesters and peddlers of your personal data.

    Therefore, despite all you’re hearing about this judge’s ruling, it is much ado about nothing …  at least legally speaking. Not to mention that the he “stayed” his ruling (i.e., declared that it should have no binding effect), which indicates that even he appreciates its insignificance.

    For the record, though, in all of his rebuke, this judge cited no evidence whatsoever that the NSA listens in on the phone calls or reads the emails of anyone in the United States.

    That said, you should also bear in mind that there’s a venal aspect to this NSA case. Except that it is far too substantive and consequential for the aforementioned media to bother covering. But it is pursuant to this aspect that Edward Snowden’s spy/media master, Glenn Greenwald, rushed to get on TV to spin the plainly specious claim that this judge’s ruling vindicates Snowden’s treachery.

    Let me hasten to clarify that I too would be championing Snowden’s professed cause if he had taken his treasure trove of NSA secrets to a reputable newspaper, like the New York Times or Washington Post, instead of entrusting it to a news hustler like the then-obscure lawyer/journalist/blogger Greenwald.

    Recall that Snowden initially claimed his only mission was to inform the American people about the NSA’s surveillance activities. Well, with apologies to George W. Bush, he had just cause to declare “Mission Accomplished” six months ago.

    nsa-leaker-edward-snowden-leaves-hong-kong-safe-house-for-russiaMoreover, rather than fleeing like a fugitive, Snowden could have become a confidential informant (like a latter-day Deep Throat), continued on with his seemingly idyllic life in Hawaii, and left it to his newspaper of choice to expose all of the secrets that are fit to print … in a manner that does not compromise national security.

    Instead, this narcissistic, self-righteous, naive and self-appointed arbiter — not only of what metadata the government can collect, but also of what documents it can classify as top secret — conspired with Greenwald to make his face every bit as famous as his leaks. In the process he unwittingly (or wittingly) handed the “NSA’s crown jewels” over to America’s two most-formidable adversaries, China and Russia, on a silver platter. No Chinese or Russian spy could ever have achieved such a feat – even in his wildest dream.

    Of course, you could be forgiven for thinking that Snowden is acting pursuant to what his defenders and apologists claim is an abiding public interest in briefing any country on how the NSA is spying on it. But I cannot stress often enough how far he has strayed from his initial mission: again, it was to inform the American people about how much their government is spying on them (i.e., domestic surveillance); and, by all accounts, he accomplished this mission a long time ago.

    Now he seems to be acting pursuant to nothing more than a WikiLeaks, mischief-making mission to expose every secret the U.S. government holds dear. This would explain why the only NSA leaks making headlines these days are those pertaining to what no sane person can deny is the wholly legal collection of data on foreign leaders and organizations (i.e., espionage).

    For example, revelations about U.S. spying on Chancellor Merkel of Germany elicited schadenfreude worldwide and cost the United States a considerable amount of international goodwill. But why shouldn’t the U.S. government be spying on the activities of foreign leaders if it furthers U.S. interests to do so? Not to mention the generally recognized fact that every other government, including most notably Snowden’s host government in Russia, is doing (or trying to do) the same damn thing.

    What’s more, he’s unabashedly using these legitimate government secrets to barter for a better life. This is the only way to read his open letter (or plea) to the people of Brazil just yesterday, making clear his willingness to trade America’s secrets to any country that is willing and able to grant him political asylum. Evidently he’s not finding Russian hospitality all it was cracked up to be.

    I warned it would be thus:

    Snowden seems destined to emulate British double agent Kim Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 and lived there (in Moscow) free of reprisals until his death in 1988. It is instructive to note, however, that this fabled ‘Third Man’ lived out almost all of his 25 years in relative obscurity and penury, and not without palpable regret…

    So don’t be surprised if a disillusioned Snowden ends up drinking himself to death too. After all, Philby’s Russian spymasters had just cause to treat him like a national hero, yet he still felt like little more than a Western mascot almost from day one.

    By contrast, Snowden’s Russian wards have no reason to treat him like anything but a traitorous rat. Not least because … Putin is a former KGB spy who prides loyalty to country above all else [and he can well imagine what he would want to do to a Russian intelligence officer if he were doing to Russia what Snowden is doing to America]…

    Not to mention the resentment Putin must be harboring over Snowden ending up in Russia only after his preferred Chinese spymasters extracted all they wanted out of and from him.

    (“I Said Putin Would Hand Snowden Over. I Was Wrong,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 25, 2013)

    images-4Again, whatever you think of Snowden, it betrays his consciousness of guilt that he chose to flee his country when protections (as a confidential informant for a newspaper or even as a heroic whistleblower under direct congressional supervision) were readily available to him.

    Which brings me to the even more mercenary side of his unprecedented treachery. Because nothing infuriates me more than watching Greenwald spew self-righteous indignation at anyone who questions the propriety, ethics, and national-security implications of his and Snowden’s venal crusade. After all, the only thing Greenwald is doing now is peddling his country’s national secrets like a street vender selling hotcakes. And he’s doing it from his safe haven in Brazil, where Snowden devoutly wishes to be.

    But just imagine the windfall Greenwald is enjoying or counting on – having convinced some misguided, open-society do-gooder to donate $250 million for him to set up his own online portal to trade on the million-plus bits of NSA documents he keeps teasing/threatening to release from his journalistic quiver. And if you don’t think Snowden himself expects to be greatly enriched by this enterprise, then you probably think people rob banks for charitable purposes….

    In any event, I challenge anyone who supports Snowden and Greenwald to explain how peddling U.S. top secrets, the way Chinese peddle pirated Apple products, furthers any constitutional or journalistic cause. Frankly, Benedict Arnold will go down in the annals of American history as having nothing on these two shysters.

    Related commentaries:
    I said Putin would

  • Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    Save a Little Mandela Praise for the Dalai Lama

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Long Walk to Freedom is Nelson Mandela’s compelling autobiography, in which he highlights his 50-year struggle (1944-94) to liberate Black South Africa from White Apartheid oppression. The irony, of course, is that Mandela spent 27 of those years in prison, where his walking was clearly limited.

    imagesFreedom in Exile is the Dalai Lama’s equally compelling autobiography, in which he highlights his 54-year struggle (1959-present) to liberate Tibetan Buddhists from Chinese oppression. There’s clearly irony, and sublime symmetry, in the fact that he has been walking to further his cause for exactly twice as long as Mandela was sitting in prison for his; and long enough for the Dalai Lama to walk around the world … twice.

    China invaded and occupied Tibet in 1959 – forcing its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to flee into (permanent) exile.

    The Chinese showed no mercy back then in killing tens of thousands of Tibetans to establish their totalitarian claim to Tibet as a part of China’s territory. And they have been determined ever since to disabuse the followers of the Dalai Lama of any hope for his return.

    (“China’s Buddhist Intifada,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 18, 2008)

    The far greater irony, though, is that Mandela managed to rally more support for his cause from behind bars than the Dalai Lama has managed to rally for his, despite all of that walking.

    But the reason for this is obvious: where Mandela’s oppressors were just a bunch of White Afrikaners whose rule depended on support from Western powers, the Dalai Lama’s are the mercantile Chinese on whom these Western powers depend for economic trade and financial support. Only this explains why, instead of championing the Dalai Lama’s cause, Western leaders have been helping the Chinese enforce and prolong his exile:

    Western leaders have made a mockery of their condemnation over the crackdown [on Tibetan Buddhists] by heeding China’s warning against meeting with the Dalai Lama in any official capacity.

    In fact, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown appeased the Chinese by barring him from No. 10, agreeing instead to meet only in private at the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This enabled Brown to claim that he was meeting the Dalai Lama only ‘in a spiritual rather than political capacity.’

    (“Punishing China for Its Brutal Crackdown in Tibet?  Hardly!” The iPINIONS Journal, July 28, 2008)

    Mind you, it’s hardly surprising that Western powers would sacrifice democratic principles for the sake of economic gain when it comes to foreign affairs. After all, this has been their only reason for not just supporting but defending dictatorial rule in Saudi Arabia for almost 75 years.

    On this basis alone, South Africa could be forgiven for following suit. Except that it looks like a venal and craven fiend for conspiring to ensure that the global hand it took to freedom is not extended to a friend still suffering under oppression.

    Specifically, South African leaders made quite a show during last week’s memorial events and funeral service of hailing Mandela as a veritable patron saint of the oppressed and of pledging undying fealty to him (and to what he stood for).

    Dalai Lama with Nelson Mandela in Africa APBut nobody can have any doubt that Mandela would never have even countenanced currying favor with the Chinese by denying the Dalai Lama a visa to visit South Africa to attend a peace conference (of all things). Not least because in 1996, while still president, Mandela welcomed the Dalai Lama (as a fellow freedom fighter and fellow winner of the Nobel Peace Prize) with open arms.

    Therefore, you’d think Mandela’s (self-professed) political heirs would rather die than betray not just a fellow freedom fighter like the Dalai Lama, but all they claim Mandela stood for to boot.

    Yet they have been betraying both for years; and the irony (if not hypocrisy) seems completely lost on them:

    Westerners are incredulous of South Africa’s decision to ban the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, from attending a peace conference for Nobel laureates that is scheduled to convene in Johannesburg on Friday.  But nobody familiar with recent developments in South African politics should be.

    A few years ago, communists and other left-wing factions in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) began undermining the presidency of Thabo Mbeki to make way for their standard bearer, Jacob Zuma.  And since then I’ve been chronicling (and lamenting) South Africa’s slow but certain descent into just another dysfunctional, destitute and discredited African country…

    I discerned early on that, given credible allegations that he’s not only a corrupt politician but also a rapist, Zuma knew full well that he would always be persona non grata in the West.  Therefore, I was not at all surprised when he began emulating fellow African pariahs like President Mugabe of Zimbabwe and President al-Bashir of Sudan by forging political and economic ties with China and Russia.

    This is why South Africa couldn’t care any less about outrage in the West over its ban on the Dalai Lama.  Never mind the hypocrisy of Zuma and crew now governing like the Apartheid leaders they once reviled….

    (“South Africa Bans Dalai Lama from Peace Conference to Appease China,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 24, 2009)

    In fact:

    What has happened to the ANC … is that Zuma has transformed it from a party that championed democratic freedoms into one that enforces party loyalty – whether right or wrong. Even worse, it is deploying many of the same tactics of political intimidation and repression that the Apartheid regime deployed during its rule.

    (“South Africa “Betraying Its Values,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 13, 2011)

    Which is why the hypocrisy in all of the talk last week about carrying on Mandela’s legacy was surpassed only by the corruption reflected in recent reports about Zuma using $28 million in public funds to renovate his private residence.  Frankly, I could not help thinking as I watched the spectacular memorial events unfold (against Mandela’s express wishes, incidentally) that the ANC orchestrated them as much to rehabilitate Zuma as to honor Mandela.

    No doubt you recall the dark cloud that rained all over last week’s main event, the highly touted memorial service at which heads of state, including President Obama, paid tribute. This, I submit, was not Mother Nature shedding tears of grief; it was God pissing on South Africa for refusing to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to attend Mandela’s funeral even on compassionate grounds.

    A spokesman says the Dalai Lama will not attend memorial services for fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela in South Africa, where the Buddhist spiritual leader has twice been unable to obtain a visa.

    (The Associated Press, December 9, 2013)

    Meanwhile, just to complete the farce, China’s propaganda authorities ordered local and national media to censor anything speakers said about Mandela’s heroic fight for democratic freedoms, or about their common cause and camaraderie with the Dalai Lama.

    Alas, I suspect the only homage Zuma and his ANC comrades will pay to Mandela’s legacy will be in building towering monuments to him (like the Rio-styled Christ-the-Redeemer statue they unveiled in Pretoria yesterday). Never mind their ulterior motive of trying to hide their flaws in the shadows these monuments cast.


    But South Africa will never be the country Mandela wanted it to be under their leadership….

    Related commentaries:
    China’s Buddhist Intifada
    Punishing China
    SA bans Dalai Lama
    Betraying its values

  • Monday, December 16, 2013 at 5:31 AM

    For Miami Cubans, Hatred of Castro Trumps Respect for Mandela

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    1502753_10202221824444410_1319300662_oThe hysterical concerns Miami Cubans vented about a simple handshake detracted far too much from the rapturous tribute President Obama paid to Nelson Mandela at last week’s memorial service in South Africa. Unsurprisingly, the selfie, tweets, freak show-obsessed media were all too happy to oblige by devoting almost as much coverage to the Miami Cubans’ sideshow as to the South Africans’ main events.

    Miami Cubans, of course, have been on a 50-year odyssey to depose the Castros and reclaim their putative birthright as Cuba’s landed gentry and, well, apartheid-like rulers. They seem possessed of the delusional belief that Fidel Castro and his brother Raul are like Scylla and Charybdis preventing them from returning to their paradise lost.

    Never mind that their failure to find their way back home after all these years, despite a U.S.-led embargo that has operated like a North Star, suggests that the gods might just be playing them for misguided fools.

    Whatever the case, nothing indicates how adrift at sea they are quite like their Chicken-little rantings about Obama shaking hands with Cuban President Raúl Castro at Mandela’s memorial.

    For it’s bad enough that they appeared utterly unconcerned about intruding on this solemn global occasion with their petty parochial politics; to say nothing of showing no regard for the categorical imperatives of diplomatic decorum. But they also appeared blissfully ignorant of the fact that most U.S. presidents, including FDR, JFK, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Regan, have had cause to shake hands with dictators, some of whom, like Joseph Stalin, make the Castros look positively benign.

    Screen-Shot-2013-12-11-at-6.02.26-AM-300x160Here, for example, is how Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the de facto leader of the Miami Cubans who fled Cuba with her family when she was a child, framed the Obama-Castro handshake during a Congressional hearing last week with Secretary of State John Kerry:

    It is nauseating… Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake, but when the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant.

    (FOX News, December 11, 2013)

    Except that the irony seemed completely lost on Ros-Lehtinen that, on the very day when she was treading water with her cheap and inconsequential diatribe about a handshake, Elian Gonzalez, the Castros’ celebrated second-generation heir, was riding a wave of indoctrination to ensure predictable and seamless transitions that will enable their revolution to live on for at least another 50 years:

    Gonzalez, who turned 20 on Friday, traveled to Quito, Ecuador, with a 200-person Cuban delegation for a weeklong youth conference, according to reports.

    ‘Fidel Castro for me is like a father,’ Gonzalez recently told a Cuban paper. ‘I don’t profess to have any religion, but if I did my God would be Fidel Castro. He is like a ship that knew to take his crew on the right path.’

    (New York Daily News, December 9, 2013)

    Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 8.38.11 PMWhich only vindicates my prediction that:

    It is a testament to the conceit and arrogance of Miami Cubans that they firmly believe that – once the Castro brothers die off – they will be able to return to Cuba to inherit the political power and social privileges their ancestors abdicated decades ago. And they assume this prerogative without any regard for the Cubans who have been toiling at home, waiting for their opportunity to govern their country.

    But, at this rate, chances are that a well-indoctrinated Elian Gonzalez will be Cuban dictator before Miami Cubans are disabused of their antic pining for their paradise lost.

    (“Dancing on Fidel Castro’s Grave Is Not Only Unseemly; It’s Premature,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 2, 2006)

    Incidentally, it is noteworthy that U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas flew all the way to South Africa to pay his last respects. His father was born in Cuba, his mother in the United States — in Delaware (i.e., not even in Miami); but Cruz was born in Canada. Moreover, his father fled Cuba in 1957 – long before Castro seized power in 1959.

    Senator Ted CruzIt speaks volumes therefore that even this carpetbagger’s hatred for the Castros is such that Cruz saw nothing wrong with disrespecting Mandela:  by making quite a show of walking out of the memorial when Raúl, the comrade Mandela probably appreciated more than any other world leader singing his praises on that day, stood to pay tribute to him.

    To be fair, though, one can hardly blame Miami Cubans for their conceit and arrogance – given that members of both political parties have pandered to their quixotic cause in this Ted-Cruz fashion from day one. Indeed, only this explains how these “exiles” have been able to prevail upon every president since 1960 to maintain America’s plainly feckless embargo against Cuba. (You could be forgiven for having no clue that the express intent of this embargo was to force the Castros and their heirs out of power.)

    But, if nothing else, Obama’s handshake telegraphs his presumed intent to normalize ties with Cuba, which would clearly be in America’s enlightened national interest – even if it betrays that of a few wannabe Cuban aristocrats living down in Miami.

    He has already lifted restrictions on travel for cultural, educational, and religious purposes. Other steps – like initiating direct talks with the Cuban government, removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism black list, and lifting all restrictions on person-to-person travel – are bound to follow.

    What’s more, I remain convinced that Obama will seal his legacy by prevailing upon Congress to completely lift the embargo, which has done far more to undermine America’s values at home and credibility abroad than Obama’s handshake with Raúl Castro ever could. And he might be aided in this by a cognitive dissonance among young Miami Cubans who are developing less regard for the embargo than Catholics have for contraception.

    Finally, for what it’s worth, my anti-embargo sympathies have always been animated and vexed by the fact that:

    The vast majority of Black Cubans live in more squalid conditions today – four decades into his socialist dictatorship – than they did under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the man Castro overthrew…

    It is precisely because poor Blacks in Cuba have suffered most from America’s embargo against Cuba that I condemn White Miami Cubans for using their considerable political influence to keep it in place.

    Not to mention that they voice support for this embargo while shedding (crocodile) tears about Cubans having to depend on remittances of everything from hard cash to soft toilet paper. Alas, they are too self-righteous to appreciate the brazen, unconscionable contradiction inherent in their support.

    (“Raúl Pledges to Continue Fidel’s 50-year Revolution … Duh!” The iPINIONS Journal, February 26, 2008)

    Screen Shot 2013-12-13 at 11.38.35 AMThat said, I would be remiss not to mention that serious concerns about a fake sign language interpreter detracted far too much from the commendable way the South African government orchestrated last week’s memorial events and funeral service.

    Because reports are that this self-professed schizophrenic, who was standing only arm’s length from Obama and other world leaders, is prone to violent rages and has been accused of numerous crimes, including rape, kidnapping, and even murder.

    Alas, this only reinforces the reputation for administrative incompetence that plagues all African governments. And Lord knows I have lamented often enough about their incompetence. This is not the occasion to comment any further.

    Related commentaries:
    Bush…lift embargo
    Dancing on Castro’s grave
    Castro admits his model has failed
    Raul pledges
    Miami Cubans blackmail Bahamas

  • Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 6:48 AM

    Fair-Weather Comrades and the Misguided Deification of Mandela

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am fond of saying that I have as much love and admiration for Mandela as any non-South African could. But my record of political activism and published commentaries (dating back decades) bears this out.

    This is why I am so seized with contempt for those who appear to have acquired more love and admiration for him in death than I could ever possibly have had for him in life.

    cuba-fidel-mandelaThe problem with this unqualified and unquestioning hero worship we are witnessing is that it risks whitewashing Mandela’s legacy in popular consciousness. This was brought into stark relief yesterday when I heard a putatively well-educated person express incredulous indignation at a video clip of Mandela warmly embracing Fidel Castro.

    She clearly had no clue that Western leaders once condemned Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) the way they condemned Castro and his revolutionary Communist Party.

    The ANC is a typical terrorist organization… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.

    This, according to the July 9, 1996 edition of The Independent, was how British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ridiculed Mandela as a way of voicing her unabashed support for South Africa’s racist Apartheid regime.

    What’s more, I suspect there are many others among the newly converted who would be just as bewildered by images of Mandela embracing Castro more warmly than he has ever embraced any American president.

    But such images serve as enduring testaments to the fact that Castro and others in the communist/non-aligned world were hailing Mandela as the freedom fighter he always was long before it became fashionable for leaders in America and England to do so.

    President Clinton Travels To Africa And DR With FoundationFor example, based on all of the pictures former President Bill Clinton has been tweeting of himself and Mandela, you’d think Mandela actually bought into the Clintonian folklore about them having a father-son relationship.

    Except that those pictures betray:

    Clinton’s work to undermine the economic foundation of the nascent Mandela-led South African republic…

    After Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994, then-President Clinton pressured the nation to adopt trade policies that benefitted U.S. corporations while restricting South African access to drugs treating HIV and AIDS.

    (Huffington Post, December 6, 2013)

    I have often argued that the least Clinton could do to amend for this after leaving the White House was to use his Clinton Global Initiative to get big pharmaceutical companies to make antiretroviral drugs cheaper and more accessible throughout all of Africa. And even then I have always felt constrained to cite facts from my June 20, 2005 commentary “President George W. Bush Has Done More for Africa than Any Other President,” noting in particular that – through his President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative – the United States has funded over $46 billion in HIV/AIDS programs since 2003.

    But how genuinely could we expect a humanitarian like Mandela to embrace a politician like Clinton – who willfully denied life-saving drugs to millions of Africans, when it was politically expedient to do so, even if Clinton is now helping to make those drugs available … to enhance his political legacy?

    Nelson-Mandela-queen-008Therefore, as you see the most powerful people in the world falling all over themselves to sing Mandela’s praises in the coming days, bear in mind that the people Mandela himself loved and admired most (outside of family members) are old comrades – most of whom you will never see on TV or social media.

    Indeed it spoke volumes about Mandela’s character that he always reserved greater affection and appreciation for comrades like Castro – who stood with him during his struggle to free South Africa, than for politicians like Clinton – who rushed to his side to bask in his post-Apartheid reflected glow.

    That said, I honestly don’t know what to make of the most powerful (White) people on earth hailing this (Black) man as the most revered and influential figure of the twentieth century. Everyone from Jomo Kenyatta to Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt must be rolling over in his grave.

    A developing meme in this respect is that Mandela was a combination of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi, which only makes me wonder about their unwitting discrimination against the more apt inclusion of Martin Luther King Jr.

    UnknownLet me hasten to clarify: Mandela deserves every praise hailed in his name and every monument erected in his honor for prevailing upon Whites in South Africa to relinquish power. It’s just that MLK deserves even greater praise and more monuments for prevailing upon Whites in America to fully recognize Black civil rights.

    After all, in the early 1990s, Whites in a beleaguered South Africa, on the poorest continent in the world, faced the existential choice of either relinquishing power peacefully or facing a race war the likes of which the world had never seen. Moreover, even if they had used their superior armaments to kill millions of Blacks and overcome the rest, White South Africans still faced an existential threat from U.S.-led economic sanctions that would have rendered them even poorer and more isolated than North Koreans are today.

    By contrast, in the late 1960s, Whites in a superpower America, on the richest continent in the world, never faced this existential choice. And even if Blacks had rioted in every city in America, they would have done more to harm themselves than pose any threat to White power. To be sure, the Soviet Union tried to exploit the Civil Rights Movement to advance its Cold War agenda against the United States. But nobody ever thought for a moment that the Soviet Union would (or could) do anything to threaten White authority in the United States, let alone pose an existential threat.

    This is why it took MLK’s divine art of moral suasion to overcome far greater odds than Mandela faced.

    Unsurprisingly, MLK published more inspiring words about the universal struggle for freedom during the 11 days he spent in Birmingham jail than Mandela published during the 27 years he spent in Robben Island prison. And don’t get me started on who delivered the more inspiring speeches.

    What’s more, as much as we admire Mandela for spending all of those years in prison for his cause, and then forgiving his jailers; surely we must admire MLK more for dying for his, and then forgiving his assassin:

    We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive… It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression.

    (“Loving Your Enemies,” King Center Archives, November 17, 1957)

    Anyway, the point is that, given the inferiority complex Whites tried to systematically impose on Blacks throughout much of the twentieth century, I hope the irony inherent in Whites deifying Mandela is not lost on you.

    Unknown-1But if we must deify any Black political leader, I still think it should be Frederick Douglass. I delineated some of the reasons why in “Mall At Last!  Mall At Last! Thank God Almighty, a Black Is on the Mall At Last!” (November 14, 2006):

    • Douglass was born in slavery; MLK was born in freedom.
    • Douglass spent his formative years on a plantation scrapping with his master’s dogs for food to eat; MLK spent his in relative luxury dining with America’s Black elite.
    • Douglass effectively taught himself to read and write; MLK was educated at America’s best schools, including Morehouse College and Boston University.
    • Douglass escaped from slavery, settled in the North, and began his political activism by personally challenging Jim Crow segregation laws that were as strictly enforced in the Antebellum North as they were in the Deep South; MLK graduated from university, settled in the South, and began his political activism by accepting the call to lead Blacks who had already begun the now-seminal Montgomery Bus Boycott.
    • Douglass was the undisputed Black leader agitating for the abolition of slavery; MLK was challenged by Malcolm X and Stokeley Carmichael – whose message of self-defense and Black nationalism resonated more with Black youths (for whom ‘by any means necessary’ was more liberating and empowering than ‘I have a dream’).
    • Douglass, who died aged 77, lived long enough not only to see his dream of the abolition of slavery fulfilled, but also to become a professional man (as a U.S. Marshall and recorder of deeds), an international statesman (as U.S. Ambassador to Santo Domingo and Haiti), and a political champion for yet another cause (Women’s Rights); MLK, who died aged 39, saw his dream of racial equality deferred so long that he did not live long enough to see it fulfilled to any significant degree.
    • Douglass’s published essential writings and speeches on the fight for freedom from slavery are far more voluminous than MLK’s on the struggle for Black civil rights (see articles from one of Douglass’s many newspapers North Star, as well as his autobiographies Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Life and Times of Frederic Douglass. And eyewitness accounts by the likes of notorious abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison suggest that Douglass was every bit the orator MLK was. Having read the text, I suspect that his ‘What to the slave is the 4th of July?’ speech, which he delivered on July 5, 1852, was even more provocative and inspiring than MLK’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.

    But I digress.

    Nelson-Mandela-front-pages--The-New-Yorker-2896242.pngTo his credit, Mandela himself will probably be rolling over in his grave if the deification of him now underway continues. Not least because I heard him say in his own words, in a BBC documentary narrated by David Dimbleby yesterday, that from the time his comrades first elected him head of the ANC, while they were all still in prison, he worried about people treating him like a “demigod.”

    So mind your hosannas people, and know that Mandela was not God.


    NOTE: I am sensible enough to appreciate that this global zeitgeist of Mandela worship is such that virtually nobody will be interested in reading anything not related to him. And, as indicated above, I prefer to limit my public grieving to my published commentaries supporting the causes he lived (and, admittedly, was willing to die) for.

    Therefore, as I am loath to contribute to this funereal frenzy (oxymoron intended), this will stand as my last commentary until it all comes to an end with Mandela’s burial on December 15.

    Related commentaries:
    Mall at last
    Mandela is dead

  • Friday, December 6, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    Mandela Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    His family finally let him go….

    Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 5.55.01 PMCondolences to my friends and comrades in South Africa; although, it speaks volumes about what a beloved and influential man Nelson Mandela was that people all around the world are grieving his loss just as much.

    In fact, so inspiring was Mandela that, in his tribute just moments ago, President Obama cited participation in anti-apartheid protests as his first foray into political activism and public service.

    Like Obama:

    I am proud of the fact that I participated in the US-led international protests during the 1980s that precipitated the end of White rule (Apartheid) in South Africa. I remember thinking back then that a South Africa ruled by liberated Blacks could become the beacon of hope and the land of opportunity for Africans that America has been for people all over the world.

    (“In South Africa, Xenophobic Blacks Prove Almost as Deadly as Apartheid Whites,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 23, 2008)

    It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read any of my commentaries on his dying days that I was more relieved than sad when I heard the news of his passing. I opened one of those commentaries as follows:

    I have no doubt that when the time finally comes, South Africans will put on a state funeral for Nelson Mandela that will make those Catholics put on for dead popes seem modest and irreverent…

    But this will stand in glaring contrast to the way these same South Africans have disrespected him during these last years and days of his life. And it is particularly disheartening that his family members are responsible for most of this disrespect.

    (“Who the Hell Does Winnie Mandela Think She Is,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 3, 2013)

    imagesSure enough, reports are that we’re in for 10 days of mourning and tributes until his burial. The highlight will surely be the unprecedented assemblage of heads of state, from every corner of the earth, at the state funeral I referenced above.

    But a constant, if not irritating, feature will surely be public figures, of every stripe, rushing to eulogize him (in every medium from TV to Twitter) in ways that flatter them more than honor him.

    Ironically enough, this began when South Africa’s hopelessly compromised president, Jacob Zuma, announced the news of Mandela’s death this afternoon. For it is no exaggeration to say that Zuma was never more presidential than when he proceeded to deliver a truly stirring tribute on behalf of his people.

    But, honestly, I can think of no better way for those of us outside South Africa to pay our respects than to go to cinema to see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom when it is released. (That will be on Christmas Day in the U.S. and on January 3 in the UK).

    In the meantime, you can spare yourself all kinds of self-serving reflections on Mandela by being very discriminating while watching TV and trolling social media.

    That said, I shall end this appropriately modest tribute by sharing why I am feeling more relieved than sad.

    There’s a reason why some of us execute living wills: we expect them to spare us the indignities of spending our last days in a sterile ICU hooked up to all kinds of death-defying tubes that do nothing more than prolong our suffering.

    This is why I was so dismayed by a CNN report today that Madiba spent the last six months of his life on ventilators to defy his failed lungs and on dialysis machines to defy his failed kidneys.

    Frankly, knowing this, I don’t see how anyone cannot feel more relief than sadness that these indignities and his prolonged suffering are finally over.

    But, apropos of my plaintive commentary “It’s Time to Let Mandela Go,” it’s perversely coincidental that, while his daughter was on one TV channel in London (at the red-carpet premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) assuring the world that Mandela was doing fine, Zuma was on another back home in South Africa informing the world that he was dead. He was 95.

    May he, at long last, rest in peace.

    Related commentaries:
    Mandela’s body goes home
    It’s time

    * This commentary is originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 8:02 pm

  • Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 5:16 AM

    Obama Addresses Growing Gap Between Rich and Poor … Finally!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I count myself among the dying breed of unabashed liberals who are convinced that the growing gap between rich and poor is tantamount to a metastasizing cancer in the American body politic. Moreover, our diagnosis is that almost all of the economic, political and social maladies ailing this country – from crime and unemployment to political dysfunction, sub-standard education, and illegal immigration – are mere symptoms of this cancer.

    This is why we have been so frustrated watching President Obama expend his political capital on treating these symptoms instead of on finding a cure for this cancer.

    As it happens, I shared my abiding concerns in this respect in two recent commentaries: “CEO Pay Just Reflection of America’s Economic Apartheid” (November 18, 2013), in which I sounded a clarion call for an angry populism to redress this growing gap; and “Pope Francis Condemns the ‘Cult [and] Idolatry of Money’” (November 27, 2013), in which I hailed the pope for condemning the covetous focus on the rich at the expense of the poor as an abomination against God.

    Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 10.47.47 PMI would like to think it was my November 18 commentary, but it’s far more likely that it was the pope’s condemnation that inspired Obama to finally address the growing gap between rich and poor, which he himself described yesterday (in a speech outlining the agenda for the last three years of his presidency) as “the defining challenge of our time.”

    Here, courtesy of whitehouse.gov, is how he echoed my lamentations as he presented his own diagnosis of this cancer:

    The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income; it now takes half. Whereas in the past, the average CEO made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today’s CEO now makes 273 times more.

    And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country.

    628x471Incidentally, it makes a mockery of the patriotism conservatives are always professing that, while CEOs are taking home an average annual pay of $12 million, service workers (representing 30 million hardworking Americans) are on a nation-wide strike today to force their respective CEOs to increase their pay from $7.25 to $10.10-an-hour. This would earn them a barely livable average annual pay of $20,200, which is still less than half of the $50,000 those CEOs make in one day. Forget political patriotism! This smacks of economic apartheid!

    No doubt this is why, like me, Obama cited the pope for the proposition that it is a national disgrace, if not an unpardonable sin, for any country to show more concern about its stock market losing a few points than about its people going hungry and homeless.

    I felt unqualified solidarity when Obama admonished that:

    The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life and what we stand for around the globe.

    I was even encouraged by his prescription for curing this cancer, which included (in my own words):

    • Enacting the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 ($10.10) to ensure that every full-time worker earns enough to live on without the indignity of having to rely on all kinds of social welfare programs … like food stamps and SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Not to mention that a livable wage would spare the rest of us the tax burden of having to fund these programs. For example:

    A staggering number of bank tellers in New York City use public assistance to get by… Thirty-nine percent of NYC-based bank tellers and their families rely on at least one government assistance program, like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit or food stamps.

    (The Huffington Post, December 4, 2013)

    Meanwhile, the rich investment bankers our tax dollars bailed out are now making 100 times more in bonuses than these poor bank tellers make in wages….

    • Lifting the racist scales from the eyes of poor White folks so that they can see that they have far more in common with poor Black and Brown folks than they do with rich White folks … like former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. For example, if poor Whites voted more according to their economic interests than their racial prejudices, Congress would be comprised of politicians who regard voting for things like healthcare and immigration reform as an article of faith.
    • Reordering national priorities to invest more in education and infrastructure than in corporate welfare and military arms.

    Conspicuously absent from Obama’s prescription, however, was a treatment I believe is indispensable to curing the growing gap between rich and poor: reforming the tax code.

    Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 10.05.42 PMApropos of which, it might be helpful to know that, during a December 2, 2013 interview on Charlie Rose, no less a person than conservative hedge fund manager Stan Druckenmiller literally shocked the eponymous host when he conceded that he would have been perfectly happy to pay more in taxes to extend Medicaid coverage to the 40-50 million uninsured Americans.

    I agree; not least because this would have spared the country the bureaucratic and technical nightmare implementing Obamacare is turning out to be. And more targeted legislation could have been enacted to redress unfair insurance practices related to issues like pre-existing conditions and annual/lifetime caps on essential benefits.

    Of course, comprehensive tax reform would include other measures, like eliminating deductions that favor the rich. But there’s no gainsaying that the most efficient way to reduce the growing gap between rich and poor in America is to reform the tax code to make it more progressive and, consequently, make the nation’s wealth more redistributive.

    My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody… I think when you spread the wealth around it’s good for everybody.

    (Barak Obama, ABC News, October 14, 2008)

    That was the Obama who impressed so many of us in 2008. Let’s hope he finds himself again, before it’s too late.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 5:50 AM

    The Lolo Jonesing of Lindsey Vonn

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    131009141829-lindsey-vonn-knee-injury-horizontal-galleryWhen Lindsey Vonn crashed during a Colorado training run two weeks ago, most commentators said that she had dashed all hopes of defending her Olympic downhill title at the Sochi Winter Olympics in two months.

    To be sure, re-injuring the same right knee she blew out at the World Championships last February does not bode well for it holding up at the Olympics next February. After all, despite having nine months to rehab it after that first injury, her knee was still unable to withstand the stress of competitive downhill skiing. Now she has only nine weeks to rehab it again before the Games begin.

    And, lest you think this second injury was not as bad and may not require the kind of surgery that kept her off skis for so many months after the first one, consider this:

    Lindsey Vonn is delaying further surgery on her right knee for as long as possible in hopes of skiing at the Sochi Olympics… She is seeing if she can ski without another operation because that would all but end any chance of defending her Olympic downhill title in February.

    (ESPN, December 1, 2013)

    lindsey-vonn-coffee-table1I submit, however, that Vonn dashed all hopes of defending her title years ago, when she began courting celebrity fame (of the type Kim Kardashian personifies) instead of pursuing more Olympic glory (of the type Michael Phelps personifies).

    tw-lindsey-vonn-sexyAnd let’s face it, as acclaimed as Phelps is, like most Olympians, his fame seems limited to quadrennial fleets of fancy. Yet, even this kind of fame is so addictive that Phelps is already hinting at coming out of retirement to bask in more of it at the 2016 Rio Games.

    Vonn seemed fated to similar fleets of fancy … until she pulled a Kimye – not just by dating Tiger Woods, but by branding herself more as a sex symbol than as an Olympic athlete.

    The star skier stripped down to a bikini and skimpy work-out gear for a sexy shoot with Red Bulletin magazine shortly before injuring her knee in a second skiing mishap.

    (Daily Mail, December 2, 2013)

    hot_sports_stars_pictures_lolo_jonesExcept that she has clearly failed to learn from the instructive lesson Track & Field star Lolo Jones provided. For during last year’s Summer Olympics in London, Jones found to her eternal humiliation and regret that this kind of Kardashian branding not only alienated her esprit de corps with female teammates, but also detracted too much from the mental focus necessary to become an Olympic champion.

    hqdefaultRecall that Jones was headed for certain gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, when she tripped over the 9th hurdle (of 10) and stumbled across the finish line next to last.

    No American athlete has enjoyed more pre-Olympic publicity than hurdler Lolo Jones. One could be forgiven for thinking that this has everything to do with [her promotion of] her relatively stunning beauty.

    (“London Olympics: Day 11,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 7, 2012) 

    But far from redeeming herself in London last year, Jones finished fourth. This gave her own USA teammates just cause to publicly scoff at the disconnect between her performance on the track and the media hailing her as the sport’s pin-up girl.

    Here’s how this played out for the world to see when an NBC post-race interview with Dawn Harper (who won silver) and Kellie Wells (bronze) turned, inevitably, to Lolo Jones:

    INTERVIEWER: You guys kinda hang out together … Is there fighting amongst the team – we’re talking about Lolo Jones if you can’t figure this out – is there an awkward situation or now that it’s over we’ve all just moved on?

    WELLS: Well, I think that, on the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed. And that’s all that really needs to be said.

    (NBC Sports, August 8, 2012)

    To her credit, though, Jones appears so determined to vindicate her celebrity fame with Olympic glory that she has placed herself in contention to join Vonn as a member of the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, competing in bobsled.

    images-2Meanwhile, given all of the media focus on Vonn these days, you’d never know that Julia Mancuso is America’s most decorated female Olympic skier: gold in giant slalom at the 2006 Turin Games; silver (behind Vonn) in downhill and silver in combined at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

    What’s more, she was likely to win more medals than any other American skier in Sochi even before Vonn re-injured her knee. Not least because Mancuso spent her off season engaging in more career-enhancing activities, like surfing and free diving, than celebrity-enhancing ones, like following Tiger Woods around golf courses and escorting him to red-carpet events.


    Being upstaged by Vonn was nothing new to Mancuso, despite her distinction of having the most Olympic hardware in the Alpine events of any American woman.

    ‘It’s always hard when you’re in a sport where there’s a superstar: It’s always going to be about the superstar,’ Mancuso said. ‘But I never got into the sport for that. I got into it because I loved it.’

    (New York Times, November 28, 2013)

    Julia in HawaiiMeowww….

    Incidentally, for what it’s worth, Mancuso also strikes me as far more attractive and personable. Therefore, I never got the media focus on Vonn – especially when Mancuso was winning more medals.

    To her credit, though, I gather that she does not harbor nearly as much resentment towards Vonn as Jones’s teammates clearly harbored towards her.

    US Open GolfThat said, if Vonn makes it to Sochi and Tiger condescends to follow her up and down the slopes the way she’s been following him around the golf course at Major championships lately, the media focus on her will intensify a thousand times.

    I think it was a mistake for him to approve this [‘winning takes care of everything’] ad. Foremost because it suggests that he is possessed of the same arrogance, self-indulgence, and insensitivity that wrecked his marriage … and precipitated professional downfall…

    Now we know why his wife refused to take him back. Which makes his new girlfriend, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, seem like an even bigger fool for love, or an even bigger bitch for (Tiger-orbit) fame, than widely suspected.

    (“Tiger No.1 Again! But…,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 27, 2013)

    But if Vonn really wants to emulate Kim Kardashian, all she needs to do now is secretly tape herself and Tiger having sex (because he’s far too sensible to consent), and then leak it the way Kim leaked her infamous sex tape. This would guarantee her not only more millions than Kim made, but also more celebrity fame than Kim has achieved.

    At which point Tiger, with his less than stellar media persona, would have served his purpose and she could move on to a more suitable, telegenic celebrity partner … like actor Gerard Butler or NFL player Cam Newton or, ironically enough, Kim Kardashian’s ex, NBA player Kris Humphries – who was reportedly in hot pursuit of Vonn before she decided Tiger was a better catch … for now.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    Ukraine’s Never-Ending Europe Spring

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m on record hailing Ukrainians as my favorite ex-communists. Alas, I’m also on record lamenting that, ever since their triumphal Orange Revolution in 2005, they have done nothing but trample all over my hopes for the political development of their country.

    Just two years after that revolution, which was supposed to set them on an inexorable path towards a thriving democracy, it became agonizingly clear that Ukrainians are more divided among themselves than they ever were with the Russians who once lorded over them.

    No American politician could have anticipated the obsession fractious Ukrainians evidently developed for elections after their split from the former Soviet Union. After all, Sunday’s national poll was the third in three years, which puts the Ukrainians on track to make the Italians’ promiscuous penchant for changing governments seem positively chaste.

    (“My Favorite Ex-Communists: the Ukrainians,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 2, 2007)

    Specifically, Ukrainians have been beset by irreconcilable differences between Ukrainian-speaking citizens in the West – who long for their country to be fully integrated into Europe, and Russian-speaking citizens in the East – who long for it to rekindle Cold War ties with Russia.

    article-2516473-19C22A9E00000578-178_964x642Which is why there’s a Groundhog-Day spectacle about the latest protests, which began 10 days ago, to bring down yet another Ukrainian government:

    Ukrainian protesters blockaded the main government building on Monday, trying to bring down President Viktor Yanukovych with a general strike after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against his decision to abandon an EU integration pact.

    Demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, which saw violent clashes with the police, drew as many as 350,000 people, the biggest public rally in the ex-Soviet state since the ‘orange revolution’ overturned a stolen election nine years ago.

    Yanukovych’s decision to abandon a trade pact with the European Union and instead seek closer economic ties with Russia has stirred deep passions in a country where many people yearn to join the European mainstream and escape Moscow’s orbit.

    (Reuters, December 2, 2013)

    Only God knows how this will turn out. But I would bet my life savings on Ukraine ending up in Europe; even if Russian President Vladimir Putin tries, again, to freeze it out and extort its loyalty by cutting off the gas Russia supplies – not just to Ukraine but many countries in Europe, including France and Germany.

    All the same, it would not surprise me in the least if Putin does to Ukraine what he did to Georgia; namely, deploy troops to cut off the pro-Russian parts of the country….

    In the meantime, I shall suffice to share excerpts from just a few of my previous commentaries, in chronological order, that should explain why Ukrainians seem caught in a vicious cycle of political unrest.

    Yushenko-1From “Viktor Yushchenko Comes to Washington,” (April 7, 2005):

    Yesterday, the newly elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, received a hero’s welcome before addressing a Joint Session of the United States Congress. Yushchenko thanked President George W. Bush for standing firm in his support for Ukraine’s peaceful Orange Revolution and vowed to build a resolutely American-style democracy in heart of the old Soviet Union.

    From “Putin Fires First Salvo in New Cold War in Europe,” (January 3, 2006):

    Putin made Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko an offer he could not refuse: Like a true dictator, Putin told Yushchenko that if Ukraine’s 47 million ‘orange revolutionaries’ wanted to continue receiving gas from Russia to cook their food, heat their homes, and drive their cars, they would have to pay four times as much. When Yushchenko refused, Putin made good on his threat and cut off the gas supply!

    images-1[Incidentally, it should have come as no surprise when Bloomberg published a September 17, 2013 report headlined, “Vladimir Putin, the Richest Man on Earth” – with an estimated fortune of $40-60 billion. And bear in mind that he comes from peasant stock and has never held a non-government job in his life.

    But the reason Putin is now the richest, and arguably the most powerful, man on earth is that, in addition to using Russia’s vast oil and gas resources as political weapons, he has been using them as personal commodities to enrich himself ever since his first term as president in 2000.  Most notoriously, this included confiscating the oil company of Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and throwing him in the gulag in 2003, where he’s still rotting away to this day.]

    From “Update on My Favorite Ex-Communists,” (October 2, 2007):

    Only months after his election, Yushchenko’s myriad failures as a leader became so untenable that many erstwhile ‘orange revolutionaries’ (i.e., Ukrainians who risked their lives to support his call for democracy) were already pining for a return to communist rule.

    In fact, Yushchenko spent so much time trying to manage the grandiose ambitions of his government ministers that he was utterly incapable of delivering on any of his election promises: most notably, to eradicate corruption, establish fiscal transparency, and set Ukraine on a path towards sustainable economic development.

    ukrainecIt was not surprising, therefore, that Yushchenko’s most decisive act as president was sacking Yulia Tymoshenko – the charismatic woman he appointed prime minister and who, to his understandable chagrin, many Ukrainians thought personified the spirit of the Orange Revolution.

    Unfortunately, this only deepened disaffection with his leadership and exacerbated the democratic growing pains of all Ukrainians. And to make matters worse, instead of going quietly, Tymoshenko led a mutiny against him, which caused their governing coalition to crumble in abject failure.

    This in turn led to new elections held in March 2006, which resulted in the improbable return to power of unreformed communists led by Viktor Yanukovych – the man Yushchenko claims headed the Russian-inspired attempt to assassinate him.

    ukraineb-300x222From “Update on My Favorite Ex-Communists,” (September 24, 2008):

    There were great expectations last year that the gunshot re-marriage between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the two leaders of Ukraine’s democratic forces, would last. But I was more cynical. In fact, despite writing that ‘perhaps this third time will prove a charm,’ I ended last year’s update as follows:

    ‘Chances are even better, however, that I’ll be writing a similar update a year from now after another round of elections are called to end yet another period of political deadlock….’

    And, sure enough, here I am.

    It is noteworthy, however, that this third divorce was caused by far more than persistent irreconcilable differences between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Because it was triggered by Tymoshenko’s refusal to stand by Yushchenko when he went out on a limb in June to support another ex-communist, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in his failed attempt to oust Russian forces from his country.

    Yushchenko claims that Tymoshenko not only betrayed him (and Ukraine’s democratic forces) but was actually plotting ‘a political and constitutional coup d’etat’ by joining Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of Ukraine’s pro-Russian party, in accusing Georgia’s democratic forces of provoking the Russian invasion.

    ukrainefFrom “Alas, Most Ukrainians Believe in Constant Change, if Not in Chaos,” (March 4, 2010):

    Well, it’s little more than a year, but this latest update brings more of the same. Because, after joining forces to utterly frustrate Yushchenko’s presidency, Tymoshenko and Yanukovych began plotting against each other immediately to replace him.

    This led to new presidential elections last month, which resulted in Yanukovych defeating Tymoshenko.  Yet, true to form, this latest change has only ushered in a new term of political chaos and dysfunction.

    In this case, just as she defied Yushchenko, Tymoshenko defied Yanukovych’s demands for her to resign as prime minister so that he could appoint someone whose sole ambition was not to take his job…

    This means that Ukraine is probably in for another round of snap parliamentary elections before summer.  And so it goes….

    ukrainb-300x205From “Rise and Fall of Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko,” (October 14, 2011):

    A judge sentenced former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison for abusing her powers, by signing a sweetheart oil deal with Russia, while in office. And to compound her woes, the state security service filed additional corruption charges against her only yesterday, claiming that she misappropriated over $400 million from the government’s budget to pay off a debt owed to Russia by an energy company she once ran…

    Tymoshenko denies everything of course, claiming that she’s being persecuted for her political beliefs by Ukraine’s unrepentant communist president, Viktor Yanukovych. Whatever the case, these new charges mean that she could end up spending the rest of her life in prison.

    Mind you, such a fate would be entirely in keeping with the Joan-of-Arc persona she has cultivated over the years. And she will doubtless spin her imprisonment as martyrdom for the noble cause of Ukrainian democracy, which she and her fellow Orange Revolutionaries were mandated to usher in six years ago.

    Never mind that all of her former political partners would probably describe her as more of a cross between Mata Hari and the Black Widow; and that her imprisonment is her just deserts…

    ukrained-300x193Clearly, when all is said and done, Tymoshenko is learning the hard way that the difference between a Democratic president like Yushchenko and a Communist one like Yanukovych is that the former just fires public servants who refuse to carry out his political agenda; the latter throws them in prison.

    This brings us full circle – with former Orange Revolutionaries fighting to overthrow the pro-Russian Yanukovych once again.

    ‘Our plan is clear: It’s not a demonstration; it’s not a reaction; it’s a revolution,’ said Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister who is now an opposition leader.

    (The Associated Press, December 1, 2013)

    ukraine-300x141Never one to be sidelined during a national fight, Tymoshenko went on a hunger strike in solidarity with these anti-government protesters. She’s in her eighth day and is probably wondering why the international media are spending more time covering their protests than her strike.

    For his part, Yushchenko led negotiations with European leaders to formulate terms for Ukraine’s Association Agreement with Europe, which Yanukovych balked at signing at the eleventh hour (showing himself more fearful of Russia’s cold shoulder than solicitous of Europe’s warm embrace).

    Thus continues the political triangle among these three, which has only reinforced Ukraine’s reputation of being either a Russian lapdog or an ungovernable mess ever since its disassociation from the Soviet Union in 1991.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, December 2, 2013 at 5:57 AM

    Thailand’s Never-Ending Asian Spring…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    About 30,000 protesters launched a ‘people’s coup’ on Thailand’s government on Sunday, swarming state agencies in violent clashes, taking control of a state broadcaster, and forcing the prime minister to flee a police compound…

    It is the latest dramatic turn in a conflict pitting Bangkok’s urban middle class and royalist elite against the mostly poor, rural supporters of [Prime Minister] Yingluck and her billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 military coup.

    (Reuters, December 1, 2013)

    Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 12.41.13 PMFrankly, Thais seem caught in a vicious cycle of people’s coups. I began commenting on them in 2006, when I admonished against their practice of resorting to street protests primarily to overturn the results of national elections.

    Even a benign (i.e., popular and bloodless) military 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 within months.

    Of course, given that, throughout their 74-year democracy, Thais have changed their government by coups as often as by elections, I suppose it’s no surprise that even former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai seems resigned to military coups as an oxymoronic staple of Thai democracy…

    Even though martial law has been declared, it’s reasonable to expect that democracy will soon be restored and all will be well in Thailand … until the next military coup….

    (“Thailand’s Benign Military Coup…,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 20, 2006)

    images-1Sure enough, here is what I wrote just two years later:

    After months of 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 PM 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. Otherwise the protesters are bound to return to the streets and to the airports [where protesters barricaded themselves on this occasion]….

    (“Thailand Suffers Another Coup – This Time by an Angry Mob,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 3, 2008)

    _71343505_020132168-1This is why, when Thaksin’s sister Yingluck became prime minister in 2011, instead of hailing her as the latest in my pantheon of women leaders taking over the world, I remonstrated:

    It seemed almost schizophrenic when Thailand descended into years of political instability after [the 2006] coup, pitting Thaksin loyalists (aka Red Shirts) against opposition forces (aka Yellow Shirts).

    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…

    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…

    (“Alas, Thailand’s First Female PM Is Just a Puppet,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 12, 2011)

    images-2Sure enough….

    Therefore, even though the Groundhog-Day events unfolding there today are eminently newsworthy, I hope I can be forgiven for having nothing more to say. Instead I shall end with this ominous bit of reporting yesterday by the BBC:

    Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban says he has met PM Yingluck Shinawatra and given her two days to ‘return power to the people’…

    The protesters had declared Sunday the decisive ‘V-Day’ of what they termed a ‘people’s coup’.

    They say Ms. Yingluck’s Administration is controlled by her brother, exiled ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, and they want to replace it with a ‘People’s Council’.

    NOTE: Ukraine seems caught in a similar vicious cycle – as the hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters rampaging the streets of Kiev today will attest. I began commenting on its oxymoronic march towards democracy in 2005 and will publish a similar update tomorrow.

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