• Friday, May 31, 2013 at 5:08 AM

    ‘Spider-Man’ Still Flying High on Broadway

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Ultimate-Spider-Man-Avenging-DVD-box-artI was among those who not only panned the puerility of turning the derring-dos of a comic-book hero into a Broadway show, but also ridiculed the technical difficulties producers had trying to replicate them on stage.

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

    (New York Post, November 29, 2010)

    But I was acutely aware not only of how fickle theater critics could be, but also of what little it takes to entertain an American public hooked on reality-TV:

    I don’t know who came up with the harebrained idea of turning ‘Spider-Man’ into a Broadway musical…

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

    (“Spider-Man … On Broadway?!” The iPINIONS Journal, December 1, 2010)

    article-0-1A0F779B000005DC-182_634x395This is why, despite the show’s absurd premise and production woes, I was not at all surprised to wake up yesterday to this boastful headline:

    The Sweetest Thing! Bono and The Edge celebrate 1000th performance of their controversial musical Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.

    (Daily Mail, May 30, 2013)

    So much for the critics, eh?  In fact, according to FOX News, Spider-Man: Turn Off  The Dark is:

    • the most popular show on Broadway;
    • holds the record for the highest single-week attendance in Broadway history; and
    • rakes in an average of over $1 million each week.

    This final, bottom-line stat is very important because it means that this show has already recouped its unprecedented $65 million production costs. And no two people can be more pleased (and feel more vindicated) than Bono and The Edge of U2 – principal investors as well as infamous writers of the “dull score” the Post’s theater critic complained about.

    Therefore, all I can do is reiterate the lamentation that truly animated my criticism:

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

    (“Spider-Man … On Broadway?! The iPINIONS Journal, December 1, 2010)

    So stay tuned for Iron-Man: De-nuking Iran…?

    In the meantime, if you’re visiting New York City and would like to see a Broadway show, I urge you to consider a play like The Assembled Parties or, if you’re celebrity-obsessed, Vanya and Sonia and Marsha and Spike featuring Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce or Lucky Guy featuring Tom Hanks and Courtney B. Vance. And if you have kids tagging along who are nagging you to see Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, tell them to go read the friggin’ comic books.

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  • Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 5:22 AM

    Coach Phil Jackson on Michael vs. Kobe

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    images-2You could be forgiven for thinking there’s merit in Phil Jackson, the most successful coach in NBA history, comparing Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant as Basketball players.

    But such comparisons are good for nothing more than stirring up argument among friends, preferably at a neighborhood sports bar.  For, as Kobe shrewdly tweeted on May 17, 2013 in response to Jackson’s comments:

    The comparisons are #apple2oranges.

    For example, Muhammad Ali is the self-professed “greatest fighter of all time.” But many Boxing analysts would argue (in fact, have argued) that no fighter in the history of the sport would’ve stood a chance against Mike Tyson in his prime.

    And here is why argument always ensues:

    I disagree; because I remember well how Ali literally toyed with George Foreman, the Tyson of his day, before knocking him out in the eighth round of their historic “Rumble in the Jungle.” But I digress.

    UnknownFor what it’s worth, Jackson claims that Michael was tougher than Kobe, physically and mentally; that he was better at controlling a game, offensively and defensively; and that, unlike Kobe, who tends to panic and force things when his shot is off, Michael had the self-confidence to dominate the game in other ways until his shot came back to him, which it invariably did.

    Fine. I just wish he wasn’t telling us things we have seen for ourselves a thousand times.

    Which begs the question: why would Jackson betray his reputation for inscrutable, Zen-like wisdom by peddling such pedestrian observations? Oh, right, he’s stirring up sales for his new memoir, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success.

    Given that title, I suppose he could’ve added that Michael was better still because he helped Jackson win six of those eleven rings as coach of the Chicago Bulls (1989-98); whereas Kobe helped him win only five as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers (1998-2011).

    Incidentally, I have no doubt that Kobe will return next season from what should have been a career-ending torn Achilles last month. But I fear he will fail in his quest to tie or surpass Michael’s tally of six rings.

    Indeed, the only way Kobe could emulate Michael at this point would be to end his career in even greater ignominy than Michael did, which was as a wobbly, hobbling shadow of himself, playing more as team mascot than team leader for the Washington Wizards.

    russell-chamberlainBut, given that Jackson is clearly using championship rings as a measure of success, Bill Russell must figure prominently in any argument about the best player in NBA history. After all, he won 11 rings in 13 seasons as the star of the Boston Celtics and, by serving as coach as well for two of those championship seasons, he established a level of accomplishment no player can ever emulate.

    Yet nothing betrays these silly apple2oranges comparisons quite like Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the most dominant player in NBA history, managing to win only two rings. This should remind folks like Jackson and barroom debaters that the success of superstars like Michael and Kobe always depends on teammates like Scottie Pippen and Shaquille O’Neal, respectively.

    drjsmoveNot to mention that Dr. J (Julius Erving) was easily the most exciting player to watch, bar none – a fact borne out by The Doctor, a documentary showcasing his high-flying, gravity-defying feats that premiers on NBA TV next week.

    Meanwhile, LeBron James, the league’s current MVP, is leading his team, the Miami Heat, in a do-or-die series against the Indiana Pacers for the sacrificial honor of facing the indomitable San Antonio Spurs in this year’s NBA Finals.

    But even if he were to lead them pass Indiana and San Antonio, LeBron would be rewarded with only his second ring.  Which means that he would have to win at least three more (perhaps even in three-peat fashion) to be a serious contender in these apples2oranges comparisons.

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  • Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 5:13 AM

    Most Trusted People in America? Politicians Need Not Apply

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    FFN_Jolie_Angelina_CHP_041113_51065532My cynicism about the cult of celebrity in our society is such that it would not surprise me to learn that kids trust their favorite movie or rock star more than they trust their parents or pastor/priest/rabbi.

    It would be one thing if I could dismiss this plainly misplaced trust as a teenage rite of passage. But the sad truth is that adults are no less gullible.

    In fact, even politicians elected to govern for the general welfare are so star-struck they would happily spend hours listening to the lyrical pronouncements of a rock star on poverty alleviation. Whereas they would not give a Nobel Prize-winning economist one minute to educate them on the macroeconomic policies required to do so.

    It is a sad commentary on the state of world affairs that the political initiatives of a movie or rock star are taken more seriously than those of a seasoned statesman. But that is the perverse reality when it comes to the global fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS and unconscionable poverty throughout the developing world.

    How else can one explain the President of Sierra Leone drooling over Angelina Jolie last week as he promised HER immediate action on redressing human rights abuses in his country – after rejecting repeated appeals by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to do just that…

    Alas, worshiping celebrities is not merely the avocation of giddy teenage girls; world leaders seem equally enthralled by these latter-day-performing saints.

    (“Celebrity-Obsessed World Has Made Actors and Rock Stars Statesmen of Our Time,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 23, 2005)

    readersdigestusjune2013Therefore, it came as no surprise to me that, according to a highly reliable poll in the June 2013 issue of Reader’s Digest, the three most trusted people in America are Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Denzel Washington.

    To understand how our trust instinct shapes our culture, we compiled a list of over 200 American opinion shapers and headline makers from 15 highly influential professions. Then we polled a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 American adults, asking them to rank each person based on trustworthiness.

    Mind you, people were asked to base their ranking on “integrity, character, exceptional talent, drive to personal excellence, internal moral compass, message, honesty and leadership.” All of which, ironically, are qualities one would expect to find more in a person who takes an oath to honor the public’s trust than in one who gets paid to make the public believe things that are not real.

    Yet, of the top 10 most trusted people, six are movie stars and one is a movie director. By contrast, only one active politician was trustworthy enough to even make the list of 100, and that is no less a person than the president of the United States, Barack Obama, who ranked a lowly 65th.

    Apropos of my diss above of religious leaders, perhaps Obama can derive some consolation from knowing that he is more trustworthy than Billy Graham, the reputed pastor to presidents, who ranked 67th. But the only consolation I derived from reviewing this list is that the American people were at least smart enough not to include a single Republican….

    That said, honorable mention goes to First Lady Michelle Obama who ranked 19th; to former President Jimmy Carter who ranked 24th (although he is far more known today for his charitable and humanitarian work than for his politics); and to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who ranked 51st (which I suppose holds her in enviable stead to launch her campaign to replace the 65th-ranked Obama in 2016).

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  • Tuesday, May 28, 2013 at 5:17 AM

    Cannes 2013: All about Nouveau Lesbianism and Retro Chauvinism

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    cannes-2013-landscape-poster-n1445I first became aware of the relevance and influence of the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 when Taxi Driver won its most prestigious award, the Palme d’Or. Cannes seemed to be the place where films were recognized more for their artistic merit than for their potential box-office receipt. By way of foodie analogy, back then the Oscar was to fast food what the Palme d’Or was to haute cuisine.

    The point is that, but for winning the Palme d’Or, some of my favorite films would probably have never gotten funding for worldwide release. For example, imagine films like All That Jazz, The Mission, The Piano, and Pulp Fiction all being relegated to art house theaters.

    But, just as the proliferation of cable-TV stations has diminished the relevance, influence, and quality of network-TV stations, the proliferation of film festivals has done the same to Cannes. In fact, it’s arguable that film festivals like Sundance and Tribeca are providing as formidable a challenge to Cannes in this respect as HBO and AMC are providing to ABC, CBS and NBC. And trust me, all festivals these days are more like bazaars – where producers selling films more than directors screening them is the order of the day.

    Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 12.16.14 PMIt’s hardly surprising therefore that Cannes 2013 will be remembered more for the art of titillation than for the art of film making. For never before in the history of film festivals has more been written about major stars, such as Eva Longoria and Rosario Dawson, flashing their side boobs and Brazilian wax on the red carpet than about the quality of the acting onscreen.

    But, appropriately enough, nothing provided more titillation than the graphic lesbian sex – with its hint of pedophilia – depicted in, Blue Is the Warmest Color, the film that won this year’s Palme d’Or. Not to mention the transitional significance of no less a Hollywood mogul than Steven Spielberg heading the jury that made this decision.

    article-2331278-1A039490000005DC-483_634x353Of course, sexual chauvinism dictates that we see two chicks going at it onscreen – no matter how graphic – as artistic.  But this film’s artistic merit is somewhat betrayed by having renowned reviewers, such as the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye, exclaiming that it “leaves nothing to the imagination” (i.e., the way hard-core porn does).

    Then, apropos of chauvinism, there was the way Roman Polanski not only upstaged the winner of the Palme d’Or, but made his own film, Venus in Fur, seem irrelevant.  He did so by declaiming as follows on gender equality:

    I think to level the genders — it’s purely idiotic. I think it’s a result … of progress in medicine. I think that the Pill has changed greatly the woman of our times, ‘masculinising’ her. I think that it chases away the romance from our lives and that’s a great pity.

    (Associated Press, May 25, 2013)

    Mind you, it’s arguable that Polanski is merely pining for the kind of romance that would allow a grown man to molest underage girls:

    Imagine the shock and scandal back then when he was arrested for plying a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Gailey (now Geimer), with drugs and booze, and then raping her.

    Imagine further that, after being arrested, pleading guilty, and copping a plea, he flew the coop on the eve of sentencing to avoid having to do (any) time for this unconscionable crime; and that, far from living the life of a fugitive, he has lived and worked openly and notoriously in France, even receiving an Oscar in absentia in 2002 for ‘The Pianist.’

    (“Cold Justice for Confessed (pedophile) Rapist Roman Polanski,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 28, 2009)

    images-1Is there any wonder, then, that this male chauvinist and unrepentant child rapist would resent liberated women expecting sexual intercourse to be about more than just making babies and catering to the sexual peccadilloes of men?

    Not to be outdone, Jerry Lewis launched a formidable challenge to Polanski by providing this chauvinistic reply when asked who his favorite female comics are and what he thinks about women like those in Bridesmaids doing his kind of comedy:

    I don’t have any. I can’t see women doing that; it bothers me

    I cannot sit and watch a lady diminish her qualities to the lowest common denominator.

    (Huffington Post, May 23, 2013)

    For starters, though, if you think about it, this is the funniest thing Lewis has said since his performance in The Nutty Professor in 1963.  Indeed, one gets the impression that, like Polanski, Lewis has been sleeping, ironically enough, like the hen-pecked Rip Van Winkle for the past 40 years. All the while, women were not only demanding gender equality in every facet of life, but actually demonstrating to all sensible men how much better off we are too for the progress they’ve made in this respect.

    Continuing this theme, I might as well comment on how the American media pilloried billionaire hedge funder Paul Tudor Jones last week for saying that breastfeeding is a killer to a woman’s ambitions and causes her to lose the ability to make rational decisions on the trading floor. (He probably also thinks masturbating saps men of the ability to think straight….)

    Actually, I found his chauvinism a little more sympathetic after taking the time to review his remarks in context.  He made them during a panel discussion last month on the undeniable predominance of White men in top positions on Wall Street. But there’s no gainsaying the phenomenon of women leaving Wall Street firms in their prime to marry and become stay-at-home moms:

    In the past 10 years, 141,000 women, 2.6% of female workers in finance, disappeared from the industry, while the ranks of men in the industry grew by 389,000, or 9.6%, according to a review of data provided by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    What’s more, most of the finance refugees are young women, many of whom have left finance to have children, economists say.

    (The Wall Street Journal, September 20, 2010)

    mayer-225x300Jones’s mistake was trying to explain why so many women are “opting out” instead of “leaning in.” Not least because it’s almost always the case that this ironic reversal of The Feminine Mystique has more to do with women having rich husbands who can support them (in latterday Leave-It-To-Beaver fashion) than with breastfeeding making them lazy and ineffective.

    After all, women like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! (who famously returned to work two weeks after giving birth) clearly belie his notion about breastfeeding sapping women of their professional ambitions and abilities. Moreover, by granting far more generous perks to new parents (i.e., mothers and fathers), Mayer is in the vanguard of CEOs who are recognizing that attracting and retaining women in traditionally male-dominated professions is good for the bottom line.

    Data show unequivocally that when women are in leadership roles in companies, those companies have better policies.

    (‘Lean In,’ Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook)

    Enough said.

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  • Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Islamists Terrorizing London … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    My commentaries on terrorism are replete with remonstrations about the way Western media and political leaders hasten to call any murder perpetrated by a Muslim an act of terrorism. But I am convinced that the reflexive way they conflate murder with terrorism in this context only ensures more of both.

    For example, there were 16 mass shootings in United States last year alone – all perpetrated by non-Muslim White men. Most notably:

    • A neo-Nazi killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last August. Surely he terrorized Sikhs in Wisconsin every bit as much as those marathon bombers terrorized everyone in Boston last month.
    • A “lone wolf” killed 26 at the Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut last December. Surely he terrorized surviving students and their parents in Connecticut every bit as much….
    • Another lone wolf killed 12 (and wounded 58) at a cinema in Colorado last July. Surely he terrorized moviegoers not just in Colorado, but all over the country every bit as much….

    Yet neither the media nor President Obama called a single one of these killings an act of terrorism – with all of the hysteria and overreaction that would’ve triggered. But there can be no denying that, if a Muslim had perpetrated any one of them, they would have called it terrorism. Hence the cognitive dissonance developing where Westerners deem only Muslims capable of perpetrating acts of terror…

    Which brings me to the United Kingdom, where on Wednesday two thugs literally slaughtered a British soldier (with machetes and butcher knives) in broad daylight on a street in Woolwich, South East London. But all indications are that what is most important about this “act” is not its daring and barbaric nature, but the fact that the perpetrators are Muslim. Accordingly, it’s being called an act of terrorism….

    Of course, there are fewer mass shootings in the UK (by far) than in the United States. Most notably:

    • A lone White, non-Muslim wolf killed 12 (and wounded 11) during a shooting spree in Cumbria, North West England, in 2010.

    But, again, despite all of the outpouring of national grief and sorrow, neither the media nor Prime Minister David Cameron called this Cumbria massacre terrorism. And, again, there can be no denying that, if a Muslim has perpetrated this act, they would have called it terrorism.

    slide_298902_2489273_freeAt the risk of belaboring the point, there can also be no denying that, even if two neo-Nazis, instead of two Muslims, had slaughtered this British soldier in the same fashion, the media and Cameron still would not have called it terrorism. Got that?

    To be fair, though, it’s arguable that the mass shootings cited above did not meet the general definition of terrorism because the perpetrators gave no indication that their violence was politically motivated. Whereas, just as the Marathon bombers in Boston did, these thugs in London made clear their political motivation.

    They did so by unleashing excited utterances – to the smartphone cameras of horrified onlookers – about slaughtering this soldier in the name of Allah to avenge the killing of innocent people by British (and American) soldiers in Muslim countries (i.e., reciting chapter and verse from the Islamist global terrorism handbook).

    And what must be particularly worrisome to British authorities is that, according to the London Daily Mail, the chief perpetrator was born in Britain to devoutly Christian parents who immigrated from Nigeria – perhaps fleeing persecution at the hands of Muslim fanatics who, for decades, have been terrorizing the “Middle Belt,” which separates the predominantly Muslim north from the predominantly Christian south. His accomplice was born in Nigeria.

    In any event, based solely on their lunatic ranting right there at the scene of their crime, Cameron felt compelled to interrupt a foreign trip to rush home and address the nation – as if all of London were under attack. Indeed, because this murder was reflexively deemed a terrorist attack, he had to compete for airtime on all media outlets with looping replays of what smartphones captured of the perpetrators making their plainly delusional declaration of war.

    Frankly, the only reason for the grossly disproportionate reaction in this case seems to be that bogeyman term: terrorism.

    Therefore, God help us if al-Qaeda ever decides to emulate this feat by coordinating 10 similar [attacks], simultaneously.

    (“Manhunt for Marathon Bombers Turning Boston into Theater of the Absurd,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 19, 2013)

    _67774544_1e06bb18-5c65-4066-b874-c836576a30c2Nonetheless, there was Cameron – staged with Number 10 as his backdrop to give the occasion the gravitas he thought it warranted – pathetically, shamelessly, channeling Britain’s greatest wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill:

    We will never give in to terror or terrorism in any of its forms.

    (BBC, May 23, 2013)

    Of course, all of his allies, led by President Obama, then felt obliged to pledge unconditional and unwavering support:

    The United States stands resolute with the United Kingdom, our ally and friend, against violent extremism and terror.

    (Whitehouse.gov, May 23, 2013)

    Blah, blah, blah.

    Frankly, the only wonder to me is that it took the police so long to show up at the scene. Hell, reports are that the perpetrators ended up mugging for the cameras only after approaching onlookers to ask if anybody had bothered to call the police. Many had; so the only thing left to do, while everybody waited, was for them to plead their case, and for onlookers to listen in horror … and videotape.

    Clearly this tardy response makes a mockery of Britain’s vaunted reputation for having “Bobbies” patrolling every street and CCTV cameras surveilling every nook and cranny.

    Even more puzzling, though, is that when they finally arrived, instead of taking these machete and knife-wielding idiots out, the police merely wounded them, despite opening fire in a way that would make John Dellinger proud. Remarkably, they are now resting comfortably in hospital in stable condition … with “non-life-threatening injuries.”

    So either the London police need to spend more time at the gun range honing their shooting skills; or they did not shoot to kill on purpose, hoping to extract intelligence from them about their Iman/handler, motivations, methods, accomplices, network, etc. If it’s the latter, all I can say is, yeah, good luck with that.

    Whatever the case, in keeping with my long-standing policy of doing what little I can to deny mass murderers and wannabe terrorists the publicity they seek, I have not published their ugly mugs and shall refrain from even mentioning their names.

    Unfortunately, thanks to the British media and PM Cameron, these cowardly murderers have far more cause to claim “mission accomplished” than former President George W. Bush ever did. I don’t know why Western media and political leaders alike fail to appreciate that publicizing and politicizing these crimes only reward the perpetrators and inspire others to copy their misdeeds: media attention is to wannabe jihadists what blood is to vampires.

    I’m constrained to wonder why the media always reward these psychotic people by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and on the front page of every major newspaper … worldwide, and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds? Isn’t it clear to see, especially in this age of instant celebrity, why some loser kid would find this route to infamy [and 72 obliging virgins] irresistible?

    You’d think … we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the [perpetrators] to: May God have mercy on your soul as you burn in Hell!

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

    Not to mention that it emboldens other Islamist lone wolves, as much as it terrorizes people, to have so-called terrorism experts all over TV now pronouncing abject nonsense about these two idiots representing a new phase in al-Qaeda’s grand scheme to bring down Western civilization.

    Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 2.44.29 PMAnd am I the only one who finds it laughable that politicians, like London Mayor Boris Johnson, invariably react by declaring – with a straight face – that these incidents will not force us to change our way of life? Especially given that Western cities are looking more like bustling army bases every day….

    Meanwhile, reports are that these two murderers were radicalized by Muslim clerics who blithely abused the freedom of speech and religion they enjoy in Britain to spew the very diabolical language of vengeance these two used to justify their slaughter. But I submit that a cleric inciting worshipers to violence (e.g., by preaching about the right to behead anyone who insults Islam or to “take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” – whatever that means in practice) is even more anathema to free speech than a person shouting fire in a crowded theater. This too should be illegal.

    Alas, nothing could be more pleasing to these radical clerics than to see White “yobs” reacting to this slaughter by vowing to mete out their own form of religious vengeance. For this would give them cause to channel no less a warrior king than Henry V before the famous Battle of Agincourt. And their words of perverse courage, honor, manhood, and martyrdom are bound to inspire many more hopeless and impressionable Muslims to emulate what their semi-martyred brothers did on Wednesday.

    But I warned it would be thus:

    It must be understood, however, that no matter their collective resolve, there’s absolutely nothing our governments can do to prevent such attacks. Meanwhile, that Americans reacted yesterday as if those explosions went off in Washington or New York should compel Westerners to focus on calming our collective nerves instead of fretting about (or worse, trying to figure out) the motivation for and timing of terrorist attacks by Islamic fanatics.

    (“7/7 Terror Attacks in London,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 8, 2005)

    NOTE: Apropos of the general definition of terrorism, I wonder why acts of violence the KKK and affiliated White-supremacist groups perpetrate(d) are/were never called terrorism…? Surely they terrorize(d) people every bit as much as al-Qaeda and affiliated Islamist groups do, no? But, if one didn’t know better, one would think Muslims were the first to use terrorism to achieve political objectives.

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    This commentary was originally published yesterday, Friday,  at 4:47 pm

  • Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 5:33 AM

    Now Stockholm Is Burning…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    nous-sommes2In 2005, as displaced, disaffected and disillusioned immigrants were on their twelfth-consecutive night of rioting, which began in Paris then spread all over France, I felt moved to write “World Beware: French Riots Affects Us All,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 8, 2005.

    In it I warned that the same social, political, economic and racial grievances that underpinned those riots were simmering in practically every other major city in Western Europe; even though the trigger that ignites them might differ from city to city:

    [T]he riots in France should serve notice on other developed nations that have relegated the poor to ghettos where crime and every order of vice pervade… These riots demonstrate what little spark it takes for the simmering grievances that define ghetto life to set cities ablaze and terrorize an entire country… There but for the grace of God….

    Then, sure enough, Athens and then London was burning:

    ‘What happened here’ – in the multi-ethnic London neighborhood of Tottenham – is that the police shot and killed a suspected black ‘gangster’ named Mark Duggan. This ignited a frenzy of rioting and looting the likes of which, alas, have become all too familiar…

    [This is only the latest manifestation] of the prescient warning I gave in my first commentary on the riots that had Paris burning in 2005, which I reiterated in ‘Alienated Youth Masquerading as Grieving Students Still Rioting in Greece,’ The iPINIONS Journal, December 13, 2008, on the riots that had Athens burning in 2008.

    (“Now London Is Burning,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 9, 2011)

    Sweden RiotsWell, now Stockholm is burning:

    Rioters have lit fires and stoned emergency services in the suburbs of Stockholm for the third night in a row after a man was shot dead by police…

    Rami al-Khamisi, a law student and founder of the youth organisation Megafonen, told the Swedish edition of the online newspaper The Local that he had been insulted racially by the police. Teenagers, he said, had been called ‘monkeys.’

    He said the crowd was reacting to a ‘growing marginalisation and segregation in Sweden over the past 10, 20 years’ from both a class and a race perspective.

    (BBC, May 22, 2013)

    Which only leaves me to reiterate the prescription I offered, in “Now London Is Burning” (cited above), for preventing these riots:

    Notwithstanding the alleged police brutality that triggers them, the reason riots continue to erupt in London is that political leaders fail to heed the categorical imperative to address the chronic unemployment, racial/religious discrimination, and social alienation that are the long-simmering sparks that give rise to these periodic combustions.

    It should come as no surprise to learn that Tottenham is a very impoverished neighborhood with the highest unemployment rate in London. Unfortunately, that Prime Minister David Cameron has rushed back from vacation and recalled Parliament – not to address these root causes, but to spearhead efforts to put out the fires – suggest that it’s only a matter of time before the next eruption.

    Until the next one then: Because, instead of taking my prescription, the countries of Western Europe are merely segregating and marginalizing North-African immigrants today, the way the United States segregated and marginalized blacks in the first half of the last century. The latter led inexorably to the riots that erupted all over the country during the 1960s.

    Meanwhile, don’t get me started on the hypocrisy afoot. After all, these are the same self-righteous Europeans who never missed an opportunity to condemn the United States for the root causes of its endemic racial strife..

    White folks, they’ll never learn. I suppose this is why a second-rate (White) professional golfer like Sergio Garcia of Spain thought it was okay just days ago to taunt Tiger Woods, the world’s number-one golfer (who just happens to be Black), with a racist joke about feeding him fried chicken at a forthcoming pro-golfers’ banquet….

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  • Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 5:27 AM

    Stimulus vs. Austerity: the Verdict

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    No doubt you recall that conservative economists were warning in 2009 that President Obama’s stimulus package would lead to a double-dip recession and trillion-dollar deficits in perpetuity.

    stimulus-vs-austerity-business-week-2012-07-23His stimulus measures were aimed at boosting economic recovery by, among other things, increasing government spending on everything from infrastructure to unemployment insurance. But Republicans claimed that, by implementing them, Obama was cluelessly turning the U.S. economy into a European-style, recession-plagued socialist one.

    Except that, from day one of his presidency, Republican politics has been governed by a tortured and hypocritical logic that continually defies common sense. Which is why, in this case, it never gave Republican politicians pause to be damning Obama for his so-called European-style economic policies on the one hand, while urging him to emulate the austerity European leaders were implementing on the other hand.

    Their austerity measures were aimed at boosting economic recovery (and, perhaps more importantly, reducing budget deficits) by, among other things, reducing government spending and cutting pensions and salaries. And Republicans claimed that only such measures would stimulate the economy, create jobs, and avert a prolonged recession … if not an economic depression.

    londonsummit09_6280I am on record siding with Obama when this stimulus-vs.-austerity debate was brought into stark relief at a gathering of world leaders at the 2009 G20 Summit in London, England:

    I agree with the Obama-Brown prescription, especially since it also recognizes the need to supplement stimulus with more regulation; whereas the Sarkozy-Merkel prescription relies on austerity measures and rejects outright any need to supplement regulation with more stimulus.

    (“G20 Fails to Stimulate or Regulate Global Economy,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 3, 2009)

    Well, based on key macroeconomic indicators, the verdict is in.

    In the United States with its emphasis on stimulus:

    • Unemployment is down to 7.6 percent today, from 10 in October 2009.
    • The DOW rose to an all-time high of 15,354.40 on Friday, from a low of 6,547.05 in March 2009 (less than two months into Obama’s presidency).
    • The deficit has returned to the lowest level since the summer of 2008 at $669 million for fiscal year 2013. What’s more, far from the ballooning, trillion-dollar deficits in perpetuity Republicans warned about, the non-partisan CBO projects budget deficits of just half that amount. According to the March 12, 2013 edition of Bloomberg Businessweek – featuring the “Single Best Chart,” the deficit peaked as percentage of GDP at 10.4 percent in December 2009; it fell to 6.7 last year; and the CBO estimates that it will fall to 2.0 percent next year.
    • Debt as a percentage of GDP is 73.6.
    • This country has enjoyed 15 quarters of positive growth in GDP since Obama’s stimulus began to take effect in the third quarter of 2009.

    By contrast, in the 17-nation Eurozone with its emphasis on austerity:

    • Unemployment is up to 12.1 percent (and rising) today, from 8.2 in January 2009.
    • Deficit as a percentage of GDP is only 4 percent.
    • But debt as a percentage of GDP is 82.5.
    • This zone has suffered 5 quarters of negative growth in GDP, causing leading economists to conclude that:

    At some point soon, Eurozone governments will be forced by voters to reverse austerity and stimulate growth…

    Based on this unfolding evidence, one cannot escape the conclusion that, to date, austerity policies not only have not achieved their objectives, but they have actually proven to be counter-productive. It is now obvious to all that the current European macroeconomic policy orthodoxy is misplaced in the new era of high debt and renewed recession.

    (VOX, March 3, 22013)

    Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 12.52.20 PMIn fact, no less a person than Zanny Minton Beddoes, economics editor at The Economist, echoed this damning verdict on Sunday’s edition of GPS with Fareed Zakaria on CNN. Specifically, she declared that the Eurozone’s prolonged recession is in fact an indictment of austerity.

    Therefore, contrary to Republicans urging Obama to emulate European leaders’ austerity policies, the more prudent thing would have been for European leaders to emulate (or copy – as would more likely be the case) Obama’s stimulus policies.

    But pigs will fly before Republicans acknowledge the irony that, because Obama had his way (mostly), the United States has not ended up like Europe (i.e., mired in recession with record-high unemployment). Instead, they will do or say anything to avoid having to explain how their prescription for economic recovery could have been so wrong. Perhaps this explains why they’ve been deflecting blame/shame in recent weeks by trying to tar and feather Obama with all manner of faux scandals to make it seem as if he is as every bit as crooked as Richard Nixon.

    Unknown-1But nothing indicates how wrong they are in this respect as well quite like Sunday’s CNN/ORC poll, which found that Obama’s job approval is 53 percent (i.e., up from the 51.1 that led to his re-election last November).

    Mind you, this is not to say that austerity measures cannot work. After all, indications are that slashing wages and cutting government spending helped Latvia recover from the 2008 financial crisis better than any of the Eurozone countries it hopes to join next year. But surely it is self-evident why austerity might work for the economy of this peripheral country but not for that of a major power like the Eurozone or the United States, no?

    I am also acutely aware that the quantitative easing (QE) monetary policy of the Federal Reserve has had a stimulative effect on the U.S. economy. QE primarily involves the Fed buying government securities and bonds from financial institutions to increase money supply, thereby promoting increased lending and liquidity. That the European Central Bank has failed to implement a similar policy is just another indication of how the Eurozone’s overall focus on austerity has affected or inhibited sound, adaptive fiscal policies. To be fair, though, the printing of money involved in QE might contravene EU treaties….

    I commented more on the reasons stimulus is generally better than austerity for, well, stimulating economic growth in “Rational Markets vs. Keynesian Economics,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 23, 2011:

    I applaud Obama for finally proposing a Keynesian jobs bill that focuses more on government spending to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and improve other areas (like education and law enforcement) than on catering to financial institutions that do little more than inject irrational exuberance or irrational fear into the economy.

    Related commentaries:
    G20 fails
    Rational markets

  • Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 5:38 AM

    Tornadoes Ravage Oklahoma … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    imagesI pledged some time ago to stop commenting on natural disasters that seem so commonplace these days.

    Naturally, I convey my condolences to the loved ones of the 24 people who died when massive tornadoes ravaged the entire suburb of Moore (just outside Oklahoma City) yesterday. I also extend my thoughts and prayers to the hundreds injured and thousands otherwise affected. The death toll includes many children who were caught at their elementary school, and it is expected to rise; not least because many are still missing….

    A similar outbreak hit Oklahoma on May 3, 1999, killing 36 and injuring hundreds.  However, preliminary reports indicate that this might be the worst in U.S. history – in terms of death, injuries, and destruction.

    But the real reason for publishing this commentary is to help hoist a few Republican politicians by their own petard.

    No doubt you recall the way the Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, went ballistic when his fellow Republicans attempted to sacrifice displaced residents of his state at the altar of fiscal austerity in the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Sandy – the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

    Christie led politicians from all of the areas Sandy devastated in duly questioning how these Republicans would feel about emergency federal assistance if their respective states were hit by disaster.

    s-JIM-INHOFE-TOM-COBURN-large300Well, that day of reckoning came yesterday in Oklahoma for many Republicans – but most notably for notorious fiscal hawks Senators Jim Inhofe (left) and Tom Coburn.

    As frantic rescue missions continued Monday in Oklahoma following the catastrophic tornadoes that ripped through the state, it appeared increasingly likely that residents who lost homes and businesses would turn to the federal government for emergency disaster aid…

    Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country…

    In a December press release, Coburn complained that the Sandy Relief bill contained ‘wasteful spending,’ and identified a series of items he objected to, including ‘$12.9 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies.’

    (Huffington Post, May 20, 2013)

    UnknownGiven this, you might think these self-righteous guardians of the nation’s purse would be worried about having to explain to victims in their state why any federal funds to help them recover and rebuild would be wasteful government spending. And, accordingly, that they will not be lobbying for any emergency federal assistance.

    Except that they are no different from the self-righteous (and self-appointed) guardians of the unborn who repeatedly vote against abortion rights until a member of their family gets knocked up with an unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, I fully expect these senators to find an exception to their rule that enables them to lobby for federal funds for their residents/voters just as vigorously as Christie lobbied for his.

    I know this because – what Christie and others apparently did not know is that – both Inhofe and Coburn are on record repeatedly lobbying for federal disaster relief funds for their own state of Oklahoma, which ranks third in the nation after Texas and California in terms of disaster declarations.

    Friggin’ hypocrites!

    On a more consistent and truly principled note, President Obama called the Republican governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, to offer whatever federal emergency management assistance (FEMA) her state needs. Truth be told, I’m sure he’s relieved to have the media turning their obsessive, herd-like, tunnel-vision coverage on this movie-like twister instead of searching for scandal in every nook and cranny of his Administration.

    Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 8.36.29 AMOn the other hand, the beleaguered NBC TODAY Show can’t catch a break. It was supposed to be deflecting from its personnel and ratings woes by taking the show on the road this week to such exotic (and ratings-boosting) places as Hawaii. Instead, Matt Lauer, Al Roker, and Co. are stuck in Oklahoma foraging amidst tornado rubble, along with reporters from every other news organization in the country, only to report the same survival stories everybody else is reporting … ad nauseam.

    NOTE: The plains of Oklahoma and Kansas, between the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains, is called “Tornado Alley” for good reason. Perhaps, instead of continually rebuilding residential communities there, planning officials should reserve these plains for farming….

    Donate to the Red Cross: here

  • Monday, May 20, 2013 at 7:24 AM

    Benghazi Cover Up? IRS Targeting His Enemies? Obama Looking More Like Nixon…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The point is that FOX News, which operates as the media arm of the Republican Party, has been doing its damnedest to be to Benghazi what the Washington Post was to Watergate…

    Comparisons between Benghazi and Watergate are fundamentally flawed; and here’s why: Nixon actively participated in both the conspiracy to burgle the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and the subsequent cover up when the shit hit the fan. By contrast, Obama clearly had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack. What’s more, even the most rabid Republican can only impute guilt to him in the subsequent cover up, which congressional testimony indicates was directed not out of the White House (as was the case with Watergate), but out of the Department of State…

    I am convinced the Administration engaged in a cover up of its security failures, which included whitewashing the infamous CIA talking points by deleting all references to terrorists to make them comport with Obama’s re-election narrative.

    (“Benghazi: Obama’s Watergate? Hardly,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 9, 2013)

    Screen Shot 2013-05-11 at 8.22.40 PMOn second thought, FOX News may be forgiven its dogged determination to bring down President Obama the way the Washington Post brought down President Nixon; its reporters are clearly vying to be the next Woodward or Bernstein.

    After all, whatever the shortcomings in FOX’s claims about Obama covering up Benghazi the way Nixon covered up Watergate, late-breaking reports about the IRS targeting his enemies are giving credence to this foreboding Nixon-Obama analogy.

    The Internal Revenue Service apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was ‘inappropriate’ targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

    IRS agents singled out dozens of organizations for additional reviews because they included the words ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their exemption applications, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for lists of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

    (Associated Press, May 10, 2013)

    The Obama Administration is now in the wholly untenable position of having to disavow the activities of the IRS with the same kind of CYA zeal with which it has been disavowing the activities of the Department of State. I fear, however, that such disavowals are beginning to sound as contrived to fair-minded supporters like me as they have always sounded to congenital critics like Tea Parties.

    Like al-Qaeda terrorists – who only needed one good hit to destroy the American way of life forever, Republicans (and their hit men at FOX News) only need one good scandal to destroy Obama’s presidency. Separately, Benghazi and the IRS do not qualify; but together they make for a pretty good scandal.

    All the same, let me hasten to clarify that far worse than the IRS targeting conservative political groups is the scandal of so many of these groups fronting as charitable/welfare organizations to game the tax system.

    This gaming can be directly attributed to the decision the Supreme Court handed down in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), which effectively granted corporations and individuals the right to funnel unlimited cash into political campaigns. In fact, the IRS has been deluged in recent years with applications for tax-exempt status by groups pledging “to promote social welfare” under IRC Sections 501(c)(3)(4).

    Except that under c(3):

    Organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

    And under c(4)

    The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.

    Which means that Tea Party and affiliated groups were/are clearly in violation of not just the letter but even the spirit of this law. After all, they have been open and notorious in their political campaigning on behalf of conservative/Republican candidates ever since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. Think of all of those annoying campaign ads they ran — not advocating any cause so much as bashing Obama and other liberal candidates.

    billionaires-continue-to-pour-millions-into-super-pacsNo group has been more flagrant in this respect than American Crossroads — co-founded by the former top advisor to former President George W. Bush, Karl Rove. American Crossroads raised hundreds of millions of dollars during the 2012 presidential campaign and used all of it in a brazen, but futile, attempt to help Romney defeat Obama. Yet it operated and benefited as a tax-exempt organization.

    Mind you, the IRS would be the first to point out that liberal political groups were/are guilty of the similar violations. Most notable on their side is Priorities USA — co-founded by the former top advisor to Obama, Bill Burton. The IRS would also be keen to point out that the only reason conservative groups appear to have been targeted is that their patently fraudulent applications outnumbered those of liberal groups 100 to 1.  Which, of course, reflected the pervasive and dogged zeal among conservatives to make Obama a one-term president.

    All of this makes the carping by conservative groups as brazenly disingenuous as it is defiantly hypocritical. Not least because practically all of them participated in, or intervened in, political campaigns on behalf of conservative candidates (or in opposition to liberal ones as was more often the case). More important, not a single one of them was actually denied the tax-exempt status they sought. All the IRS did was make them jump through endless hoops by demanding answers to all kinds of intrusive questions aimed at getting them to put in writing the violations everyone knew they were committing in practice.

    This is why the real scandal here is not the IRS targeting conservative groups. The real scandal is the IRS failing to prosecute them. Not to mention the hypocrisy inherent in conservatives raising holy hell in this case but voicing nary a word of protest when the IRS was targeting the NCAAP and Black churches in similar fashion during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush.

    Nonetheless, I concluded in my May 9 commentary cited above that the Administration had in fact engaged in a cover up over Benghazi. Which is why, given this new IRS angle, it behooves President Obama himself to give a Nixon-like Checkers speech, and pray it absolves him from having to give a Nixon-like resignation speech.

    On the other hand, he could wag this Benghazi-IRS dog by bombing Syria to smithereens, um, for crossing his red line on chemical weapons, of course.

    * This commentary was originally published on Sunday, May 12, at 8:54 pm

    Related commentaries:
    Benghazi: Obama’s Watergate

  • Friday, May 17, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Remembering My Nephew Tim Quant

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Dear Readers

    I originally published this tribute on May 6 in the immediate aftermath of Tim’s death. I am reprising it today in light of his funeral, which will be held tomorrow in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands.

    I appreciate your understanding.

    ALH

     ____________________

     

    It is axiomatic that parents should not have to bury their children. But too often tragedy upsets the natural order of things.

    This is why my family often marveled at how truly blessed we were that our parents never suffered the unspeakable sorrow of having any of their children die before them. After all, there being 17 of us, the chance of this tragedy befalling them was far greater than it was for other parents in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) – who had an average of only 1.96 children.

    What are we to make, then, of the fate that saw this tragedy pass over my parents only to befall one of us – now that we are parents too?

    Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 9.25.27 PMIt happened early on Friday to my sister Esther. That’s when doctors at the Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital pronounced her son Tim dead after 13 hours of surgery. He had been airlifted from his home in the TCI a week earlier after being struck out of the blue with something called an aortic dissection. He was only 35.

    We are a very religious family; therefore, I could say that we were prepared for this tragic outcome because that proverbial canard, “God works in mysterious ways,” is supposed to explain everything that makes no friggin’ sense.

    But the truth is, we were prepared because, despite her understandable worries, Tim’s sister Tammy, a medical doctor herself, gave us a clinical explanation of the daunting challenges, as well as a professional assessment of the grave odds, he faced.

    Still, there’s no explaining the cruel juxtaposition of our family gathering just weeks ago to celebrate my niece’s wedding, with the gathering now being planned for my nephew’s funeral.  And it isn’t just that his death was so sudden. It’s that a lot of the banter at that wedding was about the great example Tim was setting as the first born of the next generation of our family.

    To get just a sense of why this was so, consider that he was happily married to his lovely and devoted wife Tamarra; he had a beautiful and healthy daughter; his business was thriving; and his dream house was in the final phase of completion. Not to mention having in Tammy, Ethan, and Tivaar younger siblings who loved him as a brother as much as they cherished him as a friend.

    In fact, by all accounts, Tim seemed almost as happy as the bride at that family wedding two weeks ago. He clearly had so much to live for.

    So how can we not wonder … why?  Notwithstanding that religion would have us believe that ours is not to reason why; ours is just to live and (let) die.

    Apropos of which, though spiritual, I am easily the least religious person in my family. Accordingly, that I’m finding more solace in the words of metaphysical poets than in those of the Almighty God will surprise none of them.

    Death be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
    For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
    Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee…
    One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
    And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

    (John Donne)

    And so Tim is having his short sleep, before he wakes eternally….

    I can personally attest to the, well, metaphysical bond that exists between a mother and her son. And that bond must be doubly so when that mother is forced to be father as well – as Esther was with Tim practically from the day he was born.

    So just imagine her grief – especially given my tease above about the impressive man (husband and father) he grew up to be. He was a monumental testament to Esther’s accomplishments as caregiver and provider for her children: what mother would not be simply inconsolable at such a loss…?

    Yet, it speaks volumes about her character that Esther is doing more in this hour of bereavement to console us than we are to console her. I can only hope that, in her moments of solitude, she finds Biblical words that comfort and strengthen her as much as poetic words comfort and strengthen me.

    Sunset and evening star,
    And one clear call for me!
    And may there be no moaning of the bar,
    When I put out to sea…

    For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
    The flood may bear me far,
    I hope to see my Pilot face to face
    When I have crost the bar.

    (Lord Tennyson)

    Farewell, Tim.

  • Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    Angelina Jolie’s ‘Heroic Decision’ to Get Breast Implants…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    angelina-jolie-covers-time-magazine-after-mastectomyOn Tuesday the New York Times published an op-ed by actress Angelina Jolie on her decision to have a double mastectomy. Almost immediately she became the subject of media beatification the likes of which we have not seen, well, since Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president of the United States in 2008.

    But let me hasten to clarify: I fully understand why she’s being hailed as a saint – especially to women with that dreaded BRCA (1 or 2) gene that makes them so susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. It’s just that you’d never know from this coverage that tens of thousands of women, including lesser-known celebrities, have talked openly about having a double mastectomy.

    Alas, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, having an A-lister like Jolie do so somehow makes it okay, perhaps even fashionable. This obsession clearly explains why the media made such a big deal about NBA player Jason Collins coming out as gay.

    0514OPEDcapelli-articleInlineBut surely it takes courage for any woman to deal with breast and ovarian cancer: whether prophylactically – as Jolie did/is doing, or by trying desperately to treat them – as far too many women are fated to do each year. The point is that all women dealing with this medical crisis should be supported, unconditionally.

    What I don’t understand, however, is the oxymoronic notion that Jolie is de-sexualizing female breasts by making public her personal medical choice. Most notable in this respect is an article by Professor Alexandra Bradner in yesterday’s edition of Salon titled, “Angelina Jolie’s most thrilling decision: Robbing her breasts of their cultural power.”

    Bradner’s subtitle says it all:

    Male film critics will have less to ogle, but perhaps now audiences will equate her physicality with strength.

    angelina_lara_croft2-620x412The problem with her thesis of course is that, thanks to the prevalence of elective breast implants among actresses, male film critics and moviegoers alike have had much more to ogle for years now. Perhaps Bradner is unaware that Jolie did not opt to remain au naturel (i.e., flat chested). That would have been heroic, and truly worthy of media beatification. Instead, she got a boob job … too.

    Which raises the questions: Why hail Jolie as the patron saint of breast-cancer survivors when all she did was elect to look like every other actress in Hollywood who makes a living by showing off the most titillating fake breasts money can buy?  And, apropos of all this praise, am I the only one who recalls how she was universally ridiculed just last year for posing on the red carpet at the Academy Awards as if she were striking a standing, semi-clothed pose for Penthouse magazine…? Hell, far from “robbing her breasts of their cultural power,” she’s maintaining her (self-objectifying) sex-symbol status by any means necessary.

    For the record, this surgery for the sake of vanity is hardly limited to actresses:

    For reasons we don’t fully understand, rates of CPM [aka double mastectomies] are on the rise. Between 1998 and 2003, rates of CPM in the United States more than doubled from 1.8 to 4.5 percent. And, among women having a mastectomy instead of lumpectomy, the rate of CPM increased from 4.2 to 11.0 percent. Women choosing CPM tend to be younger, Caucasian and have a higher educational level.

    (“Understanding Breast Cancer,” Susan G. Komen Foundation)

    Not to mention that, for some, a woman getting breast implants after having a double mastectomy is rather like a drunk taking up smoking after giving up alcohol.  Just ask Sharon Osborne who, like Jolie, elected to have a double mastectomy – not because she was diagnosed with cancer, but because she had that dreaded gene:

    ‘I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer, but I had the gene and one of my breasts was in a really bad state because of the implant, she said, adding as a word of advice, ‘never have [implants] by the way’

    (People, November 5, 2012)

    Notwithstanding Jolie’s lead, I’ve read enough to know that a double mastectomy is not the best option for every woman who is diagnosed with this gene. Moreover, not every woman who has a double mastectomy gets a boob job. I urge you to discuss your options with your doctor.

  • Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    O.J. Simpson: He’s Baaack

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Recall that it was not the nature of the murders, or even who was murdered, that kept us so riveted on coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial. Rather, it was the fact that O.J. was such a bona-fide celebrity … period.

    Well, the level of celebrity it took O.J. decades to earn was conferred upon Casey in an instant, making it seem as though public interest in her legal fate is just as warranted. Frankly, this case perpetuates the perception that only the murders of cute little white girls (like Caylee, JonBenét Ramsey, and Madeleine McCann) are worthy of media coverage.

    (“Casey Anthony Murder Case,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 10, 2011)

    I cited the above on Friday to distinguish the gladiatorial and prurient lust that had so many people riveted on the Jodi Arias trial from the racial and cultural interest that had so many riveted on the O.J. Simpson trial(s). How coincidental, then, that O.J. was making news again on Monday with his Hail-Mary pleading for a new trial.

    By way of background, here, from “Justice Delayed, but Not Denied for O.J. Simpson,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 4, 2008, is how he finally got (a little of) his comeuppance:

    When he was arraigned [on armed burglary and kidnapping charges], one would’ve been hard-pressed to find a single legal pundit who thought O.J. would be convicted. Instead, they all insisted that – because O.J. was allegedly only stealing his own sports memorabilia back and his victims were disreputable con men – no jury would convict him.

    But none of them bothered to advise that taking the law into one’s own hands is never a good idea, or that, just as it is illegal to rape a prostitute, it is equally so to rob a con man.

    By contrast, here’s what I wrote back then, in “O.J.’s Surreal Deal Revealed: 1 Burglary for 2 Murders,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 17, 2007:

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if O.J. were now convicted for burglary after getting away with double murder (committed June ’94, acquitted October ’95)? …

    I predict he’ll be convicted and sentenced to at least 25 years in prison; notwithstanding his patently specious (no-intent) defense that he cannot be convicted of stealing his ‘own shit.’

    This is just one more way in which his civil conviction for those murders is coming home to roost. Recall that he was ordered to turn over his sports memorabilia to help settle the $33 million judgment.

    Pay no attention to his desperate attempt to feign a confident smile in this most recent mugshot. Because, if you look into his eyes, you could see it dawning on him that he’s about to pay for being not only a double murderer, but also a common thief!

    2013-05-13T172909Z_889604687_TB3E95D1CKE5J_RTRMADP_3_USA-SIMPSON-APPEALIn fact, O.J. got 33 years (presumably, in part, as payback for the $33 million civil judgment he has proudly refused to pay). It has been widely reported that he has been obsessed – from day one in prison – with proving that he was wrongly convicted. And so, after trying in vain to get his guilty verdict overturned on appeal, he’s now in court claiming that he deserves a new trial because his lawyer not only screwed up, but screwed him.

    Specifically, he’s claiming on the one hand that his high-priced lawyer was incompetent; and on the other hand that this same lawyer deceived him by not telling him about a prosecution plea offer of just two years, which, in hindsight of course, seems more like a sweetheart deal than a plea bargain.

    I have no doubt that the judge will summarily dismiss the former as a patently frivolous claim. But if O.J. could establish that his lawyer did not tell him about the plea deal, by compelling that lawyer to admit this on the stand, he would have a very good chance of not only getting a new trial, but actually getting out of prison based on the four years already served.

    The problem is that his lawyer would be committing professional suicide if he makes such an admission; therefore, O.J. should prepare himself to spend many more years behind bars.

    He is eligible for parole in five years. And, based on reports that he has been a model prisoner (e.g., using his celebrity to arbitrate disputes between gangs), he will likely be paroled on his first try.

    article-2325038-19CBCB2D000005DC-714_634x427Beyond this, the only thing noteworthy about O.J.’s reappearance this week is the way he looked when he made his first, highly anticipated entrance in court on Monday. For it became immediately apparent that he has defied the notion that prison food will turn even a glutton into a dieter.

    It must have been humiliating enough that the shackles on his arms and feet forced him to shuffle rather than strut – as was his style. But that humiliation could only have been compounded by the 50 pounds he piled on in prison, which made his shuffle look more like a waddle. It would be one thing if it were all muscle – as one might’ve expected, but it’s clearly all fat.

    Despite his pathetic appearance, however, O.J. still managed to exude the arrogance of an egocentric and unrepentant murderer … and thief. But, notwithstanding the real possibility of parole, I believe he should rot in jail: not for the 2008 theft – for which he is seeking a new trial, but for the 1994 murders – for which he got off scot-free.

    Related commentaries:
    Casey Anthony
    Justice delayed, but not denied, for O.J. Simpson
    O.J. Simpson gets 16 to life
    Jodi Arias

  • Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    UPDATE: ‘Nixonian’ Obama Right to Spy on Associated Press

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On second thought, perhaps FOX News can be forgiven its dogged determination to bring down President Obama the way the Washington Post brought down President Nixon. And there is no shortage of not just reporters but two-bit commentators vying to be the next Woodward or Bernstein.

    After all, whatever the shortcomings in claims about Obama covering up Benghazi the way Nixon covered up Watergate, late-breaking reports about the IRS targeting his enemies are giving credence to this foreboding Nixon-Obama analogy.

    (“Benghazi Cover Up? IRS Targeting His Enemies? Obama Looking More Like Nixon,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 11, 2013)

    images-1Nixonian? Well, according to those condemning Obama for his Administration’s latest alleged transgression, he’s much worse:

    The Obama Administration woke up on Tuesday to another morning of scorching criticism about the [Department of Justice’s (DOJ)] decision to secretly obtain months of Associated Press phone records.

    The DOJ tracked the incoming and outgoing calls on more than 20 AP phone lines, as well as the home, office and cell phone lines for six individual journalists involved in writing a national security-related story about Yemen that the Obama Administration did not want them to write.

    (Huffington Post, May 14, 2013)

    imagesThe Administration insists that it had a compelling government interest in obtaining the records secretly to avoid alerting the targeted journalists about its probe into untenable and, significantly, illegal leaks of classified information.

    What’s more, the head of the DOJ, Attorney General Eric Holder, is on record boasting of this Administration’s policy of going after leakers like no other in U.S. history, having prosecuted twice as many of them as all previous administrations combined. It’s worth noting, however, that these unprecedented prosecutions are due in no small part to conservative journalists (mostly at FOX News) accusing Obama of dereliction of duty for failing to plug leaks on things like the heroics involved in the killing of Osama bin Laden. Primarily, of course, because they resented the fact that it was he and not his predecessor, George W. Bush, who got bin Laden.

    Remarkably, though, even liberal journalists — who conservatives accuse of having a “slobbering love affair” with Obama — are condemning him for this policy. But I applaud him; not least because those criticizing the loudest are the very ones who have continually decried the inability of anyone in government to keep a secret.

    And let’s be clear, the DOJ was not listening in on journalists’ conversations (i.e., tapping their phones). The intrusion everyone is up in arms about was merely getting records to determine which government officials may have spoken to journalists during a specific period of time.

    Frankly, journalists expressing constitutional indignation at being violated in this context is rather like “Johns” expressing moral indignation at getting caught up in a sting on a prostitution ring. Perhaps they think the freedom of the press provided for in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is as absolute as the NRA/gun peddlers think the right to bear arms provided for in the Second is. Except that journalists — who actually seem more interested these days in competing with twitterers and bloggers for sensational scoops than in responsible  journalism — should know better.

    Freedom of the press does not grant the press unfettered access to government information; and the public’s right to know does not grant the public the right to know everything the government does. And any comparison to the totalitarian practices of the Chinese or Iranian government smacks of argumentum ad absurdum. (Hell, to listen to some of these prima donnas in the press, you’d think the CIA stands for the Chinese Intelligence Agency.)

    o-MADDOW-MICHAEL-ISIKOFF-facebookIn fact, this tension or conflict between the government and the press is inherent in a democracy. Which is why the best any sensible or fair-minded critic can do is quibble not about the propriety of this spying, but about its scope:

    It is not unprecedented for the [DOJ] to secretly get the numbers of reporters. What’s remarkable is the sweeping nature of this, the dragnet approach … and that’s why you have some press watchdog groups tonight, and freedom of the press groups saying this is positively Nixonian. They have not seen a precedent for this in decades.

    (NBC reporter Michael Isikoff, Rachel Maddow Show, May 13, 2013)

    Meanwhile, it might be helpful to know that the targets of this sting were not the journalists, but the government officials who broke the law by leaking classified information (i.e., the nation’s secrets) to them. Again, let’s be clear, these officials are not public-spirited “whistleblowers” shedding light on government corruption (like Pentagon personnel colluding with defense contractors to fleece the government of billions through the procurement process: remember those thousand-dollar knots and bolts?). They are leaking information about covert operations that could get American soldiers killed.

    Alas, the sad truth is that journalists these days would betray their own family’s secrets if they thought doing so would prove sensational enough to be wildly profitable – national security be damned.

    But if it were up to me, I would prosecute not only the government leakers, but the AP journalists as well. After all, they are the ones responsible for blithely publishing classified information without regard for how it might compromise national security or endanger the lives of American agents. And good luck finding out if the publication of a leaked story leads directly to deaths in this context; because the press itself would have a vested interest in covering this up.

    It seems lost on Isikoff and other critics that the only reason the scope seems so unprecedented is that this Administration is the first to make plugging leaks a priority. Which makes criticizing the DOJ for finally going after leakers rather like criticizing the IRS for finally going after offshore tax cheats.

    And don’t get me started on the way journalists now troll social media for news and report on every tragedy as if it were the friggin’ Super Bowl. For journalism has become such a pathetic enterprise – so utterly bereft of principles like journalistic truth, professional independence, and duty to inform – that journalists think nothing of reporting what they think the public wants to consume as news instead of informing the public about what is newsworthy. Some purported news organizations even generate sensational, “viral” headlines and then have creative writers produce stories to match those headlines. Sadly, journalists are becoming just like investment bankers who think nothing of packaging a junk bond as a triple-A stock and selling it for a quick buck.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, May 13, 2013 at 6:01 PM

    Cheap/Slave Labor and Another Tragedy in Bangladesh

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    My heart aches every time there’s a natural disaster or man-made tragedy in some poor country. Not least because it usually results in the deaths of many more (relatively hapless, helpless and hopeless) people than would be the case in some rich country. Think, for example, of the tsunami in Indonesia, the Bhopal gas leak in India, the earthquake in Haiti, or the train derailment in Congo….

    I used to feel moved to comment on such disasters and tragedies – until I realized that commenting on them has no more redeeming value than commenting on roadside bombs in Iraq. Even more discouraging, I noticed that most Westerners are as indifferent to them as they are to perennial hunger and strife in Africa.

    It is with this emotional-intellectual conflict that I watched and read news reports two weeks ago on the collapse of a factory in the garment district of Bangladesh, which is being called the deadliest industrial accident since Bhopal in 1984.

    article-2323194-19BB6176000005DC-11_636x383As of today, the death toll is 1,127. Miraculously, a 19-year-old girl was rescued alive from the rubble on Friday, 17 days after the collapse. But this miracle does little to diminish the tragedy of so many much younger girls who were crushed to death.

    In any event, it’s a perverse affirmation of my decision to stop commenting on such tragedies that this factory collapse was preceded in November by a fire in this same district that killed 112, and followed just days ago by another fire that killed eight.

    Nonetheless, I feel compelled to register my disgust at the Western companies now threatening to stop doing business in Bangladesh – purportedly because they no longer want to be associated with the substandard building practices that caused the collapse.

    The Walt Disney Company, considered the world’s largest licenser with sales of nearly $40 billion, in March ordered an end to the production of branded merchandise in Bangladesh.

    (New York Times, May 1, 2013)

    Never mind that the PR statements some of them issued in the aftermath of this tragedy betrayed far greater concern about the impact it’s having on their brand than the casualties it caused.

    Canada’s Weston family are moving to compensate victims of a deadly building collapse in Bangladesh as reactions to the tragedy goad companies to take greater responsibility for far-flung global supply chains…The image of a label in the rubble of a collapsed factory will spread instantly around the globe…

    ‘Now we’re waiting for the U.S. brands and all the other European brands to follow suit,’ [said Liana Foxvog, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum].

    (The Globe and Mail, April 30, 2013)

    United+Victims+of+BENETTON+BANGLADESH+FACTORY+MASS+GRAVES++Tragedy+Fashion+Killer+No+Slave+Labor+Victims+Campaign+Critic+Satire+Art+Portrait+Humor+Chic+by+aleXsandro+PalomboFor some reason, though, Benetton is being portrayed as the bad guy in this tragedy. Notwithstanding that its CEO, Biagio Chiarolanza, has reacted in the constructive manner all other CEOs should:

    It’s not the solution to go outside from Bangladesh or to think in the future we can leave Bangladesh. I spent some period of my life in this part of the world, and I believe — I really believe — Benetton and other international brands can help these countries improve their condition. But we need a safe and happy working environment and we need to have better conditions.

    (Huffington Post, May 9, 2013)

    Indeed, despite the exploitation, it behooves us to appreciate that people in poor countries like Bangladesh would be much worse off without the menial wages these companies provide. Not to mention that we have become so dependent on the cheap products cheap labor produces that expecting Westerners to break this vicious and inhumane cycle of co-dependency is even more unrealistic than expecting China to break its dependency on foreign oil.

    This is not to say that Western companies should not be morally and legally compelled to improve working conditions and increase wages. I fear, however, that the promises Benetton and others are making in the aftermath of this tragedy might prove just as hollow as those other companies made in the aftermath of previous tragedies.

    It’s arguable, for example, that this factory collapse might not have happened if the companies implicated had followed the precedent Apple set in China after its brand became tainted by reports about using cheap labor and slave-like working conditions to produce its popular line of “i” products.

    Apple and its China-based supplier Foxconn have agreed to limit worker overtime and significantly improve health and safety conditions at the plants that produce, among other products, the iPhone and iPad. The move comes after an investigation by the Fair Labor Association found Foxconn factories violate numerous Chinese work rules.

    (NPR, March 30, 2012)

    Meanwhile, such was the moral outage this collapse incited that no less a person than Pope Francis felt moved to condemn the conditions those factory workers were subjected to as tantamount to “slave labor.” He did so during a Vatican mass on May 1. But nowhere was this outrage more visceral and indignant than in Bangladesh. So much so that, despite the risk of sending Western companies shopping for slave labor elsewhere in the developing world:

    Bangladesh’s government agreed Monday to allow garment workers to unionize without permission from factory owners. The government also announced plans to raise the meager minimum wage for garment workers, currently $38 a month, which is among the lowest pay in the world for garment workers.

    (NBC News, May 13, 2013)

    In addition, the government has closed down over 100 factories indefinitely for inspections and repairs. And, to be fair, international labor groups finally prevailed upon major retailers like H&M and Zara today to sign a legally binding agreement to help finance building safety in all factories they use in Bangladesh….

    Perhaps this is why some industry experts – including Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion – are countering my cynicism by insisting that this tragedy is “really a turning point.” Because. they say, Western consumers are going to demand more ethical treatment of the workers who produce their cheap products.  I say, when pigs fly!

    In truth, I’d consider it a triumph of our shared humanity if, whenever you buy self-indulgent products stamped “Made in China” or “Made in Bangladesh,” you merely take a moment to reflect on the exploitation of our fellow human beings that made it possible for you to buy them at rock-bottom prices.

  • Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 7:12 AM

    Illustrating the cut-off-nose-to-save-face nature of economic austerity

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    20130511_wwd000

    Disaffected and disillusioned voters were throwing out nine European leaders who prescribed austerity measures as the bitter pill to cure their ailing economies and manage their  debt crisis. Nowhere was this demonstrated in more foreboding fashion for Sarkozy than in Greece with the unceremonious fall of Prime Minister George Papandreou last November.

    After all, Sarkozy was not just Europe’s poster boy for the cocktail of austerity measures (most notably cutting public benefits and government services) that have become so universally unpopular, he and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany effectively concocted them.

    On the other hand, Hollande predicated his candidacy on a completely different panacea, focusing more on increasing government spending and raising taxes (on the filthy rich) to stimulate economic growth than on cutting services (to the chronically poor) to lower government debt. He even pledged to renegotiate the Sarkozy-Merkel debt-reduction “fiscal pact,” mocking it by offering a government-spending “growth pact” instead.

    (“Hollande Defeats Sarkozy for President of France,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 7, 2012)

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  • Friday, May 10, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    Why I Ignored the Jodi Arias Murder Trial

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    images-2You probably know by now that Jodi Arias was convicted yesterday of the first-degree murder of her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander. Prosecutors presented gory and salacious evidence, which proved beyond all reasonable doubt that in 2008 this “black widow” had sex with him, and then stabbed him 27 times — all before slitting his throat, and then shooting him in the face in a jealous rage.

    Her trial lasted four months; and reports are that it garnered daytime ratings for the cable network HLN that would make the program director for any network’s primetime line-up blush with envy. Never mind that only porn and snuff videos can match the titillation that kept so many viewers riveted on this trial.

    I, however, could not have been less interested in watching, let alone commenting on it. But I fully appreciate why so many of you have asked: Why?

    Well, for starters, I prefer my titillation to be completely free of any reference to murder. Then there’s this:

    Recall that it was not the nature of the murders, or even who was murdered, that kept us so riveted on coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial. Rather, it was the fact that O.J. was such a bona-fide celebrity … period.

    Well, the level of celebrity it took O.J. decades to earn was conferred upon Casey in an instant, making it seem as though public interest in her legal fate is just as warranted.

    (“Casey Anthony murder case,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 10, 2011)

    And bear in mind that O.J. wasn’t just some stud who played goofy roles in Naked Gun movies. He was a man in whom most Black Americans vested a considerable amount of racial pride – stemming from his days as a superstar running back for USC and the Buffalo Bills, and continuing through the unprecedented crossover appeal he enjoyed as a sportscaster and movie star.

    I submit it was this racial pride that misled his predominantly Black jury to acquit him of murder, despite prosecutors presenting clear and convincing evidence, which proved beyond all reasonable doubt that in 1994 this narcissistic SOB stalked his ex-wife and her male friend, and then slit their throats in a jealous rage.

    Unknown-1images-1Alas, Jodi has now established the precedent that, if a woman is attractive enough (notwithstanding the schoolmarm look Jodi donned for trial), if the details of her alleged murder are titillating enough, and of course if she’s White … enough, she too can attract this kind of media interest in her own right.

    And no woman has ever seemed more stimulated by her perverse celebrity than Jodi, which must have made the unprecedented 18 days she spent on the witness stand tantamount to the longest session of tantric sex ever.

    Which I suspect is why she reacted to her guilty verdict – not by flinching in fear or wallowing in self-pity, but by rushing to the nearest TV camera to continue … performing:

    I would much rather die sooner rather than later… I believe death is the ultimate freedom.

    (Associated Press, May 8, 2013)

    Yeah, right!  Except that there are already three women on death row in Arizona, where Jodi was tried. But this state has not executed a female death-row inmate in over 80 years (perhaps eternally spooked by the fact that it accidentally decapitated the last one when she was hanged). By chauvinistic and instructive contrast, it executed six men just last year alone.

    So, trust me, Jodi knows full well that, even if she gets the death penalty, she would most likely live out the rest of her natural life on death row, during which time she could become even more celebrated as a martyr for the innocence project she apparently thinks was betrayed by her guilty verdict.

    I don’t doubt for a moment that she really is this psychopathic … and cunning. And, regrettably, enabling cable networks would be queuing up to broadcast the musings of this condemned woman as the ultimate reality-TV star.

    This is why the most suitable punishment for her would be life in prison: without the possibility of parole and with no direct access to media of any kind. Especially given that the first and last woman Arizona executed, namely Eva Duggan in 1930, spent most of her time on death row giving paid interviews.

    For the record, though, let me be clear: If a bona-fide celebrity like Gwyneth Paltrow were accused of murdering her husband, I would be interested in her trial. Whereas, if another ordinary girl like Jodi were, I still wouldn’t be.

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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 1:17 pm

  • Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 5:34 AM

    Benghazi: Obama’s Watergate? Hardly

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    No doubt you recall widespread media reports on that ragtag bunch of terrorists who attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on 9/11 last year, killing four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

    benghazi_attack_us_politics_2012_09_12I tune in to FOX News from time to time for comic relief and reports on the X-files in American politics, in which President Obama is often featured as some undocumented alien trying to do everything from taking away people’s constitutional right to bear arms to turning America into a European-style socialist, welfare state.

    Hell, to listen to Republicans fulminate against Obama on this network – with words of delegitimization and nullification – you’d think that the MAJORITY of Americans who voted for him in last year’s election were actually from Mars; or even worse, that all Black and Hispanic voters are from Africa and Latin America – who these Republicans wish would just go back where they came from.

    But if you never tune in, you probably have no clue that, almost from the day after this attack, Republicans were accusing the Obama Administration of, among other things:

    • ignoring repeated requests to beef up security at this consulate;
    • failing to deploy military assets to defend it when it came under attack;
    • covering up these security failures by spinning this “Overseas Contingency Operation” as a spontaneous protest triggered by some anti-Islam YouTube video; and
    • refusing to call it the terrorist attack it was simply because that would’ve punctured Obama’s re-election campaign boast about decimating al-Qaeda.

    The point is that FOX News, which operates as the media arm of the Republican Party, has been doing its damnedest to be to Benghazi what the Washington Post was to Watergate. All the while, Obama haters – who watch FOX News the way born-again Christians read the Bible – have been seething with political indignation at other mainstream and cable networks for refusing to report on it. To appreciate why, imagine the national outrage if FOX News were reporting 24/7 on the Boston bombings while other networks were blithely ignoring it.

    Never mind that this indignation is undermined by an ironic form of racism that has FOX News continually accusing the other networks of not reporting on Obama’s alleged failures just because he’s Black. (No doubt FOX thinks this charge of reverse racism is a clever form of reverse psychology.) This stems from its ideological conviction that the liberal media not only have a vested interest in covering up for the liberal Obama, but also have a mortal fear of being called racists if they report anything negative about him.

    Mind you, I might be guilty of helping the “lame-stream” liberal media fuel their partisan indignation. For here is how I heaped political scorn on attempts by Republicans/FOX News to make Obama the Democrats’ Nixon:

    To listen to all of the carnival barking by Republicans and their Amen chorus in the media, you’d think the Obama Administration actually conspired with al-Qaeda terrorists to attack the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on 9/11.

    Whereas the only factual basis for all of their barking and calls for Watergate-style hearings is that, for national security reasons, the Obama Administration used ‘CIA talking points’ to characterize this attack.

    (“Benghazi-gate? No, McCain Fried Rice,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 19, 2012)

    UnknownStill, for the record, comparisons between Benghazi and Watergate are fundamentally flawed; and here’s why: Nixon actively participated in both the conspiracy to burgle the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and the subsequent cover up when the shit hit the fan.

    By contrast, Obama clearly had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack. What’s more, even the most rabid Republican can only impute guilt to him in the subsequent cover up, which congressional testimony indicates was directed not out of the White House (as was the case with Watergate), but out of the Department of State.

    In any event, demonstrating that, unlike far too many progressive commentators, I am not some Kool-Aid-drinking shill for the Democratic Party, here is the admonition I sounded later on in this same commentary:

    All the same, the Obama Administration does have some splainin’ to do. Because it was put on notice that terrorists were targeting this specific outpost in Benghazi, but it failed to either evacuate all personnel or reinforce security.

    Nonetheless, it behooves those hurling patriotic indignation at this failure, which resulted in the killing of four Americans, to appreciate that it pales in comparison to the failure of the Bush Administration to heed notice that terrorists were targeting New York City. After all, that failure – on the original 9/11 – resulted in the killing of 3,000.

    It is with this background and perspective that I set aside time today to catch some of yet another round of congressional hearings by the Republican-controlled House Oversight & Government Reform Committee on this Benghazi attack. I was particularly keen to see what FOX News was hyping for days would be the “smoking gun.”

    Screen Shot 2013-05-08 at 5.30.04 PMExcept that, as things turned out, the “whistleblower witnesses” – who, not surprisingly, Democrats dismissed as disgruntled officials at the Department of State – did little more than rehash the accusations (bulleted above) that Republicans have been hurling at the Obama Administration from day one.

    But let me hasten to clarify that I am convinced the Administration engaged in a cover up of its security failures, which included whitewashing the infamous CIA talking points by deleting all references to terrorists to make them comport with Obama’s re-election narrative. Never mind that Republicans are on record repeatedly voting against Administration requests for funds to increase security at U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide, which, arguably, is why Benghazi was left so defenseless.

    I am even more convinced, however, that Republicans have fatally undermined their credibility by accusing Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the far more impeachable offense of preventing the military from flying to the aid of American officials when that consulate came under attack.

    After all, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey have already testified in congressional hearings that Obama ordered them to do everything possible to render immediate aid, and that they did. And none of today’s witnesses testified in any way that contradicted Panetta and Dempsey’s testimony.

    imagesUltimately, though, here in a nutshell is why today’s Benghazi hearing, which featured Republicans acting like prosecutors and Democrats acting like defense attorneys, amounted to much ado about nothing:

    With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans… What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.

    (FOX News, January 23, 2012)

    This, of course, is what Hillary exclaimed when Republicans were giving her the third degree in a previous hearing about whether this was a religious protest or a terrorist attack.

    Republicans having been trying to impeach Obama from day one of his presidency with the same “destructive obsession and monomania” with which Ahab was trying to harpoon that whale in Moby Dick. And, captained by their Ahab personified, Republican Chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa of California, they seem fated to similar failure.

    Screen Shot 2013-05-08 at 5.33.43 PMNot least because these self-righteous political jihadists simply cannot overcome the hypocrisy inherent in trying to nail Obama for lying about Benghazi, after covering up for Ronald Reagan – when he lied about Iran Contra (where, despite an official arms embargo, his Administration was selling arms to Iran to fund Nicaraguan freedom fighters – aka terrorists); and covering up for George W. Bush – when he lied about WMDs (where, despite clear and convincing evidence that none existed, he ordered the invasion of Iraq purportedly to find them).

    Not to mention the instructive precedent Republicans set by trying in vain to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about having sex with that woman, Monica Lewinski.  Apropos of which, besides impeaching Obama, they are hell-bent on so indicting Hillary for her role in this Benghazi cover up that she would not even think of running for president in 2016, let alone coasting on her current trajectory right into the White House. Of course their efforts to thwart Hillary’s campaign by framing her as an incompetent liar will prove even more futile than the Clintons’ efforts to thwart Obama’s 2008 campaign by framing it as a “fairytale.”

    That said, I can think of no better epilogue for all congressional hearings on the Benghazi attack than the following remarks by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin):

    I don’t think there is a smoking gun here to day. I don’t think there is even a lukewarm slingshot…

    [This committee has held nine hearings on Benghazi.] Maybe it’s time we start looking at how best to protect our embassies instead of rehashing the same old stories.

    (House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Hearing on Benghazi Consulate Attack, C-SPAN 3, May 8, 2013)

    Frankly, for what it’s worth, when it comes to lying to the American people, I say a plague on both their parties! After all, nobody can gainsay that, if this were a Republican administration, Democrats would be trying to score the same partisan political points — the truth, to say nothing of embassy/consular security, be damned.

    NOTE: It is perhaps an indication of how ill-fated today’s hearing was that even FOX News gave it short shrift as it joined all other networks in previewing, covering, and analyzing the guilty verdict in the Jodi Arias murder trial, which generated gladiatorial and prurient public interest in equal measure. In fact, begrudging Republicans even had to compete for coverage with the latest “breaking news” on the macabre kidnappings of those three teenagers in Cleveland, Ohio 10 years ago – who were finally rescued yesterday.

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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Wednesday, at 5:54 pm

  • Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 5:43 AM

    Harvard’s Niall Ferguson Uses Homophobia to Make Academic Point…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have infuriated more than a few people in friendly debates by dismissing Niall Ferguson as being to academia what Donald Trump is to business.

    Ferguson is a professor of History at Harvard who seems to prefer playing a political pundit on TV. But the following should give you a sense of why I think this has turned him into a political hack:

    Just when I thought I could not become any more cynical [about pundits hurling insults and partisan talking points as informed opinion] comes Niall Ferguson’s partisan hit job on President Obama…

    He delivered a diatribe about ‘why we need a new president,’ professing regret that, despite his best wishes, President Obama has failed to keep his campaign promises – especially on the economy and deficit. Never mind that his main points, which he belabors in the current issue of Newsweek, are readily belied by a comprehensive tally of all of Obama’s ‘promises made and promises kept’ by Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact.

    (“Niall Ferguson: from Eminent Historian to Political Hack,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 21, 2012)

    To be fair to Trump, however, NBC actually pays him big bucks to make a mockery of his profession for the sake of entertainment. Whereas Harvard pays Ferguson to propagate the excellence in liberal-arts education for which it is so well known.

    Therefore, imagine how this university must have felt when he generated the following headline at a conference of financial advisers in Carlsbad, California on Friday:

    John Maynard Keynes had it all wrong because he was gay and childless says Harvard professor.

    (Daily Mail, May 4, 2013)

    article-0-19A01EEF000005DC-929_634x389It stemmed from the glib response he gave to a question about Keynes’s economic theories. The problem, of course, is that Ferguson arguing that Keynes’s economic theories are wrong because he was gay and childless is every bit as ignorant and offensive as Trump arguing that Obama’s political policies are wrong because he is Black and … left-handed.

    But I do not believe for a moment that Ferguson actually believes what he said; nor do I believe that he is the least bit homophobic:

    I’ve read enough of his published works to believe that Ferguson’s criticisms derive far more from his academic aversion to the Keynesian policies Obama favors than from anything having to do with his race. I addressed the philosophical differences between them in this respect in ‘Rational Markets vs. Keynesian Economics,’ The iPINIONS Journal, September 23, 2010.

    (“Niall Ferguson: from Eminent Historian to Political Hack,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 21, 2012)

    Instead, I am convinced that, while Ferguson is proud of the gravitas that comes with being a university professor, he really relishes the celebrity that comes with being a political pundit. Further, that he has become so intoxicated with his celebrity he’d rather hurl political insults than engage in academic debate.

    Indeed, as this second quote above from my August 2012 commentary indicates, he sounded so much like a Tea-Party hack in criticizing Obama’s economic policies that I was as compelled to defend him against charges of racism as I was to attack the patently flawed points of his criticism.

    Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 6.53.50 PMBut just as leaving his White wife (and three kids) for his Black mistress (Somali-born former Dutch MP and anti-Islamist crusader Ayaan Hirsi Ali) was a mitigating factor with respect to charges of racism; having homosexual friends, not least among them the very popular and openly gay columnist Andrew Sullivan, should be a mitigating factor with respect to charges of homophobia. The latter also pertains to his specious contention (in an article in the April 22, 1995 edition of Spectator magazine) that Keynes adopted a pro-German view of negotiations on the Treaty of Versailles because he had a gay crush on a German representative to the conference….

    In fact, the only difference between his race-baiting harangue against Obama last year and his gay-baiting harangue against Keynes last week is that Tea Partiers have made the former so politically acceptable that Ferguson felt no need to cover his professional ass with a groveling apology – as he duly did in this case:

    I should not have suggested that Keynes was indifferent to the long run because he had no children, nor that he had no children because he was gay; this was doubly stupid. I had forgotten that Keynes’s wife Lydia miscarried.

    My disagreements with Keynes’s economic philosophy have never had anything to do with his sexual orientation.

    (“An Unqualified Apology,” Niall Ferguson Blog, May 4, 2013)

    I just cannot overstate how stupefying it is that Ferguson seems more interested these days in aping conservative carnival barkers like Ann Coulter than eminent historians like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. For only this explains his newly acquired penchant for launching ad hominem attacks on liberal academics like Paul Krugman.

    Ut_HKthATH4eww8X4xMDoxOm1qO3pqzyWhat is certain though is that no carnival barker worth his/her salt would ever apologize for anything that gets the kind of media attention Ferguson’s remark about Keynes got – no matter how repugnant to socio-political sensibilities.

    Perhaps Harvard forced him to issue this apology to limit its reputational damage … and to save his job. But I have no doubt that it was sincere. Still, it does nothing to redress the sad fact that this once-eminent historian now presents himself as little more than a snarky, self-possessed intellectual.

    The real point of me isn’t that I’m good looking. It’s that I’m clever.

    This was Ferguson describing, with faux modesty and imperious earnestness, his crossover appeal for a September 5, 2011 profile in the London Telegraph: too clever by half, no?

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  • Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    Zuma Zommin South Africa … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Jacob Zuma, the constitutionally gaffe-prone president of South Africa, had his long-suffering people scratching their heads again last week. This time because it seems he saw nothing undemocratic, or even improper, in granting permission to one of his patrons, the Gupta family, to use a South African military base as their private airport.

    Evidently, the Guptas wanted to spare the hundreds of guests they invited to a big, fat Indian wedding all of the indignities that attend landing at and departing from civilian airports; you know, like having to mingle with riff-raff. Not to mention concerns about personal security or loss of expensive wedding gifts; you know, as regular baggage handlers offload the plane: this is Africa after all.

    But, in fairness to Zuma, what’s the point in being a wannabe African dictator if one can’t grant one’s friends such simple favors, eh?

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    And how democratic of him to fire the officials who facilitated his favor, instead of jailing the commentators who criticized it. Amandla!

  • Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 7:55 AM

    So this is what May Day protests have come to….

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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