• Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 8:37 AM

    How good was James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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  • Friday, June 28, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    Marking Egypt’s Backwards Revolution…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Protesters Rally Against President Morsi In Tahrir SquareThe irony cannot be lost on anyone that millions of Egyptians are planning to mark the one-year anniversary of their democratic revolution by calling on their democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, to resign.

    Here is how Mohamed ElBaradei – who heads the opposition National Salvation Front as well as the Al-Dustar Party – framed the clarion call for anti-government protests this weekend:

    For Egypt’s sake, I call on President Mohamed Morsi to resign and give us the opportunity to begin a new phase based on the principles of the revolution, which are freedom and social justice.

    I would like to call on President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood to respond to the cries from all over Egypt.

    (Daily News Egypt, June 28, 2013)

    Of course, Egyptians can be forgiven for never imagining in their worst nightmares that, less than two years after getting rid of their dictator, Hosni Mubarak, they would be back in revolutionary Tahrir Square.

    20130202_wwd000Yet there they are; because, in many ways, the Islamist Morsi is turning out to be worse for Egypt than Mubarak ever was.

    Here courtesy of Policymic is just “7 ways Egypt’s Morsi Has Failed His People Terribly” (June 28, 2013):

    • His Muslim Brotherhood reneged on its promise to stay out of politics.
    • His Party tried to legalize Necrophilia against women.
    • He promised to support Israel, but embraced its enemies.
    • He has governed more like a pharaonic ayatollah than a democratic president.
    • His constitutional reforms marginalized ethnic and religious minorities.
    • He arrested Egypt’s most famous political dissident, comedian Bassem Youssef (aka Egypt’s Jon Stewart).
    • He has done nothing to curb fuel shortages, electrical black outs, runaway inflation, and rising unemployment. In other words, Egypt’s economy is “still in the crapper.”

    But I warned it would be thus:

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

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

    (“Army Pledges No Force Against Protesters,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2011)

    Enough said? Except that:

    It seems the only thing that will satisfy these protesters — who clearly have no ability to lead Egypt’s transition and have no faith in the ability of anyone else to do so — is replicating throughout the entire country the festive state of anarchy that reigns among them in Tahrir Square (i.e., never-ending revolution).

    (“Egyptian Revolution Part II,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 14, 2011)

    Now, just as they did with Mubarak, protesters are calling on the military to get rid of Morsi. And the military seems all too willing to oblige. But it will set a fatal precedent for Egyptian democracy if the military uses the disaffected mob these protesters represent as a pretext to launch a coup d’état against the country’s democratically elected president. For, whatever the legitimacy of their grievances, this kind of mob rule is so anathema to democracy that getting rid of Morsi is tantamount to throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    Truth be told, I fear the only thing that will bring Egyptians to their senses is an all-out, bloody civil war….

    One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

    (George Orwell, ‘1984’)

    Related commentaries:
    Egypt redux: Morsi the Pharoah
    Egyptian revolution

  • Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 5:47 AM

    ‘Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Constitutional’! Not Exactly…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    There are far too many political and legal pundits on TV spouting opinions they blithely disavow as soon as those opinions prove either untrendy or dead wrong. And they get away with it because most people today have the intellectual memory of teenage twits.

    Unknown-1This is especially dismaying to a commentator like me who puts his reputation on the line with every word he writes every day. Which is why I watched with resigned disgust this morning as pundits were popping up all over TV to offer 20/20 insight on two seminal Supreme Court rulings affecting gay civil rights: (1) California’s ban on same-sex marriages (aka Proposition 8); and (2) the Defense of Marriage Act (aka DOMA).

    By contrast, I’m on record not only stating my opinion on both cases, but also predicting how the Court would rule.

    Here, for example, is what I wrote just months ago:

    I am willing to bet my life savings that the Court will overturn California’s ban and rule DOMA unconstitutional. To do otherwise would make a mockery of the equal protection, liberty, and Full Faith and Credit clauses of the Constitution.

    (“Supreme Court Hears Legal Fight for/against Same-Sex Marriage,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 26, 2013)

    Specifically on DOMA, I wrote:

    This Act is so patently unconstitutional that former President Bill Clinton, who signed it into law (for craven political reasons), has been in the vanguard of those calling for its repeal.

    (“Supreme Court to Rule on Same-Sex Marriage,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 10, 2012)

    The court ruled:

    The principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage. This requires the Court to hold, as it does now, that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

    (Huffington Post, June 26, 2013)

    This means that the Court has squashed efforts (by conservative political and right-wing Christian groups) to define marriage on a national level as only between one man and one woman. More important, though, it means that couples in same-sex marriages are now entitled to the more than 1000 federal benefits, rights, and protections couples in heterosexual marriages enjoy (including social security benefits, spousal privilege, and inheritance rights – which was at issue in this case).

    images-2On same-sex marriages, I wrote:

    I believe it is a self-evident truth that not allowing gays to marry is an even greater violation of the fundamental civil rights all citizens should enjoy than not allowing Blacks to vote.

    (“Same-Sex Marriage Now Legal in New York,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 27, 2011)

    The court ruled:

    We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to… We decline to do so for the first time here.

    (Huffington Post, June 26, 2013)

    In other words, for technical reasons, the Court did not even dignify California’s ban on same-sex marriages with a ruling on the merits. It chose instead to allow the state to continue performing such marriages, making California one of 13 states that now allow same-sex marriages.

    slide_288424_2271663_freeBut this is what we lawyers refer to as a punt. Because even though the Court left in tact the right for same-sex couples to marry in California, it dodged the question of whether they have the same Constitutional right heterosexual couples have to marry in every state in the union.

    This is why I find the unbridled celebration among my gay friends today a little bemusing. Not least because I know that if a Court ruling – pursuant to a challenge against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – meant that Blacks could only vote in 13 of the 50 states, Blacks would be screaming bloody murder, or at the very least, “no justice, no peace.”

    images-1That said, it would be remiss of me not to share that I also offered this bit of provocative speculation:

    Legal, political, and religious pundits are doing their best to ape sports analysts by offering all kinds of putative insights on how the court will rule. Most notable is speculation that, because conservative Chief Justice John Roberts has a lesbian first cousin, he will side with liberal justices in favor of gay rights in each case.

    I agree. Not least because conservatives have a dubious record of abandoning their political and religious convictions whenever it suits their personal interests. Anti-gay Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio demonstrated this in dramatic fashion just weeks ago when he suddenly came out in support of same-sex marriage after his son came out as gay.

    (“Supreme Court Hears Legal Fight for/against Same-Sex Marriage,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 26, 2013)

    Sure enough, it was the conservative Roberts who wrote the opinion striking down Proposition 8, ensuring that same-sex couples in California (including his cousin and her partner) will be allowed to marry.

    But the struggle continues elsewhere. And, on second thought, perhaps part of today’s jubilation among my gay friends has to do with finally having the full weight and power of the federal government behind this struggle to make same-sex marriages legal in all of the remaining states….

    Related commentaries:
    Supreme Court hears

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Wednesday, at 4:40 pm

  • Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 6:32 AM

    ‘Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights’ for Blacks? Hardly…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    It’s a huge defeat for the civil rights community on the most important civil rights law ever passed.

    The Court has revoked and canceled part of Martin Luther King’s dream.

    (Reverend Al Sharpton, The Huffington Post, June 25, 2013)

    images-1Given the way Black civil rights activists reacted, you’d think the decision the Supreme Court handed down yesterday reinstated all of the barriers to voting that Blacks faced in the Jim-Crow South over 50 years ago. But nothing could be further from the truth.

    Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) imposed federal oversight over states with a history of erecting racial barriers to voting. The Court merely ruled that changed circumstances made this section no longer relevant, which makes it (and it alone) not unconstitutional, but constitutionally suspect.

    Alas, as is now typical of all Court rulings, this one fell along ideological lines (5-4) – with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with conservative Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito to strike down Section 4.

    Here, in part, is how Roberts justified their ruling:

    In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were.

    (New York Times, June 25, 2013)

    images-2I agree.

    Frankly, with all due respect to a “deeply disappointed” President Obama, only people with a flat-earth regard for the changed circumstances Roberts cites can take issue with this ruling.

    Because any fair-minded civil rights activist would have agreed when Roberts pointed out the damning irony that Alabama has a better record today – when it comes ensuring fair and equal access to the voting booth – than Massachusetts. Hell, White politicians in Pennsylvania did more to try to prevent Blacks from voting in last year’s presidential election than White politicians in Mississippi….

    Not to mention affirming reports that, in five of the six states covered by Section 4, Blacks had a higher voter turnout than Whites last year.

    But let me hasten to clarify that this ruling does not prohibit the Justice Department from filing charges against any state that imposes voting requirements that discriminate against Blacks. And, for the record, I see nothing discriminatory (or too burdensome) about voter ID laws, which require all voters to present proper ID. After all, in absolute numbers, this might prove a greater barrier to many more (poor and elderly) Whites than Blacks, making it clearly more logistical than racial.

    Nonetheless, liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan – with whom I usually agree – were indignant.

    Here, in part, is how Ginsburg justified their dissent:

    The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proven effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed.

    The record for the 2006 reauthorization makes abundantly clear [that] second-generation barriers to minority voting rights have emerged in the covered jurisdictions as attempted substitutes for the first-generation barriers that originally triggered preclearance in those jurisdictions.

    (Huffington Post, June 25)

    Except that this argument smacks more of political pandering than judicial reasoning; especially when one considers that many of these covered jurisdictions now provide greater access to the voting booth for Blacks than many non-covered jurisdictions – an irony Roberts duly pointed out with his juxtaposition of Alabama and Massachusetts.

    Moreover, Roberts declaimed that this irony and the second-generation barriers Ginsburg cites should compel activists to lobby Congress, not the Court, to pass new legislation to bring all 50 states under Section 4-like federal oversight.

    In which case, every state would be subjected to Section 5 of the VRA, which for some inexplicable reason the Court did not rule on.  Section 5 is the enforcement mechanism of Section 4, which requires covered states to have all changes in their voting laws “pre-cleared” by the U.S. Attorney General or declared legal by a federal court in Washington, D.C., before they go into effect. Got that?

    In any event, it is unfair, untenable, and unconstitutional for the government to continue treating a few states in the South as if they are stuck in the 1950s, while giving a pass to others in the North that are actually behaving as if they are.

    images-3That said, it would be remiss of me not to comment on Justice Clarence Thomas, the only Black on the Court, siding with the conservative majority in striking down this “hallowed” section. Nobody has been more critical of the way Thomas has consistently voted against the interests of Black folks. My most recent commentary on his seemingly pathological self-loathing in this respect, “Supreme Justice Clarence Thomas Speaks…?” The iPINIONS Journal, October 1, 2007, will attest to this.

    In fact, his voting record has caused most Blacks to develop such a visceral disregard for him that, even if Thomas were to suddenly rule in their interest, none of them would commend him. Such is the sanctioned antipathy towards Thomas that even an elected politician saw nothing wrong with dismissing him yesterday as an “Uncle Tom.”

    By contrast, though based solely on the backhanded logic that even a broken clock is right twice a day, I fully appreciate that even Thomas can be right once or twice.  He happens to be right in this case.

    NOTE: Apropos of irony, this time last year liberals were hailing Chief Justice Roberts as a hero for drafting the majority opinion upholding Obamacare; today they are damning him for drafting the majority opinion “striking down” the Voting Rights Act.

    Related commentaries:
    Justice Clarence Thomas

  • Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 6:54 AM

    Playboy Berlusconi Finally Screwed

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’ve been commenting on the public machinations and private peccadilloes of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for many years. And I’ve always been stupefied by the way he invariably escaped the consequences of his bad, if not illegal, behavior.

    It is his reported schtupping of underage girls at these bacchanalian soirees that has finally ensnared him in a legal vice grip from which I doubt even he can escape.

    Specifically, after years of watching him make a national spectacle of his dalliances with prostitutes (all perfectly legal if they are over 18), prosecutors filed charges yesterday alleging that he paid for sex with a 17-year-old Moroccan girl, and then abused his good offices to get her released from police custody on charges of petty theft.

    (“Italian PM Berlusconi Caught in Sex Vice Grip,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 10, 2011)

    images-1Well, I warned that he had finally taken his Houdini-like flirtations with the law too far. Because here’s how he finally got his comeuppance yesterday:

    A Milan court on Monday found former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi guilty of paying for sex with a minor and abusing his office to cover it up, handing him a seven-year jail sentence and banning him from public office for life.

    ‘I was really convinced that they would acquit me, because it was impossible to convict me based on the facts,’ Mr. Berlusconi wrote on his Facebook page.

    ‘Instead they issued an incredible verdict, of untold violence that has never been seen before, in order to eliminate me from the political life of this country.’

    (New York Times, June 24, 2013)

    imagesGranted, one look at this “Ruby The Heartstealer” and it’s easy to see how the head (below) of any heterosexual man could have misled him to think she was of age.  But “untold violence”?!

    This should give you a sense of the ego and persecution complex that have made Berlusconi the most fascinating tragic hero in modern politics.

    His persecution complex … causes him lament on occasion that he is ‘the person the most persecuted by the judiciary of all times, in all history…’

    (‘The Self-Fulfilling Crucifixion of Slivio Berlusconi,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 19, 2009)

    Mind you, the problem for Berlusconi is not that he will have to go to prison. After all, the Italian justice system is such that, notwithstanding convictions and sentences, “only poor people do time” for their crimes.

    No, his only fear is that this verdict might be the opening of a black hole of prosecutions for his lifetime of alleged financial crimes that will systematically tear down his billion-dollar media empire as ruthlessly as he built it up.

    aptopix-italy-berlusconi-scandal-2011-2-16-10-0-15In any event, I say good riddance to him:

    The irony is not lost on me that it is a female judge who ruled today that prosecutors have established a prima facie case to subject this notorious chauvinist to an expedited trial for having sex with a minor, then trying to cover it up.

    Not to mention that he will be tried before a panel of three judges, all of them women…

    Forget poetic justice; karma, she’s a bitch!

    (“Berlusconi Indicted!” The iPINIONS Journal, February 15, 2011)

    Related commentaries:
    Berlusconi vice grip
    Crucifixion
    Berlusconi resigns

  • Monday, June 24, 2013 at 6:19 AM

    Brazil’s Arab-Spring-Style Protests

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’ve been commenting on the kinds of mass protests (and riots) now raging across Brazil for almost a decade. I refer you to the following in The iPINIONS Journal: “Revolution in the Middle East” (March 2, 2005), “Alienated Youths Masquerading as Grieving Students Still Rioting in Greece” (December 13, 2008), “Tunisian Revolution Sets Off Arab Spring” (January 28, 2011), “Now London is Burning” (August 9, 2011), “Occupy Wall Street” (October 6, 2011), “Australia’s Aboriginal Spring” (January 27, 2012), “Now Stockholm is Burning” (May 13, 2013), “Turkey’s Erdogan No Different from Syria’s Assad…?” (June 3, 2013).

    This list is far from exhaustive; not least because it does not include any of the many commentaries I’ve written on mass protests (and riots) that raged from Egypt through Jordan and Libya during the Arab Spring.

    These riots demonstrate what little spark it takes for the simmering resentment that burns in ghettos to set nearby cities ablaze and terrorize an entire country….

    And, there but for the grace of God…

    (“World Beware, French Riots Affect Us All, The iPINIONS Journal, November 8, 2005)

    graphic_1371828801In Turkey, the little spark that set off ongoing mass protests (and riots) was the government’s decision to requisition a city park for commercial development. In Brazil, it was the government’s decision to raise fares on buses and metros.

    Incidentally, the first “Free Fare Movement” demonstrations began in Natal last August; they spread to other cities throughout most of this year; and reached what appears to be their most devastating and consequential manifestation in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, earlier this month – after the government raised fares by a seemingly innocuous .09 cents: The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back…?

    A common feature of these protests is their decentralized nature and tower-of-babel sense of purpose. But this is not to say that the protesters are not venting wholly legitimate grievances.

    Here, for example, is how I characterized those grievances (in the commentary cited above) with respect to France almost a decade ago:

    Reports are that young people in France’s African (Muslim) communities erupted in this nightmarish violence because they are fed up with chronic unemployment and feelings of (religious and racial) discrimination and social alienation. Indeed, just as young blacks in America fought against the virulent racism their parents tolerated, it seems young Muslims in France are fighting against the caste-like presumption that they too will supply the cheap labor for rich Frenchmen their parents provided.

    Now, not just Paris, but all of France is burning.

    And here’s how the BBC characterized those grievances with respect to Brazil just days ago (on July 19):

    The objectives of this diverse protest movement are very broad, such as demanding better education and health services; a sluggish economy and inflation that is affecting the lives of ordinary Brazilians every day can be added to the mix.

    Politicians with high salaries giving jobs and flights to relatives are widely scorned.

    Inequality and the huge cost of hosting the World Cup and the Olympics are key issues raised by demonstrators alongside corruption, crime and police brutality.

    UnknownMeanwhile, just as it was/is with every other leader, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff seems utterly clueless about what is required to quell these protests. And I don’t see how running to her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the reputed people’s president, will help. After all, these protests are playing out more like scenes from the zombie apocalypse than protest marches from the civil rights movement.

    Indeed, she probably thought, quite reasonably, that announcing a rollback in the fare increases that sparked them would be like daylight to vampires (with apologies to vampires who are considered a much higher form of zombies). But the effect was like pouring fuel on an already raging fire. Now, not just São Paulo, but all of Brazil is protesting (and rioting).

    Alas, trying to reason with this motley crew of protesters is rather like tying to tame a pack of hungry hyenas that just got whiff of the blood of a dying gazelle.

    320_2013_06_21_10_53_25Then, of course, another common feature of these protests is the way they are invariably commandeered by marauding anarchists who want nothing but chaos and perpetrate much of the rioting. This alienates many of the protesters. More significantly, in this case it has fueled such backlash among bystanders that they are not only taking to the streets to counter-protest the wanton destruction of their cities, but also physically confronting the (original) protesters.

    ‘I support these (protests), but I think it’s out of control,’ said Nilson Chabat, a 31-year-old gas station attendant on his way to work on Friday in São Paulo. ‘Many of us are angry but you can’t just go make a mess every day.’

    (Reuters, June 22, 2013)

    To be fair, though, at least Brazilians have something to show for their protests. By contrast, ask protesters elsewhere what concessions they can show for their efforts and you’ll be met with zombie-like stares….

    images-2In any event, President Rousseff was wise to rollback the fares and strike a conciliatory note – promising, like a hostage negotiator, anything that will get protesters off the streets. For, on the one hand, it really is unconscionable to be raising transit fares on poor, working-class Brazilians, while gentrifying their neighborhoods to build billion-dollar stadiums and venues to host the soccer World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

    On the other hand, even if these protesters do not appreciate the reputational damage their actions are causing Brazil, the president is painfully aware that this ongoing unrest does not inspire confidence in the international community that Brazil will be able to host the World Cup, let alone the Olympics. In fact, safety concerns surrounding the “warm-up” Federation Cup could not be more dispiriting and inhibiting for foreign teams. And I fear only turning Brazil into a de facto police state will allay those concerns when it comes to the Olympics:

    Riot police used gas bombs and pepper spray to keep protesters from advancing past a barrier around [two] miles from the stadium. A police car was burned by demonstrators, who also threw rocks and other objects at officers. The protest disrupted fans’ efforts to get in the stadium for Brazil’s second match at the World Cup warm-up tournament.

    (The Independent, June 20, 2013)

    But, perhaps on a more hopeful note, another common feature of these protests is the way they start with a bang and end with a whimper. The fact is that the narcissistic Facebookers and Twitterers who comprise the vast majority of all protesters have the self-esteem of teenage girls and the attention span of flying gnats. This is why, as soon as their protest is no longer the trending topic on the Internet (and cable TV), giving way to things like the latest rumors about Kimye’s baby or the final rounds of Arab Idol, protesters retreat to their lives of quiet desperation.

    So even though these are clearly anxious times for political leaders in Brazil, I’m pretty sure these protests will die a media death before too long. Specifically, despite ongoing disruptions to the Federation Cup, when World-Cup fever hits soccer-crazed Brazil in earnest next year, I doubt you’ll find a single Brazilian willing to admit that he or she was in the streets today protesting against the building of stadiums to host this international event.

    For now, though, the happiest leader in the world today has to be Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. After all, protesters in Brazil have usurped those in Turkey as the protesters du jour for international headline news.  And, as indicated, for all protesters, the lack of mainstream media coverage is like a death sentence for their polyglot and amorphous cause….

    Related commentaries:
    World beware
    Turkey’s Erdogan

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 3:49

  • Saturday, June 22, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    Looking forward to your summer vacation…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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  • Friday, June 21, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    Heat Repeat Defeat Spurs !

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven and hey I’m not just up here blowing smoke at none of these fans … I’m about business and we believe we can win multiple championships….

    (Heat’s welcome party for LeBron, YouTube, July 10, 2010)

    NBA: Finals-San Antonio Spurs at Miami HeatI was among those who ridiculed LeBron James after he failed to deliver the Miami Heat a championship in his first season three years ago. After all, this was hardly an auspicious start to the run of seven or more championships he so famously promised.

    Now, though, he has delivered two-consecutive championships. Moreover, in doing so, he has demonstrated such innervating and enabling leadership (on and off the court) that even I am beginning to believe he might deliver, well, not five, not six, not seven, but maybe three or four.

    Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs looked so formidable sweeping the Memphis Grizzles to make this NBA Finals that I was moved to make this blasphemous prediction:

    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 [with Jordan, Magic, Bird, Russell as the greatest players of all time].

    (“Coach Phil Jackson on Michael vs. Kobe,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 30, 2013)

    So, in the grand scheme of NBA greats, LeBron clearly has a way to go. For now, though, here’s to him and his Miami Heat for defeating (the perennially underrated) Tim Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs in what might go down in history as the best seven-game finals ever.

    Certainly, game six of this series will go down as the most thrilling ever: not least because, having dominated the entire game and leading by 6 points with only 20 seconds to go, the Spurs seemed so assured of victory that Heat fans were already coming out of their American Airlines Arena like cicadas coming out of their 17-year hibernation. (And I imagine those watching at home were already changing the channel or turning off their TV sets in disgust.)

    Yet, before you knew it, two spectacular three pointers from LeBron and Ray Allen forced the game into overtime, which the Heat went on to win 103-100, setting up last night’s crowning game seven.

    article-2345576-1A6EC652000005DC-699_636x351So, frankly, all that’s left to say is that the Heat really deserve better fans.

    The street celebration erupted in the closing seconds of the Heat’s 95-88 win over the San Antonio Spurs. It was a winner-takes-all final game that brought fans streaming into the area around the American Airlines Arena to exchange high-fives, blow whistles and scream themselves hoarse.

    (Associated Press, June 21, 2013)

    Boy, with fans like these…. Obviously, when it comes to Miami, “fair weather” refers to more than the climate.

    Related commentaries:
    Coach Phil
    LeBron leads Heat to championship

  • Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 5:11 AM

    Want to ‘Win’ Miss USA? Make a Fool of Yourself…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man before my time, I can remember when the girl who won the Miss USA pageant was the one who skyrocketed to fame. But such is our celebration of scandal and shame these days that fame goes not to the girl who wins, but to the one who creates a scandal or makes the biggest fool of herself.

    Here, for example, is how I lamented this trend after last year’s pageant:

    No doubt Miss Pennsylvania Sheena Monnin, who did not even make the first cut, expects this sensational claim [about the pageant being rigged] to make her more famous than Miss Rhode Island Olivia Culpo, who actually won.

    And she’s right. After all, Miss California Carrie Prejean became far more famous – after claiming that she lost the Miss USA 2009 pageant because she voiced opposition to same-sex marriage – than Miss North Carolina Kristen Dalton, who actually won. Can you even remember the name of the girl who won last year…?

    (“Contestant Claims Miss USA Is Rigged. Duh,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 8, 2012)

    CaituThen, of course, there was the Miss Teen USA 2007 pageant, where Miss South Carolina Caitlin Upton (no relation to Kate) became more famous than any contestant who competed before or since – despite being only the 3rd runner-up.

    How? By rambling on like a two-year old (trying to explain why that wasn’t her hand that was caught in the cookie jar) in response to her all-important, final interview question:

    [Question:] Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the United States on a world map.  Why do you think this is?

    [Miss South Carolina:] I personally believe, that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there, in our nation don’t have maps. And I believe that our education, like such as in South Africa and the Iraq, everywhere, like such as… And, I believe they should — our education over here, in the U.S. — should help the U.S., or should help South Africa, and should help the Iraq and Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us.

    (YouTube, August 24, 2007)

    Got that?  Mind you, it was completely lost on most of those reveling in her ignorance and shame that her utterly incoherent response was, in fact, a perfect demonstration of why this question was so appropriate.

    connecticut-erin-brady-named-usa-2013Which brings me to Sunday’s Miss USA 2013 pageant. Miss Connecticut Erin Brady won the crown, but Miss Utah Marissa Powell won the fame.

    How? By channeling Miss Teen South Carolina 2007 when she answered her all-important, final interview question:

    [Question:] A recent report shows that in 40% of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?

    [Miss Utah:] How to create jobs right now, that is the biggest problem right now, and I think especially the men are seen as leaders of this and so we need to figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem.

    (YouTube, June 18, 2013)

    s-MISS-USA-MISS-UTAH-130616-largeI’m afraid you have to see the video to fully appreciate how well she pulled off this trendy I’m-all-beauty-and-no-brains schtick. On the other hand, I suppose it’s better than peddling a sex tape to instant fame….

    But she’s getting the last laugh.

    Indeed, chances are very good that you know far more about Miss Utah (despite the fact that, in an uncanny bit of symmetry, she too was only 3rd runner-up) than you do about Miss Connecticut (despite the fact that she won). Actually, Miss Utah has been making so many TV appearances this week you’d think she were already making Kim Kardashian jealous….

    In any event, it’s dismaying enough that women are still blithely competing in beauty pageants that should only appeal to 1950s male chauvinist pigs. But one can only pity their perpetuation of the traditional notion that the only beautiful woman worth celebrating is one who pretends she has no brains….

    Related commentaries:
    Contestant claims Miss USA rigged

  • Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 8:11 AM

    Liberals Feel Betrayed by Obama’s NSA Spying…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    images-1Recent revelations about the NSA spying on American citizens have caused profound disillusionment within the liberal establishment. Nothing demonstrates this quite like the Huffington Post, the generally recognized portal of liberal politics online, posting on its front page a morphed image of George W. Bush and Barack Obama – complete with the damning caption “George W. Obama.”

    Hell, listening to some liberals bemoaning these revelations (about data mining phone records though not wiretapping any phone calls), you’d think they were bemoaning a betrayal worse than adultery. Except for those, like Reverend Al Sharpton, who sounded more like battered wives determined to hold onto their abusive husbands. (Although hurt, Sharpton claims he still trusts Obama.)

    Not to mention those, like Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski, who are being forced to issue public apologies for hailing Obama’s deployment of the very war-on-terror tactics they condemned Bush for deploying. (There’s something admirable about hypocrites admitting they are hypocrites…no?)

    terrorc-300x273But, frankly, I pity their bleeding hearts. Because this isn’t a case of Obama betraying his liberal base; it’s a case of his liberal base throwing a hissy fit over Obama acting like the pragmatic president he always intended to be.

    I have been an ardent and unwavering Obama supporter ever since I endorsed his candidacy in It’s TIME, Run Obama Run. It was published on October 24, 2006, when many of the liberals now affecting betrayal were championing the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    Perhaps this explains why, unlike them, I have no qualms about Obama not just adopting, but expanding the NSA spying techniques Bush implemented to keep America safe. In fact, my only criticism in this respect has been over Obama’s refusal to acknowledge his indebtedness to Bush.

    Here, for example, is an except from one of the many commentaries in which I not only presaged these NSA revelations, but also chastised Obama for not being more forthcoming about them.

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

    But I agree wholeheartedly with all of his flip-flops in this respect. Indeed … it is politically naïve and hypocritical to ridicule former VP Dick Cheney’s dire warnings about canceling Bush’s war-on-terror policies. (If Obama did and we were hit, it would doom his presidency).

    I just wish Obama would stop using Clintonian spin to explain his adoption of these policies.  After all, there is no difference between what he’s arguing today and what Bush argued throughout his presidency….

    (“Obama Angers Liberals by Governing Just Like Bush,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 14, 2009)

    Ultimately, whatever one thought of the Bush Administration (and as one who opposed his invasion of Iraq, I didn’t think much), there’s no denying that, post 9/11, he performed his most important job as president exceptionally well: he kept America safe.

    Which is why the only way for Obama to answer his liberal critics, and at the same time assure the public that what he’s doing is right, is to challenge the American people to ask not what the NSA is doing, but ask what they would be saying the NSA failed to do if there were another 9/11.

    For, if Obama canceled these spying programs and terrorists pulled off another coordinated attack, the very people criticizing him today would be the ones criticizing him for failing to tap into and foil their plans.

    Apropos of which, in congressional testimony yesterday, the NSA documented 50 terrorist plots its programs foiled. It clearly hopes this documentation will quell the media-fueled hysteria that is sweeping the country. Unfortunately, in doing so, the NSA was forced to reveal far too much about its techniques and methods.  Meanwhile, the irony is completely lost on its critics that their unwarranted criticisms may have fatally undermined these programs….

    Related commentaries:
    Obama angers liberals
    NSA Spying

  • Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    G8 Summit all about ‘Bangs’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    0617-Obama-Putin-Ireland-G8-Summit_full_600Given the optics, you could be forgiven for thinking that my headline refers to leaders banging heads over the vexing issues on the table at this week’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland. But this is not so.

    There is, of course, the historic and ironic spectacle of the United States and United Kingdom being on the defensive about spying on China and Russia. Not to mention the daunting challenge leaders are facing over what to do about the sectarian conflict raging in Syria.

    Screen-Shot-2013-02-27-at-5.05.46-PM-300x209Yet the real story coming out of this summit is all about Michelle Obama’s bangs.

    The first lady and her fringe headed to Belfast for this year’s G8 summit, where she made a speech that sparked mass Twitter debate. Onlookers weren’t concerned with the language Mrs. O used at the event, but rather the ill-received styling of her bangs…

    The hashtag #bangsfail was even used — ouch.

    This is how the Huffington Post styled the issue yesterday. But I say this public backlash is long overdue. Because here, in part, is how I lamented her follicle folly months ago:

    I’m not feelin’ it. It makes her look too much like a grown woman trying too hard to look young.

    (“First Lady Michelle, She Bangs,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 28, 2013)

    But I suppose it took a putative style guru like Karl Lagerfeld giving it a thumbs down, which he did in his inimitably catty fashion recently, to elicit the backlash I think her bangs should have elicited even before she left the salon.

    ss-130327-fashionable-first-ladies-tease.blocks_desktop_medium-300x225Meanwhile, I’m still recovering from the public flogging I got for daring to follow up my January diss of her bangs by asserting a couple of weeks ago that the Chinese first lady is prettier than Michelle.

    Therefore, I hope those who pilloried me for dissing her will lick my wounds now that so many of them are vindicating my critique with similar critiques of their own.

    Finally, lest you think I’m a twit for trivializing the serious agenda of the G8 by commenting on Michelle’s bangs, consider this still unassailable observation:

    Leaders of the world’s richest and most powerful nations are meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany over the next few days for their annual G8 summit. And, true to form, their agenda promises comfort only to fools.  After all, their gabfests will produce, as it invariably does, nothing but more CO2 emissions (i.e. hot air).

    (“G8 Summit: More Hot Air about Global Warming,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 7, 2007)

    Related commentaries:
    U.S. first lady bangs
    Chinese first lady prettier

  • Monday, June 17, 2013 at 7:27 AM

    Iranians Elect Reform-Minded Cleric as President…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Islamic Republic of Iran elected a new president in a democratic election that would’ve made even George Washington, the father of American democracy, proud. But this did not please one of his presidential heirs and namesake, George W. Bush, in the least. After all, this curious George only likes democratic elections when the rulers elected share his political views and religious values. And, Iran’s president-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clearly does not fit the bill.

    (“New Iranian President: We Shall Have Nukes…,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 14, 2005)

    Even though vexing, paradoxical, and inscrutable, Iranian politics is, above all else, doctrinaire. It has been thus ever since its Islamic Revolution in 1979.

    Unknown-2For example, Iranians voted in a presidential election over the weekend and replaced a putatively secular reformer, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who acted more like a religious cleric, with a putatively religious cleric, Hasan Rowhani – who acts more like a secular reformer. Yet nobody doubts that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will be the guiding force behind all of Rowhani’s policies (especially in foreign affairs) just as he was behind all of Ahmadinejad’s.

    I don’t mind admitting that Ahmadinejad filled me with as much hope for positive change in Iran, when he was first elected in 2005, as Barack Obama did, with respect to the United States, when he was first elected in 2008. My hope was based on Ahmadinejad’s notoriously modest lifestyle and commensurate rhetoric about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

    Never mind that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez had already dashed similar hopes by focusing far more on afflicting U.S. presidents with asinine, bellicose rhetoric than on comforting poor Venezuelans with sustainable, poverty-alleviation programs after he was first elected in 1999.

    Indeed, it speaks volumes that Ahmadinejad spent most of his two terms as president emulating Chávez – most notably topping the Venezuelan’s trite rhetoric about Yankee imperialism with far more menacing rhetoric about wiping Israel off the map.

    Hasan RowhaniTherefore, having been so profoundly disappointed by Ahmadinejad, I trust I’ll be forgiven for having no hope that Rowhani’s election augurs well for positive change – with respect to political reforms and social justice in Iran or its diplomatic relationships with Western countries. This, notwithstanding campaign rhetoric about the importance of political moderation and economic growth that made him seem, well, like a Western politician.

    Indeed, apropos of the vexing, paradoxical and inscrutable nature of Iranian politics, Rowhani was the only cleric among the six candidates the Guardian Council, consisting of six judges and six clerics (all serving at Ayatollah Khamenei’s behest), approved to run in this presidential election. Yet, despite his pedigree and professional bona fides as a regime loyalist, he was the only one who could be considered a moderate; the other five all being unquestioning and unabashed adherents of Iran’s doctrinaire politics.

    imagesInterestingly enough, Ayatollah Khamenei displayed dubious, if not troubling, religious and political temperament when he responded to plainly hypocritical, premature, and wholly unwarranted U.S. criticisms of this election as follows:

    Recently I have heard that a U.S. security official has said they do not accept this election. OK, the hell with you.

    (Associated Press, June 14, 2013)

    Granted, perhaps nobody is more qualified to damn people to Hell than a supreme religious leader. But this petulant response coming from a political provocateur (like Ahmadinejad) is to be expected; coming from a religious leader is, well, discouraging to say the least. Let’s hope the official White House statement congratulating the Iranian people on an exemplary presidential election will have a calming effect on Ayatollah Khamenei’s wrath.

    For the record, Rowhani won 50.7 percent of the vote; the best of his five conservative-hardline opponents won only 16.5 percent.

    It is particularly noteworthy that surviving reformers from the opposition Green Movement and perennially disaffected young people are celebrating as if Rowhani’s victory is the triumph that should have been theirs after the last presidential election four years ago. They are clearly vesting a great deal of hope in his ability to implement democratic freedoms and social-justice reforms.

    For now though their rapture is such that you’d think Rowhani were the second coming of … the Prophet Muhammad. Whereas, in fact, he’s just the third coming of a reform-minded cleric, following – as he is – two others who preceded Ahmadinejad as president, namely Rowhani’s own political mentor Akbar Heshmi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. More to the point, I doubt any of the people hailing Rowhani today could explain why they believe he will succeed where these other reform-minded clerics failed.

    That said, their hope would be somewhat vindicated if Rowhani could begin his presidency by prevailing upon Ayatollah Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards to:

    • release political prisoners like Mir Hossein Mousave, leader of the Green Movement; and
    • prosecute political assassins like those who killed Neda, the young woman who came to symbolize their Chinese-style squashing of Iran’s Persian Spring in 2009….

    But here’s the real challenge Rowhani faces, which crystallizes why he too is fated to fail:

    Unknown-4Iran’s economy has been withering under increasingly onerous sanctions ever since the United States imposed them to protest the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Far more problematic though has been Iran’s nuclear program.

    Iran insists that it’s only for economic and other peaceful purposes. But the United States and Israel have convinced virtually every G20 country (with the world’s 20 biggest economies) that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, which of course would pose an untenable existential threat to Israel. No doubt Iran’s steadfast refusal to allow international inspectors to verify the nature of its program has only fueled suspicions in this respect.

    Ironically, but for Ahmadinejad’s Hitlerian rhetoric about exterminating the Jews, most Western countries would probably have bought Iran’s claims about the economic and peaceful nature of its nuclear program….

    This is why the United States has been able to amass a coalition of the willing, which includes the EU and even the UN, to impose sanctions that have had a crippling effect on its economy. And, far from easing them, the United States and its coalition partners are threatening to expand their sanctions regime to affect every facet of life in Iran. This would make the unbearable life most Iranians have been living in recent years even more so.

    Therefore, despite his hopeful and encouraging rhetoric, there’s simply nothing Rowhani can do to improve the lives of his people, unless he can get the United States and other Western countries to lift those sanctions. And the only way he can get them to lift those sanctions is to prevail upon Ayatollah Khamenei to reverse course and open Iran’s nuclear program for international inspections. Alas, this seems highly unlikely; not least because Rowhani distinguished himself as a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing as the Ayatollah Khamenei’s first nuclear envoy in negotiations with the West.

    So even if Rowhani opens one hand to Western countries – by promising to meet conditions to have sanctions lifted, the suspicion will be that he’s hiding the other one behind his back with fingers crossed. And that suspicion would be well-founded because Ayatollah Khamenei has made it patently clear that Iran’s nuclear program is non-negotiable. And this includes the nuclear enrichment that belies long-standing Iranian claims that its nuclear program is strictly for economic and other peaceful purposes.

    Unknown-1Mind you, I suspect Ayatollah Khamenei believes, quite reasonably, that possessing nuclear weapons will inoculate Iran against military attack from Israel or the United Stats, or both. Of course, transparent and verifiable proof that Iran has no interest in developing nuclear weapons would provide even greater inoculation. Except that I suspect he also believes, rather messianically, that possessing nuclear weapons will imbue him with the power to create a “Shi’ite Belt” – comprised of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon – that would exert more doctrinal influence throughout the Muslim world than the Prophet or the Quran. (Saudi Arabia … on guard!)

    And, unlike North Korea’s absolute leader, Iran’s supreme leader is clearly too proud and self-righteous to even countenance bartering his nuclear prerogatives for economic concessions … even to feed starving Iranian children. Hell, he’s now inviting even more onerous sanctions by actively supporting Syrian President Bashir al-Assad in defiance of Western calls for him to go or be ousted. This, after all, is the same Assad who the U.S. charged just days ago of using chemical weapons on his own people to hold onto power, crossing Obama’s declared “red line.”

    Which means that, just as Assad is daring Obama to take more aggressive steps to stop his Syrian government from using chemical weapons, Ayatollah Khamenei is daring him to take military action to stop his Iranian government from acquiring nuclear weapons…

    It is also instructive to know that Ahmadinejad has been so politically neutered for merely acting as if his presidential powers were not subordinate to Ayatollah Khamenei’s authority that the candidate he publicly endorsed for this election was not even allowed to run. So the last thing we should expect Rowhani to do is anything that even smacks of insubordination in this respect.

    Nonetheless, here’s to an Iranian presidential election – complete with a turnout of 72.7 percent – that put to shame any that has ever been held in the history of the United States. Except that any Iranian who voted for Rowhani, hoping he would bring an end to economic sanctions, was sold an even bigger bill of goods than any American who voted for Obama, hoping he would end Bush’s Big Brother war-on-terror policies.

    Related commentaries:
    New Iranian president

  • Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    Happy Father’s Day! And good luck if you have a teenage daughter…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    133146_600

  • Friday, June 14, 2013 at 5:23 AM

    Ignorance prevails re NSA spying and Snowden leaking

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Immediately below is a commentary I wrote last Saturday (June 8) on the public’s reaction to leaks about the U.S. government’s National Security Agency (NSA) spying on its citizens. In light of the international media frenzy NSA leaker Edward Snowden caused this week, I have decided to reprise it here, followed by a new commentary on the cause celebre he has become.

    Complaints about NSA spying are schizophrenic…and misguided

     

    132803_600Frankly, Americans complaining about the government spying on them is rather like Kim Kardashian complaining about the paparazzi taking pictures of her.

    You’d better pray you are never prosecuted or sued for anything. Because not only Big Brother but even your civil adversary could compel Google to turn over all of the searches you made when you thought nobody was watching.  And just think how embarrassing or compromising it would be to have some of those search terms come under public scrutiny – no matter how innocent your explanation.

    So if you’re planning to cheat on your spouse, or to do something even worse, don’t search Google for guidance because you might as well be talking to your local gossipmonger, or to the police. And if you think you can un-Google your most compromising searches, think again…

    By the way, it’s not just Google.  Because you’d be shocked at the spying and eavesdropping your employer, your Internet Service Provider, your local supermarket, or even your favorite (naughty) website engages in to keep track of your emails, purchases, preferences and … peccadilloes.  And all of them blithely use that information for their own commercial purposes, but would rat you out just as blithely at the mere hint of prosecution or civil litigation.

    (“Beware: Google Declares ‘Nothing’s Private,’ The iPINIONS Journal, December 8, 2009)

    In this Information Age, tech companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and WikiLeaks are masters of the universe. But they have created a schizophrenic human species – whose members share everything about everything, yet claim to be zealous about their privacy..

    google-300x122

    Only this explains the growing nationaloutrage over the government’s National Security Agency (NSA) monitoring their promiscuous and indiscriminate footprints (online and via telephone). But nothing explains why these nincompoops think it’s okay for tech companies to spy on them to sell them stuff, but not okay for the NSA to do so to keep them safe.

    Not to mention how they blithely give up truly sensitive personal information for the convenience of buying stuff with credit cards. After all, records collected from such transactions make the generic phone records the NSA collects seem even less intrusive than a traffic cop’s speed gun.

    All we need is for terrorists to pull off another 9/11. Because the same people venting outrage about government surveillance today will be venting ever greater outrage over the government’s failure to monitor the footprints of those terrorists (i.e., connecting the dots).

    This is why I applaud President Obama for effectively telling these nincompoops to get over their outrage … and themselves with their inherently contradictory concerns about privacy:

    Nobody is listening to your telephone calls… [The government is merely] digesting phone numbers and the durations of calls, seeking links that might identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.

    It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.

    (Associated Press, June 8, 2013)

    Enough said?

    Except that I gather some people are concerned about the government using the metadata the NSA collects to prosecute them. But clearly no concern is warranted in this respect, unless they are engaged in illegal activities. Even then, no judge would admit any evidence obtained via an illegal wiretap or e-mail intercept. In law we call such tainted evidence “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

    And if they are merely worried about electronic data being used in civil litigation or to embarrass them, then they should be far more concerned about the spying Google and other private companies do than about that which the government does.

     

    Leaker Snowden: more useful idiot than national traitor

     

    cdn-media.nationaljournal.comForemost I should say that Edward Snowden strikes me as little more than a narcissistic, egotistical, publicity-seeking idiot who is to national intelligence what Kim Kardashian is to media celebrity.

    What’s more, he seems every bit the media whore she is, and is probably hoping that his NSA leaks will make him even more famous than her sex tape made her. I suspect the more we learn about him, the more this analogy will play out.

    But think about this folks: If the United States is spying on China as much as Snowden claims (and it is), and China is spying on the United States as much as Obama claims (and it is), then clearly neither country needs anyone to tell it anything about the extent of spying going on between them, right?

    So Snowden telling China that the United States is spying on it is rather like a disgruntled Obama staffer telling Romney that Obama is looking for dirt to hurl at him during last year’s presidential campaign. Duh.

    Not to mention the idiocy inherent in Snowden seeking political asylum in China to protest a lack of government transparency in the United States.  At least the spies who betrayed their country during the Cold War had a reasonable expectation that a political and ideological Shangri-La awaited them in the Soviet Union.

    You’d think Snowden would’ve been guided by the disillusionment those spies suffered after jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, and then realizing that they were nothing more than useful idiots for anti-Western propaganda.

    All of which is why this NSA story is really all about the leaker, not his leaks. And with their hysterical and overblown coverage, the media are willingly, willfully, and wantonly making him into an international cause celebre who, in his deluded mind, has the two most powerful nations in the world fighting over him. Indeed, Snowden probably finds being in this hot seat positively ecstatic, if not priapic….

    That said, for anyone who think he has anything credible to say, consider this:

    Snowden claims, with nary a hint of the delusions of grandeur that clearly motivate him, that he “had the authority to wiretap anyone … even the president.” Except that:

    Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was wrong when he claimed he had the ability [just sitting at his desk with his computer] to tap into the private emails or phone calls of any American citizen — even President Barack Obama.

    ‘False,’ Alexander said, when answering a question from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) about Snowden’s claim. ‘I know of no way to do that.’

    (Business Insider, June 12, 2013)

    OB-CR167_NSA110_G_20081113150541Mind you, this is not to say that I don’t believe the U.S. government would ever spy on innocent Americans. After all, I know all too well that the FBI did just that for years on no less an American than Martin Luther King Jr. My only point is that, for all of his talk about NSA spying, this joker has yet to cite the name of a single American who he (or anyone else at this agency) was ordered to spy on.

    In any event, despite the media frenzy, Snowden’s “leaks” will have no real impact on U.S. intelligence activities.  Not least because, just as Obama not only adopted but expanded all of the spying tactics he criticized George W. Bush for deploying, almost every politician now venting constitutional outrage over NSA spying will vote for it to continue when the time comes to put up or shut up.

    Why? Because no (mainstream) politician wants it on his record or conscience that he voted against a program that could have prevented a terrorist attack….

    Meanwhile, nothing indicates how fleeting, inconsequential, and costly Snowden’s notoriety will be, and rightly so, quite like the fates that have befallen Bradley Manning and Julian Assange for their “wikileaks” of U.S. diplomatic secrets:

    • Their leaks have had practically no impact on U.S. foreign policy.
    • Manning is being tried in virtual obscurity, and faces even greater obscurity if/when he’s sentenced to life in prison.
    • And Assange is already in a de facto prison, hiding out, as he is, in Ecuador’s embassy in London since last August as a fugitive from justice. But I assure you, British intelligence is doing everything possible to spy on his activities to ensure he does not slip out undetected. Therefore, he’s dares not even set foot outside for fear of being arrested and extradited pursuant to a judge’s order: first to Sweden to face trial and punishment on sexual assault charges, then to the United States to follow the path Manning is now blazing into obscurity.

    To be clear, just as it was with Manning, the United States must protest damage to national security in this case. It must do so not only to establish probable cause for arresting and prosecuting Snowden, but also to provide whatever deterrence it can for all of the other misguided nerds out there who might be thinking of emulating his method of revenge … for their 15 minutes of infamy.

    Related commentaries:
    Complaints about NSA
    Ecuador grants Assange asylum

  • Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 5:17 AM

    Pope Confesses: There’s a Gay Cabal in the Vatican

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A gay cabal in the Vatican continues to indulge and cover up the sexual exploits of gay priests, including abuse by pedophiles.

    (“The Pope Comes to America,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 16, 2008)

    It’s an indication of my naiveté (or perspicacity, depending on your perspective) that I saw nothing provocative or, God forbid, uninformed about this statement.

    In fact, I’m on record lamenting that, for centuries, gay cabals have been making a mockery of every religious edict the Holy See has issued. Only this explains why the church has systematically done more to protect pedophile priests than to help the children they preyed upon. After all, gay priests outing pedophile priests is rather like pimps snitching on prostitutes.

    images-4Imagine my consternation, therefore, when people reacted to my statement as if I were the devil incarnate trying, once again, to undermine the divine provenance of their Christian faith. Which is why, personal vindication aside, I fear having no less a person than the pope affirm my statement will utterly shatter their faith.

    Pope Francis is reported to have acknowledged the existence of a ‘gay lobby’ inside the Vatican.

    He also said there was a ‘stream of corruption,’ according to reports in Catholic media.

    The Vatican would have to ‘see what we can do’ about the ‘gay lobby’ operating in the bureaucracy, he said. ‘It is true, it is there,’ the report quotes him as saying.

    (BBC, June 12, 2013)

    My only quibble with this extraordinary confession is that the pope himself is naïve if he thinks he’ll be able to do anything about this so-called gay lobby. Incidentally, I call it a cabal because it operates more like the mafia – with all of the dangers inherent in challenging its insidious and ruthless power.

    Screen-Shot-2013-02-25-at-10.07.20-PM-251x300Apropos of which, it would take an internecine struggle – which makes the one now raging between Muslim moderates and extremists seem quaint – for Francis to properly exorcise the cancer that (closeted) homosexuality represents in the Catholic Church.  Not least because, if he attempted to reform this practice of sexual hypocrisy, he would be deemed even more of a heretic, to be summarily excommunicated (i.e., executed), than Martin Luther was deemed for attempting to reform the practice of papal indulgences.

    Then again, maybe it’s time for another seminal split in the Catholic Church: high-brow traditionalists led by Francis vs. down-low progressives led by, well, one who dares not speak his name … for the soul of the church? But I digress.

    The problem is that the pope would have to excommunicate not one but hundreds of gay priests in the Roman Curia, the church’s central administration, whose Adamic nature (i.e., sexual orientation) would compel them to resist his reform/purge. A November 24, 2005 article in the New York Times estimated that the percentage of priests who are gay is as high as 60 percent.

    Indeed, I fear there’ll be a conclave to elect another pope before Francis makes any headway in this respect. Which is why, instead of purging homosexuals, the wiser, and more Christian, thing would be for him to reform church teachings to allow not just priests to marry, but also homosexuals and women to serve.

    Not to mention that this would then free gay priests to out the pedophiles in their midst without fear of implicating themselves in some medieval web of punishable moral turpitude. For, as was made abundantly clear in a 2010 Panorama exposé, “Good Nights Out for Gay Priests:”

    The gay priest problem is about celibacy, church law, and hypocrisy. The pedophile problem is about child abuse, criminal behavior, and abuses of power.

    Amen.

    Related commentaries:

    Pope comes to America,
    Pope accused of harboring pedophile priests,
    Abdication of Pope Benedict,
    Vatican report on gay cabal

  • Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 5:33 AM

    Putin’s Divorce Dents Public Armor

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    120905-putin-hmed-649p.photoblog600Russian President Vladimir Putin (60) has become an international laughing stock for staging photo ops to make himself look more like an action hero than a political leader. Particularly because so many of his stunts, like pretending to escort migrating cranes in a glider, make him look more like Johnny English than James Bond.

    I coined the term ‘putinization of Russia’ to describe Putin’s neo-Stalinist tactics, which were (and are) clearly aimed at neutralizing all political dissent, quashing all civil liberties, and making himself into a latter-day czar.

    (“Hail Putin,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 3, 2007)

    putinb-300x206Yet such is his shamelessness that he thought nothing of trying to convince the public a few years ago that his persona as an action man is matched only by his role as a family man. He did this by staging an Edward R. Murrow-style Person-to-Person interview at home with his wife (and dog).

    The only problem is that even I knew Putin the family man – who ostensibly relished nothing more than emulating the traditional domestic bliss popularized by Ozzie and Harriet – was every bit as fake as Putin the action hero – who once staged his discovery of ancient Greek vases on a dive in the Black Sea … reportedly to foster national pride.

    The reported reason for this rare look into his family life was Putin’s wish to encourage all Russians to participate in the country’s forthcoming census.  Unfortunately, the only message most people got from this photo op pertained to the long-rumored breakup of his marriage.

    Speculation has been rife in recent years about Putin leaving, perhaps even divorcing, his 52-year-old wife, Lyudmila, to set up home with a 27-year-old former Olympic champion gymnast named Alina Kabayeva.  There are even reports that Putin has fathered a child with this other woman.

    (“Putin’s Photo Op Flop,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 20, 2010)

    Hell, Putin has gone to such ridiculous lengths to display his fidelity to family life that he even exhorted Russians to make their country a superpower again by marrying young and making babies.  This is why his latest stunt came as such a surprise.

    20130607114504-inter6-2Putin and his wife – who have been married for almost 30 years and have two daughters – made a rare public appearance on Thursday to attend a performance of Esmeralda at the Grand Kremlin Palace. But then, in a typically awkward yet brazen bit of stagecraft, they left the performance and headed straight to a theatrically placed reporter, with camera crew in tow, to announce their divorce.

    After allowing Putin and Lyudmila to lavish praise on the ballet, despite leaving after the first act, the reporter asked if their rare public appearances in recent years mean that they no longer live together. They responded to this obviously scripted (i.e., Putin-approved) question as follows:

    ‘This is so,’ he said… ‘Yes, this is a civilized divorce,’ Lyudmila said.

    (Associated Press, June 6, 2013)

    Alas, the big pink elephant upstaging their performance was the unspoken reason for their divorce. And Lyudmila only made it more conspicuous, unwittingly, by citing her public shyness and fear of flying; not least because both are belied by the fact that she’s a former Aeroflot flight attendant.

    article-2337048-1A3173F4000005DC-349_634x445That proverbial elephant, of course, is Putin’s rumored mistress, Alina. What’s more, anyone who knows the story of Esmeralda will appreciate how much it dramatizes the conflicted and compromised relationships Putin, Lyudmila, and Alina have been living out in real life. Which raises the question: Did Putin intend to convey more than he was prepared to say by choosing this ballet as the backdrop for announcing the dissolution of his marriage…?

    Whatever the case, there seems little doubt that the only reason for imploding his carefully crafted image in this way is to bring the hot Alina in from the cold: to be his publicly recognized lover, even if not his lawfully wedded wife.  And, in true czarist form, Putin will use his state media to eventually turn the carnal vice she personifies into a political virtue in the court of public opinion.

    That said, the only reason I’m commenting is to revel in how he exposed himself in this photo op to be as big a phony in his private life as he is in his public life:

    If these politicians were not lead vocals in a chorus of moral crusaders, I would not give their sexual escapades a moment’s thought. For the unadulterated pleasure of afflicting these hypocrites, however, I don’t even mind being bedfellows with a publicity-seeking hustler like Larry Flynt [who once vowed to out them all].

    (“Why ‘Hypocritical Politician’ Is Becoming Redundant,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 18, 2009)

    NOTE: It would not surprise me to learn that Putin decided to trade in his old wife for a younger model after being counseled, if not egged on, by his bunga bunga buddy, former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi – who did the same himself, finally settling divorce terms only months ago.

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  • Monday, June 10, 2013 at 6:32 AM

    It’s Time to Let Mandela Go

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With all due respect to my comrades in South Africa, “Breaking News” about Nelson Mandela being rushed to hospital is taking on the spectacle of breaking news about Lindsay Lohan being arrested.

    Let me hasten to declare that I have as much respect, admiration, and affection for Mandela as any non-South African can possibly have. In fact, my abiding regard for him has compelled me to repeatedly lament the way everyone from family members to politicians have been treating him more like a national mascot than an elder statesman in recent years:

    No doubt you are aware of politicians and celebrities making pilgrimages to Mandela’s home for a photo op with him, which invariably looks like a snapshot from a South African version of Weekend at Bernie’s.

    (‘Is Nothing Sacred? ‘Being Mandela’ – the Reality-TV Show.” The iPINIONS Journal, March 18, 2013)

    1030577_850997Mandela has been taken on four death-defying rushes to hospital since December, including most recently on Saturday. And worldwide concern, bordering on hysteria, has attended each occasion – complete with vague, funereal reports aimed at assuring all that he’s still alive. The 94-year-old Mandela is reportedly suffering recurring, suffocating bouts of pneumonia.

    But all of this public attention on his every dying breath strikes me as just another betrayal of the dignity and discretion that once defined his life. What’s more, nothing demonstrates the hysteria attending this latest rush to hospital quite like multitudes running to the nearest church to pray for him.

    Mind you, I have no doubt that they are praying for him – to hold death at bay, yet again – only out of unconditional devotion to their beloved Madiba. Indeed, it’s a testament to his inspired leadership that, 14 years after he retired from politics, even a dying Mandela offers South Africans greater hope for their future than any of their current leaders.

    8318159On the other hand, I am among those hoping – not necessarily for him to die, but for him to be spared any more indignities. After all, it’s painfully clear that the most loving and respectful thing anyone could have done for Mandela months ago was to have him committed to hospice care.

    In hospice, health professionals could help him live out the rest of his days in peace, quiet, and dignity. This, in effect, is what recently retired Pope Benedict XVI, who is reportedly withering away at an even faster pace, is doing; while Mandela’s family members are propping him up for photo ops and reality-TV shows, in which he invariably looks like he’s, well, already off in another world.

    Now, lest you think I’m being too dispassionate, or even macabre, consider that no less a person than his longtime friend, Andrew Mlangeni, was just quoted saying the following in an interview published under the instructive headline, “It’s time to let him go:”

    You [Madiba] have been coming to the hospital too many times… The family must release him so that God may have his own way… Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow.

    (South Africa Sunday Times, June 9, 2013)

    So here’s to letting Mandela go: no more to hospital, but to hospice. And you can be sure that, when he dies, the ANC will put on a state funeral that will make the one the Vatican puts on for the pope seem modest and irreverent.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 9:31 AM

    Complaints about NSA Spying are Schizophrenic … and Misguided

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    132803_600Frankly, Americans complaining about the government spying on them is rather like Kim Kardashian complaining about the paparazzi taking pictures of her.

    You’d better pray you are never prosecuted or sued for anything. Because not only Big Brother but even your civil adversary could compel Google to turn over all of the searches you made when you thought nobody was watching.  And just think how embarrassing or compromising it would be to have some of those search terms come under public scrutiny – no matter how innocent your explanation.

    So if you’re planning to cheat on your spouse, or to do something even worse, don’t search Google for guidance because you might as well be talking to your local gossipmonger, or to the police. And if you think you can un-Google your most compromising searches, think again…

    By the way, it’s not just Google.  Because you’d be shocked at the spying and eavesdropping your employer, your Internet Service Provider, your local supermarket, or even your favorite (naughty) website engages in to keep track of your emails, purchases, preferences and … peccadilloes.  And all of them blithely use that information for their own commercial purposes, but would rat you out just as blithely at the mere hint of prosecution or civil litigation.

    (“Beware: Google Declares ‘Nothing’s Private,’ The iPINIONS Journal, December 8, 2009)

    In this Information Age, tech companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and WikiLeaks are masters of the universe. But they have created a schizophrenic human species – whose members share everything about everything, yet claim to be zealous about their privacy.

    google-300x122

    Only this explains the growing national outrage over the government’s National Security Agency (NSA) monitoring their promiscuous and indiscriminate digital footprints. But there’s no explaining why these nincompoops think it’s okay for tech companies to spy on them to sell them stuff, but not okay for the NSA to do so to keep them safe.

    Not to mention how they blithely give up truly sensitive personal information for the convenience of buying stuff with credit cards. After all, records collected from such transactions make the generic phone records the NSA collects seem even less intrusive than a traffic cop’s speed gun.

    But all we need is for terrorists to pull off another 9/11. For the same people venting outrage about government surveillance today will be venting ever greater outrage over the government’s failure to monitor the footprints of those terrorists (i.e., connecting the dots).

    This is why I applaud President Obama for effectively telling these nincompoops to get over their outrage … and themselves with their inherently contradictory concerns about privacy:

    Nobody is listening to your telephone calls… [The government is merely] digesting phone numbers and the durations of calls, seeking links that might identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.

    It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.

    (Associated Press, June 8, 2013)

    Enough said?

    Except that I gather some people are concerned about the government using the metadata the NSA collects to prosecute them. But clearly no concern is warranted in this respect, unless they are engaged in illegal activities. Even then, no judge would admit any evidence obtained via an illegal wiretap or e-mail intercept. In law we call such tainted evidence “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

    And if they are merely worried about electronic data being used in civil litigation or to embarrass them, then they should be far more concerned about the spying Google and other private companies do than about that which the government does.

    Related commentaries:

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  • Friday, June 7, 2013 at 5:28 AM

    Britain Apologizes and Pays for Colonial Atrocities

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The British government argued in court last year that too much time had passed for victims to claim legal compensation for the human rights abuses British officials meted out during Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion 60 years ago.

    But here, in part, is what I wrote to disabuse the government of this unconscionable and unsustainable defense:

    If the British government has any regard for what little redeeming value its legacy of colonialism retains, it would consider it a moral imperative to move post-haste to negotiate a victims’ fund with the Kenyan government, from which all victims can seek relatively fair compensation … in Kenya.

    Incidentally, this would (and should) not absolve the government of the categorical imperative to pursue and prosecute every British official implicated in these human rights abuses…

    Accordingly, I fully expect Britain, at long last, to do the right thing: apologize and pay, pursue and prosecute!

    (“Reparations for British Colonialism,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 18, 2012)

    _64426347_64426346This is why I was heartened when the High Court ruled in short order that the government’s defense was wholly without merit. But I was even more heartened yesterday when the government finally settled this class-action suit – just as I expected it would do.

    For here, in part, is the extraordinary apology Foreign Secretary William Hague delivered in Parliament for the torture thousands of Kenyans suffered under the boot of British colonial officers:

    The British government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress to independence. Torture and ill-treatment are abhorrent violations of human dignity which we unreservedly condemn.

    (London Guardian, June 6, 2013)

    Kenya Torture.JPEG-0632eAnd since I called on the British to not only apologize but also pay, I duly note their concomitant announcement of a victims’ fund.  It’s just too bad this fund’s sum of $30 million makes a mockery of the government’s fulsome apology. After all, when divided among the 5000-plus victims, this amounts to an insulting $3000 each; notwithstanding that no amount of money could possibly compensate for their pain and suffering.

    All the same, now that this precedent has been set, I urge other victims of British colonial abuse to file their claims toopost-haste:

    If the High Court were to establish the precedent that victims of colonial-era abuses could seek damages in British courts, I have no doubt that thousands of claimants would show up in London to seek redress from every place on earth that was subjected to British dominion.

    In which case the British government would be well-advised to initiate government-to-government settlements of all such cases instead of allowing any of them to proceed to trial – especially with all of the opening of old wounds (on both sides) that would entail.

    (“Reparations for British Colonialism,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 18, 2012)

    In any event, now that it has apologized and paid, it’s time for the British government to pursue and prosecute. For, just as victims of the Holocaust have had no statute of limitations placed on pursuing and prosecuting their Nazi oppressors, victims of colonial atrocities should have none placed on pursuing and prosecuting their British oppressors.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 5:26 AM

    Why the Furor Over Michael Douglas’s HPV PSA…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus. I did worry if the stress caused by my son’s incarceration didn’t help trigger it. But yeah, it’s a sexually transmitted disease that causes cancer.

    (London Guardian, June 2, 2013)

    This is the rather controversial way actor Michael Douglas explained, or warned about, the cause of the cancer that nearly killed him. He did so, ironically enough, during a promotional interview for the HBO biopic, Behind the Candelabra, in which he plays the flamboyantly gay pianist, Liberace.

    xin_2810031910253983083713I’ve read enough medical opinions on the media furor his comments ignited to know that there is a positive correlation between oral sex (cunnilingus as well as fellatio) and throat cancer.

    But frankly, I don’t see why it is any more taboo (or TMI) for Douglas to reveal that he got human papillomavirus (HPV) from performing oral sex than it was for Magic Johnson to reveal that he got HIV from having unprotected sex (which, incidentally, could have been oral in his case too).

    Of course I fully get that Douglas’s revelation might have inflicted undue emotional distress on his actress wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones – especially given her well-publicized history of mental problems. Indeed, columnist Andrea Peyser is evidently so sympathetic that she exhorted Zeta-Jones to:

    Dump the bigmouth, lickety-split.

    (New York Post, June 4, 2013)

    UnknownBut I couldn’t care any less about what impact his unwitting PSA might have on their marriage.

    Except that, if this is reason enough for her to divorce him, then their marriage was probably already irretrievably broken down.

    Instead, my sympathy goes out to the tens of millions of women for whom having vaginal orgasms is like winning the lottery.

    Because I fear the real impact of Douglas’s PSA will be to give far too many men a credible excuse to avoid performing cunnilingus like the plague, making “going down” even more of a one-way street.

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