• Friday, January 31, 2014 at 5:52 AM

    Forget Angelina! Hannah’s the Breast-Cancer Survivor Worthy of Praise

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Angelina Jolie famously elected to replace her healthy breasts with implants because she feared she might develop terminal cancer … someday. And she won near-universal praise for doing so. TIME magazine even ran a May 27, 2013 cover heralding “The Angelina Effect” she would have on women.

    AngelinaJolieTombraiderI, however, stood virtually alone in pooh-poohing the hosannas to her. And I received near-universal flak for doing so. Notably, women got their panties in a twist because I dared to question whether Jolie was more interested in preserving the look of her two most bankable assets than in preventing cancer.

    On 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…

    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…

    Jolie did not opt to remain au naturel (i.e., flat chested). Tow that would have been heroic, and truly worthy of media beatification. Instead, she got a boob job … too.

    Which raises the question: 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?

    (“Angelina Jolie’s ‘Heroic Decision’ to Get Breast Implants?” The iPINIONS Journal, May 16, 2013)

    Even more shocking and dismaying, however, is that my critics seemed not in the least bit chastened five months later when Professor Kefah Mokbel of the London Breast Institute issued the following warning, which the New York Post reported on October 3, 2013:

    We’re seeing a large number of women requesting a preventive mastectomy for peace of mind, women who’ve been diagnosed but don’t have a genetic predisposition so wouldn’t benefit.

    These are patients who say, ‘Can you do for me what Angelina Jolie had done?’ They’re on the increase.

    Not even when, around the same time, researchers at the University of Minnesota presented a report at the 2013 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, which included the following dispositive finding (as reported in the October 7, 2013 edition of the Daily Mail):

    Women who have a healthy breast removed over fears they might later develop breast cancer may not improve their survival rate, according to new research.

    article-2547914-1B0D390200000578-367_306x423Well, given that scientific evidence did nothing to disabuse Angie’s avengers of their misguided praise, perhaps the sublime image of what a real patron saint of breast-cancer survivors should look like will. And, thanks to the March 2014 issue of Cosmopolitan no less, Hannah Foxley is a vision to behold, posing proudly, I dare say even seductively, with her bare, scared chest where her pert breast used to be.

    Hannah Foxley, who recently had a mastectomy, says she wants to show women you can still be beautiful even when you’ve had parts of your body removed.

    ‘I have learnt to love it and adopt a positive body image and I want to empower other women to do the same. I want them to see my pictures and say ‘she looks beautiful and I can too.’’

    Surely no woman in her right mind would praise the fake, Playboy-style body image Jolie represents over the real, naturally beautiful body image Foxley does … right?

    But let me hasten to clarify that nothing I’ve ever written on this subject is meant to convey any disrespect for women who opt for post-mastectomy reconstructive surgery.

    I just think a woman like Foxley is far more worthy of being hailed as the patron saint of breast-cancer survivors than Jolie. Don’t you?

    Related commentaries:
    Angelina Jolie
    More about implants than cancer

  • Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 5:56 AM

    Pete Seeger, Legendary Folk Singer and Social Activist, Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    img_2137_2-photo-15-985ffe459fe19f45ccc29b8589f8ed07d9393785-s40-c85I’m embarrassed to admit that I know even less about Folk Music than I do about Theoretical Physics. (I flunked Physics 101.) But it’s a testament to the impact Pete Seeger had beyond his genre that I know far more about him than I do about Stephen Hawking.

    I actually began singing the Seeger song “If I Had a Hammer” as a child, in Sunday school, long before I knew who he was.

    If I had a hammer

    I’d hammer in the mornin’

    I’d hammer in the evenin’

    All over this land

    I’d hammer out danger

    I’d hammer out a warnin’

    I’d hammer out the love between my brothers and my sisters

    All over this land….

    But I was truly amazed to learn years later that he was more responsible for popularizing the visionary civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” than anyone else.

    In so many ways he used his signature, five-string banjo music more as a tonic for social justice than as a balm for entertainment. And he was not modest about its impact. Here, for example, is what he told The Associated Press in 2008:

    The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place.

    23seeger-cityroom-blog480Indeed, as is the case with folk singer Joan Baez, who is arguably his female equal, I suspect most people associate Seeger more with social activism (from peace protests to environmental protection) than with Folk Music.

    After all, this unabashed troubadour was in the vanguard of so many causes for social justice over his long career that it came as no surprise to see him leading a march of Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011, when he was already over 90 years old.

    Over the years, Pete used his voice — and his hammer — to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation. And he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger.

    This is how President Obama paid tribute to Seeger in a January 28 statement published on whitehouse.gov. (For a more popular perspective, if Bono continues using his/U2’s music as a tonic to help end conflicts, alleviate poverty, and promote sustainable development around the world, a similar tribute might be paid to him upon his death.)

    Seeger died on Monday of natural causes at hospital in New York City. He was 94.

    Farewell, Pete.

  • Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    State of the Union Address: ‘A Political Spectacle’ … Take 2

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    article-2547893-1B0B42FA00000578-590_636x382Below is what I wrote after last year’s State of the Union Address. Alas, this occasion has become such a redundant and irrelevant spectacle that I’ve decided to mark it this year and henceforth by publishing an equally redundant and irrelevant commentary.

    It is noteworthy, though, that last night’s spectacle was compounded by Republican members of Congress showing more interest in taking pictures with cast members from the reality-TV show Duck Dynasty than in listening to the president of the United States.

    This is not to say that the president did not give a great speech. He always does.

    But nothing demonstrates the profound limitations of great presidential speeches quite like juxtaposing Obama’s famous Cairo speech in June 2009, in which he promised American leadership for a democratic transformation of the Middle East, with the bloody turmoil, fomented by Islamic extremism exposing American fecklessness, that pervades that region today.

    More to the point, try juxtaposing the clarion call he made in his Address last year – in the immediate aftermath of yet another school shooting massacre – for modest gun-control legislation (namely universal background checks), with the fact that no legislation passed, compelling him to make that same clarion call again last night.

    Not to mention that, just as he did again last night, he has called for an increase in the federal minimum wage in every one of these Addresses. Yet it remains at the same paltry rate of $7.25 it has languished at since 2009. Ditto his hollow mantra about closing Guantanamo Bay prison.

    Therefore, here, word for word and image for image is what I wrote last year in “State of the Union Address: A Childish Spectacle,” February 13, 2013. And, trust me, it’ll prove every bit as informative as any original commentary you’ll find anywhere else today:

    article-2277857-178BABF7000005DC-428_634x406

    I have listened to enough State of the Union Addresses to know that they invariably amount to a triumph of style over substance.  And nothing demonstrates this quite like the most memorable thing about President Obama’s address last year being not something he said, but a congressman yelling, ‘You lie.’

    (“2011 State of the Union Address,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 26, 2011)

    I have written many commentaries lamenting the “childish spectacle” politics in America has become. This is reflected in Republicans and Democrats doing everything from hurling schoolyard insults at each other to playing chicken over the budget with the country’s full faith and credit hanging in the balance.

    But it’s an indication of just how childish a spectacle politics has become that President Obama himself felt constrained to lament as follows in his second inaugural address just weeks ago:

    We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

    (Washington Post, January 21, 2013)

    antonin-scalia-weird-hatThis is why I was so heartened when I read this morning that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed last night’s annual State of the Union (SOTU) Address as follows:

    It has turned into a childish spectacle. I don’t want to be there to lend dignity to it.

    (Huffington Post, February 13, 2013)

    Hear, hear!

    I am mindful, of course, that this is coming from a man who wore a Mickey Mouse cap to that very formal inauguration ceremony referenced above; that he sits on a court whose rulings these days seem borne of the same partisan divide that has turned Congress into such a childish spectacle; and that this is the 16th consecutive year (spanning Democratic and Republican presidents) Scalia has refused to lend dignity to this most august political spectacle of all, which probably says more about his temperament than the SOTU.

    In any event, apropos of the address itself:

    All presidents pad their addresses with feel-good proposals. And even the most popular presidents know that 95% of them will never be implemented.

    (“2007 State of the Union Address,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 24, 2007)

    Actually, in this respect, the president of the United States is rather like the president of a high-school senior class promising everything from better school lunches to more school holidays.

    And nothing adds to the spectacle in both cases quite like the president’s supporters greeting each promise with jubilant ovations while his opponents remain firmly seated on their hands; notwithstanding that the promise in question is something both sides favor, but which both sides know does not even stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of ever being fulfilled. Not to mention the patent absurdity of presidents repackaging the same SOTU address to deliver each year.

    This is why the spectacle of what Obama said last night was surpassed only by the spectacle of the way members of Congress reacted.  And, insofar as SOTU addresses are concerned, it has always been thus. Which is why, to preserve their own dignity, presidents should revert to the nineteenth century practice of just mailing it in.

    Related commentaries:
    2011 SOTU address
    2007 SOTU address
    2013 SOTU address

  • Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 8:19 AM

    Super-Rich Persecution Complex: Billionaires Feeling Like Jews Facing the Holocaust

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Obama presidency is as replete with historical firsts as it is with historical ironies. Nothing demonstrates the latter quite like those who have benefitted most under his leadership being the ones who are complaining most about it.

    imagesMind you, it would be one thing if, like billionaire Warren Buffet, they were complaining about Obama not doing enough to redistribute their unconscionable accumulation of wealth – to redress the growing gap between America’s rich and poor. But far too many of these rich folks are actually complaining about Obama persecuting them the way Hitler persecuted the Jews.

    With respect to the latter, venture capitalist Thomas Perkins incited national outrage with a January 24, 2014 open letter to the Wall Street Journal titled, “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming.” Because in it he literally analogized criticism of rich people in America today to persecution of Jews in Germany during Nazi rule:

    I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich’…

    From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.

    Again, it’s important to bear in mind that Perkins is just a Johnny-come-lately to this kind of ironic, amoral, and utterly incomprehensible super-rich whining. Perhaps they’re all smoking a plutocratic form of crystal meth that triggers this peculiar strain of paranoid delusions. Whatever the case, the New Yorker chronicled, in its October 2012 issue, other billionaires expressing similar concerns in “Super-Rich Irony: Why Do Billionaires Feel Victimized By Obama?”

    new-yorker-220x300Here, in part, is how I commented:

    This mystifying “thick-wallet, thin-skin” whining was exposed in infamous fashion just weeks ago when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was caught on tape inciting (reverse) class warfare by telling the super-rich (at a political fundraiser) that the poor (aka the 47 percenters) are just parasites living off the taxes paid by the super-rich like them…

    No doubt many of you were shocked to read about these super-rich, and presumably intelligent, Americans invoking Hitler to condemn Obama.

    Well, it’s axiomatic that nothing makes intelligent people say ignorant things quite like trying to rationalize their racism. In this respect, the whining among the super-rich about Obama being bad for business is damning enough. But nothing betrays their ignorance quite like their Tea Party-like accusations about Obama being the second coming of Adolf Hitler hell-bent not just on helping the Iranians exterminate the Jews, but also on turning the United States into a socialist paradise.

    (“Super-Rich Irony…,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 5, 2012)

    But, in “Delusions of Despair Undermining Obama’s Presidency,” June 21, 2012, I actually presaged much of what the New Yorker chronicled:

    What is delusional … is that chief among those lamenting this despair are people who have benefited most during his presidency. Most notable are Wall Street bankers whose firms he bailed out and who raked in record profits as the DOW rose an unprecedented 56 percent.  But they are joined at the hip by corporate CEOs whose companies are sitting on trillions in profits and who earned so much in compensation that the cause of their despair must be some perverse form of thriver’s guilt.

    images-1In other words, the reason Perkins’s complaint makes no sense is that it has nothing to do with any fear of persecution of the kind ethnic minorities suffer every day, let alone of the kind Jews suffered in “fascist Nazi Germany.” Instead his complaint is a manifestation of the Obama derangement syndrome that afflicts a surprising number of rich folks.

    Granted, Perkins and his ilk would rather see millions of their fellow Americans struggling to live on minimum wage (and tens of millions more living without basic healthcare) than pay one cent more in taxes. This clearly indicates that their moral afflictions go far deeper than Obama’s progressive policies … and skin color. In which case their demonizing the poor in response to what they see as the poor demonizing them might just be the defensive pleadings of their guilty consciences.

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

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

    In any event, that he timed publication of his letter to preempt Obama’s State of the Union Address tonight indicates that his motivation was more political than existential. Like others, Perkins must’ve resented the White House telegraphing Obama’s intent to reinforce his 2008 campaign message about spreading the wealth around to redress economic/income inequality, which he has repeatedly said is “the defining issue of our time.”

    Another irony, of course, is that Obama has done precious little since 2008 to spread the nation’s wealth around. Which is why I was so heartened when he finally began talking late last year about taking “executive action” to deal with this defining issue. I duly commented in “Obama Addresses Growing Gap Between Rich and Poor … Finally!” December 13, 2013.

    Meanwhile:

    The point is that this ratio of CEO-to-worker pay merely compounds a profound normative shift in America. For we have gone from the 1950s when CEOs had vested interests not only in the welfare of their workers but that of the communities in which they lived as well, to today when they have vested interests only in the bottom line and share value … because these provide the economic pretext for their exorbitant pay.

    This let-them-eat-cake mindset has misled Walmart to pay its CEO, Michael Duke, over 1000 times more than the average worker and still insist, with nary a pang of guilt or hypocrisy, that it makes no business sense to pay its workers a fair minimum wage.

    (“CEO Pay Just a Reflection of America’s Economic Apartheid,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 18, 2013)

    Indeed, Perkins complaining about poor people demanding more equitable pay for their work is about as credible and sympathetic as Marie Antoinette complaining about peasants demanding more butter for their bread. Not that he deserves a similar fate, I hasten to clarify. But, come to think of it, having the entire world mock their cringeworthy persecution complex, while marveling that people smart enough to amass super-rich fortunes can still be super stupid, might prove a worse fate for him and other unreformed masters of the universe.

    Related commentaries:
    super-rich irony
    delusions of despair
    ceo pay
    Obama addresses growing gap

  • Monday, January 27, 2014 at 12:12 AM

    The Grammys (or the Mr. and Mrs. Carter Show?)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    ll-cool-j-grammy-awards-ftrI don’t care too much for his acting (as seen on NCIS: Los Angeles), but LL Cool J is so good hosting the Grammys that he’s fast becoming as identified with this awards show as Ellen DeGeneres is becoming with the Oscars.

    Tonight was his third-consecutive gig (for The 56th Grammy Awards), and he did not disappoint – from giving the show that you-know-it-when-you-see-it edge with his mere stage presence to riffing off introductions like a cool DJ introducing new songs. I wish he’d do something about that lip-licking though (ChapStick…?). But I suppose that’s like saying I wish Michael Jordan had done something about that tongue hanging when he was making the NBA must-see TV, no?

    Anyway, LL was … ill.

    article-2546569-1AFEA83500000578-485_634x720In this age of WikiLeaks and social media, keeping secrets is becoming associated with being untrustworthy, prudish, or anti-social. This might explain why even “big surprises” like Super Bowl commercials and headlining Grammy appearances are teased to the point where the big reveal becomes anticlimactic.

    Such was the case with all of the teasing about tonight’s opening act featuring Jay Z and Beyoncé. I’m a huge Beyoncé fan. But I agree with Jennifer Hudson (who co-starred with Bey in the hit movie Dream Girls) that she cheapened herself and her talent with shamelessly vulgar lyrics and videos for her new, self-titled album.

    For some incomprehensible reason, the serene Bey is trying (way too hard) to be to I’m-sexy-and-I-know-it thirty-somethings what twerking Miley is to don’t-know-much-about-sex Gen-Xers, and what cradle-robbing Madonna is to desperately-seeking-sex AARPers. Got that?

    But we can really do without Bey acting out on stage what she does in her bedroom, making mockery of Michelle Obama hailing her as role model little girls can look up to.

    Adele’s performance of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ was as stirring and poignant at last night’s Grammys as Whitney’s performance of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was at the 1991 Super Bowl. What’s more, that her album 21 sold more last year (18 million) than the albums of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj combined is a testament to the ultimate triumph of unadulterated talent over vaudevillian schtick – aka substance over style.

    (“The Grammy’s: a Postmortem,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 13, 2013)

    I missed Adele.

    article-2546505-1AFC370E00000578-764_470x779As for Jay Z, well, I’m more Snoop Dog, em, er, Snoop Lion, Jah. More to the point, though, I couldn’t help thinking as Jay and Bey were performing “Drunk in Love” that Jay and Rihanna sounded much better doing “Run This Town.” Of course Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love The Way You Lie” is the best rap/pop duet of all time, with Jay’s duet with Alicia Keys on “Empire State of Mind” the runner-up. This is why it came as no surprise to me when Jay and Bey lost out to Jay and Justin for the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Sorry Bey.

    Incidentally, what do you suppose the impossibly beautiful Bey did to cause God to create her baby girl more in Jay’s fugly image than in hers?

    Remarkably enough, most performances were downhill from that opening act. Especially with teenage Goth-chick Lorde following it by almost emulating Ashlee Simpson with her lip-synching faux pas and some Justin Beiber-type named Hunter Hayes squealing out a country song that smacked so much of bubblegum pop that Johnny Cash must’ve been rolling over in his grave.

    rs_560x415-140126185731-1024.Kendrick-Lamar-Imagine-Dragons-GRAMMYS-jmd-012614_copyA very notable exception was Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons who, frankly, made up for all of the other lousy performances. They did a stirringly seamless mix of their respective hits “Radioactive” and “m.A.A.d city.” Too bad that, despite seven nominations and this outstanding performance, Kendrick went home Grammyless.

    But honestly, I don’t know why anyone thinks it’s enjoyable to watch a legendary group like Chicago belittle itself by appearing to perform, only to have Robin Thicke blur their soft-rock sound by doo-whopping the lead vocals on their classic hits like “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is.”

    I mean, can you imagine going to an Adele concert, only to have her introduce Miley Cyrus to warble Thicke-like through “Rolling in the Deep” and “Skyfall”? Talk about “Blurred Lines.” Chicago’s original lead singer, Peter Cetera, must have been at home cringing … with humiliation for his band and embarrassment for Thicke.

    Unknown-1Trust me, there are many good reasons why, despite having the year’s most (over)played song, Thicke went home Grammyless. And not least among them was his confiscatory sampling of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” Interestingly enough, his label EMI finally settled a copyright-infringement lawsuit with Gaye’s heirs two weeks ago: too little, too late.

    All we needed was to have Bruno Mars enter stage right to take over as Ringo Starr was groaning out his signature tune “Every Time I See Your Face.” Thank God Stevie Wonder is so good that he was able to salvage his performance of “Another Star,” despite interference from Pharrell Williams and French electronica duo Daft Punk. The producers of this show really should put an end to these grossly overrated, ad-hoc duets. Hell, the Pepsi NFL Halftime Show commercial featuring ad-hoc duets with Deon Sanders and Terry Bradshaw was more entertaining than most of them.

    article-2546542-1AFCAA4C00000578-982_634x495Beyond this, I found nothing about performances by the likes of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, John Legend, Merle Haggard, and others I’ve never even heard of that’s worthy of comment.

    Well, except that, just as Lady Gaga needs to decide if she wants to be a pop singer or a walking freak show, Pink needs to decide if she wants to be one or a flying trapeze act.  Because if we want to see the kind of aerial acrobatics she tried to perform, while trying to sing, we could easily watch professionals with Cirque du Soleil do that … really well.

    I really missed Adele.

    rs_560x415-140126192321-1024.ringo-starr-paul-mccartney-grammy.ls.12614_copyMeanwhile, as I indicated above, the remaining Beatles, Paul and Ringo, just looked like two dirty old men crashing a coed party. And talk about anticlimactic; tributes to the Beatles, who performed their last “Rooftop” concert on January 30 1969, are taking on the spectacle of cult worship. But, given all of the hype about their long-awaited reunion, you’d think they would at least perform a song most fans would recognize instead of some lullaby that was as obscure as it was soporific. I don’t think they had too many people clamoring for a Paul and Ringo reunion tour after that performance … thank God!

    By the way, am I the only one who noticed that One Direction, the Beatles putative heir apparent, was not even nominated for a single award?

    article-2546520-1B008E7300000578-149_636x382Apropos of cult-like behavior, I get that same-sex marriage is the cause celebre of the moment. In fact, my commentaries will attest that I’ve been in the vanguard of those championing it as a civil right. But really, the last thing I tuned into the Grammys for was to watch rapper Macklemore, who seems an ironic fusion of Eminem and pastor T.D. Jakes, sing his gay anthem “Same Love” for a mass, pansexual wedding ceremony officiated by the ironically closeted Queen Latifah. This seemed even more contrived than a Moonie wedding day.

    What a farce! Which is why I suppose mama-don’t-preach-to-me-waxwork Madonna fitted right in … as the pansexual maid of honor.

    God I missed Adele.

    Oh, in case you haven’t noticed, I couldn’t care any less who won which award. But I was rather hoping Miranda Lambert would beat out her boozing, philandering husband, Blake Shelton (co-host of the reality-TV show The Voice), for Best Country Solo Performance. That might have been a symbolic way for her to start performing solo at home too. Instead, ironic, iconic Black crooner Darius Rucker won (homage to Charley Pride).

    BetNe6MIcAA74c8Still, it’s probably noteworthy that, after entering the show leading all artists with nine nominations, Jay Z left with just two (both thanks to his fortuitous collaboration with Justin Timberlake). His better half dropped her album too late to be nominated in any category.

    I would be remiss not to mention that my relief over the conspicuous absence of the diabolical Kanye West and vaudevillian Lady Gaga was in inverse proportion to my disappointment over the sublime absence of the angelic Adele.

    Finally, über producer Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy party used to be as big an event as the awards show itself. But it must be dawning on this 81-year-old music mogul that his torch is being passed to a new generation. Especially given that on January 15 Billboard named Jay Z and Beyoncé No. 1 on its enviable Power 100 list (Davis didn’t even make it); and that the media were buzzing more about Jay Z’s pre-Grammy party than about his. What’s more, guess who were the talk of Davis’s party…?

    That’s a wrap!

    Related commentaries:
    The Grammys

  • Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    Forget Muslim Terrorists; Beware Russian Cossacks

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    143451_600

    Like me, you probably find this cartoon chilling and amusing in equal measure.

    President Vladimir V. Putin has offered one clear new direction for the country: the development of a conservative, nationalist ideology…

    The Kremlin is dipping into a deep pool of history: Cossacks are revered here for their bravery and pre-modern code of honor, like cowboys in the United States or samurai in Japan. But their legacy is bound up with battle and vigilante-style violence, including campaigns against Turks, Jews and Muslim highlanders.

    (New York Times, March 16, 2013)

    No doubt you recall the furor and apprehension Russia incited worldwide last year when it enacted a law effectively making any public display of or support for homosexuality a crime.

    I’m already on record opposing an Olympic boycott over Russia granting NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum. And even though I am far more sympathetic to a boycott over its anti-gay laws, I oppose this one as well.

    Because, instead of humbling Russia the way boycotts humbled South Africa, I fear this will only harden the heart of Russia’s wannabe Stalin, Vladimir Putin. Even worse, he might consider it a crossing-the-Rubicon provocation in the Cold War II he’s been fighting against the United States for almost two decades.

    (“Boycott Olympics Over Anti-Gay Laws? Hmmm…,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 10, 2013)

    Thankfully, you can spot Czar Putin’s Cossack crusaders from regular security forces by the modified Beefeater tall hats they wear.

    Beware!

    Related commentaries:
    Boycott Olympics

  • Friday, January 24, 2014 at 7:25 AM

    Facebook ‘Like’ an Infectious Disease

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m not a stock analyst, and I don’t play one on this site.

    That said, here’s what I wrote two years ago about the social contagion Facebook had become:

    [L]et’s face it, haven’t you had enough of the mundane and often-recycled crap your ‘friends’ share … every day, several times a day? Even worse are the hucksters who keep begging you to “Like” their page so they can make money off your ‘friendship.’ Then of course there are the myriad ways those little zuckerheads get you to betray your own privacy.

    These are just some of the reasons why Facebook will soon go the way of MySpace. Remember that bubble sensation?

    In the meantime, though, Zuckerberg and his circle of real friends will be laughing all the way to the bank.

    (“Facebook IPO Just Floating Another Tech Bubble,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 19, 2012)

    Only a diseased person would behave in the chronically self-absorbed, demented, and annoying way most Facebook junkies do. And, that over a billion people behave this way can only mean that this diseased behavior is infectious (or viral — as one might say, appropriately enough, in social-networking parlance).

    Unsurprisingly, my analysis/diagnosis did not get too many “Likes” from my imaginary Facebook friends. More to the point, though, it drew nothing but indignant rolling of eyes from my real Wall Street friends. In fact, relying on the prevailing professional analysis of Facebook’s long-term health, they all suggested, in no uncertain terms, that I should stick to my day job.

    facebookWell, no less an authority than the Wall Street Journal has now reported on an unimpeachable research paper that endorses my lay analysis:

    A controversial research paper predicting Facebook’s imminent demise spread like an epidemic through the blogosphere Wednesday.

    The paper, by two Princeton PhD students, said social media sites like Facebook usually follow the same growth and decline patterns of infectious disease outbreaks. The conclusion: The world’s largest social network will be more or less eradicated within the next three years.

    The authors, Joshua Spechler and John Cannarella, cited MySpace, which peaked in 2008 and then rapidly shrunk to almost nothing by 2011.

    (January 22, 2014)

    meet-feminisms-new-billionaire-icon-sheryl-sandbergActually, their findings mirror mine to such degree that I might have to make sure these Princeton PhDs gave me proper attribution….

    In any case, you might think I reacted to this report by facing my critics with vindicating shouts of, “I told you so!” But I just continued marveling at how Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and other major shareholders have been cashing out and laughing all the way to the bank – just like I predicted.

    Sheryl Sandberg’s fortune surpassed $1 billion today after Facebook Inc (FB) closed at a record high…

    Mark Zukerberg, Facebook’s 29-year-old CEO, sold more than $2 billion in stock last month.

    (Bloomberg, January 21, 2014)

    But who can blame them for “floating stocks” while their bubble lasts, eh?

    Related commentaries:
    Facebook IPO

  • Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    “Thug” the Politically Correct Word for Nigger?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    file_52dd433ab4399It speaks volumes that the media have spent more time replaying and analyzing Richard Sherman’s postgame rant about being the best cornerback in the NFL than they have replaying and analyzing the play he made that sealed the Seattle Seahawks’ win over the San Francisco 49ers, 23 to 17, in Sunday’s NFC Championship game.

    For this is just another example of the media becoming little more than a carnival circus. And, even in this context, they see more value in featuring the freaks and clowns over the magicians and acrobats.

    He might well be the best cornerback in the NFL, but chances are that you never heard of the Seahawks’ Sherman until the media made a barking fool of him on Sunday. Unfortunately, the takeaway (especially for young Black boys) is that you have a far better shot at fame in America today by acting like an obnoxious jerk than by displaying real talent. And amoral corporate sponsors will only reinforce this socially demeaning value now by rewarding him with lucrative endorsement deals.

    Which is why the story here is not Sherman’s postgame rant, as the media would have you believe. Rather, it’s the media (and advertisers) choosing to elevate his rant over the game itself.

    Real Football fans will tell you that the most exciting day of the NFL season is Conference Championship Sunday, not Super Bowl Sunday – as fair-weather fans might say.

    (“Historic NFL Championship Sunday,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 22, 2007)

    Yet, you could be forgiven for having no clue that bona-fide superstars Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots led their teams in a thrilling battle for the AFC Championship on Sunday as well. For the record, Peyton’s Broncos won 26 to 16, and will be meeting the really talented Russell Wilson’s (i.e., not the loudmouth Sherman’s) Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII at the New Jersey Meadowlands on February 2.

    imagesIncidentally, I’m sure this media focus on Shearman is not fostering much esprit de corps among his teammates. Nonetheless, the obsessive, herd-like nature of the media is such that (the all too obliging) Sherman will still be the focus of their coverage next Tuesday during the NFL’s traditional “media day”- when all players who made it to the Super Bowl usually get to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. That is, of course, unless another player redirects the media’s Pavlovian attention by behaving like an even bigger obnoxious jerk.

    That said, it just so happens that Sherman displayed real intelligence yesterday when he said the following about being called a thug for his postgame rant:

    The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays.

    (Huffington Post, January 22, 2014)

    That, my friends, is a profound, precise, and provocative observation. What’s more, it does far more to honor Sherman’s Stanford University education than his postgame rant about being an alpha dog. But don’t expect the media to devote too much attention to it.

    Because, alas, when it comes to generating media interest these days, the Black intellectual might as well be an invisible man compared to a Black alpha dog (aka thug, aka nigger). This sad fact is what is most noteworthy about this grossly overblown story.

    Related commentaries:
    Championship Sunday

  • Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 12:12 AM

    America, Stop the Scaremongering Over Sochi Olympics!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    imagesThe irony seems completely lost on American media that they’re the ones terrorizing us by featuring so many politicians and security experts stoking mundane fears about Russia’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks during next month’s Winter Olympics. Not to mention their hysterical reporting on a cell of black-widow suicide bombers now allegedly lying in wait inside Sochi’s so-called “ring of steel” – presumably to blow jam-packed Olympic venues to smithereens.

    I mean, what’s an athlete to think when a member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee goes on TV and warns the world that security preparations are so woefully inadequate that not only would he not allow his family to attend, but even he would not be caught dead anywhere in Russia during the Olympics. For this is precisely what Senator Angus King of Maine did last Sunday on CNN.

    UnknownNow add to these dire warnings reports about the U.S. government deploying warships to the region … just in case:

    The United States will deploy at least two warships into the Black Sea off the coast of Sochi, Russia, to respond to a potential terror attack during the upcoming Olympics, top officials said on Monday.

    The positioning of the ships would also enable the rapid evacuation of Americans in the event of an attack, CNN reported.

    (Washington Times, January 20, 2014)

    Except that the far greater irony is that these are the same politicians and security experts who have maintained that the only way America can prevent everything from shooting massacres to “terrorist attacks” (yes, the media would have us believe there’s a difference) is to become a de facto police state like … Russia.

    More to the point, though, how do you think these nincompoops would feel if every other world power began deploying warships to protect its citizens every time the United States hosts a major international event. After all, given the way terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon last year and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, to say nothing of the epidemic of gun violence, it’s arguable that visitors to America have far more to fear than Americans visiting other countries do. In fact, Americans who fear getting killed by bombs at venues in Sochi probably have more to fear from getting killed by guns at cinemas, malls, and even schools in America.

    Which is why this deployment of warships reflects the kind of presumptuous American exceptionalism that only reinforces resentment in capitals like Moscow and Beijing.

    Incidentally, do you remember all of the scaremongering in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing, Torino, and London, respectively? Surely at some point this kind of media reporting becomes tantamount to screaming fire in a crowded theater, no?

    images-1That said, Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking his self-promoting, macho-man image too far by giving the impression that he can prevent any terrorist attack. After all, just as terrorists in the Palestinian territories routinely fire rockets through Israel’s ring of steel, those in the Caucasus territories can probably fire rockets through the putative ring of steel Putin has erected around Sochi.

    What’s the point of commandeering people’s homes all over London to deploy batteries of anti-aircraft missiles on rooftops; of flooding the River Thames with battleships and gunboats of every type; or, for that matter, of festooning Olympic venues with robocops brandishing guns more designed to take out Sherman tanks than Islamic terrorists?

    I am on record conceding that no array of security  measures and military arsenal can prevent determined and skilled suicide bombers from carrying out their missions [anywhere].

    (“London Olympics Giving New Meaning to War Games,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 16, 2012)

    But if we continually react to mere threats of terrorist attacks by restricting what we do and where we go, we’ll end up living in hermetically sealed glass houses … then getting killed by carbon monoxide.

    So shut up America! Be calm, travel on, and let the Games begin!

    But, just to hedge your bets, I’d stay inside that Sochi ring of steel. Because even though the black widows are suicidal, the masterminds behind their terror are not stupid. And they must know that targeting Sochi would make about as much sense as bank robbers targeting Fort Knox. Therefore, people elsewhere in Russia should beware!

    NOTE: The suicide bombers in this case are called black widows because Russian forces killed their husbands in attacks against Islamic militants. In other words, just as one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, these suicide bombers might otherwise be called avenging angels.

    Related commentaries:
    London Olympics

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Tuesday, at 12:22 pm

  • Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 7:17 AM

    The Gall of Haiti’s Wyclef Jean Criticizing International Donors

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    No doubt you recall how governments around the world made quite a show of pledging billions to help relief and rebuilding efforts in Haiti after that catastrophic earthquake in 2010.

    P201004010927223252814648While those governments were basking in praise for their generous pledges, however, I was sounding this cautionary note:

    I just hope this outpouring of support is coordinated and sustained enough to help the Haitian people build a twenty-first century infrastructure, as well as the political and civic institutions to manage it. For, as pledges in the wake of the Indonesian Tsunami proved, governments that rush for the limelight to make grand pledges of financial aid often hide in the shadows when it comes to honoring them.

    (“Haiti’s Catastrophic Earthquake,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 14, 2010)

    Mind you, I professed no clairvoyance. I just based my cynicism on the shameful legacy of unfilled pledges these international donors have appended to natural disasters in every corner of the earth.

    Yet many readers criticized me for being too cynical. I’m usually inured to such criticisms, but was distressed that Haitians were among those criticizing me on this occasion.

    Sure enough, though, exactly six months later donors vindicated my cynicism; so much so that I scolded myself for harboring even one iota of hope that they would do better this time:

    Well, I suppose I should have known better. Because in a July 10 interview with The Associated Press, no less a person than former President Bill Clinton marked the six-month anniversary of this tragedy by lamenting the failure of donor nations to honor their pledges…

    In fact, they have reportedly given only ten percent of the financial aid they promised. Even the United States – with Barack Obama as president – has only paid $30 million of the $1.5 billion it promised. Yet, as soon as the next tragedy hits, these same compassionate poseurs will be rushing for the limelight to pledge billions more that they know, or should know, they will never honor.

    (“Haiti’s Compassionate Poseurs,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 14, 2010)

    UnknownNow comes Wyclef Jean, adding his “critically acclaimed” voice to the chorus of those criticizing international donors for failing to honor their pledges:

    Haitian world renowned hip-hop star, Wyclef Jean, said on Monday that progress has been made in Haiti under the current government, but blasted international donors who failed to live up on their commitment to help fund the quake-ravaged Caribbean country’s reconstruction.

    The Grammy-award winning musician and philanthropist, who entered Haitian politics in 2010, said the international donor community has misled the country and created false hope for a desperate population who had just experienced one of the worst disasters in history…

    The international community had pledged more than $10 billion to finance reconstruction efforts, but the promised funds, for the most part, have not been provided and the amounts disbursed were channeled through NGOs, which often do not take into account the priorities of the Haitian government, which itself received only about 2% of such funds.

    (Caribbean News Now, January 15, 2014)

    Incidentally, this is why Syrian refugees should not hold their breath for governments to follow through on the billions in humanitarian aid they pledged at a donors meeting in Kuwait last Wednesday….

    images-1To the point, though, you could be forgiven for thinking I would welcome Wyclef among our ranks. Never mind wondering what took him so long.

    Except that conspicuously absent from reports on his criticisms of these donors is any mention of the criticisms others have been hurling at Wyclef since 2010 for failing to honor his own well-publicized pledges.

    Recall that he founded Yéle as a charitable organization in 2004 to give back to his longsuffering people in Haiti. Reports indicate, however, that Yéle had little to show for its charitable works and less than $50,000 in assets before 2010.

    By contrast, Wyclef is on record boasting that so many donations started pouring in right after the earthquake that he raised $1 million in 24 hours.

    Then came this report in the October 11, 2012 edition of the New York Times:

    Mr. Jean, who made an aborted bid for the presidency of Haiti after the earthquake, neglects to mention two key facts: a continuing New York attorney general’s investigation has already found financial improprieties at Yéle, and the charity effectively went out of business last month, leaving a trail of debts, unfinished projects and broken promises…

    Even as Yéle is besieged by angry creditors, an examination of the charity indicates that millions in donations for earthquake victims went to its own offices, salaries, consultants’ fees and travel, to Mr. Jean’s brother-in-law for projects never realized, to materials for temporary houses never built and to accountants dealing with its legal troubles…

    In 2010, Yéle spent $9 million and half went to travel, to salaries and consultants’ fees and to expenses related to their offices and warehouse; in contrast, another celebrity charity, Sean Penn’s J/P Haitian Relief Organization, spent $13 million with only 10 percent going to those costs.

    Clearly, Wyclef criticizing international donors amounts to a brazen case of the pot calling the kettle black. Not to mention forensic audits showing that his charity spent far more on private jets to fly rich celebrities around to Yéle soirees in the United States than it spent on humanitarian aid for poor people suffering down in Haiti.

    images-2Still, to be fair, Wyclef has tearfully denied any wrongdoing. In fact, as the Times notes in the October 2012 report referenced above, he responded to these allegations by “portraying himself as persecuted like Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr.” But his denials now seem like crocodile tears (or the tears of a clown); not least because he has never provided forensic accounts that refute these allegations.

    What’s more, he even looked like a clown when poor Haitians began openly ridiculing his professed good works on their behalf as follows:

    ‘If I had depended on Yéle, these kids would all be dead by now,’ says Diaoly Estime, who runs an orphanage in Haiti’s capital.

    (Daily Mail, December 12, 2012)

    Frankly, you could be forgiven for thinking that Sean Penn has done as a Haitian should and Wyclef Jean has done as a foreign donor would. Which is why nobody can blame Penn for also ridiculing Wyclef’s professed good works as follows:

    My impression is that Yéle is at the service of Wyclef Jean and his reputation.

    (New York Times, October 12, 2012)

    Nevertheless, there’s no gainsaying the truth in Wyclef’s criticisms of international donors. Therefore, I hereby welcome his voice to our chorus by pleading, with apologies to Shakespeare: hate the messenger; don’t hate the message.

    Haitians certainly appear to have little to be thankful for. But I respectfully submit that they should thank their lucky stars that Wyclef failed in his 2010 bid to parlay his notoriety into becoming their president.

    Related commentaries:
    Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake
    Haitians: returning to Africa
    Compassionate poseurs

  • Monday, January 20, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    MLK Day of Remembrance

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 7:43 AM

    Obama Announces Cosmetic NSA Reforms

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe.

    (The New York Times, January 17, 2014)

    This was how President Obama framed competing, if not mutually exclusive, interests in a speech yesterday on anxiously awaited reforms to the NSA spying programs. But the reforms he announced amount to merely throwing privacy pollyannas and clueless Americans a little skin, but leaving the meat the agency feeds on unscathed.

    143213_600

    President Obama, declaring that advances in technology had made it harder ‘to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties,’ announced carefully calculated changes to surveillance policies on Friday, saying he would restrict the ability of intelligence agencies to gain access to telephone data, and would ultimately move that data out of the hands of the government.

    But Mr. Obama left in place significant elements of the broad surveillance net assembled by the National Security Agency, and left the implementation of many of his changes up to Congress and the intelligence agencies themselves.

    (New York Times, January 17, 2014)

    Never mind the irony in taking the metadata at issue out of the hands of the government and placing them in the hands of cybersecurity firms … like the ones responsible for securing the metadata retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus collect.

    The security breach that hit Target Corp. during the holiday season appears to have been part of a broader and highly sophisticated scam that potentially affected a large number of retailers, according to a report published by a global cyber intelligence firm that works with the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security…

    That attack affected 40 million credit and debit card accounts and led to the theft of personal information, including email addresses and names, of as many as 70 million [Target] customers.

    (The Associated Press, January 17, 2014)

    Never mind the irony that private companies like Target, Amazon, Google, and Facebook routinely do far more spying on Americans to sell them stuff than the NSA does to keep them safe. And never mind the folly in predicating the necessary and inherently furtive business of espionage on the shifting winds of public opinion.

    Apropos of this, Obama scoffed at the presidents of China and Russia for not being forced into the kind of public debate on their spying programs that Snowden’s leaks forced him into. But, by this logic, he might as well had scoffed at FDR too for not engaging in public debate about decryption techniques (codenamed “Ultra”) that enabled Allied codebreakers to decipher the Enigma-encrypted communications of Nazi forces during WWII.

    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…

    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.

    (“Liberals Feel Betrayed by Obama’s NSA Spying…?” The iPINIONS Journal, June 19, 2013)

    Enough said.

    Related commentaries:
    Betrayed
    Judicial ruling on NSA spying

  • Friday, January 17, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    ‘As the Elysée Turns’: the Serial Ménages à Trois of French President Hollande

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I began commenting on the soap opera that is the private life of French President Francois Hollande seven years ago only because of the mockery French media were making of their vaunted reputation for discretion in affairs of the heart. But truth be told, I now see no greater redeeming social value in continuing to comment on his private life than I see in commenting on that of Dennis Rodman.

    Therefore, this is my final episode. I’m beginning it by reprising Alas, the First Lady of France Is No Lady at All, July 11, 2013, because it serves as a good roundup of all previous commentaries on this improbable lothario:

    ____________________

    With their latest feeding frenzy over President Hollande’s love life, French media have utterly destroyed their enviable reputation for discretion in affairs of the heart.

    Here’s how I presaged this unseemly twist in their national character six years ago:

    So much for the reputed quizzical insouciance of the French when it comes to marital (or, more notably, extramarital) affairs. Because today every French newspaper is emblazoned with headlines about the intriguing split between Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate I endorsed in last month’s French presidential election, and Francois Hollande, the leader of the Socialist Party.

    (“Segolene Royal and Francois Hollande Divorce French Style,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 19, 2007)

    However, where the French were titillated by prurient details about Hollande’s split, they are reacting to tabloid fodder about his ongoing love life like rabbits in heat.

    images3Here, in part, is how I commented on this spectacle last year:

    As if to highlight the dramatis personae that will provide palace intrigue throughout his presidency, he announced … that he has no intent to marry his partner Valerie Trierweiler (r) — deriding marriage, in true socialist fashion, as a ‘bourgeois institution.’

    No doubt this will help Royal get over the understandable resentment and jealousy that must have stirred in her as she watched the younger woman Hollande dumped her for standing by his side when he became president.

    But Trierweiler must be wondering now about the security of her position in this ongoing ménage a trois. After all, not only could Hollande’s nomination make Royal the most powerful woman in France, Trierweiler is surely mindful that she (i.e., Royal) is also the only mother of his four children.

    So who’s resentful and jealous now? Karma’s a bitch: woof.

    (“New French President Nominates ‘First Partner’ as Speaker,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 18, 2012)

    Unsurprisingly, a number of French readers took umbrage at my casting their purportedly sophisticated attitude towards intimate relationships as a provincial American-style soap opera. Except that Trierweiler soon vindicated my cynical take:

    Based on the latest episode of As the Elysée Turns, it may be that I presumed too much about the discretion of the characters involved in this political ménage à trois. For French media were replete with reports last week about the ‘blind jealousy’ that compelled Trierweiler to take to Twitter – just days before Sunday’s elections – to declare her support not for Royal (Hollande’s declared nominee for president of the National Assembly) but for her (i.e., their) opponent.

    Just imagine the national spectacle/embarrassment if President Obama endorsed a candidate for House Speaker, and Michelle then took to Twitter to endorse that candidate’s opponent.

    (“Ménage à Trois Involving French President Heats Up,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 19, 2012)

    Valerie-Trierweiler-journaliste-et-compagne-de-Francois-Hollande-en-recherche-de-normalite_portrait_w858-300x211This compelled me to suggest that Trierweiler is a woman who cannot be trusted. I even opined that Hollande was wise not to marry her, and would be wiser still to get rid of her tout de suite. He did not; then came this:

    They say a week is a long time in politics, and in French politics it needs to be. France’s First Lady, Valérie Trierweiler, certainly had a lot to pack in during her working week, sleeping, as is alleged in a new book, with both François Hollande, the socialist president, and Patrick Devedjian, a Right-wing politician. Oh, and she was also married to her fellow Paris Match journalist Denis Trierweiler at the time.

    (The Irish Independent, October 16, 2012)

    Which prompted me to comment as follows:

    I always thought the notorious dalliances of French novelist and performer Colette was an anomaly among French women. But this documented scheming of First Lady Valérie will do much to disabuse me of that thought.

    If President Hollande did not have cause to dump this cunning and spiteful courtesan before, surely these revelations should compel him to do so now – if only to avoid becoming a national laughing stock, non?

    (“The Three Lovers of France’s First Lady Valérie Trierweiler,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 18, 2012)

    Of course, by this point you’d think my French critics would’ve been duly chastened. Instead, they not only found the report about Trierweiler’s three lovers incroyable; they dismissed my take on it as patently absurd.

    Here, in part, was my take:

    Given the ménage à trois referenced above, one can be forgiven for thinking, as I did, that the philandering for which the French are famous stems from the quizzical insouciance French men have towards marital/sexual fidelity.

    So imagine my shock when I read reports this week that the philandering of no less a person than the new first lady of France proves that, as in most things, women are better at this too (or worse depending on your level of puritanism)

    (“The Three Lovers of France’s First Lady Valérie Trierweiler,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 18, 2012)

    Interestingly enough, it seemed lost on these critics that, by expressing moral indignation and defending Trierweiler’s honor, they were in fact destroying their enviable reputation for discretion (and sophistication) in matters of intimate relationships. After all, one would’ve thought the French would have greeted revelations about her three lovers as quintessentially, well, French.

    To be fair, their antic disposition was probably influenced by the public show their first lady made of suing for defamation the reporters who outed her as a woman of ill-repute. But then came this:

    French first lady Valérie Trierweiler was today forced to pay legal costs to a writer who accused her of being the ‘shared’ mistress of two married politicians.

    It follows Ms. Trierweiler withdrawing her claim of defamation against Christophe Jakubyszyn, who exposed the 48-year-old’s extraordinarily colourful love life.

    (Daily Mail, July 9, 2013)

    hollande1I hope one does not have to be a lawyer to appreciate that the only reason for withdrawing a claim of defamation is fear of being hoisted on one’s own petard with the truth as an absolute defense.

    This compels me to reiterate that, instead of first lady, Trierweiler might more accurately be called first courtesan of France. And the French appear to be thinking of doing just that:

    She is herself facing a legal action over claims that the taxpayer should not be supporting her lifestyle as the ‘president’s mistress.’

    Xavier Kemlin, a supermarket chain heir, launched the complaint earlier this year, saying: ‘It is scandalous that our taxes are being used to house, feed, upkeep and pay for the staff and travel of a lady to whom we have no legal obligation.’

    (Daily Mail, July 9, 2013)

    Quel scandale!

    ___________________

    With that roundup, here’s the latest:

    390-france-0114It appears Hollande decided to replace Trierweiler as his first lady soon after I admonished him to do so:

    The French president’s complex personal life — and what it means to be the first lady in modern society — may get a full airing on Tuesday as Francois Hollande answers questions for the first time since a tabloid reported he was having an affair with an actress.

    Hollande’s partner, journalist Valerie Trierweiler, has been hospitalized since Friday, when the tabloid Closer published photos it said proved Hollande’s liaison with Julie Gayet. The pictures included one of a man it said was Hollande being ferried by motorcycle to an apartment where Gayet waited.

    (The Associated Press, June 14, 2014)

    When I admonished him, however, I never imagined Hollande would be so cowardly and reckless as to leave Trierweiler perched up in Elysée Palace while he sneaked out for booty calls with his new first lady.

    france-hollandeWith his assignations becoming tabloid fodder, however, it was hardly surprising that over 600 reporters from around the world attended his annual state of the republic press conference on Tuesday. No doubt they were salivating at the prospect of Hollande pouring out a broken and contrite heart over his love triangle just as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did at his press conference last week over his bridge scandal.

    But Hollande had the good sense to be indignant. He deflected the first question by insisting that he will not defile the august state occasion by answering impudent questions about his personal life. Then, recognizing that would do little to quell their prurient lust, he promised that he will issue a clarifying decree on who is the first lady of France well before his scheduled state visit to the United States in February. And that was that!

    French-magazine-Closer-Francois-Hollande-Julie-GayetMeanwhile, Trierweiler remains in hospital, playing the woman wronged without any hint of irony. She took refuge there upon learning about the affair a week ago today when Closer, the infamous magazine that published nude pictures of Princess Kate Middleton, published a seven-page exposé.

    Trierweiler is probably hoping that her reported nervous breakdown will win public sympathy and curry his favor. Not least because, far more than having Hollande reaffirm her as first lady, I suspect she really covets the attention and prestige that will attend a state visit to the United States – complete with 21-gun salute and gala dinner hosted my President Obama and her putative counterpart, First Lady Michelle.

    FRANCOIS HOLLANDE INVESTITURE PRESIDENTIELLE 2012Nonetheless, I expect Hollande to deny her this crowning achievement of her courtesan reign. Mind you, not that he’ll be gauche enough to show up with Gayet. I just think he’s sensible enough to appreciate that the only thing to do in the circumstances is to show up tout seul.

    As she demonstrated when she sabotaged Hollande’s nomination of Royal for president of the National Assembly, however, Trierweiler is not one to suffer even perceived slights without scotched-earth retaliation.

    Therefore, when he finally kicks her out of the Elysée to make way for First Lady Julie, Hollande should be prepared for this woman scorned to leave like a bat out of Hell. I know French media will be lying in wait to gobble up and peddle all of the salacious tidbits she’s bound to provide.

    There is a female hellfire, and if our myth-making of events fails to take in a cuckquean’s sexual imperative, we’re all in for a little taste of it.

    (“What Do You Call a Female Cuckhold,” Salon, September 5, 2007)

    Most Frenchmen are clearly enjoying every turn in this soap opera, but here’s how one Frenchwoman summed up the Gaullist reaction on Wednesday’s edition of CBS This Morning:

    The French elite are totally humiliated. They feel like they are living in Italy.

    Alas, it does not bode well for Hollande that his first lady in waiting is emulating Trierweiler’s lack of discretion and good judgment by suing Closer.

    Julie Gayet, the actress linked to President François Hollande, is suing French magazine Closer after it reported they were having an affair.

    The actress is seeking 50,000 euros (£41,000) in damages and 4,000 euros in legal costs for breach of privacy, Closer magazine told news agency AFP today.

    (The Independent, January 16, 2014)

    After all, you’d think she would at least be grateful that Closer is forcing him to choose between them. More to the point, she must know that a lawsuit will only provide more (vindicating) fodder for the tabloid(s) and, as Trierweiler found to her regret, saddle her too with legal costs.

    Which brings me to my pithy epilogue:

    It never ceases to amaze me how shocked and hurt a woman who steals another woman’s man becomes when another woman steals that man from her. (Got that?) I suppose it’s a reflection of the self-indulgence that made her think it was okay to steal another woman’s man that she invariably fancies herself immune to the truism that what goes around comes around; or, as I duly warned Trierweiler above, that karma’s a bitch.

    The End

    Related commentaries:
    Segolene and Francois
    Ménage a Trois

  • Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 7:18 AM

    Student Athletes Make Billions (for Colleges) but Most Graduate Poor … and Dumb

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    article-0-1A79F7A600000578-313_634x359Surely Jameis Winston, Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winning-quarterback, could be forgiven his excited utterances during a post-game interview on January 6; after all, he’d just led his team to the national championship (34-31) over Auburn.

    Except that the (White) mother of Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was not in a forgiving mood. Because she reacted to his interview with tweets and re-tweets questioning whether (the Black) Winston actually knew how to speak English:

    Am I listening to English?

    For the record, I’ve heard him speak on a few occasions, and also happened to watch this interview. He speaks perfectly comprehensible English … even if with the diction and grammar of an eighth-grader.

    Twitter of course is a snarky, unforgiving, tit-for-tat medium. Therefore, it was hardly surprising that, within minutes, McCarron’s mother was tweeting apologizes and trying desperately to convince not just trolls, but the entire world, that she is not a racist.

    mccarron8s-1-webIn fact, her perceived racial slur drew such unrelenting backlash that her son’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb, felt compelled to defend her. Unfortunately, Webb soon learned that being famous just for looking hot does nothing to win friends and influence people in the twitterverse.

    Maybe this Winston critic is just one naïve mother. Or maybe she’s like far too many parents these days who see nothing wrong with aping their trash-talking kids when it comes to college rivalries. Indeed, she was probably still smarting over the fact that Winston not only beat out her son for the 2013 Heisman Trophy, but added insult to that injury by defeating his Alabama confederates at Auburn for the national championship.

    Whatever the case, there’s no gainsaying that her tweet hinted at College Football’s dirty, dark secret – namely that most (Black) college athletes can barely speak English and are functionally illiterate.

    article-2537041-1A8AF05800000578-671_634x352Coincidentally enough, this was brought into stark and vindicating relief just hours later with this CNN breaking news:

    A CNN investigation found public universities across the country where many students in the basketball and football programs could read only up to an eighth-grade level.

    I submit, therefore, that instead of accusing this silly woman of racism, Winston’s defenders should’ve been questioning why Florida State and other powerhouse sports colleges get away with continually graduating so many dumb jocks. After all, they’ve made it so abundantly clear they have no interest in educating their student-athletes that I’ve argued these putative institutions of higher learning should at least pay them.

    This brings me to “The Case for Paying College Athletes,” which U.S. News and World Report published, again coincidentally, on the same day (January 6) McCarron’s mother published her ill-advised tweet. The case can be summed up as follows:

    The college sports industry generates $11 billion in annual revenues… These college sports revenues are passed along to NCAA executives, athletic directors and coaches in the form of salaries…

    Nevertheless, the NCAA member colleges continue to vote to forbid the sharing of revenues with student-athletes.

    In other words, why pay students to do what you can get them to do for free: not exactly slavery but clearly a form of indentured servitude. This is why I’m exceedingly encouraged that this powerhouse news organization has taken up the cause for student-athletes to be compensated, which some of us have been championing for years:

    There’s nothing amateur about college Football. It’s a multibillion-dollar business for Christ’s sake!

    More to the point, the people generating its revenues are not the university presidents, athletics directors, or coaches who, incidentally, make millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals. Instead, they are the poor, mostly black athletes whose raw talent colleges exploit to pack 100,000 fans into their stadiums on game day.

    I have always felt that it’s tantamount to modern-day slavery for colleges to recruit poor and, all too often, uneducated athletes just to play Football and not compensate them for their services, especially considering they rarely get an education.

    But this indentured servitude is made much worse by branding these poor players as cheaters for accepting a little cash on the side. Mind you, those offering the cash are often boosters just trying to make life easier for the players to enable them to perform better … out on the field…

    The hypocrisy inherent in this exploitation is beyond shameful.

    Colleges should compensate student-athletes in direct proportion to the way NFL teams compensate their players. They could then reallocate the scholarship money they spend recruiting jocks to fund financial aid for poor (black) students who aspire to be more than professional athletes.

    (“Reggie Bush Forfeits Heisman Trophy,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 16, 2010)

    Granted, barring injury, top college athletes like Winston can bank on professional careers, during which they can make tens of millions. Unfortunately:

    While many young people every year set their goals on becoming NFL players, it is extremely difficult to reach that level. Statistically of the 100,000 high school seniors who play football every year, only 215 will ever make an NFL roster. That is 0.2%! Even of the 9,000 players that make it to the college level only 310 are invited to the NFL scouting combine, the pool from which teams make their draft picks.

    (NFL Players Association, nflplayers.com)

    What’s more, the way Tim Tebow’s NFL career ended in abject failure after just two years demonstrates that even some top college athletes cannot rely on making up in the professional leagues all of the money they could have (or should have) made in college. Remember, like Winston, Tebow won the Heisman too….

    Which is why, in addition to condemning colleges for this form of indentured servitude, I’ve recommended the following way student-athletes to redress this exploitation:

    I urge the star players on all NCAA Division 1 Football teams to organize a wildcat strike this fall and demand fair compensation for the services they provide. Dare the NCAA and university presidents to take legal action. Because whatever contractual arguments they make would be far outweighed by the moral and equitable arguments these players could make.

    Foremost in the players’ favor is the legal concept of quantum meruit, which holds that person should be fairly compensated for services rendered. Hence, it would be unconscionable and utterly unsustainable for the NCAA and university presidents to argue that they should be forced to continue generating billions in revenues, in exchange for nothing more than a college degree that, in most cases, is not worth the paper it’s written on.

    (“Death Penalty for University of Miami Hurricanes,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 23, 2011)

    I hope they take heed….

    For the record, let me hasten to clarify that damning colleges for exploiting student-athletes who can barely read or write does not excuse their parents and teachers (from kindergarten through high school) for failing them so unconscionably.

    Related commentaries:
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    Death penalty
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  • Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    Burning Bras, Still Wearing Heels. Feminism’s Unfinished Work

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    High heels have long been seen as a key hallmark of womanhood, a symbol of sophistication that sets women apart from men and signals a female’s sense of style and grace.

    (Huffington Post, January 12, 2014)

    71st Annual Golden Globe Awards - ArrivalsOnly a willing suspension of common sense explains why women do the things they do to look beautiful. And only this suspension explains why they will find nothing insulting or contradictory in the Huffington Post, on the one hand, hailing high heels as the “hallmark of womanhood,” while on the other hand, quoting sophisticated, stylish, and graceful women complaining about how stupid, degrading, and painful wearing them is:

    ‘[Please let my daughter] not have to wear high heels.’ – Tina Fey

    ‘Satan’s shoes.’ – Jennifer Lawrence

    ‘When I’m wearing heels at events, my feet feel like they’re sitting in pools of blood.’ – Elizabeth Olsen

    Imagine the liberated Tina Fey pleading, like a 1950s housewife, for her daughter to be spared the beauty imperative of adorning herself in a traditional prop that doesn’t just objectify but injure women. And, incidentally, this would be laughable if it were not so pitiable.

    In any event, these quotes clearly show how much work feminism has left to do. After all, despite their protestations, all of these women still wear high heels.

    The desire to be beautiful is as old as civilization, as is the pain that it can cause. In his autobiography, Charles Darwin noted a ‘universal passion for adornment,’ often involving ‘wonderfully great’ suffering.

    (“Pots of Promise,” The Economist, May 22, 2003)

    In other words, when it comes to the pursuit of beauty, women are no more evolved than Neanderthal men….

    But it’s the liberated Emma Thompson who has begun the twenty-first century equivalent of burning bras. She did it before a relatively small audience at the National Board of Review awards last week when she ended her acceptance speech for the Best Actress award with this clarion call:

    I’ve taken my heels off as a feminist statement really, because why do we wear them? They’re so painful and pointless, really. You know, I really would like to urge everyone to stop it … don’t wear them anymore.

    (Vanity Fair, January 8, 2014)

    71st Annual Golden Globe Awards - ShowShe continued her one-woman crusade on Sunday night when she provided “the best moment” of the Golden Globes by prancing onstage barefoot, holding a martini in one hand and her Christian Louboutin high heels, like a stylistic ball and chain, in the other. She then made quite a show of tossing aside her heels before presenting the award for Best Screenplay.

    Unfortunately, she gave the infinitely larger audience tuning in the impression that she was just performing a drunken gag. In point of fact, her feminist statement about high heels would’ve been far more effective on this occasion if she had sauntered gracefully onstage in sensible shoes. Then she could have dared the trendsetters and arbiters of style to declare whether high heels would have, or could have, made her look any more beautiful.

    Nonetheless, tossing aside high heels, as Thompson did, will cure one of the many physical and psychological wounds women are still inflicting upon themselves for the sake of beauty. Never mind the distressing irony that the “second wave” of the feminist movement way back in the 1960s was supposed to inoculate women against all such wounds for all eternity.

    Even worse, though, is the self-subjugating irony inherent in liberated women (as opposed to traditional patriarchy) now perpetuating this fatuous notion that high heels are a key hallmark of womanhood, etc.

    After all, I can personally attest that (heterosexual) men would have no difficulty determining if a woman is sexy even if she were strutting her stuff in flip flops (i.e., instead of teetering along in high heels). But you don’t have to take my word, because here’s the finding of a seminal study by experts at Northumbria University, which the September 21, 2010 edition of the Daily Mail reported under the instructive headline, “Don’t Bother with the High Heels Ladies, Men Don’t Even Notice:”

    Women who hope a pair of killer heels will help them attract a man are wasting their time, it is claimed… Obsession with high-heels could be pointless as research shows it makes no difference to attractiveness.

    What’s more, I hope it’s not betraying some unwritten man code of secrecy to inform women that, far from enhancing their beauty, sophistication, style, and grace, high heels only make them look more like parading sex objects for the few men who actually notice them. Yet it’s a reflection of the addictive high women get on heels that, when they’re barefoot (or wearing tennis shoes), they invariably perch themselves on the balls of their feet to simulate those missing high heels. Have you noticed this?

    That said, I would be remiss not to decry the makeup tips/tricks and cosmetic nips/tucks that have created pandemic illusions of beauty, which airbrushed images and fake boobs blithely propagate.

    Tribeca Film's Special New York Screening Of "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas"In fact, women have become such junkies for beauty products that beauty cartels are now padding their $160 billion-a-year in revenues by manufacturing “beauty pills.” And, sadly enough, they are selling like crack cocaine; no doubt because the cartels have hired natural beauties like actress Jessica Biel and supermodel Christy Turlington as high-paid peddlers.

    Surely, if handsome George Clooney were peddling “handsome pills,” we would deride him as a snake oil salesman and the men who bought them as pathetic fools. Shouldn’t we deride beautiful women who peddle beauty pills and the women who buy them in similar fashion?

    But, before I digress too much, I shall end by reprising this remonstration on makeup in solidarity with Thompson’s on high heels:

    Every few months or so some tabloid publishes images of celebrity women ‘caught’ in public without their makeup.

    The implied notion is that a woman walking around without makeup provides as much fodder for ridicule and shame as one walking around with a trail of toilet paper hanging from her panties. And, regrettably, the mocking crowd (of mostly liberated women deriving guilty pleasure) who buy these tabloids never fail to affirm this notion.

    Is this what the feminist tome, Our Bodies, Ourselves, has wrought…?

    (“PSA: Unmask Your Woman Before You Tell Her She’s Beautiful,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 16, 2013)

    NOTE:  I know women say they wear high heels to impress other women as much as to attract men. But I find this every bit as specious as men saying they get in shape to impress other men as much as to attract women. Each may contain a kernel of truth, but we all know the real (heterosexual) deal. After all, there’s only one reason why women themselves often refer to their high heels as CFM’s (come f*ck me shoes).

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, January 13, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    Nagasu Skates like an Olympian but Misses Out on Olympics…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    This might reveal too much about what I do for entertainment, but I watched the final round of the U.S. (Women’s) Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night.

    images-1In fact, I’ve watched many of these competitions (which double as skating’s Olympic trials). And never before have I seen so many top women tripping over their skates or falling flat on their asses.

    Figure+Skating+Championships+pH3PIqxkpmOlThis is why Mirai Nagasu was so exceptional: she not only stayed on her skates while performing salchows, loops, lutzes, and axels, but she did so to the thrilling theme from Goldfinger with the beauty and grace of, well, a Bond girl.

    What distinguished this year’s competition, of course, is that the prize was not just a gold, silver, or bronze medal, but one of three berths on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Sochi, Russia next month. And, after the final skater of the night ended her performance, I had no doubt that Nagasu had won one of those medals as well as one of those even more coveted berths.

    I thought she skated well enough to win silver, but when the results were posted I was not surprised or disappointed that she won bronze. Not least because I knew (or assumed) this meant a ticket to Sochi.

    Therefore, imagine my shock the following day when I read that:

    Despite a fourth-place finish at this week’s 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the TD Garden, two-time national champion Ashley Wagner was named to the U.S. Olympic team today.

    U.S. Figure Skating president Pat St. Clair made the controversial announcement at a press conference this afternoon. Wagner’s inclusion bounces U.S. national bronze medalist and the fourth-place finisher at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Mirai Nagasu, from the team.

    (Boston Herald, January 12, 2014)

    She was robbed! I thought.

    US-Championships-Figureskating-1But before accusing the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA) of conspiring to select a team that looks as “All-American” as possible, I demurred. For it occurred to me that I was probably clueless about a scoring method that made selecting fourth-place Wagner over third-place Nagasu entirely fair and foreseeable – even in light of Saturday’s competition. Turns out, I was clueless.

    Besides these championships, a skater’s results in the last Grand Prix Final, world championships, Grand Prix series, Four Continents Championship, last year’s national championships, world junior championships and junior Grand Prix Final were considered…

    Of the top four contenders, Wagner, 22, has been the most consistent American skater, winning back-to-back medals at the Grand Prix final and finishing in the top five at the last two world championships.

    (USA Today, January 12, 2014)

    This, in part, is the “objective analysis” the USFSA relied on to arrive at its controversial decision to select Nagasu over Wagner. It might be helpful to know that, in previous years, this resulted in equally controversial decisions to bump skaters who did well at the national championships in favor of injured skaters who did not even compete but had better overall records. Such was the case in 2006 when the USFSA bumped Emily Hughes for Michelle Kwan, and more famously in 1994 when it bumped Kwan for Nancy Kerrigan.

    But Nagasu knew (or should have known) better than anybody that this well-established selection method would come back to haunt her:

    Nagasu has been anything but consistent the last four years… After finishing fourth in the Vancouver Olympics, Nagasu’s career went south. At 20, she entered nationals as an afterthought, years removed from all that promise and that little girl from ages ago who won gold at the 2008 U.S. championships when just 14. After the [2010] Vancouver Olympics, she then missed making the worlds teams the past three years.

    (USA Today, January 12, 2014)

    imagesIn other words, she peaks only once every few years, then things fall apart. Therefore, the USFSA can be forgiven for fearing that, having peaked last weekend, Nagasu would be a complete mess next month in Sochi. Joining Wagner will be Polina Edmunds (15) who won silver, as well as the woman whose name symbolizes not just her sport but Olympic glory, Gracie Gold (18), who won gold on Saturday.

    But can you imagine the shouts of racism if Nagasu were Black?! Reverend Al Sharpton and his band of Brothers would’ve been all over the media today accusing the USFSA of selecting a team that looks more like one Apartheid South Africa might’ve selected for the Winter Olympics in the 1960s. Which clearly would’ve made a mockery of Team USA’s intent to march into Sochi on the moral high ground for standing up for gays….

    Thank God Japanese-Americans never got into the race-hustling business, eh.

  • Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    Christie on ‘Bridgegate’ Channeling Obama on Healthcare.gov

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    9388812_600x338Reporters and pundits alike were swooning over the broken and contrite heart Chris Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, displayed during an epic two-hour press conference on Thursday. In fact, this reputed political bully humbled himself to apologize for the “abject stupidity” members of his staff and his top appointee at the NJ Port Authority engaged in last September – when they orchestrated four days of bottlenecks in Fort Lee’s access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.

    Their harebrained stunt created unprecedented traffic jams, as intended. But they did not even care when Fort Lee officials complained (within hours on the first day) that it was also hindering emergency vehicles responding to 911 calls. Remarkably, perhaps feeding off their boss’s bullying style, they did it to exact revenge on Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s November re-election bid.

    And they got away with it … until some Edward-Snowden character leaked incriminating text messages and emails to a local paper. When that paper, The Record, published the most titillating and damning excerpts on Wednesday (exposing their determined intent to retaliate against uncooperative NJ officials), it ignited a media firestorm. Christie clearly hoped the crocodile tears he shed during his press conference would put it out.

    I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team… I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution….

    (New York Times, January 9, 2014)

    bridget-kelly-chris-christieNever mind that he contradicted his affected humility by the proud way he threw all those implicated under the bus. But it speaks volumes about how unnerved he was/is by this scandal that he included his two-time campaign manager, Bill Stipien, among those he scarified at the altar of his political ambitions. (Imagine George W. Bush burning his political “architect” Karl Rove in this manner, just as he was planning his run for the 2000 presidential election.)

    Not to mention that in all of Christie’s wailing about how “blindsided…betrayed…[and] sad” he felt, he never uttered a single word of regret about the inconvenience this stunt caused so many New Jersey residents, including many who voted for him. No doubt he’ll have ample opportunity to express his regrets now that those residents have filed a class-action suit against his Administration and him personally.

    But as Shakespeare knew all too well, we can always rely on court jesters to distill the truth of any scandal in pithy, mocking fashion. True to form, here’s how comedian David Letterman cut through the media chaff on Thursday night (on his Late Show…):

    [He] boldly took responsibility by blaming everybody but himself.

    a_560x375Indeed, as my title indicates, the real story here is not this stunt, which, quite frankly, is tame compared to the dirty tricks political operatives routinely orchestrate (like Republicans making robocalls instructing unsuspecting Democrats to show up to vote the day after Election Day). Rather it’s the way this wannabe president made a mockery of the now hallowed presidential motto, “The buck stops here,” which Harry Truman coined.

    Recall that Republicans damned Obama as clueless and ineffectual for claiming he was blindsided by the glitches that made the rollout of healthcare.gov such a nightmare. Obama duly apologized and, even though he did not make a proud show of it, he fired all staffers responsible and terminated his Administration’s contract with CGI, the IT contractor behind healthcare.gov.

    Yet these same Republicans are leading the chorus of those praising Christie, despite his admission that he was every bit as clueless and ineffectual in managing his closest and most trusted staffers in this case as Obama was in managing the IT personnel who botched healthcare.gov – none of whom he probably ever met.

    Mind you, Democrats are just as hypocritical. Recall that they praised Obama’s Sargent Schultz’s (“I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing”) response to the NSA leaks and healthcare.gov glitches. Yet they are now damning Christie for responding in similar fashion to this Bridgegate scandal. What’s more, just as Republicans – who control the U.S. House of Representatives – have tried in vain to damage Obama with hearings on those leaks and glitches, as well as on other faux scandals like Fast and Furious and Benghazi, Democrats – who control the New Jersey legislature (and even those who control the U.S. Senate) – are raring to do the same to damage Christie.

    Of course, anyone who expects fairness and objectivity in politics, reporting, and punditry these days must have been hiding under a rock for the past 25 years….

    Christie-Embraces-Obama-APIn any case, if no smoking gun contradicts Christie’s unqualified assertion that he had nothing to do with Bridgegate, I do not think it will (or should) have any impact on his presidential ambitions. Unfortunately for him, though, this will not stop crusading ideological purists in the Republican Party from using this scandal to try to disqualify him from even competing for the presidential nomination.

    No doubt you recall how indignant they became in the fall of 2012 when Christie embraced Obama, literally, as part of his pragmatic efforts to secure as much federal relief for his state in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. For some inexplicable reason these partisan fools deemed Christie embracing the president of the United States even more treasonous than Snowden sharing NSA secrets with the Chinese and Russians. And they have not pardoned him.

    But if these right-wing “wackobirds”/Tea Partiers were unable to stop the Mormon Romney or the Maverick McCain, there’s no reason to think they’ll be able to stop the Rhino Christie from winning the Republican nomination.

  • Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    Former Defense Secretary Gates Betrays Own Views and Obama’s Trust in Memoirs

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    UnknownAll of Washington was atwitter yesterday over excerpts the New York Times and Washington Post published from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s forthcoming book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War. Significantly, President George W. Bush nominated Gates in 2006 and President Obama retained him until he retired in 2011, evidently, as a thoroughly dismayed and disillusioned career public servant.

    The Times clearly intended mischief by publishing the most provocative excerpts under the tortured headline: “Bipartisan Critic Turns His Gaze Toward Obama – In His New Memoir, Robert M. Gates, the Former Defense Secretary, Offers a Critique of the President.”

    Here’s what it reported as Gates’s fatal blow, referring to a White House meeting in March 2011 when Obama was expressing frustrations and doubts about his generals and purported Afghan partner, President Hamid Karzai:

    ‘As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,’ Mr. Gates writes. ‘For him, it’s all about getting out.’

    But, truth be told, as political hits (or stabs in the back) go, this amounts to little more than a love tap. Not least because Obama did nothing to hide his frustrations and doubts as charged.

    In fact, I was so aghast at him channeling Hamlet over whether to go all in or cut America’s losses and run that I presaged Gates’s hit in far more damning fashion in “Obama Escalates Afghan War: the “Die” Is Cast on His Presidency,” December 2, 2009: Here’s an extended excerpt that I hope you’ll find edifying and prescient in equal measure:

    Obama’s now infamous dithering over this strategy clearly telegraphed his intent to find the most politically palatable way to give his generals the additional forces they requested. And there can be no denying that political concerns figured every bit as prominently in his deliberations as military ones…

    I appreciate of course that Obama is merely fulfilling his campaign promise to fight and win this war. But the changed circumstances on the ground today (viz the political mess a venal, unstable, and untrustworthy Karzai created that would compromise even a flawless military strategy) makes his decision to follow through almost as foolhardy as Bush’s decision to follow through with his invasion of Iraq … even after it was clear that there were no WMDs there…

    Never mind the folly of announcing that he’ll begin bringing troops home in 18 months and have them all out in seven years to make sure the Afghan government gets the message that he’s ‘not giving them a blank check.’ After all, this not only encourages the Taliban to simply lie in wait, it also defies the common sense of conveying this message privately.

    Meanwhile, I do not see how Obama can possibly justify the loss of life and waste of money that will occur over this period just for him to end up doing in seven years what President Nixon did way too belatedly in Vietnam; that is,  declaring victory and going home….

    ________________

    Still, I believe two other, shorter excepts are worth sharing to put Obama’s fatally flawed Afghan strategy into proper context:

    • From “Without (or even with) More Forces, Failure in Afghanistan Is Likely,” September 23, 2009:

    Obama would be well-advised to cut America’s losses and run ASAP; to let the Afghans govern themselves however they like; and to rely on Special Forces and aerial drones to ‘disrupt and dismantle’ Taliban and al-Qaeda operations there.

    • From “Obama’s Withdrawal Plan … a Tragic Joke,” June 22, 2011:

    Just as it was in Vietnam, the presence of U.S. troops is only delaying the day of reckoning when local factions will fight it out among themselves for control of their own country. So the sooner the U.S. gets out of the way the better. Not to mention the lives and money an immediate withdrawal would save.

    In any case, the war in Afghanistan today is more about Obama’s Faustian ambition (he doesn’t want to be the president who loses this unwinnable war) than about U.S. national security…

    [But] the blood of every troop who has died (and will die) because he decided to escalate this war instead of ending it in 2009 is on his hands.  No doubt this explains the lines now creasing his face and grey hairs now sprouting up all over his head.

    20101216_barack-obama-robert-gates-hillary-rodham-clinton-james-cartwright-joe-biden_33I trust these excerpts show why I find nothing sensational or even newsworthy about Gates’s take. I must say, though, that he did little to inspire confidence by relying on a condescending trope Christian fundamentalists use to rationalize their homophobia, namely, hate the sin, not the sinner. For in trying to rationalize his antic critique, Gates took pains to say that Obama had doubts about the mission, not about the troops.

    All the same, I’m sure many will be interested in how Gates settles the score with other members of Obama’s “team of rivals;” most notably saying that VP Joe Biden has been on the wrong side of nearly every foreign policy and national security issue over the past 40 years, and that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unabashed in admitting that her positions, even on issues as grave as war and peace, were always calibrated to further her political ambitions.

    But these hits are of no consequence today, and I doubt anybody will even remember them when Biden and Hillary begin contesting in earnest next year for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. For the record, though, Gates should concede that Biden was right on two of the most important foreign policy challenges of the past 40 years:

    • Given the sectarian mess Iraq has become, Biden was clearly right to call (from the floor of the Senate on April 24, 2007) for a federalized country with a viable central government and three semi-autonomous Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni provinces – each responsible for its own domestic laws, administration, and internal security. In this he echoed the call I made in “At Last, Rumsfeld Becomes a Casualty of Iraq War,” November 9, 2006:

    Now I fear the only hope is to partition the country into Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni zones and leave them to defend their own boarders and barter (or fight) for a share Iraq’s oil wealth.

    • Given the ungovernable mess Afghanistan always was, Biden was clearly right to call (as the Huffington Post chronicled in an October 14, 2009 report) for Obama to limit U.S. involvement:

    … only [to] what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units.

    In this he echoed the call I made in “Without (or even with) More Forces, Failure in Afghanistan Is Likely,” September 23, 2009 (excerpted above) for Obama to withdraw all troops and rely on drones and Special Forces.

    110331-N-TT977-268Interestingly enough, while the media are making far too much ado about Gates’s love tap on Obama, they are giving short shrift to the nuclear salvo he landed on members of Congress:

    Much of my frustration came from the exceptional offense I took at the consistently adversarial, even inquisition-like treatment of executive-branch officials by too many members of Congress across the political spectrum — creating a kangaroo-court environment in hearings, especially when television cameras were present…

    When they went into an open hearing, and the little red light went on atop a television camera, it had the effect of a full moon on a werewolf…

    I also bristled at what’s become of congressional hearings, where rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often highly personal attacks on witnesses by members of Congress violated nearly every norm of civil behavior.

    (Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2014)

    To this every sensible American would surely say, Amen.

    Unfortunately, excerpts show Gates holding so many incomprehensible and inconsistent views that one gets the impression his book is more personal rant than political memoirs.

    This might explain his irrational praise for Bush’s cocksure decision-making style, which led to the plainly ill-advised invasion of Iraq. It might explain his irrational rebuke of Obama for daring to put the Pentagon’s armchair generals through their paces to explain exactly how their repeated requests for more troops and armaments would help the United States complete its mission of building an Afghanistan that could govern and defend itself. (American history is replete with wars that became quagmires because presidents allowed generals to determine policy as well as execute strategy. Yet Gates, like far too many Republicans who resent civilian control of the military, seems to think that Obama should have repeated this mistake with respect to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.) But, schizophrenically enough, it might also explain his serene praise for Obama’s decision to order Special Forces into Pakistan to get bin Laden. Gates hails this as “one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House,” which is saying a lot coming from a man who served eight presidents

    Yet nothing gives the impression that his book is more personal rant than political memoirs quite like Gates slamming members of Congress for uncivil behavior. Because there’s nothing civil about leaving the White House and running straight into a publishing house to write a tell-all memoirs. Especially given that it includes information about the president’s distrust of Karzai that could compromise the ongoing war effort Gates professed to be so dedicated to.

    I mean, if the defense secretary has no scruples about betraying what the president says in private about foreign leaders, is it any wonder that a lowly government contractor has none about betraying how the NSA spies on them? And, apropos of inconsistent (if not hypocritical) views, I’d bet my life savings that Gates views Edward Snowden as a traitor.

    Ultimately, it’s one thing for White House staffers to write books to settle scores and make a quick buck – as Bush’s former Press Secretary Scott McClellan did with his truly damning What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception. But it sets a new precedent for betrayal in this respect for a former cabinet secretary to do so. Especially given not just that Obama is still in office, but that this self-described “secretary of war” knows full well that he’s still commanding American troops in the killing fields of Afghanistan.

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    *  I’m still under the weather but my nurse thought it would be therapeutic for me to write this instead of hurling expletives at reporters and pundits on TV parroting the same talking points on this story.

  • Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    In sick bay…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    flu1

     

    Dear Readers

    I’ve been unwell for a few days now. My nurse runs a tight ship. Apart from this message, she will not allow me any computer privileges until my wretched body is free of flu-like symptoms, which she says should be this weekend. 

    Accordingly, I shall return for regular postings on Monday; well, I hope.

    ALH

  • Monday, January 6, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    Students Reject William’s Royal Acceptance at Cambridge

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Oh dear, students at Cambridge are raising quite a republican fuss over the royal treatment their university is according Prince William. Here’s how the student newspaper, The Tab, framed their outrage in a December 30 report:

    The Tab must point out that normally students need A*AA at A-level to gain entry to Cambridge University, whilst the Prince only achieved a mediocre ABC.

    Prince-William-at-St-Andr-008Mind you, it’s not as if William wants to study high finance to provide academic cover for a career in trading off his royal connections – as his Uncle Andrew has done. The “poor” chap just wants to study agriculture – not to talk to plants the way his Daddy does, but to help farmers in Britain and Africa (a continent for which he has expressed abiding affinity) the way his Mummy did.

    But Melissa Berrill, who graduated last summer, is not impressed. In fact, she was filled with such meritorious indignation that the Guardian invited her to vent her spleen in an “education” editorial:

    It’s an insult to every student whose A-levels and degree are the same or better than his, and who didn’t get a free pass to Cambridge in spite of them.

    And it’s an insult to everyone in the country who needs skills or training, and hasn’t had a university course personally designed for them.

    (December 31, 2013)

    I, of course, have been venting my spleen against such royal prerogatives since Miss Berrill and her fellow guardians of Cambridge’s institutional integrity were still in nappies:

    What concerns me is that people around the world seem even more vested in this anachronistic institution (namely, the British monarchy) today than they were when William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, got married 30 years ago (on July 29, 1981).

    I have long maintained that royalty makes a mockery of the universal principle that all people are created equal. Moreover, that a democracy that perpetuates royalty in the twenty-first century is almost as cancerous (and oxymoronic) as one that perpetuated slavery in the nineteenth.

    (“The Problem is Not Kate’s Weight, It’s William’s Title,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 16, 2011)

    Therefore, you can be forgiven for thinking that I would be standing in solidarity with Miss Berrill and her cohorts. But I am not. For it’s plainly foolhardy to rail against Prince William for doing as royals do: take royal privileges whenever and wherever it suits them.

    1374688572_kate-middleton-prince-william-prince-george-lgIt behooves his detractors to understand that the issue here is not William’s royal acceptance at Cambridge; it’s the royal prerogatives that were conferred upon him at birth, which he has and will continue to enjoy throughout life.

    Miss Berrill’s editorial would have been far more educational, and I would be standing in solidarity, if she had called on Britons to abolish the monarchy. After all, what’s the point of being a British royal if one can’t get into Cambridge based on royal privilege instead of academic merit for Christ’s sake.

    Indeed, what makes this protest all the more ironical, if not farcical, is that William will be studying at the college for which he is the registered royal benefactor. Imagine that. Alas, acclaimed Cambridge “classicist” and TV presenter Mary Beard only compounded the irony and farce, to say nothing of betraying her own royal pretensions, by countering student protests with this quaint entreaty:

    I very much hope that he will take the opportunity to meet some of our more ordinary students, struggling with making ends meet, worried about careers, future and debt.

    (Daily Mail, January 5, 2014)

    Can you imagine any Harvard professor in her right mind inviting any rich public figure there  (of all places) to learn about the hardships of “ordinary” students?

    At any rate, William begins his 10-week “bespoke” course later this week. And, for the record, The Tab duly notes that he’ll be learning about contemporary issues affecting agricultural business and rural communities.

    The British monarchy might be more popular than ever – as the throngs (perhaps including Miss Berrill) hailing the birth of William and Kate’s son last summer indicates. But this protest over William’s royal acceptance at Cambridge exposes the simmering resentment many Britons have against the perks and privileges that define it.

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