• Monday, March 31, 2014 at 7:16 AM

    Crimea One of Many ‘Distinct Nations’ Within Nations Voting to Breakaway

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Britain went to war to reinforce its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. Therefore, it smacks of rank hypocrisy for Britain to be leading the chorus of European countries denouncing Serbia for merely threatening to go to war to reinforce its sovereignty over Kosovo…

    Kosovo embodies as much historical, cultural, and religious significance for Serbs as Mecca holds for Saudis. Moreover, it happens to be situated right within Serbia’s universally recognized borders; not thousands of (imperial) miles away – as the Falklands are from Britain.

    (“Kosovo: Wither Serbia’s Alamo,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 4, 2007)

    kosovoThis, in part, is how I criticized the double standard Western powers used to facilitate Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. I was convinced that they were setting a precedent that would come home to roost. Sure enough, Russia wasted little time invoking the Kosovo precedent to facilitate South Ossetia and Abkazia’s independence from Georgia in 2008.

    But, like Crimea, these were really just predominantly Russian provinces within nations voting to be reunited with their motherland. Catalonia, however, is a different matter.

    Not only is Catalonia presenting an equally compelling case for independence as Kosovo; it is doing so in a non-violent way that stands in commendable and instructive contrast to the violence that attended Kosovo independence.

    Alas, such is the vested (European) interest in holding Spain together (economically and politically) that, even if Catalonia were to vote ‘Yes,’ Western powers would surely conspire to nullify it; hence the double standard…

    Nevertheless, semi-autonomous regions in other countries – like Italy’s German-speaking South Tyrol region, or Belgium’s Flemish and Walloon regions – are bound to tempt fate (for political, cultural and/or economic reasons) by following the pandora’s-box precedent Kosovo set.

    (“Catalonia: Spain’s Kosovo Problem,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 1, 2012)

    Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 9.36.56 PMThe verdict is still out on Catalonia because its referendum is not scheduled until November 9, 2014. But talk about a pandora’s box:

    ‘Scotland, the Basque Country, Wales and Flanders are distinct nations with a long history behind and a strong will to govern themselves,’ Xavier Solano, former representative of the Catalan Government in the U.K., told CNBC.

    Perhaps not all of them will bid for independence, however it seems reasonable to believe that some of them may think that their future would be better in their own hands. I am convinced that EU internal borders will be re-shaped by the democratic will of the people.’

    (CNBC, March 21, 2014)

    Wither Crimea in Ukraine; now Catalonia in Spain?

    But never mind Catalonia; after all, while the international media had their sights focused on Crimea’s vote to breakaway from Ukraine, Venice was voting to breakaway from Italy.

    Here’s how Gianluca Busato, a leader of the referendum movement, expressed the prevailing frustration and resentment that led to the vote in Venice:

    Since Veneto was annexed to Italy in the 19th century we have never felt fully Italian, as we have our own culture and traditions.

    But the main reason behind our need for independence is socio-economic: each year we pay Italy almost $100 billion in taxes, but $30 billion of it never makes it back in the form of services to the region. The government squanders our money! We are better off taking care of ourselves.

    (NBC News, March 19, 2014)

    Except that, just as no Western country has recognized Russia’s attempts to redraw the map of Europe (by exercising dominion over South Ossetia and Abkhazia and annexing Crimea), none will recognize attempts by these “distinct nations” within European countries to do so.  Not to mention that the breakaway vote in Venice, as well as the one pending in Catalonia, is expressly non-binding on Italy.

    14e5398145c6dc27e70699c921f07fdfThe vote in Scotland, however, will be binding on England. Not least because it seems Scotland has been negotiating the terms for an independence referendum with successive English governments ever since the Acts of Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Milestones towards this end over these years included the creation of a Scottish Parliament in 1999 – complete with devolution of ministerial powers.

    All the same, both latter-day English imperialists and their abiding Scottish loyalist are painting such a Dickensian future for an independent Scotland that the ‘Yes’ vote seems unlikely to carry the day when the referendum is held on September 18, 2014. And no less a person than Alex Salmond, first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party, is on record acknowledging that a ‘No’ vote could spell the end of the SNP as a political force and extinguish any aspiration for independence for at least a generation or two.

    Finally, apropos of the double standard that had the United States supporting independence for majority Albanians in Kosovo but opposing it for majority Russians in Crimea, consider this prospect for California:

    A report published in January by the state of California projects that Hispanics will become the state’s largest demographic group early next year and will represent nearly half of all residents by 2060.

    (New York Times, February 20, 2014)

    Which of course would mean not only that Hispanics could declare California a distinct nation within the United States, but also that, as such, it would rank among the largest nations in the world – with an estimated population in excess of 50 million.

    But does anyone think the United States would ever even countenance allowing Hispanics to declare California an independent state, free to annex with Mexico the way Crimea annexed with Russia?

    In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how Russia’s long-suffering republics react to the Kremlin treating Crimea like the proverbial prodigal son by turning it into the Monaco of the Black Sea.  Especially given that Sochi, its Gstaad of the Caucasus, is already a veritable ghost city with crumbling buildings that look like they were abandoned decades ago.  What price national pride … czarist vanity?

    NOTE: The Palestinian Territories clearly constitute a “distinct nation” under the dominion, even if not within the state, of Israel. But the long-standing hypocrisy inherent in Western powers refusing to facilitate Palestine’s independence from Israel, the way they facilitated Kosovo’s from Serbia, is so notorious that I trust it requires no comment.

    Related commentaries:
    Kosovo
    Catalonia

  • Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    Europeans taking pleas for Obama to lead fight against Putin a bit far…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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  • Friday, March 28, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    The Categorical Imperative to Pay College Athletes Just Got Stronger

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    93452184.jpg.2649.0_display_imageFor years I’ve been doing my little bit to advance the cause for college athletes to be paid. Below are excerpts from just two of my commentaries in this regard.

    • From “Reggie Bush Forfeits Heisman Trophy,” September 16, 2010:

    There’s nothing amateur about College Football. It’s a billion-dollar business for Christ’s sake! More to the point, the people generating its revenue are not the university presidents, athletics directors, or coaches who, incidentally, make millions in salary and endorsement deals. Instead, they are the poor athletes whose raw talents colleges exploit…

    I’ve always felt that it’s tantamount to modern-day slavery for universities to recruit poor and, all too often, uneducated Black athletes just to play football and not compensate them for their services…

    Universities should be required to compensate student-athletes in direct proportion to the way owners of professional Football teams compensate their players.

    • And from “Death Penalty for University of Miami Hurricanes,” August 23, 2011:

    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. Then let the NCAA and university presidents make the unconscionable and utterly unsustainable argument that these kids should be forced to continue generating billions in revenues for them in exchange for nothing more than a college degree that, in most cases, is not worth the paper it’s written on.

    201403261445531212913Well, now comes this – thanks to the pioneering crusade of Kain Coulter, a former Quarterback at Northwestern University:

    In a stunning ruling that could revolutionize a college sports industry worth billions of dollars and have dramatic repercussions at schools coast to coast, a federal agency said Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation’s first union of college athletes…

    The ruling addresses a unique situation in American college sports, where the tradition of college competition has created a system that generates billions but relies on players who are not paid…

    The ruling described how the life of a Northwestern football player is far more regimented than that of a typical student, down to requirements about what they can eat and whether they can live off campus or purchase a car. At times, players put 50 or 60 hours a week into football

    (Yahoo! Sports, March 27, 2014)

    Not quite the wildcat strike I called for; but a union of college athletes will surely force universities to begin, at last, redressing the shameful inequities inherent in big-time college sports.

    NCAA executives clearly want to continue exploiting oxymoronically designated “student-athletes.” But you know they’re fighting a losing battle when their strongest argument against paying them is that:

    ‘We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid.’

    (Associated Press, March 27, 2014)

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
    Student-athletes gradate poor … and dumb

  • Friday, March 28, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    Enough with the Satellite Images of Debris Already!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Satellite images taken on March 24 of floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean released by Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development AgencyThailand’s is just the latest government to throw a bone to media news hounds by announcing that its satellite has spotted debris that could be wreckage from the missing Flight MH 370.

    But am I the only one who thinks these governments are more interested in bragging about the capability of their satellites to spot debris in the Indian Ocean all the way from space, to say nothing of their interest in the international press coverage their announcements command, than in sharing any information that could actually solve this mystery?

    They’re like governments that invariably eat up media attention and bask in public goodwill by pledging millions for rebuilding after natural disasters, like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, knowing full well that they have no intention of ever honoring their pledge.

    indiapriAnd what, pray tell, are we to make of the fact that, since these governments began raising (false) hopes with satellite images of hundreds of pieces of debris three weeks ago, no spotter airplane or search and recovery ship has been able to find, let alone recover, a single piece?

    Not to mention the likelihood that, instead of “debris” from Flight MH 370, these satellites are merely spotting trash from the notorious Indian garbage patch that has been floating around for years; or even from tsunamis that hit Indonesia in 2010 and Japan in 2011.

    Meanwhile, the media are reacting to every sighting as if they’re participating in the biggest and most exciting Easter egg hunt in history.

    We’re committed to providing up-to-the-minute information on this story, er, even when there’s no up-to-the-minute information.

    (BBC Global, March 20, 2014)

    Frankly, search and rescue/recovery efforts are turning the tragedy of this missing flight into an international farce!

    Related commentaries:
    Flight MH 370 ‘lost’

  • Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 8:44 AM

    Obama Tries to Rally Europeans to Stand Up to Putin. But…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m not going to insult your intelligence by delineating the obvious symmetries/analogies any further. I’m merely imploring Western leaders—who might eventually have to play Churchill and FDR to Putin’s Hitler—to show that you’ve learned from history by standing up to this bully if he even attempts to take Crimea… Don’t stand by and let him take it, as your respective predecessors did when Hitler took Sudetenland; and the rest, as we say, is history.

    2014-03-26T182806Z_2082124234_GM1EA3R06S201_RTRMADP_3_BELGIUM-OBAMAThis is how I pleaded in “Putin as Hitler; Crimea as Sudetenland” (February 26) for Obama and European leaders to learn from history. Therefore, I was encouraged as I listened to Obama echo my concerns during a speech in Brussels yesterday:

    To be honest, if we define our — our interests narrowly, if we applied a coldhearted calculus, we might decide to look the other way. Our economy is not deeply integrated with Ukraine’s. Our people and our homeland face no direct threat from the invasion of Crimea. Our own borders are not threatened by Russia’s annexation. But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent. It would allow the old way of doing things to regain a foothold in this young century.

    (Washington Post, March 26, 2014)

    But I would’ve been far more encouraged if it was British Prime Minister David Cameron (or even German Chancellor Angela Merkel) – instead of the American President Barack Obama – channeling Winston Churchill in this fashion. Especially because all indications are that European leaders are far more interested in protecting their economic ties with Putin than they are in stopping his territorial aggression.

    This is why, despite their rhetoric condemning Putin’s annexation of Crimea, these European leaders seem every bit as prepared to accept it as their respective predecessors were to accept Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland. They seem inured to the historical lesson which clearly teaches that it will cost far less to stand up to Putin now than later. Like I said in my very first commentary on this crisis, “Orange Revolution Turns Red … with Blood” (February 25):

    Talk about being penny wise and pound foolish:

    94008313-ddb9-41be-9a43-5d957f40b6ef_SeagalMeanwhile, am I the only one who wonders how much Putin is paying Steven Segal to sing his praises the way North Korean President Kim Jong-un paid Dennis Rodman to sing his…? But what are we to make of the man-crush these foreign despots have on B-list American celebrities…?

    Interestingly enough, though, Putin has finally vindicated my frequent allusions to him as a delusional, neo-Stalinist He-Man by appointing the fat-Elvis-looking Segal as patron of his nationwide, Stalin-era physical fitness program to get Russian youth “ready for labor and defense.” (I guess Arnold was too busy filming yet another “Terminator” movie in a vain attempt to resuscitate his terminal acting career.)

    1953_stalin_poster_0But I suspect Putin is just trying to unnerve other former republics of the Soviet Union by giving them the impression that he’s using this program as a fertile recruiting ground to build a Soviet-style army to do to them what he just did to Ukraine.  His patron saint, Joseph Stalin, would be proud.

    Hell, all he needs to do now to complete his “Putinization of Russia” is to commission a Russian version of Mount Rushmore featuring busts of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin … and him. (Actually, for better symmetry, he might leave out Engels….)

    NOTE: I’ve written enough on the WWII-like dangers Russia’s annexation of Crimea portends. Therefore, I shall refrain from commenting any further on the hostile rhetoric and tit-for-tat sanctions Western countries and Russia are now engaged in. I see no point in commenting even on any further military incursion Russia might make pursuant to the instructive historical analogies I’ve delineated.

    Instead, I’m going to wait to see if Putin emulates Hitler by bullying European leaders so much that they finally feel compelled to emulate their predecessors by calling on the president of the United States to help them fight back.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama dissing Russia
    Putinization of Russia

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    Obama Dissing Russia as Just a ‘Regional Power’ Is Ill-Informed and Ill-Advised

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    U.S. President Obama addresses during the closing news conference of the Nuclear Security Summit in The HagueHere’s how President Obama raised more than a few eyebrows during a press conference in The Hague yesterday:

    Asked whether in hindsight he agrees with Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney’s assessment that Russia is the United States’ top geopolitical foe, Obama said he is more concerned about a nuclear bomb in Manhattan than in Russia.

    ‘America’s got a whole lot of challenges,’ Obama said. ‘Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness.’

    (“Associated Press,” March 26, 2014)

    He’s right, of course; not least because Cold War (MAD) history, as well as the disintegration of the Soviet Union, has transformed Russia from geopolitical foe to frenemy. Specifically, the United States has far more to fear from Islamic terrorists detonating a “loose nuke” in Manhattan than from Russia launching an intercontinental ballistic missile to hit NYC. And, on the economic front, China is clearly a more formidable geopolitical foe.

    But he’s wrong to dismiss Russia as just a regional power; not least because, if this were so, Obama would not be trying so hard to calibrate his response to its annexation of Crimea. He’s only doing so to avoid jeopardizing Putin’s indispensable cooperation on resolving the Syrian conflict and keeping Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check.

    And, apropos of nuclear weapons, Obama’s diss is patently belied by the fact that Russia’s nuclear arsenal alone makes it a world power. After all, Russia’s stockpiles rivals America’s, giving it the ability to destroy any and every country on earth in an instant too.

    d0bfd0bed0bbd0b8d182-39Not to mention U.S. generals expressing concerns about Russia rekindling Cold War ties with countries like Venezuela and Cuba, complete with Russian warships patrolling the Caribbean Sea the way they’re patrolling the Mediterranean Sea.

    There’s no gainsaying that the United States is the most powerful nation on the planet. But this is precisely why dissing Russia in this fashion made Obama look like the bully he was accusing Putin of being.

    What’s more, his comments make a mockery of his highly touted serene leadership style and might only serve to get under Putin’s very thin skin. Indeed, nobody should be surprised if he does something rash just to show how much of a world power Russia really is….

    Related commentaries:
    Putin took Crimea

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    Prokhorov, Russian Owner of NBA Nets, Exposed

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    0304_prokhorov-and-jay-z_416x416-300x300Mikhail Prokhorov became the Russian oligarch Americans could love when he bought the Brooklyn Nets in 2010. He endeared himself further by hiring (Black) Avery Johnson as head coach; and even bought a little street cred by allowing Jay Z to front as co-owner.

    What’s more, political pundits began hailing him as a pro-democracy dissident when he challenged neo-Stalinist Vladimir Putin for president of Russia in 2012. He even seemed to be more allied with American President Obama than with Russian President Putin when he slammed Edward Snowden as a traitor – after Putin gave him refuge last year.

    Except that, here’s how I exposed Prokhorov as little more than a two-legged Russian Trojan Horse:

    Of course it helps that, despite challenging Putin for the presidency last year, Prokhorov always hastens to clarify that he is more interested in laying the groundwork to become Putin’s political heir (in 14 years when he hopes Putin will be ready to retire) than in being his archrival.

    If Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky, Prokhorov’s more famous fellow oligarchs, were willing to be as deferential to this neo-Stalinist thug, they would not be rotting away in prison or dead, respectively….

    In any event, that Prokhorov has no fear of asserting, on American TV no less, that most Russians think Snowden is a traitor vindicates my view that Putin feels the same way too.

    (“Prokhorov, Russian Owner of the NBA Nets: Majority of Russians Think Snowden’s a Traitor,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 8, 2013)

    0304_billionaires-prokhorov-barclays_600All the same, Prokhorov must have left his gullible sports and political fans shocked and dismayed on Monday when he declared it his patriotic duty to transfer ownership of the Nets to a Russian company. You might think he’s doing what any shrewd businessman would be doing to protect his assets. After all:

    As one of the richest Russians with assets abroad, Prokhorov could be vulnerable if the Western powers escalate economic sanctions against Russia over its takeover of Crimea.

    (Agence France-Presse, March 24, 2014)

    Except that he’s merely acting like a puppet on the string of his master, Czar Putin:

    President Vladimir Putin told company bosses on Thursday to bring their assets home and clean up their businesses to help Russia survive Western sanctions over Crimea and an economic downturn…

    Some of Russia’s largest companies are registered abroad where they may benefit from lower tax rates but also may enjoy some distance from the Kremlin and feel beyond its reach.

    (Reuters, March 20, 2014)

    In fact, the reason Russian oligarchs are so heavily invested in Western countries is that Putin has an unnerving habit of confiscating profitable companies and throwing their owners in jail. And his targets are invariably those, like Khodorkovsky and Berezovsky, who question his political policies or, God forbid, champion policies of their own.

    The other oligarchs have heeded the message. In Moscow on 1 July, Mr. Putin met the 21 most important oligarchs, including Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea Football Club owner and oil and aluminium tycoon. On the same day, Russia’s tax authorities levelled another £1.8bn tax charge on Yukos oil for 2001. Being Russia, the timing was no coincidence. The message was clear: ‘Cross me like Khodorkovsky did, and I will nail you too.’

    (russianlondon.ru, July14, 2004)

    0304_prokhorov-putin_416x416-300x300More to the point, though, Prokhorov’s declaration exposes just how disposed he is to genuflect to Putin’s demands. Because nobody in his right mind believes that the NBA would allow him to transfer ownership of the Nets to a Russian company while the president of the United States is threatening to not only freeze his assets but deport him to boot. Instead, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver would surely use his plenary powers to emulate Putin by making Prokhorov an offer he can’t refuse:

    • transfer his ownership interest to his actual co-owner, real estate developer Bruce Ratner; or
    • allow the NBA to hold the team in receivership until he can sell his interest or until Russia comes in from the cold, whichever comes first.

    Apropos of the latter, Obama and other Western leaders voted in The Hague just yesterday not only to cancel plans for a G8 Summit in Sochi this summer, but also to kick Putin out of the group. Perhaps this is just as well; because Putin and his cronies used the $50-billion Sochi Olympics as an egregious kickback scheme quite. Nothing betrays this fact quite like Sochi already looking like a crumbling, desolate North-Korean settlement just weeks after the end of the Games. For the record, Putin laughed off the snub like a high-school girl putting on a brave, unfazed face after getting dumped on Facebook by the most popular boy in the school.

    In any case, unless Putin swallows his pride and does everything necessary to make up with these Western leaders, Prokhorov will be forced to return to Russia to stand by his man … without the Nets.

    article-1357629-02A7ECD90000044D-106_472x310Of course, Prokhorov is not the only Russian oligarch Putin has on a string. Indeed, the aforementioned Abramovich is also facing this Hobson’s choice of protecting his ass(ets) in the West or pleasing his master back home.

    Reports are that Putin treats Abramovich like the kid brother he never had. Therefore, Abramovich will probably be most anxious to sign Putin’s pledge of return to avoid any hint of divided loyalties. No doubt he would ingratiate himself in Putin’s favor forever if declared the same kind of national pride in voluntarily divesting Western assets to reinvest in Russia that U.S. politicians declared after Russia issued (retaliatory) travel bans against them.

    Ultimately, though, one only has to recall the fate that befell the aforementioned Mikhail Khodorkovsky to dismiss Prokhorov’s political utterances and posturing as nothing more than the puppetry of his master puppeteer, Vladimir Putin.

    Related commentaries:
    Prokhorov

  • Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 7:38 AM

    Egypt’s Arab Spring Spawns Brutal Military Dictatorship

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Muslim-Brotherhood-Bella-Naija-600x400The chickens continue coming home to roost:

    An Egyptian court Monday sentenced to death 529 supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi on charges including one murder count, in a trial denounced by human rights groups as bereft of due process.

    The biggest mass death sentence handed down in Egypt’s modern history comes amid a sharp escalation of a crackdown on dissent and, in particular, on the Muslim Brotherhood. It prompted cries of anguish among family members of the accused gathered outside the courthouse.

    (Al Jazeera, March 24, 2014)

    Surely you understand why I cannot state too often that I warned it would be thus:

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

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

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

    a-huge-chunk-of-egypt-is-angry-that-their-democratically-elected-president-was-overthrown-300x224Recall that, even though democratically elected to succeed Mubarak, Mohammad Morsi proved such a bigger devil that the very pro-democracy protesters who ousted and imprisoned Mubarak returned to their protesting ways and soon ousted and imprisoned Morsi.

    thExcept that getting rid of Morsi begat General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who is proving yet an even bigger devil. Not least because he’s using mass show trials (as cited above) and other more brutal measures to politically cleanse Egypt of all traces of the Muslim Brotherhood. Reports are that he has imprisoned over 19,000 members since seizing power last summer and is now systematically executing those who held leadership positions.

    Frankly, al-Sisi is ruling Egypt in a manner that makes Mubarak and Morsi look like Boy Scouts. Which is why nothing vindicates my early criticism of pro-democracy protesters quite like the fact that, after commandeering Tahrir Square to get rid of Mubarak and Morsi, they are now conspicuously MIA.

    0nnfnt3dbtq7Granted, these erstwhile democratic revolutionaries are sensible enough to appreciate that al-Sisi would probably do to them what Chinese leaders did to pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. Except that their hypocrisy, cowardice, and naiveté are being brought into sharp relief by Morsi’s die-hard supporters who are risking and incurring al-Sisi’s wrath by taking to the streets to protest against his brutal military dictatorship.

    Incidentally, even though Egyptian judges are acting more like executioners these days, I suspect al-Sisi is just using death sentences as a pretext to feign mercy by commuting them to life in prison, which is bound to be the fate of every front-line member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Meanwhile, al-Sisi knows all too well that Western governments are too busy trying to find ways to counter Russia’s annexation of Crimea to even voice feckless condemnation, let alone take action to restrain him. Not to mention Western media being too busy covering Flight MH 370 search-and-recovery efforts in the Indian Ocean, like vultures hovering over dying prey, to cover these far more newsworthy events unfolding in Egypt.

    In any event, there can be no gainsaying that, like Iranians, Egyptians must regret the day they got rid of a benign despot only to end up with a malevolent one.

    Related commentaries:
    Egypt march back to future

  • Monday, March 24, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    Putin Took Crimea more out of Resentment and Fear than Imperial Ambition

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    _73683364_c329e05e-45c7-463b-9309-d24b322ed6a2

    President Vladimir Putin attempted to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea in a rambling and defiant national address last week. This quote pretty much sums it up:

    They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner… But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsibly….

    (eng.Kremlin.ru, March 18, 2014)

    But he benefited from having redoubtable Putin apologist Stephen Cohen, a professor at NYU and Princeton, as well as other liberal spin doctors make his case. Even I could be accused of doing so.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 12.14.31 PMExcept that I’m no Putin apologist. My commentaries on thePutinization of Russia,” in which I condemn him for everything from stealing gas companies and throwing their owners in prison to invading Georgia and retaining control over parts of it, will readily attest to this fact.

    Equally relevant, though, are my commentaries onThe Ukrainians: My Favorite Ex-Soviets” in which I bemoan that the pro-Western democrats who ousted the pro-Russian communists in 2004 were proving not only every bit as incompetent, but also every bit as corrupt. This is why it’s hardly surprising that so many Ukrainians of Russian descent (in Crimea and elsewhere in the country) were/are pining for the good old Soviet days when they were at least guaranteed a pension … and imbued with national pride.

    Yet I sympathize with Cohen’s assertion that Putin “had no choice but to react.” Indeed, Putin could have based the address he delivered last week on the commentary I published six years ago. For, in “Bush Digs His Spurs into Butt of Already Scorned Russian Bear,” April 2, 2008, I warned Western countries about pushing Russia into a corner, explaining that this would provoke, if not goad, Putin into flexing his Cold War muscles.

    And, even though NATO did not strike the military alliance with Ukraine that I argued would be tantamount to provoking war with Russia, Putin could be forgiven for regarding the way the EU incited the overthrow of its pro-Russian president (to prevent Russia from striking an economic alliance with Ukraine) as no less provocative.

    Which brings me back to the April 2008 commentary I referenced above. Because it not only telegraphed events unfolding in Ukraine today, but also delineated how President Obama and other Western leaders meeting in Europe this week might want to frame their strategic plans to counter Putin’s Anschluss.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 5.43.56 PMHere’s an instructive excerpt:

    Unlike far too many political pundits in the West, I was equally cognizant of Bush’s cold-war flirtations, which clearly made Putin jealous and may have provoked him to act out…

    After all, Bush has not only wooed Ukraine, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics politically; he has rubbed his charm offensive in Putin’s face by forging military alliances with them as well.

    For example … I cited Bush’s scheme to enlist every former member of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact into NATO. To appreciate how this could have turned Putin into a “soul mate” scorned, just imagine Bush’s reaction if Canada and Mexico were cooing at Putin’s overtures for them to join a Russian-led military alliance…

    Then there’s his plan to deploy anti-ballistic missiles in Poland and Czech Republic, which, even though ostensibly defensive, Putin (with his Cold-War mentality) finds particularly offensive. Who can blame him? Indeed, does anyone remember how President John F. Kennedy reacted when Russian President Nikita Khrushchev deployed missiles in America’s sphere of influence; i.e., down in Cuba?

    ___________________

    Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is on a media vindication tour these days proselytizing the political fiction that President Obama is “weak [and] naive” for not endorsing his view of Russia as “America’s number one geopolitical foe.” Of course, his message is belied by the fact that Obama was strong enough to get bin Laden and prudent enough to get out of Iraq – two things his predecessor failed to do. Not to mention that, in addition to still fighting losing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a President Romney would have the United States now mired in equally misguided wars in Syria, Iran … and Crimea too?

    That said, one point bears reinforcing: Russia striking a military alliance with Canada and Mexico is probably a little too farfetched; although, that is the equivalent of the United States striking one with Ukraine and Georgia. Instead, how do you think any American president would feel if Russia struck a military alliance with Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba? Especially if that alliance not only called for Russia to fortify them with all of the latest military hardware, including long-range missiles and missile defense systems, but also pledged that any act of aggression against any of them shall be deemed an act of aggression against Russia too.

    Don’t you think that president would deem such a “strategic alliance” a military provocation, which warranted a military response?  This only hints at the double standard that undermines U.S. foreign policies across the globe (like supporting Kosovo’s violent breakaway from Serbia but opposing Crimea’s non-violent breakaway from Ukraine).

    In any event, I submit that Putin is not entirely to blame for the flare-up of Cold War tensions in Ukraine. And the American president who Romney and neo-con warmongers should be blaming is not Barack Obama but George W. Bush.

  • Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    Disappearance of MH Flight 370 Leads to Disappearance of Media Integrity

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 8.07.44 AM

  • Friday, March 21, 2014 at 6:59 AM

    My New Book!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Republished from Caribbean New Now!

    caribbeannewsnow.com

    Book review: The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events of 2013 by Anthony L. Hall

    Published on March 21, 2014

    As if to remind us all of the sometimes distressingly swift passage of time, Caribbean News Now op-ed columnist Anthony Hall has published his ninth retrospective compendium of insight and observations on the major events of our times.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 8.30.33 PMHall’s latest look back — The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events 2013 — covers his usual wide range of subjects, conveniently ordered by region and topic, making it easy for the reader to refer to particular sections and items of interest.

    The latest volume includes such geo-political topics as:

    Africa and the Middle East: Iraq ten years later, and the misguided deification of Mandela.

    The Americas and the Caribbean: CARICOM and Its groundhog meetings, and PetroCaribe chickens coming home to roost.

    Asia: Where North Korea is playing nuclear brinkmanship… again, and where Japan and China are stoking North Korea-like tensions.

    Europe: Where, alas, the First Lady of France is no lady at all, and Islamists are terrorizing London… again.

    United States: George Zimmerman: ‘Not guilty’ but hardly innocent, the government shutdown over Obamacare, and ‘Nixonian’ Obama spying on journalists.

    Other major topics are the Globalsphere, Sports, Entertainment, Potpourri, Public Service Announcements, and the deaths of famous people.

    As always, Hall tackles all of these topics and many more in his latest volume with his trademark confidence, flair and humour as a “literary Luddite”, which explains his enduring preference for commenting on the major events of the day with thoughtful sentences in paragraphs instead of visceral snippets in 140 characters or less.

    “Public debate in this age of Twitter is more about getting attention or showing off than about defending a position or making a point. Frankly, trying to get grown-ups to read reasoned commentaries instead of snarky tweets these days is like trying to get kids to eat broccoli instead of fries … As usual, I hope my commentaries serve as a provocative, informative, and even entertaining antidote to the re-tweeted and recycled rubbish that now passes for social commentary and public debate. And I hope that, for posterity, this volume will prove a reliable source for reflections on the most important (and popular) events of 2013,” Hall says.

    He certainly achieves this objective and more.

    Highly recommended reading.

    The iPINIONS Journal – Commentaries on the Global Events of Our Times: Volume IX, 671pp, is now available at Amazon (including an e-book version for just $3.99) and all other major booksellers.

  • Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 7:19 AM

    Media: Missing Airplane in Asia Trumps Ethnic Cleansing in Africa

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Granted, it’s hardly surprising that news organizations would rather spend hours manufacturing suspense over the mysterious disappearance of a passenger airline in Asia than spend a minute covering the latest atrocity unfolding in Africa. After all, even the antics of B-list celebrities trump African atrocities when it comes to the two R’s that guide all media today: ratings and readership.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 7.17.21 PMTherefore, I’m all too mindful that any reporter sounding the alarm about Christian crusaders ethnically cleansing Muslims from Central African Republic (CAR) today is akin to John the Baptist preaching about the coming of Jesus Christ in the wilderness during Bible days. But I heard the alarm. I always do.

    In fact, I responded to a similar alarm 10 years ago by joining the fatefully silent chorus of those not only condemning Muslim jihadists for ethnically cleansing Christians from Sudan but also pleading for Western governments to use their political influence and military might to stop them.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 6.50.50 PMWhat follows is an excerpt from “Help! Ethnic Cleansing and Forced Starvation Persist in Africa,” December 1, 2005. It pertains to that crisis as it unfolded back then, but can also pertain to the one unfolding in CAR today. Indeed, it might be helpful for you to read it as such:

    More than a year ago, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell declared that the systematic raping, pillaging, and killing of Black Africans in Sudan’s Darfur region constitute genocide… I described these genocidal acts as ethnic cleansing because they were (and are) being perpetrated by Arab militiamen known as the Janjaweed (bandits)…

    Notwithstanding mounting death tolls … European and American leaders have done little more than express moral indignation and allocate guilt-assuaging funds to deal with the problem. Never mind that it’s been abundantly clear for years that these funds have had virtually no salutary impact on the genocidal plight of Black Africans in this region of Africa.

    Unfortunately, news coverage of the Natalee Holloway saga over the summer and hurricanes throughout the fall has trumped media reporting on the situation in Darfur. This, despite the fact that experienced aid workers now say what’s going on there is the worst humanitarian crisis in history. And, given my previous articles on the humanitarian crises in Niger and the DR Congo, this is a truly alarming assessment.

    Alas, I can only reiterate my plea to the readers of this weblog to do whatever is possible to challenge world leaders (including Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mbeki of South Africa) to organize an international coalition of the willing to intervene to stop this ethnic cleansing in Africa – just as the international community intervened to stop similar atrocities in Europe [Bosnia) only years ago.

    __________________

    Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 7.18.18 PMFor the record, though, here’s all you need to know about the current crisis from a February 12 New York Times report:

    Tens of thousands of Muslims are being forced by Christian militias to flee the Central African Republic in what human rights groups and a top United Nations official characterized on Wednesday as de facto ethnic cleansing.

    The violent exodus is highlighting the powerlessness of both a 1,600-member French peacekeeping force and the country’s shaky authorities to halt spiraling religious and ethnic violence, human rights groups say…

    The anti-balaka Christian militias — balaka means machete in the local Sango language — have turned into a violent, undisciplined gang apparently focused on revenge attacks against Muslim civilians over the brutal rule of the Seleka. Hundreds on both sides have been killed since December.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 7.14.45 PMOf course, I condemn this ethnic cleansing by anti-balaka Christians against Muslims with the same indignation and despair with which I condemned the ethnic cleansing by Janjaweed Muslims against Christians. What’s more, I’m acutely mindful that, just as it is with most conflicts on the continent, the fighting in CAR is also motivated by quest for raw political power and control of rich natural resources.

    But I see no point in commenting any further. Well, except to concede that, instead of international law, perhaps the only law that can truly govern religious/ethnic conflicts among the descendants of Abraham (not just in Africa but in the Middle East too) is the old biblical law of lex talianos: an eye for an eye, etc. God bless and help them all.

    NOTE: Apropos of the media’s obsessive and mercenary focus on the search for MH Flight 370, we’re now being treated to hyperventilating reports on yet another satellite image of floating debris – this time in the Indian Ocean off the southwest coast of Australia. Except that it occurs to me that such images are far more likely to be of floating debris from the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami than of this doomed Malaysian airliner. Nonetheless, the media will continue reacting to every sighting as if they’re participating in the biggest and most exciting Easter egg hunt in history.

    We’re committed to providing up-to-the-minute information on this story, er, even when there’s no up-to-the-minute information.

    (BBC, March 20, 2014)

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
    Help!

  • Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 8:23 AM

    Bill Gates on Edward Snowden: He’s No Hero

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    As an unabashed liberal, I am dismayed at the number of liberal pundits, academics, politicians, journalists, and businessmen who have hailed Edward Snowden as a veritable Patrick Henry of the information age. In fact, their herd-like opinion in this respect is such that liberals would probably consider me a far greater traitor to my political ideology than they consider Snowden a traitor to his country.

    Many of them took exception, for example, to my characterizing Snowden’s motivation as follows:

    Edward Snowden strikes me as little more than a narcissistic, egotistical, publicity-seeking idiot who is to national intelligence what Kim Kardashian is to media celebrity.

    What’s more, he seems every bit the media whore she is, and is probably hoping that his NSA leaks will make him even more famous than her sex tape made her.

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

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

    (“Complaints about NSA Spying Are Schizophrenic…and Misguided,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 14, 2013)

    Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 10.19.06 PMAnd I did not inspire much camaraderie when I insisted that, if his intentions were more public-spirited than narcissistic, Snowden would have taken the following patriotic, even heroic course of action:

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

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

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

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

    (“Judge Ruling on NSA Spying…,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 18, 2013)

    Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 10.19.32 PMWell, imagine my sense of validation and vindication a few days ago when I read a Rolling Stones interview with Bill Gates (for its March 27, 2014 edition) in which he echoed my take on Snowden:

    I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn’t characterize him as a hero. If he wanted to raise the issues and stay in the country and engage in civil disobedience or something of that kind, or if he had been careful in terms of what he had released, then it would fit more of the model of ‘OK, I’m really trying to improve things.’ You won’t find much admiration from me.

    Now I’m sure nobody would even suggest that the unabashedly liberal Gates is either uninformed or a traitor to our ideology. But I like the odds of having the liberal intelligentsia face off against Bill and me – not just on Snowden as a national hero, but on NSA spying as a national imperative as well.

    Related commentaries:
    Complaints about NSA
    Judge ruling

  • Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 8:39 AM

    ‘Dancing With the Stars’? Say It Ain’t So, Billy Dee

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’ve watched enough episodes of this show (for blogging purposes) to know that the only “stars” who appear are those whose star has yet to shine or those whose star has long since lost its shine. Billy Dee Williams clearly falls into the latter category.

    But what shall it profit a fading star, if he shall gain a little cash, but lose his dignity?

    Everyone gets $125,000 for signing up and being on the first two episodes (even the person who gets eliminated first gets that amount as a bit of a consolation prize). Then it’s $10,000 each for the next two episodes, $20,000 for each of the two episodes after that, $30,000 each for the two subsequent episodes, and $50,000 for appearing in the final two episodes of the season. That totals $345,000 for those who make it to the very end.

    (Gawker, September 1, 2010)

    To be sure, some stars, like Margaret Cho and Nancy Grace (yes, these are the C-list celebrities Billy Dee is now accepting as peers), have made quite a public show of declaring their intent to donate their earnings to charity. But, if he too were so charitably inclined, it would speak volumes that Billy Dee could not find a more dignified way to raise money.

    No, I suspect he, like over ninety percent of the stars who appear, is just looking for cold, hard cash to help “clear up [his] own financial affairs.”

    Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 7.59.42 AMMind you, far be it from me to look down on a Brother for doing what he must to earn his daily bread.

    It just saddens me to think that it has come to this for Billy Dee. Recall that, after leading-man roles in such films as Brian Song, Lady Sings the Blues, and Mahogany in the early 1970s, he seemed destined for the kind of Hollywood career George Clooney is now enjoying.

    Instead, as his IMDb filmography will attest, he has spent the past 30-plus years doing bit parts in movies and on TV, all of which seemed unworthy of his earlier acclaim as a leading man.

    Granted, he played a notable role in the last two Star Wars movies, but the most recent of those was Star Wars Episode VI – Return of the Jedi in 1983.  And yes, racism in Hollywood probably had something to do with this, but this is the same Hollywood that has since heralded Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, and Will Smith as leading men.

    imagesThe point is that I dare anyone who knows anything about Billy Dee to cite a single memorable performance he has given on screen since Star Wars; well, except for his controversial stint as leading man throughout the ‘80s in commercials for Colt45 malt liquor.

    It works every time!

    This is the tagline Billy Dee intoned in his sexiest voice at the end of those malt-liquor commercials. But you’d be forgiven for not remembering (or never knowing) that he made it every bit as famous as John Houseman made “We make money the old-fashioned way – we earn it” for Smith-Barney commercials.

    Alas, it’s not working this time, Billy Dee. Frankly, he made himself look not only older than his 77 years but also pathetically dated by relying on props from his Stars Wars days, which are older than most of his competitors, to make his dance routine more entertaining. Even worse, he utterly destroyed what little aura of cool he had left by revealing himself as the only Black man on the planet who can’t dance. Not to mention destroying that other myth about men growing old gracefully….

    Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 7.53.31 AMThe kindest and most flattering thing the female judge could think to say was that “You’re the most relaxed dancer I’ve ever seen in my life.” By which she meant that he moved like such a geriatric he appeared to be dancing in slow motion next to his partner. Indeed, based solely on his partner’s moves, in her sexed-up Princess Leia outfit, each of the three judges gave them a very generous score of 5 out of 10. Unsurprisingly, they ended up with the lowest total score of the night.

    No doubt Billy Dee is hoping that, in addition to Star Wars nostalgia votes, the profile chronicling his double hip, back, knee, and other surgeries will garner him sympathy votes. But I suspect he’ll be disappointed when the show announces vote tallies next week. Not least because one of his competitors (Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy) is a woman who lost both legs but still moved like a lithe gazelle on the dance floor, while he moved like a giant turtle. More to the point, though, if surgeries make it impossible for him to dance, why enter a friggin’ dancing competition?

    To fully appreciate how low an episode this is in the life of an erstwhile superstar, consider that Billy Dee appearing on Dancing With the Stars is rather like Clint Eastwood appearing on reality TV. But such was Clint’s pride and self-respect that he left his Kris Jenner-like wife two years ago after she induced him into making three cameo appearances on her version of Keeping Up With the Kardashians called Mrs. Eastwood & Company.

    But hey, if it helps Billy Dee pay the bills, what can I say. Except that he’s bound to regret providing fodder for people to make a mockery of his signature career achievement.  Because, based on last night’s performance, he’ll be dogged for the rest of his days with the viral tagline (courtesy of today’s London Daily Mail):

    May the farce be with you!

    Related commentaries:
    Dancing with the stars

  • Monday, March 17, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    Crimea Declares Itself Independent and Part of Russia: Irony?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 11.09.21 AMYesterday’s secession referendum in Crimea held all of the suspense of presidential elections in North Korea. Reports are that 97 percent voted in favor. We await reports on the fate of the daring three percent who voted against….

    Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula declared itself an independent nation Monday after its residents voted overwhelmingly to secede and try to join Russia, while U.S. and European Union diplomats discussed sanctions against Russia for backing the referendum.

    (The Associated Press, March 17, 2014)

    The United States and European Union responded, with one accord, by announcing targeted sanctions against several Ukrainian and Russian officials who they claim “wield influence [and were] responsible for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” And they pointedly reserved the right to add the name of every Russian oligarch of note to their hit list – if Russia does not retreat. Never mind that they dare not ever include the name of the person most responsible, Vladimir Putin. In addition to banning them from traveling to the United States and Europe, these sanctions will freeze all of their assets outside Russia.

    Russia has vowed to retaliate … in kind. Except that I can’t imagine any American or European having any desire or need to travel to Russia, or having any asset there that, if frozen, would cause existential concerns. By contrast, I suspect every Russian billionaire would consider a ban on travel to the United States and Europe tantamount to a prison sentence. What’s more, there probably isn’t a single one of them, including Putin himself, who does not have far more money stashed away in bank accounts and holding properties outside than inside Russia. After all, as Senator John McCain famously mocked over the weekend, Russia is little more than an oil and gas syndicate masquerading as a country, which guarantees no protection of private property rights.

    Therefore, “in kind” in this case would be akin to the U.S.-EU striking Russia in the head with a sledgehammer, and Russia retaliating by slapping them in the face with a feather. In fact, apropos of its status as a de facto syndicate, the only impactful weapon Russia has in its sanctions arsenal is the oil and gas it supplies to Europe.

    Ironically, according to a March 8 report by Al Jazeera, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that such a U.S.-EU strike would have a “boomerang effect.” But it’s generally recognized that, if Russia escalates tit-for-tat sanctions by turning off the oil and gas it supplies to Europe, it is Russia that would suffer the boomerang effect. After all, Russia is far more dependent on the cash Europeans supply than Europeans are on the oil and gas Russia supplies. This is why I maintain that playing its oil-and-gas card would only amount to Russia cutting off its nose to spite its face.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 11.02.54 AMIndeed, nothing demonstrates how ineffectual any retaliatory sanctions would be quite like Putin’s handpicked chief propagandist at the Russian state news agency broadcasting today the truly self-immolating threat that, if the United States does not stay out of Russia’s fight with Ukraine, Russia will turn the United States into radioactive ash. Talk about a boomerang effect: this idiot needs to be told about the mutually assured destruction (MAD) principle that has made any military confrontation between Russia and the United States prohibitive since WWII, and will continue to make it so in perpetuity.

    Which is why the only real move Russia has is to use its formidable military might to make right its neo-Soviet claim on more territory in Ukraine as well as on territories in other places like Belarus, Moldova, and the Baltic states. Now that would be retaliation more worthy of the resurgent superpower Putin wants Russia to be.

    obama-putin-faceoff1But this quote explains why I am so stupefied:

    Obama keeps insisting, ‘this is not a Cold War game of chess.’ Except that, to Putin, it is; and he’s playing to win.

    Putin takes Crimea; your move, Obama….

    (“Putin Takes Crimea. Checkmates Obama?” The iPINIONS Journal, March 1, 2014)

    After all, these U.S.-EU sanctions seem a relatively small price for Putin to pay for taking Crimea. Why, then, is he allowing his apparatchiks to react to them as if he’s the one who has been so checkmated now that they have no choice but to behave like suicidal Bolsheviks?

    Well, all I can say is, your move, Putin….

    Related commentaries:
    Putin takes Crimea

  • Monday, March 17, 2014 at 7:03 AM

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 7.02.48 PM

  • Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    World Condemns Russia; China Abstains

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 12.33.58 PM

    The 15-member UN Security Council voted moments ago on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Crimea and declaring tomorrow’s scheduled referendum to ratify its annexation of this region of Ukraine invalid and a flagrant violation of international law.

    Unsurprisingly, 13 members, led by the United States, voted in favor of the resolution; one member, Russia, voted against it; and one member, China, abstained.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 12.24.11 PM

    The fact that its own brutal dictatorship compels China to sit on the sidelines as democratic revolutions reform and reshape the Middle East demonstrates, yet again, why – even if it eventually supplants the U.S. as the biggest economy in the world – China will never replace the U.S. as the world’s only indispensable superpower.

    (“Libya: UN Approves No-Fly Zone [China Abstains],” The iPINIONS Journal, March 18, 2011)

    Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 12.23.32 PM

    Well, China is at least consistent. But the real reason for this commentary is to stress that we should never ever abstain from condemning China for its pathological refusal to condemn such acts of territorial aggression, or those of human rights abuse. After all, this refusal merely betrays its Machiavellian determination to preserve the right to behave someday (e.g., with respect to Taiwan or Senkaku Islands) the way Russia is behaving today with respect to Crimea.

    Moreover, I maintain that China’s foreign policy is so amoral (or morally bankrupt) that, even if this were a resolution condemning Russia for doing to the Tatars what Germany did to the Jews, the vote would still have been the same; China would have abstained.

    Related commentaries:
    Libya

  • Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    Facebook Complaining about NSA Spying? Ha!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is being hailed in the media after sharing details of a call he made to the president of the United States on Wednesday to complain about NSA data collection:

    I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future.

    Never mind that Zuckerberg seems motivated more by spite because Edward Snowden’s latest document dump revealed an aspect of NSA data collection that even he had never thought of than by any concern about our future.

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

    By contrast, these outraged nincompoops are showing nary a concern about tech companies tracking every move they make online for the sole purpose of trying to sell them stuff. Which makes the open letter Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and AOL sent to Obama last week complaining about NSA surveillance a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    (“Judge Ruling on NSA Spying Amounts to Judicial Selfie,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 18, 2013)

    Not that there’s anything wrong with being called black … right? As a Black man, I need to stop perpetuating this self-denigrating idiom to convey inherent hypocrisy. How about: the skunk calling the pig stink. I digress.

    Even though Zuckerberg would be loath to share this, here’s how I suspect his phone call with Obama actually went:

    Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 8.15.32 PM

    Related commentaries:
    Judge ruling

  • Friday, March 14, 2014 at 5:25 AM

    Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 … ‘Lost’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 7.38.59 PMHere, courtesy of a March 12 report by CNN, are the few known facts:

    • On Saturday, March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. bound for Beijing.
    • There were 227 passengers and 12 crewmembers on board the plane that was scheduled to arrive at 6:30 a.m.
    • About 45 minutes after takeoff, Malaysian air traffic controllers lost contact.
    • At that point the plane was over the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam and had about seven hours of fuel left.
    • About two hours after takeoff, Malaysian Air Force radar tracked the plane at its last known location in the Strait of Malacca – hundreds of miles off its scheduled flight path.
    • As of today, despite missions that smack of large-scale international military exercises, air and sea search and rescue teams have found no trace of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

    That’s it folks. Nobody knows what became of it.

    Lost_by_CoolRikWhich is why your guess at to what happened is as good as that of any of the experts of every stripe who have been filling up hours and hours of TV floating all kinds of scenarios – from a hijacking to a Bermuda Triangle-like disappearance.

    My own scenario follows the takeoff for the TV series Lost. All things considered, those on board should be so lucky….

    Incidentally, the vast majority of passengers on board were Chinese. Only three were American. Hence, am I the only one who thinks it makes a mockery of China’s posturing as a superpower rising, to say nothing of its professed concern for the plight of its own citizens, that Americans, Australians, and even New Zealanders are not just leading search and rescue missions, but deploying the most resources for these efforts as well? The media have been replete in recent years with stories about how rich China has become. Yet, whenever it comes to humanitarian disasters and tragedies like this, it’s always the United States to the rescue – with China MIA.

    Of course, experts will continue offering “informed” speculation. And the media will continue peddling their speculation, ad nauseam, as “breaking news” – complete with disingenuous disclaimers about not wanting to peddle speculation. Indeed, you know they’re just drumming up suspense for ratings when news anchors begin posing leading questions like: I know U.S. authorities have debunked this theory, but what do you think it says about what happened if it were true…?

    Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 5.21.11 PMIn other words it doesn’t even matter that the premise of their questions has no basis in fact; they pose them just to manufacture suspense and justify their obsessive reporting on an incident that has produced nothing newsworthy since it happened seven days ago.

    Alas, given the popularity of shows like Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty, it’s hardly surprising that there’s an audience for this speculative, redundant, idle-minded fare. But just as MTV made a mockery of its call letters by featuring more reality shows than music videos, CNN is doing the same by featuring more manufactured suspense than real news. And, to be fair, let me hasten to add that every news station would be doing exactly what CNN is doing if it thought it too could generate higher ratings.

    Meanwhile, remember the civil war (and attendant humanitarian catastrophe) in Syria, or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or the anti-government riots in Venezuela … all of which are still as newsworthy today, if not more so, as they were before Flight 370 disappeared?

    Anyway, instead of adding to this babel of self-serving rumor mongering, I shall suffice to declare my firm belief that this mystery will eventually be solved and extend my despairing hope and best wishes to all family members affected. But there’s no denying my consternation over the fact that, despite all the advances in radar and avionics, this Malaysian jumbo jet disappeared without a trace today just as Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed prop plane did 77 years ago.

  • Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 5:55 AM

    Wither Kobe Bryant…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Phil Jackson is creating quite a buzz in NBA circles these days with his flirtation about returning to the sidelines next season as coach of the New York Knicks. All indications are that he will.

    images-21-300x150But he created an even bigger buzz last year with his comparison between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant as players.

    Here, in part, is how I pooh-poohed the gratuitous shade he threw at Kobe:

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

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

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

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

    nba_g_bryant_288x162Well, I was already vindicated when Kobe returned, just as I predicted, only to reinjure his torn Achilles. This had him duly looking like a wobbly, hobbling shadow of himself for the mere six games he played this season, before resuming his role as more team mascot than team leader on December 17.

    Now comes this:

    The Los Angeles Lakers have ruled Kobe Bryant out for the remainder of the season after a re-examination of the veteran guard’s injured knee showed it still hadn’t healed, the team announced Wednesday…

    Los Angeles signed Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension in November.

    (ESPN, March 12, 2014)

    BZ7hghOCYAA_WAzFrankly, when the Lakers signed that contract extension with Kobe, I thought they might as well had bought some swampland in Florida too.

    I have no doubt Kobe will return next season, or that he’ll manage to play more than six games. Indeed, he’ll probably survive the entire two seasons of his contract extension.

    But you too would have to be the kind of fool who would buy swampland in Florida if you think he’ll lead them to another NBA championship. And the Lakers would be even bigger fools if they sign him to another contract extension.

    Hence, wither Kobe Bryant … for two seasons more.

    Related commentaries:
    Michael vs. Kobe

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