• Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    Even Perez Hilton Thinks Lady Gaga’s Just a Freak Show

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I am no music critic; and I have no regard for the publicity stunts so many singers pull these days, which give the impression that they are more interested in attracting Facebook friends and Twitter followers than in making good records.

    Lady+Gaga+Lady+Gaga+Buys+Hotdog+QCh7Wz6nvXwlPerhaps this is why so many music fans (aka “little monsters”) took exception when I posted my take on Lady Gaga – a woman who seems to think dressing up like a fairy queen on stilts to buy a hot dog on the street in New York City will make her music more appealing:

    Lady Gaga literally personifies the triumph of packaged and formulaic acts over talented performances. Which is rather a shame because this girl can sing.

    But given this triumph, it seems perfectly reasonable that, instead of critiquing the way she performed on stage, most critics are hailing the way she spent the entire evening in character as Jo Calderone, her purported male alter ego – who looks like a cross between a wannabe Bob Dylan and Danny Zuko (John Travolta in Grease).

    Never mind that the only people who could have found Gaga’s “Hey, I’m Jo” ranting entertaining are those who tune in to The Jersey Shore every week to catch Snooki’s latest drunken rant, which, granted, are millions. In any case, this Lady has clearly jumped the shark.

    Come to think of it, though, most performers today seem to think that the key to success is looking and behaving in a way off stage that makes what they do on stage seem almost irrelevant: Exhibit B – Nicki Minaj.

    By sterling contrast, Adele not only sings like an angel, but she might just be the music industry’s saving grace. Unfortunately, the VMAs have so little to do with musical talent these days that Adele performing on this show was rather like Andrea Bocelli performing on So You Think You Can Dance.

    (“2011 MTV Video Music Awards,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 30, 2011)

    article-2668589-1F1910E600000578-142_634x362It’s arguable, however, that “celebrity gossip king” Perez Hilton knows as much about today’s music industry as veteran DJ Rick Dees; and, more to the point, that he knows as much about artists promoting themselves at the expense of their art as über publicist Ken Sunshine.

    Therefore, I commend to my critics the report in yesterday’s London Daily Mail, which not only affirmed Hilton’s bona fides as a music insider, but also quoted him essentially parroting my take on Lady Gaga (and, by extension, so many other singers, including Rihanna and, yes, Madonna too).

    Perez Hilton re-ignited his feud with Lady Gaga on Tuesday during an appearance on the Australian talk show Mornings in which he claimed she has been ‘poisoned’ by fame.

    ‘I think she has unfortunately become a victim of this character she created. Instead of being an artist she became this freak and this cartoon character and so unrelatable to people,’ Perez said.

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
    2011 VMAs

  • Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 5:53 AM

    Egypt Lecturing U.S. on Democratic Principles…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Imagine that.

    Actually, I’ve been lamenting every vindicating episode arising out of the following warning I gave in the germinating days of the Arab Spring:

    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)

    03egypt-timeline-thumb2-master495-v2Frankly, I would bet my life savings that the vast majority of Egyptians who got rid of Mubarak now regret doing so, andare sheepishly longing for his relatively benign dictatorship. After all, they have since had to cope with a president in Mohammad Morsi, who fashioned himself a latterday pharaoh lording over an Islamic state (i.e., instead of the secular state they clearly prefer), and now with one in Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who replaced Morsi in a military coup last year and is fashioning himself as a prototypical Arab strongman presiding over a veritable police state.

    In fact, nothing has given democracy protesters cause to rue the day they overthrew Mubarak quite like the way al-Sisi is labeling all of his political opponents Muslim terrorists to justify having them rounded up, by the thousands, and sentenced to death after mass show trials….

    But I suppose it betrays shrewd political judgment that, instead of having the famous “al-Jazeera 3” journalists arrested and sentenced to death too, al-Sisi had them sentenced on Monday to 7-10 years in prison. Never mind that their only “crime” was reporting on al-Sisi’s totalitarian rule in ways he deemed were giving aid and comfort to his terrorist bogeymen.

    And, talk about being shrewd, only this explains al-Sisi seizing the opportunity to lecture an American president, using the same words about the principles of democracy (in this case, an independent judiciary) that American presidents have been using to lecture Arab leaders like him for decades:

    The future of three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt looks bleaker after Egypt’s strongman president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, refused a pardon, ignoring pleas from Barack Obama to release them and other political prisoners.

    ‘We will not interfere in judicial rulings,’ Sisi said on Tuesday morning. ‘We must respect judicial rulings and not criticise them even if others do not understand this.’

    (London Guardian, June 23, 2014)

    Abdel Fatah al-Sisi with John Kerry in Cairo.Ouch!

    Notwithstanding his plainly mischievous indignation, I applaud al-Sisi for publicly reprimanding Obama.

    Granted, Obama was merely asking him to use his legitimate presidential power to pardon these journalists. But it’s worth noting why al-Sisi was able to so effectively insinuate that Obama was exhorting him to do something as president of Egypt that Obama would be impeached for doing as president of the United States. 

    Because this hints at what U.S. presidents have been doing since time immemorial; namely, publicly lecturing their despotic friends about implementing democratic reforms, while privately exhorting them to execute all kinds of dictatorial favors to further U.S. interests.

    0e514aa4-6529-4e20-b875-023451f6f889-620x372Apropos of which, late-breaking reports are that even the U.S.-backed prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, publicly lectured Obama today about democratic principles as he defiantly rejected Obama’s call for Iraq to form a new government of national unity, which does not include him as the divisive, sectarian prime minister. Specifically, al-Maliki decried the call as an imperial attempt to impose a coup against his democratically elected government and an affront to Iraq’s democratic constitution.

    Again, imagine that.

    But this rejection is all the more humiliating for Obama given that his call was tied to sending in U.S. troops to help al-Maliki fend off rampaging jihadists calling themselves ISIS/ISIL. Because al-Maliki is effectively emulating Thomas Paine, that oft-cited pioneer of American democracy, by saying that he’d rather lose Iraq to Islamic terrorists than conspire with Obama to pervert its democratic process. And I think he means it (i.e., like Bashir al-Assad of Syria, al-Maliki believes he’s the democratically elected leader of his country and will not abide the formation of any government of national unity that does not leave him in place as prime minister).

    In any event, I would like to think this is a case of an American-friendly dictator (in Egypt) hoisting an American president up by his own petard. But I suspect that, after a suitable period of opportunistic political posturing, al-Sisi will honor Obama’s request and pardon the journalists … and only because two of them happen to be Westerners.

    NOTE: Obama is purportedly asking al-Sisi to release political prisoners too. But, trust me, American presidents asking Egyptian presidents to release political prisoners is rather like American presidents asking Israeli prime ministers to stop building Jewish settlements: the asking in both cases is only ever for political show.

    Related commentaries:
    Arab spring spawns military dictatorship

  • Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 6:37 AM

    World Cup: Nooooooo! All Is Not Lost (Yet) America…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    140622203603-40-wc-0622-horizontal-galleryWatching U.S. fans collapse into paroxysms of despair at the sound of the whistle ending yesterday’s game against Portugal, you’d think their team had just been eliminated from World Cup contention.  Whereas, in fact, the game ended in a tie, which means that U.S. hopes are still alive.

    Of course, an outright win would’ve vested the United States with a Cinderella-like aura of invincibility going into its third and final game of this opening round on Thursday against perennial powerhouse Germany. What’s more, even my heart ached a little for the United States when Portugal snatched a 2-2 tie from the jaws of a humiliating defeat by scoring (Gooooaaal!) with mere seconds left … in stoppage overtime.

    A win would’ve guaranteed the United States a berth into the second round, which would’ve been tantamount to winning the World Cup given predictions of first-round doom when brackets revealed that it was seeded in the “Group of Death” (along with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana).

    But, having defeated formidable Ghana in its first game, the United States remains in a relatively enviable position, especially considering that England, Portugal, and defending World Cup Champion Spain have already been (effectively) eliminated.

    World CupI’m not qualified (or interested) enough to go into all of the outcome scenarios of remaining “Group” games that would help the United States advance to the next, knockout round of 16. Suffice to know that it would take an improbable turn of events (like those that saw Portugal tie them in such devastating fashion, I suppose) for the United States to be eliminated. Not to mention prevailing suspicions that the United States and Germany will collude to have their game end in a tie, which would guarantee they both advance into the next round. But I think that’s bullshit. Both teams will try to win, and let the chips fall where they may.

    In any event, keep calm, America, and know that your team will carry on.

    For the record, as of this writing, only Belgium, Argentina, France, Costa Rica, Columbia, Chile, and the Netherlands have won all of their games, and are assured a berth into the next round.

    Like the United States against Germany, my team, Nigeria, will need a win or a tie against Argentina on Wednesday to advance. Unlike Germany, however, I fear Argentina has no need (or incentive) to collude with Nigeria to end their game in a tie, or a win for Nigeria.

    So, alas, the Africans might have to work twice as hard as the Americans to earn the same result.

    Related commentaries:
    World Cup – Brazil

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, June 23, at 4:40 pm

  • Monday, June 23, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    Harley Davidson Goes Electric

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    la-fi-harley-davidson-live-wire-electric-motor-007Harley Davidson’s roll out of a new electric bike last week confirms its intent to appeal more to members of the establishment than to rebels without a cause. Not least because the way this bike looks, rides, and, perhaps most important, sounds conjures up images more of a sleek cheetah than a grizzly bear.

    I hasten to disclose here that I’ve never been fond of motorbikes. Indeed, I’m not sure what it says about my manhood that what I hate most about Harleys (and all motorbikes) is what I gather most men like most about them: that obnoxious roar of the engine. Continuing my admittedly strained analogy, I’d be more impressed by an engine with a cheetah’s stealth-cooing purr than by one with a bear’s chest-thumping roar.

    More to the point, having seen a demonstration, complete with Ducati-like speed of zero to 60 in under four seconds, Harley Davidson might make a motorbike rider out of me yet.

    Except that:

    One hurdle Harley and others have yet to address is the limited range offered by electric motorcycles. Batteries typically must be recharged after about 130 miles, and that can take 30 minutes to an hour.

    (Washington Post, June 19, 2014)

    tesla-supercharger-fast-charging-system-for-electric-cars_100403181_lFrankly, I’m stupefied that Obama, who pledged to preside over transformative reductions in fossil-burning fuels, has done so little to ensure that the lack of charging stations does not operate as a disincentive for potential buyers of electric vehicles. Granted, he’s probably relying on Elon Musk, the Henry Ford of electric cars, to pick up the slack here, just as he’s relying on him to pick up the slack for U.S. space travel:

    Tesla 20-minute ‘superchargers’ will blanket the U.S. and Canada within two years, CEO Elon Musk said Thursday. Musk announced plans to greatly upgrade and expand the number of its superchargers in and between population centers of the United States and Southern Canada to link major cities via free electricity.

    (Autoweek, May 30, 2013)

    Still, as a matter of principle, Obama should propose legislation mandating that, as a condition for continuing to receive billions in taxpayer subsidies, which include U.S. Naval escort of their oil tankers through hot spots around the world, big oil companies must enter agreements with all gas stations that sell their gasoline to ensure that at least one pump at every station in the United States is dedicated to charging electric vehicles.

    This legislation should mandate further that gas stations must switch from gas pumps to electric pumps at each station commensurate with the increased manufacture of electric vehicles, until at least 50 percent of their pumps are electric. But here’s the real kicker: Why blanket the country with electric charging stations, when homes are already wired to charge electric vehicles? Surely it would make more sense to require car dealers to retrofit the buyer’s home whenever he/she buys an electric car. No?

    Get your motor runnin’

    Head out on the highway

    Looking for adventure

    In whatever comes our way

    (Steppenwolf)

    Well, I may not have been “Born to be Wild,” but I’m all for taking a ride on the wild side on my Harley Davidson electric motorbike.

    zero21n-3-webThat said, it’s an indication of the growing popularity and usefulness of electric motorbikes that they are doing for the police force what the B-2 Stealth bomber has done for the Air Force:

    A new super stealthy, military-grade motorcycle is now on the prowl in Los Angeles, quietly hunting criminals in hard-to-reach places.

    The Los Angeles Police Department has purchased the sleek new Zero MMX electric motorcycle for its fleet of off-road patrol units, cops confirmed…

    The MMX — which runs about $15,000 but is not for sale to civilians — can zip covertly along park trails and even through buildings thanks to its virtually soundless, zero-emissions design, a spokesman for Zero Motorcycles said.

    (Daily News, June 20, 2014)

  • Saturday, June 21, 2014 at 7:55 AM

    Obama speaking like Ebenezer Scrooge, but acting like Pied Piper

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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  • Friday, June 20, 2014 at 8:08 AM

    UPDATE: Why Have 300 Troops in Iraq When 3000 Will Do?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    US-troops-at-flag-lowerin-007-1Republican Senator John McCain has been front and center in the peanut gallery of those screaming that Iraq is falling apart today because Obama withdrew all U.S. troops in 2011.

    You’ve probably heard their chicken-and-egg complaint about Obama torpedoing negotiations for a stabilization force to remain in Iraq, indefinitely, by offering a low-ball number of only 300 troops. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (and U.S. generals, aping their Vietnam counterparts) requested 15,000 to 18,000. This is why McCain and crew insist that al-Maliki had no choice but to reject Obama’s offer.

    Except that, with rampaging jihadists calling themselves ISIS/ISIL now marching on Baghdad, al-Maliki is so desperate he would’ve thanked Allah if Obama had announced yesterday that he’s offering just 30 instead of 300 U.S. troops.

    All the same, Obama should be compelled to explain why he thinks 300 troops will have a stabilizing effect on Iraq today, with a full-scale sectarian war raging, when he clearly thought 3000 were needed in 2011, when Iraq was already relatively stable.

    This is the military equivalent of being a little pregnant; or a case of jumping from the frying pan (which Iraq was even under U.S. occupation) into the fire (which it is today). You’d think Obama would know better than to dump U.S. troops in the midst of a foreign civil war/sectarian insurgency, and then propagate the obvious fiction that they will not be engaged in combat. It’s as if he has never heard of the military truism, “mission creep.”  Remember, JFK dispatched a few troops as advisers and propagated the same fiction in the early days of the Vietnam War.

    Which is why, much to my dismay, Obama could only be doing this to fend off Benghazi-style criticisms, and to avoid the appearance of fiddling while Iraq burns.

    (“Sunnis, Shias, Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America!” The iPINIONS Journal, June 19, 2014)

    Like I said, just another “march of folly”!

    Not to mention the galling sense of entitlement inherent in al-Maliki not only defying Obama’s calls to form a more inclusive government but also dictating to Obama what he needs from the United States to prevent insurgents from blowing Iraq asunder. And all of this is playing out in the backdrop of the Iraqi soldiers the United States spent so many years and billions training just laying down their weapons and surrendering to the insurgents like lambs to the slaughter.

    But one could hardly blame the Iraqis; after all, their training over the past 10 years consisted primarily of the United States dressing and equipping them to look like soldiers but having U.S. forces do most of the fighting for them.  Which is why, far from building a nation, the United States has created an unruly, yet terminally dependent, monster.

    Accordingly, I reiterate that the United States has long since paid its debt (in blood and treasure) for its ill-fated invasion of Iraq. And that, notwithstanding General Powell’s Pottery Barn (you-break-it-you-own-it) doctrine, the best thing the United States can do for Iraq at this point is to leave it to its own devices.

    Related commentaries:
    Sunnis, Shias, Kurds fighting for control

  • Friday, June 20, 2014 at 6:34 AM

    More Proof Michael Was Not ‘Gone Too Soon’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 9.55.53 PMTruth be told, when producers raised the curtain on Michael Jackson’s much-hyped performance, in hologram form, at last month’s Billboard Music Awards, far from being thrilled, I was just creeped out.

    But it occurred to me that, if they could make it appear like Michael had risen from the dead to perform live on stage, they could probably make it sound like he had risen from the dead to record new songs in studio too. This would surely put a new spin on the dubious practice of selling “previously recorded but unreleased songs” after a singer’s death. After all, the reason most songs remain unreleased is that the singer thinks they suck.

    Now, though, not only can technology make Michael’s voice sound better than it ever did, but the executors of his estate can hire writers to pen songs that do that digitally enhanced voice justice.

    The problem of course is that the executors of any singer’s estate can market any computer-generated song as previously recorded but unreleased. Especially given that it would be in the financial and legal interest of all involved in perpetrating this computer fraud to … play along.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 9.58.10 PM But just imagine the windfall for Michael’s estate that would come from:

    • releasing Thriller-like albums in perpetuity;
    • MJ concert tours, in hologram form, earning more in gross receipts than concert tours by the likes of Bon Jovi, Rihanna, and Bruce Springsteen, all in living form. The rapturous reaction most people had to his holographic performance at the Billboard Music Awards certainly bodes well in this respect. Not to mention that his Cirque Du Soleil “Immortal World Tour,” which was second only to Bon Jovi’s last year with earnings of $157 million, is already proving a perennial money printing machine;
    • the pathologically spendthrift Michael, in life form, no longer being around to spend it all.

    And all of that would be on top of this:

    Since the singer died of drug intoxication in 2009 – when he was said to be $500 million in debt – his estate has ballooned to an estimated $1.5 billion, a portion of that from the 50 million albums that have sold posthumously.

    (Daily Mail, June 8, 2014)

    Again, none of this would’ve been (or would be) possible if Michael were still alive. On the contrary, if he were still alive, chances are very good that he’d be not only a washed-up walking freak show, but a dead-broke deadbeat to boot.

    ‘Gone too soon’?  I don’t think so.

    (“Michael Jackson: Worth more Dead than Alive,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 28, 2010)

    But try telling this to any of his die-hard fans who will be commemorating the fifth anniversary of his death on Wednesday, June 25….

    Meanwhile, it can only be a matter of time before executors of the estates of other dead singers begin producing performances, in hologram form, and releasing new, computer-generated songs marketed as previously recorded but unreleased. (I know, the executors of Tupac’s estate had him perform, in hologram form, long before Michael did.)

    whitneyhouston-crackiswack2521More to the point, the beneficiaries of Whitney Houston’s estate must be praying – not so much that she may rest in peace, but that she may turn out to be as much of a cash cow in death as Michael is turning out to be.

    And, given the way drugs ravaged her looks and voice over the last 10 years of her life, the executors of her estate will probably seize the opportunity to sanitize her legacy with performances, in hologram form, of Whitney in her early days … before crack made her look and sound so whack.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 7:16 AM

    Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Many are convinced that Iraq is on the brink of a destructive sectarian civil war that would herald its disintegration as the country we know, and that agreement on partition would be the least-bad option…

    Instead of being seen as a partner, Mr. Maliki has been accused increasingly of going it alone with autocratic powers stemming from his control of the entire security apparatus, including the defence and interior ministries.

    Sunni participation has been increasingly marginalised and opinion alienated by Mr. Maliki’s failure to address key Sunni demands and complaints, especially relating to the release of detainees, counter-terrorism laws, job opportunities etc.

    (BBC, May 2, 2013)

    iraq-update-3FebI vowed recently that I would comment no further on the events unfolding in Iraq. But I feel obliged to weigh in on the hysteria in the United States that thousands of U.S. trained Iraqi soldiers are causing by surrendering city after city to hundreds of Sunni (ISIS/ISIL) insurgents.

    Shiite clerics called on Iraqi civilians Friday to take up arms against advancing Sunni insurgents inspired by al-Qaeda, drawing the battle lines for a major sectarian confrontation in the fracturing state…

    Even as the security forces attempted to regroup elsewhere, the government lost control of more territory in the northeast of the country, to Kurdish forces who took advantage of the chaos to assert control, unopposed, of the city of Kirkuk.

    (Washington Post, June 13, 2014)

    17-baghdad-embassy.w430.h430Aping Shiite clerics, I suppose, President Obama indicated on Monday that he will be dispatching up to 300 marines “to secure U.S. assets.” Reports are that he’s also considering dispatching additional troops “to train Iraqi soldiers.”

    Except that this is the military equivalent of being a little pregnant; or a case of jumping from the frying pan (which Iraq was even under U.S. occupation) into the fire (which it is today). You’d think Obama would know better than to dump U.S. troops in the midst of a foreign civil war/sectarian insurgency, and then propagate the obvious fiction that they will not be engaged in combat. It’s as if he has never heard of the military truism, “mission creep.” Remember, JFK dispatched a few troops as advisers and propagated the same fiction in the early days of the Vietnam War. Which is why, much to my dismay, Obama could only be doing this to fend off Benghazi-style criticisms, and to avoid the appearance of fiddling while Iraq burns.

    Yes, Iraq is a proverbial house on fire. Rampaging jihadists calling themselves ISIS/ISIL ignited it in January with the capture of Fallujah, and made clear their intent to wrest control of the country from Shiites and Kurds. But anyone who knows anything about the existential nature of this sectarian wildfire knows that there’s simply nothing U.S. forces can do to contain it, let alone put it out. Not to mention the manifest absurdity inherent in dispatching hundreds of U.S. troops to train Iraqis to fight this fire, given that hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops spent 10 years and tens of billions of dollars training and equipping Iraqis to do just that, clearly to no avail.

    Frankly, it shall redound to America’s eternal shame that so many Iraqi soldiers U.S. forces trained to defend the country surrendered to so few insurgents in a matter of days; whereas those Saddam Hussein trained fended off far superior Iranian forces for years during the Iran-Iraq War (September 1980 to August 1988). More to the point, but for former President George W. Bush’s misguided invasion, Saddam would probably still have a firm lid on this sectarian fire, which, I cannot overstate, has been flaring up between Shias and Sunnis for the soul of Islam for well over 1000 years.

    Meanwhile:

    Are we about to be drawn back into a conflict in Iraq? The same people who 12 years ago told us this will be quick, this will be easy, this will be inexpensive, they will see us as liberators, it’s the right thing to do, are now telling us, ‘It’s the right thing to do.’ What’s the endgame? Who’s thought this through?’

    (Anchor Shepard Smith, Fox News, June 13, 2014)

    polls_neoconservatives22il_5954_670005_answer_1_xlargeIt’s a peculiar feature of American politics that the more politicians and pundits are exposed as clueless fools on an issue (like the invasion of Iraq), the more solicitous they are of media attention to make themselves look even more like clueless fools. And the media are always all too willing to oblige, to wit this week’s media blitz featuring former VP Dick Cheney, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, and pundits William Kristol and Paul D. Wolfowitz, et al.

    These tweedledees and tweedledums keep citing the fact that U.S. stabilization forces have been stationed in places like Germany, Japan, and the Philippines for over 50 years for the proposition that they should be stationed in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria too. The operative fact seems completely lost on them that U.S. stabilization (or stay-behind) forces in Germany, Japan, and the Philippines have never had to contend with the kind of civil wars and/or sectarian insurgences now raging in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, where local combatants, on both sides, would just as soon kill U.S. troops as kill each other.

    And don’t get me started on the brazen hypocrisy of Republicans lecturing Iraqis about putting aside sectarian differences to allow Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to govern in the national interest of Iraq. These, after all, are the same Republicans who have spent the past five years hurling partisan roadblocks to prevent Obama from governing in the national interest of the United States.

    By contrast, here’s an excerpt from “The Shotgun Convention of Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds to Frame an Iraqi Constitution,” August 22, 2005, in which I presaged the failure of sectarian accommodation that is the incendiary cause of the fire now burning in Iraq:

    Besides the role of Islam, control of oil production will determine the character and viability of Iraq’s governing authority…

    In order to form a more perfect union, Iraqi Shias and Kurds (who together comprise 80% of the assembly) seem prepared to discard the Sunnis and approve a draft that essentially protects their respective interests: for Shias – homage to religion that would make Islam a main source of legislation (thereby empowering authoritarian clerics) and a proportionate share of Iraq’s oil revenues; and for Kurds – homage to federalism that would ensure demarcated boundaries and virtual self-rule under a governing system that protects them from Shiite political and religious hegemony (under Islamic Sharia law).

    Of course, such a pyrrhic outcome would only mean that the Iraqi drafters would’ve successfully emulated the framers of the Constitution of the United States. After all, the American founding fathers compromised their political (and moral) principles to approve a draft constitution that not only protected their respective interests but also discarded Blacks and women, counting blacks as only three fifths of a person and denying women the right to vote.

    But, just as this compromise led inexorably to a bloody American civil war, so too will running rough shod over Sunnis lead to civil war – if the Iraqi founding fathers do not take whatever time is necessary to vest the respective interests of all major constituent groups in their draft constitution in some equitable fashion. Which means, of course, that the Iraqi National Assembly is just voting to bide time, not to build a nation.

    By the same token, it is myopic and foolhardy for the Bush Administration to force the Iraqis to approve a document that holds together like oil and water just to quell political opposition at home. Yet the Americans seem prepared to do just that, despite pleas from Sunnis for President Bush to block any draft that does not have their express consent…

    Alas, even if the Iraqis gloss over fractious differences to announce agreement on a new draft constitution today (or after another capricious delay), Iraq shall remain a nation divided against itself until those differences are settled – just as America was until a civil war settled the most contentious issues (like slavery and state’s rights under federalism) almost 100 years after the drafting of its constitution.

    ____________________

    Here we are, 10 years since I wrote the above about Iraq’s shotgun constitution convention, and by all accounts, far from settling those differences, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister has spent the past eight years exacerbating them.

    images-3It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the Sunni chickens are coming home to roost. (By the same token, it will hardly be surprising when the Taliban chickens come home to roost after U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan – notwithstanding plans to leave behind a small stabilization force.)

    My take on the Iraqi constitutional convention should also explain why it’s wrong to cast the civil war engulfing Iraq today as one just between Shiite forces and ISIS/ISIL insurgents. Because these insurgents are only venting in the extreme the kind of simmering resentment most Sunnis have been harboring for years.

    Which brings me to what I proffered years ago – in “At Last, Rumsfeld Becomes Casualty of Iraq War,” November 9, 2006 – as the inevitable resolution of this sectarian conflict:

    It’s probably too late to execute what I thought was the only way to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure and form a viable federal government: namely, to implement a Marshall Plan (a la post WWII Japan) under martial law enforced by the “several hundred thousand US troops” the truly visionary Gen. Eric Shinseki said would be needed in postwar Iraq.

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

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 6.52.03 PMHow’s that for prescience?! And if you have any doubt about the likelihood of partition, consider this latest headline on the matter:

    In historical reversal, Turkey opens door to splitting Iraq.

    (Huffington Post, June 17, 2014)

    With that, here are a few points looking forward:

    • Instead of dispatching troops like firemen rushing in to put out a fire, Obama should evacuate all Americans out of that proverbial burning house – until the Iraqis (aka competing Islamic sects) put out the fire themselves.
    • Instead of launching air strikes to help Shias and Kurds (estranged bedfellows) fend off Sunni insurgents (comprised of everyone from Taliban-like religious extremists to Saddam-era Baath nationalists and Euro-centric secularists), Obama should just let them fight it out among themselves. Not least because al-Maliki’s Shiite government has continually shown an impudent willingness to repay the United States for all of the blood and treasure it spent trying to build up his country by getting into bed with anti-American governments (like that of Iran) and stabbing American soldiers in the back (as far too many of the Iraqi soldiers they were training to fight the terrorists now rampaging their country have done … literally).

    In other words, this isn’t even a case where the United States can say the enemy (al-Maliki’s Shiite government) of my enemy (ISIS/ISIL) is my friend; for al-Maliki’s government clearly is not. Not to mention that U.S. strikes on Sunni insurgents on behalf of Shiite nationalists would only turn the region’s Sunni power and America’s longstanding friend, Saudi Arabia, into an ally scorned – especially given that al-Maliki is now making plainly mischievous accusations about Saudi Arabia funding ISIS/ISIL….

    • Instead of allowing scaremongering, warmongering Republicans to mislead people into thinking that these rampaging insurgents in Iraq pose an existential threat to the United States, or even to any vital regional interest, Obama should point out that an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/the Levant (aka ISIS/ISIL) would pose no greater threat to the United States than the Islamic State of Iran (aka ISI…?) has posed for over 30 years.
    • Instead of reacting to goings on in Iraq and Syria, Obama should merely issue a presidential warning that leaders of any government who harbor and/or abet terrorists the way the Taliban did or, God forbid, attempt to develop nuclear weapons the way Gaddafi did, will be targeted for drone strikes right along with those terrorists, and rogue scientists. And, with NSA spying and drone surveillance capabilities being what they are today, it’s not as if ISIS/ISIL can plot and train terrorists with impunity in Iraq or Syria the way the al-Qaeda did in Afghanistan; or as if they can develop nuclear weapons in secret – as Iran’s ruling Mullahs are being made to realize now.

    In other words, Obama should make clear that the United States does not have to invade a country to mete out justice to political leaders like the Taliban’s Mullah Omar and to terrorist masterminds like al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Moreover, such targeted strikes would spare the United States having to honor Gen. Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn (“You break it, you own it) principle, which compelled Bush to follow weeks of successful military attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq with years of disastrous nation building.

    • Finally, instead of sending more troops into the fire in Iraq (or adding fuel to that fire by launching air strikes), Obama should reinforce U.S. troop presence in friendly countries like Jordan and Kuwait to ensure that insurgents have no prayer of doing there what they’re doing in Iraq and Syria.

    All else is folly.

    NOTE: The media have a distressing habit of focusing on one story (i.e., while ignoring all others) and reporting on it ad nauseam. Hence, you could be forgiven for having no clue that a civil war – with far greater global implications – is still raging in Ukraine. This, you may recall, is the story they were beating like a dead horse only weeks ago.

    Related commentaries:
    Only authoritarian regimes can govern Arab countries
    Shotgun
    At last, Rumsfeld

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, June 18, at 8:39 am

  • Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 6:17 AM

    NRA Cares No More about Gun Violence than Drug Cartels Do

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The aftermath of school shootings is now all too familiar. The shock of the breaking news, the scenes of school evacuations, the ensuing political debate and the inevitable inaction.

    (Huffington Post, June 16, 2014)

    It has become customary to say that America has a gun-violence problem. But what America really has is a gun problem – notwithstanding the NRA propagating the specious slogan that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

    gun-control-rallyAfter all, imagine how many schoolchildren would have been spared if all of the crazy kids who went on shooting rampages in recent years had access only to knives, instead of such easy access to guns. If that’s too farfetched, then imagine how many still would have been spared if it were illegal to sell semi-automatic guns and assault rifles equipped with high-capacity magazines … just to maximize carnage.

    America has suffered an appalling 74 school shootings since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Dec. 2012 — and the carnage is sure to worsen in a nation dominated by politicians who refuse to combat gun violence.

    ‘There’s no developed country on Earth that would put up with this. And it now happens once a week. We should be ashamed,’ President Obama declared [last week] after the latest assault weapon attack, this one in Oregon.

    (New York Daily News, June 14, 2014)

    Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 5.02.02 PMUnfortunately, the parents of schoolchildren are too consumed with fear to be ashamed. Nothing demonstrates this quite like parents wasting money on bulletproof backpacks for their kindergartners, as if their unprotected heads and chests are naturally so (i.e., bulletproof).

    The problem, of course, is that far too many politicians, including some in Obama’s own Democratic Party, are more worried about the NRA running political ads to oust them from Congress than they are about crazy people firing bullets to kill innocent schoolchildren.

    What’s more, they rationalize their unconscionable, venal cowardice by parroting not only the NRA’s slogans, but its plainly contrived distortion of the Second Amendment as well.

    ‘A fraud on the American public.’ That’s how former Chief Justice Warren Burger described the idea that the Second Amendment gives an unfettered individual right to a gun. When he spoke these words to PBS in 1990, the rock-ribbed conservative appointed by Richard Nixon was expressing the longtime consensus of historians and judges across the political spectrum.

    Twenty-five years later, Burger’s view seems as quaint as a powdered wig. Not only is an individual right to a firearm widely accepted, but increasingly states are also passing laws to legalize carrying weapons on streets, in parks, in bars — even in churches.

    (Politico, May 19, 2014)

    Indeed, no less a problem is that far too many political commentators are proselytizing the NRA’s propaganda about the Constitution guaranteeing an unfettered individual right to bear any kind of firearm. This is why, for years, I’ve been like John the Baptist, preaching the truth not only about the Second Amendment, but also about the NRA’s agenda:

    The Second Amendment specifically refers to ‘A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.’ Obviously, this is because, when the Constitution was signed 225 years ago, the United States did not have the well regulated police forces, let alone the well regulated armed forces, it has today.

    It’s arguable therefore that the only reasonable reading of this Amendment in today’s context is that the only people who should have the right to ‘keep and bear arms’ are those in law enforcement and the military (i.e., those actively involved in ensuring national security)…

    The National Rifle Association (NRA) has perpetrated a brazen and unconscionable fraud on the American people by pretending to be arch defenders of their right to keep and bear arms. Because the NRA is just the lobbying arm of gun manufacturers, and its sole mission is to ensure that those manufactures have the right to sell as many guns of every type to as many people as possible. Period!

    (“The Second Amendment and Gun Control,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 19, 2012)

    Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 11.05.36 AMI must confess, however, that the NRA has so dominated public debate on gun control in recent years that even I was not aware of Chief Justice Burger’s 1990 lament about this “fraud on the American public” when I wrote my similar lament two years ago.

    Even more troubling, though, is that the conservative, Republican-appointed members of today’s Supreme Court, who constitute its majority, seem willfully oblivious. Because, far from affirming Burger’s unassailable interpretation of the Second Amendment, they are towing the NRA’s line – as if, like politicians, they fear the NRA running political ads against them too.

    Emboldened by a seminal U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that upstanding Americans have the fundamental right to keep guns in their homes, the NRA has involved itself in hundreds of legal cases, many in California…

    The NRA and other Second Amendment advocates have filed ‘a whole slew of lawsuits’ using the 2008 high court ruling to challenge gun-control laws enacted after Sandy Hook.

    (The Associated Press, April 5, 2014)

    To be fair, on extremely rare occasions the one “centrist” among the Court’s five conservative, Republican-members (namely, Justice Anthony Kennedy) votes with its four liberal, Democratic-appointed members to slap the NRA on the wrist. This was the case just yesterday, when he joined them in a 5-4 ruling, which held that only a “numskull” could think he has a constitutional right to lie on a federal form for background checks when purchasing a gun. (This is how distorted/insane the debate on gun control has become folks.)

    By the way, it’s not only the case that the NRA cares no more about gun violence than drug cartels do; the NRA does not even care about the direct correlation between it championing the unfettered sale of all guns and the gun violence associated even with the sale of illicit drugs.

    Meanwhile, even high school reunions aren’t safe. This was brought into tragic relief in Illinois on Saturday, when a woman and her new boyfriend were shot dead by her ex-husband right in front of her old classmates. An off-duty FBI agent, who just happened to be at the sports bar where the reunion was being held, prevented this man-scorned from perpetrating a wholesale massacre by shooting him dead.

    Well, until the next massacre then….

    Related commentaries:
    Gun control debate is insane

  • Monday, June 16, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    Spurs Cool Off Heat to Win NBA Championship

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    This championship series got off to a thrilling and promising start when the Miami Heat effectively stole game two from the San Antonio Spurs, in San Antonio, to even their best of seven series at 1-1 heading back to Miami.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 8.16.20 AMBut after the Spurs froze the Heat out to win games three and four in Miami, last night’s game five back home in San Antonio seemed anti-climactic. And the Heat played that way, effectively giving up after losing a 16-point first quarter lead early in the second quarter and allowing the Spurs to cruise to a relatively easy 104-87 win for the championship.

    In fact, the most exciting part of watching the Spurs humiliate the Heat was marveling at revenge being served cold. After all, they were clearly determined to avenge their heart-breaking loss to the Heat in last year’s championship – after the Heat won the decisive game seven with a Hail Mary shot with just seconds to play.

    nba_g_heatdown_300x300No less exciting, though, was watching the dethroning of the Heat’s upstart triumvirate of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh by the Spurs’ seasoned triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker and thinking it could spell the premature end for the upstarts. After all:

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

    (YouTube, July 10, 2010)

    That was the bold, if not presumptuous, promise LeBron made when he joined the Heat four years ago as a hired gun. But I’m sure even die-hard Heat fans are thinking today that he was just blowing smoke (or shooting blanks, as the case might be) at them.

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

    (“Heat Repeat. Defeat Spurs!” The iPINIONS Journal, June 21, 2013)

    slide_354087_3862278_freeGranted, winning two championships in four years is nothing to be ashamed of. Except that, having been nurtured in this narcissistic, instant-gratification age of Twitter and Facebook, LeBron and crew do not have the emotional maturity or historical perspective to rebound from this humiliation. This is why they did more sulking than playing at the first sign of real adversity … when the Spurs were routing them, yet again, in game four.

    More to the point, each one is probably already posting selfies and tweets advertising himself as a gun for hire by the highest bidder. I’d be shocked if the Heat’s triumvirate returns intact next season.

    What mattered most to Dr. J and Michael was not the spectacular feats they performed but the championships their teams won.  It is instructive in this respect that Dr. J suffered six years of playoff frustration before his team, the Philadelphia 76ers, won the first of two championships (in 1982); and, even more so, that Michael suffered seven years of similar frustration before his team, the Chicago Bulls, won the first of six (in 1991). This brings me to LeBron…

    I fear that winning for LeBron will be bitter sweet. Not least because, instead of being hailed as a basketball savior in Miami, where the Heat won a championship just years ago (in 2006), he’ll be regarded as nothing more than a hired gun who was brought in to help them win a few more.

    Even worse, no matter how many championships he wins in Miami, he will be forever haunted by the fact that he abandoned not just his team but also his childhood home to do so…

    (“LeBron Abandons Cleveland for Miami,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 13, 2010)

    Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 8.14.31 AMBy instructive contrast, the reason the Spurs’ triumvirate became the winningest trio in NBA postseason history last night is that Duncan and crew never saw themselves as hired guns. They saw themselves as a team, come what may. And, sure enough, what came over the past 17 years were five NBA championships.

    What’s more, given the way they dominated the Heat this year, chances are very good that the Spurs will remain intact to win one, perhaps even two more championships; ironically, fulfilling for the Spurs’ loyal fans the upstart promise LeBron made to the Heat’s fair-weather fans.

    Incidentally, the Spurs’ quest for revenge was probably fueled with more than a little resentment. After all, the media have always covered the Heat as presumptive heirs to the NBA preeminence once enjoyed by teams like the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Chicago Bulls; whereas the Spurs are clearly far more worthy of such coverage.

    And, oh, did I mention that I’m not a Heat fan. My team is the perennial also-ran Washington Wizards. So I trust you’ll forgive my unbridled schadenfreude.

    Congratulations San Antonio!

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    Brazil’s World Cup even bigger misuse/waste of money than Russia’s Winter Olympics

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

  • Friday, June 13, 2014 at 6:49 AM

    Thank You, Mila, for Telling Men to Stop Saying, ‘We’re Pregnant’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’ve been trying for years to disabuse expectant couples of the purportedly bonding, but plainly emasculating, affectation of saying, “We’re pregnant.” (Saying this would only be appropriate if the couple were lesbians … and they were both pregnant!)

    I am an avowed feminist. But close (female) friends will attest to my long-standing belief that the conscription of men into the process of childbirth is an unfortunate development of the feminist movement. Nothing betrays this misguided and unnatural foray quite like feminized men proclaiming with ambivalent pride, “We’re pregnant.”

    More to the point, my innate sense has always led me to suspect that witnessing my wife give birth would turn me off from seeing her (in the same way) as my lover ever again. Yet this same sense has always led me to suspect that watching my wife cradle our newborn child would probably stir feelings of unparalleled love.

    Clearly it’s an understatement to say that the psycho-sexual dynamics at play here are … complicated. But considering I have never been conscripted, I do not feel qualified to comment any further.

    (“Women, To Save Your Sex Life, If Not Your Marriage, Don’t Let Your Man See You Give Birth,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 2, 2012)

    Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 4.14.11 PM

    This is why I was so heartened on Tuesday when pregnant actress Mila Kunis delivered the following message on a special edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live:

    Hello, I’m Mila Kunis with a very special message for all you soon-to-be fathers: stop saying, ‘We’re pregnant.’ You’re not pregnant! When you wake up and throw up is it because you’re nurturing a human life? No. It’s because you had too many shots of tequila….

    (ABC News, June 10, 2014)

    Unfortunately, she overlooked the fact that women in heterosexual relationships say, “We’re pregnant,” too. Clearly the only appropriate thing for them to say is, “I’m pregnant.”

    On the other hand, if these women are so determined to emasculate their men, in this context, they could say, “I’m pregnant, but my hubby is becoming a really good midwife.”

    Related commentaries:
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  • Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    The World Cup – Brazil!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    FIFA-world-cup-Mascot-Wallpaper-HD1You do not have to be a fan of the “beautiful game” of soccer to be interested in the World Cup, which kicks off in Brazil today. Not least because, like the Olympics, the political, economic and cultural factors involved mean that it transcends sports.

    This is why the matches (and even who wins that coveted Cup) are relatively unimportant. What matters most is that Brazil puts on a good show. And it will; notwithstanding reports about lack of preparedness and ongoing civil strife that have given many cause for concern.

    But it has become de rigueur for preparations for every Olympics or World Cup to be dogged by reports about administrative incompetence and construction delays; not to mention financial skullduggery, which inspired The Economist to emblazon the cover of its current edition with the headline, “Beautiful game, Ugly business.”

    graphic_1371828801-300x252The problem is that, in this case, such reports have resonated and habituated as never before. Most notable are those about purportedly soccer-mad Brazilians taking to the streets, even today, to protest against their country hosting the World Cup, which must strike soccer fans around the world as tantamount to Germans taking to the streets to protest against their country hosting the Oktoberfest. Yet I sympathize with the protesters:

    It really is unconscionable to be raising transit fares on poor, working-class Brazilians, while gentrifying their neighborhoods to build billion-dollar stadiums and venues to host the soccer World Cup next year and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

    On the other hand, even if these protesters do not appreciate the reputational damage their actions are causing Brazil, their president is painfully aware that this ongoing unrest does not inspire confidence in the international community that Brazil will be able to host the World Cup…

    In fact, safety concerns surrounding the ‘warm-up’ Federation Cup could not be more dispiriting and inhibiting for foreign teams. And I fear only turning Brazil into a de facto police state will allay those concerns when it comes to the Olympics….

    (“Brazil’s Arab Spring-Style Protests,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 24, 2013)

    Meanwhile, airport and transit workers are threatening to strike to extract wage increases; the power grid could plunge the entire country into darkness at any moment, and universal concerns about match fixing could incite hooliganistic reaction to referee calls and final scores. These are just some of the political grievances, technical difficulties, and soccer scandals that could undermine the hospitality the Brazilian government clearly hopes to lavish on the 31 national teams and hundreds of thousands of visiting fans over the next four weeks.

    Despite the World Cup’s international popularity, the event remains a divisive issue among Brazilians themselves. A recent poll found that 72 percent are dissatisfied with their country’s current state, a mindset exacerbated by the government’s decision to spend billions of dollars to host a soccer tournament rather than to address the nation’s myriad domestic problems [especially related to infrastructure, education and health].

    (International Business Times, June 11, 2014)

    20140607_LDP001_0I’m convinced, however, that, just as it was in South Africa, jingoistic pride in Brazil will make all other issues seem utterly irrelevant once matches begin. More to the point, I’m confidant that Brazil will host a great tournament and that all fans (local and foreign) will be able to enjoy the matches in a relatively safe and festive environment, especially given that, just as I predicted, it has become, for all intents and purposes, a police state.

    Except that all bets are off, and God help the government, if heavily favored Brazil fails to win this World Cup, to say nothing of the fallout if it fails to win today’s opening match against Croatia….

    For the record, I am not a soccer fan.  What’s more, because no Caribbean country even qualified a national team, I don’t even have a jingoistic motivation to join the “nearly half of humanity [who] will watch at least part of the World Cup” – to quote The Economist.

    Nevertheless, just to make things more interesting for an old friend, who will be rooting his heart out for England, I’ve decided to bet on and root for Nigeria. (Winning the World Cup won’t cause those Boko Haram nincompoops to release the hundreds of schoolgirls they kidnapped recently, but it would provide this grieving and beleaguered country a much-needed boost of national pride.)

    140603145448-world-cup-620xaFinally, given my residency here, it would be ungracious of me not to mention the United States. Not that it has a prayer of winning, mind you. After all, here’s what no less a person than U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said about this prospect:

    [The U.S. national team] winning the World Cup, you know, is unrealistic. We shouldn’t be expected to win.

    (The Associated Press, June 11, 2014)

    Instead, the real story here is that Americans seem afflicted with the kind of World-Cup fever one would’ve expected to be epidemic among Brazilians. Nothing demonstrates this quite like the United States being the second-largest market for tickets, after Chile but ahead of Spain, which won the last World Cup in 2010.

    savuFinally, there’s this about the legacy of those South African vuvezelas:

    South Africans appear to be the only ones who have no problem with the monotonous blaring of vuvuzelas that are drowning out the cheers and jeers that normally imbue matches with their adversarial pathos.

    Even worse, they make it impossible for players and coaches to communicate on the pitch, and have even caused thousands of people to suffer permanent hearing loss. In fact, the sound of these vuvuzelas has become such a disquieting nuisance for fans watching via television around the world that some broadcasters (like the BBC) have begun filtering it out.

    (“South Africa on Verge of Being Kicked Out of World Cup,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 17, 2010)

    That I was roundly heckled as an imperialist party-pooper for writing this will probably surprise none of you. But this might:

    FIFA is coming down hard on celebratory noisemakers since they banned vuvuzelas from the 2014 Brazilian World Cup.

    In addition to the horns that plagued the 2010 South African World Cup, fireworks, food, megaphones, hooters, and banners larger than 32 square feet are also prohibited.

    (UPI, June 10, 2014)

    That’s vindication folks!

    Now let the matches begin! And may Nigeria win….

    Related commentaries:
    Brazil’s Arab Spring
    South Africa

  • Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Perhaps Only Authoritarian Regimes Can Govern Arab Countries

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Egypt’s-army-chief-Field-Marshal-Abdel-Fattah-al-SisiNothing affirms the proposition that only authoritarian regimes can govern Arab countries quite like the very Egyptians who protested against the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak being the ones now cheering for the authoritarian regime of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Especially given that al-Sisi seized power from the country’s first democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi in a military coup last summer.

    al-Sisi is ruling Egypt in a manner that makes Mubarak and Morsi look like Boy Scouts. [This] vindicates my early criticism of pro-democracy protesters [who gave no thought about the devil they knew in Mubarak being better than the devil they did not know in Morsi or al-Sisi….

    (“Egypt’s Arab Spring Spawns Brutal Military Dictatorship,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 25, 2014)

    No less affirming, though, is the ungovernable mess Iraq has become. Recall that, after overthrowing the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the United States declared that it was on a mission to:

    Build a democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.

    (Washington Post, April 3, 2007)

    Yet, when the United States ended its mission in December 2011, Iraq did not even qualify as a “flawed democracy,” let alone a “full democracy” – as the United States clearly intended… indeed promised. This assertion is based on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index of 2013”:

    The overall Democracy index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture. Countries are placed within one of four types of regimes: full democracies; flawed democracies; hybrid regimes; and authoritarian regimes.

    esch4_1So, far from leaving with its “Mission Accomplished,” the United States left with its mission a notorious, disastrous and ominous failure.

    In fact, Iraq has never been classified as anything more than a “hybrid regime” (i.e., one that allows “flawed” democratic elections but restricts democratic freedoms and civil society).

    It’s arguable, however, that the Institute of Economics and Peace’s “Peace Index of 2013” is far more significant. Not least because it measures the “security in society,” which is not only the most existential category, but the one without which the EIU’s categories (of civil liberties, political participation, etc.) are simply irrelevant.

    Therefore, it speaks volumes that, on the IEP’s index, several countries with authoritarian regimes, like the United Arab Emirates, rank higher than those with democratic governments, like the United States.

    Which brings me back to Iraq and its fledgling democracy:

    Iraq is suffering its worst violence in years, and with none of the myriad problems that contribute to the heightened unrest headed for quick resolutions, the bloodshed is likely to continue unabated.

    (Agence France-Presse, June 8, 2014)

    20140125_map503Just yesterday, Iraq’s democratically elected prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was making hollow pledges to combat Islamic militants who had just seized control of Mosul, the country’s second largest city. Hollow because al-Maliki made similar pledges in January after these same militants – comprised of al-Qaeda acolytes calling themselves, variously, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – seized control of Fallujah, a key city in western Iraq, which remains firmly under their control.

    (Recall that U.S. forces fought two battles to wrest control of Fallujah from insurgents in 2004. The second one was “the bloodiest battle in the entire war,” during which 95 U.S. troops were killed and 560 wounded.)

    When the truth is plain to see, there’s nothing more irritating than some idiot trying to convince me otherwise. But the consequences for me in such cases have never been anything to lose sleep – let alone my life – over. Alas, the same cannot be said for the families of loved ones serving in Iraq. Because they must suffer far more than irritation when idiots – up and down the chain of command in the Bush Administration – try to convince them that reports of Iraq being a lost cause are not true…

    Yesterday marked the 3rd Anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. And, if I were gullible enough to take President Bush and his salute-and-obey generals at their word, I would have expected to see Yankee Doodle-inspired parades in the streets of Baghdad – as grateful Iraqis fête U.S. military and civilian personnel with “rose petals and air kisses” for their liberation. The truth, of course, is that neither U.S. personnel nor most Iraqis dare walk the streets of Baghdad for fear of being caught in the crossfire of civil-war factions battling for control of this and other cities all over Iraq.

    But, imagine the absurdity, indeed the tragedy, of Ayad Allawi, the man the U.S. Congress hailed as the Abraham Lincoln of Iraq just 16 months ago, now proclaiming that stabilizing Iraqi is a lost cause, yet having Oval-office generals like Bush and VP Cheney trying to convince him and the world otherwise….

    (“Civil War in Iraq Is at Hand,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 20, 2006)

    The point is that there was clearly far greater security in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s 24-year authoritarian regime, as well as in Egypt under Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian regime, than there has been under the democratically elected governments that succeeded them. Indeed, one can hardly blame Iraqis for now emulating Egyptians by pining for the return of an authoritarian regime to restore peace and security.

    democracy2Beyond this, it’s instructive, perhaps even predictive, that Arab countries dominate the list of 51 countries governed by authoritarian regimes (whether military, monarchical, or clerical); whereas Western countries dominate the list of 25 countries governed by full democracies. In other words, show me an Arab country governed by a democratically elected government and I’ll show you one that is an ungovernable mess.

    Incidentally, the primary cause of this mess is the sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims that has been simmering in Arab countries since time immemorial, which only authoritarian regimes seem willing and/or able to keep a lid on. But ethnic conflict is often a contributing (or even the precipitating) cause, despite Arab countries being some of the most ethnically homogenous in the world.

    Afghan-anti-US-protestOf course, most glaring in this context is the fact that, after almost 13 years of trying to build an Afghanistan that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, security there today is no greater than it is in Iraq. Nothing demonstrates this quite like the Taliban – whose authoritarian regime U.S. forces ousted 13 years ago – being so insurgent that they seem destined to destabilize the democratically elected government of Afghanistan with even greater speed and ease (after the United States ends it mission in 2015) than Iraqi insurgents are destabilizing the democratically elected government of Iraq.

    Not to mention how emboldened the Taliban had to have become after forcing the United States just 10 days ago to release five of its top leaders from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, the one American POW they held captive for the past five years.

    And don’t get me started on the continuing folly of U.S. troops doing little more these days than providing human target practice for the Afghan troops they’re supposed to be training to fight the Taliban; or on the fatal irony of Taliban fighters so spooking U.S. troops that, just yesterday, they opened fire on fellow U.S. troops in a “friendly fire” incident that killed another five of them … for a cause that was already lost over 10 years ago.

    Frankly, I warned it would be thus, for example, here:

    The irony is not lost on me that McCrystal’s grim assessment [that with or without more troops failure in Afghanistan is likely] makes it woefully clear that nation building in Afghanistan (even under the guise of a ‘counterinsurgency strategy’) is no longer advisable or feasible. Indeed, all indications are that the die has been cast for this ‘good war.’

    Accordingly, the U.S. legacy there will be distinguished either by a terminally wounded national pride as American forces beat a hasty retreat in defeat (following the Russian precedent), or by thousands of American soldiers being committed to Afghanistan’s ‘graveyard of empires’ as it continues fighting this unwinnable war (following its own Vietnam precedent). And more troops only mean more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters.

    (“With or Without More Troops, Failure in Afghanistan Is Likely,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 23, 2009)

    And here:

    I declared from the outset that it was a march of folly to send big American land armies into Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, a few Special Forces aided by drones and cruise missiles could have exacted all of the retribution Americans could have wanted against Afghanistan’s Taliban and al-Qaeda for 9/11 in the first instance, and all of the revenge President Bush could have wanted against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein for attempting to assassinate his daddy in the second.

    (“Invading Iraq and Afghanistan Was Insane,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 1, 2011)

    iraq-warMeanwhile, regarding wasted blood and treasure: according to the Washington Post’s ongoing feature “Faces of the Fallen,” as of April 2014, the United States had already lost 6,805 soldiers trying to build “full democracies” in Iraq and Afghanistan; and a 2013 study from Harvard University estimates that, by the time the United States retreats from Afghanistan next year, it will have spent upwards of $6 trillion trying to do so.

    Not to mention the more than one hundred thousand Iraqi and Afghan civilians who lost their lives in the Bush Administration’s ill-fated attempt to reform their respective countries in America’s image.

    More to the point, though, prevailing and credible fears that ISIS/ISIL terrorists are on the march and the Taliban fighters are just lying in wait to topple democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively, not only make a mockery of U.S. nation-building efforts, but also betray the fact that those efforts (manifested in blood expended and treasure spent) were all in vain….

    NOTE: My weblog is replete with commentaries on events unfolding in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as with commentaries presaging them. Therefore, I shall have no further comment.

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  • Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 7:13 AM

    For Queen Elizabeth, To Abdicate, or Not To Abdicate, Is NOT the Question

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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)

    This quote only hints at my abiding belief that royalty is as anathema to democracy as atheism is to Christianity.

    article-2652058-1E9338F200000578-248_634x551No doubt this is why, despite my begrudging fondness for Queen Elizabeth II of England, I relished the parting shot King Juan Carlos of Spain hurled at her when he abdicated last week:

    King Juan Carlos told courtiers that he wanted to abdicate in favour of his son because he did not want his heir to ‘grow old waiting for the throne like Prince Charles.’

    [Touché!]

    The 76-year-old monarch, who announced last Monday that it was time for ‘a younger generation to step into the front line,’ is said to have been influenced in his decision to abdicate by the situation of the Prince of Wales, who at 65 is the oldest heir to the British throne for 300 years.

    (The Telegraph, June 8, 2014)

    The Waiting-for-Godot absurdity of Charles “waiting for Mummy to die” has been tabloid fodder for years. But the focus on this royal farce shifted from Charles’s brooding wait to Elizabeth’s preening reign last year, when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and King Albert II of Belgium, as well as the even more royal Pope Benedict VI of the Vatican, all abdicated for the same commendable, if not regal, reasons Juan Carlos abdicated this year.

    article-2652058-1E86149400000578-320_634x423After all, these abdications betray the self-importance inherent in Elizabeth’s professed view that it’s the solemn duty of every royal sovereign to reign until death.

    In fact, there has never been any question of her abdicating ever since she made the following declaration in her famous 21st Birthday Speech on April 21, 1947:

    I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and to the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.

    (royal.gov.uk)

    The prevailing suspicion is that Elizabeth wants to seal her legacy by becoming the longest-reigning British monarch by surpassing the 63 years, 216 days her great-great grandmother Victoria sat on the throne. She will accomplish this historic feat if she reigns until September 10 next year.

    But I suspect she has her sights on the European record of Bernard VII of Lippe who reigned for 81 years, 234 days; or, even higher, on the world record of Sobhuza II of Swaziland who reigned for 82 years, 254 days.

    47dada9d88cf78eb7056ffe0aa6c71a1Whatever the case, there’s no gainsaying that her view stems from an irrational fear that her abdication would bring the British monarchy into the same kind of public disrepute the 1936 abdication of her love-stricken uncle, Edward VIII, did.

    Except that the cognitive dissonance seems lost on Elizabeth that Edward’s choice of romantic love over royal duty looks positively heroic now compared to the scandals that have beset the British monarchy since then. Not to mention that, if this be her disqualifying precedent, Charles disqualified himself from being king when he effectively emulated Edward by divorcing his virgin bride to marry his divorced, home-wrecking mistress.

    Come to think of it, perhaps Elizabeth is just hoping the tampon-envying Charles will die waiting so that her scandal-free grandson, William, can inherit the throne….

    Mind you, surviving is only marginally more appealing for Charles. After all, given that the 88-year-old Elizabeth seems destined to live longer than her mother (who died at 101), he will be almost as old as she is today when/if he becomes king. Which would hardly inspire confidence in or hope for his geriatric reign.

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  • Sunday, June 8, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    Triple Crown Letdown … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    2014 Belmont Stakes

    I don’t get the emotional attachment so many people have to this horse. Then again, it probably takes understanding the psychology at play in Peter Shaffer’s Equus to get it. But I think racing horses for sport has all of the redeeming social value of cockfighting (or, given the Michael Vick scandal, dogfighting)…

    Barbaro, of course, was the latest winner — by one of the largest margins in history — of the Kentucky Derby. His win that had Equine mobs betting he would be the first horse to win the elusive Triple Crown since Affirmed did it almost 30 years ago [in 1978]. Only 11 horses have achieved the dubious honor of galloping to victory in the three grueling Triple Crown races – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes – over a five-week period….

    The sport of kings? Indeed! But so is fox hunting….

    (“National Mourning for a Horse? Puh-leeese,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 31, 2007)

    I share the above not only to disclose my abiding bias against horse racing, but also to show why I was not reveling in the national expectation that California Chrome would win yesterday’s Belmont Stakes and be crowned the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years. He placed 4th.

    Frankly, given that 12 horses have tried and failed to win this crowning race since Affirmed, I’m not sure why anybody expected California Chrome to become anything but the 13th.

    Steve-Coburn-NBCjpgThis is why the only thing noteworthy about yesterday’s spectacle is the instructive post-race rant California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn delivered for TV viewers.

    Here, in part, is what he said:

    I’ll never see – and I’m 61 years old – another Triple Crown winner in my lifetime because of the way they do this… If you don’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby you can’t run in the other two races…

    It’s all or nothing because this is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people and for all the people who believe in him. This is a coward’s way out, in my opinion.

    (Yahoo Sports, June 7, 2014)

    I could not agree more. I mean, who would be interested in watching a triathlon if jerks could skip the swimming and cycling, then jump in for the final running leg fully rested?

    In this case, only three horses in the field of 11 competed in all three races, and California Chrome bested the other two in all three. What’s more, that Affirmed won his crowning race at Belmont against a field that consisted almost entirely of horses that skipped one of the first two races does not negate this principle of fair play. This just, er, affirms what an exceptionally great horse Affirmed was.

    Therefore, instead of dismissing Coburn as a “sore loser,” the stewards of horse racing would do well to heed his cry for a rule change. For it’s bad enough that 90 percent of the fans of this sport show interest only in the Triple Crown races. But if this trend continues (of allowing horses to skip either of the first two races), not only will there never be another winner of the Triple Crown, even these three premier races will become no more popular than Polo matches, which are all played in relative obscurity.

    5387bf140ea8d.preview-699Incidentally, you too would probably go on a “we-was-robbed” rant if you watched your horse’s potential to earn tens of millions (from other races and stud fees) bite the dust the way Coburn did.

    Meanwhile, I’d bet my life savings that you cannot name the last of the 12 horses that went into the Belmont Stakes with a shot at becoming a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed; nor, more to the point, name the last horse that became the skunk at the party, which Belmont winner Tonalist became in New York yesterday — after skipping both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

    But it hardly matters because, by the time another horse has a shot, you won’t be able to name California Chrome or any of the other horses that ran in this latest equine farce either.

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  • Saturday, June 7, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    Makes more Sense for Obama to Negotiate with Terrorists than Republicans?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Jeff Koterba cartoon for June 6, 2014 "Bergdahl Prisoner Exchange"

    Their unwitting championing of Putin as a more admirable leader than Obama betrays the fact that far too many Republicans hate their president more than they love their country. Which is why they will say or do anything to undermine his presidency — the welfare of the country be damned.

    (“Checkmated on Crimea, Obama Plays for Rest of Ukraine,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 7, 2014)

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  • Friday, June 6, 2014 at 9:11 AM

    D-Day that ‘Saved the World’?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    149323_600Given the way Western leaders and media hail The Greatest Generation of Americans, Britons, and Canadians who “saved the world” 70 years ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that Russians played no part.

    This constitutes an historic oversight (or slight), which is at the root of so much of the resentment that has beset Russia’s relationship with the West ever since, making attempts to “reset” it so elusive.

    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 [defending Russia’s annexation of Crimea] 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.

    (“Putin Took Crimea More Out of Resentment and Fear than Imperial Ambition, The iPINIONS Journal, March 24, 2014)

    Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 9.38.09 AMThis quotes reflects a little of my ambivalence over the way Obama is leading Western efforts to sanction Putin for annexing Crimea – most notably disinviting him from this week’s G8 summit and pointedly reclassifying it as the G7.

    After all, I fully support Obama’s determination to prevent Putin from emulating Hitler’s military aggression with impunity. But I detest the “do as I say, not as I do,” arrogance, if not hypocrisy, inherent in Obama’s rallying cry. Frankly, I’m surprised he did not bite his tongue lecturing Russia in Brussels yesterday about invading a weak neighbor like Ukraine, given America’s invasion of weak neighbors like Grenada, Haiti, and Panama. Not to mention its far-flung misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    More to the point, though, far too many Westerners overlook the indispensable role Russians played, to say nothing of the sacrifices they made, to make D-Day the turning point of World War II (or as the Russians refer to it, the “Great Patriotic War”). Never mind the prevailing view among Russians that, by the time Westerners launched their D-Day offensive in 1944 (after steadfastly ignoring Russian entreaties from as early as 1942 to join the fight), Russia’s greatest generation of men had already effectively defeated the Germans.

    In any event, if you took a moment to reflect on this war and how world history has unfolded since, you too might agree that Putin had no choice but to “react” by flexing his muscles in Crimea.

    Of course, this is hardly the forum to expound on the Cold War. Just bear in mind that its outcome was as humiliating for Russians as the outcome of WWII was tragic for Germans. Indeed, it speaks volumes that Putin has famously lamented the former (i.e., the breakup of the Soviet Union) as the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 10.19.53 AMWith that, I urge you to consider these few points:

    • From the Russian perspective, President Hollande inviting Putin to France to hail the pivotal role Britons, Americans, and Canadians played in winning WWII is rather like Chancellor Merkel inviting Obama to Germany to hail the pivotal role Poles, Czechoslovaks, and Romanians played in winning the Cold War.
    • According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s SIPRI Military Expenditure Database (April 2014), the United States spends more to maintain its worldwide military dominion each year (at $640 billion) than the next eight countries combined, namely, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and India (at $607 billion).
    • The United States has between 700 and 1000 military bases in about 70 countries around the world. Russia has between 10 and 15 military bases in about 10 countries.
    • Americans would argue that, instead of invading, their host countries invited them to build every one of those bases.  But the Russians could argue with just as much conviction, even if not as much credibility, that host countries invited them too; not least in the case of Ukraine, where an infamous referendum three months ago authorized Russia to annex Crimea.
    • How do you think Americans would feel if Russians had military bases – complete with nuclear weapons – in places like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua; that is, the way Americans have them not just all over the world, but in so many countries right in Russia’s backyard? How do you think Americans would feel if Russians had aircraft carriers patrolling the Caribbean Sea, the way Americans have them patrolling all international waters, including the Black Sea?

    I feel obliged to note that much of the reporting on China’s first aircraft carrier fails to mention that the United States already has eleven of them. Even Italy and Spain have two each. By contrast, when it launches its carrier, China will join Russia, India, Brazil, Thailand, France, and England with just one…

    Even if China [or Russia] were to use its aircraft carrier to flex its military might around the world, it would merely be doing what the United States has been doing with self-righteous hegemony for decades.

    (“China’s First Aircraft Carrier Incites (more) Irrational Fear,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 9, 2011)

    • Only after fully grasping the unparalleled military dominion the United States has exercised on the world stage for decades can one then understand a little of Putin’s abiding resentment – his preternatural Napoleonic complex notwithstanding.

    Enough said?

    Mind you, despite these instructive points, I shudder to think of a world dominated by Russia instead of the United States. I just think the world would be an even better or safer place if the United States exercised its dominion with a little more understanding and humility and less self-righteousness and arrogance.

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  • Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 5:44 AM

    Maya Angelou, Abused Child, Diva Prostitute, and Celebrated Poet, Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Evidently, while I was incommunicado last week, the entire world was eulogizing Maya Angelou as if she were more living saint than poet laureate.

    Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time — a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman.

    (President Obama, whitehouse.gov, May 28, 2014)

    obit-maya-angelouNever mind that most people doing so probably could not explain what made her a poet laureate, let alone a living saint. This was brought into instructive relief yesterday when I asked a friend – who was still proffering beatifications about Angelou’s life – to help me understand her adulation by citing references to Angelou’s life and literary works.  Well, apart from some gibberish about “a phenomenal woman” and stuttering allusions to her best-selling 1969 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” my otherwise intelligent and putatively literate friend had nothing to say.

    This, I suspect, would be the experience if I (or you) were to ask the same of 99 percent of those eulogizing Angelou. Not least because Twitter has given far too many people the impression that parroting viral tweets, which parody everything but explain nothing, reflects cultural awareness. Um, ah, I digress.

    I hasten to note here that what I found most interesting about Angelou had nothing to do with her literary works, which, as far as I can tell, are mediocre at best. It’s telling, for example, that Angelou never enjoyed the critical acclaim won by Pulitzer Prize-winning peers like Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, Rita Dove, and the incomparable Toni Morrison – whose literary works even received the Nobel imprimatur.

    And don’t get me started on the fact that she borrowed the title to her most popular work from a poem by one of America’s many unsung Black poets, Paul Lawrence Dunbar. The poem, “Sympathy” (1899), is a lamentation on the pain and frustrations of living in Jim Crow America, which ends as follows:

    I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, –

    When he beats his bars and he would be free;

    It is not a carol of joy or glee,

    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,

    But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –

    I know why the caged bird sings!

    omag_200012_maya_109Frankly, it’s arguable that Angelou herself would have remained unsung if Oprah had not adopted her as a surrogate mother and promoted her as a literary genius … the way Oprah promotes all of her “favorite things.” To be fair, they probably bonded over their similar backgrounds, which includes suffering eerily similar childhood traumas.

    Still, even the unfailingly candid Angelou would have conceded that, but for her relationship with Oprah, she would not have been tapped for the highest literary honor of her career. This of course was being invited to read her poem, “On Pulse of Morning,” at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration ceremony in 1993. Yet I’d bet my life savings that neither you nor anyone you know could cite a single stanza of that 13-stanza epic….

    No, dearly beloved, what I found most interesting about Angelou had everything to do with her absolutely fascinating personal life. It’s remarkable enough that the most formative events of her childhood stemmed from unspeakable sexual abuse when she was around eight years old, which was accompanied by constant threats not only to her life, but to that of family members as well.

    The shame, fear, and guilt this abuse inflicted could only have been compounded by knowing that her uncles exacted revenge by killing her abuser – who happened to be her mother’s live-in boyfriend. The experience so traumatized Angelou that she became a mute, in every practical sense, for the next five years.

    Maya-Angelou1_2924236cBut her early years also included profound self-loathing (“What are you looking at me for?”), teenage pregnancy, itinerancy, prostitution (as sex worker and madam), and exposure to all manner of related vices – all in the context of the nascent Black struggle against overt racism and legal segregation.

    This makes her enviable “intellectual growth while still in the junkyard” all the more remarkable. What’s more, only this sassy combination of riveting intellect and street smarts, which she plied on forays into the worlds of entertainment, politics (including Pan-Africanism), and letters, explains how she ended up having friendships and love affairs with some of the most prominent people in Black and White America. They included everyone from Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X to Oprah, Bill Clinton, and Barak Obama – who bestowed upon her the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, at a White House ceremony in February 2011.

    Does my sexiness upset you?

    Does it come as a surprise

    That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

    At the meeting of my thighs?

    These four lines from “Still I Rise” only hint at her vaunted “sassiness.” But nothing about Angelou did it for me quite like the sound of her voice.  Her poems bespeak its eloquence. But its beguiling cadence and titillating timbre are to die for. I get excited just thinking about the fact that this world traveler could whisper sweet nothings in seven languages, including French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Fanti, a West African language, and Serbo-Croatian, which she proudly writes about learning in Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting Merry Like Christmas, the third volume of her autobiography).

    portrait-unveiling-maya-angelouIn fact, her dulcet and mesmerizing voice might explain why she won three Grammys for reading her poetry, but no Pulitzer for writing it. Still, those Grammys marked an astounding, even if ironic, achievement for a woman who spent so many of her formative years as a traumatized mute.

    Nobody personified the anthem of the Black struggle for civil rights, “We Shall Overcome,” more than Dr. Maya Angelou. And, as one who dismissed modesty as nothing more than “learned affectation,” she would accept this titular acclaim proudly.

    She died at her home in North Carolina last Wednesday.  She was 86.

    Farewell, Miss Maya.

  • Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 6:34 AM

    White Guilt Behind Acclaim of ‘12 Years A Slave’ and Lupita Nyong’o

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [Tokenism in Hollywood] remains such that members of the Academy seem racially averse to nominating more than one Black movie in any given year, let alone awarding Oscars to more than one. Only this explains why they completely shut out Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

    This slight against Mandela (or tokenism in favor of 12 Years a Slave) is brought into even starker relief when juxtaposed with the biopic of the only man who could be considered Mandela’s twentieth-century peer, Mahatma Gandhi. For members nominated Gandhi (1983) in 11 categories and awarded it the coveted Oscar in 8, including Best Picture. Enough said?

    (“The Oscar: My Picks,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 14, 2014)

    I suspect many of you share the view of those who accused me of tarnishing Hollywood’s celebration of 12 years A Slave with my “Afrocentric cynicism” – as illustrated above. This, notwithstanding that the way The Oscars played out actually vindicated my cynicism.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 7.54.58 PM

    Well, perhaps having no less a person than a duly acclaimed White Hollywood screenwriter echo my take will disabuse you of this fairytale view:

    The British screenwriter of last year’s Nelson Mandela biopic has complained that Oscar voters ignored his film because 12 Years a Slave sucked up all the guilt about black people.’

    William Nicholson spent 15 years working on Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom [which starred Idris Elba as the South African leader]. ‘They were so exhausted feeling guilty about slavery that I don’t think there was much left over to be nice about our film.’

    (The Telegraph, May 31, 2014)

    Enough said, now?

    wmb-600Except that, in that same March 14 commentary, I presaged how this patronizing White guilt would extend to (the White editors of) People magazine naming Lupita Nyong’o ‘the most beautiful person of the year:’

    She has become such the ‘It Girl’ in the fashion industry that members of the Academy will probably consider the transformation from her look on screen to her look in real life even more impressive than McConaughey’s [who went from looking like a Holocaust survivor back to looking like a Health & Fitness model]. Never mind that Lupita is no more the It Girl in the fashion industry than Susan Boyle was in the music industry — until pop tarts like Rihanna, Miley, and Taylor put her back in her place.

    In any event, it’s too bad her transformation includes ruining her natural beauty by straightening her hair. Before you know it, she’ll not only be wearing blond wigs but lightening her skin too.

    Interestingly enough, Lupita herself signaled the end of her 15 minutes as fashion’s It Girl, when she showed up at the annual Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards on Monday wearing a jumpsuit and makeup more suited for Bozo the Clown and a wig that looked like something a Chia Pet grew.

    cdb6bda7-1adb-4f78-9211-32b77429b3b5-319x480Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.56.46 AM

     

    Indeed, as if to reinforce this point, guess who the CFDA named as its Fashion Icon of the year?

    rihanna-cfda-awards-2014

     

    Rihanna!

    She’s clearly the more stylish woman—who just happens to be naturally whiter-skinned … too. Granted, the CFDA had to overlook the contradiction inherent in awarding a fashion icon award to a woman who has a penchant for appearing in public in various stages of undress.

    article-2646595-1E6BC89C00000578-315_964x523

    Be still my…

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