• Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Obama Amassing Coalition to Do in Syria What Bush Did in Afghanistan/Iraq… 

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    And Putin is trolling him with a coalition of his own … to do the same.

    American-trained Syrian fighters gave at least a quarter of their U.S.-provided equipment to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria early this week, the U.S. Central Command said late Friday.

    In a statement correcting earlier assertions that reports of the turnover were a “lie” and a militant propaganda ploy, the command said it was subsequently notified that the Syrian unit had “surrendered” some of its equipment — including six pickup trucks and a portion of its ammunition — to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s arm in Syria.

    The acknowledgment is the latest discouraging report regarding the $500 million train-and-equip program, which Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, head of Central Command, said last week had only ‘four or five’ trained Syrian fighters active in Syria.

    (The Washington Post, September 25, 2015)

    Humiliating? Farcical? Unbelievable? Absolutely!

    Obama_arms_Syrian_rebelsExcept that here, in part, is how I warned it would be thus:

    If the Afghans and Iraqis Americans spent over a decade training to govern themselves, defend themselves, and sustain themselves can’t stand on their own against a rag-tag bunch of Taliban fighters and rampaging ISIS terrorists, respectively, then they deserve whatever fate befalls them. To say nothing of the dreadful spectacle of so many of those the U.S. trained either turning their guns directly on U.S. troops — in now notorious ‘green-on-blue’ killings, or using that training to professionalize the ranks of terrorist groups like ISIS.

    Incidentally, Obama is making quite a show of seeking congressional authorization to train ‘moderate’ Syrian fighters as part of his war on terrorism strategy. But, consistent with the foregoing, nothing betrays the wishful thinking inherent in this quite like the shameful (and ultimately sacrificial) way thousands of U.S.-trained Iraqi troops threw down their U.S.-made weapons, abandoned their U.S.-made military vehicles, and hightailed it from just a few hundred poorly equipped ISIS fighters.

    (“Demystifying ISIS: Case against Obama’s Bush-lite War on Terrorism,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 10, 2014)

    Meanwhile, in light of ‘Breaking News’ about the Taliban recapturing a major city in Afghanistan, I reprise this warning – from “Perhaps Only Authoritarian Regimes Can Govern Arab Countries,” June 11, 2014. It pertains to the abiding fecklessness and futility of Americans trying to manage internecine conflicts throughout the Muslim world that have variously simmered and erupted for over a thousand years.

    __________________

    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.

    Of 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.

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    In any event, here are just a few of the points I delineated in the above-quoted “Demystifying ISIS” as the only sensible strategy for dealing with this jihadi menace.

    • If your enemies are hell-bent on fighting among themselves  – as Sunnis vs. Shiites, al-Qaeda vs. ISIS, Sunni moderates vs. Sunni extremists (aka ISIS) – are doing get out of the way! I have belabored this point in such commentaries as “Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America!” June 19, 2014.
    • t95d899_Campaign-SyriaRussia-500If Russia wants to ape your folly by wasting blood and treasure trying to settle/manage sectarian conflicts throughout the Muslim world, let it! Perhaps Russia can do for Syria (and to itself) over the next twelve years what the United States did for Iraq (and to itself) over the past twelve. It’s patently delusional, for example, for Putin to think that Russian airstrikes will be able to shape developments on the ground any more than American airstrikes have … despite a whole year of sorties. Alas, just as the United States did not learn the lessons of its ill-fated war in Vietnam, it appears Russia did not learn the lessons of its equally ill-fated war in Afghanistan. Mind you, this is just the latest in what I have commented on in such commentaries as “Putin’s Military Maneuvers Just Mercenary Distractions,” June 18, 2015,  and “Ukraine’s Orange Revolution Turns ‘Red,’” February 25, 2014. Specifically, here is an excerpt from the latter, which explains why his motivation in this case is more about saving Putin’s Russia than saving Assad’s Syria.

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    It would make a mockery of the Cold-War principles he governs by if Putin allows these Ukrainian revolutionaries to put his puppet Yanukovych on trial — the way Egyptian revolutionaries are doing with their former leaders Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi; or worse, if he allows them to execute Yanukovych in the streets like a bunch of hungry hyenas devouring a gazelle — the way Libyan revolutionaries did with Muammar Gaddafi.

    After all, Putin has made no secret of his contempt for what he decried as Obama’s failure to protect America’s puppet leader, Mubarak, from avenging mobs.

    Let me hasten to clarify, however, that Putin’s contempt was and remains entirely self-interested. He makes quite a show of standing in solidarity with despots like Ben Ali of Tunisia, Yanukovych of Ukraine, and Assad of Syria. But he does so only because he lives in mortal fear that the popular uprisings that toppled them might topple him too. Period.

    This is why he must’ve been a little unnerved yesterday when even pro-Russian Ukrainians began calling for Yanukovych’s head after they got a glimpse of the obscenely opulent, Louis-XVI lifestyle he was living at their expense. So just imagine what Putin’s peasant supporters in Russia would want to do to him if they were suddenly presented with clear and convincing evidence that he lives a lifestyle that’s a thousand times more extravagant than Yanukovych’s, having amassed billions in ill-gotten gains over the years as a KGB officer turn politician.

    After eight years in power, Putin has secretly accumulated a fortune of more than $40bn. The sum would make him Russia’s (and Europe’s) richest man.

    (“Putin, the Kremlin Power Struggle and the $40bn Fortune”, The London Guardian, December 21, 2007)

    Trust me, Putin lords over a kleptocracy that has fleeced public funds on such an unprecedented scale, it makes the kleptocracies African despots lord over seem petty. Which of course is why he is so anxious to stoke the combustible geopolitical crisis in Ukraine to deflect the international media from drawing unavoidable parallels between Yanukovych’s dubious accumulation of wealth and his. Far better, for example, to get Russians drunk with pan-Russian pride than to have them pose sober questions about the billions he and his cronies embezzled from the $50-billion price tag for the Sochi Olympics.

    __________________

    • If radicalized Americans want to go to Syria to fight and die in those conflicts, let them!
    • If any American sets foot in Syria or Iraq, and there’s probable cause to believe he might have been fighting with Islamic terrorists, make a public show of arresting him and letting him rot in prison. This prospect is so terrorizing I suspect most terrorists would rather die over there than be imprisoned over here – as Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Richard Reid would readily attest.

    153Incidentally, I appreciate how disqualifying my strategy might be given that Donald Trump, of all people, is now parroting it.

    But bear in mind that no less a person than Obama used to champion the wisdom of withdrawing from such foreign entanglements to focus on building up the United States. Only God knows why he started aping Bush by bombing up Arab states … to no avail. I have lamented his political morphing (in this respect) in such commentaries as “Obama Aping Bush on Mideast Peace Too,” September 7, 2010.

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
    Demystifying ISIS
    Authoritarian regimes
    Sunnis, Shias, Kurds
    Putin’s military maneuvers
    Obama Aping Bush

  • Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at 7:27 AM

    Catalonia: Spain’s Kosovo Problem – Act II

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Pro-independence parties in Spain’s Catalonia region have won an absolute majority in regional elections…

    The separatists say the victory gives them a clear mandate to form an independent Catalan state.

    Spain’s central government in Madrid has pledged to challenge any unilateral moves towards independence in court

    (BBC, September 28, 2015)

    36763411

    I’ve been commenting on pro-independence developments in this rich and restive region of Spain for years, prefiguring much of what is unfolding there today.

    Therefore, in light of Sunday’s vote, I shall suffice to reprise “Catalonia: Spain’s Kosovo Problem – Act I,” October 1, 2012.

    ___________________

    It smacks of rank hypocrisy for the British [who went to war to reinforce sovereignty over the Falkland Islands] to be denouncing the Serbs for merely threatening to go to war to reinforce sovereignty over Kosovo…

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

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

    This, in part, is how I criticized the double standard the United States and Europe were imposing on Serbia – not just by supporting, but by actually facilitating Kosovo’s independence. I was convinced that these Western powers were setting a precedent that would come home to roost (everywhere from Quebec to Cyprus). Now it has.

    catalonia-mapOn Thursday, lawmakers in the Catalan region of Spain (Catalonia) emulated their counterparts in the Kosovo region of Serbia by voting to hold a referendum on independence. It is noteworthy that three weeks of streets protests prompted this legislative move.

    Except that a “Yes” vote in Kosovo was guaranteed. It is not in Catalonia. Frankly, Catalans seem more interested in escaping the  austerity measures (a.k.a. economic oppression) that have Greeks protesting in the streets than in gaining independence..

    Generations-old grievances for more self-government and recognition of their culture are rising to the surface as the economic downturn bites…

    Spain’s slump, which has led to a spike in unemployment and harsh austerity cuts, has proven to be the tipping point for many Catalans who used to be against or ambivalent about seeking their own state.

    (Associated Press, September 30, 2012)

    The real issue, though, is whether Western powers will support and facilitate independence for Catalonia the way they did for Kosovo. After all, Catalonia has an equally compelling case for independence. What’s more, its non-violent means stands in commendable and instructive contrast to the violence that attended Kosovo independence.

    Not to mention how this Catalan movement stands in contrast to the more infamous, and perhaps more relevant, example its sister region of Basque set. It, you may recall, engaged in a decades-long (futile) struggle for independence – complete with ETA terrorists doing throughout Spain back then what Taliban terrorists are doing throughout Afghanistan today.

    But the vested interest in holding Spain together (economically and politically) is such that, even if Catalonia were to vote “Yes,” Western powers would surely conspire to nullify it. Which brings me back to the double standard Kosovo represents.

    Because, just as Serbia argued that a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo was illegal/unconstitutional, Spain is arguing that a vote for independence by Catalonia is illegal/unconstitutional. Yet, where Western powers rejected and undermined Serbia’s argument, they will undoubtedly embrace and champion Spain’s.

    Notwithstanding this overweening double standard, however, Catalans themselves must know that their non-violent movement stands even less of a chance of leading to independence than the Basques’ violent movement.

    Nevertheless,  ‘autonomous’ regions in other countries – among them Iraq’s Kurdistan, Italy’s South Tyrol, Belgium’s Flemish and Walloon, even China’s Uyghur – are bound to tempt fate (for political, cultural and/or economic reasons) by following the powder-keg precedent Kosovo set….

    __________________

    Your move, Madrid.

    Related commentaries:
    Kosovo
    Spain’s Kosovo problem

  • Monday, September 28, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    Migrant Invasion Causing Humanitarian Remorse in Germany

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [M]illions could be wandering through Europe, in migrant formation, before the end of the year. At that rate, Europe might end up with a majority non-White population before the United States…

    Germans are greeting this first wave of migrants with banners, cheers, and food. But don’t be surprised if these same Germans are hurling xenophobic epithets at sequent waves a few months from now — as predictable strains/conflicts, especially with respect to gainful employment and welfare benefits, become manifestly untenable.

    (“European Migration Crisis: Sowing Seeds of Unintended, but all too Foreseeable Consequences,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 7, 2015)

    Clearly, I posited that it would be only a matter of months before Germans begin feeling humanitarian remorse. I was wrong. It was only a matter of weeks. merkel

    Consider this vindicating report from the September 22 edition of the New York Times:

    With record numbers of migrants pouring across the Hungarian border and rushing west, Germany, the country that had been the most welcoming in Europe, suddenly ordered temporary border restrictions on Sunday that cut off rail travel from Austria and instituted spot checks on cars…

    The restrictions put in place by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government were seen as a strong sign — if not an outright message — to other European Union members that Germany was growing weary of shouldering so much of the burden in Europe’s largest humanitarian crisis in decades without more help and cooperation from other nations.

    For others, though, the concern was that if even the richest and most powerful nation in the 28-member union was showing signs of reaching its limit, how would Europe be able to find a path through a seemingly ceaseless refugee emergency?

    ss-150917-migrants-protest-07-jpo_b6d40f85b389cc6f4585648acf0ef3bc.nbcnews-fp-1200-800 And consider this more dramatic, but no less credible, report from the September 25 edition of the Daily Mail:

    Germany in a state of SIEGE: Merkel was cheered when she opened the floodgates to migrants. Now, with gangs of men roaming the streets and young German women being told to cover up, the mood’s changing…

    There is now deepening disquiet in this Christian country, dotted with churches, that it is being overwhelmed by people of a different religion and culture.

    download (33)Meanwhile, that rich as Croesus Saudi Arabia has refused to open its borders to resettle a single Muslim migrant must suffuse this changing mood in Germany with resentment. And viral (i.e., unsubstantiated) reports about Saudi Arabia offering to build 200 mosques in Germany for resettled migrants to worship (or to be radicalized) could only have fuelled this resentment. After all, the Saudis have a well-earned reputation as the Wahhabi grand wizards of Islamic jihad – who would rather fill the minds of poor Muslims with their radical version of Islam than put a single morsel of food in their bellies.

    In any event, I also posited in my September 7 commentary that this migrant crisis poses a far greater risk to EU accord than the Greek economic crisis. That risk came into stark relief last week when the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia voted against a policy to apportion 120,000 migrants among member states, defying the tradition of adopting EU policies by consensus. And, as the New York Times duly noted, that number represents “only a small fraction of those flowing into Europe.” Accordingly, I reiterate from September 7:

    European leaders should coordinate comprehensive humanitarian interventions, enabled and protected by NATO (not UN) forces, to contain would-be migrants within their borders. It’s clearly far better to provide local safe havens than for migrants to continue risking life and limb, only to end up in splendid desolation in Europe or in fetid isolation in internment camps, where millions are being detained today in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and, increasingly, in Hungary.

    As it happens, no less a person than former General David Petraeus, arguably the world’s top military and geopolitical strategist, has now endorsed my strategy for dealing with this migration crisis:

    Mr. Petraeus, in his first public testimony since resigning as director of the C.I.A. in 2012, told a Senate committee that the United States should establish safe havens in Syria where a moderate rebel force could operate and displaced Syrians could find refuge under the protection of American and allied air power. (New York Times, September 22, 2015)

    Incidentally, much is being made of U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting at the UN today to discuss a military alliance to defeat ISIS. No doubt this alliance can prove every bit as successful as the one U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and USSR President Joseph Stalin forged during WWII to defeat the Nazis.

    Obama meets with Vladimir Putin during the G8 Summit at Lough Erne in EnniskillenExcept that Putin seems even more determined to divide the spoils of war in Syria between East and West than Stalin was to divide the spoils of war in Germany along similar lines after WWII. That division proved the defining moment of Cold War I. This division could prove the defining moment of Cold War II.

    Never mind that Putin has been waging this cold war from day one of his presidency – with the de facto division of Ukraine (complete with Russia’s annexation of Crimea) being his crowning achievement to date.

    Still, Obama and Putin would do well to spend far more time discussing strategies to contain this migration than they do discussing strategies to defeat ISIS.

    For, on the one hand, even though a very humanitarian gesture, dealing with waves of Syrians migrating to Europe by resettling them is as foolhardy and unsustainable as dealing with waves of Mexicans migrating to the United States by employing them. Indeed, when the United States granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants in 1986, it only encouraged millions more to follow their path. Likewise, I fear, when the EU agreed last week to resettle 120,000 migrants, it only encouraged hundreds of thousands more to follow their path.

    Frankly, to date, the European response to this migration crisis has amounted to the triumph of heartrending folly over mindful good sense. The irony, however, is that as many migrants will probably soon regret migrating to Europe as the number of Europeans who already regret welcoming them.

    On the other hand, I have argued for years that, if only left to their own devices, the warring Muslim factions in Syria (Iraq and Afghanistan) would probably be too busy fighting each other to pose any threat to Westerners (or anyone else). Hell, in such commentaries as “Moderate Muslims Too Busy Fighting Each Other to Fight Extremists,” July 31, 2015, I’ve even pointed out why it’s plainly foolhardy for Obama and Putin to depend on moderates in the region to help them defeat ISIS.

    All the same, God/Allah help these misguided Europeans … and these forsaken Muslim migrants.

    Related commentaries:
    Europe migration
    Moderate Muslims

  • Saturday, September 26, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    The Point of Ben Carson’s Presidential Candidacy…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 8.22.34 PM

    Evidently, it’s to show how even a brain surgeon can be an ignorant fool.

    He truly distinguished himself in this respect last week by declaring that we should never:

    … put a Muslim in charge of this nation.

    (The Washington Post, September 20, 2015)

    But nothing has betrayed his Uncle Tomfoolery quite like Carson parroting the dogma of his political massa, Rush Limbaugh, by denouncing Obama’s efforts to provide healthcare for poor Americans as:

    … the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.

    (MEDIAite, October 11, 2013)

    This man is an embarrassment to his profession … and to his race.

  • Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 7:56 PM

    Love the Pope, Not His Message…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    8856505_GAmericans are rolling out the red carpet for Pope Francis in ways never seen before.

    The unprecedented pomp and ceremony began with both President Obama and Vice President Biden leading a delegation to greet him at the airport on Tuesday, when he set foot on U.S. soil for the first time in his life.

    The irony, of course, is that Francis is probably the only world leader who would prefer less pomp and ceremony among high-ranking officials, and more meet and greet among ordinary folks.

    Nothing betrays this irony, or telegraphs his preference, quite like watching the pope’s presidential-style motorcade moving around the streets of Washington, DC. For it speaks volumes to see the juxtaposition of the tiny, cheap Fiat in which Francis insists on being chauffeured with the big, expensive limousines escorting it.

    Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 7.52.15 PM

    This will be thrown into even sharper relief over the next few days, as his motorcade navigates the streets of New York City along with those of over 160 other world leaders, who are gathering for the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. After all, each of them will be looking to partake of all the pomp and ceremony Francis eschews, including being chauffeured around in big, expensive limousines.

    Indeed, what distinguishes the pontiff from every other world leader is his abiding message of personal humility and public service.

    Apropos of which, here, in part, is what I wrote – in “Habemas Papam: Hail,Francis!” March 13, 2013 – the day he was elected pope.

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    The prevailing wisdom is that Bergoglio intends to return the Church back to its basic mission of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Arguably, he telegraphed his intent by choosing Francis as his papal name, while paying homage to St. Francis of Assisi — who was a bone fide champion of the poor…

    [Pope Francis] might instruct the cardinals (aka the ‘princes’ of the Church for Christ’s sake) to follow his example by giving up their fancy apartments, cooks, and chauffeured limousines. But I suspect cardinals will be even less willing to follow the pope’s instruction in this respect than lay Catholics have been to follow the cardinals’ instruction with respect to contraception.

    That the pope is only doing what Jesus would do indicates how much leaders of the Catholic Church have perverted and corrupted their holy mission. Indeed, that Bergoglio is the first pope to honor St. Francis is testament to how little interest even his predecessors have had throughout the ages in living lives of humility, simplicity, and poverty … as Jesus did.

    ___________________

    0924pope-congress08

    As it happens, Francis vindicated my take today, as he became the first pope to address a joint session of Congress. For here is how he crystallized the message of his papacy:

    Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

    (Matthew 7:12)

    But, as any student of religious dogma and political philosophy will tell you, this Golden Rule is just the Christian version of the socialist credo: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

    Which of course is why, as much as the rich and powerful may love this pope, they are loath to accept his message. It is also why, as much as Americans will remember the pomp and ceremony that occasioned his visit, few will remember his message. Never mind that he addressed everything from climate change to caring for the poor, the immigration/migration crisis, and the sanctity of human life. Alas, the Golden Rule is, for all practical purposes, un-American!

    19-1n004-5-cardinal1-c-ta-300x300To be fair, though, even cardinals are showing little signs of emulating the pontiff’s ways. Not least because this would require them to live like paupers, whereas they have become accustomed to living like princes, religiously. Indeed, no cardinal personifies this princely way of shepherding the poor quite like His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan – the Archbishop of New York who will be hosting Francis during his stay.

    Meanwhile, I was a little dismayed by the way Francis undermined his own mission – of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, during a prayer service at St. Mathew’s Cathedral with U.S. bishops yesterday.

    Specifically, he commended the bishops for the courageous and generous way they dealt with “the scourge” of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests; notwithstanding that these are the very bishops who abetted and covered up much of that abuse. Yet he offered nary a word of comfort or compassion to the victims of this clerical neglect and pastoral abuse. I pray he atones for this sin of omission before ending his historic visit.

    I feel obliged to note that, for all the praise being heaped on him as a revolutionary, the pope is actually reinforcing his church’s traditional edicts on such issues as women priests, homosexuality, and abortion. He’s just sensible enough to appreciate that there would be many more people in the pews if priests humbled themselves by preaching social justice/liberation theology, which addresses the suffering of the poor, instead of playing God by passing moral judgment on the personal choices (good) people make.

    I suppose this is why the pope had no compunction about banishing Germany’s Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst (aka ‘Bishop Bling’) to an ascetic monastery for spending $43 million to renovate his pastoral digs, but seems ambivalent about disciplining the gay cabal that has turned Vatican City into a latter-day Sodom….

    (“Pope Francis Condemns the Cult and Idolatry of Money,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 27, 2013)

    Still, there’s no denying that America is lavishing Francis with unprecedented reverence, adulation, and respect – complete with wall-to-wall TV coverage worthy of a natural disaster or a shooting rampage. But don’t get me started on the way politicians are jostling to bask in his holy glow; you know, the way kids are jostling to snap selfies with him.

    But am I the only one who wonders why security officials are closing so many streets in DC and NYC for his papal visit, given that they did not take such extraordinary measures for visits by his predecessors. One would have thought, after all, that if ever there were a pope in need of relatively little security, it is Francis – who is affectionately known as “the people’s pope.”

    Related commentaries:
    Habemas papam
    Francis condemns

  • Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 8:58 AM

    Transformative Presidents: Nixon to China; Obama to Cuba

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 8.13.29 PM

    Obama authorizes raft of business dealings with Cuba:

    The White House on Friday announced wide-ranging changes to loosen travel, commerce and investment restrictions on Cuba, moving to fulfill President Obama’s goal of breaking down barriers between Washington and Havana…

    They are to take effect on Monday on the eve of the visit to Washington by Pope Francis, a proponent of the reconciliation between the United States and Cuba who quietly helped broker the agreement last year between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro.

    Mr. Obama spoke to Mr. Castro by telephone on Friday to discuss the normalization process.

    (New York Times, September 18, 2015)

    It speaks volumes about the significance of Cuba among Caribbean nations that Francis will be the third pope (following John Paul II and Benedict XVI) to make a papal visit. Especially considering that Francis will only be the fourth pope to visit the United States.

    John Paul II, the peripatetic pope, was the first one to visit many countries around the world, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic (3), Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Jamaica, and The Bahamas (albeit a mere stopover).

    In any event, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood….

    Related commentaries:
    U.S./Cuba open embassies

  • Friday, September 18, 2015 at 7:49 AM

    Why Is Any Self-Respecting Adult Still Watching the VMAs?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Unknown3I took a lot of flak four years ago for dismissing the VMAs and damning the music industry as follows:

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

    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 (or, for you older folks, think of all of the off-stage exhibitionism that rendered the music of artists like Grace Jones and Madonna irrelevant).

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

    This flak came mostly from sophomoric adults who derive their self-esteem from catfish postings on Facebook and photoshopped images on Instagram; or from purported music fans who are more interested in pop stars who can brand themselves like Kim than sing their songs like Adele.

    Therefore, it speaks volumes that even the sophomoric, gossip website TMZ dismissed this year’s VMAs as follows:

    If you missed the 2015 VMAs last night, you missed dumb people doing dumb things while wearing dumb outfits and talking about dumb stuff.

    (August 31, 2015)

    But the respected news website Salon truly vindicated me. For it dismissed the whole zeitgeist, in which music videos are more about going viral on social media than providing visuals to enhance the enjoyment of good music. Here is an excerpt, which appeared under this mouthful of a headline: “The insipid hell of the VMAs: Why pop culture’s obsession with ‘Big Moments’ is cynical, stupid & deeply boring. What are we doing still watching this thing?”

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    In a world where teenagers become mega-famous on Vine without so much as piercing the broader consciousness, the knowledge that the VMAs are still there is almost comforting. Websites hungry for easily consumed bits of content know that they will be able to dine out for days on the slideshows, gif lists and thinkpieces (guilty as charged!) any big thing seems to generate these days.

    The downside of all of this is that everything gets ground up into the same, ultra-cynical feedback loop.

    __________________

    Frankly, you know pop music has become little more than self-indulgent performance art when even vaudevillian queen Grace Jones begins complaining. After all, Grace pioneered the triumph of performance art (on and off stage) over song and dance. Yet, in the September 10 edition of the Daily Mail – she dismissed pop stars like Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Nicki Minaj as being so bereft of talent, they’re just giving audiences crude versions of the sexualized schtick she performed decades ago (and is still pulling off remarkably well today … at 67).

    Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 8.17.34 PM

    With that, I drop the mic on pop music.

    NOTE: MTV aired the VMAs on August 30. I’m only just getting to this commentary because I was on holiday then, and had other far more interesting things to write about since returning on September 6. Did you watch? Will you continue watching?

    Related commentaries:
    VMAs

  • Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 8:17 AM

    Obama: from Community Organizer to Geopolitical Grandmaster?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Alfred W. McCoy, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is getting a lot of attention for offering what many are hailing as a unique perspective on the Obama presidency. This excerpt from “Grandmaster of the Great Game,” Huffington Post, September 15, 2015, might explain why.

    _________________

    In ways that have eluded Washington pundits and policymakers, President Barack Obama is deploying a subtle geopolitical strategy that, if successful, might give Washington a fighting chance to extend its global hegemony deep into the twenty-first century.

    After six years of silent, sometimes secret preparations, the Obama White House has recently unveiled some bold diplomatic initiatives whose sum is nothing less than a tri-continental strategy to check Beijing’s rise. As these moves unfold, Obama is revealing himself as one of those rare grandmasters who appear every generation or two with an ability to go beyond mere foreign policy and play that ruthless global game called geopolitics.

    ___________________

    obamatax1

    Except that there’s nothing unique about Professor McCoy’s perspective. After all, I’ve been chronicling Obama’s political mastery for years in such commentaries as “New Sanctions on Iran: Naïve or Shrewd,” June 15, 2010, “Obama Planting Political Seeds for Success,” April 7, 2010, and “Obama’s Swing Right Alienates Left,” November 24, 2009, which includes this prescient excerpt.

    ___________________

    Far too many liberals are being swayed by conservative spin about Obama’s domestic policy agenda being too unfocused and his foreign policy being too soft. Not to mention the political naiveté being displayed by those who are already calling him a ‘sellout.’

    They fail to appreciate that Obama is merely planting political seeds this year (e.g., on the economy, healthcare, Iran, and even in his dealings with rabidly partisan Republicans) that he reasonably expects will blossom (i.e., pay dividends) in due course…

    This means that, like the most successful presidents in modern times (namely Reagan and Clinton), Obama is perfectly prepared to sacrifice short-term popularity (and a few congressional Democrats) to ensure his re-election and presidential legacy.

    ___________________

    china-ss-06-02-13Never mind that there was nothing “subtle” about Obama’s declared intent to “pivot to Asia.” After all, this geopolitical strategy had him making quite a show of championing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and joining the East Asia Summit. His aim is clearly to check China’s political influence and contain its military aggression throughout the region, respectively.

    All the same, I commend the professor for recognizing that the “moves” Obama made years ago are beginning to unfold in ways that heretofore have eluded most Washington pundits and policymakers. But I hope I can be forgiven a little indignation – given that I recognized those moves as Obama, the geopolitical grandmaster, was making them during the early days of his presidency.

    That said, I feel compelled to clarify that I’m not one of those Obama-can-do-no-wrong supporters.

    In fact, I’m on record denouncing the way he championed Arab Spring protesters, whose misguided and uncompromising protests have produced little more than a perennial winter of discontent. Given the mess Bush caused by toppling Hussein of Iraq, you’d think Obama would have nothing to do with toppling dictators like Mubarak of Egypt, Gaddafi of Libya and Assad of Syria (still unfolding).

    post-1709-0-09345100-1387139354

    What’s more, I have admonished that it’s sheer folly for the United States to be trying to settle sectarian conflicts, which have been raging in the Muslim world for over a thousand years. I have lamented this folly in commentaries as far back as “The Shotgun Convention of Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds to Frame an Iraqi Constitution,” August 22, 2005, and as recent as “Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America” June 19, 2014. After all, this is even more like political quicksand than trying to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

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  • Wednesday, September 16, 2015 at 7:38 AM

    Zimbabwe’s Black Farmers Cry: Bring Back White Farmers

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The following is an excerpt from “Zimbabweans Pray for Liberation from their Liberator, Robert Mugabe,” March 29, 2005.

    It attests to my abiding lamentation on President Mugabe’s willful intent to ruin his country’s farmland and, by extension, its agrarian economy – all in the name of Black liberation.

    __________________

    The Mugabe government of Zimbabwe is the most corrupt, dysfunctional, and incompetent in Africa. And, on a continent that has the most corrupt, dysfunctional, and incompetent governments in the entire world, Mugabe’s achievement in this regard is a truly dubious distinction…

    Two decades after independence, a herd of white farmers still managed the most profitable sector of Zimbabwe’s economy: agriculture. And, for a proud Black freedom fighter who promised not only political but also economic liberation from the White man, this fact hovered as a glaring humiliation and contradiction over Mugabe’s leadership. In 2000, he decided to do something about it…

    zimbawe-black-power-farm-02To the relief and exultation of restive Blacks, Mugabe announced sweeping land reforms in which his government would seize the ‘farms of white colonialists to give to landless peasants and the veterans of the war of liberation.’

    Unfortunately, like his plan for Black economic empowerment, Mugabe’s plan for land reforms has been an abject failure:

    Five years ago, there were 4000 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe; today, there are only 400 (mostly unproductive) farms left. Five years ago, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of sub-Saharan Africa; today, it is a basket case of starving people.

    The vast majority of the seized farms went to President Mugabe’s loyal cronies in government who used them for weekend retreats. Virtually every Cabinet minister and senior security official now has at least two farms. Even then, they are not given the title deed, just a long lease, which the president can revoke at the first sign of disloyalty.

    It has been a catastrophe. These people had no idea how to farm commercially; and farms that would normally be overflowing with maize and other crops lie fallow, now covered in waist-high wild grass. Farm machinery stands unused in abandoned fields.

    _________________

    Alas, since then, I have had cause only to reinforce my lamentation in such commentaries as “UN Sanctions Mugabe’s Genocidal Rule,” May 14, 2007, “Zimbabwe: From Africa’s Bread Basket to Basket Case…,” December 5, 2008, and “It’s Hail, Mugabe! … Again,” August 4, 2013.

    _1527207_farmerbobBut even Mugabe’s cronies are finally realizing that farms without farmers are like cars without engines.

    Fifteen years ago, the government began seizing property from thousands of white farmers and giving it to blacks as recompense for the abuses of colonial rule. But now, as agricultural output stalls, black landowners are quietly reaching out to white farmers who were thrown off their land.

    ‘The problem now is that we have the land, but they have the experience,’ said Mutinhiri, a black landowner.

    (The Washington Post, September 14, 2015)

    Of course, the wonder is not only that it took these would-be farmers fifteen years to admit their incompetence, but that they never bothered during all of those fallow years to acquire the knowledge and skills to become competent farmers.

    The latter, I respectfully submit, speaks volumes about why Whites owned so much farmland in the first place (i.e. notwithstanding colonial rule).

    robert-mugabe_3440914bMeanwhile, Mugabe continues to manifest the mental defect that gave birth to his ill-fated land reforms and should have caused his removal from office at least fifteen years ago. You can be forgiven for thinking that I’m referring to this pitiful spectacle:

    Zimbabwe’s 91-year-old president Mugabe read the wrong speech at the opening of a new session of parliament on Tuesday, repeating an address he gave to the legislature last month.

    The veteran leader read the 25-minute-long speech through to the end, apparently unaware that he was delivering the same text he presented during his state of the nation address last month.

    (The Telegraph, September 15, 2015)

    But I am not; not least because it says far more about his yes-men than it does about a plainly senile Mugabe.

    Instead, I’m referring to this equally pitiful utterance:

    ‘We can’t have another war to liberate a country we have already liberated,’ Mugabe said last month, speaking about the increasing number of White farmers now advising or managing Black-owned farms.

    (The Washington Post, September 14, 2015)

    Sadly, Mugabe’s dementia is such that he does not remember the SOS he himself sounded earlier this year for these White farmers to return.

    Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has admitted failures in the country’s controversial land reform programme.

    ‘I think the farms we gave to people are too large. They can’t manage them,’ the 91-year-old leader said in unusually candid comments.

    (BBC, February 27, 2015)

    zimbabwecholera-300x291Nor, evidently, does he have the mental capacity to appreciate why Zimbabwe’s liberated are praying for liberation from him, their liberator.

    Never mind that Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people have been doing so for most of his rule 35-year rule.

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  • Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    Happy Rosh Hashanah

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    happy-rosh-hashanah

    Here’s to your name being written in the Book of Life for this coming New Year!

    You have until Yom Kippur, 10 days from now, to seal the deal.

    May you be inscribed!

  • Monday, September 14, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi Courting Totalitarian Power at the Expense of Democratic Principles

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 9.23.41 AMIt’s arguable that Nelson Mandela of South Africa was the only political leader who commanded more universal admiration and respect over the past 50 years than Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.

    Of course, they seemed bonded by an uncompromising commitment to democratic principles, which they honored by spending 27 and 15 years as political prisoners, respectively.

    Except that, after talking the talk, Mandela began walking the walk from the day he was finally released in 1990. By contrast, Suu Kyi seemed to be walking pursuant to a Faustian bargain with her military jailers from the day she was finally released in 2010.

    In fact, so much so that in “Obama’s Historic Trip to Myanmar: Too Soon?” November 12, 2012 – I questioned President Obama’s decision to join the endless procession of world leaders making pilgrimages to her home to bask in the glow of her political halo.

    __________________

    aung-san-suu-kyi-avec-personnalites-influentes-1Nothing demonstrates the extent to which she has been co-opted quite like Suu Kyi’s deafening silence about the ongoing religious cleansing of minority Muslims by majority Buddhists. Especially given that the UN has called Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims ‘the world’s most persecuted people.’

    Yet when challenged to explain her silence, the Buddhist Suu Kyi demurred, saying self-righteously that she was not taking sides to preserve her impartiality to help them reconcile. But just imagine how much worse the religious cleansing of minority Muslims by majority Hindus in India would have been if the Hindu Gandhi had not been so vocal in condemning it?

    _________________

    Sure enough, Suu Kyi soon vindicated my concerns about her commitment to democratic principles when she made quite a show of sitting with the military leaders she once defied, instead of standing with the people who were still being oppressed.

    I wonder what my critics have to say about viral pictures of Suu Kyi sitting quite comfortably yesterday as a solitary figure among hundreds of military men as they presided over the hallmark of all dictatorships, the annual military parade. For there can be no denying that these pictures provide clear vindication of my informed cynicism.

    (“Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming Democratic Mascot of Myanmar’s Military Dictatorship,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 28, 2013)

    28myanmar_span-articleLargeMore to the point, I decried the conspiracy of silence in the Western media as Suu Kyi and her military cohorts sat by as Buddhist monks began religiously cleansing Myanmar of Muslims:

    I continue to hope against hope that the klieg light of media coverage will finally shine on Myanmar’s unfolding genocide…

    A little more media coverage of their plight would force Myanmar’s military leaders to act – if only to prevent media images of Rohingya fleeing religious oppression from undermining media images of tourist sites, which are intended to entice foreigners to visit….

    (“Buddhists Religiously Cleansing Myanmar of Muslims,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 13, 2015)

    This is why I am so heartened that the BBC is finally beginning to echo the questions I raised years ago about Suu Kyi’s commitment to democratic principles:

    There was a time when Aung San Suu Kyi was seen as Asia’s Nelson Mandela. To her more ardent fans, she was more than that. An icon, almost a saint. So why is the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s political party excluding Muslims from its list of candidates for November’s general election?

    (BBC, September 8, 2015)

    Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 9.31.27 AMJust imagine how disheartening it would’ve been if Mandela began preparing South Africa for its first democratic elections by presiding over the ethnic cleansing of Whites – not just from his African National Congress party, but from the entire country.

    Alas, Western powers remain all too willing to indulge Suu Kyi’s betrayal of the democratic principles she once championed. Nothing demonstrates this quite like Washington denouncing Myanmar’s generals for executing a putsch within their ruling party, while uttering nary a word about Suu Kyi purging Muslims from her opposition party:

    The recent unseating of the chief of Myanmar’s ruling party had a ‘chilling effect’ on the political climate in the Southeast Asian country and was a reminder of the ‘bad old days’ of military dictatorship, a senior U.S. diplomat has said…

    ‘The government and the ruling party have to act in a way that reinforces, not undermines, public confidence in the government’s commitment to democratic processes,’ he added.

    (The Sydney Morning Herald, September 12, 2015)

    This, of course, makes about as much sense as denouncing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for shaking up his ruling party, while uttering nary a word about Syrian opposition parties enforcing ISIS-style Sharia laws among their ranks.

    Unfortunately, Western powers, led by the hopelessly compromised United States, will never learn….

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  • Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 8:44 AM

    Serena Gets Cold Feet on Center Court!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    7ee5c4fe3d3e7cac071370d339b6da93 (1)During the earlier rounds of this US Open, players seemed to be bowing out to make Serena’s ascension to the throne of Women’s Tennis as easy as possible. Everything seemed set for her – not only to become the first woman to win a calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf did in 1988, but also to match Steffi as the woman with the most Grand Slam titles (22) in “the Open era” (i.e., since 1968) … with all due respect to Margaret Court.

    No doubt this is why every sports analyst previewed yesterday’s semifinal match against an unseeded and unknown player as if it were just a dress rehearsal for Serena’s coronation after today’s final.

    Except that something happened on the way to the stadium that caused Serena to get cold feet. And, no, I don’t think it had anything to do with her side piece (aka “fu*king Drake”).

    Two match wins from tennis history, Serena Williams finally failed in a major moment Friday.

    Unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci stunned the No. 1-ranked player 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the US Open semifinals for one of the greatest upsets the sport has ever seen…

    Afterward, Vinci called it the best moment of her life.

    (ESPN, September 11, 2015)

    TEN-US-OPEN-WILLIAMS-VINCITalk about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

    Mind you, to listen to Serena explain her epic meltdown, you’d think she was the only person in the stadium, if not in the entire world, who did not think she would win. Indeed, everyone else clearly expected her to.

    I told you guys I don’t feel pressure… I never felt that pressure to win here. I said that from the beginning.

    (Huffington Post, September 11, 2015)

    Which, of course, speaks volumes. No?

    IFTo be fair, Serena – obviously drained, both physically and mentally – did not have to explain herself.

    But it is a curious thing that, after vesting so much emotion in her presumed ascension, her fans seem more disappointed in her failure than she does. Not to mention the disappointment of those who invested gambling dollars where others vested sporting emotions.

    Unsurprisingly, virtually every sports analyst is already writing her professional obituary – complete with citations of accomplishments, which make her eminently worthy of being hailed as the best women’s Tennis player in history, even with yesterday’s loss.

    As a 33-year-old black woman boasting a powerful build and bravery in how she expresses herself, she’s naturally been burdened with criticism about the integrity of her matches, her body [with all of the racial stereotypes that entails], and even her smile. But through it all, all she did was win…

    We’re lucky to have Serena Williams.

    (Huffington Post, September 11, 2015)

    Perhaps far more telling in this respect is the  juxtaposition of editorial pictures showing Serena in invincible form (even as she was losing) before yesterday’s match, with those showing her in vanquished form after she finally lost, looking unfit to have even been on center court at a Grand Slam.

    Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.40.49 AM

    But if 34-year-old Roger Federer can still play as well as he is today, I see no reason why 33-year-old Serena can’t continue playing as well as she is until she’s 36, at least. I just hope this humiliation does not do to her game what Tiger’s did to his….

    IFInstead, here’s to her getting back on the court, after a little rest and reflection, to resume her quest for undisputed and unprecedented Tennis glory.

    So, still I say:

    Hail Serena!

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  • Friday, September 11, 2015 at 4:37 PM

    Homo Naledi: Desecrating Ancient Graves in the Name of Discovery…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    01_Homo-NalediThe guardians of Western civilization are hailing the desecration of ancient graves in South Africa with as much passion as they’ve been damning the demolition of ancient ruins in Syria.

    The team is calling this new species of human relative ‘Homo naledi,’ and they say it appears to have buried its dead — a behavior scientists previously thought was limited to humans.

    Berger’s team came up with the startling theory just days after reaching the place where the fossils — consisting of infants, children, adults and elderly individuals — were found, in a previously isolated chamber within the cave.

    The team believes that the chamber, located 30 meters underground in the Cradle of Humanity world heritage site, was a burial ground — and that Homo naledi could have used fire to light the way.

    (CNN, September 10, 2015)

    Part-PAR-Par8269816-1-1-0This is the gravesite of our ancient relatives? And this team is treating it like an archeological prize? You’d think, after realizing they were desecrating more than discovering, the leaders of this team would’ve re-consecrated the site out of respect for the dead.

    I mean, haven’t we learned enough about prehistoric humans from the discovery of “Lucy” and other humanoid/homonin fossils…?

    Alas, self-indulgence, narcissism, and egocentricity have become so normalized that these archaeologists are all over TV patting themselves on the back for what amounts to little more than an expedition in academic vanity.

    Frankly, they are celebrating this sacred African “discovery” with as much sensitivity as rednecks might the killing of an endangered African lion. Moreover, in terms of sheer barbarity, I submit that terrorists who demolish ancient ruins have nothing on archaeologists who desecrate ancient graves. Not to mention that the latter should know better.

    I’d say our ancient relatives must be rolling over in their graves; but they’re probably too busy worrying now about being excavated from them.

    image_3224_1e-Homo-naledi

  • Friday, September 11, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    Remembering 9/11: a Moment of Silence Will Do

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 8.50.55 PM

    I applaud NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg for decreeing this week that, henceforth, the area where the twin towers were destroyed shall no longer be called ‘Ground Zero.’ Instead, it shall revert to its original name, The World Trade Center.

    But I urge him to decree also that, henceforth, the city shall no longer mark this day, every year, by wallowing in the plainly contrived ceremony of tolling bells and reading all names of those who perished.

    Not to mention the untenable emotional conflict this imposes on kids – many of whom were either very young or still in their mother’s womb on 9/11. Imagine being cajoled every year into expressing public grief for a parent you never even knew without feeling as though you’re betraying the love you’ve developed for the person your surviving parent married. …

    Families directly affected should be left alone to grieve in their own way. But I suspect many of them moved on with their lives long ago and will feel no need to do so.

    This 10th anniversary seems a good time for the rest of the country to move on too.

    (“Time to Move On,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 11, 2011)

    After all, even Israel leaves it to individuals to remember the extermination of six million Jews during WWII in their own way, reserving only the sounding of a siren to signal a national moment of silence. Surely the United States can do the same to remember the killing of 3000 on 9/11. No?

    article-2751599-2148A53D00000578-62_964x477

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  • Thursday, September 10, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Hail, Marx! Capitalist and Communist Economies Now Indistinguishable

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Little is more hypocritical in public life than American capitalists championing the virtues of free markets, while depending on the government to ensure (i.e., privatize) their profits and insure (i.e., socialize) their losses.

    Far worse though is that the government actually sanctions this hypocrisy, primarily by having the Federal Reserve prop up the U.S. economy with monetary policies (e.g., maintaining zero interest rates and continuing quantitative easing). These policies are aimed at stimulating and sustaining economic growth, but they mostly benefit corporations and rich folks.

    This raises the question: How is this very visible hand of the U.S. government in its “free market economy” any different from the very visible hand of the Chinese government in its centrally planned economy?

    Except, of course, that there’s nothing hypocritical about the Communist Party propping up the Chinese economy with monetary policies (e.g., devaluing its currency and funding state-owned enterprises).

    It has become fashionable in America to talk about the government destroying jobs and the market creating them. Yet nobody can cite a single instance where the government was responsible for the cycles of economic bubbles and busts that have characterized the U.S. economy in recent decades; except insofar as the government failed to adequately regulate the irresponsible, if not corrupt, market practices that caused each and every one of them.

    (“Hayekian Markets vs. Keynesian Economies,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 23, 2011)

    Banking CEO's Testify Before House On Use Of TARP FundsFrankly, the 2008 financial crisis put paid to the virtues of free markets, such as they ever were.

    For nothing marked this crisis quite like professed capitalists – from investment bankers to car manufacturers – going hat in hand to the government for financial bailouts; you know, the way oppressed communists – from China to Cuba – go to the government for welfare handouts.

    If nothing else, this latest bailout should finally destroy the myth that the United States is running a capitalist, free market economy.  After all, this (and the other government bailouts … which effectively privatized shareholder gains and nationalized losses), coupled with longstanding corporate subsidies, is indistinguishable from the way China runs its socialist, centrally planned economy.

    (“Chickens Come Home to Roost on Wall Street…,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 16, 2008)

    _55126786_head_gettyNow we’re witnessing the truly transformative spectacle of global markets relying more on Chinese communism than American capitalism for growth.

    Perhaps this is what Karl Marx meant when he warned in Capital (1867) that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction, stemming from an inexorable economic evolution from feudalism through capitalism and socialism, and ending with communism.

    In fact, this Marxist evolution has already become such that CNN Money reported on August 25, without any hint of irony or contradiction, that economists were “expecting Beijing to act to try and prop up stocks” in Western markets. Beijing did not disappoint:

    The Dow raced 619 points higher on Wednesday, its most emphatic point gain since the 2008 financial crisis…

    The huge rally represents a rebound following six days of dramatic selling that was driven by serious concerns about how China’s slowing economy will impact the rest of the world…

    Earlier this week China sought to calm turmoil in global markets by slashing interest rates. The hope is the moves will help stabilize China’s economy and ease fears that the world’s second largest economy is slowing drastically.

    (CNN Money, August 26, 2015)

    In his classic tome on capitalism, The Road to Serfdom, acclaimed economist and philosopher F. A. Hayek wrote that:

    Capitalism is the only system of economics compatible with human dignity, prosperity, and liberty. To the extent we move away from that system, we empower the worst people in society to manage what they do not understand.

    But there’s no gainsaying that – with its corporate subsidies and bailouts, to say nothing of its dependence on and indebtedness to China – the United States has moved far away from that system (down the road to serfdom?). Indeed, the China phenomenon suggests that communism, not capitalism, is more compatible with prosperity and human dignity, even if at the expense of human liberty.

    Mind you, I’ve always found free marketers who hail the virtues of capitalism every bit as self-righteous as pedophile priests who hail the virtues of celibacy. Here, for example, is what I wrote in “Global Plan to Nationalize Banks Leads to Historic Gains in Markets Worldwide,” October 14, 2008, while we were in the throes of that 2008 financial crisis.

    ___________________

    images (18)As a Keynesian (aka a big-government liberal), I never believed the free-market fairytale that an ‘invisible hand’ would cause profits generated by the investments of greedy corporations and rich folks to trickle down to poor folks.

    Instead, I’ve always believed that government intervention was necessary not only to stimulate economic growth and regulate the private sector, but also to ensure the equitable redistribution of the wealth of nations.

    Therefore, bailing out Wall Street is only the first step.  Because, to prove that they have really seen the light, governments in these purportedly capitalist nations must now follow through by bailing out Main Street as well (e.g., by forgiving the mortgage and credit-card debt of all citizens who make less than $100,000).

    ___________________

    Alas, Main Street is still waiting for the socioeconomic benefits that, according to capitalism, will “trickle down” from rich to poor, naturally.

    Meanwhile, don’t get me started on the corporate subsidies and tax breaks the government routinely gives to corporations … under this specious theory of capitalism. Not to mention the myth that private corporations fund innovation.

    After all, the U.S. government has funded almost every major innovation we take for granted today, including GPS, touch screen, search algorithm, and voice technology. For example, with all due respect to the genius that was Steve Jobs, he pilfered government-funded research to “invent” Apple’s smartphone. (I refer you to the Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (2013), by Mariana Mazzucato, for more on this “I built that” myth.)

    Coming full circle, nothing damns the capitalist system quite like its legacy of making the rich richer and the poor poorer. This was brought into tragic relief during Hurricane Katrina – the 10th anniversary of which many politicians made quite a show of commemorating ten days ago. Specifically, that every rich person survived using personal resources, while so many poor people died from salutary neglect, demonstrated (in black and white) just how incompatible capitalism is with basic humanity, let alone lofty notions of human dignity.

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  • Wednesday, September 9, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    Re NFL: God Has Forsaken Tim Tebow. Hallelujah!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Philadelphia Eagles are a no-go on Tim Tebow…

    USA Today blames the cut on Tebow’s inconsistent performance in the preseason, despite his much-ballyhooed reworked throwing motion.

    The former Heisman Trophy winner and 2010 first-round draft last appeared on an NFL roster in 2013, when the Patriots signed, then cut him – also in the preseason.

    (Huffington Post, September 5, 2015)

    gqOf course, Tebow became a viral sensation more for the way he prayed than played during games. Therefore, his religious fans could be forgiven for asking:

    My God, my God, why have you forsaken him?

    However, given that such a question would test the patience even of the Almighty God, He could be forgiven for intoning this diabolical answer:

    Because, despite his Tebowing, this Jesus wannabe sucks at Football!

    That said, I pray I can be forgiven my sense of fulfillment over this spectacular rebuke of Tim Tebow Superstar – whose success seemed as divinely ordained as divinely assured. After all, here are two proverbs, which should explain, perhaps even vindicate, the fate that has befallen him.

    Proverb I

    That Tebow beat out Kobe Bryant, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees to win a recent ESPN poll for ‘America’s favorite athlete’ demonstrates again how exaggerated and misguided the hosannas to him really are.

    In any case, I am pretty sure this phenomenon will die a media death this weekend when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots show Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, in convincing fashion, that winning football games has absolutely nothing to do with how much of a spectacle one makes of praying to God.

    (”The Divine Tim Tebow? Puhleese!” The iPINIONS Journal, January 12, 2012)

    17558103-mmmainProverb II

    I have no doubt that some other team will be happy to exploit what little remains of the ‘tebowing’ phenomenon by signing Tebow to hang out on the sidelines like a de facto mascot.

    (“Denver Broncos: We want Peyton; Tebow can go to Hell,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 20, 2012)

    Sure enough, the New York Jets, the New England Patriots, and the Philadelphia Eagles all gave him more than a fair shot. Alas, far from succeeding as an NFL quarterback, Tebow could not even make it as a mascot.

    Amen.

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  • Monday, September 7, 2015 at 8:04 PM

    Europe’s Migration Crisis: Sowing Seeds of Unintended but All Too Foreseeable Consequences

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    History is replete with great migrations. Notably, in modern times, they have included:

    • Blacks from the rural South to the urban North/West in the United States (1915-60)
    • Jews from Europe to Palestine (1931-39)
    • Muslims from East to West and Hindus and Sikhs from West to East in the Punjab (1947)
    • Cubans from Mariel to Florida (1980)
    • Mexicans from all over Mexico to all over the United States (esp. 1960-present)
    • Rohingyas from Myanmar to Malaysia/Indonesia (2014-present): Western media are effectively ignoring this crisis. I commented on it in “Buddhists Cleansing Myanmar of Muslims,” May 13, 2015.

    The ongoing migration of refugees from Syria to Germany clearly ranks among them. But, given media coverage of and political reaction to it, you’d think it’s the first since the migration of Israelites from Egypt to The Promised Land during the Bible days  (aka The Exodus).

    2BFCA6CD00000578-3223222-image-a-3_1441437778026To be fair:

    The migrant crisis seems different. With war, instability and poverty spreading through Africa and the Middle East, a prosperous and peaceful Europe is proving a powerful attraction to potentially millions of people who have wearied of the constant turmoil and day-to-day struggles for survival. There is little sign the flow will soon subside.

    (New York Times, September 3, 2015)

    With all due respect to the Times, however, “instability and poverty” have compelled millions to flee since time immemorial. What is different about this all too ordinary human tragedy is the relatively excessive media coverage. This fact cannot be overstated.

    Part-PAR-Par8261499-1-1-0Meanwhile, even though it has been unfolding for years, the media did not declare this migration a “crisis” until last week. That’s when the image of a drowned, 3-year-old Syrian boy, who washed up on shore in Turkey, went viral.

    Only God know why it took this one image. After all, equally heartrending images have been circulating for months. To say nothing of videos showing displaced, desperate and despairing Syrians being corralled at train stations in Hungary, only to be taken to refugee camps. After all, they evoked very unsettling memories of Jews being corralled in similar fashion in Germany, only to be taken to concentration camps.

    2BEA309600000578-3219069-image-a-5_1441222084815Unsurprisingly, those videos moved German Chancellor Angela Merkel to make quite a show of pledging to resettle as many Syrians as can get to Germany. This, assuming they survive their journey through Turkey, across the Mediterranean Sea, through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and Austria, to what Merkel has now proclaimed their promised land. Not quite the wilderness the Israelites wandered in for 40 years, but no less harrowing I’m sure.

    Yet, with the publication of that one image, other world leaders suddenly became seized by a crisis of conscience too — duly affecting emotions to reflect the viral sentiment of their respective constituents. To varying degrees, they aped Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s humanitarian concerns:

    Is there anybody on the planet who could not be moved by what they saw in the papers – anybody with a sense of humanity – who saw the body of a young boy washed up on a beach like driftwood. This is a human catastrophe.

    (BBC, September 3, 2015)

    Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 12.17.13 PM

    There were/are notable exceptions, however. For here is how Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán vented his xenophobic fears:

    Irresponsibility is the mark of every European politician who holds out the promise of a better life to immigrants and encourages them to leave everything behind and risk their lives in setting out for Europe. If Europe does not return to the path of common sense, it will find itself laid low in a battle for its fate.

    (The Guardian, September 3, 2015)

    And, far more interesting, for obvious reasons, here is how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoked his existential imperative:

    We will not allow Israel to be submerged by a wave of illegal migrants and terrorist activists.

    Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of Syrian and African refugees … but Israel is a small country – very small – without demographic or geographic depth. That is why we must control our borders.

    (Agence France-Presse, September 6, 2015)

    I suspect many of you would condemn Orbán and Netanyahu (to a lesser degree) as readily as you’d commend Kenny and other belated do-gooders in this context. But I am convinced that, no matter how nationalistic and/or anti-Islamic their motives, Orbán’s fears and Netanyahu’s imperative are as rational as Kenny’s concerns are emotional.

    2BF9F26100000578-3222045-image-a-51_1441393988877 (1)In fact, instead of rushing to one-up each other’s pledge to resettle Syrians, European leaders should be joining forces to do whatever is necessary to redress conditions in Syria that are forcing them to leave. Failure to do so, in triage fashion, means that millions could be wandering through Europe, in migrant formation, before the end of the year. At that rate, Europe might end up with a majority non-White population before the United States. Whatever the case, the Greek economic crisis, which was threatening to blow the EU asunder just months ago, pales in comparison to the Syrian migrant crisis unfolding today.

    With apologies to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60, I paraphrase:

    Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

    So too will Africans take to the sea;

    All changing place with those who went before,

    In droves these poor souls will continue to flee.

    Mind you, I’m on record empathizing with Kenny’s humanitarian concerns. I fear, however, that conscience-assuaging measures pursuant to them might end up vindicating Orbán’s xenophobic fears.

    Not least because I am acutely mindful of the social upheaval dispossessed, destitute, disenfranchised, disassociated and disillusioned immigrants (most of whom happened to be young Muslims) caused when they erupted in riots all over Europe just years ago. Indeed, I wrote a series of commentaries – beginning with “World Beware: French Riots Affect Us All,” November 8, 2005, and ending with “Now Stockholm Is Burning,” May 23, 2013. And, frankly, I have no reason to believe Europeans will do a better job assimilating these migrants than they did assimilating those immigrants, no matter how well intentioned.

    Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 9.57.08 PMNot to mention what portends with all manner of White nationalists, like the neo-Nazis, lying in wait to terrorize resettled migrants. No doubt it’s heartening to see liberal Germans greeting this first wave of migrants with banners, cheers, and food. But don’t be surprised if these same Germans are hurling xenophobic epithets at sequent waves a few months from now — as predictable strains/conflicts, especially with respect to gainful employment and welfare benefits, become manifestly untenable.

    Hell, even the United States is no longer welcoming unyielding waves of huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Therefore, as Orbán warns, it seems irresponsible for Europe to be doing so.

    Accordingly, I reiterate that European leaders should coordinate comprehensive humanitarian interventions, enabled and protected by NATO (not UN) forces, to contain would-be migrants within their borders. It’s clearly far better to provide local safe havens than for migrants to continue risking life and limb, only to end up in splendid desolation in Europe, or in fetid isolation in internment camps, where millions are being detained today in Jordan (pictured), Lebanon, Turkey, and, increasingly, in Hungary.

    article-2371311-1AE19CB8000005DC-348_964x545

    Incidentally, Western pundits accused Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of taking political cheap shots last week. This, because Putin and Erdogan not only blamed this migrant crisis on U.S. foreign policies, which Europe helped execute in lapdog fashion, but also claimed they warned Western leaders it would be thus.

    Specifically, they gloated that, but for America’s shortsighted yet cocksure attempt to change regimes, countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria would still be bedrocks of political stability, even if ruled by reprehensible dictators.

    Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 12.55.46 PM

    I agree.

    In fact, I’m on record saying as much (except as more fair warning than cheap shot) in such commentaries as  “Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America,” June 19, 2014, “On Syria (and almost every other issue) the American People Are Insolent, Ignorant Idiots,” September 10, 2013, and “Army Pledges No Force Against Protesters,” February 1, 2011, which includes this prescient observation.

    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 question 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….

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but only a warmongering fool like former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney could deny that:

    • Iraq would be better off today if the United States had not deposed Saddam Hussein.
    • ISIS/ISIL would not be the regional menace it is today if the United States had not used the attacks of 9/11 as a pretext to launch a neo-con Christian crusade to remake the Middle East in America’s image.
    • Egypt would be better off today if the United States had not championed the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
    • Libya would be better off today if the United States had not triggered the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.
    • Syria would be better off today if the United States had not called for Bashar al-Assad “to go,” then left it to a fractious group of opposition forces to undermine his regime. To be sure, there would have been the usual trickle of asylum seekers, but not the millions of refugees who have already fled for their lives.
    • Afghanistan is an exceptional case because the Taliban harbored the al-Qaeda masterminds behind 9/11. Even so, it too would be better off today if the United States had just bombed the hell out of al-Qaeda training camps there and left the Taliban to pick up the pieces.

    As a more general proposition, nobody can deny that, for all its promises, the Arab Spring has harvested nothing but turmoil and strife. This migrant crisis is just the latest in its slew of unintended, but all too foreseeable, consequences.

    That said, I am profoundly dismayed that it took Syrians drowning and being corralled like cattle to prick the conscience of Europeans.

    emma-1.jpgNothing irked my consciousness in this respect quite like watching internationally acclaimed actress and activist Emma Thompson – during a September 3 BBC interview – confess shame as she decried the UK’s failure to provide refuge to more Syrians. She insisted that only racial (and religious?) bigotry could explain this failure.

    Except that thousands of African migrants, including untold numbers of children even younger than 3, had already drowned at sea and washed up on European shores. This, long before the media declared the picture of one drowned Syrian boy the “defining image of this migrant crisis.” Incidentally, declaring it as such is even more misleading and misguided than declaring that now iconic picture of a naked 9-year-old girl running for her life as the defining image of the Vietnam War.

    In any event, apropos of my dismay, here is how I decried the forsaken plight of African migrants almost two years ago:

    As tragic as this event was, political dysfunction, economic stagnation, and civil strife on the Dark Continent are such that Africans will continue to risk life and limb to seek a better life. For, just as no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Caribbean Sea has stemmed the tide of Haitian migrants setting off for America, no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea will stem the tide of African migrants setting off for Europe.

    (“Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 7, 2013)

    images (17)What’s more, even though none ever went viral, images and videos of their tragedy were sufficiently available to prick the conscience of anyone who cared.

    Frankly, this raises questions about racism that should prick the conscience of Europeans even more than the picture of that drowned Syrian boy did. As it happens, I alluded to those questions, and offered the only possible answer to them all in “Europeans Erecting High Fences to Maintain Good Relations with African Neighbors,” October 8, 2005, which includes this prescient equally prescient observation.

    ________________

    There’s no denying that America has an arbitrary, even mercenary, immigration policy – highlighted by a racist Wet Foot, Dry Foot system that grants Cuban migrants an EZ pass, but repatriates Haitian migrants summarily. Yet, compared with that of other countries, America has by far the most inviting and humane policy of them all.

    This fact is finally coming into stark relief for Europeans who once chided Americans with righteous indignation for their treatment of [undesirable] migrants. Because African migrants are now posing the same challenges for Europe that Haitian migrants have been posing for the United States for decades.

    __________________

    Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 2.16.05 PMIn a bit of perverse symmetry, it’s arguable that Europeans accepting Syrians but rejecting Africans in this context is analogous to Americans accepting Cubans but rejecting Haitians.

    In both cases, Whites betray a clear preference for migrants who appear higher on the de facto racial totem pole; you know, the way Whites in Apartheid South Africa assigned Brown (or colored people) to a caste above Black ones. Only divide-and-marginalize racism explains this disparate treatment of Brown and Black refugees.

    Finally, I cannot overstate this observation on the pathological refusal of Africans to assume any responsibility for resolving humanitarian crises in their midst:

    I just hope the damning irony is not lost on any proud African that, 50 years after decolonization, hundreds of Africans (men, women, and children) are risking their lives, practically every day, to subjugate themselves to the paternal mercies of their former colonial masters in Europe.

    (“African Migrants Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2015)

    Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 1.04.51 PM

    In a similar vein, I hope the equally damning irony is not lost on any proud Arab that, despite their profligate wealth, the royal rulers of  Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, and Bahrain are reportedly showing no interest in resettling any of these Syrian refugees. For surely this makes a mockery of any claim to religious and/or cultural pride in the Muslim world.

    It’s shameful enough that they are sitting on their thrones and expecting the United States to protect their respective kingdoms from ISIS (i.e., the way it protected them from al-Qaeda). But the least these regal bastards can do is fund the UN food program for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees now living in Jordan – given the SOS the UN sent out this weekend for $236 million just to continue this program through November.

    This is why imperious Arab and unscrupulous African leaders are as worthy of condemnation for willfully leaving it to European leaders to deal with this migrant crisis as presumptuous American leaders are for triggering (so much of) it in the first place.

    Related Articles:
    Myanmar
    World beware…
    Now Stockholm
    African migrants…Mediterranean Sea
    Europeans erecting high fences

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 1:04 p.m.

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