• Monday, February 29, 2016 at 7:23 AM

    And The Oscar Goes To…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m on record stating how much I dislike the annual Academy Awards show (the Oscars). Because I have little regard for preening, pampered poseurs showing off their borrowed frocks and bling-bling as a prelude to a three-hour show — only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for actor and actress in a leading role, actor and actress in a supporting role, best director, and best picture)…

    And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.

    (“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    Having only read reviews of last night’s broadcast, I hope I can be forgiven for feeling vindicated … yet again. Reports are that the first three hours of this broadcast featured Oscar presentations for screenplay, cinematography, costume design, visual effects, sound mixing, editing, makeup, and the like. But, with all due respect to the winners, virtually nobody tunes in to see them.

    This is why I’ve been arguing for years that presenting at least one of the six major awards every half hour would make the Oscars a far more bearable show. Instead, as always, producers made viewers sit through three (anxious) hours of patently boring TV, and then hurled the most interesting awards at them over the last half hour. This amounts to Chinese water torture.

    Put another way, it’s like being forced to eat a starter of arugula and a main course of tofu before getting to devour a desert of double chocolate-espresso truffle pie.

    But I won’t dignify what I read about the Amos ‘n’ Andy gags featuring Tracy Morgan as “The Danish Girl” and Whoopi as the mop lady from Joy with any comment.

    The Host

    31AB47AD00000578-3468716-image-a-10_1456727804795Ellen buying pizza in the middle of the show was the highlight of her hosting gig two years ago. Therefore, it speaks volumes that Chris Rock selling Girl Scout Cookies might be the highlight of his last night.

    But only God knows why he thought it would be funny or relevant to exploit the ignorance of black folks in Compton with a jaywalking bit. This was not the occasion to reinforce black stereotypes and, perhaps worse, there was nothing original about it. Everyone — from Jay Leno to Jimmy Kimmel to Jesse Watters — has being doing the jaywalking bit for years.

    Nonetheless, given the OscarsSoWhite controversy, it’s hardly surprising that Rock is receiving near-universal praise for his opening monologue, which targeted Hollywood’s perennial lack of racial diversity. Never mind the spectacle of guilt-ridden whites overcompensating by hailing it as “the best in Oscar history.”

    For the record, here are key parts of the authoritative review the Los Angeles Times gave:

    For roughly eleven minutes, Rock dealt on the subject on the lack of diversity among this year’s major nominees [but asked] why this year’s ceremony was so controversial when the Academy Awards have also not featured diversity…

    Though the audience was receptive, Rock was not as acerbic and his jokes have not was acid-tipped as he has been in previous performances, such as his HBO specials…

    And for a routine about diversity, he centered almost totally on the exclusion of blacks, leaving out references to other minorities such as Asians and Latinos.

    In other words, he cast lots of race bait, but the audience did not bite much. In “The Oscars: My Picks,” February 26, 2016, I warned it would be thus.

    31AA77C800000578-3468716-image-a-52_1456712786675Granted, it did not help to have people like producer Harvey Weinstein and talk-show host Tavis Smiley raising unreasonable expectations with teases like “Chris is going to annihilate us” and “the [OscarsSoWhite] jokes practically write themselves,” respectively.

    Apropos of which, in “OscarsSoWhite! Duh. But Boycott? Nah,” January 22, 2016, I scoffed at Jada Pinkett’s self-centered call for a boycott. Therefore, I’m heartened by reports that Rock’s best joke had him ridiculing her for boycotting an event to which she was never invited.

    But, as it happens, Rock is on record dismissing the Oscars much as I did in my February 2008 commentary quoted above. Specifically, here is the prescient, even if homophobic, observation he made during a February 1, 2005 interview with Entertainment Weekly:

    What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one. And they don’t recognize comedy, and you don’t see a lot of black people nominated, so why should I watch it?

    I hasten to clarify that Rock took pains back then to say he wasn’t joking. In fact, he was so convincing in this regard that, in “Only Gays and Women Watch the Oscars,” February 17, 2005, I commended him for daring to call this spade a spade. I added, however, that “he was wrong … to voice his disdain in racial and homophobic terms.”

    On the other hand, given his observation, you can be forgiven for asking why Rock, a straight black comedian, would host this show. The down low, of course, is that he would’ve paid the Academy millions for the career-enhancing exposure this gig provides.

    The Awards

    Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 8.46.20 AMIn light of the OscarsSoWhite controversy, I thought I’d be contrarian by picking dark horses in a few categories. Evidently, members of the Academy had the same thought. Because, arguably, four of the six winners in the main categories were dark horses – only they weren’t the ones I picked.

    Sylvester Stallone losing to Mark Rylance for best supporting actor had to have been the surprise of the night. Alas, Stallone was not sly enough to disguise his dismay.

    Based on media cheerleading for him, you too were probably dismayed. But, trust me, if members of the Academy had any chance of redeeming themselves for failing to nominate a single black actor in any category, awarding Rylance this Oscar was it. As Hollywood encyclopedia IMDb documents, his 3 Tonys, 2 Oliviers, and 1 BAFTA had already sealed his reputation as one of the greatest actors of all time. So choosing his acting in Bridge of Spies over Stallone’s in Creed was as much a no-brainer as choosing Stephen Curry’s 3-point shooting over Shaquille O’Neal’s (with apologies if you’re not an NBA fan).

    Lady Gaga losing to Sam Smith for best original song, however, was probably the most dramatic. Not least because no less a person than VP Joe Biden showed up to introduce her performance of “Til It Happens To You,” her nominated song about sexual assaults on college campuses.

    But enough about all that!

    And the Oscar goes to:

    • Actor in a Supporting Role: My pick was Sylvester Stallone in Creed.

    The winner was Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies. Oops.

    • Actress in Supporting Role: My pick was Rachel McAdams in Spotlight.

    The winner was Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl. Oops.

    • Actress in Leading Role: My pick was Cate Blanchett in Carol.

    The winner was Brie Larson in Room. Oops.

    31AD851000000578-3453525-image-m-238_1456725027944

    • Actor in Leading Role: My pick was Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.

    The winner was Leonardo DiCaprio. Whatever.

    • Director: My pick was Alejandro G. Iñárritu in The Revenant.

    The winner was Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Yay!

    • Picture: My pick The Revenant.

    The winner was Spotlight. Oops.

    That’s a wrap!

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, February 27, 2016 at 7:05 AM

    Apple: If U.S. were a police state, like China, we’d happily comply

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 7.24.34 PM

    Apple’s compliance with the Chinese government makes a mockery of its defiance against the American government. Not least because this betrays the fact that Apple is all too willing to sacrifice customer privacy for corporate profit… And if you believe the Chinese government used Apple to protect the privacy of its citizens, your naiveté is matched only by Apple’s hypocrisy.

    As it happens, though, Apple merely did what other tech companies [like Google] have done.

    (“Apple Defends iPhones as Safe Have for Terrorists to Plot,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2016)

    But it’s high time the U.S. showed Apple it can act like a police state too; even if only under the direction of a judge.

    23edchappatteart-master675

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  • Friday, February 26, 2016 at 7:04 AM

    The Oscars: My Picks

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With all due respect to critics and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), how much a film makes, not whether it wins an Oscar, is the generally recognized measure of its success. Especially considering that winning an Oscar is more the result of crass political campaigning than any assessment of artistic achievement.

    Indeed, it might surprise, if not disillusion, many of you to learn that studios covet the Oscar for best picture primarily because — as Sumner Redstone, the owner of Paramount, conceded in a moment of extraordinary candor — it guarantees millions more in box office receipts.

    I’m on record stating how much I dislike the annual Academy Awards show (the Oscars). Because I have little regard for preening, pampered poseurs showing off their borrowed frocks and bling-bling as a prelude to a three-hour show — only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for actor and actress in a leading role, actor and actress in a supporting role, best director, and best picture)…

    And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.

    (“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    Chris-Rock-Backstage-at-Oscars-450x300My annual rant aside, there are great expectations that the interludes will be a little more exciting this year. Not least because the entire world is waiting with bated breath for host Chris Rock’s color commentary on the #OscarsSoWhite outrage.

    But I’m on record warning – in “#OscarsSoWhite! Duh. But Boycott? Nah,” January 22, 2016 – that Rock’s performance anxiety might make it impossible for him to rise to the occasion.

    I hope Rock does not take this race bait. Because nobody wants to tune in to a celebration of Hollywood, no matter how lily White, just to hear a rich black host bitching all night about how racist and unfair life is for rich black actors.

    Besides, we all know that black comics rule when it comes to jokes about thuggish behavior among blacks in the hood. By the same token, and for the same reasons, I submit that white comics should rule when it comes to jokes about racism among whites in Hollywood, especially on this occasion.

    In any event, there’s bound to be no shortage of stars looking to use this occasion to vent Oscars-So-White outrage, hoping for an additional 15 minutes of fame.

    (“#OscarsSoWhite! Duh. But Boycott? Nah,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 22, 2016)

    All the same, I wish him well.

    318FD4A600000578-0-image-a-131_1456435391492I delineated in this same commentary why blacks share some blame for the Academy nominating whites only in the six major categories for a second consecutive year.

    For, instead of working year round to integrate Hollywood at all levels, blacks treat its lack of diversity like an annual cause for viral outrage and grandstanding protests.

    Sure enough:

    Sharpton’s National Action Network announced Thursday a ‘nationwide TV tune out’ of the Academy Awards broadcast Sunday night, and a series of demonstrations and rallies to protest the lack of women and minorities in the movie industry in general and in this year’s major Oscar nominations in particular…

    Sharpton, a pro at organizing instant protest rallies for issues he cares about, will lead a rally in front of Hollywood High School at 2 pm Sunday, not far from the Dolby Theater where the Oscar ceremony takes place. Similar rallies are scheduled in front of local TV news stations in Ohio, Michigan, New York, Miami, Washington, D.C. and Miami on the same night.

    (USA Today, February 25, 2016)

    No doubt Sharpton will get a few people to join his march of folly. But I suspect even they will be home in time to watch the Oscars, despite his clarion call for a nationwide tune out.

    Enough.

    Here are my picks in the six categories most people care about:

    • Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 7.20.49 PMActor in a Leading Role

    Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant: Because mainstream-media critics and social-media trolls have prevailed upon the aging Academy to compensate for snubbing him on so many previous occasions – five to be exact. Never mind that a less senile Academy snubbed no less a leading man than Al Pacino seven times before compensating him.

    But Bryan Cranston in Trumbo deserves honorable mention: First, he affirmed the critically acclaimed acting he wowed so many with in Breaking Bad. And second, he carried a film about McCarthyism that was second only to Spotlight in socially redeeming value. The latter of course is about the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.

    • Actress in a Leading Role

    67_165c-3a-_-segment_72--001r_lg-copy_wide-0a67fe84702e421e86c556d2b76001291cbe7d63-s800-c85Cate Blanchett in Carol: Never mind that this would make her a three-time Academy Award winner. Or that I was more impressed with what screenwriter Phyllis Nagy said on the January 9 edition of NPR’s Fresh Air about Patricia Highsmith than with what I saw of Blanchett’s acting on screen.

    Nagy adapted the screenplay for Carol from Highsmith’s 1952 novel, The Price of Salt. Suffice it to know that the way she spoke of Highsmith made Highsmith seem a more like “Carol” than the way Blanchett portrayed her.

    • Actor in a Supporting Role

    Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.57.36 PMSylvester Stallone in Creed: For milking his Rocky franchise like a poor African dry milking his one cow.

    • Actress in a Supporting Role

    Rachel McAdams in Spotlight: Primarily because this film, with its powerful message of not only speaking truth to power but holding the powerful to account, deserves at least one major award. But also because, if heavily favored Kate Winslet wins for Steve Jobs, she might begin to believe the hype about her being the next Meryl Streep.

    Mind you, I have no issue with Cate Blanchett being hailed as the next Katharine Hepburn. Blanchett has the talent, style, and sophistication to be eminently worthy. And, if she wins, she would be well on her way to matching Hepburn’s record haul of four Academy Awards.

    • Directing

    Alejandro G. Iñárritu in The Revenant: For having the good sense to cast sentimental favorite DiCaprio as his lead, and then riding his coattails all the way to Oscar glory – just like he did last year with Michael Keaton and Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

    • Best Picture

    The Revenant: Because it only reflects the senility of Academy members when they award the Oscar to a film whose director they snubbed.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 6:13 AM

    Hail, Museveni! Big Dada Wins Another ‘Democratic’ Election in Uganda!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have been lamenting Uganda’s floundering democracy all my adult life. With respect to elections, here is what I wrote years ago in “Where’s the Outrage?! Opposition Leaders Doing Hard Time During Elections,” December 30, 2006.

    ____________________

    home01pixUganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is no more a democratic pioneer in Africa than Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is in the Middle East. Yet Western leaders routinely lavish Museveni with praise for his democratic leadership.

    In “Another Commonwealth Summit on Trade Ends with Imperial Promises but no Guarantees,” November 29, 2005, I noted with derision that:

    Delegates spent almost as much time defending their decision to allow Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to host their next summit, as they did spinning the platitudes about trade and good governance contained in their joint Communiqué into something approximating substantive achievement.

    DKB-denied-bail-at-Nabweru-Magistrates-Court-and-remanded-21-April-2011Except that their decision was indefensible. Because, only weeks before this summit, Museveni had opposition leader Kizza Besigye arrested on a battery of charges ranging from terrorism to rape. More to the point, these Commonwealth leaders knew full well that Museveni timed Besigye’s arrest to prevent him from running in national elections scheduled for next February.

    Yet they not only refused to censure Museveni; they reaffirmed their intent to allow him to host their summit in 2007. The damning irony of treating his re-election as a fait accompli seemed completely lost on them.

    So, where’s the outrage?

    ____________________

    Now, again with respect to elections, here is what Al Jazeera reported on Monday:

    Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye has been bundled into a van outside his home by police as his supporters planned a march to protest against the results of a presidential election.

    The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party leader had been under heavy police guard since he was placed under house arrest on Saturday, shortly before the election results were announced.

    President Yoweri Museveni, who seized power as the leader of a rebellion in 1986, was returned to power with 60.8 percent of the vote. Besigye secured 35.4 percent, according to the electoral commission.

    Alas, plus ca change.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 7.22.06 PM

    Incidentally, I have been lamenting Zimbabwe’s floundering democracy too. The parallels are uncanny. In fact, elections there have seen President Robert Mugabe treat opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai much as Museveni treats Besigye. I bemoaned the despairing dynamics of the former relationship in many commentaries, including “World Is ‘Shocked, Shocked’ that Mugabe Had Opposition Leader Beaten and Arrested,” March 15, 2007, “Mugabe Makes Dictator’s Pitch for Re-election,” March 29, 2008, and “It’s Hail, Mugabe! Again,” August 4, 2013.

    In any event, the Obama administration registered pro forma complaints about election irregularities, which included shutting down social media. But there’s no gainsaying that Obama is just as pleased to see Museveni win this rigged election as his predecessors were to see Museveni win previous ones … by any means necessary.

    Granted, given the chaos that followed democratic revolutions against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, one can hardly blame him. Obama is still trying to wash blood off the hand he had in overthrowing them, after all. He learned the hard way that, when it comes to Third World dictatorships, it’s better to support the dictator you know than the revolutionaries you don’t.

    As it happens, this is a lesson some of us have been trying to teach from day one of the ill-fated 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 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….

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

    dicatatorskarlsharro

    Of course, Obama not only abandoned Mubarak but bombed Gaddafi. This is why dictators and potentates across Africa and the Middle East can be forgiven for looking to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a more reliable superpower patron.

    Not to mention the extent to which Putin is going these days to show why he just might be. Specifically, he’s bombing the hell out of opposition forces in Syria to spare his puppet dictator, Bashir al-Assad of Syria, the fate that befell Mubarak and Gaddafi.

    All the same, I’ve become as chastened by political corruption in Africa as I’ve been for years by sectarian strife in the Middle East; not least because political intervention in the former has proved every bit as feckless, if not counterproductive, as military intervention in the latter.

    This is why I have advocated for benign neglect in such commentaries as “Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds Fighting for Control of Iraq. Stay Out, America!” June 19, 2014, “Demystifying ISIS: the Case against Obama’s Bush-Lite War on Terrorism,” September 10, 2014, “Fatal Assistance … Oxymoron Intended,” February 3, 2015, and “Global Fight against ‘Extreme Poverty,’” October 21, 2015.

    Accordingly, I reiterate that the United States should leave countries in those regions to their own devices; that is, just as Europe left the United States to its own devices in the decades following independence. Moreover, self-righteous and interventionist Americans would do well to remember that it took a civil war and 100 years of enforcing Apartheid-like laws before America became the America it is today.

    It might seem incomprehensible that countries in Africa and the Middle East could emulate the United States in this respect. If left to their own devices, however, I suspect they would establish the means of self-preservation and peaceful coexistence in less than half that time.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, February 22, 2016 at 5:51 AM

    Apple Defends iPhones as Safe Haven for Terrorists to Plot

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Three years ago, Edward Snowden made defying government mass surveillance a cause celebre. Ever since, tech companies have been in the vanguard of those championing this cause.

    From day one, however, I’ve been decrying their hypocrisy and the ignorance of their customers. This excerpt – from “Complaints about NSA Spying Are Schizophrenic … and Misguided,” June 8, 2013 – is illustrative.

    __________________

    Americans complaining about the government spying on them is rather like Kim Kardashian complaining about the paparazzi taking pictures of her…

    nsa17_00In this Information Age, tech companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and WikiLeaks are masters of the universe. But they have created a schizophrenic human species – whose members share everything about everything, yet claim to be zealous about their privacy.

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

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

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

    __________________

    Except that it’s one thing for tech companies to exploit the ignorance of their customers to sell them stuff. It’s quite another for them to defy a court order to help the government keep their customers safe.

    Tim CookYet this is the incomprehensible and untenable defiance Apple is mounting today as if its corporate life depends on it.

    The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion on Friday seeking to compel Apple Inc. to comply with a judge’s order to unlock the encrypted iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters, portraying the tech giant’s refusal as a ‘marketing strategy…’

    The Justice Department said its Friday motion was a response to Apple CEO Tim Cook’s public statement Wednesday, which included a refusal to ‘hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.’

    ‘Rather than assist the effort to fully investigate a deadly terrorist attack … Apple has responded by publicly repudiating that order,’ prosecutors wrote in the Friday filing.

    (Reuters, February 19, 2016)

    Unsurprisingly, other tech companies are supporting Apple; its defiance furthers their commercial interests. But it is utterly stupefying that ordinary folks are doing so too. After all, judges routinely sign warrants which force us to open our homes for all kinds of searches and seizes. They sign similar warrants to force us to even give hair and blood samples.

    Therefore, Apple must believe its customers’ iPhones are more inviolate than their homes, even their bodies. Only this belief explains its defiance. Never mind the schizophrenic premise upon which it is based; namely, that people who use iPhones to share everything about their private lives want Apple to protect their privacy.

    3168CB9600000578-0-Long_history_Cook_meets_vice_premier_Li_Keqiang_in_2012_Although-a-36_1456019357153Meanwhile, Apple’s compliance with the Chinese government makes a mockery of its defiance against the American government. Not least because this betrays the fact that Apple is all too willing to sacrifice customer privacy for corporate profit:

    Detractors of Apple’s decision to refuse to hack an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters for the FBI have questioned why, if the company feels it must protect ‘the security of its customers’ it apparently complied with the Chinese government’s demand to show it secret data one year ago.

    In January last year Quartz reported that according to Chinese news agencies, Apple agreed to let the Chinese government perform ‘security checks’ to confirm that there were no ‘backdoors’ that might let the U.S. government read Chinese citizens’ data. The country had threatened Apple’s access to the Chinese market.

    (London Daily Mail, February 20, 2016)

    And if you believe the Chinese government used Apple to protect the privacy of its citizens, your naiveté is matched only by Apple’s hypocrisy.

    To be fair, though, Apple merely did what other tech companies have done. I decried their hypocrisy over a decade ago in “Google Adopts Bush Administration’s Motto of Moral Relativism,” January 26, 2006.

    __________________

    Just days ago, I joined others in praising Google for defying the Bush Administration’s demand for information about the Internet searches and surfing habits of its customers. Google insisted that Americans had a reasonable expectation that their online activities would remain private.

    Yesterday, however, Google made a mockery of that principled stand by following the compromised path into the Chinese market, which Microsoft, Yahoo, and other tech companies had already blazed. Like them, Google agreed to help China’s totalitarian government spy on and censor its citizens’ use of the Internet in exchange for market access.

    But the headline for this latest example of corporate hypocrisy should read, ‘Google enters China but leaves its conscience back home.’

    __________________

    Of course, Google won fame and scorn in equal measure for writing in its code of conduct the motto, “Don’t Be Evil.” Therefore, it must reflect the company’s consciousness of guilt that it removed this motto as an organizing principle when it reorganized under new parent Alphabet last fall.

    The point is that U.S. tech companies have been helping the totalitarian Chinese government invade the privacy of its citizens for years. Yet they would have you believe that – in refusing to help the democratic American government invade the privacy of one dead terrorist – Apple is standing on sound corporate principle. This should strike even stupid Americans as not only hypocritical but patently absurd.

    Not so long ago, Hollywood stars like Robert De Niro acted as if doing commercials in America were déclassé while acting as if doing them in Japan were cultured. But their hypocrisy pales in comparison to that of Silicon Valley CEOs like Tim Cook – who crusade for civil liberties in America while helping to crush them in China; not least because the hypocrisy in this latter case pertains to matters of life and death.

    To be fair, Apple is arguing that if it complies in this case, the government might force it to develop code to unlock every iPhone ever sold; further, that terrorists might hack this code. But this smacks of the specious, immoral, slippery-slope argument Swiss bankers once used to keep private the accounts of Nazi swindlers and narcotraffickers.

    In any event, as indicated above, just as the police have the right to search any home pursuant to a judicial warrant, they should have the right to search any phone. More to the point, notwithstanding Apple’s propaganda about protecting your privacy, if the police have never had probable cause to search your home, chances are they will never have probable cause to search your phone.

    snowden-johns-hopkinsOn the other hand, Apple defying the government in this fashion is no more hypocritical and absurd than Edward Snowden complaining about U.S. mass surveillance while hiding out in Russia. After all, mass surveillance in Russia rivals what Apple helps government officials execute in China.

    I can’t make this stuff up, folks. But I’ve decried it in many commentaries, including “More Evidence Snowden Leaks Undermining Global Security,” June 16, 2015, “From Spycraft to Stagecraft, Snowden Debuts as Putin’s ‘Useful Idiot,’” April 22, 2014, and “I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy,” July 2, 2013.

    All the same, it gives me pause that buffoonish Donald Trump proposed the only meaningful way Apple’s customers can react to its defiance: They can boycott Apple products. Granted, Trump’s presidential campaign seems like little more than an organized version of the drug-induced meltdown Charlie Sheen acted out on TV a few years ago.  Nonetheless, on this, I agree with Trump.

    Alas, for most people, boycotting would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Indeed, late-breaking news is that its customers, for whom Apple can do no wrong, are organizing protests this week in cities throughout the United States. They intend to protest what they see as government persecution of Apple. Like I said: nincompoops!

    This is why, given its willful failure to obey this court order, the only hope is for the judge to impose a fine for contempt that makes even Apple hurt where it counts.

    Stay tuned.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 10:07 AM

    Pope says Jewish Bernie better than any Christian Republican

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    175699_600

    Inserting himself into the Republican presidential race, Pope Francis on Wednesday suggested that Donald J. Trump ‘is not Christian’ because of the harshness of his campaign promises to deport more immigrants and force Mexico to pay for a wall along the border.

    [Trump responded immediately, denouncing the pope’s remarks as ‘disgraceful’ and warning that] ‘If and when the Vatican is attacked, the pope would only wish and have prayed that Donald Trump would have been elected president.’

    (New York Times, February 18, 2016)

    It might seem a contradiction, if not an apostasy, that this pope considers the Jewish candidate a better messenger of Christian values than any of the Christian candidates running for president. But this should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the basic tenets of Christianity; to say nothing of the historical symmetry Bernie represents: Jesus was a Jew, after all.

    More to the point, like Pope Francis, Jewish Bernie Sanders channels Jesus with his rhetoric about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and urging the rich to show more concern for the poor. His campaign message clearly telegraphs his intent to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable (i.e., to do what Jesus would).

    By contrast, like Rev. Ike, Christian Republicans channel Mammon with their rhetoric about the lack of money being the root of all evil, the rich being favored by God, and the poor getting nothing from welfare but more poverty. Their campaign message clearly telegraphs their intent make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

    Republican presidential candidates would have you believe that Bernie is just peddling failed socialists policies. But the stump speeches he delivers are replete with the very Christian teachings most Republicans profess to follow – pursuant to the articles of their Christian faith.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 12.23.49 PM

    As he does with everything, Trump boasts about the love Evangelicals have for him. But they have clearly lost their way. It’s a testament to just how far that more Evangelicals are filling stadiums to hear Trump boast about his wealth than are filling churches to hear pastors preach about their God…

    Trump is brazenly exploiting his “relationship” with Evangelicals for all it’s worth. Never mind that their relationship is based primarily on Trump boasting about his wealth and evangelicals hailing it as a representation of the God who will help Trump lead them down the primrose path…

    Evangelicals seem drunk with wonder as they hang on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Trump. But I am constrained to ask: What will it profit an Evangelical if he gains Trump as president, but loses his own soul?

    (“Evangelicals Supporting Donald Trump like Israelites Worshipping Golden Calf,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 20, 2016)

    Frankly, the reason so many Christians support Trump as the Republican standard-bearer is that he personifies the newfangled prosperity gospel so many Evangelical pastors preach these days. Indeed, these pastors have so perverted the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have millions of Evangelicals believing that the easiest way to get into heaven is to get rich, or die trying.

    Mind you, these same Evangelicals would have you believe that the surest sign of evil and the end of times is when people defy God to become:

    Lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God —  having a form of godliness but denying its power.

    (2 Timothy 3-6)

    Hell, I can’t think of a better, more comprehensive description of Donald J. Trump than this. Can you?

    What’s more, the Bible warns that Christians should have nothing to do with such people – who will “worm their way into homes and gain control of [the] gullible.”

    Republicans would do well to take heed.

    Amen.

    Related commentaries:
    Republicans are gullible fools

  • Friday, February 19, 2016 at 7:20 AM

    “Hillary Is a Lesbian”?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you.

    In fact, rumors about Hillary’s sexuality have dogged her for as long as rumors about Bill’s infidelity have dogged him. Except that, where Bill’s indiscretions soon confirmed rumors about him, Hillary’s discretion always kept them in doubt about her.

    Bill-Clintons-War-on-WomenBut things changed in 1992, when they seemed poised to win the first installation of their two-for-one presidencies. Specifically, women began coming out of the woodwork to accuse Bill of being not just a serial philanderer but a rapist too boot.

    Perhaps you recall the likes of Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, and Maria Crider. What virtually no news organization reported, however, was that these women invariably blamed Hillary for excusing, defending, and covering up Bill’s sexual exploits.

    More to the point, they insinuated that she did so not because she loves him, but because she’s a zealous guardian of their mutual political ambitions and keeper of her dirty little secret.

    One could hardly blame these accusers for assuming their revelations would halt Bill and Hillary’s march to the White House. Given the way events unfolded, however, one can hardly blame Bill and Hillary for assuming that no accusation, no matter how damning, will ever hurt them.

    hillary-vast-right-wing-conspiracyNo doubt you recall how the 1998 Lewinsky scandal threw the Clintons’ MO into salacious relief. Notably, Hillary played her enabling role by blaming Bill’s affair with a White-House intern on a vast right-wing conspiracy. But they weathered even this – complete with an impeachment trial – like water off the back of a duck.

    It was hardly surprising, therefore, that the official “outing” of Hillary had so little impact. Indeed, you’re probably thinking: What outing? Well, it came in the form of a 2005 biography by Edward Klein titled, intriguingly enough, The Truth About Hillary. Here – in “Hillary Exposed!” April 14, 2005 – is how I commented on the twittering about its pending publication.

    _________________

    Washingtonians are all atwitter about another ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ that threatens to kill the political ambitions of Bill and Hillary Clinton (i.e., their famous ‘two for one’ presidencies – with his down, and hers to go … in ‘08). The plot centers around a ‘hit’ biography, which promises such titillating revelations, it looms as a cross between Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth and Sarah Waters’s Tipping the Velvet.

    hillaryRAWThe hired assassin is the notorious biographer, Edward Klein, who made exposing the Kennedy family’s dirty little secrets a veritable cottage industry. His attack on Hillary is due in the fall, just when scrimmaging for the 2008 presidential election begins in earnest.

    Hillary is maintaining a brave face. But insiders say that she has donned a breastplate worthy of a high priestess of the Amazons. Further, that she has retained a gaggle of PR flaks to launch a preemptive campaign to tar and feather Klein and anyone who provides ammo for his hit piece.

    Of course, Hillary couldn’t care less what tidbits he writes about her political ambitions. What she fears, and what has the chattering classes salivating, are tidbits confirming that she and Bill have a marriage of convenience. Specifically, one that allows Bill his flagrant dalliances with bimbos of all types and Hillary her secret assignations with women of a certain age, sophistication … and discretion.

    __________________

    As it happened, Klein’s book had even less impact on Washingtonians than a one-minute man might have on courtesans.

    Which brings me to the latest and perhaps most credible account of why Bill does what he does, and why Hillary continually reacts like some little woman standing by her man, like Tammy Wynette. This, despite dissing Wynette’s ballad of the doormat wife in that famous 60 Minutes interview on January 26, 1992.

    In this case, reports are that former Miss Arkansas Sally Miller is writing a tell-all. She promises to dish secrets Bill divulged about his marriage during their affair in 1983.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 10.39.23 AMLike the tease the Washington Times published in 2005 for Klein’s book, the London Daily Mail published a tease on Tuesday for Sally’s. But talk about burying the lead. Here are three things the Daily Mail quotes Miller saying about their pillow talk, which clearly render any reading of her book anticlimactic:

    Bill didn’t mind telling me that Hillary doesn’t like sex…

    Hillary is a lesbian…

    Most everyone in Arkansas assumed that their marriage was a business arrangement.

    As indicated above, Bill and Hillary have shown time and again that their political ambitions are immune to rumor and innuendo about their private lives. In fact, they belie punditry about Donald Trump’s ability to survive scandal being unprecedented.

    Huma-Abedin-and-Hillary-ClintonApropos of this, the relationship between Hillary and her devoted assistant Huma Abedin has always seemed more Sapphic than professional. Just as the relationship between Oprah and her BFF Gayle has always seemed more Sapphic than platonic.

    This is why Oprah posting Instagram valentines about her romantic love for Stedman is no more credible than her testifying about Jenny Craig being the diet that will finally reveal her skinny inner self … for good. After all, she has testified in similar fashion about too many other breakthrough diets over the years. I commented on Oprah and Gayle’s special relationship in “Oprah Protests, ‘I’m Not Gay,’” July 19, 2006. But I digress.

    The point is that reporters are currently scavenging court-ordered dumps of Hillary’s e-mails from her days as secretary of state for evidence of classified correspondence. But I doubt her presidential campaign would suffer any setback even if they happen upon e-mail exchanges between her and Huma that are redolent of lesbian affection.

    On the other hand, such exchanges would explain why Huma emulated Hillary when she stood by her man, Anthony Weiner, after he exposed himself as an even bigger sex fiend than Bill. This clearly qualifies Huma for entry into the rogue’s gallery of women who betray their gender liberation and personal integrity by behaving like housewives from the 1950s.

    I gave up some time ago trying to reason why purportedly liberated women, like Camille Cosby and Hillary Clinton, stand by men who humiliate them.

    The ardent feminist in me would like to think this simply reflects their evolved understanding that marriage is about a lot more than (sexual) monogamy. But it may be that they are riding so high on the power trip these marriages afford them that they couldn’t care any less how much their husbands betray traditional notions of fidelity (or legality?).

    (“Hypocrisy of Eliot Spitzer’s Assignations with Prostitutes,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 11, 2008)

    Incidentally, nothing proves that a sex fiend never changes his behavior quite like former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer making news again this week for yet another scandalous assignation with a prostitute….

    billhilld-713174Still, here is what portends if Bill and Hillary lose this campaign, which (unlike ’08) would surely end all hope of ever fulfilling their two-for-one presidential ambitions.

    Royal’s resounding defeat by Sarkozy to become president of France precipitated not only the dissolution of her and Hollande’s personal relationship but also the termination of their political partnership…

    This Royal-Hollande scandal should help puritanical Americans put their moral indignation over Bill and Hillary’s mercenary and (seemingly) loveless marriage into context…

    If Hillary loses the U.S. presidential election next year, I suspect this would also trigger not only the dissolution of their marriage, but also the termination of their political partnership; and, perhaps, in even more precipitous and salacious fashion.

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

    Stay tuned.

    hillary-aguilaraIn the meantime, you can be forgiven for thinking that Bernie’s political operatives have something to do with the timing of this latest “truth about Hillary.” Except that he has been loath even to exploit her e-mail indiscretions for political advantage. Therefore, I doubt Bernie would touch the black hole of Hillary’s lesbianism with a 10-foot pole.

    The character he shows by refusing to do so is just one of the many reasons:

    I would like nothing more than to see Bernie do to Hillary in 2016 what Barack did to her in 2008.

    (“Bernie Sanders: The Democrats’ Ron Paul…?” The iPINIONS Journal, July 2, 2015)

    Related commentaries:
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    Segolene Hollande
    Eliot spritzer

  • Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 6:43 AM

    Tyga Dissing Paul McCartney Reflects Farce Grammy Night Has Become

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’m on record stating how much I dislike the Oscars. I have little regard for preening, pampered poseurs showing off their borrowed frocks and bling-bling as a prelude to a three-hour show — only six minutes of which anyone really cares about (i.e., the time it takes to present Oscars for actor and actress in a leading role, actor and actress in a supporting role, best director, and best picture)…

    And, remarkably enough, the host comedians do little to relieve the boredom of the interludes between these carefully spread-out moments.

    (“My Review of the 2008 Oscars,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 25, 2008)

    The above explains why I stopped watching the Oscars years ago. But it also pertains to other shows like the Grammys, American Music Awards, and Video Music Awards (VMAs).

    I felt vindicated in this respect on August 31, 2015, when entertainment chronicler TMZ dismissed the most recent VMAs as “dumb people doing dumb things while wearing dumb outfits and talking about dumb stuff.” In fact, TMZ’s review compelled me to write a commentary titled “Why Is Any Self-Respecting Adult Still Watching the VMAs,” September 18, 2015.

    Instead of watching, I amuse myself by reading morning-after reviews. In this case, Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar were the headline performers. They were also the biggest winners.

    hamilton-public

    But raves for the best performance of the night went to Hamilton, whose cast performed via satellite from their theatre 2,500 miles away on Broadway. No doubt Taylor flubbing high notes and Kendrick spewing ebonic lyrics made raves for Hamilton easy.

    0216-adele-inset-810x960Perhaps most telling, though, were the technical difficulties that made Adele’s performance of “All I Ask” sound like a scratching-vinyl version by a drunken DJ. Viral images of her despairing, WTF-is-happening expression will live on Grammy infamy.

    Frankly, everything I read indicated that the highlights of Monday night’s 58th Grammy Awards were more cringeworthy than exciting. Alas, like all awards shows, it now features more shameless self-promotion than unadulterated talent.

    Hence, my suggestion that Adele should not even dignify these shows with her performance:

    Most performers seem to think the key to success is looking and behaving in a way off stage that makes what they do on stage seem almost irrelevant: Exhibits A and B are Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj, respectively.

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

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

    Incidentally, regarding the VMAs I referenced above, Salon magazine chimed in with an instructive morning-after rant titled “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?”

    In a similar vein, one should ask why any self-respecting adult is still watching the Grammys. But I suspect, where Adele performing is concerned, it shall be nevermore.

    d0a88cb8cd8dab1471c74db0b3af4c42Meanwhile, Lady Gaga reportedly turned her tribute to David Bowie into an infomercial for her corporate sponsor, Intel.

    People are giving white rapper Macklemore lots of props for his rap against White Privilege in the music industry. But, with all due respect to him, Bowie was doing this before Macklemore was born. Perhaps you’ve seen the clip of Bowie calling out MTV programmers in 1983 for refusing to feature black artists.

    Given this, that Grammy producers refused to pay tribute to Natalie Cole speaks volumes. Especially considering that it would only have required limiting Gaga’s self-indulgent, ten-song tribute to Bowie to, say, nine, and having someone like Alicia Keys sing a one-song tribute to Cole. But I suppose that would have been too much in Bowie’s enlightened racial spirit.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 11.39.50 AM

    Yet, of everything I read about this Grammy night, nothing was more cringeworthy than this:

    He’s been recognized as one of the most successful composers and performers of all time.

    However, that apparently wasn’t enough for Paul McCartney to gain access to Argyle nightclub in Hollywood on Monday evening after the Grammy Awards.

    As reported by TMZ, The Beatles star, 73, was turned away from Tyga’s after-party twice before giving in and heading over to the Republic Records party at Hyde.

    (London Daily Mail, February 16, 2016)

    kris-jenner-kylie-jenner-tyga-heroMind you, the problem was not so much Tyga dissing McCartney – if that is in fact what happened. Rather, it was a legendary rocker like McCartney playing starry-eyed groupie to a mediocre rapper like Tyga.

    This would’ve made a little sense if he were attempting to crash a Pharrell Williams or even a Jay Z after-party. Of course, in that case, Pharrell or Jay Z’s people would have laid out the red carpet for him.

    But let’s face it, the only thing Tyga is famous for is molesting the youngest Kardashian-Jenner, which explains the arrogant ignorance that radiates from and orbits around his so-called thug life.

    But talk about a WTF-is-happening moment. At long last, Sir Paul, have you no shame?

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, February 15, 2016 at 6:09 AM

    The iPINIONS Journal Is 11 !

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 10.13.16 AM

     

    As improbable as it seemed when I launched this weblog, today marks the 11th anniversary of The iPINIONS Journal.

    Remarkably enough, I enjoy writing my commentaries even more now than I did back then. It might be a little more challenging, but I have no doubt I’ll be writing them for at least another eleven years.

    Apropos of which, I marveled when I read in his CBS obituary (dated November 5, 2011) that Andy Rooney, one of my favorite commentators, wrote 1,097 commentaries during his 30 years at ’60 Minutes.’ I’m amazed and humbled, in equal measure, that I’ve written 3,512 to date. (Hundreds more if I include the updates I write exclusively for my annual compilation, the 11th volume of which is scheduled for publication in April.)

    Of course, I’d consider myself very lucky indeed if you find my commentaries half as interesting as I found Andy’s.

    Thank you for your support, especially the cherished few who have read every commentary and provided feedback from day one!

    ALH

  • Sunday, February 14, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    Antonin Scalia, Pugnacious Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Justice Antonin Scalia, whose transformative legal theories, vivid writing and outsize personality made him a leader of a conservative intellectual renaissance in his three decades on the Supreme Court, was found dead on Saturday at a resort in West Texas…

    ‘He was an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,’ Chief Justice Roberts said.

    (New York Times, February 13, 2016)

    Orange County News - Aug 29, 2005Of course, chances are that over 80 percent of the American people have no clue who Antonin Scalia was. No doubt they know even less about the conservative jurisprudence that made him so controversial. On cases calling for racial equality, for example, he propounded opinions that made sense only to racist demagogues like Donald Trump.

    Nonetheless, the politicization of the U.S. Supreme Court has become such that all anyone needs to know is that Scalia was to American jurisprudence what Ted Cruz is becoming to American politics; that is, a doctrinaire, dogmatic, and divisive force.

    Mind you, conservatives rushing to eulogize him would have you believe he belongs in the pantheon of top-10 Supreme Court justices, alongside the like of John Marshall, Earl Warren, and Louis Brandeis. But this is every bit as specious and self-serving as musicians rushing recently to eulogize David Bowie as if he belongs in the pantheon of top-10 rock-and-roll stars, alongside the like of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Jimi Hendrix. Neither Scalia nor Bowie even belongs in the top-20, respectively.

    Granted, my allusion to Cruz assumes more people have a clue who he is. But this is a reasonable assumption — even if only because he has been playing a feature role in the TV spectacle that is the ongoing Republican presidential campaign. Now he’s leading the chorus of Republican leaders issuing condolences that convey more concern about Scalia’s replacement than his death.

    It took only a few minutes after news broke of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Saturday for conservatives to demand that Senate Republicans block any replacement nominated by President Barack Obama.

    It took just a little while more for Republican leadership to agree with them.

    In a swift statement designed to warn Barack Obama against even nominating a replacement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged to sit on his hands for the remaining 11 months of the president’s term.

    (Huffington Post, February 13, 2016)

    Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 11.33.05 PM

    This telegraphs why nothing will have become Scalia on the Court quite like leaving it. But I presaged years ago what his death now portends.

    Partisan politics has so infected even the hallowed chambers of the Court (see Bush v. Gore 2000) that Republicans can be forgiven for thinking that it will declare Obamacare unconstitutional – with the five justices who were nominated by Republican presidents ruling to overturn it and the four nominated by Democratic presidents ruling to uphold it.

    (“Supreme Court to Rule on Landmark Healthcare Reform Law,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 23, 2011)

    In other words, it has become as daring as it is damnable for any Republican appointee to vote with Democratic appointees on any controversial political issue (like abortion and gay rights), and vice versa.

    It is noteworthy that no appointee towed the Republican Party line more viscerally and pugnaciously than Scalia. This, notwithstanding that Justice Clarence Thomas became equally notorious for towing silently along, like the Court’s Penn and Teller. Perhaps now Thomas will find his voice — even if only in an injudicious attempt to fill Scalia’s shoes. In “Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Speaks?” October 1, 20007, I bemoaned the deaf, dumb and mute role Thomas has played on the Court since his controversial appointment in 1991.

    robertsBy the same token, it is instructive that, every time Republican presidential candidates vow to repeal Obamacare, they damn Chief Justice Roberts as traitor for voting with the Democratic appointees to uphold it. But imagine America’s fate if justice is rendered according to the political affiliation of the judge instead of the evidence in the case.

    Yet  I have argued for years that conservatives and liberals on the Supreme Court have devolved into little more than glorified hired guns for the Republican Party and Democratic Party, respectively. This is why Republicans will consider it an article of faith to obstruct confirmation of any Obama nominee. After all, if appointed, this justice would tip the balance of the Court towards affirming Democratic (aka liberal) politics.

    You might find it unthinkable that they would really hold the Court hostage for their political purposes. Except that these are the same Republicans who have spent the past seven years doing all they can to wreck the U.S. economy just to vindicate their propaganda about Obama being a failed president.

    Their dark, ulterior motive is to see America become so dysfunctional and humiliated under Obama’s leadership that Americans would not even consider electing another Black person as president for at least another 100 years.

    Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has declared repeatedly, and quite unabashedly, that, ‘The single most-important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.’ (National Journal, October 23, 2010)

    That, folks, is what this is all about – not about creating jobs, or reducing the national debt, or maintaining America’s AAA credit rating, [or preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons].

    (“S&P Downgrades U.S. Credit Rating,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 8, 2011)

    Unfortunately, as the majority party in the Senate, Republicans control the judicial confirmation process. They now have far more power to obstruct an Obama judicial nominee than they ever had to obstruct any economic policy.

    USJudgeV5Oct32013-2Therefore, even if Obama nominates an appellate judge like Sri Srinivasan to replace Scalia, Republicans will fight to their political death to delay, until they effectively block, his appointment. This is noteworthy because, just three years ago, the Senate confirmed him 97-0 to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is arguably the most influential court in the country after the Supreme Court.

    Not to mention the enabling fact that more justices were appointed directly from this Circuit Court to this Supreme Court than anywhere else. They include conservatives John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Scalia himself, as well as liberal Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

    In other words, it behooves Obama to nominate an appellate judge who has won unanimous Senate confirmation in recent years.

    Whatever the case, this is a fight Obama should not only welcome but relish. I’m encouraged that he has already declared his intent to nominate a replacement in due course. He cited his determination to execute his constitutional duties. But he also noted that doing so would ensure the proper functioning of the Court to which Scalia devoted his life.

    Republicans would clearly compromise this functioning if they succeed in blocking Obama’s nominee. For this would require the Court to function for up to two years with only eight justices, evenly divided along ideological lines – with all of the burdens and foreseeable gridlock that would entail.

    Never mind that enforcing this judicial gridlock would only ape the congressional gridlock Republicans have enforced from day one. In fact, this would finally throw into stark relief how determined they have been to undermine Obama’s presidency. Hell, Republicans have obstructed his policies even when that meant betraying their own voting record, the welfare of the country be damned.

    On the other hand, blocking his nominee would enable Democrats to frame November’s general election as a referendum on Republican obstructionism as much as Obama’s accomplishments. In fact, never before in modern times have the American people had just cause to vote straight party line for Democrats.

    Accordingly, I urge you to vote for the Democratic candidate for the House, the Senate, and the White House — whether that person ends up being Hillary or my choice, Bernie.

    supremes

    Voting for Republicans will only reward their rabid, if not racist, obstructionism. More to the point, it will give a Republican president the opportunity to nominate a replacement – not just for Scalia but possibly three others of advanced age – with a justice in each case who is even more doctrinaire, dogmatic, and divisive. And a Republican-controlled Senate will confirm each one in a heartbeat.

    Incidentally, Republicans might be in for a rude awakening if they cap their unprecedented spree of obstructionism by blocking Obama’s nominee. Because the Court’s putative swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy, might take institutional umbrage by voting with the four Democratic appointees on politically contentious cases.

    85What’s more, Republicans are basing their declared intent to block this nominee on the contention that it’s been over 80 years since the Senate confirmed a nominee in an election year.

    Never mind that the leading Republicans making this contention actually voted in a Democratic-controlled Senate to confirm no less a Republican nominee than Kennedy himself in 1988. That was an election year, which also happened to be the final year in office for the Republican president who nominated him, Ronald Reagan.

    These inconvenient truths would compel any Republican senator with an ounce of political principle to support a timely and fair hearing for Obama’s nominee. Unfortunately, most Republicans have become so brazen and shameless, they simply disregard facts that do not support their partisan objectives.

    They are trying to distinguish Kennedy’s confirmation by arguing that Reagan actually nominated him in 1987. But this is so specious, arbitrary and capricious, it’s laughable.

    Despite their  protestations, however, I suspect cooler heads will prevail and Republicans will cave — even if that means voting en bloc to oppose the nominee, no matter how supremely qualified. Because failure to even hold a hearing, as Senator Cruz and others are threatening to do, would be tantamount to mass political suicide.

    In any event, beware people, and vote smart! I cannot overstate that, if a Republican succeeds Obama, it will only be a matter of time before he nominates justices hell-bent on overturning legislation on everything from abortion to healthcare, climate change, and civil rights (for blacks and gays). Not to mention the likelihood of him plunging the country back into stupid wars just to prove his manhood.

    That said, my condolences to Justice Scalia’s loved ones.

    He reportedly died of natural causes. He was 79.

    Farewell, Antonin.

    Related commentaries:
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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Saturday, at 10:24 p.m.

  • Saturday, February 13, 2016 at 6:51 AM

    Higgs Boson. Gravitational Waves. HIV/AIDS? Zika Virus?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A team of scientists announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

    That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago. It completes his vision of a universe in which space and time are interwoven and dynamic, able to stretch, shrink and jiggle.

    (New York Times, February 11, 2016)

    Perhaps you saw these scientists on TV hailing this as the greatest scientific discovery since, well, E = mc2. I’m sure they intended no disrespect to the discovery of everything from the Big Bang to the Atomic Bomb.

    But I recall a team of scientists announcing a few years ago that they had discovered the Higgs boson, which they hailed in similar fashion.

    higgsbosonb

    Higgs boson (aka the God particle) was the theoretical missing link that explains (or should explain) the DNA – not just of our universe, but of others that might be out there.

    Certainly, watching scientists behave at Wednesday’s news conference announcing this discovery like little girls at a Justin Bieber concert indicates what a big deal they think it is…

    Frankly, not since Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988) has there been so much media hype about a subject so few people know anything about…

    Therefore, whatever benefits it might lead to at some point in the distant future, I suspect this discovery will have about as much impact on our daily lives as the pre-historic discovery of Halley’s comet.

    (“The God Particle? Hardly…,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 7, 2012)

    Moreover, after the God particle, you’d have thought discovery of gravitational waves (or any phenomenon related to the origin of the universe) would pale into insignificance. Indeed, this is a deduction even I, with my C in Physics 101, can make without fear of contradiction.

    But at least we can relate, in this case, by looking at the gravitational “waves of panic” the two black holes of plummeting oil prices and plummeting stock prices are causing across the globe.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 7.53.15 PM

    Meanwhile, hope springs eternal for “Breaking News” featuring a team of scientists announcing their discovery of a cure for cancer, a vaccine for HIV, or even a cure for the common cold, for Christ’s sake. Until then, these physicists really should keep their quixotic backslapping to themselves.

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  • Friday, February 12, 2016 at 5:40 AM

    New Hampshire Primary Proved One-Third of Republicans Are Gullible Fools

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I pledged over a year ago to eschew commenting on this presidential campaign because nobody can do so without compromising his dignity. I trust the reason for this is self-evident.

    I have essentially honored my pledge, despite constant entreaties from friends, real and virtual. But sometimes the entreaty was too much. Such was the case on Wednesday, after I published a commentary on the World Economic Forum instead of the New Hampshire primary.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 8.47.52 AMI hereby oblige.

    Donald Trump is nothing more than the P.T. Barnum of business: a huckster who thrives on the maxim that ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’…

    Sadly, far too many people think Trump would make a good president. They are the suckers to whom he could sell swampland in the Florida Everglades as beachfront property, or discredited degrees from his Trump University as even better than accredited degrees from Harvard.

    (“Trump for President? Don’t Be a Sucker,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 8, 2011)

    This quote shows that I was pooh-poohing the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States even before he formally launched his big-top campaign. Which is clearly at odds with the media hailing his win on Tuesday as if he had won not just the Republican nomination but the presidency itself. In fact, his win merely showed that 35 percent of Republicans in one lily-white state are gullible enough to vote for Trump. This, no matter how much (or how often) he proves himself unsuited to be president.

    In this sense, Trump’s supporters are, for the most part, the same poor, uninsured white folks who are so “angry” with Obama, they support rich, insured politicians who are hell-bent on repealing the healthcare Obama provided for them. They are the same blue-color white folks who act as if they have more in common with a white-color billionaire like Trump than fellow blue-color blacks and Hispanics. And, alas, they are the same people who made Honey Boo Boo’s redneck blatherings and Snooki’s moronic antics must-see (reality) TV, signaling America’s descent into the cultural abyss where bombastic hucksters like Trump now thrive.

    Only willful ignorance, born of rabid partisanship or liberated racism, explains why so many refuse to acknowledge Obama’s accomplishments. And only willful ignorance in spades explains why so many think a race-baiting megalomaniac like Donald Trump would make a better president.

    (“Failure to Communicate the Ironic Regret of Obama Presidency,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 22, 2015)

    Clearly, notwithstanding the ignorant fulminations of these Trump supporters, two terms fairly explain their rabid political activism against self-interest: old-fashioned racism and new-fangled xenophobia.

    To be fair, though, I hasten to point out that 65 percent of New Hampshire Republicans voted for other candidates. What’s more, there’s this firewall, which Trump will find far more impenetrable than any wall he can build on the southern border:

    Trump is the most unpopular candidate of either party when the entire U.S. population is taken into account – and that he has a higher unfavorable rating than any nominated candidate from either of the two major parties going back to the 1992 election when we began to track favorability using the current format.

    (Gallup, January 30, 2016)

    Not to mention that more New Hampshirites voted for Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee than those who voted for the top two Republican finishers, Trump and John Kasich, combined. Surely this belies presumptions about a lack of enthusiasm among Democratic voters this year.

    47159c0a-54da-4ef3-88ae-6def01f3bcc7-2060x1236Unfortunately, saturation coverage of Trump’s traveling circus is proving good business for him and the media in equal measure. This is why reporters are as loath to point out these facts as used car salesmen are to point out defects in their lemons.

    Of course, Trump is as Trump does. Accordingly, he’s leading the chorus of reporters and pundits now singing hosannas to him. Neither he nor the media could care any less that his win amounts to much ado about nothing.

    Still, there’s no denying his campaign’s unprecedented displays of buffoonery and vulgarity. But this says far more about the media’s race to the bottom for ratings than The Donald’s dumbing down of presidential politics.

    My pet peeve these days is the malpractice inherent in TV journalists wasting hours every day with idle-minded speculation about the 2016 presidential election – three years before any such speculation could have any news value or relevance. Their malpractice is made brazenly hypocritical by the fact that these are the same journalists who, just months ago, were presenting snarky, indignant reports about retailers promoting Christmas wares in August – three months before any such promotion would seem appropriate.

    (“Journalism Is ‘Having a Very, Very Pathetic Moment,’” The iPINIONS Journal, November 13, 2013)

    Frankly, I cannot denounce the media enough for dedicating more coverage to Trump than all other presidential candidates (Republican and Democratic) combined. If Trump were addressing the issues facing the nation, the media could at least defend their coverage as being in the public interest. But, as Jeb Bush has decried to no avail, Trump has just been “insulting his way” to the nomination — issues be damned.

    Hence this coverage makes a mockery of the media’s role as the fourth estate. It clearly betrays their constitutional fiduciary to act as the people’s watchdog. But, as my quote about journalism having a pathetic moment attests, I’ve been denouncing the tabloidization and twitterization of all news media to no avail for years.

    And don’t get me started on billionaire Trump gloating about getting so much free media it makes his relatively poor rivals, who are spending millions, look like suckers. This, of course, is a textbook example of the system conspiring to make the rich richer and the poor poorer — opposition to which is the galvanizing force behind Bernie’s campaign.

    Apropos of which, coverage of the Republican results was such that you’d never know the Democratic candidates created real drama in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.13.42 AMA year ago, Bernie seemed like a frustrated 73-year-old socialist on the precipice of retirement, which promised to be every bit as inconsequential as his 35-year congressional tenure. By contrast, a year ago, Hillary Clinton seemed like the anointed successor to President Obama, having indentured herself to his service after he upset her to win the 2008 Democratic nomination.

    Yet Bernie not only fought Hillary to a virtual tie in the Iowa Caucuses last week; he beat her by over 20 points in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Which is why Hillary and her die-hard reporters can be forgiven fears that history is repeating itself. But I couldn’t be happier.

    I would like nothing more than to see Bernie do to Hillary in 2016 what Barack did to her in 2008.

    (“Bernie Sanders: The Democrats’ Ron Paul…?” The iPINIONS Journal, July 2, 2015)

    Hopefully, as the Trump circus ends its run, inevitably, increased media coverage of this unfolding drama will cause you to feel the Bern too.

    Unsurprisingly, Bernie’s detractors are spinning fears about him being too old to revolutionize American politics. But bear in mind that Pope Francis’s detractors were spinning fears about him being too old to revolutionize the Catholic Church … until he began doing so. Note also that Bernie is every bit as entertaining in a positive, intelligent, and inspiring way as Trump is in a negative, ignorant, and mean-spirited way.

    AP_Endoresement_Hillary_Clinton_ER_160211_12x5_1600Incidentally, I welcome black celebrities like actor Harry Belafonte, former NCAAP director Ben Jealous, and critically acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates to the cause. Not least because they provide a formidable counter to the way black politicians, led by the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, are lining up to support Hillary.

    Mind you, it behooves her not to put too much stock in their support. After all, these same black politicians lined up to support her in 2008, until the upstart Obama began showing that fairytales can come true. They dropped Hillary like a hot potato.

    I don’t care for celebrity political endorsements. But I’d be a fool not to appreciate the galvanizing impact they could have in our celebrity-obsessed culture.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.23.23 AMOnly this impact explains British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel making quite a show this week of seeking counsel on the migration crisis, which is threatening to tear the European Union asunder, from actor George Clooney and his wife Amal.

    It’s a sad commentary on the state of world affairs that the diplomatic initiatives of a rock star or Hollywood actress are taken more seriously than those of a seasoned statesman. But that is the perverse reality….

    (“Celebrity-Obsessed World Has Made Actors and Rock Stars the Statesmen of Our Times,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 23, 2005)

    With that, I hereby pledge anew that this will be my last commentary on this presidential horse race (i.e., on how candidates fared in latest caucus or primary), until Republicans and Democrats choose their respective nominees this summer. This pledge shall obtain even if former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg dons a third-party hat, making this year’s presidential campaign even more of a three-ring circus.

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  • Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 7:57 AM

    Financial Times: Davos World Economic Forum Is ‘Moronic, Silly, Empty’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    For years, I’ve been decrying the hot air that passes for smart talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Here – from “Why All the Fuss about the World Economic Forum,” January 30, 2006 – is a sample of the informed contempt I developed over a decade ago.

    _________________

    davosb-723105

    The World Economic Forum … is an annual event at which corporate titans, international bankers, world leaders, and a smattering of celebrity do-gooders gather to bloviate about the impact of worldwide developments on their respective businesses, personal wealth, and collective conscience. Politicians and celebrities change from year to year, but the regulars are invariably the same CEOs, investors, and managers who represent the world’s super rich.

    The forum is promoted as ‘impartial and not-for-profit; it is tied to no political, partisan or national interests.’ But movers and shakers know the reason an invitation to this retreat is so coveted is that it’s a rare (and rarified) opportunity to see, and to be seen amongst, the people who really rule the world. And, the PR value of such images alone is priceless…

    The wealthiest one percent would have the rest of us believe that Davos is all about addressing world economic problems that affect our lives. That’s why the most talked-about feature of their gathering is not the (main-event) schmooze-fests for business opportunities; rather, it’s the (undercard) gabfests for charitable causes – at which invited guests sit on panels and blow hot air on issues like climate change and the plight of the poor.

    __________________

    20davoscomp1901a

    This is why I am so heartened that no less a paper than the Financial Times (FT) is now vindicating my contempt for the self-regarding farce this forum has always been.

    In a column titled “Boneheaded Aphorisms from Davos’s Windy Summit,” January 31, 2016, the paper’s associate editor, Lucy Kellaway, ridiculed the perceived wisdom speakers dispense like manna from heaven.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 8.42.33 AMShe littered it with their pithy sayings, which she described as “variously moronic (‘The fourth industrial revolution should be a revolution of values’), silly (‘Let’s put our optimism goggles on’), or empty (‘We are not the prisoners of a predetermined future’).

    To be fair, alcohol flows at this forum as freely as snow falls in the Swiss Alps. Therefore, Davos attendees may well claim that such quotes were alcohol induced and “selected maliciously to make the speakers look foolish.”

    Except that here is what animated this seminal FT column:

    I now discover [that these quotes] were specifically picked by the World Economic Forum not as the stupidest things famous people said at Davos 2016, but as the smartest.

    Most disturbingly – given that Davos is kept afloat on corporate money – every quote devoted to business in not just empty, but wrong…

    The prize for the most boneheaded quote goes to Dan Schulman, CEO of PayPal, who said: ‘The biggest impediment to a company’s future success is its past success.’

    Kellaway duly debunked Schulman’s bone-headedness by noting that past success is actually the best indicator of future success.

    GI_150125_qg5bi_forum-davos_sn635

    More to the point, though, she added that the 35 quotes forum organizers picked to highlight the wisdom speakers imparted were “almost all as dismal” … and wrong.

    Is it any wonder the 2008 financial crisis exposed so many acclaimed geniuses in business and finance as little more than wizards living in a real world of Oz? What’s more, this FT column implies that there are still many of them out there, blithely doing all they can to plunge the world into another financial crisis.

    635570967787271382-AFP-536754239Meanwhile, apropos of hot air, Davos attendees are flaming hypocrites too. After all, the ever-looming apocalypse of climate change always features in their panel discussions. Yet reports are that as many as 1,700 private jets crisscross the pristine Alps each year, taking them to and fro:

    To hear these rich folks lamenting about the depletion of the ozone, the increasing gap between haves and have nots, and the almost criminal waste of non-renewable energy, one would think they jet-pooled to Davos on ethanol-fueled airplanes; whereas they all flew in on gas-guzzling, air-polluting private jets.

    (“Attendees Emit More CO2 than Solutions at Davos World Economic Forum,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 29, 2007)

    Hence my lament about the more the rich talk about helping the poor, the richer the rich become.

    Alas, c’est la vie; plus ca change.

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  • Monday, February 8, 2016 at 5:47 AM

    Broncos Tame Panthers to Win Super Bowl 50

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The National Anthem

    Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 8.56.36 PMWhitney Houston set what might be an unsurpassable bar with her rendition at Super Bowl 25 in 1991. But, arguably, Lady Gaga came as close as any singer has since then.

    Of course, you can be forgiven if you were surprised – not just by how elegant she looked, but also by how well she sang. I was not.

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

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

    Brava, Gaga!

    The game

    Truth be told, there wasn’t much to cheer, or even jeer; except that the jeering Tom Brady got during the pre-game introduction of previous Super Bowl MVPs was an unexpected treat. But the boring nature of this game vindicates my abiding contention that:

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

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

    Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 10.32.29 PM

    Frankly, the most exciting thing for me was thinking of gamblers having conniption fits after the Broncos jumped to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. After all, the Panthers were not only odds-on favorite to win, but had never trailed at any point in any game during the playoffs.

    Instead, they looked like nerve-wracked rookies unable to cope with the pressure of playing on this global stage. And none more so than their superstar quarterback and regular-season MVP, Cam Newton. In fact, he was throwing childish tantrums after bad plays far more often than doing signature dabs after good ones.

    More to the point, given their feckless play over the first three quarters, Panthers fans had no reason to hope their team would overcome a 16-7 deficit going into the fourth. They didn’t: the Broncos won 24-10

    Still, it’s not as if the Broncos played like champs. That they won is mostly a measure, with all due respect, of how badly the putatively invincible Panthers played.

    20160207_090906_von-millerTo be fair, the Broncos proved the counterintuitive maxim that defense wins Football games. Because their defense did to Panther Cam Newton what it did to Patriot Tom Brady (in the AFC championship); that is, pressured, harassed, and sacked both quarterbacks so relentlessly it rendered them hapless and hopelessly frustrated. Not to mention that Denver’s defense accounted for most points in both games.

    No doubt this is what quarterback Peyton Manning meant when he said that he was just along for the ride. And it’s why linebacker Von Miller was so deserving of being named MVP of Super Bowl 50.

    Incidentally, Manning played coy when asked if this was his “last rodeo.” But I’m convinced he’ll be riding off into the sunset as the oldest player (at 39) to win a Super Bowl. Never mind that he’ll be leaving a trail of allegations about taking human growth hormones to help him perform these last few years.

    On the other hand, there was nothing coy about the way he plugged Budweiser beer in every post-game interview. It’s a wonder he didn’t slice in a plug for Papa John’s pizza too; mind you, he probably compensated by making a show of kissing Papa John before his wife after the game.

    Manning is known as a class act. But there was nothing classy about this shameless shilling. What’s more, it should disabuse anyone of the belief that he’s too classy to take steroids.

    Meanwhile, talking heads on TV, sports radio, and social media will be yakking about this game for days, if not weeks to come. But I see no point in commenting any further.

    Congratulations, Denver!

    The Halftime Show

    Chris Martin and Cold Play are no Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, or Bono and U2, for that matter. Still, why book them as the main event, and then invite not just Bruno Mars but Beyoncé too to upstage them?

    Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 9.48.37 PM

    Even so, Bruno and Beyoncé should have left well enough alone. Because their Super Bowl guest performances did not, perhaps could not, live up to the memory of their respective headline performances. The whole show – with its we-are-the-world vibe  seemed, well, overplayed.

    Which is why I propose this rule: One Super Bowl performance, and that’s it! You know, spread the exposure/wealth around. No more of this rich getting richer BS – complete with Beyoncé using this stage to announce her new world tour: she was self-righteous, greedy, and shameless.

    And, by the way, I can think of far better ways to honor victims of Katrina and police brutality than with the video this opportunistic self-promoter dropped the day before, which features more of her twerking than their suffering. Yet, sadly, her loyal subjects will just lap it up. Just sayin’, Queen Bey.

    The commercials

    Apropos of overplayed, here is what I wrote two weeks ago – in “NFL Conference Championship Sunday…” January 25, 2016.

    _________________

    I would be remiss not to comment on the annual hype surrounding Super Bowl commercials — for which companies are paying $5 million for a 30-second spot this year. Frankly, we are treated to so many previews that, by game time, they hold about as much interest as those eye-rolling commercials for erectile dysfunction.

    I gather companies release them early to become trending topics online. Except that, like most topics on social media, people suck them up and spit them out in a viral flash.

    super-bowl-commercials-2012-header.jpg-300x158Not so long ago, even die-hard fans waited with bated breath to see them air during the game; and the best ones trended, in real life, for days and weeks thereafter. These days, most people just see them as opportunities to go to the toilet.

    Which raises the question: Why pay millions to run a commercial on TV during the Super Bowl, only to have people ignore it, when you can pay pittance to release it online during Super Bowl week, and generate viral interest? Surely it’s only a matter of time before this fact dawns on companies.

    Then, of course, there’s this: I have watched many funny, even interesting Super Bowl commercials over the years. But none has ever moved me to purchase the product being advertised. You…?

    _________________

    afe3baf45edf42c3bebdaf08e0de4569That said, I must confess that watching Academy Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins hawk an app for TurboTax made me laugh out loud. Therefore, it gets my vote for best Super Bowl commercial.

    Indeed, this year’s commercials were notable for actors like Dame Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Walken, and Harvey Keitel all “selling out;” so much so that you’d have thought we were watching Japanese TV. Easy money for retirement, I suppose.

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    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Sunday, at 11:09 p.m.

  • Saturday, February 6, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    In case you were wondering how peace talks on Syria went this week…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    175062_600

  • Friday, February 5, 2016 at 7:38 AM

    # Team Clinton So White

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 8.10.51 AM

    Watching a Bloomberg Politics breakfast with Team Clinton yesterday, I got the impression I was spying on a secret meeting of an all-white book club. SMH.

    “With all due respect,” I’m feeling the Bern more than ever today.

    I would like nothing more than to see Bernie do to Hillary in 2016 what Barack did to her in 2008.

    (“Bernie Sanders: The Democrats’ Ron Paul…?” The iPINIONS Journal, July 2, 2015)

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  • Friday, February 5, 2016 at 6:48 AM

    Wikileaker Julian Assange Making News Again. Whoopie!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Five years ago, Julian Assange commanded such media attention, you’d have thought he posed the greatest threat to the United States since Osama bin Laden. Yet media mentions of him soon became as noteworthy as those of Ted Kaczynski or Eric Rudolph. Exactly.

    As it happens, I’m on record not only decrying the cause celebre Assange used to be, but also presaging the hapless sideshow he would become. The following excerpt from “Ecuador Grants Wikileaker Julian Assange Asylum … in London?” August 20, 2012, shows this.

    __________________

    Such is the nature of groupthink among Western commentators that you’d be hard-pressed to find any who support, as I do, Russia’s decision on Friday to incarcerate three Pussy Rioters. The nature of their political hooliganism warrants prosecution.

    558000009488203Likewise you’d be hard-pressed to find any who oppose, as I do, Ecuador’s decision that same day to grant Julian Assange asylum. The nature of his alleged sexual offenses warrants prosecution.

    [Britain] maintains that it has an obligation to extradite him to Sweden in accordance with the Vienna Convention’s Extradition Act and pursuant to the finding of just cause by its own Supreme Court.

    To be fair, Assange maintains that he does not fear criminal prosecution in Sweden. He fears that, if extradited, Sweden will promptly extradite him to the United States to face the death penalty for publishing a treasure trove of classified government documents on his infamous site, WikiLeaks.

    For the record, here is how I characterized his fate in this respect two years ago:

    [I]f these leaks pose (or have caused) the kind of damage U.S. officials claim, then  Julian Assange, the defiant discloser of all government secrets who heads WikiLeaks, should be dead or sitting in Guantanamo Bay.

    (“WikiLeaks More U.S. Secrets,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 29, 2010)

    But I hasten now to clarify that, if extradited, tried, and convicted under the Espionage Act, Assange would be sentenced to prison, not death. After all, the United States stopped executing people for espionage decades ago. It’s also instructive that prosecutors have already declared they will not be seeking the death penalty against Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who stole those classified documents for Assange.

    Meanwhile, it is plainly absurd for Assange to be championing freedom of speech from sanctuary being provided by a country that is notorious for denying this freedom. Not to mention that his schtick about being a martyr for transparency and freedom of the press smacks of nothing more than a cynical ploy to avoid doing time for his crime(s).

    It is hardly surprising, of course, that pathologically anti-American countries are standing in solidarity with Ecuador. But I am stupefied that so many Western commentators are standing in solidarity with Assange. Not least because they are doing so at the expense of his alleged victims who have been waiting for years for this self-righteous crusader to be brought to justice…

    It is  irrelevant, and I’m sure Sweden couldn’t care less, that Assange fears the United States is on a ‘witch hunt’ against WikiLeaks – as he claimed during his sermon on the windowsill yesterday…

    assangec-300x171In the meantime the world is being treated to a Mexican standoff. There’s no way Ecuador can sneak him out of the embassy, let alone the country; therefore, Assange could be inside for a very long time…

    That said, if Assange were exposing government corruption and/or actions that betray the public trust, I would be his most ardent supporter. But in his foolhardy and untenable ambition to foster complete transparency in diplomatic relations, he has only ensured that diplomats will be even more secretive in all of their dealings to avoid even the remotest possibility of being ‘exposed.’

    Which is why WikiLeaks is about as relevant today as yesterday’s newspaper. And Assange himself will be old news soon enough – as the fickle Twitterverse, which seems to determine all the news that’s fit to follow these days, becomes obsessed with the next sensational story…

    It is truly mind-boggling that his supporters do not even seem concerned that Assange’s cult-like mission has ruined the careers and endangered the lives of scores of innocent diplomats.

    ________________

    assange-head-beard_3425420bWhich brings me to the Lazarus-like news Assange is making today.

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s three-and-a-half-year stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London amounts to ‘unlawful detention’, a United Nations panel examining his appeal will rule on Friday…

    Britain said it had never arbitrarily detained Assange and that the Australian had voluntarily avoided arrest by jumping bail to flee to the embassy.

    It said Assange will be arrested if he leaves the embassy and then extradited to Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape in 2010.

    (Reuters, February 4, 2016)

    Trust me folks, this is much ado about nothing. Not least because the U.N. has no greater influence when it comes to Assange’s fate than it has when it comes to that of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

    This, after all, is the same U.N. that ruled years ago that the United States is in breach of international law for holding prisoners there for years without charge or trial. Yet the Bush administration couldn’t care less. And the Obama administration has released a few of them not to comply with international law, but to improve America’s international reputation.

    In fact, the only material difference between Bush and Obama on this issue is that the former wanted hard-core prisoners to serve indefinite time at Guantanamo Bay; the latter wants them to serve indefinite time at a supermax prison in the United States.

    article-2726803-2093D3B900000578-495_634x824Meanwhile, Assange is complaining about all kinds of heart and lung complications from the lack of fresh air, sunlight, and exercise. This, without any hint of irony or responsibility — given that he had these luxuries when he was confined in a British prison. He was eventually granted bail, which he then jumped by seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy. And here we are….

    In any event, no matter his complaints, what I indicated four years ago remains the case today: There’s only one way Assange will ever leave his “Hotel California;” which is by deciding that he would have a better quality of life serving finite time in prison in Sweden and the United States than serving indefinite time in the Ecuadorian embassy.

    And no amount of pleading can alter his fate – even if the person pleading is his celebrity lawyer Amal Alamuddin (aka Mrs. George Clooney).

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  • Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 6:23 AM

    Zika Virus: God Help the Children; Save the Olympics?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The World Health Organization [WHO] declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency on Monday, a rare move that signals the seriousness of the outbreak and gives countries new tools to fight it.

    An outbreak of the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, was detected in Brazil in May and has since moved into more than 20 countries in Latin America, including two new ones announced Monday: Costa Rica and Jamaica.

    The main worry is over the virus’s possible link to microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to be born with unusually small heads and, in the vast majority of cases, damaged brains.

    (New York Times, February 1, 2016)

    Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 11.06.31 AMThe WHO did not say so, but concerns about how this virus might affect the Rio 2016 Olympics had a lot to do with Monday’s declaration. Concerns, incidentally, that were only heightened last week after Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro conceded his country is “badly losing the battle” against Zika.

    One health expert at the epicentre of the outbreak, in Bahia state in northeastern Brazil, accused Ms. Rousseff’s administration of acting too late, and warned that the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro pose a transmission risk.

    (Reuters, February 2, 2016)

    The point is that the international community has a vested interest in seeing Brazil host a successful Olympics … with full participation. And this declaration is bound to galvanize rich countries, like the United States, to help Brazil contain this virus.

    Brazil-Zika-Birth-Defects-620x443Moreover, there seems to be a direct correlation between the extent to which infectious diseases affect people in rich countries and media coverage of those diseases.

    No doubt images of Zika babies with deformed heads are heartrending. But, trust me, we would not be seeing so many of them if the Olympics were being held in Berlin instead of Brazil this summer.

    Case in point, the recent outbreak of Ebola dates back to March 2014, when related deaths were limited to West Africa. But the media did not begin covering it as a “public health emergency of international concern” until September 2014, after the first case was diagnosed in the United States. By then, the WHO had already reported 3,000 Ebola deaths in West Africa.

    To date, coverage of Zika has focused on the (real) health risks to pregnant women living in or traveling to poor countries throughout the Americas.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 12.32.42 PM

    But it’s only a matter of time before it begins focusing on the (potential) health risks to Olympic athletes living in rich counties who are preparing travel to Brazil. That is, unless Zika transmissions begin occurring in the United States, as opposed to travellers returning already infected. In which case, there will be viral coverage – complete with scaremongering reports to generate TV ratings and online clicks, just as it was with Ebola.

    As it happens, just yesterday the Texas Department of Health Services claimed that it has one documented case of human-to-human transmission. (Infected by a human prick instead of a mosquito prick?) This case involves a man who returned from Venezuela, already infected, and transmitted the virus sexually.

    Except that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is discounting its significance because, like other carriers, the man had travelled from a Zika-affected nation. And neither he nor his partner was pregnant, presumably. The CDC is also discounting this case because there has been no documented case of human-to-human transmission even in any of the Zika-affected nations.

    In any event, as Olympic athletes become the focus of media coverage, I urge you to spare a little sympathy for the innocent victims. And I’m referring to victims not only of this infectious disease but also of others, like lower respiratory and diarrheal infections, which kill hundreds of thousands of children every year.

    Incidentally, it took almost two years and over 11,000 deaths before the WHO declared all countries Ebola free. Estimates are that it will take 3-5 years and up to 20 million infections before a vaccine or treatment is developed to control the spread of Zika.

    Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 2.37.51 PM

    In the meantime, the CDC informs us that:

    Babies with mild microcephaly often don’t experience any other problems besides small head size…

    For more severe microcephaly, babies will need care and treatment focused on managing their other health problems [from vision and hearing loss to intellectual and physical disability].

    Health experts cannot overstate that “mild symptoms like rashes and fever” are the only risks Zika poses to anyone who is not pregnant. This stands in reassuring contrast to Ebola, which kills men, women, and children, indiscriminately.

    Meanwhile, with Zika coming on the heels of Ebola, you could be forgiven the impression that infectious diseases are suddenly becoming as common as, well, the common cold. But there’s nothing at all sudden about them – as the persistence of tuberculosis, malaria, Hepatitis B, and HIV, to name a few, readily attest. Not to mention chikungunya, which, like Zika, is transmitted to people by mosquitoes.

    rio-games-water

    That said, media alarms about Zika make it easy to overlook persistent concerns about Brazil’s sewage-infested bays and lagoons, which expose locals, and will expose Olympic athletes, to MRSA and all kinds of other waterborne viruses.

    Waterborne virus expert Kristina Mena says none of the venues for Rio’s 2016 Olympics are fit from swimmers or boaters. Athletes who ingest three teaspoons of water have a 99 percent chance of being infected by viruses.

    (Associated Press, December 2, 2015)

    Which means that Olympic athletes have more to fear from fetid water than Zika mosquitoes.

    Frankly, holding the Summer Games in Brazil now seems as ill-fated as holding the World Cup in Qatar.

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  • Monday, February 1, 2016 at 7:26 AM

    For Independence Sake, Caribbean, Abolish Privy Council!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The migration crisis is only the latest issue threatening to blow the European Union asunder. From “Brexit” to “Grexit,” respective countries are chipping away the categorical imperatives of integration by reasserting the political imperatives of sovereignty.

    In fact, more and more Europeans are longing for the days when the EU functioned primarily as a trading bloc. Even German and Hungarian Europhiles are joining British and Greek Eurosceptics in ruing the day they delegated so much of their sovereignty to EU institutions in Brussels.

    One can hardly blame them; after all, there’s scarcely an area of life in which the EU does not exercise some decision-making power.

    Many in Europe don’t want the EU to get any closer.

    They feel EU bureaucracy already invades their personal – and national sovereign – space too much.

    (BBC, March 3, 2015)

    I share the above because it provides instructive contrast with what is happening in the Caribbean. For, while even newly independent countries in Europe are trying to clawback sovereignty in every respect, newly independent countries in the Caribbean are refusing to claim it, at least in one very material respect.

    neville_smithSpecifically, an eminent jurist stirred a furor last week when he decried this willful clinging to colonial dependence as it pertains to The Bahamas, the country of my birth.

    Retired Justice Neville Smith QC, said on Thursday the country should not allow itself to become a ‘hostage’ to the Privy Council and recommended that The Bahamas set up its own final court of appeal rather than continue to ‘perch’ on the British government’s doorstep

    ‘Who knows when the British government, bent on the restructuring of its courts … will do away with the Privy Council that it created by an 1844 English act,’ said Smith at a special sitting at the Court of Appeal to mark the opening of the legal year.

    ‘Should we not set up our own final court in our own deliberate time rather that to continue to perch on the doorstep of the foreign office in London or wait to be embarrassed by the British government doing away with the Privy Council and cause us here to run … to make up a replacement court?’

    (Nassau Guardian, January 29, 2016)

    The answer, of course, is: Yes we should! Not least because a final court of appeal composed entirely of foreign judges makes an obvious mockery of any country’s claim of independence.

    “Idle-minded Debate on Privy Council Continues,” June 30, 2011, is just one of many commentaries I’ve written over the years, pleading our case to no avail. Here, for example, is what I wrote seven years ago in “No More Privy Council; Take Care of Your Own Judicial Mess,” October 8, 2009.

    __________________

    The failures of CARICOM have become so notorious that talking about them incites more contemptuous laughter than lawyer jokes.

    privycouncilbThere’s probably no greater monument to these failures than the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which was established in 2001 to replace the Privy Council as our final court of appeal.

    Establishing the CCJ codified the natural desire of CARICOM’s newly independent member states to cut the final umbilical cord of British colonialism.

    Therefore, it is stupefying that only two of them, namely Barbados and Guyana, have actually severed this cord and embraced the untethered independence that they all yearned for so proudly.  Indeed, given that enlightened Jamaicans proposed this liberating cut as early as 1970, the fact that even they have not followed through reflects an habitual suckling on the colonial tit that is as judicially infantile as it is politically hypocritical.

    It’s no wonder we now face the humiliating spectacle of Lord Nicholas Phillips, president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, giving us, in effect, a public spanking for failing to assume ultimate responsibility for our own judicial affairs.

    privycouncilc-195x300In an interview published in the September 20, 2009, edition of the Financial Times, Lord Phillips complained that the five British judges who sit on the Privy Council spend 40 percent of their time adjudicating cases from the former colonies. He indicated – with forlorn hope – that he wished these now-independent countries:

    … would stop using the Privy Council and set up their own final courts of appeal instead.

    You’d think Lord Phillips’ admonition – that it’s high time we take care of our own judicial mess – would cause any self-respecting Caribbean leader to feel not only (duly) chastened but also determined to relieve Britain of this ‘white man’s burden,’ which is plainly anachronistic, untenable, and unfair.  Never mind that Lord Phillips is not admonishing us to do anything we haven’t known for almost 40 years we should, indeed must, do.

    Yet all indications are that it’s going to take a far sterner rebuke than this polite kiss-off to get Caribbean leaders to do the right thing.  Nothing demonstrates this quite like the clueless and hopelessly solicitous reaction of the deputy prime minister and attorney general of The Bahamas, Hon. Brent Symonette:

    It may be that one course of action may be to limit the (number of) appeals from the Court of Appeal to the Privy Council – that might be an alternative.

    (Nassau Tribune, October 8, 2009)

    Mind you, this is not to say that the CCJ is the only real alternative. In fact, the jingoistic politics that have made CARICOM such a dysfunctional laughing stock actually militate against member states turning to this regional court as a replacement for the Privy Council.

    Accordingly, we may find that the only viable alternative is for each CARICOM country to simply establish its own Supreme Court.  To be sure, this would be an ironic default outcome; after all, a judiciary with a final court of appeal at its apex is a hallmark of any independent nation.

    In any case, it is immature, irresponsible and, frankly, niggardly for Caribbean leaders to have relied all these years on our former colonial master to fulfill this essential function of our national self-determination.

    At long last CARICOM Heads, have you no self-respect?!

    _________________

    Incidentally, the Privy Council ruled in March 2006 that the death penalty is unconstitutional. This ruling exposed the impudent absurdity of our umbilical dependence.

    Because Bahamian politicians reacted merely by decrying the neocolonial fiat of the British judges who handed it down; whereas, you’d think their indignation would have compelled them to wrest final appeal from those judges and vest it in Bahamian judges. But it appears this did not even occur to them.

    privya-150x150On the contrary, many Caribbean leaders argue that the Privy Council serves an indispensable guardian of judicial competence and confidence for foreign investors. They seem inured to the fact that this argument perpetuates the very colonial stereotypes independence was supposed to relegate to the dustbin of history.

    Alas, as I indicated in my 2009 commentary, no insult to national sovereignty or pride seems sufficient to cause them to abolish this instrument of British colonialism.

    That said, I’ve also pleaded for the Caribbean to get rid of other customs and practices that are nothing more than vestiges of colonialism.

    Here, for example, here is how I pleaded for change in this respect in “Hey, Tony, What’s Up with the Brothers Wearing White Wigs,” Caribbean Net News, March 2, 2007.

    __________________

    I am on record entreating regional governments to abolish the (inherently superficial and corrupt) British honours system, which only perpetuates a slavish devotion to royal pretensions amongst our people…

    court-wigs-sqTherefore, it should come as no surprise that I’ve pleaded for our regional judiciaries to abolish wigs and gowns.

    These legal accoutrements are more suited to the stuffy, dank, and frigid climes of the British Isles, not the liberating tropical weather of the Caribbean. Granted, blue-blooded British lawyers might find the itchy discomfort wigs of horsehair inflict perfectly amenable to their sadomasochistic nature. But we red-blooded Caribbean lawyers wear them under duress, as prickly and unsightly wigs of thorns.

    Not to mention the sweat this quaint, effete and anachronistic attire produces, which I can personally attest poses a formidable challenge even to the most fragrant antiperspirant.

    Accordingly I plead: free us from British wigs and gowns!

    __________________

    I welcome Smith, as well as other judges emeriti, to this liberating cause of ridding the Caribbean of the Privy Council. But I hope they see the manifest necessity of ridding our profession of the equally unsuitable wigs and gowns too.

    Related commentaries:
    Privy Council
    Idle-minded debate
    Hey Tony
    British honors

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