• Wednesday, March 30, 2016 at 7:47 AM

    Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s Mandela, Is a Religious Bigot Who Condones Ethnic Cleansing?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    CaINtUTVAAA5JGmLast month, Myanmar (aka Burma) took a very symbolic step along its long and garrisoned road towards democracy. That’s when members of its first democratically elected government took their seats in parliament.

    Burma embarked upon a democratic era on Monday as a new parliament sat for the first time, with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi finally in a position to lead the country.

    Nearly three months ago, street parties broke out in major cities as it became clear that her National League for Democracy (NLD) would win a majority of seats — 77% in the final count — in the Nov. 8 elections…

    Suu Kyi has insisted she will simply select a President who will carry out her wishes, regardless of constitutional rules on the role of the head of state [which military rulers enacted to prevent her from serving as president].

    (TIME, February 1, 2016)

    20150613_ASP001_0The most notorious feature of Myanmar’s dictatorial era was the way military rulers kept Suu Kyi under house arrest … for 15 years. But the most brutal feature was the way Buddhists ethnically/religiously cleansed Muslims … with impunity.

    Therefore, you’d be forgiven for thinking Suu Kyi’s NLD party would make ending this genocidal menace one of its top priorities. Not least because she won universal acclaim, and a Nobel Peace Prize to boot, for the personal sacrifices she made to champion democratic freedoms.

    Clearly, the sacrifices she endured during her detention pale in comparison to the persecution, displacement, and murder Muslims have always suffered.

    Screen-Shot-2015-09-14-at-9.31.27-AM-267x300This is why the just released video of an interview she gave the BBC has “alarmed even her most dedicated fans.” It shows Buddhist Suu Kyi effectively condoning this ethnic/religious cleansing.

    When she was repeatedly asked [by interviewer Mishal Husain] to condemn anti-Islamic sentiment and the wave of mob-led massacres of Muslims in Myanmar, she declined to do so. ‘I think there are many, many Buddhists who have also left the country for various reasons,’ she replied. ‘This is a result of our sufferings under a dictatorial regime.’

    (Daily Mail, March 24, 2016)

    For a little perspective, just imagine the visceral outrage if Afghanistan’s then president-in-waiting, the Sunni Hamid Karzai, had excused the religious cleansing of Shiites by citing the suffering both sects suffered under Taliban rule.

    In truth, Suu Kyi seems perfectly prepared to lord over the ethnic/religious cleansing of Muslims just as military rulers did.

    328B416900000578-0-image-a-12_1458894610146Nothing telegraphs this quite like a hot mic capturing her own indignant strain of bigotry as she muttered the following at the end of Husain’s interview:

    No-one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.

    (Indian Express, March 26, 2016)

    As it happens, TIME betrayed the saintly worship Suu Kyi usually commands when it reported – without any hint of criticism – that she leads her party in an “unapologetically autocratic manner.

    In fact, her self-regard and self-righteousness are such that her top legislative priority will probably be repealing those constitutional rules that prevent her from serving as president. This, while not even countenancing rules that would allow Muslims to enjoy the same democratic freedoms Buddhists do.

    Apropos of this, the Daily Mail reported that Husain’s interview

    revealed another side to Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi that sits at odds with her iconic image.

    Except that it revealed nothing to me. Because I’m on record decrying her refusal to denounce this ethnic/religious cleansing long before Husain conducted that November 2013 interview. Here are excerpts from just a few of my commentaries on point.

    ____________________

    • From “Obama’s Historic Trip to Myanmar: Too Soon?” November 12, 2012:

    burma-300x232Nothing demonstrates the extent to which she has been co-opted quite like Suu Kyi’s deafening silence about the ongoing religious cleansing of minority Muslims by majority Buddhists. Especially given that the UN has called Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims ‘the world’s most persecuted people.’

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

    • From “Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming Democratic Mascot of Myanmar’s Military Dictatorship,” March 28, 2013:

    _66643979_66643978I wonder what my critics have to say about the images of Suu Kyi that went viral yesterday. For they show her sitting quite comfortably, as a solitary female fixture, among hundreds of military men as they presided over the hallmark of all dictatorships, the annual military parade.

    There can be no denying that these images provide clear vindication of my informed cynicism.

    • From “Buddhists Religiously Cleansing Myanmar of Muslims,” May 13, 2015:

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

    A little more media coverage of their plight would force Myanmar’s military rulers to act — if only to prevent damning media images of Muslims fleeing oppression from undermining promotional media images of foreigners visiting tourist sites.

    ___________________

    I trust these excerpts explain why the only thing I find alarming about this interview is that it’s only now making news – from India to America, especially given that the BBC published it on “24 October 2013.”

    Remarkably, it took Peter Popham ‘revealing’ Suu Kyi’s hot-mic remark in his new book, The Lady And The Generals: Aung San Suu Kyi And Burma’s Struggle For Freedom (March 2016), for the media to begin sounding alarms about her anti-Muslim bias.

    The only thing that explains this belated outrage is the deference virtually every major news organization once showed Suu Kyi. To its credit, the BBC broke ranks a few months ago when it began questioning her “saintly integrity” as follow:

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

    (BBC, September 8, 2015)

    I felt compelled to answer the BBC – in “Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi Courting Totalitarian Power at the Expense of Democratic Principles,” September 14, 2015 – as follows.

    ___________________

    It’s arguable that Nelson Mandela of South Africa was the only political leader who commanded more universal admiration and respect over the past 50 years than Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar.

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

    Screen-Shot-2015-09-14-at-9.23.41-AM-300x253Except that, after talking the talk, Mandela began walking the walk from the day he was finally released in 1990. By contrast, Suu Kyi seemed to be walking pursuant to a Faustian bargain with her military jailers from the day she was finally released in 2010…

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

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

    ____________________

    Meanwhile, Suu Kyi’s devoted apologists would have you believe that her anti-Muslim bias is only part of a carefully calibrated strategy to appease military rulers, which she deems necessary to advance the cause of democracy. Never mind that her indignant remark about being interviewed by a Muslim belies this.

    MahatmaGandhi--621x414Whatever the case, their reverence is such that they cannot see how this so-called strategy damns her saintly integrity. After all, Mahatma Gandhi would not have been as revered as he was if he had “affected” anti-Muslim bias to appease Hindu nationalists, which he might have deemed necessary to advance the cause of independence. In fact, Gandhi died a broken and disillusioned man in large part because his efforts to forge Hindu-Muslim unity failed so fiendishly.

    Mind you, I understand all too well the inclination to hail Suu Kyi as more saint than politician. However, where the treatment of Muslims is concerned, she has already shown that she does not have the sensibilities of the political Indira, let alone that of the saintly Mahatma.

    This constrains me to note that, throughout history, women have shown that they can be every bit as power hungry, ruthless, and bloodthirsty as men. Rulers like Empress Wu Zetian, (Bloody) Queen Mary I, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher bear this out.

    Accordingly, I fear Suu Kyi will show no greater regard for Muslims in Myanmar in 2016 than Mary I showed for Protestants in England in 1553.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 9:31 AM

    Trump and Cruz In Catfight Over Whose Wife Is Hotter or More Respectable

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The leading Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, spent most of last week hurling schoolyard insults at each other, all in a vainglorious attempt to defend the honor of their wives, respectively.

    melania-drumf2

    This latest farce, in a series that has characterized the race for the Republican nomination, stemmed from an anti-Trump ad featuring a nude picture of his wife. It questioned, cheekily enough, if she’s suited to be first lady.

    4c6d7c16ff7f95d1de12b60e6340aa37

    Trump replied by juxtaposing a picture of his wife smoldering like a royal courtesan with one of Cruz’s sneering like a bedraggled housewife. He tweeted, chauvinistically enough, that the picture was worth a thousand words.

    Then, for good measure, the National Enquirer published an anti-Cruz report insinuating that this poster boy for Evangelical Christians has had more extramarital affairs than Bill Clinton.

    Cruz replied by accusing Trump of waging a smear campaign. And so it went … and goes.

    Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media showed just how “pathetic” they’ve become by covering this tabloid spat as if it were a terrorist attack. The unwitting result is that their coverage completely overwhelmed and undermined Republican attempts to belittle Obama’s historic trip to Cuba and diplomatic mission to Argentina.

    3291216000000578-0-image-a-34_1458972803570

    After all, Republican pundits were making all kinds of snarky remarks about Obama cavorting with Raul Castro at a Baseball game and doing the tango at a state dinner, respectively … all “while Brussels burned.” They clearly wanted these remarks to be the trending topics of the week.

    Of course, the members of Obama’s advance team could have served him better. For they could have arranged to have him just throw out the first pitch at the Baseball game in Cuba, and ensured that he was not subjected to any goading to tango at the state dinner in Argentina — citing in each case respect for the dead in Brussels, which included Americans.

    In any event, snark about Obama proved no match for the spat between Trump and Cruz over whose wife is hotter or more respectable.

    What’s more, the irony seemed completely lost on Republican pundits that Obama was turning their trademark criticism about him being too politically correct on its head. After all, nothing could be more politically incorrect than defying their politically correct calls to abandon his trips and return to Washington – even if only to make a show of pretending to put out terrorist fires in Brussels from the White House.

    More to the point, though, it is clearly more presidential to rise above the fear and hysteria terrorism incites by engaging in transformative diplomacy – as Obama did, than by engaging in gutter politics – as Trump and Cruz did.

    Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 4.00.01 PMThat said, this spat should give us all pause. Because, if Trump becomes president, it is all too foreseeable that he would get into similar spats with world leaders. And nothing is more foreboding in this respect than a spat between a President Trump and President Putin over whose “hand” is bigger.

    After all, as narcissistic, thin-skinned, and vindictive as Trump is, Putin is doubly so. For example, Trump has banned journalists from news conferences for daring to criticize him; but Putin has jailed and even killed them for doing so (mind you, Trump would too if he knew he could get away with it). They react this way because, as absurd as it may seem to any reasonable leader, unavenged slight to them is like kryptonite to Superman.

    Therefore, one could easily see an escalation from hurling insults to launching bombs in a vainglorious attempt to vindicate their fabricated, cultivated and propagated manhood.

    Related commentary:
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  • Saturday, March 26, 2016 at 6:55 AM

    Help spread ISIS message…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 8.28.07 AM

    ISIS holy warrior? Try ISIS canon fodder. And REMEMBER…

    Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 8.02.45 PM

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  • Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at 7:20 AM

    WTF: Tennis Boss Says Women Players Should Get on their Knees…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    i-2Consider this the latest round in the Battle of the Sexes:

    The head of a major tennis tournament gave his sport a bad name this weekend after saying that female players should ‘thank God’ for their male counterparts.

    ‘They ride on the coattails of the men,’ said Raymond Moore, a former player and the CEO of Sunday’s BNP Paribas Open…

    ‘If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank god that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.’

    (Huffington Post, March 21, 2016)

    f_tennis_contro_160321.nbcnews-ux-1080-600Unsurprisingly, Moore’s comments incited visceral, viral outrage. Serena Williams, the No. 1 female (er, “lady”?) player, led the chorus of those decrying them, duly evincing her disgust at his double entendre:

    There’s only one way to interpret that. ‘Get on your knees,’ which is offensive enough, and thank a man. That is such a disservice to … every female, not only a female athlete, but every woman on this planet that has ever tried to stand up in what they believe in.

    (MSNBC, March 21, 2016)                                              

    Billie Jean King, the female pioneer in the Battle of the Sexes Moore reignited, spoke volumes by merely tweeting that his comments are “wrong on so many levels.”

    Unsurprisingly, the backlash forced him to apologize. He admitted that his comments were not only in “extremely poor taste, but also “erroneous.” Yet demands for him to resign abounded. Some even called on Moore to “self-deport” back to South Africa, where, presumably, overt sexism has replaced overt racism. It was clearly only a matter of time before he resigned, which he did yesterday.

    But, unlike those reacting to his sexist comments, I preempted them years ago. However, my feminist awareness is such that, while hailing the women, I cautioned that their unequal play for equal pay unwittingly raised the specter of unfairness to the men. Here, in this regard, is an excerpt from “Hail to 4-Time Wimbledon Champ Venus Williams,” July 9, 2007.

    ___________________

    I’ve been unabashed in expressing my preference for women’s Tennis. Because, frankly, the women’s game is not only almost as powerful as the men’s (with Venus hitting 125 mph serves); their fierce baseline strokes, during relatively long rallies, are also far more exciting to watch…

    I feel obliged to express some ambivalence over the fact that Wimbledon finally followed the politically correct fashion at the other Grand Slams of allowing women to get away with unequal play for equal pay.

    As a proud (and principled) feminist, I am sympathetic to the argument that, until women play the best of five sets (like men do) instead of just three, they should not be paid the same amount in prize money. After all, if women must run the same 26.2-mile marathon, or complete the same chauvinistically named Iron Man triathlon, to earn equal prize money, why not require them to play the same best of five sets to earn equal prize money in Tennis…?

    Yet I am also sympathetic to the argument that, because women generate far more fan and commercial interest in the sport…, they should be paid the same amount, if not more, in prize money – despite playing less. This is how I choose to resolve this apparent unfairness.

    How about you?

    ___________________

    djokovic-presser_2500kbps_620x350_649309763647Since then, however, I’ve heard many professional commentators bemoan having to watch too many boring five-set matches. Therefore, instead of having the women play the best of five sets too, having the men play the best of three might be the better way to resolve unequal play for equal pay.

    Which brings me to the ill-advised way men’s No. 1 player Novak Djokovic chimed in. For, instead of raising the issue of unequal play for equal pay, he turned Moore’s sexist comments into a double fault as follows:

    I think that our men’s Tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s Tennis matches.

    I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.

    (Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2016)

    Serena WilliamsIn fact, stats show that women players are attracting more spectators:

    While there are still many more men leading corporate boardrooms around the world, when it comes to Tennis women are taking center stage. For the last two U.S. Opens, the women’s final scored higher TV ratings than the men’s final. Now there’s new data by a Nielsen-like ratings company, SMG Insight, that show the global TV and digital audience for women’s tennis rose 22.5% last year compared to 2013.

    (CNBC, February 26, 2015)

    The ace in this regard is that Serena is to Tennis what Tiger is to Golf.

    Game, Set, and Match: Women!

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  • Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 9:00 AM

    Terrorists Terrorizing: Brussels Follows Paris, San Bernardino, et al.

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Deadly explosions rocked a Brussels airport and train station Tuesday morning, just days after the suspected mastermind of last year’s Paris terror attacks was captured.

    ‘Today is a black day for #Europe,’ German justice minister Heiko Mass said. ‘The horrible events in #Brussels affect us all.’

    (Huffington World Post, March 22, 2016)

    Belgian prosecutors made a point of disclosing that suspected suicide bombers shouted in Arabic before detonating their bombs at the airport, which is a signature-rallying cry of Islamic Jihadists.

    The latest BBC report is that, between the two coordinated attacks, 34 people were killed and over 100 injured – numbers that are bound to increase.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 7.59.57 AM

    We are now being treated to the customary, reactionary “show of force” featuring robocops patrolling airports, stations, and other “soft targets” from Brussels to Washington. Not to mention wall-to-wall TV coverage featuring hindsighted terrorism experts droning on about what should have been done to stop these attacks, while offering no measures that are guaranteed to stop the next one(s).

    Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 9.18.42 AMApropos of which, Apple has been making quite a show of insisting that there’s more socially redeeming value in protecting the privacy of a terrorist’s iPhone than in providing the police access to data on it. These attacks should throw the danger of its (commercial) crusade into stark relief.

    Meanwhile, as they invariably do, news anchors are repeating the same basic facts as breaking news – complete with dramatic theme music to stoke the rubbernecking interest of idle-minded viewers.

    I don’t know why the media always reward these psychopaths by giving them the fame they covet; that is, by plastering their pathetic mugs all over television and reporting pop psychology about why and how they did their dastardly deeds.

    You’d think … we would have figured out by now that the best way to discourage them is by focusing our attention on the victims and limiting what we say about the [terrorists] to: May God have mercy on your soul as you all burn in Hell!

    (“Massacre in Omaha,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 7, 2007)

    Screen-Shot-2016-03-22-at-11.30.55-AM-620x412Frankly, the only public service this coverage is providing is sparing us wall-to-wall coverage of the political buffoonery of Donald J. Trump. Unfortunately, some networks are still terrorizing viewers with his mindless tweets about “sealing our borders.”

    Thank God for ESPN; not least because it will probably be the only network to provide significant coverage of this final day of President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba. Notably, his activities will include President Castro and him presiding over a friendly Baseball game between the Cuban National Team and the Tampa Bay Rays….

    Of course, the foreboding truth is that there’s nothing the police can do to stop such attacks – as I’ve been cautioning for over a decade:

    It must be understood that no matter their collective resolve, there’s absolutely nothing our governments can do to prevent such attacks. That Americans reacted yesterday as if those explosions went off in Washington or New York should compel Westerners to focus on calming our collective nerves, instead of fretting about (or worse, trying to figure out) the motivation for and timing of terrorist attacks by Islamic fanatics.

    (“7/7 Terror Attacks in London,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 8, 2005)

    More to the point, there’s this about attacks to come:

    God help us if al-Qaeda ever decided to emulate this feat by coordinating 10 similar bombings, at 10 football stadiums, in the 10 biggest cities in America, all on a typical Saturday in the fall, when they’re packed with over 100,000 people watching college football games.  Not only would the carnage be 1,000 times more devastating, but based on the reaction to this terrorist attack, law-enforcement authorities would have to lockdown not just the airports as they did on 9/11, but the entire friggin’ country, no?

    (“Manhunt for Bombers Turning Boston into Theater of the Absurd,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 19, 2013)

    Indeed, it’s an indication of how powerless we are to stop or even contain such attacks that ISIS is terrorizing us today far more than al-Qaeda ever did. But a terrorist by any other name still terrorizes the same, no?

    I hasten to clarify that I am not suggesting we should just lie back and be attacked. To the contrary, I’m on record supporting aggressive surveillance of terror suspects, including forcing companies like Apple to provide any information that could possibly prevent such attacks:

    Notwithstanding the misguided backlash Snowden’s NSA disclosures have wrought, [Western countries] must allow their respective intelligence services to use all means necessary to surveil and apprehend the would-be terrorists amongst us before they act out their jihadist fantasies. Otherwise, we will terrorize ourselves to death if we keep reacting to every terrorist-inspired shooting as if it were another 9/11.

    (“Gunman Terrorizes Canada. Keep Calm and Carry On,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 23, 2014)

    I am just a realist who knows all too well that, with respect to today’s attacks in Brussels, there but for the grace of God go … we.

    Disaffected and disillusioned youth … are fed up with chronic unemployment and feelings of (religious and racial) discrimination as well as social alienation and marginalization…

    The riots in France should serve notice on other developed nations that have relegated immigrants to ghettos where crime and every order of vice pervade (and, incidentally, where Islamic jihadists troll for guerilla fighters and suicide bombers). Because these riots demonstrate what little spark it takes for the simmering resentment that burns in ghettos to set nearby cities ablaze and terrorize an entire country.

    (“World Beware, French Riots Affect Us All,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 8, 2005)

    My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Belgium today. But God help us all.

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  • Monday, March 21, 2016 at 6:41 AM

    Cuba: Obama Has Landed

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.27.40 AM

    The Obama administration eased trade and travel restrictions on Cuba Tuesday, granting more economic benefits for the communist-ruled island nation in advance of President Obama’s historic trip…

    Mr. Obama will start a three-day visit to Cuba on Sunday, becoming the first sitting president to travel there in nearly 90 years…

    ‘These steps not only expand opportunities for economic engagement between the Cuban people and the American business community, but will also improve the lives of millions of Cuba’s citizens,’ said [U.S.] Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

    (Washington Times, March 15, 2015)

    Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 8.31.54 PMActually, this administration has taken many steps in recent months to ease America’s 55-year economic and political embargo against Cuba. So many in fact that Obama has already vindicated the following observation, which I made almost a year ago in “Summit of the Americas: Obama Teasing CARICOM, Testing Cuba, Trolling China,” April 12, 2015:

    You’ve probably heard Republicans yelping about Congress retaining ultimate authority to lift the embargo. But Obama enjoys such comprehensive authority to constructively engage Cuba that, by the time he leaves office, formally lifting the embargo is likely to be anticlimactic at best.

    No doubt this explains why the Castro regime is rolling out the red carpet – complete with painting old buildings and sweeping dirt streets. Not to mention the relief the Castros must be feeling.

    After all, reports are that Obama will emulate the way his predecessors, like Ronald Reagan, dealt with China and Russia’s communist leaders. Which means that he will spend more time constructively engaging the Castros about improving relations than lecturing them about human rights.

    He will stroll the streets of Old Havana and meet with Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro; watch Cubans and Americans face off in a baseball game; and deliver a televised address in the historic theater where Calvin Coolidge, the last American president to visit, spoke 88 years ago. He will meet with entrepreneurs and dissidents, Cubans who have found ways to challenge the status quo in a country undergoing vast change…

    Mr. Obama’s trip, rich with symbolic significance, represents the start of a new era of engagement between the United States and Cuba that could open the floodgates of travel and commerce, and that has already unlocked diplomatic channels long slammed shut.

    (New York Times, March 19, 2016)

    I have written many commentaries over the years, this day prefiguring. Therefore, I shall suffice to mark this occasion by reprising excerpts from just a few of them.

    ___________________

    • From “Dancing on Fidel Castro’s Grave Is Not Only Unseemly; It’s Premature,” August 2, 2006:

    Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 8.31.33 PMUnbridled conceit and arrogance among Miami Cubans explain their support for continuing the embargo … until kingdom come if necessary. Nothing betrays this quite like them presuming that — once the Castro brothers die off — they’ll be able to return to Cuba to inherit the political power and social privileges they or family members abdicated decades ago. And they presume this prerogative without any regard for the Cubans who have been toiling at home, waiting for their opportunity to govern their country.

    Except that, at this rate, a well-indoctrinated Elian Gonzalez will be Cuban dictator before Miami Cubans are disabused of their antic pining for their paradise lost.

    • From “European Union Lifts Sanctions against Cuba. United States Will Follow … Eventually,” June 23, 2008:

    Advocates for America’s puerile, inhumane and hypocritical policy towards Cuba invariably cite Fidel Castro’s dictatorship as justification for sustained hostilities. But all one has to do is cite China – with whose dictators the U.S. courts a very beneficial relationship – to dismiss this justification as demonstrably specious…

    Long before his first trip to Cuba in 1998, Pope John Paul II decried America’s policy towards Cuba as ‘oppressive, unjust, and ethically unacceptable…’ He pronounced that ‘imposed isolation strikes the people indiscriminately, making it ever more difficult for the weakest to enjoy the bare essentials of decent living, things such as food, health, and education.’

    • From “Fifth Summit of the Americas: Managing Expectations,” April 17, 2009:

    I am convinced that, if re-elected, Obama will seal his legacy by … normalizing relations with Cuba.

    ___________________

    Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 7.44.09 AM

    This is a truly transformative development. Indeed, Obama’s opening to Cuba should rank alongside Nixon’s opening to China in the annals of world history.

    That said, if you have any interest in experiencing the exotic, frozen-in-time Cuba, I encourage you to go as soon as practicable. After all, foreign corporations are already transforming the island into a Caribbean version of Miami Beach.

    Tourists will rue this transformation of course. But, as a Caribbean native, I understand all too well why Cubans cannot wait for the Americans to transport them into the twenty-first century at warp speed — complete with everything from modern cars to modern homes and fast food.

    Viva Cuba!

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  • Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 9:58 AM

    Reason in a Time of Partisan Rage

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

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  • Saturday, March 19, 2016 at 8:02 AM

    Putin’s Bush-lite Declaration of ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has abruptly declared that he is withdrawing the majority of Russian troops from Syria, saying the six-month military intervention had largely achieved its objective…

    Western diplomatic sources were both sceptical and startled by Putin’s unexpected and mercurial move…

    Putin and US President Barack Obama spoke on the phone on Monday, with the Kremlin saying the two leaders ‘called for an intensification of the process for a political settlement’ to the conflict.

    (London Guardian, March 15, 2016)

    As it happened, I warned that Vladimir V. Putin’s bombing of Syria smacked of the same kind of vaingloriousness that characterized George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. More to the point, in “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015, I explained why Putin’s bombing would prove every bit as feckless as Bush’s invasion:

    ____________________

    ISIS-621324Hailing Putin’s [bombing] as ‘shock and awe … on steroids’ ignores that it took hundreds of thousands of troops invading (not hundreds of jets bombing) for Bush to win his pyrrhic victory in Iraq…

    Criticizing Obama for having little to show after bombing [Syria] for over a year ignores that he deems it as unconscionable as it is counterproductive to get off on killing thousands of women and children in a vain attempt to kill a few ISIS combatants…

    Staking out safe zones in Syria and Iraq will stem the flow of refugees into Europe. It will also provide a base from which Western ground forces can launch strategic incursions to kill ISIS leaders and enemy combatants, not hapless Syrians unable to flee. Russia … should join forces with the United States and its coalition partners to implement this strategy.

    All else is folly.

    ____________________

    No doubt it’s inconvenient now for Western pundits to recall how virtually every one of them hailed Putin when he launched his bombing campaign. In fact, conservatives seemed to relish propagating the narrative about Putin outmaneuvering Obama, making a mockery of the unchallenged superpower influence U.S. presidents have wielded the Middle East for over 50 years.

    Tonight Charles Krauthammer said Russian President Vladimir Putin is directly targeting American allies in Syria and the Obama Administration is giving him a green light. ‘It’s one thing to be humiliated,’ Krauthammer said on Wednesday’s Special Report on Fox News. ‘It’s another thing to have that demonstrated to the world when our allies are looking at us and wondering who’s in charge here.’

    (National Review, September 30, 2015)

    Of course, these pundits would be hard-pressed to explain what salutary objective Putin achieved with his six-month bombing campaign. For, as Krauthammer himself unwittingly conceded, he killed more innocent civilians than ISIS terrorists. This, despite Putin vowing from the outset to “defeat ISIS.”

    Rights groups and observers lay bare human cost of Moscow’s campaign as Putin declares military drawdown…

    Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed about 2,000 civilians in six months of attacks on markets, hospitals, schools, and homes, rights groups and observers say, warning that plans for a military drawdown may not mean an end to the deaths.

    Moscow has insisted it carried out only surgical strikes on ‘terrorists,’ but victims and fighters say bombers strayed well behind frontlines in areas far from strongholds of Islamic State or al-Qaida fighters.

    (London Guardian, March 15, 2016)

    20160319_LDD001_0Frankly, nothing betrayed Putin’s vainglorious intent (no matter the human cost) quite like his propaganda about deploying 150,000 Russian troops to “wipe out the evil Islamic state.” Western media bought this hook, line, and sinker – as evidenced by this headline in the December 18, 2015, edition of the London Express:

    End of ISIS? Russian bombs leave terrorists on the ‘brink of DEFEAT.’

    Unsurprisingly, Putin never deployed those troops and ISIS remains as powerful today, if not more so. What’s more, if he ever follows through on his threat to resume his orgy of bombing, within hours if necessary, he would only be aping Bush’s heralded “surge” of troops back into Iraq, which did nothing but wreak more death and destruction.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 5.14.48 PMIn other words, for all of his bluster and bombast, Putin has ended up in Syria right where Obama has been stuck for years; namely, trying to negotiate a political settlement between government and anti-government forces. Which of course holds about as much promise as negotiating a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

    But clearly, unlike Western diplomats and pundits alike, I was neither skeptical nor startled by Putin’s abrupt withdrawal. Not least because it merely vindicated my commentary, “Russia Flexing Military: more Regional Bully than Global Superpower,” March 19, 2015, which includes this prescient observation:

    The only issue I have with Putin’s military exercises is that he’s using them to extract economic concessions from the West…

    Far from making Russia look strong, these maneuvers only make it look as feckless as Putin is reckless. It might be an unwitting demonstration of his intent to use desperate military threats to extract sanctions relief that he invited North Korea’s boy leader, Kim Jong-un, to make the first foreign trip of his reign to Russia.

    This is why I am encouraged that no less a publication than The Economist is now seconding my observation. For here, in part, is what it published in a commentary that is uncanny – as much for its title, “A hollow superpower,” as for its date, March 19, 2016 (coming one year to date after my Russia as regional bully commentary):

    Judging by the pictures on television, Vladimir Putin won a famous victory in Syria this week…

    Look closer, however, and Russia’s victory rings hollow. Islamic State (IS) remains…

    As our briefing explains, Russia’s president has generated stirring images of war to persuade his anxious citizens that their ailing country is once again a great power, first in Ukraine and recently over the skies of Aleppo. The big question for the West is where he will stage his next drama.

    Flexing muscles. Staging drama. That’s the Putin doctrine in a nutshell.

    Enough said?

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  • Friday, March 18, 2016 at 6:11 AM

    Prosecutor Patronizing Prostitutes He Prosecuted

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Unfortunately, news about public figures crusading against prostitution by day, while patronizing prostitutes by night, has become commonplace.

    Their hypocrisy is such, however, that I can never tire of the schadenfreude I feel whenever one of them is hoisted by his own petard.

    Accordingly, I have reveled over their comeuppance in many commentaries, including “The Hypocrisy of Eliot Spitzer’s Assignations with Prostitutes.” March 11, 2008, “Why Hypocritical Politician Is Becoming Redundant,” June 18, 2009, “Bishop Eddie Long’s Gay-Sex Scandal,” September 29, 2010, and “69-Year-Old Lord Exposed as Britain’s Charlie Sheen,” July 28, 2015.

    Here is how I stated the principle behind my revelry years ago in “Sen. Vitter, Family Values Crusader, Outed as a ‘John,’” July 11, 2007:

    If these politicians were not lead vocals in a chorus of moral crusaders, I would not give their sexual escapades a moment’s thought. For the unadulterated pleasure of afflicting these hypocrites, however, I don’t even mind being bedfellows with a publicity-seeking hustler like Larry Flynt.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.05.11 PMOnly this explains why I am even bothering to comment on the latest public figure to enter this rogue’s gallery of moral and sexual hypocrites.

    [Stuart Dunnings III, 63] paid for sex ‘hundreds of times’ between 2010 and 2015, state and county law enforcement officials said Monday as they announced charges against the long-serving Ingham County prosecutor…

    He is facing a total of 15 criminal charges in Ingham, Clinton and Ionia counties, the most serious being a felony charge of prostitution-pandering for allegedly using his position to coerce a woman who came to him for help with a child custody case to have sex with him for money, according to court records…

    In 2001, Dunnings took over prosecuting the city’s prostitution-related crimes in hopes of getting tougher penalties for offenders … impounding johns’ vehicles and charging prostitutes and their customers with felonies for third offenses.

    (Lansing State Journal, March 14, 2016)

    That said, I reiterate my abiding plea to legalize prostitution. This would not only show due regard for the “world’s oldest profession,” but also offer the only way for public figures to get off (as they are clearly wont to do) without this carnal betrayal of public trust.

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  • Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 12:08 PM

    Obama Presents Consensus Supreme Court Nominee, Merrick Garland

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    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.

    (“Antonin Scalia, Pugnacious Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Is Dead,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 14, 2016)

    There’s nothing new about partisan politics in Washington, DC. But the rabid and reflexive nature of it these days is surely unprecedented. Nothing betrayed this quite like Republicans defiling condolences for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia with political shots at President Obama.

    160312131824-supreme-court-short-list-split-exlarge-169

    Specifically, disregarding all notions of funereal respect, they took pains to warn Obama that they will use their control of the Senate – not only to block anyone he nominates to replace Scalia, but even to deny that nominee the courtesy of a hearing.

    In an unprecedented move, Senate Republicans vowed to deny holding confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee – even promising to deny meeting privately with whomever the President picks.

    The historic move outraged Democrats and injected Supreme Court politics into the center of an already tense battle for the White House.

    ‘I don’t know how many times we need to keep saying this: The Judiciary Committee has unanimously recommended to me that there be no hearing. I’ve said repeatedly and I’m now confident that my conference agrees that this decision ought to be made by the next president, whoever is elected,’ Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

    (CNN, February 23, 2016)

    This, of course, is the same Mitch McConnell who, within days of Obama being sworn-in, pledged that Republicans would do all they could to make him a “failed, one-term president.”

    Which is why this senator is to America’s first black president what Governor George Wallace was to the first blacks to integrate its schools. And the annals of history should record him as such. I just hope McConnell has the good sense to repent his racial sins before he meets his maker — the way Wallace famously did..

    The point, however, is that Republicans have provided just cause for any sensible American to lament the unbridled and dogged way they have obstructed Obama’s policies, the welfare of the country be damned. I duly lamented in “Washington Political Food Fight Over Debt Ceiling,” July 25, 2011, “S&P Downgrades U.S. Credit Rating,” August 8, 2011, and “Bob Woodward: Republicans are ‘Trying to Blackmail Obama,’” October 1, 2013.

    But, to get a sense of the absurd lengths to which Republicans will go to deny Obama any success, take note of their reply when asked to cite one thing they admire about his presidency. Because they invariably parrot condescending platitudes about him as a husband and father; whereas any fair-minded Republican would concede, at the very least, that he tripled the stock market and deported more criminal illegal immigrants than any other president, earning him the moniker “Deporter in Chief.”

    Incidentally, this rank partisanship is also why Republicans will support a narcissistic demagogue and interloper like Donald Trump, despite denouncing him as wholly unsuited to be president. Clearly, if they were the patriots they profess to be, they would either join the #NeverTrump campaign or cross party lines to support Hillary Clinton — for the greater good of the country. Instead, it’s an indication of how far Republicans have lost their way that their blind devotion to the Republican Party rivals that of the Chinese to the Communist Party.

    In any event, Obama called their bluff today. For he not only nominated an appellate judge from the District of Columbia Circuit (just as I telegraphed in my tribute to Scalia), but nominated its chief judge, Merrick Garland.

    3861

    Mr. Obama introduced Judge Garland to an audience of his family members, activists, and White House staff in the Rose Garden Wednesday morning, describing him as exceptionally qualified to serve on the Supreme Court in the seat vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February…

    ‘I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up or down vote,’ Mr. Obama said…

    In choosing Judge Garland, a well-known moderate who has drawn bipartisan support over decades, Mr. Obama was essentially daring Republicans to press their election-year confirmation fight over a judge many of them have publicly praised and who would be difficult for them to reject, particularly if a Democrat were to win the November presidential election and they faced the prospect of a more liberal nominee in 2017.

    (New York Times, March 16, 2016)

    Still, I feel constrained to share my dismay that Obama did not nominate an equally qualified minority like Judge Srinivasan.

    Evidently, he wants to “play it straight.” But (white) Republicans blocking a minority nominee like Srinivasan would’ve galvanized Democrats far more than Republicans blocking a milquetoast nominee like Garland.

    Not to mention that Democrats, thusly galvanized, would’ve been far more motivated to vote against Republicans in the November general elections, raising the very viable prospect of wresting control not just of the Senate but the House to boot.

    Alas, whatever Obama’s political reasoning, this choice will only affirm suspicions progressives have long held about him being more interested in sealing his legacy than helping Democrats return to power.

    For these reasons I think Obama should have chosen a more politically inspiring, even if not more judicially qualified, nominee.

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  • Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 6:47 AM

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    US President Barack Obama and Irish PM Enda Kenny [met] in the Oval Office to discuss immigrants in the U.S., and Britain’s position in the EU…

    ‘It is not quite St Patrick’s Day yet, but nevertheless, we always like an excuse to celebrate our Irish heritage,’ said the president, sporting a green tie as he sat next to Mr Keeny while addressing the media.

    (Irish Times, March 15, 2016)

    Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 5.06.09 PM

    Obama hosted a reception at the White House (complete with the annual Shamrock presentation), and delivered a keynote address on Capitol Hill to celebrate his eighth St. Patrick’s Day as president.

    Given that, so much for this Irish fantasy:

    US President Barack Obama looks set to celebrate his last St. Patrick’s Day in office in Ireland.

    Discussions are underway regarding the possibility of a return visit from the US President who first visited Ireland in 2011.

    If Obama does return to the Emerald Isle for the festivities, he will become the first US President to spend St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, breaking a long tradition in which the Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) travels to the White House for the feast day.

    (Irish Central, July 25, 2015)

    Sorry, Ireland.

    But this is just as well. After all, it spared the Taoiseach an awkward conflict: hosting Obama in Ireland or attending an important meeting in Brussels:

    St. Patrick’s Day is being celebrated at the White House early this year as the Taoiseach must attend an important European Council meeting in Brussels on March 17th.

    (The White House, March 11, 2016)

    MI+Michelle+Barack+Obama+Moneygall+Offaly+GuinnessFor the record, if Obama and Kenny had made plans for Obama to return to the Emerald Isle as indicated, Kenny would’ve have blown off that meeting, or prevailed upon his fellow EU leaders to postpone it. Believe it or not, the imperial majesty of the U.S. presidency commands such deference – even with a black as president.

    All the same, the Irish can be forgiven for feeling a little green with envy as they watch Obama head to Cuba next week (March 21-22) for a different first: He will become the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on that Communist Isle in 80 years.

    Incidentally, apropos of being forgiven, with the White House celebrating tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day yesterday, I trust I can be for commenting today.

    May the luck of the Irish be with you!

  • Monday, March 14, 2016 at 8:18 AM

    ‘I can’t hear, or see, or say that name [TRUMP] without spitting’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Frankly, that name now conjures up such racial and religious bigotry, to say nothing of neo-Nazi thuggery, it should make you want to spit too. But more about that later….

    390-rally-0311-2Since launching his campaign last summer, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been spewing anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim rhetoric in a manner that seems pathological.

    Commentators across the political spectrum are citing this rhetoric to explain why he does not have the judgment or temperament to be president of the United States. Others are citing it to explain why his campaign rallies are degenerating into mob violence; so much so that it’s only a matter of time before Trump satisfies his antic pining to see someone taken out on a stretcher.

    But all of them would be hard-pressed to explain why the racist and xenophobic rhetoric he was spewing in 2011 was not equally, if not more, disqualifying. This, after all, is the same Trump who was propagating political heresy about Obama being an illegitimate president because he’s a secret Muslim who was born in Kenya. And he did so with trademark hucksterism by offering to donate $5 million to charity if Obama produced his birth certificate and all college records … according to Trump’s specifications and satisfaction.

    To my utter consternation and eternal dismay, Obama actually complied, in part, by producing the former – as if he needed to prove to anyone with half a brain that he really was born in the USA. Not to mention that Trump promptly betrayed what a brazen liar he is. For he made quite a show of announcing that his private detectives (who of course make FBI agents look like keystone cops) had uncovered reams of evidence, proving beyond any doubt that Obama was born in Africa. And, consequently, that:

    Obama’s presidency may be the greatest scam in the history of the United States.

    (Business Insider, April 10, 2011)

    Unsurprisingly, Trump never produced one sheet of those incriminating reams. Unfortunately, journalists have been so busy swimming in subsequent streams of outrageous claims, they have yet to challenge Trump on his failure to substantiate his birther claims as promised. This is just one of the many reasons I lost what little respect I still had for them, and it further vindicates my commentaries like “Journalism Is Having a Very, Very Pathetic Moment,” November 13, 2013.

    imrs.phpUnsurprisingly, Obama had a little to say about this at a Democratic National Committee event in Texas on Friday. He insinuated that Trump’s birther nonsense gave birth to his unhinged presidential campaign, naturally. But he made no effort to disguise his contempt for those who are expressing shock about Trump’s reckless rhetoric today but uttered nary a word about his reckless rhetoric back then:

    How could you be shocked? This was the guy who was sure I was born in Kenya… As long as it was being directed at me they were fine with it; it was a hoot — and suddenly they’re shocked!

    (USA Today, March 11, 2016)

    By contrast, I’m on record declaring back then that Trump’s racist rhetoric and birther antics made him unfit to host a reality TV show, let alone serve as president of the United States. I joined the vanguard (of mostly white liberals) in calling for a boycott of Trump’s businesses – to hit him where it hurts. The following excerpt – from “Trump for President? Don’t Be a Sucker!” April 8, 2011 – attests to this.

    ____________________

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

    trump2-300x189-300x189We all knew that Trump was a self-aggrandizing buffoon. But he has now exposed himself as a self-deluding racist as well.

    This is why I urge the rich folks he depends on to patronize his eponymous resorts and buy up his eponymous condominiums to begin shunning him – just as they would a half-baked racist like David Duke. I urge this especially of the black Hollywood and sports stars he likes to feature as extras in his one-man freak show.

    Trump is entitled to say whatever he likes. But, at the very least, he should suffer truth and consequences for accusing this country’s first black president of being a Kenyan Muslim who has perpetrated ‘the biggest scam in U.S. history.’

    CBS fired Charlie Sheen from One and a Half Men for hurling anti-Semitic remarks at a TV producer. NBC should feel even more compelled to fire Trump from The Apprentice for hurling racist remarks at the president of the United States.

    So, here’s to this fiendishly thin-skinned huckster having his trademark words thrown back in his face: Trump, you’re fired!

    ____________________

    Therefore, imagine my dismay when nobody of note headed our calls until last summer. That’s when Macys, NBCUniversal, ESPN and other corporations joined (mostly Hispanic) celebrities, like Ricky Martin, in rebuking Trump and severing business ties because of his anti-Mexican rhetoric. Hell, even NASCAR joined the indignant bandwagon.

    Hip-hop mogul and political activist Russell Simmons only compounded my dismay last December. That’s when he penned an open letter in which he literally pleaded with Trump to temper his rhetoric because,

    My friends, both Muslims and Jews, are saying there are so many comparisons between your rap and Hitler’s.

    (CNN, December 9, 2015)

    But it behooves public figures, especially black ones like Simmons, to explain why they did not rebuke Trump for his racist (c)rap about Obama and Mexicans the way they are rebuking him for his racist rap about Muslims and Jews.

    Incidentally, the prescient note I sounded in my 2011 commentary about David Duke came home to roost just weeks ago. For here is how the February 29 edition of The New Yorker reported on Trump’s damning refusal to utterly repudiate him.

    For months, as Donald Trump developed his political repertoire, he adopted an uncharacteristic reply for questions about fascism and the Ku Klux Klan: silence, or something close to it…

    On August 26th, the Bloomberg Television anchor John Heinemann brought up David Duke, the former Klan Grand Wizard, who had said that Trump was ‘the best of the lot’ in the 2016 campaign. [After letting Trump get by with a Simon Peter-like denial of Duke], Heilemann asked if Trump would repudiate Duke’s endorsement: ‘Sure,’ Trump said, ‘if that would make you feel better.’

    That, folks, is a racist dog whistle even I, a non-racist, can hear loud and clear.

    Obviously, the racism, xenophobia, and outright violence Trump incites are bad enough. But all of that is compounded by the failure of so many Americans, especially his rich celebrity friends, to not only repudiate him but make a show of shunning him — to hit him where it hurts.

    All Americans should appreciate the categorical imperative of treating anything branded “Trump” — from hotels to neckties and vodka — as if it were branded “KKK.” It only hints at his cynicism and hucksterism that he makes such a public show of touting his Made in China products to “Make America Great Again.”

    But the legacy of his publicity stunt masquerading as a presidential campaign should be a Trump brand so tarnished that the only people willing to patronize his businesses are the fools who voted for him.

    Given that the vast majority of them are poor and uneducated, by his own estimation, it would only be a matter of time before he’s forced into the mother of all his bankruptcies (i.e., for failing to make payments on the debt he brags about using to finance his businesses). And trust me, this Croesus-envying narcissist would rather go bankrupt than depend on the rabble-rousing suckers who attend his rallies to keep his real-estate empire afloat. Which is just as well given that most of them can barely afford a night at a budget hotel.

    Keith_Olbermann_is_moving_out-a58c8c7e05a900e6320f4232d5fc6c6cOf course, I am modest enough to appreciate why my long-standing call to boycott Trump has fallen on deaf ears. This is why I was so heartened last week when Keith Olbermann finally heeded my call.

    Keith Olbermann is so disgusted by Donald Trump’s politics that he’s moving from his Trump-owned building.

    ‘I’m getting out because of the degree to which the very name ‘Trump’ has degraded the public discourse and the nation itself,’ the former MSNBC and ESPN personality wrote in a new opinion piece for the Washington Post. ‘I can’t hear, or see, or say that name any longer without spitting.’

    (Business Insider, March 9, 2016)

    This is the demonstration of disgust I expected of countless others years ago, especially black celebrities. After all, just as Obama insinuated that the silence of Republicans tacitly endorsed Trump’s birtherism, the silence of everyone from the NBA’s Derrick Rose to the MLB’s Derek Jeter and even “Apprentice” Arsenio Hall did the same. More to the point, they all had just cause to begin spitting at the mere sound of Trump’s name long before Olbermann.

    RonaldoLead-thumb.0That said, Cristiano Ronaldo is easily the most popular player in the world’s most popular professional sport, namely Soccer. Therefore, nothing indicates the confounding and resilient allure of the Trump brand quite like Ronaldo paying $18.5 million for a pad in Trump Tower in New York City last August. This, despite the international furor Trump incited with his anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim diatribes.

    Apropos of confounding, nothing is more so than his rank-and-file supporters — who’d sooner drink Trump’s spit than spit at the sound of his name. I have denounced their willful ignorance in many commentaries, including most recently in “New Hampshire Primary Proved One-Third of Republicans are Gullible Fools,” February 12, 2016:

    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…

    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.

    On the other hand, it is noteworthy that Trump’s neo-fascist rhetoric is shocking the political sensibilities even of right-wing Republicans. No doubt this is because it is now inciting political violence, which is all too evocative of political violence in the United States during the 1960s and, even more ominously, in Germany during the 1930s. With respect to the latter, here is the prescient note I sounded just months ago:

    Many have wondered how Hitler got so many ordinary Germans to become his ‘willing executioners.’ Well, Trump is showing just how at rallies where he whips his supporters into all manner of xenophobic and racist frenzy, preying with every fulmination on their irrational fears of persecution and misguided sense of nationalism. “Never again”? I wouldn’t bet on it.

    God help America.

    (“The Putin-Trump Bromance,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 29, 2015)

    Still, there’s something refreshing and ennobling about people who troll the comments section of political blogs, hurling snarky invectives behind fake names, now baring themselves to do the same under klieg lights at campaign rallies. That is, so long as they limit themselves to hurling invectives at the candidates (I suggest “crybaby Donald’), not haymakers at any candidate’s supporters.

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  • Saturday, March 12, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    Who Popularized the Concept of Selfies?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Kardashians say they did. The British women in this pic from June 1968 say otherwise.

    natgeo14

  • Friday, March 11, 2016 at 7:57 AM

    Cardinals Living Like Princes; the Pope Like a Pauper

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    JUCme

    U.S. bishops living in Italy enjoy luxurious new renovations to their living quarters, despite Pope Francis’s edict that church officials ought to live more humbly.

    Upon his election in 2013, Pope Francis said that he wanted a church ‘that is poor and is for the poor.’ He arrived with a plan to reform the priorities of the Catholic Church, left embattled after Benedict XVI’s often luxurious reign.

    (Huffington Post, March 4, 2016)

    The hope for change that attended the election of Pope Francis rivaled that which attended the election of President Obama. Therefore, it speaks volumes about Vatican politics that the way bishops have obstructed Francis rivals the way Republicans have obstructed Obama.

    images4I don’t mind admitting that Francis made a liar out of me when he chose to live in a modest communal apartment instead of the Apostolic Palace. I had declared this prospect impracticable, even absurd. But, in doing so, he clearly hoped cardinals and bishops would follow fashion. They have not.

    In fact, it appears the pope is the only church leader living the humble life he decreed. Even worse:

    Two controversial new books describe a Vatican awash with cash that is woefully mismanaged, where senior officials pour church funds into their already-lavish apartments, and where even the office that researches candidates for sainthood has had its bank accounts frozen out of concerns about financial impropriety.

    (London Guardian, November 3, 2015)

    Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.06.57 PMLeaders of the Catholic Church clearly have no greater regard for the Code of Canon Law pertaining to poverty than they have for the one pertaining to celibacy. I commented on the pope himself lamenting the former in “Pope Francis Condemns the ‘Cult and Idolatry of Money,’” November 27, 2013, and the latter in “Pope Confesses: There’s a Gay Cabal in the Vatican,” July 13, 2013.

    But don’t get me started on indulgences church leaders grant priests who sexually abuse children. I commented on this betrayal of faith and trust in “Pope Accused of Harboring Pedophile Priests,” March 16, 2010. But I digress …

    It would be one thing if Francis were rebuking a bishop here and there for failing to follow his lead. In that case, he would just be living the parable of the good shepherd and one lost sheep. But he is having to rebuke so many bishops (and cardinals) for maintaining their princely lifestyles, the parable of the good shepherd and a lost flock seems more apropos.

    I am not a prophet. And don’t play one on this weblog. Yet, in “Habemus Papam: Hail, Francis,” March 13, 2013, I warned it would be thus.

    __________________

    article-2292549-18A3D6F0000005DC-727_964x436

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

    Think about this folks: Is Pope Francis going to instruct the Curia to redistribute what remains of the Church’s ostentatious wealth, after settling child-sex abuse cases, to caring for the poor? I don’t think so. In fact, the Church is already closing schools for the poor instead of selling valuable artworks and other material possessions to settle these cases.

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

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

    __________________

    And so the rich get richer and the poor get poorer … even in the Catholic Church.

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  • Wednesday, March 9, 2016 at 5:50 AM

    Maria Sharapova Just Latest Superstar Athlete Caught Using PEDs

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    This headline speaks volumes. Therefore, what follows is mere epilogue.

    Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and the world’s highest-paid female athlete, announced Monday that she had tested positive for the recently banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open.

    The tennis antidoping program confirmed the positive test, which occurred Jan. 26, the day Sharapova lost to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals…

    The commercial fallout was swift.

    (New York Times, March 7, 2016)

    0610jonescourtG_468x306Frankly, the only thing shocking about this report is that so many people are shocked by it. Here’s why:

    [Marion] Jones is just the latest professional athlete to be caught in a web of lies about using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Unfortunately, her fall from grace will leave fans of every sport wondering, quite rightly: If Marion wasn’t clean, who is?

    (“Jones Admits Using Steroids…,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 12, 2007)

    Indeed, credible allegations linked NFL quarterback Peyton Manning to PEDs just weeks before he led the Denver Broncos to victory in last month’s Super Bowl. I duly commented in “Steroids: Peyton Manning Caught on the ‘Dark Side,'” December 29, 2015. The point is that it might be more sobering to wonder, quite rightly: If Peyton wasn’t clean, who is?

    Perhaps his consciousness of guilt caused him to call a press conference on Monday to announce his retirement around the same time Sharapova called one to announce her failed drug test. But he got off scot-free; she did not.

    She is now the latest superstar to vindicate my cynicism, entering a rogues’ gallery that includes the likes of Ben Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and perhaps most shamefully, Lance Armstrong.

    08032016 sharapova_0To be fair, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) only banned meldonium in January of this year. And Sharapova took pains during her public confessional to point out that she had been taking it for 10 years for medicinal reasons as prescribed.

    These would constitute mitigating factors if not for reports that, according to the manufacturer, patients are supposed to take this drug for only six weeks. Not to mention reports that Russian troops used it to boost stamina, which is clearly the off-label use that would have enhanced Sharapova’s performance….

    Ironically, most damning might be her guilt by association with the Russian Tennis Federation. After all, just months ago, WADA implicated all Russian athletes in an epidemic of doping unparalleled in sports history. This compelled my indignant commentary, “In Putin’s Russia Even Athletics Is a Criminal Doping Enterprise,” November 9, 2015.

    All of the above explains why Sharapova should be suspended for at least the two years WADA recommends for “unintentional” doping. This, of course, would effectively end her career. But so be it. Here’s why:

    Given the way advertisers are lavishing lucrative endorsements on Maria Sharapova, you’d think she were the one chasing this history [of surpassing Steffi Graf’s 22 Grand Slam titles]. In fact, she’s heading into the sunset of her career still chasing after her sixth Grand Slam.

    Serena is clearly too classy these days to complain about this egregious (and arguably racist) oversight, which is all the more admirable considering the tens of millions of dollars it represents. But the rest of us should.

    (“Hail, Serena! Queen of Ace,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 11, 2015)

    I made this snarky, albeit prescient, observation after Serena won her twenty-first Grand Slam. Accordingly, she would have been forgiven a little schadenfreude over Sharapova’s fall from grace. Instead, she merely displayed the class I attributed to her.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.59.04 PMSpecifically, Serena expressed admiration on Tuesday for the forthcoming way Sharapova took responsibility. She also hailed her courage and dedication to their sport, and wished her well as she tries to salvage what remains of her career. By instructive contrast, three-time Grand Slam champion Jennifer Capriati blasted Sharapova, in effect, as a sacred cow who got away with cheating her entire career.

    Meanwhile, Sharapova’s top sponsors wasted no time relegating her to pariah status. No doubt because they have facts which indicate that she was not as forthcoming as Serena thinks.

    Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer said on Tuesday it was severing ties with Maria Sharapova as the world’s highest-paid female athlete started to count the cost of a failed drug test and likely ban from tennis.

    Sports firm Nike and German luxury car maker Porsche also said they were suspending their relationship with the five-times Grand Slam champion as the 28-year-old Russian until a decision is taken on banning her.

    (France 24, March 7, 2016)

    It can only be a matter of time before other major sponsors, like American Express, Avon, and Evian, follow suit.

    To give you a sense of how much she stands to lose, reports are that Sharapova makes $30 million in endorsements each year. For a little perspective, she has made a relatively paltry $37 million in prize money for her entire career.

    This is why she probably expected to emulate Michael Jordan who, 13 years after retiring from the NBA, makes more in endorsements each year ($100 million in 2015 according to Forbes) than he made in salary his entire career ($94 million). That now seems unlikely.

    140617175720-maria-sharapova-french-open-horizontal-gallery-300x169Still, given the way Serena has dominated Tennis over the past 10 years, we should demand explanations from the corporate heads who continually chose Sharapova instead of Serena to endorse their products. Think of the message this sent, especially to young black girls about unfair treatment and to young white girls about preferential treatment.

    In fact, the racism inherent in this is every bit as insidious and self-perpetuating as the racism inherent in black girls choosing white dolls over black ones, which sociologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark demonstrated 55 years ago in experiments to raise racial consciousness.

    Perhaps major sponsors will now sign Serena and make her the world’s highest-paid female athlete, belatedly. To be honest, though, my only hope is that she wins two more Grand Slams to dethrone Graf as holder of the most titles, and then retires … before she’s exposed for taking PEDs too.

    In any event, don’t cry for Maria. She deserves to be relegated to the dustbin of sports history, just like Marion, And good riddance to her!

    That said, I repeat my abiding plea:

    Policing drugs in professional sports is not only Orwellian, it’s utterly futile. After all [athletes] have always, and will always, do or take anything that might give them a competitive advantage. And if what they do or take poses no harm to anyone except themselves, who cares?!

    This enlightened attitude towards performance-enhancing drugs would have precluded the ‘scandals’ that now threaten the professional careers of Tour de France Champion Floyd Landis and Olympic Champion Justin Gatlin; to say nothing of sparing them international ridicule as pathetic liars and cheaters.

    (“A Plea for Landis, Gatlin, et al: Legalize Drugs…Especially in Sports,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 3, 2006)

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  • Monday, March 7, 2016 at 8:19 AM

    So Much for “The China Model” of Economic Growth

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Not long ago, it was heretical to even question the miracle of China’s everlasting economic growth. Nothing testified to this quite like corporations lobbying to get into its market like Evangelicals praying to get into Heaven. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Western economist, politician, CEO, or pundit who raised any doubt about the Chinese economy over the past decade.

    Never mind the transformative irony in the way market economies of Western democracies blithely tethered their growth during this period to that of the planned economy of this Eastern autocracy.

    By contrast, my heresy was such that I felt like a cross between Doubting Thomas and John the Baptist. Not least because I was so mindful that much of what was being said about the Chinese economy in the 2000s was said about the Japanese economy in the 1980s; that is, before Japan’s boom went bust, ushering in its infamous “lost decades” from 1991-2010.

    More to the point, I raised doubts, continually. Here, for example, is an excerpt from “Gap Between Rich and Poor in Communist China Is Sowing Seeds of Resentment and Terminal Unrest,” December 22, 2005.

    ___________________

    Despite a rate of growth that is the envy of the world, China’s economy is, in fact, a ticking time bomb. …

    Screen-Shot-2014-06-18-at-2.00.23-AMThe affectations of modernity and freedom in China’s big cities are designed to divert attention from the feudal, barren, and collectivized rural areas where most of its billion-plus people still reside. …

    The irony is that the great proletarian revolution Karl Marx predicted for capitalist societies is finally brewing in communist China. Because as urban sprawl supplants rural areas and further alienates poor farmers (who have seen only hardship from this economic boom), the simmering tensions between the “haves” and the “have-nots” will cause China to implode, inevitably.

    Fuel shortages compounded by widespread rebellion amongst poor, gentrified and disaffected farmers are clearly sowing the seeds of China’s economic destruction.

    The government will continually mount Sisyphean efforts to keep this cauldron of tensions from boiling over. But I fear this will lead inexorably to a crackdown that will make the massacre at Tiananmen Square look like a Sunday picnic.

    ___________________

    karlmarx_460x276Marx famously warned that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. The seeds he was referring to, of course, are resentful workers who would eventually mount a proletarian revolution against the bourgeois establishment.

    Except that this final stage of capitalism is now playing out in communist China, not capitalist America.

    As China grows into its role as a twenty-first century economic powerhouse, its government is struggling with the growth of popular unrest. Groups of Chinese citizens, from small bands of workers to entire villages, have been staging protests across the massive nation with increasing frequency. According to research by the Chinese Academy of Governance, the number of protests in China doubled between 2006 and 2010, rising to 180,000 reported ‘mass incidents.’

    (The Atlantic, February 17, 2012)

    It might strike you as farfetched that China could sustain an average of 45,000 mass protests every year with nary a media mention … of any of them. This, especially given how the media can make one mass protest in America seem like, well, a revolution.

    But the Chinese government has kept a lid on these protests and enforced news blackouts with carrots and sticks, respectively.

    050416_ChinaProtest_wide.hmediumWith respect to appeasing protesters with carrots (the way the Saudi regime has always done), here is the insight Maclean’s provided:

    A wave of riots and protests swept across China’s industrial cities in 2008 and 2009. …

    The massive stimulus program deployed by Beijing, one that was more than twice the relative size of America’s rescue plan, worked exactly as it was supposed to: It reignited growth and put China’s expanding army of restless unemployed back to work.

    For the surprisingly large number of Western business types who hold that China’s model of centralized economic planning is superior to the plodding inefficiency of capitalist liberal democracies, China’s speedy response only strengthened their conviction.

    (July 15, 2015)

    yahoo-760911Indeed, while hailing the Communist Party’s visible hand in every facet of life in China, these Western business types were decrying the Obama Administration’s visible hand in providing healthcare to millions of poor Americans. They were too consumed with greed to be chastened by their hypocrisy.

    Even worse, they not only turned a blind eye to the Chinese government’s human rights abuses but actually helped it perpetrate those abuses.

    Again, I’ve been preaching in the proverbial wilderness against these abuses for years:

    China’s exploitation of hundreds of millions of poor Chinese for cheap labor fueled its phenomenal rise to economic superpower status. What’s more, many American corporations conspired and colluded with the Chinese government not only to exploit that cheap labor but also to deny Chinese citizens all manner of basic freedoms.

    Chinese President Hu Jintao has good reason to shout, yahoo! After all, he got Yahoo!, Microsoft, Intel, and every other American hi-tech firm to check their conscience at the border as a condition of doing business in China. The viability of the Chinese government depends on its ability to control the minds and manage the freedoms of its 1.3 billion citizens.

    (“Hu Advises Bush that More Spying, Not Less, Will Help U.S. Economy Grow Like China’s,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 23, 2006)

    11730741With respect to intimidating news media with sticks (the way the Russian government has always done), here is the insight the New York Times provided:

    The Chinese news media covered President Xi Jinping’s most recent public appearances with adulation befitting a demigod. …

    The blanket coverage reflected the brazen and far-reaching media policy announced by Mr. Xi on his choreographed tour: The Chinese news media exists to serve as a propaganda tool for the Communist Party, and it must pledge its fealty to Mr. Xi.

    (February 22, 2016)

    08hongkong_web1-master675Specifically, this fealty prohibits the publication of anything remotely critical of the Maoist cult of personality Xi seems determined to cultivate. The mysterious fate of the gang of five who dared to publish ‘gossipy books about Chinese leaders” is instructive:

    The case of Lee Bo … and his four missing colleagues has all the makings of an espionage thriller. But to many of the 7.2 million people in this former British colony, his disappearance and apparent surfacing across the border that demarcates Hong Kong from the rest of China have fueled a profound fear, by calling into question the legal guarantee that people here would be shielded until midcentury from Beijing’s reach under an arrangement known as one country, two systems.

    (New York Times, January 7, 2016)

    Mind you, it’s not as if any news organization needed Xi’s personal admonition. That he felt the need to issue it, however, reflects the Communist Party’s fears that the chickens are finally coming home to roost. And here’s why:

    China’s debt situation is about the same size as Greece’s debt situation. [This] is a massive overhang on an economy that is slowing down now and — because of the population issue — about to slow down even more.

    The scary part for other countries is that China’s economy is so huge it functions as both an engine and a supply source for the economy of the rest of the world.

    (Business Insider, August 10, 2015)

    Sure enough, Moody’s downgraded China’s bond rating from “stable” to “negative” just last week:

    Moody’s noted that ‘government debt has risen markedly, to 40.6 percent of GDP at the end of 2015, according to our estimates, from 32.5 percent in 2012…

    Concerns over the Chinese government’s growing debt in its increasingly moribund state-owned enterprises … will add further pressure to the Communist state’s fiscal position.

    Another driver for the downgrade was concern over China’s growing external vulnerability, following record levels of capital flight and the PBOC’s increasingly drained foreign exchange reserves to defend the fledging RMB.

    (World Finance, March 2, 2016)

    Arguably, Moody’s downgrading China’s bond rating is as bad an omen as Xi warning the news media not to air his government’s dirty laundry.

    image-2It is also noteworthy that the reason for capital flight is that Xi’s government seems unwilling or unable to implement the structural reforms necessary to ensure steady growth and market stability.

    This is particularly alarming given a Wall Street Journal report on January 19 that economic growth in 2015 was the slowest in 25 years (at 6.9 percent) and “shows little sign of abating.” Shocking drops in exports, which fell by 25 percent just last year, have become thorns in the “miracle-gro” that has fertilized China’s economic growth.

    Yet, despite all this, Xi seems more interested in getting media bosses to help China save face than economic advisers to help vindicate the heralded virtues of its planned economy. He has clearly decided that he has a better chance of holding that proletarian revolution at bay by stoking nationalism than stimulating growth.

    n00491306-bHence, the reports about China’s increasingly aggressive military maneuvers in the South China Sea:

    ‘China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise,’ Cmdr. Harry Harris, of the U.S. Pacific Command, recently warned Congress…

    The U.S. has stepped up military moves with its alliances and its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region…

    China has created islands with military-grade runways and missile-defense hardware on islands claimed by Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei.

    (Business Insider, March 4, 2016)

    Incidentally, I presaged these developments too – in “China and Japan in Falklands-Like Dispute,” August 23, 2012, and “Japan and China Stoking North Korea-Like Tensions,” April 24, 2013.

    In any event, China has a lot of saving face to do. For its new normal of market volatility and “scaffolding debt expansion” are making a mockery of The China Model, not to mention sending shockwaves throughout the global economy. This model, of course, is an oxymoronic social compact of political totalitarianism and economic liberalism. Renowned scholars like Harvard professor Daniel A. Bell have been touting it as an equally viable, if not better, alternative to the U.S. model (both politically and economically).

    And, Chinese officials believed the hype; so much so that they began lecturing American officials about sound fiscal management. They did so with imperious indignation five years ago, for example, after ratings agency Standard & Poor downgraded America’s bond rating – not from stable to negative, but merely from AAA to AA+.

    The world’s largest holder of U.S. debt, condemned the ‘short-sighted’ political wrangling in the U.S. and said the world needed a new and stable global reserve currency.

    The official Xinhua news agency said China had ‘every right now to demand the United States address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China’s dollar assets.’

    (London Guardian, August 6, 2011)

    Given subsequent developments, the aphorism “karma’s a bitch” only hints at the comeuppance the Chinese are now suffering. But I cautioned them about their superpower hubris in this respect in “Communists Lecture Capitalists at World Economic Forum in Davos,” January 29, 2009, which includes the following:

    All economic indicators give Wen and the Chinese just cause to be full of themselves. Forecasts have their economy growing at a rate of eight percent this year, despite the global financial crisis. Granted, this is lower than the double-digit growth they’ve been averaging in recent years. But it’s still well above anything the U.S. has experienced in decades.

    I would not be surprised, however, if the foundations of China’s economy turn out to be even more unsustainable than that of the U.S. After all, China cannot continue riding its real-estate boom on the ownership aspirations of consumers whose credit per capita is even less solvent than that of the sub-prime consumers in the U.S. who caused its real-estate boom to go bust.

    52295f53e8e44e1a330000e0_how-to-bring-china-s-ghost-towns-back-to-life_shanghaisoundbites_yunan_1430642939_crop_550x367To get an eerie visual of how this bust is now unfolding, google and watch the 60 Minutes video of “China’s Ghost Cities” — featuring thousands of abandoned development projects:

    Wang Shi, CEO of Vanke told 60 Minutes that developers are deep in debt. Many have abandoned projects midway through because the money dried up. He warned that if the bubble really did burst, China could see its version of the Arab Spring.

    (Business Insider, March 3, 2013)

    Which brings me back to the ominous point about Xi’s media tour last week. Because the more China’s economy slows, the less stimulus money the government will have to keep restive workers in check; the less stimulus money the government has to keep restive workers in check, the more repressive the government will become; and the more repressive the government becomes, the more the media will feel duty-bound to cover-up its human-rights abuses.

    In other words, the stage is now set for China to crackdown with impunity on the unrest this economic slowdown is bound to cause. And nothing is more ominous in this respect than Reuters reporting on March 3 that the government plans to “lay off 5-6 million state workers over the next two to three years.”

    It has earmarked billions to induce these redundant zombies not to join the ranks of economic walking dead who rise up for the 45,000 protests per year cited above. But this is rather like the U.S. government promising emancipated blacks forty acres and a mule….

    Apropos of this, China’s economic slowdown is characterized as much by zombie companies as by ghost cities — both of which betray zombie data that made its economy appear more like a powerful dragon than a slithery gecko. But the “scary part for other countries” is that such companies and cities portend similar doom for Chinese funded developments throughout Africa and the Caribbean.

    For China can no longer afford to borrow money to sustain the illusion of double-digit growth at home or the co-opting influence of yuan diplomacy abroad. The latter had it financing everything from sports stadiums in Africa to slush funds in Latin America, and tourist resorts in the Caribbean.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 7.52.01 AMFor example, the Baha Mar resort in The Bahamas looks like a ghost city today, in part, because China’s Exim bank can no longer fund the billions in guarantees to complete it. I warned against this white elephant in ‘China Putting the Squeeze on The Bahamas. Your Country Could Be Next,” October 22, 2010. But this headline from the January 4, 2016 edition of Bloomberg Business speaks volumes:

    The Ghost of Baha Mar: How a $3.5 Billion Paradise Went Bust

    This does not bode well for other developments the Chinese are financing and constructing throughout the region — invariably using their own cheap labor imported from China. Remarkably, these developments include The Pointe, another mega-resort just down the beach from Baha Mar in Nassau. The leaders of The Bahamas clearly have some ‘splainin’ to do.

    Finally, apropos of Xi’s apparent pivot from stimulating growth to stoking nationalism, ponder this ominous prospect:

    What happens if China decides that converting the container ports, factories, and chemical plants it has funded throughout the Caribbean [and Africa] into dual military and commercial use is it its strategic interest? Would these governments comply? Would they have any real choice? And when they do comply, would the U.S. then blockade the entire region – as it blockaded Cuba during the missile crisis?

    Now, consider China making such strategic moves in Latin America where its purportedly benign yuan diplomacy dwarfs its Caribbean [and African] operations. This new Cold War could then turn very hot indeed.

    (“China Buying Up Political Dominion,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 22, 2005)

    North Korean leaders have gotten away with feeding their people more nationalism than food for the past 50 years. Perhaps Xi can be forgiven for thinking he can get away with feeding his people a little more nationalism and a little less food for the next 25.

    Whatever the case, China appears on the precipice of emulating Japan’s lost decades, during which headlines like today’s from the Associated Press will likely become commonplace:

    Global Stocks edge lower after China cuts growth target [again]

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  • Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 7:12 AM

    Republicans Now Trying to Kill the Trumpenstein Monster They Created

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    176264_600

    In a last-ditch effort to stop Donald Trump’s likely nomination as the Republican Party’s candidate for president, more than 50 conservative foreign policy experts have signed an open letter condemning the real estate magnate as unfit for the office.

    From stating that he’ll make Japan — a close U.S. ally — pay for its longstanding American support, to vowing to kill the families of terrorists, Trump’s rhetoric appears to have finally crossed a line for those conservatives who have made their careers in foreign policy.

    (Washington Post, March 3, 2016)

    Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 7.22.29 AMMost notably, though, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, delivered an urgent national address on Thursday morning. In it, he denounced Trump as a phony and a fraud – whose promises are worthless and whose third-grade antics make him unsuitable to be president of the United States.

    True to form, Trump promptly vindicated Romney’s denunciation during the Republican presidential debate on Thursday night. For he spent more time hurling insults and boasting about his penis than discussing the issues of national concern.

    I commend Republicans for trying to stop Trump’s fractious and seemingly inexorable march to the nomination. But I fear their #NeverTrump efforts will prove too little, too late.

    Nothing indicates this quite like this monster at large stomping off today from a command performance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Reports are that it was last seen heading for Kansas – presumably to get as far away from the land of Oz, where Republicans created it, as possible.

    But, trust me folks, it is as much a cardinal sin for a Republican to defy the CPAC as it is for a bishop to defy the Vatican.

    Incidentally, I appreciate the alarm that has seized Romney and so many panicked Republican leaders. I maintain, however, that the problem is not Donald Trump (or, courtesy of comedian John Oliver, Donald Drumpf). Rather, it is the media bosses who cover him and the gullible fools who support him: the former see him as nothing more than a ratings godsend; the latter are as addicted to his vulgar antics as rubberneckers are to train wrecks.

    On the other hand, you’ve probably seen Trump raging against the media during his ubiquitous presence on TV. But this makes about as much sense as a junkie raging against his dealer, no?

    In any event, it might fall to Democrats to kill this Trumpenstein (or Drumpfenstein) in November. But, if they fail, God help America….

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  • Friday, March 4, 2016 at 5:26 AM

    Cardale Jones, Ohio’s Superstar QB, Shows Why Colleges Should Pay Student-Athletes

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have been advocating for years for college athletes to not only get paid, but “go pro” at the earliest opportunity.

    ncaa dollarsI did so in “The Categorical Imperative to Pay Student Athletes Just Got Stronger,” March 28, 2014, “Student Athletes Make Billions (for Colleges) but Most Graduate Poor … and Dumb,” January 16, 2014, and “Reggie Bush Forfeits Heisman Trophy,” September 16, 2010.

    The following is an excerpt from the last. It highlights the imperatives that compel my advocacy.

    _________________

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

    Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 7.28.07 PMMore to the point, the people generating its revenues are not the university presidents, athletics directors, or coaches who, incidentally, make millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals. Instead, they are the poor, mostly black athletes whose raw talent colleges exploit to pack 100,000 fans into their stadiums on game day.

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

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

    The hypocrisy inherent in this exploitation is beyond shameful.

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

    _________________

    Then, of course, there’s the open secret that colleges enable top athletes to take fake “paper classes” to maintain their eligibility to play sports. Former federal prosecutor Kenneth Weinstein threw this into stark relief with an independent report dated October 22, 2014, which found that the University of North Carolina (UNC) perpetrated this academic fraud on its so-called student-athletes for 18 years.

    [Learning Specialist] Mary Willingham’s job was to help athletes who weren’t quite ready academically for the work required at UNC at Chapel Hill, one of the country’s top public universities.

    But she was shocked that one couldn’t read. And then she found he was not an anomaly.

    (CNN, January 8, 2014)

    Arguably, tens of thousands of students have graduated from big-sports colleges like UNC with degrees that are utterly worthless, much like the degrees thousands of suckers graduated with from Trump University.

    Incidentally, former governor Mitt Romney held a press conference earlier today to warn Republicans against nominating Donald Trump for president. In doing so, he cited Trump University as one of many schemes this huckster used to scam gullible Americans.

    As it happens, some of us have been warning for years that getting a degree from this university is like buying swampland in the Florida Everglades. My commentary, “Trump for President?! Don’t Be a Sucker,” April 8, 2011, affirms this.

    Barack Obama, Nick SabanMeanwhile, President Obama makes quite a show of honoring Division 1 NCAA championship teams. In fact, he did so on Wednesday with the University of Alabama Crimson Tide Football team.

    Mind you, many of the student-athletes he honors at the White House are incapable of reading or writing at grade-school level, much less at college level. The shame is that Obama has never bothered to decry this fact.

    But I had this untenable fact in mind when I advised Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones as follows:

    It’s unconscionable to continue exploiting these athletes as nothing more than indentured servants – most of whom end up even more indebted, if not indentured, after their service.

    After all, they not only graduate with degrees not worth the paper they’re written on; they actually enter college aiming to do nothing but make themselves more marketable to professional teams…

    Classes could indeed prove pointless for Jones now that he’s a national champion quarterback. The only lesson left for him to learn is that he must strike while the iron is hot and go pro.

    (“Ohio Buckeyes Trample Ducks to Win NCAA Football National Championship,” January 13, 2015)

    Therefore, imagine my consternation when Cardale ignored my advice and announced his intent to return to Ohio State. I duly commented in “WTF! Ohio’s Cardale Jones Opts to Stay in School…?” January 17, 2015, which includes the following instructive points for other student-athletes.

    _________________

    • Playing in the NFL is no more anathema to getting an education than playing in the NCAA, especially considering the amount of time student-athletes dedicate to sports at Division 1 colleges, like Ohio State.
    • 461466604The best way to prepare for a career in the NFL is to play in the NFL — as any first-round draft pick, who completed his four-years of indentured servitude in college, will attest.
    • It smacks of a perverse form of paternalism to question a 21-year-old Football player’s mental and emotional ability to handle all that comes with suddenly making millions (especially if he grew up dirt poor — as Cardale did). After all, teenage entertainers handle the same every day. At least nobody can question the 6’-5”/250-pound Cardale’s physical ability to handle playing in the NFL.
    • Cardale claims he sought advice from family members and close friends about whether to go pro or stay in school. But this is unfair, almost to the point of being cruel. After all, even if they wanted to say, “take the money and run, fool,” they probably feared coming across like parasites who just can’t wait to live off Cardale, his education be damned.
    • Cardale claims he also sought advice from his coach. But, for obvious reasons, his coach has more vested interest in having him stay in school than his teachers.
    • Cardale would have been far better served if he had sought advice from men who have been in his shoes, like superstars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant – neither of whom ever spent a day in college.

    _________________

    I ended by wishing him well. But, sure enough:

    Nothing has been the same since.

    Despite beating out J.T. Barrett for the starting job in camp, Jones was benched after starting the season 7-0, and his draft stock has steadily slid. He’s not expected to go in the first round and may not be taken until the third and final day of the April draft.

    (Associated Press, February 25, 2016)

    This meant that, after foregoing a rookie NFL contract last year for 4 years, $22-25 million, Cardale ended up struggling to get one this year for 4 years, $3-5 million.

    cardaleThen, adding injury to insult, came this:

    The 2016 NFL scouting combine is pretty much over for Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who suffered a hamstring injury…

    ‘I think the combine’s going to be a good time to show what I can do’ [Jones said]. Now that chance is gone.

    (Yahoo! Sports, February 27, 2016)

    Frankly, all I can say now is, I pity this fool.

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  • Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 6:38 AM

    CNN’s Toobin Changes His Tune To Sing Mine on Justice Scalia

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    In my February 13 obit on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I scoffed at the way millions rushed to eulogize him.

    antonin-scalia-weird-hatI noted that, if Scalia were the transformative jurist they were hailing, he would not have been known more for petty and pugnacious dissents than wise and precedential decisions. I noted further that he personified the politicization of the Court, where justices are now known more for their political affiliation than their jurisprudence.

    I took a lot of flak. But sober reflections by Jeffrey Toobin and President Obama have now vindicated the discordant notes I sounded amidst the chorus of hosannas to Scalia.

    Toobin, of course, is CNN’s famous legal analyst. He is also the author of a number of bestselling books in the legal genre, including The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court.

    More to the point, here is the way he is now singing my discordant tune:

    Antonin Scalia, who died this month, after nearly three decades on the Supreme Court, devoted his professional life to making the United States a less fair, less tolerant, and less admirable democracy…

    Fortunately, he mostly failed. Belligerent with his colleagues, dismissive of his critics, nostalgic for a world where outsiders knew their place and stayed there, Scalia represents a perfect model for everything that President Obama should avoid in a successor.

    (The New Yorker, February 29, 2016 Issue)

    jeffrey-toobin-3-26-13-cnn-sgOuch! Except that, reading this, you’d never know that Toobin led the chorus of those eulogizing Scalia, within hours of his death, as a transformative giant. This, alas, is why his sober reflection is the fruit of that poisonous chorus.

    After all, here is the way he was singing their harmonious tune:

    The loss of Justice Antonin Scalia is immensely significant on two levels. First, Scalia himself ranks among the most influential Justices in American history, alongside such figures as John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and William Brennan. Second, Scalia was the linchpin of the Supreme Court’s five-justice conservative majority.

    (The New Yorker, February 13, 2016)

    As it happens, a number of people cited this Toobin tribute to challenge and even ridicule my obit. They could hardly have known that, just two weeks later, Toobin would be writing a sober reflection that effectively affirmed every word in that obit.

    Indeed, you could be forgiven the impression that the legal scholar who wrote this glowing tribute is as different from the one who wrote that scathing critique, as a conservative Supreme Court justice is from a liberal one. Got that?

    Barack-Antonin-Scalia-Corte-Suprema_MILIMA20160216_0447_11At least Obama can blame his initial hosannas to Scalia on the comity required of him as head of a co-equal branch of the U.S. government. But here is the way he is now vindicating my concerns about the politicization of the Court, which Scalia had such a heavy hand in fomenting:

    If, in fact, the Republicans in the Senate take a posture that defies the Constitution, defies logic, is not supported by tradition simply because of politics, then invariably what you’re going to see is a further deterioration in the ability of any President to make any judicial appointments…

    Not only are you going to see more and more vacancies and the court system break down … but the credibility of the (Supreme) Court begins to diminish because it’s viewed simply as an extension of our politics.

    (New York Daily News, February 25, 2016)

    I rest my case.

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