• Saturday, September 30, 2017 at 8:21 AM

    Trump making Puerto Rico great again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    #Idiot!

  • Friday, September 29, 2017 at 8:21 AM

    Iraqi Kurdistan Declares Independence

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Iraqi Kurds demonstrated on Monday that they are as determined to be independent as black slaves were to be free. But, ominously, Iraqi leaders are demonstrating that they are as determined to keep Iraqi Kurds in Iraq as Confederate leaders were to keep black slaves on the plantation.

    The Iraqi government escalated its confrontation with its northern Kurdish region on Wednesday, threatening to send troops and seize oil fields there and taking steps to shut down international flights to and from the region.

    The moves came in retaliation for a referendum on Monday in which the region, Iraqi Kurdistan, voted decisively to seek independence from Iraq. Kurdish officials announced Wednesday that nearly 93 percent of voters approved the referendum, which aims to create an independent state for the Kurds, an ethnic minority in Iraq.

    (New York Times, September 27, 2017)

    Only God knows how this standoff will end. But I fear my allusions to the American Civil War are more relevant than anyone in Iraq would like to contemplate.

    Not to mention that Turkey and Iran have joined Baghdad in threatening military action if necessary to squeeze all notions of independence out of Iraqi Kurdistan. They are hoping to avoid war by imposing the kind of blockade and sanctions Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are imposing on Qatar. (So much for the Israel-Palestinian conflict defining perennial tensions in the Middle East.)

    Reports are that Turkey and Iran fear Kurdish minorities in their respective countries feeling emboldened to do there what Kurds are doing in Iraq. Never mind that a Kurdish state could do for Kurds in the diaspora what Israel did for Jews.

    Turkey has the region’s largest Kurdish population. Its authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, clearly fears their restiveness. But this is why he should be encouraging their repatriation to Kurdistan, no?

    Meanwhile, Iraq has been ravaged by war for 24 of the past 37 years. The mercy rule should compel even its imperial neighbors to eschew any notion of war.

    In any event, these simmering tensions make the partition proposal some of us made over a decade ago seem quaint and prescient in equal measure.

    I reiterated my take two years ago – in “Time to Partition Iraq? No Sh#+,” March 31, 2015 – after some of America’s top political and military pundits began jumping on the bandwagon.

    _________________

    Almost a decade ago, some of us declared partition the inevitable consequence of the US invasion of Iraq. It was self-evident that Sunnis (who compose twenty percent of the population) and Kurds (who compose seventeen percent) would never consent to be governed by a central government dominated by Shiites (who compose sixty percent). This is why we urged the United States to ‘give up the game’ of nation building among them way back then.

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

    So, here’s to the triumph of opportunistic politics over failed military strategies.

    (“At Last, Rumsfeld Becomes a Casualty of the Iraq War,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 9, 2006)

    _________________

    Related commentaries:
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  • Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 10:52 AM

    Hugh Hefner, Self-Professed Playboy and Cultural Revolutionary, Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With Playboy, Hugh Hefner pioneered publishing pornographic pictures of pretty women. But I gather I might have been the only boy, during the early 1970s, who found this magazine far more intellectually than physically stimulating. Indeed, this famous trope had true meaning for me:

    I read Playboy for the articles.

    For example, I can thank Playboy for knowing who Alex Haley was long before I read his Autobiography of Malcolm X or watched his TV miniseries “Roots”. I came across a very “used” copy of the January 1965 issue, which featured not only Haley’s lengthy interview with Martin Luther King Jr. but also articles by Vladimir Nabakov, P.G. Woodhouse, Harold Pinter, and Jack Kerouac, to name just a few. The stimulation these articles provided was Tantric. What little spurts the centerfold provided couldn’t compare.

    Not to mention Hefner inviting blacks to discuss current issues, socialize, and dance with whites on his “Playboy’s Penthouse” and “Playboy After Dark” TV shows. For this was almost as revolutionary as blacks taking it upon themselves to integrate lunch counters and other places of public accommodations throughout the South.

    Of course, anyone who bothered to read the editorial in Hefner’s inaugural issue (in December 1953) would have expected this sophisticated, multifaceted, and interracial sensory experience:

    We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.

    Is there any wonder, then, that any man with half a brain would be as inclined to read an article as smoke a cigarette – afterwards?

    That’s what Playboy meant to me. Unfortunately, Hefner soon began trying to convince the world that he was more interesting than any centerfold, article, or interview that appeared in his magazine.

    He just turned me off. But he convinced many.

    Hefner the man and Playboy the brand were inseparable. …

    He was compared to Jay Gatsby, Citizen Kane and Walt Disney, but Mr. Hefner was his own production. He repeatedly likened his life to a romantic movie; it starred an ageless sophisticate in silk pajamas and smoking jacket, hosting a never-ending party for famous and fascinating people.

    (New York Times, September 27, 2017)

    Dos Equis, eat your heart out…? I don’t think so. After all, nothing is more pathetic than a senile old man trying to convince the world that he’s still a virile young stud. Surely I’m not the only one who found his public boasting about Viagra-fueled orgies more pitiable than enviable.

    But nothing demonstrated the laughingstock he became quite like the spectacle he made of his attempts to marry another centerfold. I commented in “Playboy Hef Dumped Like an Ordinary Chump,” June 17, 2011.

    _________________

    I’m sure there was a time — 40 to 50 years ago — when every guy wanted to be Hugh Hefner. Not because he peddled soft porn for a living, but because so many beautiful women were reportedly lining up to have sex with him to appear in Playboy.

    Incidentally, I have always felt that he has nothing to apologize for. I respect a liberated woman’s choice to prostitute herself for career-enhancing publicity or free room and board at the Playboy Mansion. And, yes, like this generally accepted form of prostitution, I believe all other forms should be decriminalized.

    Today, though, I suspect most men see Hefner as a rather pathetic figure – making a spectacle of himself by trying to live at 84 the playboy lifestyle he lived at 40. After all, most 40-year-old men don’t have the energy and brains to fully satisfy just one sexually liberated woman. The notion that 84-year-old Hefner can satisfy three, even pumped up on Viagra, is patently absurd.

    Meanwhile, he only compounded the public spectacle he was making of his private life when he announced in January his intent to marry a 24-year-old named Crystal Harris. Because it was so self-evident that a marriage between these two would amount to nothing but the unholy union of his dotage and her greed.

    Now, just when I thought he could not look any more pathetic, comes word that she left him, in effect, at the altar. She dumped him on Wednesday just days before the lavish nuptials they had planned for tomorrow. And, like the jilted bride who had already donned her gown, Hef had already commissioned a commemorative issue of Playboy, featuring Harris on the cover with the headline ‘America’s Princess Introducing Mrs. Crystal Hefner’.

    In a flaccid attempt to save face, he ordered his publishers to slap a sticker with the words “Runaway Bride” over her private parts on all issues that were not already released for promotional purposes: making lemonade out of lemons? …

    There’s no escaping the irony or comeuppance that Hefner – who was purportedly living every man’s dream – has been dumped … like an ordinary chump. And it serves him right.

    __________________

    Except that, despite the public spectacle they made of their courtship, Hefner and Harris ended up marrying a year later. Apparently, instead of his marriage proposal, she wanted him to make her a financial offer she couldn’t refuse

    To be fair, though, Playboy is still providing just cause to read it for the articles. In this respect, it rivals magazines like The Nation as a forum for discussing social issues and championing progressive causes.

    Unfortunately, its centerfolds jumped the shark years ago. That’s when they became indistinguishable from surgically enhanced, airbrushed, and/or photoshopped mannequins posing (especially online) as the new paragons of female beauty.

    Hefner died on Wednesday in California at home in bed, naturally. He was 91.

    Farewell, Hef.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, September 27, 2017 at 7:08 AM

    Saudi Women Granted Right to Drive. Hooray…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Yes, this is cause for celebration. Saudi Arabia was the only country still denying women this basic human right.

    Granted, women there are still living in a time warp. But they are getting their panoply of civil rights with more “deliberate speed” than women, to say nothing of blacks, in America got theirs.

    Saudi Arabia has allowed women into the national stadium for the first time as it launched celebrations to mark the 87th anniversary of its founding with an unprecedented array of concerts and performances. …

    However, in a country that adheres to the austere Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam, which bans gender mixing, concerts and cinemas, the plan’s seemingly anodyne goals to empower women, promote sports and invest in entertainment have been criticised.

    Saudi rulers are also starting to reform areas once the exclusive domain of the clergy, such as education and the law, and have promoted elements of national identity that have no religious component, or pre-date Islam.

    (Guardian, September 23, 2017)

    I first commented on the imperial pace of this civil rights movement in “Saudi Women Granted Voting Rights,” September 27, 2011. The following excerpt puts this latest milestone into perspective.

    ____________________

    King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia issued a decree on Sunday granting women the right to vote and run in local elections. He also announced that, for the first time, women will be appointed to the Majlis Al-Shura, the kingdom’s de-facto (rubber-stamp) parliament.

    But Western pundits, across the political spectrum, are scoffing. They note, quite fairly, that women still do not have the basic right to drive or travel without the permission of a male guardian.

    To be sure, this decree will have about as much impact on the religious (sharia) strictures that subjugate Saudi women as the drop of a pebble in the Red Sea. But that’s the point.

    For I submit that it actually represents as much of a tipping point in the struggle for civil rights for women in Saudi Arabia as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 represented for blacks in America.

    Obviously, it’s all too belated and far too circumscribed. But when blacks got the right to vote it was even more belated and circumscribed. Indeed, for many years, Jim Crow laws made it virtually impossible for them to exercise that right.

    Of course, any criticism of Saudi Arabia must be viewed through the prism of the crack-like dependency Western democracies have on its oil exports: It was feasible to mount an international boycott against the Apartheid regime of South Africa because it had nothing Westerners needed. It is not feasible to do so against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia because it has the fuel Westerners depend on to fuel their privileged lifestyles.

    This is why, despite the high-minded criticisms of Western pundits, Western governments will welcome and abide every baby step Saudi Arabia takes on the path towards democracy. …

    Abdullah’s only concern is striking the right balance between managing his people’s growing hunger for democratic freedoms and staying true to the religious dictates of his kingdom’s (Wahhabist) interpretation of Islam. After all, in far too many cases, these dictates preclude those freedoms.

    ____________________

    It is in this context that I celebrate this latest decree:

    Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it would allow women to drive, ending a longstanding policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in the ultraconservative kingdom. …

    The momentum to change the policy picked up in recent years with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s 32-year-old son, who has laid out a far-reaching plan to overhaul the kingdom’s economy and society. …

    [A]t the Saudi embassy in Washington on Tuesday, an exuberant Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador, said women would be able to obtain driver’s licenses without having to ask permission of their husbands, fathers or any male guardian — despite so-called ‘guardianship’ laws that give men power over their female relatives.

    (New York Times, September 26, 2017)

    Again, I cannot overstate the fact that women had no right to vote and blacks were still enslaved when the United States marked the 87th anniversary of its founding. (Of course, at that time, driving itself was still just a figment of the imagination of inventors like Karl Benz.)

    Surprisingly, as I write this, President Trump has yet to claim credit for the king issuing this decree so soon after his state visit. But when he does, he’s bound to juxtapose the fact that it did not happen after former President Obama’s. Never mind events that caused me to write “Blockading Qatar: Trump Makes Middle East Even Messier,” July 13, 2017.

    But I suppose Trump is too busy claiming credit for providing humanitarian relief for the millions of Puerto Ricans Hurricane Irma devastated. He couldn’t care less that those Puerto Ricans are all over TV still begging for that relief.

    Yes, he really is that predacious, capricious, ungracious, mendacious, and, well, congenitally atrocious.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, September 25, 2017 at 8:09 AM

    NFL: Kneeling, the Flag, and the National Anthem

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    To kneel, or not to kneel: that is not the question.

    The question is whether kneeling during the national anthem does anything to combat police brutality or advance the cause of racial justice. It. Does. Not.

    What’s more, I challenge anyone to cite a case that demonstrates otherwise. And please, this issue is fraught enough without propagating the canard about a player’s right to protest. Only fools are questioning or challenging that right.

    Speaking of which, only a wannabe dictator like Donald Trump would call for any player who kneels to be fired.

    President Trump on Sunday morning renewed his demand that NFL owners fire or suspend players who kneel during the national anthem in protest, again urging that fans should boycott the sport to force change. …

    The tweets continue a three-day crusade by the president to pressure the league to fire players who have taken a knee in an effort to protest police violence against minorities. …

    After Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who had indicated that he would not go to the White House if invited by Trump, the president preemptively disinvited the team in a tweet on Saturday morning.

    (Washington Post, September 24, 2017)

    Unsurprisingly, Trump’s demand incited expressions of solidarity from athletes and owners in all major sports. Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James led the chorus of athletes with this tweet, which reflects the coarsening and dumbing down of public debate that have attended Trump’s presidency:

    U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!

    — LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017

    New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft led the chorus of owners with this statement, which reflects the growing alienation of camaraderie between Trump and the CEOs he always boasted would be lining up to work with him to “Make America Great Again”:

    I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. …

    There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics.

    (CBS Boston, September 24, 2017)

    One can hardly blame Kraft, who is an avowed personal friend. After all, Trump’s divisive and misleading tweets are corrupting the positive cultural influence sports have always played in America, much as they are corrupting the positive political influence the presidency has always played.

    The public by 66-28 percent says he’s done more to divide than to unite the country, considerably worse than the highest ‘divide’ scores for his two predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, both 55 percent.

    (ABC News, September 24, 2017)

    Hell, Trump has become so toxic that members of his own presidential councils and advisory groups are abandoning him, like rats from a sinking ship. The abandonment began, ironically enough, with fellow CEOs resigning en masse from his Manufacturing Jobs Council. They did so to protest his failure to categorically condemn white supremacists in the wake of the violence they caused in Charlottesville.

    That led to members of his Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum following suit, which led to members of his Committee on the Arts and Humanities, National Infrastructure Advisory Council, Cybersecurity Council, and others all doing the same.

    Not to mention honorees like legendary TV producer Norman Leer boycotting the White House reception for this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, which is usually held under the auspices of the president of the United States. Here is how dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade expressed her reason for boycotting:

    [I will not be attending the White House reception] in light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for.

    (NPR, August 19, 2017)

    Given all of the above, this was hardly surprising:

    National Football League players sat out, knelt and linked arms during pre-game national anthems played across the country and in London on Sunday, hours after US President Donald Trump called on fans to boycott teams that do not discipline players who protest.

    In the first few games since Trump stepped up his criticism of NFL players, dozens of players and coaches of teams including the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins did not stand for the anthem and took a knee, a gesture that began last year as a protest over police treatment of African-Americans and other minorities. …

    [I]n Philadelphia, city police officers joined with Eagles and rival New York Giants players and Eagles team owner Jeffrey Lurie to link arms during the anthem in a sign of solidarity.

    (Reuters, September 24, 2017)

    It would be helpful to recall at this point that Trump whipped tens of thousands of supporters into a frenzy at a rally in Alabama on Friday. Specifically, he derided the (black) NFL players who kneel during the anthem as “sons of bitches,” and called on the owners of teams they play for to fire them. In other words, Trump thinks blacks who kneel during the national anthem are sons of bitches, but whites who march to the tune of racist and anti-Semitic chants are “some very fine people.”

    Anyway, here’s to the owners for giving Trump the middle finger. For not a single one heeded his presidential demand to fire players for kneeling. On the contrary, several of them made a point of going down to the field to stand in solidarity with kneeling players.

    There was also no sign that fans heeded his clarion call to boycott games. Their refusal to do so, coupled with the owners’ refusal to fire kneeling players, demonstrated in black and white that, when it comes to the lure of professional sports, the players have far more pull than this president.

    That said, I resent the way media outlets continually help this reckless “dotard” dominate public debate. Not least because, while focusing on the many crazy things he says, they’re not covering the many important things he’s failing to do. This, despite it being patently obvious that, in almost every case, he says crazy things to detract media attention from his shortcomings.

    For example, Trump must feel like P.T. Barnum as he watches the media focus on his silly fight with NFL players over the flag. Because this means they are not covering his serious fight with North Korea over nuclear weapons.

    More to the point, they are detracting from his failure to tame North Korea as he famously promised. This failure is exposing Trump as a blowhard who barks like a dog but has no bite. They are also detracting from his failure to replace and repeal Obamacare. This failure is exposing Trump as a hopelessly incompetent leader who can’t even get his own political party to support the primary objective of his presidency.

    Still, apropos of the question at issue, it speaks volumes that players knelt not to protest racial injustice but to defy Trump. In fact, but for Trump, the act of players kneeling would have remained just a footnote in the annals of NFL history – along with the player who started it, Colin Kaepernick.

    This is why I stand by what I wrote in “Delusional Kaepernick Standing Up by Kneeling Down During National Anthem,” August 30, 2016:

    __________________

    [T]his protest smacks of grandstanding. And it’s only slightly less lazy and misguided than people who think (re)tweeting slogans about injustice is tantamount to fighting for justice.

    Of course, Rosa Parks and the ‘Greensboro Four’ famously showed the meaningful way to stand up by sitting down for racial justice. …

    The point is that there are many ways Kaepernick can stand up for his cause without showing wanton disrespect for the pride so many people have in the American flag. I urge him to find another way.

    __________________

    Yet I’m all too mindful of the public pressure to support players kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest. Ignorant trolls threw this into stark relief when they forced no less a person than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to eat her words after she agreed with me as follows:

    I think it’s dumb and disrespectful…

    I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.

    (Yahoo Global News, October 10, 2016)

    Their fascistic intolerance aped the very racism they are purportedly fighting. Unfortunately, the damning irony in forcing her to recant was completely lost on them. But this too is hardly surprising; after all, polls show that most of them think the First Amendment only guarantees freedom of speech to people who agree with them.

    This explains why they make no distinction between protesting against white supremacists who hate them and white liberals who have done (and are doing) more for racial justice than they ever will. Just last week, their misguided activism humbled former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    Specifically, rabid DACA supporters heckled her at a news conference. They willfully refused to let her explain the progressive steps she and her Democratic colleagues are taking to advance their cause. Their protest made no sense to anyone who knows anything about the politics of this issue or the legislative process required to resolve it.

    All the same, there’s no denying that Trump has a galvanizing effect on people protesting against all manner of injustice. But I cannot overstate the orchestrated nature of his provocations. Trust me, this birther-in-chief knew exactly what he was doing when he spewed more hatred at those who protested against white supremacists in Charlottesville than at the white supremacists themselves. It’s all about “the base.”

    In any case, it behooves you to appreciate that this latest Trumpian distraction is not about disrespecting the flag. I mean, am I the only one who appreciates the Orwellian absurdity of condemning people for kneeling? When did kneeling, a universal gesture of respect, if not reverence, become one of disrespect? This outrage would at least make a little sense if the players were manspreading on the sidelines during the national anthem.

    Never mind that, if it were about disrespecting the flag, those condemning NFL players for kneeling would have a record of condemning people who use it, among other things, to

    • fashion bikinis;
    • adorn food;
    • sell beer; and
    • fashion bandanas.

    But they would have reserved their most visceral condemnation for the oxymoronic rednecks who wave it in tandem with their Confederate flag (e.g., at NASCAR events featuring mostly white drivers, which Trump is championing as more patriotic alternatives to NFL games featuring mostly black players).

    Of course, ninety-nine percent of these guardians of the flag have no such record. (I allow one percent for military veterans.) Moreover, none of them reeks of more hypocrisy in this respect than this draft-dodging, flag-waving, dog-whistling president of the United States.

    Instead, this distraction is about respecting the Constitution, for which Trump continually shows ignorant disrespect and utter contempt. Frankly, it is arguable that, by using the flag to sow divisions among Americans, he is more unpatriotic than the kneeling NFL players he wants to blacklist. Hope springs eternal that his supporters will bear this in mind if he survives to stand for re-election.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, September 23, 2017 at 8:17 AM

    Hail, Merkel! The Grandmaster of German Politics

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    If pollsters are correct, Angela Merkel will secure her place at the helm of German politics for what will be a total of 16 years following Sunday’s election results.

    The 63-year-old Chancellor has certainly provided the country with a sense of stability for more than a decade, but political apathy has gripped the nation and left many voters disillusioned about the lack of an alternative.

    The impact of Ms Merkel on the EU has been ‘huge and underestimated’, said Mr Kornelius Stefan Kornelius, head of foreign affairs at the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung … from the threat of collapse of the eurozone to pressures from Russia and her handling of the refugee crisis, Ms Merkel had been able “to close the ranks, keep Europe together and prevent it from slipping apart” and that she intended to do the same with Brexit.

    (London Independent, September 22, 2017)

    Granted, given the way pollsters performed on everything from Brexit to Trump, the condition “if pollsters are correct” does not inspire much confidence. Nonetheless, I am convinced Merkel is on the precipice of a remarkable political recovery.

    After all, just two years ago, she seemed as vulnerable in Germany as President Francois Hollande was in France. That’s because she was suffering unprecedented backlash for pledging to assimilate one million migrants.

    But, far from feeling checkmated, Merkel maneuvered like a chess grandmaster. She showed she was not too blinded by politically correct emotion to make corrective political decisions. Specifically, her moves to mollify concerns about the “plague” of Syrian/African migration left her political opponents reeling.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel can be forgiven for bemoaning that no good deed goes unpunished.

    Recall that she made quite a show last summer of welcoming as many refugees as could make it to Germany. But she soon had just cause to rue her open door policy – as reports of assimilation woes and spikes in crime attended sequent waves. I duly commented in ‘Migrant Invasion Causing Humanitarian Remorse in Germany,’ September 28, 2015.

    Understandably, Merkel felt compelled to allay growing fears. Unfortunately, she did so by pitting the categorical imperatives of assimilation against the transforming impositions of multiculturalism. She even pledged to close Germany’s open door enough to ‘drastically decrease’ the number of refugees entering the country. I duly commented in ‘Merkel Betraying Migration Policy that Won Her ‘Person of the Year,’ December 21, 2015.

    (“Germany: Muslim Men More Sexual Predators than Asylum Seekers…?” The iPINIONS Journal, January 11, 2016)

    She clearly disappointed bleeding-heart liberals like me. But Germans are already showering her with yellow roses, assuring her that the schoolmarm affection they’ve shown her for the past twelve years will endure for at least another four.

    I can’t argue with that.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Friday, September 22, 2017 at 7:18 AM

    Court Hands Duchess of Cambridge Token Victory Over Topless Pics

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    A celebrity demanding privacy is rather like a prostitute demanding intimacy. This is why I generally have no sympathy for celebrities who cry foul when paparazzi shoot or fans bother them in public places.

    But even I draw the line when they do so in places where celebrities enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy. This is why I defended Kate Middleton when she filed a criminal complaint against the paparazzi for stalking her like snipers, then shooting her sunbathing topless on the balcony of a private home in France.

    My disgust over these pictures has nothing to do with who she is. For, unlike so many others venting royal indignation, I would feel the same way if Angelina Jolie or Julia Roberts were the victim of such a prurient and mercenary invasion of privacy. …

    I wish governments around the world would enact laws making it a serious crime to take a picture of any person in a place where that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. And it does not matter if that person is fully nude or fully clothed…

    This kind of commercial exploitation of one’s privacy is clearly a form of rape and warrants commensurate punishment. This means serious jail time and fines that would surely bankrupt any paparazzo foolish enough to even shoot such a picture in the first place.

    (“Topless Pics of Future Queen Catherine for All to See,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 17, 2012)

    No doubt I was also mindful that the paparazzi in this case were probably from the same pack who stalked Princess Diana to her death. But that I defended Kate might be more noteworthy. After all, my visceral antipathy towards all royal personages, perquisites, and prerogatives is well documented – as commentaries like “For Queen Elizabeth, To Abdicate, or Not to Abdicate, Is NOT the Question,” June 10 2014, and “Australia Bans British Honours. Other Commonwealth Countries Should Too,” November 3, 2015, attest.

    In any event, I cheered when French authorities indicted the owner, executive editor, and three photographers involved. This excerpt from “Criminal Charges for Taking Topless Photo of Future Queen Catherine,” April 29, 2013, conveys my glee and hope for punishment that would make such exploitation prohibitive.

    __________________

    A French lawyer called me a legal ‘ignare’ for asserting that the paparazzi and tabloid responsible for the topless photos of Kate Middleton, which went viral last year, should be prosecuted. I don’t speak French, but I knew what he meant. …

    Of course, notwithstanding the Gallic arrogance that defines the French, you’d think Closer’s indignant editor would have gotten fool-proof clearance from lawyers before publishing topless photos of the future queen of England. After all, any fool could see that publishing them was fraught with political and legal liability – despite claims that the paparazzi shot them with telephoto lens, while crouching on a public road 1000 yards away.

    In any case, apropos of the schadenfreude tabloids trade in, the irony is not lost on me that these criminal indictments generated almost as much tabloid sensation last week as those topless photos did last year.

    All that’s left now is for the French court to convict and penalize Closer so harshly that, even if paparazzi are craven enough to snap compromising pictures of public figures in private places, no tabloid would dare publish them.

    __________________

    But I despaired two weeks ago, when everyone got off practically scot-free:

    A French court ruled on Tuesday that celebrity magazine Closer invaded the privacy of Britain’s Prince William’s wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, when it published topless photos of her in 2012.

    The court handed the maximum fine of 45,000 euros ($53,500) to both Laurence Pieau, an editor of Closer’s French edition, and Ernesto Mauri, chief executive of Italian publisher Mondadori, the magazine’s owner.

    The damages ordered by the court were well short of the 1.5 million euros sought by the royal couple.

    (Reuters, September 5, 2017)

    Clearly, this is not the “commensurate punishment” I envisioned, especially given that the court did not sentence anyone to probation, let alone jail. Meanwhile, the pictures at issue probably generated millions in revenues for this publication. In fact, the damages and fines levied in this case comport with the calculation I posited in my September 12 commentary cited above:

    The paparazzi who shot the titillating pictures of Kate probably spend more than [the amount of misdemeanor fines] on one day’s supply of digital storage cards. This means that a simple cost-benefit analysis will compel shooting and publishing every time.

    Accordingly, paparazzi and tabloids retain every incentive to continue shooting and publishing such intrusive photos, respectively, absorbing fines as the cost of doing business.

    Given this, even the Duchess should beware that, no matter where you sunbathe, you could still end up on the cover of a magazine.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, September 20, 2017 at 7:24 AM

    ‘Aftershock’ of Mexico Earthquake Is Another Earthquake

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    On September 8, Mexico suffered the most powerful earthquake in a century.  It registered 8.1, killed nearly 100 people, and destroyed over 45,000 homes.

    But the media were still so fixated on the trail of destruction Hurricane Harvey left in his wake that this quake got scant coverage.

    Then yesterday, just 11 days later, Mexico suffered another less powerful (at 7.1) but more deadly quake.

    A powerful earthquake struck Mexico on Tuesday afternoon, toppling buildings, rattling the capital and sending people flooding into the streets for the second time in just two weeks. …

    By evening, about 120 people had been reported killed across the country … more than 40 buildings and other structures in Mexico City collapsed, including at least two schools, officials said, crushing cars and trapping some people inside. …

    Tuesday’s earthquake struck on the 32nd anniversary of another major disaster: the 1985 quake that killed as many as 10,000 people in Mexico.

    (New York Times, September 19, 2017)

    Now, with the world so fixated on the path of destruction Hurricane Maria is blazing through the Caribbean, this quake seems fated for scant coverage too.

    I hasten to clarify that I am not lobbying for the media to provide wallowing, wall-to-wall coverage of earthquakes affecting Mexicans, namely of the kind they invariably provide of hurricanes affecting Americans. Not least because I fully appreciate that earthquakes are static phenomena, whereas hurricanes are barreling phenomena.

    Naturally, the former cannot compete with the latter when it comes to drumming up suspense and holding people’s rubbernecking interest in looming doom. In fact, dramatic attempts to rescue people trapped under the rubble are the only things that sustain media coverage of the immediate aftermath of earthquakes.

    I just think a little more media coverage of the devastation these earthquakes caused might move Americans to give more aid. I have in mind the coverage of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, which led to an unprecedented outpouring of international sympathy … and aid.

    In the meantime, the death toll as I write this has risen to over 200. But countless remain trapped – most of whom are feared dead …

    Truth be told, the main point of this commentary is to beg you to spare a little time and a dime for Mexico (i.e., as you become fixated on the ravages of Maria):

    DONATE

    Related commentaries:
    Haiti earthquake
    Hurricane Isaac
    Hurricane Harvey/Irma

  • Monday, September 18, 2017 at 8:21 AM

    Trump at UN General Assembly like Obama at KKK Rally

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have been ridiculing this Annual Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly for years.

    A case in point is the following excerpt from “World Leaders Blow Hot Air at UN Confab…,” September 26, 2007.

    ___________________

    Today, President George W. Bush of the United States and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran joined the queue of world leaders delivering canned speeches. … None of them said anything of any consequence (Do they ever?).

    But the dirty UN secret is that most world leaders treat this annual event as little more than an invitation to wine and dine their wives – who spend their days shopping along Fifth Avenue – all at their taxpayers’ expense. Nonetheless, I’d be remiss not to comment.

    I am mindful, however, that it would be a Sisyphean endeavor to try to separate the wheat from the chaff amongst the speeches emanating from this veritable Tower of Babel, which masquerades as a forum for international dispute resolution.

    Therefore, I shall suffice to reprise my commentary from last year. Because the 2006 annual meeting was suffused with such political drama, saber rattling, and outright buffoonery, the hackneyed speeches hardly mattered. And most of the histrionics was courtesy of Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuelan – who didn’t even bother to attend this year.

    ___________________

    Remarkably, this annual meeting will surpass 2006’s with respect to political drama, saber rattling, and outright buffoonery. And most of the histrionics will be courtesy of Donald J. Trump, president of the United States.

    He is scheduled to deliver his first UN address tomorrow. That is reason enough to comment. This, after all, is the “America-First” president who is on record ranting and raving about defunding the UN; that is, when he wasn’t ranting and raving about it being even more useless than NATO.

    The utter weakness and incompetence … the United Nations is not a friend of democracy. It’s not a friend to freedom. … It’s not a friend even to the United States of America, where as we all know, it has its home.

    (The Hill, March 21, 2016)

    Such baseless criticism, coupled with his notorious record of lies, flip-flops, and misrepresentations, is why nobody has any reason to believe or rely on anything he says. Actually, the only newsworthy thing about his address will be the extent to which the lack of fawning applause flusters him. Frankly, given the utter contempt he has shown for the UN and all who work there, Trump will be lucky if he’s not booed from the podium.

    Apropos of which, political junkies like me will tune in just to see how many delegates follow the time-honored protocol of walking out on odious speakers. After all, his audience on this occasion will be wary world leaders and seasoned diplomats (mostly filled with loathing), not gullible supporters (all filled with adoration), which he’s accustomed to.

    Trump’s address will also have the dubious distinction of emitting more hot air than those Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, or Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi famously emitted.

    For he is bound to spend most of it venting petty grievances, making hollow threats, and hurling trademark insults; that is, when he’s not hedging or eating his words about withdrawing the United States from international agreements – like the Paris Climate Change Accord, Iran Nuclear Deal, NAFTA, and TPP – all in a vain attempt to get the applause he always covets.

    Say what you will about Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s “Rocket Man,” at least he has the decency to toot his flatulent rhetoric from his hermit throne, instead of letting it rip from the world stage at the UN General Assembly.

    But, trust me, 99 percent of the delegates will see Trump as a bullying, delusional, dissembling, hypocritical, ignorant, incompetent, juvenile, narcissistic, (etc.) buffoon. And the way he has been dealing with North Korea is just one of the many reasons they’ll be justified in doing so.

    Thanks to leaks from Trump’s White House, the entire world now knows Obama warned him that North Korea’s nuclear program poses a clear and present danger, which the United States must deal with as a matter of life and death. Yet the first thing Trump did as president was to make a public show of begging, brown-nosing, and then badgering China to protect the United States from North Korea.

    (Republicans spent eight years trying to tag baseless criticism on Obama for “leading from behind.” The irony cannot be lost even on them that Trump is finally giving their criticism true meaning.)

    But Trump finally realized what was always plain for all to see, namely that Chinese President Xi Jinping was playing him for a fool with empty promises to keep Jong-un in check. Which, of course, was easy to do because this US president is as susceptible to idle flattery as an ugly teenage girl. Xi was the first foreign leader to exploit that insecurity. Others have been queuing up ever since to do the same.

    None has been more shameless in this respect than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who has been trying for decades to get a gullible US president to engage in a military confrontation with Israel’s regional nemesis, Iran. But Netanyahu can be forgiven for thinking that, at long last, he has found in Trump the bomb-throwing Sugar Daddy of his dreams.

    In any event, thusly played by Xi, Trump began boasting that the United States will “handle” North Korea alone. Except that his superpower resolve amounted to nothing more than exchanging loony threats with Jong-un about nuking each other’s country. Indeed, nothing damns his handling of the existential menace North Korea poses quite like everything he says about it being every bit as reckless and preposterous as everything Jong-un says.

    Now Trump is asking the UN to do what he began his presidency asking China to do, namely to protect the rich and powerful United States from a poor and hapless North Korea. This, despite also slamming the UN as a sponger organization (like NATO) that has never settled anything – as reported in the April 2, 2016, edition of the New York Times.

    His Art of the Deal seems to involve battering people with insults then demanding concessions from them. Which is why members of his own political party have been loath to work with him. World leaders will be forgiven for being even more so.

    Meanwhile, Trump is showing up at the UN with his tail between his legs, thanks to this hollow threat:

    North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen … he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

    (CNN, August 9, 2017)

    Unsurprisingly, Lil Kim called this wannabe strongman’s bluff, repeatedly, including just days ago:

    North Korea threatened to use a nuclear weapon against Japan and turn the US into ‘ashes and darkness’ for passing fresh United Nations sanctions earlier this week — fiery rhetoric that is likely to exacerbate tensions in North Asia. …

    ‘Now is the time to annihilate the US imperialist aggressors.’

    (National Post of Canada, September 14, 2017)

    Even worse, North Korea test-launched three ballistic missiles just to show that its nukes can reach US territory. In doing so, Jong-un not only showed menacing contempt for Trump’s “red line,” but humiliated him like no foreign leader has ever humiliated any president in US history.

    Yet, instead of the “fire and fury” he threatened, Trump retaliated with nothing but pouts and insults. Weak!

    Incidentally, Trump thought it made sense to mock Jong-un as “Rocket Man” in a tweet yesterday (as his rockets are menacing the world). But this makes about as much sense as FDR mocking Hitler as Panzer Man in the late 1930s (as his panzers were bulldozing through Europe). Idiot!

    His blowhard and feckless handling of North Korea would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. But, again, it is just one of many reasons why delegates to this General Assembly will greet Trump like an emperor wearing no clothes.

    For the record, I am convinced that the resolution I proffered in “North Korea to The World: Nuke Off!” December 13, 2012, remains the best way to deal with the menace it poses. All else is folly.

    Enjoy the spectacle! It gets underway in NYC today …

    Related commentaries:
    UN confab
    North Korea
    NK to world

    UPDATE

    September 20

    If you watched his flurry of Trumpian tweets masquerading as a presidential address, you will understand my impulse to say I told you so. All the same, I’d be remiss not to share a little of what others are saying.

    President Donald Trump delivered Tuesday a doomsday warning to North Korea [warning the US ‘will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea’] and mocked its young leader [calling him ‘Rocket Man’], a pugnacious escalation in rhetoric in a wide-ranging debut address to the United Nations, the world’s foremost diplomatic body. …

    Throughout his address—the most closely watched foreign policy remarks of his presidency—Trump brought frank assessments to a range of sticky global flashpoints. …

    Among the hundreds of diplomats assembled to watch his speech, reaction was largely muted [with] only bemused murmurs for his bellicose threats toward North Korea.

    (CNN, September 19, 2017)

    Republicans are all over TV cheering Trump’s speech as a historic triumph. But all you need to know is that they are the same nutters who cheered as he insulted and blustered his way to the presidency of the United States. Unfortunately, they (and he) seem to think he can rule the world the way he ran his presidential campaign.

    Apropos of this, the media are making much ado about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goading, Iago-like praise. Notably, he hailed Trump’s address as the boldest, most courageous, and most forthright he has heard at this assembly in his 30-year career.

    Never mind that one would’ve been able to say the same if North Korean President Kim Jong-un also had the undiplomatic gall to spew at fellow world leaders the same red meat he spews at rabid political supporters. For the record, though, here is what has always guided Netanyahu’s antic courting of US presidents, especially Republican ones:

    Netanyahu seems to think Israel can get by with a little help from its friends — even if those friends compose just the small faction of Christian fundamentalists and neo-cons on the lunatic fringe of US Republican Party.

    (“Netanyahu’s Call for Jewish Exodus more Sharpton than Moses,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 23, 2015)

    It is also noteworthy that Iranian President Rouhani punctuated his address with all kinds of references to and praises of democratic values, so much so that he sounded more like the leader of a democratic country than either Trump or Netanyahu.

    I titled a January 6 commentary “Trump Is Trump, Intelligence Is Intelligence, and Never the Twain Shall Meet.” That pretty much sums up my take on his address. But perhaps Lawrence O’Donnell summed it up best when he described it as meandering “from the vulgar to a muddy puddle of incoherence.” He did it, appropriately enough, on The Last Word, his nightly talk show on MSNBC.

    That said, I will end with this for those who tuned in to see who walks out:

    Some representatives even refused to listen to the speech; North Korea’s UN ambassador walked out before Mr. Trump arrived, leaving a more junior diplomat to represent the country.

    (London Independent, September 19, 2017)

    Stephen King’s It, which features an evil clown named Pennywise, just became the highest-grossing horror movie of all time. Evidently, like audiences watching it, delegates were too transfixed to take their eyes off Trump, let alone walk out on him.

    Related commentaries:
    UN confab
    Netanyahu
    Trump at UN

  • Saturday, September 16, 2017 at 7:29 AM

    DACA: Ain’t No Wall High Enough to Keep ‘Them’ from Getting to US

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The DACA program was formed through executive order by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and allows certain people, called Dreamers, who come to the US illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. Recipients are able to request ‘consideration of deferred action’ for a period of two years which is subject to renewal.

    (Fox News, September 14, 2017)

    Donald Trump predicated his presidency on reversing as many of President Obama’s executive orders and legislative accomplishments as possible. But nothing has exposed his fecklessness and frustration in this respect quite like the spectacle that attended his attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

    No doubt this is why he has broken his promise on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). After all, remember this:

    We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties, in which he defied federal law and the constitution to give amnesty to approximately 5 million illegal immigrants,’ Trump said at a campaign event in August 2016, promising to end DACA.

    (TIME, September 5, 2017)

    Instead, Trump is attempting to codify the very immigration protections he promised to terminate.

    President Trump affirmed Thursday morning that a deal was in the works with Democrats that would protect some 800,000 DREAMers who could face deportation when DACA expires next year in exchange for ‘massive border controls’ …

    Early Thursday, he told reporters: ‘The wall will come later, we’re right now renovating large sections of wall, massive sections, making it brand new.’

    (NPR, September 14, 2017)

    Incidentally, Republicans left Obama no choice but to implement DACA by executive order, which everyone knew was easily reversible. Specifically, these same Republicans – who are now vowing to help Trump enact a more permanent solution – vowed as an article of political faith not to work with Obama.

    In fact, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously admitted, these partisan SOBs wanted to make the first black president of the United States an abject failure – the welfare of the country, never mind the dreams of illegal immigrants, be damned. You’d be forgiven for thinking they reasoned that, if this one fails, whites would be less inclined to vote for another one. Which is why they must resent that Obama accomplished so much despite their unprecedented obstructionism.

    In any event, not since former President George H.W. Bush broke his “read-my-lips” promise on taxes have supporters erupted in such anger over a presidential flip flop.

    ‘If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair,’ [Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the GOP’s biggest immigration hawks] tweeted, referencing an Associated Press story on the bipartisan agreement. …

    ‘At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?’ [conservative firebrand Ann] Coulter tweeted on Thursday morning. …

    ‘This a betrayal of the highest order,’ a Breitbart editor, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said in a phone call late Wednesday.

    (Washington Post, September 14, 2017)

    But this political betrayal couldn’t have happened to a more deplorable bunch!

    As for that wall …

    That stupid wall ain’t high enough
    The vast desert ain’t dry enough
    The grand river ain’t wide enough
    To keep them from getting to US.

    Support DACA/Dreamers

    Related commentaries:
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  • Friday, September 15, 2017 at 7:34 AM

    Tennis US Open: Hail, Stephens…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    With pregnant Serena Williams sidelined, I really thought (or hoped) her sister Venus (37) would finally match Roger Federer (36) by becoming the oldest woman to win a grand slam title.

    After all,

    • she made it all the way to the final at the first slam of the year, the Australian Open, only to lose to Serena (6-4, 6-4);
    • she got knocked out in the Round of 16 at the French Open; but
    • she made it back to the final at Wimbledon, only to lose, in humiliating fashion, to lower-ranked Garbine Muguruza (7-5, 6-0).

    Sadly, she got knocked out in the semi-finals at this last slam of the year, losing to unranked Sloane Stephens.

    More to the point, Serena returns next year, and there are many formidable young players now bidding for top ranking. This is why I fear Venus will never have another year as successful as this, let alone one during which she wins another coveted grand slam. She has 7; Serena, a record-setting 23.

    Accordingly, the homage I paid to Venus in “Wimbledon: Venus Triumphs Even In Defeat; Federer Pads Iconic Career with Victory,” July 17, 2017, might prove my last tribute to her – as a grand slam finalist.

    But, apropos of those young players, how about that Sloane Stephens (24), eh!

    Stephens, who has jumped more than 900 spots in the world rankings in a month, is now a grand slam champion, winning the US Open 6-3, 6-0 against No. 15 seed and fellow American Madison Keys at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, New York.

    This was only the seventh time in the Open Era, and the second time at the US Open, that two first-time finalists have faced off in a grand slam final. This also was the first all-American US Open final since 2002, when Serena Williams defeated Venus Williams. Stephens is the first American woman other than the Williams sisters to win a grand slam title in 15 years.

    (CNN, September 10, 2017)

    Of course, it’s also worth noting that the semi-finals were all-American too. What’s more, three of those four Americans are black.

    I don’t mind admitting that the elation I felt for Stephens more than compensated for the disappointment I felt for Venus. And I hope it’s not damning Stephens with unfair expectations to say that she reminds me so much of Serena. But I’d be shocked if she does not win many more grand slams.

    In any event, here’s to these young Americans eventually taking the baton and dominating women’s Tennis the way the Williams sisters have over the past 15.

    That said, I can’t resist sharing the delight I derived from watching that sourpuss glamazon, Maria Sharapova, get knocked out in the Round of 16, especially after this:

    Two days after Caroline Wozniacki was critical of Maria Sharapova’s playing at Arthur Ashe Stadium for one of her US Open matches, the Russian star fired back following a third-round win over Sofia Kenin.

    ‘All that matters to me is I’m in the fourth round … I’m not sure where she is.’

    Wozniacki, who was eliminated by Ekaterina Makarova in the second round, took exception to the apparent star treatment of Sharapova following her suspension for a failed performance-enhancing drugs test.

    (ESPN – Bleacher Report, September 2, 2017)

    As it happens, Wozniacki echoed what I’m on record saying about Sharapova:

    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.

    Perhaps [now that Sharapova has been exposed as just another Russian doper] major sponsors will sign Serena and make her the world’s highest-paid female athlete, belatedly.

    (“Maria Sharapova Just Latest Superstar Athlete Caught Using PEDs,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 9, 2016)

    Sure enough, many corporate sponsors turned to Serena during Sharapova’s suspension, so much so that, according to Forbes, Serena finally topped the annual list of highest-paid female athletes last year.

    She earned $28.9 million ($8.9 million from prize money, $20 million from endorsement deals); Sharapova was second – even though several sponsors dropped her – with $21.9 million ($1.9 million from prize money, $20 million from endorsement deals).

    But I hope Serena proved to sponsors of all types that she is every bit as marketable as Sharapova. For this would pave the way for them to see young black players as primary, not just substitute, endorsers.

    In Stephens’s case, this should be very easy to do. After all, she clearly has the potential to match not only Serena’s play on the court but also Sharapova’s appeal in commercial ads.

    Hell, with that endearing smile, she could probably sell tanning beds to black folks. Not since Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics has an athlete performed and looked like such a sponsor’s dream.

    Congratulations, Sloane!

    NOTE: I couldn’t have been less interested in the men’s side of this grand slam. But I should at least acknowledge that Rafael Nadal won for his 16th title, leaving him only 3 behind Roger Federer’s record-setting 19.

    Related commentaries:
    Venus triumphs
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  • Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 7:57 AM

    Even Fellow Nobel Laureates Now Condemning Myanmar’s Suu Kyi, the Godmother of Ethnic Cleansing

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Government forces and militant Buddhists have been persecuting Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (née Burma) for years.

    Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that Rohingyas fleeing for their lives have now created a humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. In fact, this rivals the notorious crisis which Syrians fleeing for their lives created in Europe.

    The first thing Rohingya villagers fleeing Myanmar notice when they get to Bangladesh, apart from the stench of raw sewage from thousands of other refugees lacking access to toilet facilities, is locals trying to sell them bamboo poles [to build their own makeshift huts].

    In the past two-and-a-half weeks, an estimated 370,000 people fleeing violence in Myanmar’s eastern state of Rakhine have streamed into the country, creating a humanitarian crisis.

    (Financial Times, September 13, 2017)

    What is surprising is that it took social media turning the plight of the Rohingyas into a viral cause celebre for so many eminent persons to finally speak out.

    Aung San Suu Kyi, who became leader of Burma after 30 years under house arrest for agitating for democracy, has been heavily criticised for failing to address the Rohingya people’s plight. …

    She has been condemned by fellow Nobel peace prize laureates [including celebrated child activist Malala Yousafzai]. Desmond Tutu called on Ms Suu Kyi to speak out against the ‘unfolding horror’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Burma, warning: ‘If the political price of your ascension to the highest office is your silence, the price is surely too steep.’

    (The London Times, September 9, 2017)

    Except that Suu Kyi must have left Tutu and others crestfallen when she responded to their humanitarian appeals by aping Donald Trump.

    ‘It is a little unreasonable to expect us to solve the issue in 18 months,’ she told the Delhi-based network Asian News International. ‘It goes back to pre-colonial times.’…

    On Wednesday a post on Aung San Suu Kyi’s Facebook page blamed ‘terrorists’ for a ‘huge iceberg of misinformation’ about the violence, and made no mention of the Rohingya who had fled.

    (London Guardian, September 7, 2017)

    It was bad enough that she framed ethnic cleansing on her watch as a legacy of pre-colonial times. But she destroyed what little integrity and credibility she had left when she invoked the spectre of “fake news.”

    The pity is that the Trumpian absurdity inherent in her response seemed completely lost on her. But it was not lost on the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein. In fact, it provoked this extraordinary denunciation:

    The situation seems a textbook case of ethnic cleansing. …

    [Suu Kyi’s government] should stop claiming that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages. This complete denial of reality is doing great damage to the international standing of a Government which, until recently, benefited from immense good will.

    (UN News Centre, September 11, 2017)

    Actually, it’s an indication of how much good will Suu Kyi has lost that calls to rescind her 1991 peace prize have gone viral. Unfortunately, the Nobel Committee is on record declaring that it has no process or precedent for rescinding prizes.

    More to the point, though, this barrage of condemnation is too little, too late for too many Rohingyas.

    As it happens, I have standing to dismiss even the revered Archbishop Tutu as a Johnny-come-(too)-lately to this cause. Because I’ve been one of far too few small still voices condemning Suu Kyi and her government for years.

    Here, for example, is how I damned her saintly reputation in “Obama’s Historic Trip to Myanmar: Too Soon?” November 12, 2012.

    ___________________

    The only meaningful step President Thein Sein has taken towards democracy was to release Suu Kyi in 2010 from nearly 15 years of house arrest.

    But he has since co-opted this former ‘democracy icon’ into his political establishment – as leader of the loyal (i.e., powerless) opposition in parliament. Nothing demonstrates the extent to which he has co-opted Suu Kyi quite like her deafening silence while majority Buddhists continue their ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims. This, even in the face of the UN calling Myanmar’s Muslims ‘the world’s most persecuted people.’

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

    ___________________

    What’s more, my weblog is replete with subsequent commentaries decrying Suu Kyi’s willful failure to condemn, let alone stop, this religious/ethnic cleansing. And bear in mind that it was (and is) being perpetrated right under her nose.

    I refer you to “Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming Democratic Mascot for Myanmar’s Military Dictatorship,” March 28, 2013, “Buddhists Religiously Cleansing Muslims in Myanmar,” May 13, 2015, “Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s Mandela, Is a Religious Bigot Who Condones Ethnic Cleansing,” March 30, 2016, “Aung San Suu Kyi Lording Over Myanmar’s Crimes Against Humanity,” March 10, 2017, to name just a few.

    This is why moral giants like Tutu and the Dalai Lama himself will have to forgive me for having little regard for their belated condemnations. After all, this is the moral equivalence of saying nothing for years as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad gassed hundreds of thousands of his people, but condemning him as soon as tens of thousands create a humanitarian crisis in Europe after fleeing for their lives.

    Meanwhile, Suu Kyi has joined the rogue’s gallery of pariah leaders who dare not attend the Annual UN General Assembly, which convenes in New York City next week. For, like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, she fears other leaders treating her like a skunk at the garden party.

    But this attempt to save face
    Will just seal her fall from grace.

    That said, in “Europe’s Migration Crisis: Sowing Seeds of Unintended but all too Foreseeable Consequences,” September 7, 2015, I pleaded for an EU-led coalition to create and enforce a safe zone in Syria – complete with humanitarian relief. If this had been done, I am convinced there would have been no Syrian humanitarian crisis. Likewise, there would be no Rohingya humanitarian crisis if an India-led (or a China-led) coalition had done the same with respect to Myanmar.

    Such humanitarian interventions are the least we should expect of countries that aspire to exercise superpower spheres of influence in an increasingly multi-power world. This, especially given that the UN has proved time and again that it is unwilling, if not unable, to effectuate such interventions.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama historic trip
    Democratic mascot
    Buddhist monks
    Myanmar’s Mandela
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  • Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 11:07 AM

    CIA Director Pompeo Insinuates Obama Misrepresented US Intelligence

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Every member of President Trump’s cabinet seems hell-bent on nullifying, discrediting, or undermining everything his/her predecessor in former President Obama’s cabinet did.

    The media have focused on the frustrating efforts of his secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, to repeal and replace Obamacare. But the efforts of others are proving far more effective.

    For example,

    • his administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is rolling back regulations, some of which, topically enough, are aimed at making infrastructure more resilient to Harvey-like floods;
    • his secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is rolling back Cuba policies, which are aimed at normalizing relations after 50-plus years of that feckless and hypocritical embargo; and
    • his secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is rolling back Title IX protections, which are aimed at combating the growing incidence of sexual assaults on campuses.

    Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the mission of the Trump administration is not to Make America Great Again, but to blackout Obama from the annals of presidential history. But nobody should be surprised:

    President-elect Trump instills as much fear as President-elect Obama inspired hope. … I fear he will execute his pledge to ‘blackout’ all of Obama’s signature accomplishments from the history books.

    (“WTF! President-Elect Donald J. Trump?! America. What. Have. You. Done.” The iPINIONS Journal, November 10, 2016)

    Now comes this decidedly Trumpian twist from his CIA director, Mike Pompeo. The Fox News program Special Report conducted a wide-ranging interview with him yesterday to mark the 16th anniversary of 9/11.

    The takeaway for most commentators seems to be the threatening and titillating way Pompeo crowed about confronting Iran and releasing documents seized during that notorious 2011 Navy Seal raid, respectively. (Reportedly, the latter will expose the late Osama bin Laden as a petty, paranoid, porno-peeping phony.)

    But the takeaway for me is the cavalier way he insinuated that President Obama misrepresented US intelligence assessments. Specifically, interviewer Bret Baier reminded him that Obama fueled his re-election campaign with claims about al Qaeda being decimated and ISIS being just its “JV team.” He then asked if US intelligence assessments ever supported those claims. Pompeo replied as follows:

    No. The US estimate of ISIS has always been that they pose a serious threat. It’s never been the case that this was a second-tier threat.

    Frankly, Pompeo’s insinuation that Obama misrepresented intelligence assessments is even more troubling than Trump’s assertion that Obama wiretapped his campaign.

    Yet I am convinced that Pompeo’s has no more basis in fact than Trump’s did. This is why it is even more incumbent upon the intelligence community to clarify Pompeo’s insinuation than it was upon the Justice department to clarify Trump’s assertion.

    As it happens, the Justice Department did so just last week, making a mockery of the right-wing propaganda that gave rise to and perpetuated it:

    The Justice Department said in a court filing Friday evening that it has no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s assertion in March that his predecessor, Barack Obama, wiretapped the phones in Trump Tower before last year’s election.

    ‘Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets,’ the department’s motion reads.

    (CNN, September 3, 2017)

    Beyond this, it behooves Congress to conduct an investigation to determine if there’s any truth whatsoever to Pompeo’s insinuation. He is the CIA director after all.

    Incidentally, Congress would do well to be guided by the British Parliament’s inquiry into allegations that former Prime Minister Tony Blair “sexed up” UK intelligence. He allegedly exaggerated the threat Saddam Hussein posed to justify British involvement in the invasion of Iraq. That inquiry produced the very damning Chilcot Report.

    That said, I think Trump falsely accusing Obama of wiretapping him is an impeachable offense. Likewise, I think Pompeo falsely insinuating that Obama misrepresented US intelligence is a firing offense.

    Unfortunately, Trump has so “normalized” egregious behavior that, evidently, the Republicans who control Congress do not deem his offense even a misdemeanor, let alone the high crime I think it is. Therefore, it follows that Trump is hardly inclined to fire his CIA director for doing what he himself considers a perfectly normal thing to do, namely to make reckless and utterly baseless accusations against political opponents, including a former president of the United States.

    Nonetheless, a congressional investigation should obtain to establish the facts surrounding Pompeo’s very troubling insinuation – if only for the record.

    Related commentaries:
    Cuba policies
    Normalizing relations
    WTF! President-elect Trump
    Blair/Chilcot report

  • Monday, September 11, 2017 at 7:23 AM

    Commemorating 9/11 as Diversion from (Media Coverage of) Hurricane Irma

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-22-38-pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Frankly, nothing vindicates my title quite like Walmart commemorating this funereal day by promoting sales of soft drinks; you know, the way Chrysler commemorates Presidents’ Day by promoting sales of Ram trucks.

    screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-14-57-pm

    All the same, I won’t mind the affected pathos and crass commercialism so much today. Because only commemorating 9/11 stands any chance of diverting the media from their exploitative, wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Irma. And this, while they’re giving short shrift to other stories that warrant far more coverage. Exhibit A: the unfolding genocide in Myanmar, which militant Buddhists (oxymoron noted) are perpetrating against Rohingya Muslims.

    Unfortunately, if early morning news programs are any indication, I’m going to be disappointed. Indeed, if I didn’t know better, I’d never know the media have provided wall-to-wall coverage of 9/11 remembrances every year since that tragic event.

    But, evidently, the ratings boon from covering Irma remains so profitable that networks will be loath to interrupt even for complete coverage of the ritualistic tolling of bells and reading of nearly 3000 names. This, of course, compels me to damn the perverse interest of the rubberneckers who stay glued to the media’s contrived and repetitive coverage; after all, these idiots are the ones who are generating those ratings.

    Mind you, the media’s Irma coverage amounts to little more than stunts featuring reporters “braving” the elements to report the obvious; namely that this hurricane is leaving a trail of all too predictable destruction in her wake – complete with storm surges causing Harvey-like floods. Never mind the palpable tone of disappointment when conditions in some places force them to report that Irma was not nearly as catastrophic as they hyped.

    I actually watched the self-indulgent spectacle of a news anchor hailing a field reporter like a war hero for pulling off this now standard journalistic stunt. But it’s only a matter of time before flying debris decapitates one of these misguided poseurs. Then everyone will exclaim “what the hell were they standing outside in the midst of a hurricane for anyway!”

    And, yes, I’ve been warning about this for years to no avail … in either respect.

    Let’s hope Katrina’s winds are strong enough to finally blow away one of those wannabe Dan Rathers who seem to think that it’s necessary (and heroic) to go out in the hurricane to report the obvious whilst holding on to a pole for dear life….

    (“Katrina’s Doming, Katrina’s Coming,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 29, 2005)

    I shall spare you my similar rant about the absurdity of politicians seizing upon hurricanes and other disasters to play military field marshals on TV.

    Related commentaries:
    9/11 time to move on
    Rohingya Muslims
    Katrina’s coming, Katrina’s coming
    Hurricane Harvey

  • Wednesday, September 6, 2017 at 10:46 AM

    Hurricane Irma Eyeing Turks and Caicos Islands – My Mother Country

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The following is an excerpt from “Hurricane Harvey: Water, Water, Everywhere, But Not a Bone Should Sink,” August, 28, 2017, which I wrote just two weeks ago as it was devastating Texas.

    __________________

    I grew up in the Caribbean. And, even though Harvey spared us, our islands have served as a buffer zone for many of the worst hurricanes to ever hit US shores, including Katrina.

    I could not help breaking out in gallows laughter when a concerned American friend asked if [we] ever received evacuation orders. Her concern coincided with governors of states along the eastern seaboard of the United States ordering mandatory evacuations for coastal residents to shelter ‘100 miles inland.’

    But the reason I could not help laughing is that issuing an evacuation order in the Caribbean to escape a hurricane is rather like issuing an evacuation order in China to escape the smog. Where the hell would they go? After all, if people on most islands were to evacuate 100 miles inland, they’d end up either in the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

    (“Hurricane Mathew,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 8, 2016)

    __________________

     

    (Updated image from CNN on September 7 at 8:30 a.m.)

    I was born in The Bahamas and have siblings and other family members still living there. As fate would have it, I have almost as many siblings and other family members still living in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), where my parents were born.

    All the same, I’ve written so many commentaries on hurricanes, I fear writing another so close in time risks fetishizing them.

    But I feel obliged to note that, at this very moment, Irma is a Category 5 hurricane barreling towards the TCI. She’s churning 185 mph of razing winds, squalls of flooding rain, and surges of erosive surf.

    More to the point, she has already left unprecedented destruction in her wake.

    Hurricane Irma has destroyed buildings and caused major flooding on several French island territories in the Caribbean.

    The four ‘most solid’ buildings on Saint Martin, shared by France and the Netherlands, were destroyed, French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said.

    Communications between Paris and Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are down.

    (BBC, September 6, 2017)

    And so, with all due respect to FDR, those in her path have a little more to fear than fear itself.

    But don’t get me started on the folly of the prime minister of The Bahamas ordering people in the southern Bahamas to “get out.” For this is rather like the little pig who built his house with sticks exhorting the one who built his with straw to come over for shelter.

    After all, every Caribbean island in Irma’s path is bound to suffer unprecedented devastation. It could actually make the devastation Harvey left in his path look like the aftermath of typical April showers.

    My family weathered pretty devastating hurricanes on the out islands of Abaco and Andros. On this basis, I submit that your best bet is to collaborate with neighbors to reinforce and stock up the biggest brick/cement building(s) in your area and just hunker down.

    Meanwhile, with Irma headed for Miami, relief and rebuilding efforts throughout the Caribbean could be delayed for weeks, if not months. Because Miami is to this region what Walmart is to small towns all over America.

    Miami-Dade County plans to order evacuations for Miami Beach and much of the mainland coast in advance of Hurricane Irma’s menacing track toward South Florida.

    Mayor Carlos Gimenez said to expect evacuation orders late Wednesday or early Thursday, but emergency officials who report to him are already assuming hundreds of thousands of residents will be asked to leave their homes in the coming days out of fears of historic coastal flooding from Irma. …

    With stores across South Florida seeing runs on water and other storm supplies starting on Monday, the announced school and government closures allow more time for preparation.

    (Miami Herald, September 6, 2017)

    In any event, my thoughts and prayers are with family, friends, and compatriots as our Caribbean serves as a “buffer zone” for yet another US-bound hurricane.

    I was inspired by English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) to write this tribute to what I know will be their unflinching spirit in the eye of this “apocalyptic” storm.

     

    HURRICANE IRMA

    I

    Her storm clouds gather,

    Weathermen blather,

    People hide rather

    Like cornered thieves.

    The trees get twisted,

    Branches limp wristed

    Are soon delisted

    Like autumn leaves.

    The seas then rumble,

    Winds swirl and tumble,

    Sway homes so humble

    Like willow trees.

    The sound of thunder,

    Feeds fear and wonder:

    Will these floods betray bible prophecies?

    II

    Hurricane Irma,

    O how we know ya,

    Learned from Ike’s trauma

    To kneel in prayer.

    No matter your wrath,

    For those in your path,

    The financial bath

    Is all we fear.

    So take your best shot,

    Destroy our lot,

    We shall never rot

    Nor shed a tear.

    Still, please be prepared,

    All will be repaired;

    Just be sure to thank God … then have a beer

     

    Related commentaries:
    Harvey
    Tomas, Irene, Ike

  • Friday, September 1, 2017 at 8:02 AM

    Gone Fishing

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Happy Labor Day!

    Back on 9/11

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