• Saturday, March 31, 2018 at 7:02 AM

    Easter Message for Trump and His Supporters, Especially Evangelicals…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Related commentaries:
    Evangelicals for Trump…

  • Friday, March 30, 2018 at 7:07 AM

    My Good Friday Sermon

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I grew up the son of a preacher man. One of the things I found most dispiriting about this was having to listen to the same sermon over and over again, knowing full well that my Daddy expected me to be moved by the Holy Spirit anew each time.

    In fact, by the time I was ten, my mind, body, and soul had become inured to “inspired” sermons from the pulpit, all of which I could parrot (almost verbatim) from my church pew. Only the wife of a vainglorious politician could possibly relate.

    Yet I never grew tired of the rituals that attended the Easter season. Indeed, I could never disguise the spirit of suspended animation that got me through it all — even as others affected the countenance each occasion warranted (i.e., by being appropriately maudlin on Good Friday to mourn the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and joyous on Easter Sunday to celebrate his resurrection).

    Never mind that my animated countenance was due entirely to the anticipation of what fun Easter Monday would bring — as the first beach holiday of the year in the Caribbean Commonwealth.

    But oh the guilt I suffered for supplanting religious pathos with this hedonistic inspiration during Christianity’s holiest days!

    Thank God I deduced before my puberty was in full bloom that He will forgive me: Not only for my sinful thoughts, but also for the diabolical pleasure I derived from playing one of the soldiers who flogged Jesus Christ (as he crawled his way to Golgotha) in the passion plays our Church performed every Easter.

    This brings me to the essence of my Good Friday sermon. I address it particularly to those Christian parents who will force their children to abide church services throughout this weekend just as my parents forced me to do when I was a child:

    God will forgive the little ones for not getting all worked up each year for the scripted homage to his son’s crucifixion and resurrection. He will even forgive them for not writhing with the Holy Spirit on cue at revivals, at which it seemed only the souls of mischievous children, not those of sinful adults, needed salvation.

    Moreover, he will not ruin their lives if the only spirit that moves them at Easter time is the one they hope will get them to the beach on Easter Monday; trust me!

    Amen.

    goodfridaybThat said, if you really must wallow in the macabre passions of the season, I suggest you buy the DVD of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and watch it today. Because, more than any Easter homily or play, this movie will evoke the funereal emotions and convey (in refreshing and entertaining fashion) the expiatory significance of these familiar words:

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

    (The Holy Bible, John 3:16)

    Given the above, it would probably surprise none of you to learn that the elders of my church damned me to Hell for being a “backsliding reprobate” long ago. But this had more to do with the Pharisaic standards that govern conduct in most churches than any unpardonable sin I may have committed.

    Indeed, I believe it is duly recorded on God’s Heavenly scroll that I am more spiritual, and live a more Christ-like life, than almost all of the tartuffes who bored me to distraction with their sermons in my youth!

  • Thursday, March 29, 2018 at 7:23 AM

    March Madness Is Thinking Sister Jean Has Anything to Do with Loyola’s Miracle. Welcome Back, UConn

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Organizers hype the annual NCAA Division 1 Basketball Tournament as “March Madness.” They do so to exploit “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” inherent in low-seeded teams (a.k.a. Cinderellas) upsetting top-seeded ones — often with buzzer-beating hail marys.

    Incidentally,

    I decided years ago to forego the cheap thrill of filling out brackets and feigning agony as my picks got knocked off like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery. Mind you, if I were still an indentured servant at a big law firm, I would’ve welcomed the respite from drudgery, which Bracketology for office pools provides. The aim is clearly not to guess the result of each game; it’s to see whose bracket sustains the least number of casualties throughout the tournament.

    (“NCAA March Madness — and Then There’s the Women of UConn,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 30, 2017)

    In any event, the results hardly ever live up to the hype. For example, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Cinderella stories played out in at least half of the eight regions this year. In fact, it played out in only one – as the Final Four brackets attest:

    Women’s Bracket

    1 UConn vs. 1 Notre Dame

    1 Mississippi State vs. 1 Louisville

    Men’s Bracket

    11 Loyola vs. 3 Michigan

    1 Villanova vs. 1 Kansas

    Granted, the thrill of watching Loyola make it to this Final Four probably compensates for the lack of thrill in the other brackets. (Nobody should be surprised that Michigan made it.)

    But I take exception to the willing suspension of disbelief that has everyone ascribing Loyola’s success more to the prayers of Sister Jean, its 98-year-old chaplain, than to the skills of its players.

    Five thousand Sister Jean bobbleheads were sold in just 48 hours, a hall-of-fame record that goes along with all the T-shirts and socks now bearing her likeness. …

    We asked her if she thinks God is on Loyola’s side. ‘Right now, yes,’ she responded.

    (CBS News, March 26, 2018)

    This just confirms that, for the business that is NCAA Basketball, any narrative that lures people to buy into the hype will do: ka-ching!

    Meanwhile, UConn has resumed its seemingly invincible run through the women’s tournament. Which is why I suspect the NCAA prevailed upon it to throw its Final Four game against Mississippi State last year just to manufacture suspense. Trust me, it’s no stretch to suspect the NCAA Board of Governors of orchestrating such venal contrivance.

    Boston Globe columnist [Dan Shaughnessy] said the Huskies ‘are killing the women’s game’ by being too dominant. …

    ‘Watch? No thanks.’

    (FOX Sports, March 28, 2016)

    Another championship last year would have meant a five-peat for UConn – a feat no men’s team has come close to matching in the modern era. That, in turn, would have made a six-peat feat a foregone conclusion this year, which (given the NCAA’s mercenary interests) would have diminished what little coverage the media usually accord the women’s tournament.

    Mind you, if any men’s team were as dominant as this women’s team, the media would be covering that men’s team the way they used to cover Tiger Woods. To be fair, the media do not even highlight UConn’s dominance the way they highlight Serena Williams’. But I digress …

    I have hailed the UConn women in many commentaries over the years. And I have never failed to decry the yawns that continually greeted their milestone accomplishments.

    Unfortunately, what I wrote in this regard — in “UConn Routs Louisville to Win NCAA (Women’s) Championship,” April 8, 2009 — remains as relevant today as it was when I wrote it nine years ago.

    ____________________

    Instead of commanding network coverage in primetime like the men’s championship, the women’s was relegated to cable last night, which guaranteed only a fraction of the viewership. TV executives wonder why they can’t get better ratings for the fledgling women’s professional league — the WNBA. Well, it might have something to do with the way they keep dissing women’s college Basketball in this fashion.

    Moreover, what does this disparate coverage say to female college athletes, as well as to young girls, who we encourage to have the same interest in sports as young boys? Frankly, it says that chauvinism, sexism, and discrimination against women in sports not only still exist but are blithely tolerated.

    ____________________

    Sure enough, you probably know more about Sister Jean than any women’s team.

    I appreciate that most people (men and women) think women’s Basketball can’t match the excitement of men’s. Except that I used to think women’s Tennis can’t match the excitement of men’s. I still watch a lot of Tennis, but I haven’t watched men play in years.

    I hope my testimony disabuses you of any sexist thought you may have in this regard. Give women’s Basketball a try. The more you watch, the more the media will show.

    Incidentally, apropos of (real) indentured servitude, I’ve been in the vanguard of those calling for the NCAA to pay all “student athletes.” It should pay them commensurate with the revenues they help generate for their respective colleges. I’ve delineated my argument for this in many commentaries, including “Student Athletes Make Billions (for Colleges) but Most Graduate Poor…and Dumb,” January 16, 2014, and “Salaries of College Coaches Reflect Enduring Master-Slave Relationships,” October 28, 2016.

    As it happens, the NCAA formed a special committee recently to redress the root causes of corruption in college sports.

    ‘The recent news of a federal investigation into fraud in college basketball made it very clear the NCAA needs to make substantive changes to the way we operate, and do so quickly,’ [NCAA president Mark] Emmert said. …

    Emmert and the NCAA have put together a committee that will be chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice … to rework the sport’s weaknesses.

    (cbssports.com, October 11, 2017)

    Of course, much of that fraud stems from third parties paying student athletes crumbs under the table. Therefore, if this committee fails to recommend a duly sanctioned system for paying them, all other recommendations will amount to, well, a whitewash.

    That said, I’m pulling for UConn to reclaim its crown by defeating Notre Dame in the Final Four and whichever team it faces in the Final Dance. No doubt UConn hopes to tango with Mississippi State to avenge last year’s loss.

    As for the men’s tournament, I feel inspired, as the son of a preacher man, to pull for Michigan to upset Loyola. Because, with all due respect to Sister Jean, it’s imperative to rebuke the narrative that God has anything to do with its success.

    Nothing betrays the spectacle Sister Jean has become quite like Michigan wheeling out 100-year-old “Grandma Rose” to trash talk her. God help us!

    Still, after performing this NCAA exorcism in the Final Four, it would only seem fair for Michigan to win the championship game.

    Go UConn! Go Michigan!

    Related commentaries:
    NCAA 2017
    Indentured servitude

  • Tuesday, March 27, 2018 at 12:53 PM

    Supporters of Stephon Clark Beware: Prosecutor Says No Charge for Police Killing Alton Sterling. And He’s Right

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Frankly, I’ve been preaching about the spectre of police killing black men so much that I’m beginning to feel like John the Baptist. Except that I fear there will never be a Jesus-like messenger to make my message more palatable.

    My ‘golden rule’ is that black men would survive 99 percent of these encounters if they just obey police commands. Unfortunately, far too many choose instead to resist arrest — pursuant to some misguided (black) badge of courage. When a police is placing you under arrest (no matter how unwarranted you might think that is), it should not take him (and others) wrestling you to the ground to get handcuffs on you.

    Mind you, I readily concede that, in one percent of these encounters, obeying commands would not guarantee survival. The viral video of the killing of Philando Castile demonstrated this … in black and white. But this is the exception, not the rule. Which is why it’s plainly foolhardy to resist arrest because obeying commands only offers a 99 percent chance of survival.

    (“Three White Cops Kill Two Black Men…,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 3, 2017)

    As it happens, nobody can deny that resisting arrest led to the death of Stephon Clark just last week:

    Sacramento police officers shot and killed a black man in his grandmother’s backyard because they believed he was pointing a gun at them. …

    The videos show a brief encounter between police and Clark, lasting less than a minute, from the moment one of the officers spotted him in the driveway and yelled, ‘Hey, show me your hands. Stop. Stop … Gun, gun, gun.’

    (CNN, March 22, 2018)

    Pow, pow, pow they went … until two officers (one white, one black) unloaded a fusillade of 20 bullets between them.

    Yet it’s debatable whether the police are more to blame because Clark was holding a cellphone, not a gun; or whether Clark is because he resisted arrest. Never mind that most reporters never bother to mention that Clark was the prime suspect in a spree of vandalism and theft.

    The incident that ended Clark’s life began when Sacramento officers responded around 9:15 p.m. to a call that a 6-foot-1 man wearing a black hoodie and dark pants was breaking into vehicles, authorities said. The caller said the man had broken car windows and was hiding in a backyard, according to the Sacramento Police Department. …

    Officers ordered the man to stop and show his hands, but that he ran [eventually seeking refuge in his grandmother’s backyard].

    (The Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2018)

    Apportioning blame will be critical in determining whether this police killing was justified. But it could prove incriminating that the police betrayed (some kind of) consciousness of guilt when they muted their bodycams upon realizing that Clark was unarmed.

    Whatever the case, I am frustrated and dismayed that more people aren’t preaching to black men about the tragic folly of resisting arrest. After all, this clearly makes more sense than preaching to the police about the presumed fairness of holding fire, especially in what they perceive as life-and-death situations.

    Which brings me to Alton Sterling.

    A pair of white police officers in Baton Rouge, La., will not be prosecuted by the state authorities in a fatal shooting of a black man there almost two years ago.

    Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced his conclusion on Tuesday, almost 11 months after the United States Department of Justice declined to bring charges in the death of the man, Alton B. Sterling.

    (New York Times, March 27, 2018)

    With the futility of preaching in the wilderness firmly in mind, I shall suffice to reprise a little of what I wrote two years ago in “Alton Sterling Latest Black Man Shot Dead While (or for?) Resisting Arrest,” July 7, 2016.

    ____________________

    I’ve seen the video. And, like the infamous Eric Garner video, it shows Alton Sterling resisting lawful police commands pursuant to an arrest.

    Of course, black activists will blame a trigger-happy cop without mentioning Sterling’s role in triggering his own death. And, as it was in the killing of Michael Brown, his defenders will blithely ignore the crime Sterling allegedly perpetrated, which caused someone to call the police in the first place.

    But the video shows enough for me to assert that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be hard-pressed to file charges for a clear violation of Sterling’s civil rights.

    ____________________

    Further, here in part is what I wrote two years before that in “Killing of Michael Brown: as much about Resisting Arrest as Police Brutality (only against Black Men?),” August 12, 2014.

    ___________________

    Not every fatal shooting by the police of an unarmed man is a case of police brutality. We’ve all seen far too many incidents of people resisting arrest – even wresting away a policeman’s gun and killing him – just because they fear being questioned or arrested … even for something as simple as petty theft.

    Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to cite a case that resulted in fatality, where the victim followed the few general rules we should all follow when dealing with the police. Those rules are:

    1. Do not run.
    2. Follow instructions calmly (i.e., no sudden moves that might spook a nervous or trigger-happy policeman).
    3. Wait for the police to explain why you’re being stopped before politely posing any objections, concerns, or questions you may have.
    4. If instructed to turn around to be frisked or handcuffed, comply without uttering a word.
    5. Save any disagreements or arguments you may have for the courtroom or your civilian complaints review board, which is the only time and place to resist arrest.

    ___________________

    Sure enough, despite all the indignant protests it triggered, both state and federal prosecutors found no just cause to charge the officer involved in the killing of Michael Brown.

    Of course, I have great sympathy for the loved ones of black men like Brown, Sterling and Clark.

    I have nothing but contempt, however, for lawyers and activists who rush in to make dubious martyrs of them. This, instead of admonishing other black men to do the right things to avoid ending up like them. Nobody wanted Clark dead. But I’m sure none of the (black) people whose cars he vandalized and burglarized considers him a martyr for any worthy cause.

    Not to mention that, for those lawyers and activists, justice is more about getting their cut from civil settlements than getting any cop thrown in jail. And that’s not me just being my cynical self:

    Al Sharpton is all about the Benjamins, a daughter of police chokehold victim Eric Garner claims in a bombshell videotape.

    (New York Post, February 24, 2015)

    Related commentaries:
    Three white cops kill two blacks

  • Monday, March 26, 2018 at 7:56 AM

    Egypt’s Sisi Aping Russia’s Putin to Continue Serving…for Life

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Egyptians go to the polls today for a presidential election that smacks of a coronation. After all, not only is voting compulsory, but President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is effectively the only candidate.

    Frankly, the only uncertainty is whether he’s shameless enough to rig more than the 96.1 percent of the vote he rigged in 2014.

    The lack of serious competition has drawn the fierce condemnation of critics who say Sisi has stifled dissent, but the President says he is not to blame. …

    ‘I swear to God, I wished there would have been more candidates for people to choose who they want. But they were not ready yet, there is no shame in this,’ Sisi said in a recent TV interview.

    (CNN, March 25, 2018)

    Only a godless dictator would broadcast such a “big lie” without fear of his people ridiculing him, or of God rebuking him. This, alas, is what the Arab Spring has sprung.

    The BBC telegraphed this unfolding farce a month ago (on February 24). That’s when Our World previewed this election under a headline that was as telling as it was succinct:

    Crushing Dissent in Egypt

    As it happens, though, I telegraphed this years ago. In fact, here is the foreboding I sounded when the Arab Spring was still in full bloom:

    With all due respect to the protesters, the issue is not whether Mubarak will go, for he will. (The man is 82 and already looks half dead for Christ’s sake!) Rather, the issue is who will replace him. And it appears they have not given any thought whatsoever to this very critical question. …

    The devil the Egyptians know might prove far preferable to the devil they don’t. Just ask the Iranians who got rid of the Mubarak-like Shah in 1979 only to end up with the Ayatollah Khomeini — whose Islamic revolution they’ve regretted (and have longed to overturn) ever since.

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

    Unfortunately, I’ve had too many occasions since then to say “I told you so.” I could easily cite another twenty-five commentaries, but here are just five to give you a sense of how I chronicled Egypt’s descent into a dictatorship that makes Mubarak’s look like a liberal democracy:

    • “Protesters Return to Tahrir Square,” June 6, 2012
    • “Egyptians Continue March Back to the Future,” December 20, 2013
    • “Egypt’s Arab Spring Spawns Brutal Military Dictatorship,” March 25, 2014
    • “Dismissal of Mubarak’s Charges Brings Indian Summer for Egypt’s Arab Spring,” December 1, 2014
    • “Egypt Sentences Morsi to Death: Exposes Fecklessness of US Mideast Policy,” May 20, 2015

    For a little more edification, here is what I wrote in the December 2014 commentary on events that vindicated my warnings about the confluence of euphoria and myopia among Egypt’s democratic protesters:

    These are the same anti-government protesters who took to this same square last year to celebrate Sisi’s ouster of Morsi, and who did the same four years ago to call for the ouster of Mubarak.

    Even so, the irony seems completely lost on them that, despite all of their revolutionary protests, the dismissal of all charges against Mubarak means that Egypt has ended up right where the Arab Spring was sprung.

    But, if they think they can repeat against Sisi the miracle in Tahrir Square that led to the ouster of Mubarak, I have two words of admonition for these protesters: Tiananmen Square.

    Of course, given the fallout from Tiananmen Square, China’s democratic protesters can be forgiven for thinking that their country is fated to be ruled by a Maoist dictator:

    China’s largely ceremonial parliament on Sunday overwhelmingly endorsed a controversial change to the country’s constitution, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

    (CNN, March 12, 2018)

    Likewise, given the fallout from Tahrir Square, Egypt’s democratic protesters can be forgiven for thinking that their country is fated to be ruled by … a latter-day Pharaoh. Hence the protester’s remorse as Egypt’s Arab Spring continues to sprout nothing but thorns.

    Related commentaries:
    Sisi’s Egypt
    Arab spring

  • Saturday, March 24, 2018 at 8:53 AM

    March to Protect Students from Mass Shooters (and Gun-Toting Teachers)!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Survivors of the Parkland school shooting are leading hundreds of thousands in a “March on Washington” today.

    They’ll be marching under the banner “March for Our Lives,” hoping against hope that this march will do for gun control what that famous march did for civil rights in 1963.

    Meanwhile:

    A rural Pennsylvania school district has equipped all 200 of its classrooms with buckets of rocks that students and teachers could use as a ‘last line of defense’ in the event of a school shooting, the district’s superintendent said on Friday.

    (Reuters, March 23, 2018)

    This bucket-of-rocks strategy puts a tragicomic twist on the biblical story of the rock-slinging David vs. the poor-sighted Goliath.

    Except that these little Davids would be forgiven for wondering whether a potential mass shooter or the present armed teacher is their Goliath.

    Related commentaries:
    Parkland

  • Friday, March 23, 2018 at 7:50 AM

    Israeli PM Netanyahu Says African Migrants Worse than Muslim Terrorists

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that an electronic fence along the Israel-Egypt border has saved the Jewish state from jihadist attacks or what he believes would be worse — a tide of African migrants. …

    The interior ministry says there are currently some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, and the government has ordered that thousands of them must leave or face indefinite imprisonment.

    (IOL Africa, March 20, 2018)

    Politicians across the world condemned US President Donald Trump two months ago after he cursed Caribbean and African countries as “shitholes.” I joined the commentariat’s chorus of condemnation with “Only an Asshole like Trump Would Call Caribbean and African Countries ‘Shitholes,’” on January 12.

    Incidentally, to his credit, Trump dispatched Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Africa earlier this month to mend fences. Never mind the Trumpian way he undermined that mission by firing Tillerson in the midst of it.

    As it happens, Netanyahu is more of “an asshole like Trump” than any other world leader. In fact, I have condemned him on many occasions for his own racist rhetoric.

    For example:

    • In “Netanyahu’s Call for Jewish Exodus more Sharpton than Moses,” February 23, 2015, I condemned him for insinuating that Jews in Europe are as oppressed today as they were during the heyday of the Nazi Germany. The irony is obviously lost on this self-righteous schmuck that he is oppressing Palestinians today even more than Hitler oppressed Jews … before executing his “final solution.”
    • In “Israel Votes to Become more Like (old) Apartheid South Africa,” March 18, 2015, I condemned him for exhorting Jews to rush to the polls because too many Israelis of Arab descent were showing up to vote.
    • And in “Israel Deporting Blacks to Preserve White Character of Jewish State,” January 4, 2018, I condemned him for trying to ensure that Africans and Arabs compose no more than a negligible percentage of Israel’s immigrant population. In this, he is simpatico with his BFF Trump – who is trying to ensure that Mexicans and Muslims compose a much lower percentage of America’s.

    The point is that, if Trump calling African countries shitholes is racist, then surely Netanyahu calling African migrants worse than Muslim terrorists is, well, even worse.

    Yet you’d be hard-pressed to find politicians or commentators condemning Netanyahu the way they condemned Trump. I suspect ignorance accounts for this deafening silence as much indifference. (Had you read or heard of Netanyahu’s remarks before reading them here?) But the silence of American and African politicians is worthy of comment.

    With respect to the Americans, it should not surprise you to learn that, despite his racist rhetoric, Netanyahu is even more popular among American politicians than Trump. Frankly, most Republicans would sooner kiss the ass of this Jewish prime minister than the brass ring of the Christian pope.

    I’ll spare you my sermon on the ‘biblical’ alliance between these two polarizing religious sects. Suffice it to consider the condescension/bigotry inherent in these Christians deeming it an article of their faith – not only to protect Jews (whom they hail as ‘God’s chosen people’), but also to convert them to Christianity to ensure they make it into Heaven. Never mind the contradiction inherent in God needing self-professed evangelicals to convert his chosen people for this rapture.

    (“Alas, Bush Still Being Misled/Goaded by Cheney,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 4, 2015)

    I have decried the reverence American politicians show for Netanyahu in many commentaries, including in “Chutzpah: Israeli PM to Address US Congress,” January 23, 2015, and “Netanyahu’s a Putz for Branding Obama a Judas Over UN Resolution,” December 29, 2016.

    With respect to the Africans, you’d be forgiven for wondering why they would even give Netanyahu the time of day.

    He clearly does not have the clout to compel African politicians to overlook his insults. Trump does because Africa remains as dependent on American military and economic aid as ever. This, despite China and former colonial powers in Europe increasing theirs considerably in recent years.

    This is why only ignorance or indifference explains their failure to condemn Netanyahu the way they condemned Trump.

    On the other hand, there’s no gainsaying the willingness of African politicians to welcome any foreign leader bearing gifts of direct investments. This, no matter that leader’s ulterior motive or unsavory character.

    As old Cold War alliances fragment and Israel’s allies within the United Nations dwindle, observers have said that Jerusalem was looking to build alliances with Africa in order to win its geopolitical battles.

    By coupling its political stakes with commercial interests, like the Power Africa project or the $1 billion pledge to ECOWAS nations for green energy projects, the government hopes to ingratiate itself with African countries and improve its brand.

    (Quartz Africa, December 11, 2017)

    Mind you, according to The Africa Investment Report 2016, Israel does not rank among the top countries when it comes to foreign direct investments. In fact, it ranks even below countries like Malaysia and Bahrain.

    Alas, there’s also no gainsaying that Netanyahu was only talking about African migrants the way African politicians treat them. This, more than anything else, might explain their reluctance to condemn him.

    After all, it’s bad enough that these politicians created the chronically oppressive conditions that forced so many of their people to flee the “dark continent. But they are also demanding aid from any country seeking to repatriate their own people. This perverse form of extortion prompted the staid London Times to publish the following paternalistic rebuke on December 6, 2017:

    Instead of demanding more aid, its leaders should tackle corruption and economic failure.

    Which compels me to end by noting that Africa’s post-colonial failures should cause Africans to condemn their own political leaders with even more indignation than I (or they) could ever think of condemning Netanyahu.

    Related commentaries:
    Asshole like Trump
    Israel … like South Africa
    Deporting blacks
    Bush Cheney
    Chutzpah
    Putz

  • Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 8:05 PM

    UPDATE! Zuckerberg Confesses: Our Bad. But Let’s Still Be Friends

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Mark Zuckerberg finally found the courage this afternoon to address betrayed Facebook users. He posted a lengthy statement on his FB page, which I can fairly summarize in two sentences:

    I’ve been working to understand exactly what happened and how to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I know it takes longer to fix all these issues than we’d like, but I promise you we’ll work through this and build a better service over the long term.

    In other words, keep trusting me, “dumb f*cks!” Which is why every Facebook user would do well to reply with just two words: Zuck off!

    Not to mention the manifest futility of the steps he promised to take “to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” After all, that proverbial horse is already out of the barn.

    Specifically, there’s nothing Facebook can do to recover and protect the personal data of the 50 million users who were compromised in this case. Only God knows where that data will end up, or what nefarious use hundreds of other data miners (like Cambridge Analytica) will make of them.

    Never mind the unreported breaches that have compromised tens, if not hundreds, of millions of other users.

    Incidentally, Facebook should do more to curb the viral phenomenon of fake news on its network. But it should not bear all the blame for the impact of such news — even on political campaigns.

    After all, it only takes a few clicks to distinguish between real and fake news. If users are too stupid or lazy to do so, they should bear some of the blame.

    That said, I am already on record urging all users to quit Facebook. I refer you to such commentaries as “Facebook ‘Like’ an Infectious Disease,” January 24, 2014, and “Confessions of Facebook Programmers,” December 17, 2017. This is why I’m so heartened that even tech gurus like WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton are now urging the same: #deletefacebook!

    Related commentaries:
    Hey stupid, Cambridge Analytica

  • Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 7:23 AM

    Hey Stupid… Cambridge Analytica Used Facebook Users as Facebook Intended…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    And that’s the scandal.

    Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg faced calls on Monday from U.S. and European lawmakers to explain how a consultancy that worked on President Donald Trump’s election campaign gained improper access to data on 50 million Facebook users. …

    ‘The lid is being opened on the black box of Facebook’s data practices, and the picture is not pretty,’ said Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor who has written about Silicon Valley’s use of data.

    (Reuters, March 18, 2018)

    Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the consultancy at issue, are in the crosshairs. But these “shocked, shocked” politicians are just scapegoating them for data practices that define all social media. What’s more, some of us have been decrying these practices for years.

    Unfortunately, with social media stoking faux outrages and cheap thrills a minute, most people now have the attention span of murmuring gnats and the short-term memory of mating baboons. After all, “the lid … opened on the black box of Facebook’s data practices” just four years ago. Yet even the mainstream media are hyping this old story as a new “bombshell report.”

    I commented on the faux outrage back then in “Facebook Friends?! Try Facebook Guinea Pigs,” July 8, 2014. The following excerpt explains the profit motive behind Facebook turning a blind eye to Cambridge’s “improper access.” It also explains why Zuckerberg is banking on another viral scandal diffusing this one without causing his social network too much financial and reputational damage.

    ____________________

    People are up in arms about the recent revelation that Facebook manipulated its users during a psychological study. …

    User Interface designers and researchers at places like Google, Facebook or Yahoo! regularly tweak the live site’s interface for a subset of visitors to see whether users behave differently in response. While this technique shines new light on user behavior, the overall goal is to bring the company more revenue through more users, clicks or glances at ads.

    (TIME, July 2, 2014)

    Frankly, if you are among the millions of Facebook users who feel betrayed by this revelation, all I can say is, I told you so … repeatedly, including most recently in “Facebook Complaining about NSA Spying? Ha!” March 15, 2014:

    You are probably aware that President Obama appointed a commission to recommend cosmetic changes to the NSA programs. But he only did so to avoid having to point out how stupid the American people are for buying into Snowden’s self-righteous and misguided outrage. After all, the NSA collects metadata for the sole purpose of trying to keep them safe.

    By contrast, these outraged nincompoops are showing nary a concern about tech companies tracking every move they make online for the sole purpose of trying to sell them stuff, to say nothing of peddling their personal data to third parties for indeterminate uses. Which makes the open letter Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and AOL sent to Obama last week complaining about NSA surveillance a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. And, trust me, ISPs (like Verizon and Comcast) are the worst harvesters and peddlers of your personal data.

    Of course, Obama took immediate steps to allay public concerns about NSA spying. Therefore, it speaks volumes about Facebook’s sense of entitlement that COO Sheryl Sandberg is insisting that public concerns about this psychological study stem from nothing more than a failure to communicate:

    This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.

    (Huffington Post, July 2, 2014)

    In other words, get over yourselves, Facebook users!

    Truth be told, I don’t blame Facebook for treating its users like mindless guinea pigs.

    After all, why take seriously the concerns of people who blithely share all manner of personal information about themselves on social networks but become indignant at the NSA for mining that information – not for profit or experimentation, mind you, but to keep them safe.

    Nothing is more telling in this respect than a Business Insider report on May 13, 2010, which quotes Zuckerberg demeaning his users as follows:

    They trust me, dumb f*cks.

    To be fair, Facebook’s sense of entitlement is probably based on the fact that it provides users all of its selfie-promoting, self-flattering, and self-deluding services free of charge.

    If my informed cynicism does not resonate with you, just ask yourself why it is that every time you hear about private information being hacked and exposed, it always involves an account held with private companies like Target or social networks like Twitter.  Whereas nobody had ever heard of NSA accounts being hacked and exposed … until Edward Snowden perpetrated his now notorious betrayal.

    At any rate, this revelation only reinforces my contention that Snowden would’ve provided a far more useful public service if his leaks had focused more on the spying social networks are doing for profit and less on that which the NSA is doing for security. But I trust it will finally reveal for all to see that, when it comes to the invasion of privacy rights, we have far more to fear from Facebook than the NSA.

    ____________________

    Remarkably, no less a person than Brad Parscale, digital director for Trump’s campaign, is on record making a mockery of this faux outrage. Because he took great pride in broadcasting how he exploited the access Facebook granted Cambridge (and other data mining companies) to its users … for a fee.

    Here is how Parscale summed up his strategy – during an interview on 60 Minutes no less – to harvest users’ personal information in a Matrix-like scheme to electronically brainwash them to “Like” Trump:

    I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win. Twitter is how he talked to the people. Facebook was going to be how he won.

    (October 8, 2017)

    And that was all she wrote!

    Meanwhile, Zuckerberg has amassed an obscene amount of wealth from peddling the personal information of Facebook’s nearly 2 billion users. Nothing reflects this quite like hysterical reaction to this scandal causing a $5 billion loss, yet leaving his net worth at close to $70 billion. But the valuation of social media companies is so fickle that, with confidence-building PR moves, he could regain that loss (and earn billions more) in a single day next week.

    Both Zuckerberg and Sandberg have been conspicuously disconnected in the midst of this latest viral storm. But I expect both to come out of hiding any day now to begin making those PR moves – complete with congressional testimony framing Cambridge Analytica as just one bad apple.

    Related commentaries:
    Facebook guinea pigs
    confessions of facebook programmers
    facebook like infectious disease

  • Monday, March 19, 2018 at 8:09 AM

    PyeongChang Paralympics: Did You Watch…?

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    NBC ran streaming coverage of the Closing Ceremony for the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics at 7 a.m. yesterday.

    This marked the end of coverage that began with the Opening Ceremony on March 9.

    Alas, the competitive events did not command much coverage, and even less interest. In fact, it did not take long before I was asking friends not “What events have you watched?” but “Have you watched any events?” And chances are that, like them, you didn’t watch a single one.

    To be fair, NBC hardly made it easy to do so. After all, it provided 2,500 hours of coverage for the PyeongChang Olympics – the vast majority of which was aired on its widely accessible network station.

    By contrast, it provided only 250 hours of coverage for the PyeongChang Paralympics – the vast majority which was streamed on its far less accessible sports app and website.

    But nothing reflects this diss quite like the dedicated “Olympic Channel” covering the FIS World Cup finals from Sweden instead of these Paralympics. After all, this counterprogramming featured many of the same able-bodied skiers (like Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States and Marcel Hirscher of Austria) who got hundreds of hours of coverage just weeks ago at the PyeongChang Olympics.

    And I suspect that, for many Paralympians, IPC President Andrew Parsons only compounded this diss when he paid singular tribute to Stephen Hawking at their Closing Ceremony:

    One man who had a dream was the late Professor Stephen Hawking, a genius of a man, a pioneer and inspiration to us all. …

    While Hawking tested the limits of his imagination, Paralympians, you have once again pushed the boundaries of human endeavour.

    (Paralympic.org, March 18, 2018)

    Just imagine the consternation among Olympians if IOC President Thomas Bach had paid similar tribute to Billy Graham at their Closing Ceremony. After all, Hawking had no more in common with Winter Paralympians than Graham had with Winter Olympians.

    Not to mention that Parson’s tribute made a mockery of the frustrations people with disabilities vented at the “ableist” platitudes that littered so many tributes to Hawking. But I digress …

    I first commented on this media coverage (or lack thereof) in “In Defense of NBC’s Olympics vs. Paralympics Coverage,” September 14, 2012. I clearly took the decidedly unpopular side.

    This is why it has been so interesting over the years to observe other commentators ape my take. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any who published anywhere near as many commentaries on the Paralympics as they did on the Olympics.

    Below is an excerpt of some of the unassailable points I argued in that commentary six years ago. Granted, I made them about the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. But they pertain in every respect to the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    I trust these points explain why commentators now show the same disinterest in the Paralympics as (many of) you, NBC, and I do – even if they (and you) dare not say so.

    ____________________

    I have no idea how much NBC paid for the exclusive rights. But it’s an indication of the level of interest NBC banked on that it contracted to provide 3,500 hours of Olympic coverage, but only 6 hours of Paralympic coverage.

    Unsurprisingly, people are criticizing the network for this limited Paralympics coverage, almost as much as they were criticizing it for broadcasting the Olympics on tape delay. What’s more, much of the criticism in this case is laced with accusations about discriminating against people with disabilities. Even I joined friends in venting reflexive, high-minded outrage.

    Upon reflection, however, I believe criticisms in both cases are as unfair as they are uninformed. For I suspect exhaustive market research indicated that interest would be such that broadcasting any more than 6 hours would be a waste of capital resources.

    I can personally attest that NBC made the right decision in both cases. Because I was so eager to know the results of premier events at the Olympics that I went out of my way to find them online. Moreover, my interest was such that, just as NBC calculated, knowing the results did nothing to diminish my interest in seeing its tape-delay broadcasts.

    By instructive contrast, I’m ashamed to admit that the only time I became interested in anything related to the Paralympics was when the poster boy for these Games, Oscar Pistorius, suffered a surprising upset in the men’s 200m. And this was only because Pistorius received so much media attention during the Olympics for being the first double amputee to participate.

    Indeed, the greater is my shame that nothing but schadenfreude stoked my interest in actually seeing him humbled. …

    At any rate, I’m not sure what it says about me that I was so interested in watching 3,500 hours of the Olympics, but so uninterested in watching just 6 hours of the Paralympics, let alone searching the Internet for timely results.

    I have family members with disabilities. Therefore, I fully appreciate that the last thing Paralympians want is for their performances to evoke sympathy or, even worse, pity. Except that, as admirable and life affirming as their performances might be, a confluence of sympathy and pity is all I feel when I see people with disabilities competing in sporting events. …

    I would bet my life savings that 99 percent of you who tuned in to the Olympics did so to watch Michael Phelps and/or Usain Bolt compete. On the other hand, I challenge you to name a single Paralympian (who is not a relative or friend) who you wanted to watch compete.

    Not to mention that people who rave about the performance of athletes with disabilities always come across like annoying parents raving about the first baby steps of their children. Which is why much of the celebration of the Paralympic Games strikes me as patronizing, disingenuous, and even a little guilt-ridden.

    I don’t know if this constitutes discrimination on my part. What I do know, however, is that hundreds of millions of people feel as I do. Which is why nobody should criticize NBC for making the undeniably sound business decision to provide such limited coverage of the Paralympics.

    ____________________

    Related commentaries:
    NBC Paralympics
    Stephen Hawking
    Billy Graham

  • Saturday, March 17, 2018 at 7:37 AM

    Happy St. Paddy’s Day

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    But beware the paddy wagon of Protestant Trump, America’s new anti-immigrant, religious bigot of a president.

  • Friday, March 16, 2018 at 7:54 PM

    Putin’s Russia…

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Pictures speak a thousand words, but cartoons speak ten thousand.

    Related commentaries:
    Putin poisons

  • Thursday, March 15, 2018 at 3:32 PM

    Stephen Hawking, the ‘Most Popular Physicist of All Time,’ Is Dead

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    He demonstrated that Einstein’s general theory of relativity implies space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes.

    (BBC, March 14, 2018)

    Ahhh, right …

    Truth be told, if you’re not a scientist, you’d be wise to keep any tribute to Stephen Hawking brief. Further, to avoid crossing the guardians of, er, disability correctness, you’d better keep it devoid of “ableist” platitudes too.

    The point is that the only thing most people know about his scientific accomplishments is the title of his bestselling book A Brief History of Time. Hawking was too kind (or too smart) to ever say, but the implied subtitle is “Physics for Dummies.”

    It was published in 1988. And people bragged about reading it back then the way they brag about getting “Likes” today.

    It is no surprise, then, that the most remarkable thing about this book is the way it makes dummies of non-scientists who try to explain it. This, despite its dumbed-down narrative.

    As it happened, I never followed fashion by bragging about reading it. In fact, I’m on record confessing my black hole of a brain … when it comes to the scientific matters he wrote about:

    Not since Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes has there been so much media hype about a subject so few people know anything about. Hell, the C my college professor gave me in Physics 101 was an act of charity.

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

    Of course, there’s no denying Hawking’s “beautiful mind” or his visionary contributions to the study of the universe. But there’s also no denying that his failure to win a coveted Nobel Prize casts a little shade on his hagiography.

    What’s more, I question the singular praise he got for popularizing science. After all, if any scientist deserved such praise, it was Isaac Asimov. Frankly, even scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, and Bill Nye “the Science Guy” seem worthier.

    Meanwhile, if they haven’t seen his biopic The Theory of Everything (2014), the only thing most people know about Hawking’s private life is that he was wheelchair bound and spoke through a voice synthesizer. His physical disabilities stemmed from a diagnosis of ALS (or Lou Gherig’s disease) in 1963, when he was 21.

    But, since his mind’s the thing, I see no point in commenting on skeletons like alleged marital infidelities and spousal abuse (against him).

    All the same, I should note that, as celebrated as he was, Hawking never seemed more animated than when he was hanging out with Hollywood celebrities. And those celebrities seemed to cherish the gravitational pull of his reflected glory. Never mind that the promotional pictures they never failed to publish always looked like the ones tourists take with Mickey Mouse on visits to Disney World.

    Hawking was clearly smart enough to fully appreciate the quid pro quo afoot. Only this explains his guest appearance on everything from silly shows like The Simpsons and Futurama to sublime ones like Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Big Bang Theory.

    That said, what I admired most about Hawking was his rejection of a knighthood.

    Reports are that he did so to protest the British government’s lack of funding for scientific studies and research. But I wish it was to protest the inherent affront the monarchy poses to fundamental democratic principles – the most notable of which is that all men (and women) are created equal.

    I have vented my contempt for this abiding affront in commentaries like “Pardon Me, Sir, but How Much Did You Pay for Your Knighthood,” July 14, 2006, and “Australia Bans British Honours. Other Commonwealth Countries Should too,” November 3, 2015.

    Keeping it (relatively) brief, I shall end by sharing that Hawking died on Wednesday at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76.

    Farewell, professor.

    Related commentaries:
    God particle
    Ban British honours

  • Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at 3:24 PM

    UPDATE: Britain Slaps Russia … on the Wrist for WMD Poisoning(s)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Prime Minister May announced Britain’s retaliatory measures today. Parliament greeted them with cheers … that should have been jeers. After all, they amount to little more than the diplomatic punt I warned Putin would have just cause to mock.

    Those measures include:

    • Expelling 23 diplomats (but hundreds of freelancers will pick up the slack);
    • Increasing inspections of private flights from Russia (but oligarchs will merely make stopovers in Europe to avoid this harassment);
    • Freezing assets if using them poses a threat to national security (but oligarchs buying up property and laundering money are deemed beneficial to the national economy); and
    • Cutting off high-level diplomatic contacts, including canceling plans for British royals to attend this summer’s World Cup in Russia (but Princes William and Harry would readily admit that this smacks more of cutting off nose to spite face than punishing Russia).

    Of course, despite its manifest guilt, Russia will play along by feigning outrage and responding in kind. And relations will be thus for a cooling off period, after which both countries will normalize ties and this matter will be forgotten … until the next hit.

    In point of fact, May stressed that this feckless retaliation is not just for the Skripal attack but for as many as 14 others over the past decade. The fateful irony seemed completely lost on her.

    Evidently, Russian oligarchs really have become Britain’s sacred (cash) cows. In which case, the best tit-for-tat response would have been to send an MI6 agent — On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — to assassinate Edward Snowden, Russia’s most high-profile Western defector/traitor, with a bullet right between his eyes. He betrayed British intelligence agencies as much as American ones, after all.

    This at least would humble Putin and command his grudging respect. Whereas, given May’s all-too-predictable diplomatic retaliation, one can hardly blame Putin for thinking he could (and can still) order such hits with impunity

    That said, it’s noteworthy that Britain is a founding member of NATO. Because its cowering in the face of this Russian aggression sends all kinds of untenable messages. Most notably, it tells new members like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — that were once a part of the Soviet Union—to “be afraid, be very afraid.”

    What’s more, those members can be forgiven for fearing the writing-on-the-wall way Russia reasserted Soviet-like dominion over the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Ukrainian territory of Crimea (all foreboding precedents I decried in “Russia Calls US (and EU) Bluff by Declaring Georgian Territories Independent,” August 27, 2008, and “Checkmated on Crimea, Obama Plays for Rest of Ukraine,” March 6, 2014).

    As documented in my original commentary below, betrayal is the one thing Putin warns he can never forgive. And, with all due respect to turncoats like Litvinenko and Skripal, he probably considers a former Soviet Socialist Republic joining NATO the worst betrayal imaginable.

    Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has described the collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe’ of the 20th century.

    (BBC, April 25, 2005)

    In the meantime, the pathetic reality is that

    • Britain can barely defend itself against Russia;
    • America can’t even bring itself to accuse Russia – its “rogue” UN ambassador notwithstanding (Last summer, the Republican-controlled Congress voted nearly unanimously to strengthen the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia for launching cyberattacks on the 2016 presidential election. But, despite bipartisan protests, Trump refused to impose them. DC gossip has it that he will use this attack, citing that US-UK special relationship, as a pretext to finally do so — no doubt praying that Putin, his puppet master, will understand); and
    • Germany and other European countries are too dependent on Russia for oil and gas to impose any meaningful sanctions on it (a self-immolating dependency I’ve been decrying for years in commentaries like “Europeans’ Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish Appeasement of Putin,” May 3, 2014).

    Is it any wonder Putin determined long ago that the NATO alliance, for all intents and purposes, is just a paper tiger? But I digress …

    This is hardly Britain’s Darkest Hour. But it’s a dark day for this putative world power. Its de facto surrender to Russia must have Winston Churchill rolling over in his grave.

    Related commentaries:
    From Litvinenko to Skripal
    Checkmated on Crimea
    Penny-wise
    Russia calls US bluff

  • Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 2:43 PM

    The Skripals, Et Al: Russia Taunting Britain with Brazen Assassinations

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Vladimir Putin shocked the world in 2006 when he ordered a hit on former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

    The shock was not that he ordered it, but that he had it done on British soil. After all, this was right under the noses of the then home secretary, Theresa May, and vaunted Scotland Yard detectives.

    More to the point, though, here is the prescient way I commented on Litvinenko’s assassination in “Putin Probably Ordered the Hit. But No One Will Do Anything about It,” November 28, 2006.

    ____________________

    The prevailing suspicion is that Putin targeted Litvinenko because he was becoming too credible in his criticisms of the Kremlin. Litvinenko fled for his life in 2000 — after accusing the FSB of killing over 300 Russians in 1999 in a Machiavellian scheme to frame and discredit Chechen rebels.

    Then he began publishing the findings of his high-profile investigation into what many suspect was a Putin-ordered hit on journalist Anna Politkovskaya last month. She herself was publishing too many inconvenient truths about that ‘Chechen conspiracy.’

    Putin had had enough of them both. …

    Nonetheless, with all due respect to Scotland Yard and Interpol, no matter how probative the circumstantial evidence of Putin’s guilt, neither he nor his putative hitmen will ever be held to account for this murder. And everyone knows it. …

    It comes as no surprise that Putin would order the assassination of a spy who, for all intents and purposes, he considered not only an insufferable critic but also a traitor. Nor should it surprise anyone if/when this case results in terminal frustration for Litvinenko’s loved ones (namely his avenging wife and son) and patented futility for British authorities.

    However, if one appreciates that Putin seems determined to emulate former Russian strongman Joseph Stalin, his ordering the assassination of these two journalists would seem relatively benign. After all, Stalin ordered the assassination of at least one million Russians (at home and abroad) and threw another 18 million in the Gulag for political offenses.

    ____________________

    Sure enough, it took the British a 10-year commission of inquiry to vindicate my assertion that Putin did it:

    Mr. Putin is likely to have signed off the poisoning of Mr. Litvinenko with polonium-210 in part due to personal ‘antagonism’ between the pair, it said.

    Home Secretary Theresa May said his murder was a ‘blatant and unacceptable’ breach of international law.

    (BBC, January 21, 2016)

    I duly dismissed this commission in “British Inquiry Finds Putin Ordered London Hit. No Sh*t,” January 27, 2016. Because, despite May declaring it a “blatant and unacceptable breach,” I knew the British would do nothing about it. They proved me right.

    Therefore, I am hardly surprised that Putin has done it again. Nor am I surprised that he is showing utter contempt for the British by punctuating this hit with his signature MO.

    The UK and US said on Monday that a Russian-made nerve agent had been unleashed on the English city of Salisbury, and that either Russia’s government or rogue Russian agents must have carried out the attack.

    The attack targeted Sergei Skripal, a double agent who passed Russian state secrets to British intelligence in the 1990s and early 2000.

    (Business Insider, February 27, 2018)

    But it seems perversely fitting that it falls to May, now as prime minister, to hold Putin to account:

    Theresa May has given Vladimir Putin’s administration until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a former spy [and his daughter, collaterally, were] poisoned in Salisbury, otherwise she will conclude it was an ‘unlawful use of force’ by the Russian state against the UK.

    (The Guardian, March 13, 2018)

    Of course, May had good cause to conclude this weeks ago.

    What’s more, Putin is daring her to strike back. He’s literally mocking her ultimatum, dismissing it as typical British nonsense.

    Never mind the plainly misguided (MAD) bravado inherent in Putin warning May not to mess with a nuclear power. After all, even without invoking NATO’s collective defense, May has more than enough nukes of her own to make Putin even more wary of war with Britain than Trump is of war with North Korea.

    But Putin also made a point, during a Western-style campaign ad released on Sunday, of revealing his unapologetic motive for ordering such hits:

    Putin said he was capable of forgiving. ‘But not everything,’ he quickly added, noting he could not forgive a betrayal.

    (Agence France-Presse, March 11, 2018)

    This constrains me to reprise my assessment of why Putin could never respect Edward Snowden, despite offering him sanctuary:

    Putin is a former KGB spy who prides loyalty to country above all else. …

    As much as he is undoubtedly reveling in the humiliation Snowden has caused Obama, Putin fully appreciates what special punishment he’d want to mete out to any Russian spy who does to him and Russia what Snowden has done to Obama and the United States.

    (“Boycott Olympics Over Snowden? Don’t Be Stupid!” The iPINIONS Journal, July 18, 2013)

    This perverse (Trumpian) sense of loyalty explains why he ordered hits on Litvinenko, Skripal, and other Russian spies and oligarchs for criticizing his Stalinist rule. It also explains why he’s telegraphing his intent to order more.

    Apropos of which, The Chicago Tribune ran a telling report on March 25, 2017, titled “10 Critics of Vladimir Putin Who Wound Up Dead.” Of course, that number has since increased.

    Granted, even though they are in critical condition, Skripal and his daughter are still alive. But the same cannot be said for Putin critic Nickolai Glushkov – who ended up dead under mysterious circumstances at his home in London just this morning.

    If I were Garry Kasparov or Mikhail Khodorkovsky, I’d be watching my back (and inspecting my tea) very carefully.

    That said, the only question is, what will May do? Especially because she must know that Putin will only mock her more if she limits her retaliation to expanding Swiss cheese sanctions and expelling Russian diplomats.

    Helpfully, CNN Money provided a blue print for retaliation in a special report yesterday. In “How the UK Could Hit Back at Russia Over Spy Poisoning,” it recommended a three-pronged retaliation:

    • Tightening economic sanctions
    • Freezing assets
    • Targeting money laundering

    Of course, Putin has already demonstrated that he’s relatively immune to the consequences of economic sanctions: On the one hand, he has in Trump a “compromised” US president who thinks Russia can do no wrong. On the other hand, he has in China a country all too willing to help Russia weather any sanctions Western countries impose.

    Therefore, May will have to double down on the second and third prongs. Which is just as well because nothing will unnerve Putin more than squeezing the Russian oligarchs he relies on like Pretorian guards.

    ‘Every self-respecting corrupt Russian government official has a property in London’. …

    The government could use the Criminal Finances Act, a law approved in 2017, to force Russians who may be implicated in the attack, or have close ties to Putin, to explain how they purchased property in the UK.

    (CNN Money, March 12, 2018)

    Incidentally, this is instructive with respect to Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 US presidential election, as well as its ongoing cyber warfare against the United States. Specifically, it would have been a far more effective deterrent if Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller had indicted 13 Russian oligarchs – with assets in the United Stateson money laundering and other financial crimes. Instead, he indicted 13 Russian hackers – with little or no assets in the United States – on a battery of cyber crimes.

    It is also the case, after all, that every self-respecting Russian oligarch has property in the United States. In fact, no less a person than Donald J. Trump – who reportedly sold one of them a $40 million home for $100 million – could readily attest to this.

    Accordingly, here’s to May making quite a show of targeting Russian oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, whose prized assets include the famous Chelsea Football Club. Because, trust me, these oligarchs would rather fund a palace coup against Putin than lose access to their billions in ill-gotten gains or, worse still, be forced to live permanently in Russia.

    Not to mention that this would do much to belie prevailing claims that London has become My Beautiful Laundrette for money launderers of all stripes – from business oligarchs to political despots and drug kingpins.

    Related commentaries:
    British inquiry
    Boycott Olympics
    Compromised president
    Khodorkovsky
    Kasparov
    Russia meddling

  • Monday, March 12, 2018 at 11:21 AM

    Holocaust Museum Rescinds Aung San Sui Kyi’s Award. Democratic Countries Should Boycott Her Myanmar

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I was in the vanguard of those denouncing Aung San Sui Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate, for her complicity in Myanmar’s genocide against the Rohingyas. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Western commentator who did so publicly before I did here:

    Nothing demonstrates the extent to which she has been co-opted quite like Suu Kyi’s deafening silence about the ongoing ethnic 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 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…?

    (“Obama’s Historic Trip to Myanmar: Too Soon?” The iPINIONS Journal, November 12, 2012)

    And, I have denounced her continually since then in commentaries like “Aung San Suu Kyi Becoming Democratic Mascot of Myanmar’s Military Dictatorship,” March 28, 2013, “Buddhists Religiously Cleansing Muslims in Myanmar,” May 13, 2015, and “Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi Courting Military Power at the Expense of Democratic Principles,” September 14, 2015. The last of these includes this instructive juxtaposition:

    ____________________

    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 (a.k.a. Burma).

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

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

    I decried the conspiracy of silence in the Western media as Suu Kyi and her military cohorts sat by as Buddhist monks began religiously cleansing Myanmar of Muslims. … I am so heartened that the BBC is finally beginning to echo the questions I raised years ago about Suu Kyi’s commitment to democratic principles. …

    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.

    ____________________

    This is why I was even more heartened when Suu Kyi’s fellow Nobel laureates began condemning her. I duly hailed them in “Even Fellow Nobel Laureates Now Condemning Suu Kyi, the Godmother of Ethnic Cleansing,” September 14, 2017, noting on point that:

    It’s an indication of how much goodwill 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.

    Except that, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can rescind Harvey Weinstein’s membership for sexually assaulting women, surely the Nobel Committee can rescind Suu Kyi’s prize for condoning genocide. This, even if there’s no way of forcing her to return the certificate and cash that went along with it.

    As it happens, the Nobel Committee could follow the lead the United States Holocaust Museum has just taken in this respect:

    The decision by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to rescind its human-rights award to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is sad, and proper.

    (The New York Times, March 11, 2018)

    The Museum explained its decision to rescind the prestigious Elie Wiesel Award in an open letter. The Times ran it under the headline “‘Never Again,’ Holocaust Museum Tells Burmese Leader.” The significance of this cannot be lost on anyone.

    Above all, though, the Museum expressed profound dismay at her unconscionable refusal to condemn, let alone stop, Myanmar’s open and notorious crimes against humanity. It also cited the way this erstwhile personification of democratic values has stood by as members of her ruling party repressed journalists for daring to report on those crimes.

    It’s no accident that I cited the Mandela precedent in South Africa for what Suu Kyi should be doing in Myanmar. Because it speaks volumes that she is governing like his Apartheid jailers.

    This is why merely rescinding awards and prizes will not do. It is now a categorical imperative for Western democracies to boycott Myanmar the way they boycotted South Africa – complete with shunning Suu Kyi the way they shunned the leaders of Apartheid.

    In this respect, world leaders (and her fellow Nobel laureates) should follow the lead rock star Bob Geldof took in September. He denounced her as a “Handmaiden to Genocide.” Then he renounced his Dublin humanitarian award, reasoning that, because she received one too, she rendered it meaningless.

    Of course, Suu Kyi can still rely on the support of no less a person than US President Donald J. Trump. After all, he speaks and behaves more like her dictatorial generals than his democratic predecessors.

    But, as one who still believes in democratic principles and universal human rights, I cannot commend Geldof enough for his self-sacrificing way of shunning Suu Kyi.

    Related commentaries:
    Obama historic trip
    Buddhist monks
    Suu Kyi becoming
    Courting totalitarian power
    Fellow Nobel laureates
    Handmaiden to genocide

  • Saturday, March 10, 2018 at 8:47 AM

    Stormy is not the only one who sold herself to Trump – complete with NDAs, evidently

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Michael Cohen, a lawyer for Donald Trump, arranged a $130,000 hush money payment to the pornographic film star known as Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign. The payment was to stop Daniels from speaking out about an alleged affair she’d had with Trump shortly after Melania Trump, his third wife, gave birth to their son, Barron.

    With any previous president the story would have been explosive, but with this one, it felt relatively minor. The real scandal, it seemed, was that there was no scandal, because no one expects any better of Trump.

    (The New York Times, March 9, 2018)

    No one! Which is to say that not even erstwhile moralizing, self-righteous Evangelicals expect any better of him.

    And so Trump continues to debase social mores, making a mockery of long-established standards of morality. But you’d be forgiven for having no clue that his most ardent supporters, those Evangelicals, once proselytized those standards with Talibanic zealousness. Which is why their silence in the face of his pathological spree of moral turpitude is deafening.

    Meanwhile, the word “scandal” itself is falling into desuetude.

    Related commentaries:
    Evangelicals

  • Friday, March 9, 2018 at 8:46 AM

    Trump & Kim Agree to Hook Up Reality-TV Style

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks by the end of May, an extraordinary development following months of heightened nuclear tension during which the two leaders exchanged frequent military threats and insults. …

    (Washington Post, March 8, 2018)

    This had everyone in Washington expressing shock and consternation yesterday; not least because every one of Trump’s top advisers was blindsided by it. Not to mention the spectacle of the cowered South Koreans Kim dispatched to Washington being the ones who announced this slapdash meeting – doing so, as they did, on Trump’s behalf in the dark of night on the grounds of the White House.

    To be fair, Washington was still reeling from his declared intent to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum – the adverse consequences for the US economy, national security, and international trade be damned. Not to mention that his advisers were still trying to spin him out of legal jeopardy for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels to stay silent about their adulterous affair.

    But, instead of shock and consternation, everyone should have been expressing contempt and outrage. After all, it’s arguable that Trump is just using a summit meeting with Kim as a wag-the-dog distraction from all of the political storm clouds gathering over his presidency.

    Yet it seems I am the only one who thinks this latest distraction is vintage Trump. In fact, nothing has defined his presidency quite like Trump agreeing in one meeting to what the person speaking to him says – even when doing so contradicts what he agreed to in a meeting the day before.

    He displayed this in glaring fashion just six weeks ago. That’s when he had everyone in Washington either bemoaning or ridiculing the way he flip-flopped on his agreement to sign whatever bipartisan deal senators delivered on DACA (a deal to provide legal status for illegal immigrants, a.k.a. Dreamers, whose parents brought them into the United States as young children). This led Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to vent this famous lament:

    Trump understood that immigration reform had to be done with compassion, but something changed in a short period of time [between 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock on Thursday]. I don’t know where that guy went, I want him back.

    (TIME, January 16, 2018)

    This is why the real story is not Trump’s manic, unpredictable, and irresponsible behavior. It’s the Snapchat-like way everyone in Washington continually reacts with shock and consternation to that behavior, and then immediately forgets it.

    Indeed, only selective amnesia explains anyone in Washington believing this meeting will amount to anything more than a photo op. Mind you, this is probably all Trump wants; you know, like an Instagram thot hoping her latest post will attract millions of “Likes.” (Okay, perhaps it’s more like the photo op he orchestrated to show him brokering a deal on DACA, only to have it fizzle to nothing … like just another viral story.)

    As for Kim, even more predictable than Trump flip-flopping on major issues at the drop of a hat is North Korean leaders making promises they never keep. Trust me, Kim will never give up his nuclear weapons.

    But, even if he agrees to do so, nothing indicates how useless that agreement would be quite like North Korea’s falling out with South Korea over their unified Olympic flag. Reports are that North Korea refused to honor its agreement with South Korea to march in today’s Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang Paralympics under the same unified flag they marched under for the regular Olympics just weeks ago.

    Unfortunately, like Putin of Russia, Xi of China, and practically every other world leader, Kim knows he only has to flatter Trump to get him to fold like a cheap suit. Trump has shown time and again that, far from being a master of The Art of the Deal, he’s just a sucker for flattery.

    And nothing would flatter Trump more than a photo op showing him meeting with Kim ostensibly to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. Hell, Trump would pat himself on the back just for being the first US president to meet any North Korean leader and the first world leader to meet Kim.

    Never mind that this is rather like patting yourself on the back for being the first to sup with the Devil.#Idiot!

    Incidentally, one of the reasons Obama never met with Kim is that Republicans accused him of treasonous naiveté for even expressing a willingness to do so – if Kim met his preconditions. Of course, the hypocrisy of Republicans praising things they once denounced has become a hallmark of Trump’s presidency. Exhibit A: praising Trump’s impulsive and doomed framework to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons after denouncing Obama’s comprehensive and shrewd framework to get Iran to not develop them in the first place.

    Meanwhile, it is self-evident that Trump couldn’t care less about the preparations necessary for this meeting. I doubt, for example, that it will occur to him to have a long spoon. But Kim could be forgiven for thinking Trump also couldn’t care less about the results. Kim need only refer to Graham’s lament regarding DACA for (mis)guidance.

    For his part, Kim would like nothing more than to show his people that he, not Trump, is the most powerful man in the world. And he clearly believes the optics of him summoning Trump to a summit meeting would do the trick – no matter where it takes place. (Even I would be shocked if Trump’s handlers allow him to travel to the Korean Peninsula – effectively meeting Kim not just on his terms but on his turf to boot.)

    But, apropos of (mis)guidance, Kim is in for a rude awakening if he thinks just stroking Trump’s ego will induce the United States to lift sanctions. Because Trump is not the dictator he pretends to be — as Putin is now realizing to his chagrin. America’s system of checks and balances (in this case Congress and the Press) will constrain Trump’s well-documented impulse to betray his country for a historic photo op, idle flattery, or the proverbial thirty pieces of silver.

    For example, but for Congress, he would have lifted sanctions on Russia long ago. This, despite clear and convincing evidence that Russia was (and is) still launching cyberattacks to undermine democratic institutions in the United States and throughout Europe.

    Therefore, no matter what Trump says, Kim will have to ape Gaddafi (i.e., give up his nukes) before North Korea gets any relief. The Catch-22, of course, is that, if Kim does, he’s bound to end up like Gaddafi, namely dead. Which is why, like so much with Trump, this proposed summit meeting will turn out to be much ado about nothing.

    Ultimately, though, there’s this prevailing fact:

    Such antic mix of arrogance, ignorance, and fickleness has America’s European allies reeling with consternation, frustration, and dismay. But it also has leaders of every other country lining up to play Trump for a chump, especially given that all it takes is a little stroking of his infantile ego to do so.

    (“North Korea’s Nukes Upstage America’s Fireworks…Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 5, 2017)

    Xi of China was first in line. Then came Netanyahu of Israel, et al. Kim of North Korea is just falling in line.

    Related commentaries:
    DACA
    Republicans
    Trump & Kim
    Gaddafi
    North Korea nukes

  • Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 8:25 AM

    It’s International Women’s Day: ‘Men Should Be Barred from Politics’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    We have enough data, as well as anecdotal evidence, from the way women have influenced the corporate world to make credible extrapolations. The correlation between more women holding positions of power and the implementation of family-friendly policies is undeniable in this respect. Therefore, it’s entirely reasonable to assert that, if more women held positions of power in politics, they would use their power more towards building up human resources than military armaments – just to cite one obvious example.

    Finland’s president, prime minister, president of the Supreme Court, as well as eight of its eleven government ministers are all women. Arguably, there’s a direct correlation between their positions and the fact that Newsweek rated this county the best place to live in 2010 – in terms of health, economic dynamism, education, political environment, and quality of life.

    (“Women Make Better Politicians than Men,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 14, 2010)

    You will note that I wrote this many years before Donald Trump made it a categorical imperative. Time’s Up!

    And, yes, the Gaston Lachaisesque woman carrying the “Marching On” banner bears a telling resemblance to Oprah, Trump’s devoutly-to-be-wished successor! #Oprah2020

    Related commentaries:
    women better, bar men

  • Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at 7:37 AM

    Female James Bond Is Just a Cinematic Perversion of Stockholm Syndrome

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The topic of a female playing James Bond has been trending like a bop bag over the past few years. No less a trendsetter than Vogue even ran a feature in its July 2017 issue hailing the prospect. Notably, it included myriad suggestions to sexually reassign Bond – from Jane, Jasmine, or plain J as the best first name to give her to Gillian Anderson, Thandie Newton, or Cate Blanchett as the best actress to play her.

    Of course, the wonder is that any self-respecting, MeToo actress would want to ape the macho antics of this notoriously chauvinistic character. Am I the only one who thinks this smacks of Patty Hearst becoming a SLA revolutionary (think a wannabe Black Panther – of the group from California, not the hero from Wakanda)?

    Granted, Daniel Craig’s Bond has come a long way, baby. This, especially from the days when Bond girls had names like Holly Goodhead, Plenty O’Toole, Octopussy, Honey Rider, Kissy Suzuki, and Pussy Galore.

    It was a given that Bond would bed them, even if he had to rape them. But, evidently, their names also had to suggest they were asking for it. A subtext made all the more perverse given innuendoes indicating that some of them were lesbians.

    I would also grant that casting Thandie Newton would kill two birds with one stone – appealing as she would to equally trending calls for a black James Bond. (At least this would crush actor Idris Elba’s misguided aspirations. He has been promoting himself to be the first black Bond, making a mockery of both the professional and racial pride for which he was once so well known.)

    But thank God for Rachel Weisz. Because, just weeks ago, she delivered what should be a knockout punch to this bop-bagging trend.

    She has intimate knowledge of what it takes to play the most socially redeeming version of Bond. Therefore, it speaks volumes that she pooh-poohed the prospect of any woman ever playing him.

    Following the release of latest Bond film Spectre, a question mark surrounded whether Daniel Craig – Weisz’s husband – would return to the role of the spy in a future outing as many deemed it time for the reins to be handed to a female actor.

    Weisz spoke out against this idea … stressing the importance of creating ‘roles specifically for women’ instead.

    (The Independent, February 12, 2018)

    The operative words are “roles specifically for women.” After all, what’s next, the female Indiana Jones? Oh right, Lara Croft in Tomb Raider already plays that role. The female Superman? Princess Diana in Wonder Woman already plays that one. Not to mention that, apples to apples, we already have this female Bond:

    Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde trailer gives us the female James Bond we’ve been waiting for.

    (GQ, July 28, 2017)

    Alas, based on box-office receipts, you probably missed it. Still, “roles specifically for women” abound within this genre. And this is so even for a black female Bond. For the uninitiated among you, I cite “Coffy” and “Cleopatra Jones” – who were lead characters in their own eponymously named movies, respectively.

    In any event, I hope Weisz’s admonition prevails. But I cannot resist noting that, in offering it, she vindicated this homage I paid to her as my favorite actress many years ago:

    Rachel Weisz [is] an actress who can probably thrill me by simply reading the ingredients from my favorite cereal box on screen. …

    I’ve enjoyed Rachel in a number of movies, but my cinematic infatuation was not consummated until I saw her in The Constant Gardener. This infatuation has only deepened with The Whistleblower; notwithstanding her recent marriage to Daniel Craig, a.k.a. James Bond 007 … lucky bugger.

    (“‘The Whistleblower’, The iPINIONS Journal, August 5, 2011)

    That said, I’ve been pooh-poohing the notion of any black ever playing Bond for years. This included dressing down the aforementioned self-promoting Elba in “A Black James Bond? No, Hell No!” December 26, 2014. Here is an excerpt – complete with an admonition for blacks to demand “roles specifically for blacks,” which Weisz is now mirroring for women.

    ____________________

    Frankly, casting a black actor would require too much suspension of disbelief for anyone who knows anything about the zeitgeist in which Bond was born, and still thrives. To say nothing of the wanton disrespect to Fleming’s oeuvre, or the insult to reasonable expectations of existing fans, it would entail. …

    I prefer to emphasize my opposition by noting that Idris Elba playing James Bond would be every bit as ludicrous as Michael Fassbender playing John Shaft, despite rumors that he might be anatomically correct for the part in at least one respect.

    What’s more, I refuse to believe, and Elba should be loath to affirm, that it is so untenable for Hollywood to create iconic black characters that it has to cast black actors to play firmly established white ones. …

    Instead of playing along, Elba should at least challenge Sony executives to greenlight a Bond-like character for him to play. …

    Indeed, if Hollywood has become so bereft of creativity, Sony executives could turn John Luther, the detective Elba popularized on TV, into a movie star to rival James Bond or Jason Bourne. Hell, they could even introduce him as John Luther 009, the mysterious, unnamed MI6 agent Fleming refers to in Thunderball. (Contrary to popular belief, agents 001 through 007 are already named characters.)

    But Elba as Bond? No, hell no!

    ____________________

    I clearly could not have known back then that Black Panther would vindicate my admonition so spectacularly:

    With $501 million in North America and $897m worldwide, Black Panther has passed Fox’s Deadpool ($363m/$783m in 2016), Warner Bros.’ Wonder Woman ($413m/$821m in 2017) and Sony’s Spider-Man ($403m/$821m in 2002) to become the biggest non-sequel and non-ensemble superhero flick of all time.

    (Forbes, March 5, 2018)

    Enough said?

    Related commentaries:
    Rachel Weisz
    A black bond

My Books

VFC Painting

Archive

Subscribe via Email


Powered by FeedBlitz