Monday, December 29, 2014

Sony Picture’s The Interview: Triumph Over Despotism?

Even though the risk-averse powers-that-be at Sony shelved its Christmas Day release, does the eventual Yuletide screening of Sony’s The Interview a “triumph over despotism”?

By: Ringo Bones

Thanks to the urging of US President Barack Obama to Sony Pictures Entertainment’s risk-averse CEO Michael Lynton to not bow down to the despotism of North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un and to go ahead as planned the Yuletide screening of the controversial political satire titled The Interview that stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, it seems that free speech has triumph again in America. Despite the boasts of the hacktivist group Guardians of Peace to unleash a 9/11 style terror attack if Sony chooses to release the film, everyone curious and brave enough to see what the hubbub is all about manages to express their right to free expression incident free. It might be a rather unprecedented uproar over a controversial work of political satire to the young folks out there, but it seems that the “politics” over satirical films preventing its screening in the name of censorship has happened before.

As a reaction to the rather brutal crackdown of Germany’s Jewish community during the late 1930s, iconic comedian Charlie Chaplain – who had gained enough clout in Hollywood from the brilliant success of his previous works in the box-office managed to convince top Hollywood producers to help make his then latest project a reality – a film satirizing a sitting head-of-state the then German Chancellor Adolf Hitler titled The Great Dictator. The then Prime Minister of Britain Neville Chamberlain blocked the screening of the film on British theaters in the hopes of appeasing Hitler and preventing an all-out war with Germany. But when the Hitler appeasing Chamberlin was voted out and replaced by Winston Churchill and by then Germany is already at war with Britain and the then new British PM Churchill allowed the screening of Charlie Chaplain’s The Great Dictator on British movie theaters as an act of defiance against Adolf Hitler. Given how controversial Chaplain’s The Great Dictator is to “German sensibilities”, it wasn’t until 1998 that The Great Dictator was screened in German cinemas.

Fast forward to 2014, the “political controversy” generated by Sony’s The Interview may be partly due to the film’s subject matter - i.e. the assassination of a sitting head-of-state of a deeply repressive and racist regime who deeply believes that their race of people are the sole inheritors of the planet – at least that’s what their megalomaniacal “Dear Leader” has constantly reassured them. Even though the North Korean Bureau 121 cyber-warfare team had managed to recruit hackers who are sympathetic to their rather repressive politics and “belief-system”, one wonders if the recent cyber-attacks at Sony Entertainment was due in part to their past sins committed in the past and the recent release of the rather unflattering racist e-mains are just the tip of the iceberg of “Sony’s sins”.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

President Obama’s Unilateral Immigration Reform: A Politically Contentious Move?

Even though the U.S. Republican Party has criticized him for acting like a king, does president Barack Obama’s executive order to unilaterally reform America’s current immigration system a “politically contentious move”?

By: Ringo Bones

For all intents and purposes, America’s current immigration system has been broken since the days of Ronald Reagan and for over 30 years has longing for a badly-needed reform. And yet when the U.S. President Barack Obama has recently made an executive order to unilaterally reform America’s broken immigration system, the U.S. Republican Party immediately voiced their “howls of derision” and calling president Obama’s action as akin to those of a king or an emperor as opposed to a democratically elected head-of-state. Given that for all intents and purposes any discussion of reforming the existing American immigration system is a politically contentious issue in itself, does President Obama’s recent move to unilaterally reform it do more good than harm despite of the contentious nature of the action?

Mexicans and other Hispanic groups in the United States had been unfairly bearing the full brunt of America’s dysfunctional immigration system. Not only Mexicans who are sneaking illegally across the border to America in the Arizona and Texas regions being harassed and murdered by white supremacists militias patrolling in that relatively lawless area but also “conservative” American’s are the main exploiters of illegal migrant labor by subjecting them to working conditions in violation of existing U.S. labor wage and safety laws due to their desperation to seek a better life that can’t be found in their native countries. 

“For over 200 years, America is a country of immigrants” – has been the salient theme of President Barack Obama’s speech on his executive action to prevent the deportation of up to 5-million undocumented immigrants, a majority of which are of Mexican and other Latin American ethnicity. Under the new reformed immigration law, if these undocumented immigrants pass the mandatory criminal background checks and qualify to the new reformed ruling then they will be eligible on the path to become fully naturalized American citizens. The immigration reform is primarily meant to benefit science and technology students and migrant workers with temporary visas to ease their path to become legalized American citizens. A semi legal Mexican immigrant and college student named Astrid Silva had become a recent – albeit according to her as an unwilling “cause célèbre” - on President Obama’s latest executive action to reform America’s broken immigration system.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Is President Obama A Closeted Conservative?

Despite being criticized by the U.S. Republican Party for being a left-leaning radical liberal, is President Obama, in truth, is actually a closeted conservative?

By: Ringo Bones

Maybe we should be thanking Bruce Bartlett – that former domestic policy advisor for both former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush - for raising such a premise that the incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama is actually a “closeted conservative” – as in President Obama’s policies are more akin to Ronald Reagan’s than of any other U.S. Democratic Party president of the last 50 years. If there’s a kernel of truth on Bruce Bartlett’s premise, the only difference between President Barack Obama and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is that Ronald Reagan was the only one who was rumoured to have starred in his very own porno movie. But is there any truth to this? 

According to Bruce Bartlett, President Obama didn’t govern further towards the right in comparison to the way President Reagan did back in the 1980s. The way I see it, Obamacare is basically a U.S. Republican Party based idea and even Bartlett agrees that Obamacare is not that much different to the universal healthcare first proposed by President Eisenhower near the end of the 1950s. 

As a conservative leaning economist, Bruce Bartlett’s assessment of President Obama being a Reagan-era conservative might apply to the way Obama handled the 2008 Credit Crunch – as in bailing out the “too big to fail” banks and other Wall Street financial institutions reminiscent of Bartlett’s advice to then President Reagan about the merits of “supply-side economics”. But compared to “radical right” U.S. Republican Party politicians that run riot during the 2012 U.S. Presidential Elections that ran on the platform of legalizing rape and banning pornography in America – like Missouri Republican Congressman Todd Akin, Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Pennsylvania Republican state Senator Rick Santorum – President Barack Obama’s alleged conservatism is much saner in comparison to the G.O.P. stalwarts recently mentioned.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fall of the Berlin Wall: Unlikeliest Cold War Ending?

Given the prevailing thermonuclear Cold War endgame prediction of the 1980s, was the “Fall of the Berlin Wall” back in November 9, 1989 the unlikeliest Cold War conclusion ever? 

By: Ringo Bones

Even though when Francis Fukuyama published his essay “The End of History” during the summer of 1989, it was primarily inspired by the passing of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, rather than the “Fall of the Berlin Wall” which has still a few months left before falling, most people at this point back in 1989 still harbour the notion that a full-scale thermonuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union is still possible. I mean during the time I heard of the news that the Berlin Wall fell back in November 9, 1989 - I was both still listening and composing heavy metal songs about a post thermonuclear war world circa 1999 as seen from late 1980s era Cold War. The Fall of the Berlin Wall may seem an anti-climactic ending for those old enough to have lived through the Cold War and did their respective military service – both compulsory and voluntary – but at least it’s a peaceful one. 

 Back then, a “peaceful” transition of totalitarian style Marxist-Leninist-Socialism to a more democratic system in the then East-Bloc countries is still inconceivable to the most of us during the middle of 1989 due to the recent brutal crackdown of peaceful student demonstrators at Tiananmen Square back in June 4, 1989. To tell everyone the truth, I’m still surprised that when the Berlin Wall crumbled, it was largely a peaceful, almost routine passing of power in light of the recent Tiananmen Square Massacre back then. Does this mean that – then and now - the “Slavic People” have a better grasp of what Marxist-Leninist-Socialism is all about in comparison to the Mainland Chinese? 

After seeing the recent 25th Anniversary fanfare of the Fall of the Berlin Wall – with the releasing of the white LED illuminated balloons marking where the Berlin Wall used to be and the musical extravaganza that featured Daniel Barenboim conducting Beethoven’s Ninth which has since become the “theme song” of post Cold War German reunification and Renée Fleming singing. The Fall of the Berlin Wall is probably one of the historically significant event of Generation X’ers.   

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Hong Kong Universal Suffrage Protests: The Revolution That Can?

Even though a June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square style crackdown failed to materialize, is the recent Hong Kong Universal Suffrage protests could soon be the termed as “the revolution that can”?

By:Ringo Bones 

Fortunately for the rest of humanity, a feared “June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square style crackdown” failed to rear its ugly head yet again on the recent Hong Kong Universal Suffrage Protests that started in September 26, 2014. Also known as the Umbrella Revolution for the hashtag Tweet named after the protesters’ use of their umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper sprays deployed by the Hong Kong riot police, the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that occupied the Mainland Chinese special administrative region – despite the reduced number of protesters this very moment – is still going strong until its demands are met on a genuine universal suffrage for Hong Kong where its citizens can genuinely choose their own candidates of chief executive to administer them as opposed to only being able to choose ones vetted by the Beijing communist party by 2017.

As the now reduced number of protesters are still able to reduce access to the main business district and the Beijing appointed chief executive’s headquarters, the protesters’ still pending formal talks slated for Friday, October 10 is still up in the air in terms of what will be accomplished. During the height of the Hong Kong Occupy Central protests, the Beijing government even resorted to using their “Cyber Army” to shut down any Instagram activity between Hong Kong and Mainland China in order to avoid any sympathetic rallies in the Mainland.

After reading the first few chapters of Mainland China’s General Secretary Xi Jinping’s latest book titled The Governance of China which Chairman Xi unabashedly states his fusing of Confucianism and Mao era socialism as the main “secret of his (political?) success” I think any June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square era crackdown on the Hong Kong Occupy Central protestors is out of the question. But on how Chairman Xi will “resolve” the Hong Kong “unrest” during the next few months might prove surprising to say the least to anyone closely watching the events in Hong Kong.    


Sunday, September 7, 2014

NATO: Now a Rhetorical Organization?

While facing the organization’s toughest challenge yet – i.e. President Putin’s military adventurism in East Ukraine and ISIS / ISIL – is NATO fast becoming a “rhetorical organization”? 

By: Ringo Bones 
Political pundits may quip that – like the UN Security Council – NATO’s decline into becoming a “rhetorical organization” began during former US President George W. Bush’s “unilateral” action to search for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq back in March 2003. But unlike the UN Security Council where the granting of permanent seating of The People’s Republic of China and Russia has made them apparently immune from being prosecuted for committing genuine war crimes during the first decade of the 21st Century (Mainland China supplying arms to Sudanese strongman Omar Al Bashir during his military adventurism in Darfur and Russia’s invasion of Georgia back in August 2008), NATO’s apparent “paralysis” when it comes to decisive action when facing geopolitical challenges in the 21st Century seems more rooted to its lack of consensus of its member states than the inclusion of questionable “geopolitically delinquent nation-states”. Given all of its inherent problems, will NATO be able to pull off its 21st Century era “finest hour” when tackling the threat of both Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing military adventurism eastern Ukraine and the Islamist group IS / ISIS / ISIL? 

When the North Atlantic Treaty was signed at Washington DC back in April 19, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO was formed in September 17 of the same year. The initial purpose of the organization is “to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic Area.” NATO is thus designed to mobilize the resources of its member states in order to apply the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter to a particular region, which during that time, embracing a fifth of the world’s population. As an agency for the defense of its members against external aggression within the letter (Article 51) and spirit of the UN Charter, NATO constitutes a regional reinforcement of the United Nations similar to the Organization of American States. More specifically, the Atlantic Treaty was concluded to create a nucleus of Western powers, a united front in the face of the then Soviet menace to the North Atlantic peoples. It was conceived in answer to the piecemeal country-by-country subversion and conquest of Eastern Europe by Kremlin sponsored communist forces following the end of World War II. 

After the collapse of the then Soviet Union back in 1991 into what is now the current size of post Soviet Russia, many newly independent states of the former Soviet Union that were geographically close to Western Europe had been sending their proposals / considerations in droves to join NATO for much of the 1990s. And with tensions of sizable ethnic Russians living in this former Soviet states wanting to join NATO, a new form of “Cold War” was the inevitable result that eventually lead to the current tensions between Russia and a NATO leaning Ukraine.  

While the current Obama administration has stated that they’ll be forming a coalition to tackle the ongoing ISIS / ISIL threat in the Persian Gulf and the Levant region – and there’s even a 10-nation coalition ready to tackle ISIS / ISIL that was founded during the recent two-day NATO summit in Newport, Wales during the first weekend of September 2014, the eastern Ukraine situation might be a little hard to handle due to a slight lack of unity in the European Union. The Czech Republic and Hungary are not shy about their “sympathies” to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. 

Another major issue being tackled in the recent NATO summit in Newport, Wales is the question of what constitutes as “adequate budget allocation” for the military spending expenditures of member states. As the last remaining global military superpower, the United States is the leading player in NATO and has funded nearly 70-percent of its recent operations – i.e. the airstrikes in Libya that lead to the ousting of Muammar Qaddafi back in 2011 and the recent airstrikes that dislodged ISIS / ISIL brigands that occupied dams in Mosul, Iraq. And despite its on-going economic problems, it seems that Greece has met its NATO funding promises – along with Britain, Estonia and France. When it all comes down to it, it seems that NATO’s “finest hour” when it comes to the handling of both the ISIS / ISIL and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict probably hinges on an American leadership, unless of course NATO members play it safe by maintaining its post “Dubya Bush” stance as a “mere rhetorical organization”. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

ISIS / ISIL: Al Qaeda Version 2.0?

Even though it is far more bloody than its alleged Al Qaeda roots but is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS nothing more than an Al Qaeda version 2.0?

By: Ringo Bones

The terror group’s horrific viral video of their beheading of the American journalist James Foley not only disqualifies them from ever being endorsed by any Hollywood celebrity – i.e. like what Joan Baez and Jane Fonda did supporting the cause of Ho Chi Minh and the then North Vietnam during the early 1970s – but also make the rest of the world wonder if they are nothing more than just a bloodier version of Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. Even though the Pentagon’s defense analysts where quite agog on how they are a quantum leap better compared to Al Qaeda in military tactical proficiency terms, it is still quite hard to avoid comparing the Islamist terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS or – as of late – just Islamic State or if you prefer: " Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL to its Al Qaeda offshoot. One things for sure though - both Al Qaeda and ISIL share a deep seated animosity against Middle-Eastern religious minorities like the Kurds and the Yazidi.  

Even though they are still in an on-going process of establishing an Islamist Caliphate that the industrialized West can recon with since Osama Bin Laden was still alive back in 1998, like Al Qaeda, ISIS / ISIL / Islamic State’s idea of establishing an Islamist Caliphate is based on a history of Islam that never was – never mind on the future that they want that never can be. But that seems like just a minor inconvenience that never seems to stop them from achieving their goals.

ISIS founder Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi might be gloating on his recent alleged successes this very moment given that halting ISIS in a military operation could cost the US government the amount of time and money no current or incoming administration is wily-nilly enough to commit itself. Even though the United States is certain to win decades down the road, the fanatical folks at ISIS certainly won’t make it as easy as the D.C. jingoists suggests.      

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Shootdown Incident: Not So Unprecedented Civil Aviation Incident?

Even though it does not happen with alarming regularity, will the recent Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 shootdown incident change yet again the current civil aviation safety measures in currently place? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Fortunately for us civilians who frequently fly the increasingly not-so-friendly skies since the 9/11 Islamist terror attacks, shootdown incidents are still a rarity and don’t occur with alarming regularity as portrayed in most Hollywood action movies. Civil aviation shootdown incidents have happened before and even served as the catalyst of the tragic April 1994 Rwandan Genocide, it seems that such incidents only seem to provide the general perception that the flying civilian public had served as “unwitting pawns” in geopolitical power struggles since the Cold War. 

In putting a human face to this tragic incident, the shootdown of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Boeing 777 back in Friday July 18, 2014 while flying its Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur route over the airspace of Eastern Ukraine largely under control by pro-Russia separatist rebels since February 2014 involved the deaths of 280 passengers and 15 crewmembers. Most of the passengers – 189 of them – are Dutch nationals on their way to vacation one of which is a leading and pioneering HIV / AIDS medical researcher Dr. Joep Lange together with 100 other leading HIV / AIDS researchers. At present, other passengers’ nationalities who perished in the tragic shootdown are 28 Australian nationals, 23 Malaysians, 6 Britons, 4 Germans, 3 Filipinos and 3 infants. 

The latest initial investigations so far have revealed that the most likely anti-aircraft weapons system used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Boeing 777 is probably the Soviet era BUK surface-to-air missile which has become de rigueur air defense weapons system of choice by former Warsaw-Pac member countries. The BUK consists of four 16-foot long 1,500-lb missiles with a 150-ib warhead and launch system mounted atop a full track armored vehicle and is capable of speeds up to 2,684 mph which can easily make short shrift of a typical civilian passenger plane which only can fly around 600 mph and an incoming BUK missile can only be “seen” by a pilot in a cockpit equipped with advanced sensors oft the preserve of advanced fighter jets. 

The BUK missile is often used to shoot down planes flying at altitudes high enough to avoid man-portable anti-aircraft weapons systems like the famed Stinger. As an anti-aircraft weapons system developed near the end of the Cold War, the BUK is “user-friendly” enough to be effectively used by anyone with the brainpower to be able to tie one’s shoes while chewing gum at the same time but takes a bit longer training time to be able to accurately differentiate civilian from military targets. A modified BUK missile launcher system was modified with a high-speed Schottky Rectifier equipped Mainland Chinese Nanjing Radar system that brought down a US Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth plane during the 1999 operation to capture Balkan strongman Slobodan Milosevic. 

Though questions are being asked why Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was flying over a “hostile warzone” but the flight-path it took was a well trodden designated Europe to Asia international flight path L980 which the German airliner Lufthansa also uses but British Airways has since shied away from since the February 2014 Eastern Ukraine conflict initiated by pro-Russia separatist militias.  While a typical altitude flown by a typical civilian passenger plane at 30,000 to 40,000 feet is way above the range of most man-portable rocket launchers that are in the hands of most terrorist militia groups. Given that the pro-Russia separatist militias manage to hold a sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons system like the BUK and the intelligence so far gathered by secret American operatives imbedded in Eastern Ukraine had shown that the militants actually made the mistake of shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 as the recently deleted text messages between a pro-Russian militant named “Greek” and “Major” revealed a “Tweet” of the screw-up. And diversions due to the tragic shootdown incident could make Europe to Asia flights take longer and cost more due to increased fuel usage.  

And investigation of the crash site has since became a contentious issue since the crash site has not been quarantined and been trampled around by both the pro-Russian militants and the nearby townsfolk. OSCE monitors trying to make an initial investigation of the crash site were even given warning shots by local pro-Russian militants after just spending 75 minutes on the crash site. In short, international investigators have so far been denied free unfettered access of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.  
While Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the Ukrainian government for “responsibility” of the crash, such rhetoric only reminds the world of the legal case of a burglar suing the homeowner for medical compensation after the burglar broke his leg trying to scale the homeowner’s fence. And further rhetoric of the Russian strongman only seems like him digging a hole for him and the pro-Russian militants as war criminals straight into the International Court of Justice. 

Since the Cold War began, high profile shootdown cases of civilian airliners by the former Soviet Union and her allies had almost started an all-out thermonuclear exchange between the United States and the then Soviet Union. Back in July 23, 1954, a Cathay Pacific Douglas DC4  - known as Cathay Pacific Flight VR-HEU - was brought down by anti-aircraft fire by the Mainland Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force off the coast of Hainan Island, People’s Republic of China, killing 13 passengers and 6 crew shot with anti-aircraft incendiary rounds. Fortunately, 9 people survived as the plane made an emergency landing.
And before the shootdown of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 back in September 1, 1983 that nearly triggered a thermonuclear World War III, the Korean Air Lines Flight 902 shootdown incident by a Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 fighter plane on April 20, 1978 near Murmansk, Russia after it accidentally violated the country’s airspace and failed to respond to Soviet interceptors only gives the impression to the rest of the world that Russians in charge of monitoring the security of their airspace are – then and now – trigger happy yahoos. Two passengers were killed after the Sukhoi Su-15 fighter plane strafed the Korean Air Lines Flight 902 plane with its 25-mm guns. Fortunately, 107 passengers survived after the plane made an emergency landing on a frozen lake. 

On the shootdown of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, authorities of the then Soviet Union only admitted to “accidentally” shooting down the plane 20 days after the tragic incident. And a historical footnote of the tragedy now probably largely forgotten, the black box of the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was “hidden” by Soviet authorities and was only returned back in 1993 when the West friendly Boris Yeltsin became president of post-Soviet Russia.