Archive for August, 2009

Edward Kennedy’s legacy of failure

August 28, 2009

Amid the tributes, remember that Senator Edward Kennedy was a spectacular failure, the leader of US liberals while a conservative tidal wave swept the country. As this longtime supporter wrote in Asia Times, Kennedy’s legislative accomplishments are mere footnotes to the nation’s march to the right. On Kennedy’s watch, the word liberal became an accusation instead of an adjective. For every dollar his name raised for liberal causes, he probably raised ten times as much for his opponents. Kennedy’s personal and political conduct are largely responsible for the decline of the US left. Ted, you chose to fiddle with legislation while the American left burned.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Don’t blame Libya for cheering bomber

August 22, 2009

Libya’s warm reception for convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi has become the focus of outrage. Pictures blanketing news programs showing crowds in Libya cheering al-Megrahi are fanning fury. But that anger is misplaced and misguided.

Anger over al-Megrahi’s release should be directed at the Scottish and British governments that freed him. Scottish so-called Justice Minister Kenny Macaskill’s pompous, self-righteous justifications for the release ought to make that that easy. Still, it’s hard to imagine why the authorities thought it was a good idea to let this guy go free. On the planet where I live, there’s no compassion due anyone who kills 270 innocent people without warning or cause other than the accident of their nationality.

Furthermore, if there was some inclination to release al-Megrahi, then Libya should have given something in return, such as turning over officials responsible for the 1988 pre-Christmas bombing that targeted Americans returning home for the holidays. It makes little sense for authorities to just let al-Megrahi go, adding credibility to the claim by Moammar Gadhafi’s son that there’s a trade deal tied to his release.

Despite the inflammatory pictures of cheering crowds greeting al-Megrahi, the reception was reportedly subdued by Libyan standards. Moreover, the issue of released prisoners is almost invariably bound to offend someone. Think of the homecoming of that certified American hero, Senator John McCain. His heroism traced to dropping bombs from the thousands of feet in the air, endangering innocent civilians even when not specifically targeting them. Imagine how North Vietnamese, particularly those who lost loved ones to American bombs, felt seeing him lauded and meeting with the president after his release. Terrorism is in the eye of the beholder.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Prince of Darkness made his own coffin

August 19, 2009

Robert Novak complained that Valerie Plame would lead his obituary. As the self-styled Prince of Darkness would have reminded that sniveling twit, “Who the hell’s to blame for that? It’s his own damned fault.”

Like MarketWatch media critic Jon Friedman, I’ll shed no tears for Novak. It’s not just because of Novak’s reactionary, sanctimonious political pontificating, but his brand of journalism spanning the eras from dueling city dailies to cable television’s punditocracy.

In the days of ink, Novak’s approach – officials were either sources or targets – belies his admirers’ cliam that he was first and foremost a shoe leather reporter. His column with Rowland Evans wasn’t about policy or substance. The pair produced the Washington equivalent of a gossip column, bonding the establishment, regardless of views, as it created mystique and aura around politics and its players, including its chroniclers.

Being part of story was a constant for Novak, making him a natural for the talk TV trenches. I worked at CNN in Washington during the heyday of Crossfire, so occasionally ran into him around the newsroom. Novak was as full of himself off-camera as on. That’s because his stage was all of Washington and fanning its importance brightened his own star. The spread of his brand of uncompromising ideological self-righteousness has helped to poison the national debate and paralyze government, particularly because the Washington bubble of bonhomie insulates its pompous practitioners from the consequences of their own actions while the country suffers.

Many praise Novak for his reporting pedigree, noting how that set him apart from fellow pundits. While it is amusing to think of Ann Coulter hunting for facts, Novak, at least in recent decades, was hardly an honest reporter. Rather than diverging from his journalism career, the Plame story was the natural conclusion of it: self-important celebrity columnist gets used by high level sources for a hatchet job on a political enemy. Novak didn’t investigate the main point of the leak, that Plame lobbied for her husband, former ambassador James Wilson, to examine claims Saddam Hussein obtained uranium from Africa. Wilson found the claims groundless and said so publicly when the Bush administration publicly misrepresented his findings. When Vice President Dick Cheney fed Novak the Plame story to discredit Wilson, Novak just licked the plate clean. Despite breaking the law, Novak managed to protect himself while other journalists were subpoenaed and even jailed for his offense.

Still, you couldn’t say that the Prince of Darkness had an ethical lapse in the Plame affair. It had been years since he had any ethics at all.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Live on!

August 16, 2009

My blog is now part of my author page at The page is a benefit of having my novel Hong Kong On Air and my other books sold through the website. For those on Amazon, you’re cordially invited to browse my blog, Muhammad Cohen on media and more, which includes links to some of my other online work. It’s great to live in a wired word.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Putting Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

August 15, 2009

Macau’s two biggest American casinos operators are making plans for share sales in Hong Kong, as detailed in my Asia Times report. Analysts are divided on whether the Macau operations of Las Vegas Sands, owner of the Venetian Macao, and Wynn Resorts are worth a gamble. Before placing their bets, investors might also want to consider the leaders of these two companies.

Wynn founder Steve Wynn and LVS chairman Sheldon Adelson are both self-made multi-millionaires. They also share an apparent conviction that success bestows skills beyond their fields of apparent expertise.

Adelson fancies himself as a master of repartee. During LVS’s earnings conference call, according to the transcript from, one analyst trying to discuss that possible stock offering (or IPO for initial public offering) prompted the following exchange:

Analyst: What is the earliest you think you can do something in Hong Kong?
Adelson: What do you mean do something in Hong Kong? You mean go to have dinner there?
Analyst: Well, you will probably do that pretty soon. You probably…
Adelson: We have great Chinese restaurants…

Adelson loves showing off his conviction that he’s the cleverest guy in the room. In BBC interview just after LVS’s close escape from bankruptcy last year, reporter Sharanjit Leyl asked about financing the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the most expensive casino resort ever built, price estimates reaching US$8 billion. Adelson brushed aside the inquiries. When Leyl rephrased the question to ask about his “problem with money,” a visibly annoyed Adelson replied, “I don’t have a problem with money. We don’t have any arguments, any confrontations. Money and I get along very well.”

Steve Wynn wouldn’t talk about his company’s IPO filing during his conference call with analysts last month, but he opted to play talk radio demagogue. “Right now we are watching the United States government deal with complex problems that clearly seem to be beyond their intellectual ability,” Wynn said. “Right now, we are more afraid of Washington than we are of the economy.”

Denouncing “bombastic rhetoric from the White House and from the administration,” Wynn said, “There is an attitude that, there is a very definite bias in this administration that business is bad… The President of the United States has his own office and he has his own group of little cadre of people that agree with him and look at the world just the way he does and they don’t listen to anybody from what I’ve heard from my business friends. They invite people down to Washington and tell them what they think, they don’t ask or listen to anybody.”

In this conference call meant to discuss company earnings and business prospects, Wynn went on to praise China – “maybe we could all learn a lesson by watching what happens there…. but I’ll bet you that government sees to it that economy and that workforce is protected” – and Macau’s incoming Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on, who was chosen to run unopposed in a backroom deal and endorsed by the 300 electors (also chosen in an unopposed election) voting for Macua’s leader in the local Beijing-approved version of democracy.

Chui is a member of the cabal of families that have dominated Macau for generations. His candidacy sparked outrage among grassroots Macau, including a protest ad that had to be run in Hong Kong newspaper because no Macau publication would dare risk the wrath of the entrenched elite.

From Macau’s handover to China in December 1999 until this May, Chui served secretary for social and cultural affairs, reportedly using his position to enrich family business interests. Chui undeniably did little to improve Macau dismal social services, most notably healthcare, Chui’s area of academic training including a US PhD, despite Macau’s vast government surpluses thanks to the casino boom. People in Macau at best see Chui as an empty suit fronting for big business interests (which, given a chance to do it again, would have never let Wynn or Adelson into Macau), more commonly as a not particularly smart or honest empty suit.

But for Steve Wynn, Chui is a heroic figure. Contrasting Chui with the US leadership, Wynn praised Chui for “understanding issues that affect people” as well as exemplifying the “the level of education and sophistication that permeates the Chinese, the People’s Republic of China government.

“These are very smart people, very highly educated people, very thoughtful people. My own feeling is the government of Macau will protect and so will the central government in Beijing and the regional government in Zhuhai at Guangdong province, Guangzhou. The government will do a very enlightened and thoughtful job of protecting the interest of the citizens and the business enterprises that support the health of those businesses.”

Yet, no matter how lavish their praise for China’s government, Wynn and other international investors in China never get around to trading in their passports for Chinese citizenship.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Bushie Bellyaching Bombs

August 7, 2009

Amid celebrations over the return of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling from captivity in North Korea, George W Bush’s former United Nations ambassador John Bolton has been leading a chorus of critics. Bush people and their far-right cheerleaders just can’t stand to see anyone, especially Democrats, succeed where they so dangerously failed.

Bolton, too extreme to win Senate confirmation, lambasted Bill Clinton’s mission to free the women, “I think this is a very bad signal because it does exactly what we always try and avoid doing with terrorists, or with rogue states in general, and that’s encouraging their bad behavior,” Bolton told AFP news agency. Bolton’s fellow travelers are ignoring White House denials to insist Clinton’s visit carried an official imprint, including a message from US President Barack Obama to North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il. Instead, they choose to believe the account of a North Korean regime that asserts Kim shot a 38 under par in his first-ever round of golf, between composing the world’s greatest operas.

This rightwing reflex rejectionism is shameful, not just for its heartlessness or disregard of facts, but in light of the Bush administration’s track record on North Korea. After the Clinton team negotiated a tentative end to North Korea’s nuclear program, the Bush people abandoned that track in favor of isolation, declaring North Korea part of its “axis of evil.” Predictably, North Korea resumed its nuclear program.

When US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly confronted Pyongyang with evidence of its nuclear activities in October 2002, the Bush administration already had plans to launch an attack to eliminate the threat of unsanctioned weapons of mass destruction – against Iraq. Rather than act on legitimate evidence of a nuclear program in North Korea, a rogue regime with a history of state sponsored terrorism and other international criminal acts run by a cash-strapped madman, the Bush administration chose to trump up a phony war against Iraq, the longtime neoconservative nemesis.

North Korea learned the lesson of the Iraq invasion, but it wasn’t the lesson the Bush administration wanted to teach. After scrapping its nuclear program and enduring more than a decade of sanctions, Iraq could offer only token resistance to US-led regime change. Kim Jong-il realized that without nuclear weapons, he’d be a sitting duck for a similar attack. The Dear Leader didn’t realize that the Bush people’s strategic map didn’t go east of Pakistan. East Asia was strictly for political posturing and business.

North Korea escalated its provocative acts, from kicking out nuclear inspectors in late 2002 to shooting missiles between South Korea and Japan in early 2003. The Bush brain trust with its mantra, then and now, that it would not reward “bad behavior” responded by opening direct talks with North Korea in Beijing. After more bad behavior, the Six Party Talks began.

When North Korea exploded its first nuclear bomb in 2006, the Bush administration that antagonized, then ignored Kim Jong-il to set the stage for this spectacular failure did the only thing it could – it blamed Bill Clinton. If Clinton had followed Bush’s formula, Pyongyang would have created his nuclear arsenal on the Democrat’s watch. Clinton’s role in another North Korea success has the Bush people nearly apoplectic.

Without the Bushie bombast, seeing Clinton might remind Americans that in its eight years the Bush administration struggled mightily first to undo the progress Clinton made toward defanging North Korea and then to redo a fraction of it. In between, the Bush people gave North Korea a window to develop its nuclear arsenal. From a list crammed with contenders, history may judge letting Kim Jong-il build the bomb the Bush administration’s worst foreign policy blunder.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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