Archive for September, 2012

Sands Cotai opens in falling Macau tide

September 24, 2012

The world’s biggest Sheraton hotel opened at Sands Cotai Central last week, part of the Macau resort’s second phase that includes a South Pacific themed casino and dozens more retail shops. I covered the phase one opening in April, including an up close and personal encounter with Sheldon Adelson, the chairman of Sands China and its parent company, Las Vegas Sands.

I’ll be writing more about Sands Cotai Central (SCC) for Asia Times and about Macau casino trends for Macau Business magazine in the weeks ahead.

Until then, consider that SCC has opened into the teeth of a rare run of slowing casino revenue growth in Macau. The situation resembles conditions facing the 2009 opening of City of Dreams, SCC’s neighbor on the east side of Cotai’s main boulevard, across the Venetian Macao.

In 2009, the main problem was restricted visas for mainland travelers. In the three years since, Macau has become even more dependent on mainland visitors, and now it’s seeing slowing growth in step with China’s decelerating economy. For better or worse, analysts see Macau resorts becoming more closely tied to the mainland economy in the years ahead. Rather than spreading their bets, it seems Macau’s casinos have doubled down on the mainland.

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, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Muslims, stop swallowing extremist bait

September 15, 2012

It’s time for Muslims to stop letting Islamophobes goad them. Violent reactions to perceived insults to Islam are a black eye for Muslims that cost the lives of good people like US ambassador to Libya J Christopher Stevens and foster a vicious cycle of hate that benefits no one except bigots on all sides.

The latest wave of violence to defend Islam, stemming from the Innocence of Muslims movie, reveals a lot about the forces at work. A Coptic Christian living in California who opposes Egypt’s new government, reportedly produced the amateurish movie, found only online, that depicts the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and pedophile. The movie was publicized by Terry Jones, the Florida pastor best known for threatening to burn the Quran, to promote his mock trial of the prophet on Jones’ International Judge Muhammad Day.

On the Muslim side, a Salafist television station played excerpts of the video then, issuing a challenge to viewers, according to the Los Angeles Times, “demanded to know how Islam could be treated in such a debasing way.” In Libya, radical militias that oppose the post-Qaddafi government were behind the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed Stevens and three other Americans.

On both sides, the impetus for violence and prejudice arises from a tiny minority fringe that uses its mirror image to create a cycle of hate. Anti-Muslim propaganda helps radical Islamists incite violent protests. In turn, those protests give ammunition to anti-Muslim extremists that contend Islam is different from other mainstream religions. Further anti-Muslim acts give impetus for Islamist extremists to incite more mob reactions that stoke more anti-Muslim provocations. To end this cycle of hate, Muslims need to ignore these insults and further marginalize, rather than publicize, the insignificant figures that spew them. Publicity is the only thing that gives bigots power.

To their credit, many Muslim leaders have condemned the violent reaction to the film and the extremists on both sides inciting it. But more Muslim leaders and individuals need to stand up and be counted. It’s sad to see violent protests across the Arab world following Friday prayers, as if there’s some connection between the practice of Islam and rampaging mobs. Violence to avenge perceived insults to the prophet doesn’t make anyone a good Muslim, it just makes them a bad human being.

It’s a sad irony that the revenge attacks began on September 11. Eleven years earlier, strikes against the US by Muslim extremists provided a flashpoint for shameless ideologues such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, and their sycophants such as Condoleezza Rice, to exploit Islamophobia to promote their own political agenda. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the George W Bush administration’s global war on terror rhetoric surrounding them gave rise to perceptions of a Western war on Islam, a view promoted by Muslim extremists looking to advance their political agendas.

Still, Americans are bewildered that US diplomatic buildings have become favored targets for mobs across the Muslim world. The US government had absolutely no connection with the production or distribution of the offending film and has given it no support. As all good people of goodwill should, US officials ignored the film until they could no longer do so, then condemned it unconditionally.

Americans are especially perplexed by the attacks in Egypt, where the US gives $1.55 billion in foreign aid annually; and Libya, where Western aid was crucial to the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi. Furthermore, at great personal risk, Stevens entered Benghazi when it was the center of the revolt and under attack by Gaddafi loyalists. Warmongering by the Bush administration and the checkered history of American engagement with the Muslim world, including virtually unconditional support for Israel, tells only part of the story.

Muslim extremists say that America hates Islam, but in fact, it’s religious extremists of all varieties that hate America. The US represents values antithetical to extremists, freedom of thought, individual rights, and education for all. Religious extremists favor freedom only until it gives them power and influence. Then they expect conformity and blind obedience.

As a former US diplomat, I’m particularly saddened by the attacks on US embassies consulates. I joined the Foreign Service while American diplomats were held hostage in Tehran and served at the US embassy in Dar es Salaam that was leveled by al Qaeda bombers in 1998. A hidden tragedy of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks is the difficulty they add for dedicated diplomats like Stevens to reach out to the good people in their host countries, to share key American values and prevent cycles of hate from arising. That’s just the way the extremists want it.

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, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

‘We own this country,’ GOP believes

September 1, 2012

The Republican National Convention in Tampa often confirmed the argument that these tribal gatherings have outlived their usefulness. The convention’s main function, choosing the party’s presidential candidate, was settled months ago. The vice presidential nominee had been chosen advance, too. No one on the ticket produced a pregnant teenage daughter to spice up the proceedings.

The main speeches didn’t offer excitement much new either. The biggest revelation from Ann Romney’s speech came from CNN bobblehead Erin Burnett, who said it brought tears to her eyes. Let’s hope my former network admits its mistake and either cuts Burnett loose or demotes her to something she can do, like brownnosing corporate executives.

Abiding by the conventional political wisdom that no one votes for vice president, I skipped Paul Ryan’s speech. Clint Eastwood reiterated a key lesson of the Sarah Palin nomination: don’t put someone on the national political stage outside of their comfort zone.

Mitt Romney’s speech played back standard Republican talking points. If you’re looking for heart and soul, try a beginning piano class. The speech seemed designed to soothe, calm and diminish expectations, a political version of the drug Soma in the novel Brave New World.

The most revealing comment of the final evening came from Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Although he was supposed to be introducing Romney, Rubio followed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s lead and made the primetime speech a commercial for his own upcoming presidential bid.

In the midst of waving the American flag, Rubio exclaimed, “We own this country.” Those four little words neatly sum up the Republican Party and sad state of US politics.

It’s been 51 years since John Kennedy’s inaugural address highlighted how much we owe this country. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” would be considered laughable in today’s puditocracy. What great progress our politics has made.

Itt’s particularly troubling that Rubio’s speech touched on much of what we owe this country. It’s been a safe haven for those escaping revolutions, like Rubio and Romney’s forbears, or those trying to start them, like mine. It gives us rights and opportunities that citizens of other nations can only dream about. Even after a dozen years among the darkest since its founding, the US is still the strongest nation on earth economically and militarily, and the one so many people all over the world want to live in most.

Rather than offering gratitude for these gifts, Republicans consider America a possession reserved for their exclusive exploitation. They shouldn’t be asked be taxes for something they own. Out of greed and fear, these self-styled owners oppose giving others the same opportunities and the tools they’ve enjoyed. Helping your neighbors should be a matter of these owners’ choice, on their terms to their chosen few, not through the broader social contract on which the nation’s foundations are built.

As with so much else during their convention, the Republicans said many of the right things and drew all the wrong conclusions.

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, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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