When is the next aircraft carrier coming?

Posted April 23, 2017 on 1:50 pm | In the category Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

April 12, 2018 – by direct presidential command: immediate change of course – the Carl Vinson to sail asap to the coast of North Korea.  Roger!  Okay and about time, the new US government under its new czar has taken its kid gloves off and displayed its cards with a flourish.  This time it’s the real deal – no more invisible and meaningless lines in the sand, this time they send in the marines, okay this time it will be a titanic aircraft carrier lurking off coast – the Carl Vinson -with an accompanying armada  of disposable destroyers, etc. to scare the  bejeezus out of the weird North Korean nuclear wannabees.

April 19  One thing:  Australian sources report a large armada of unidentified ships has been spotted sailing south towards Australian waters, and a US Navy press photo confirms that the Carl Vinson sailed through the Straight of Sunda between Java and Sumatra, 5000 kilometres south of North Korea on April 18.   Holy Moley.  Can it be that the US military doesn’t know where its various aircraft carriers are lurking.  Or that it doesn’t know where North Korea is?  Now that  scares the bejeezus out of everybody, not just the Australians

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WATERGATE REDUX

Posted April 6, 2017 on 10:00 am | In the category Press, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The NY Times reported yesterday that student journalists at Pittsburg, Kansas High School did a terrific job of investigative journalism for the High School’s newspaper, the Booster Redux. Seems the town of Pittsburg hired a new Principal for its High School and outlined her impressive credentials in introducing her to the town. Among her credentials: “diverse and extensive experience”, “chief executive of a consulting firm that advised companies on education”, and Master’s and PhD degrees in education from Corllins University as well as
a BA degree in Fine Arts from the University of Tulsa.

The student reporters set out to do a profile of their new Principal and the fun began. During a series of interviews the students began to suspect something was wrong when details in the interviews did not match her written record and led them to dig further. It turns out that the University of Tulsa does not award a BA in Fine Arts, Corllins University does not physically exist but will sell an advanced degree to all comers. Furthermore the Principal had been released from a teaching job in Dubai for unspecified reasons.

It is not surprising that a group of eager high school journalists could ferret out the information but it is somewhat surprising that the faculty advisor and Superintendent of Schools supported them and the process throughout, High school newspapers in America are frequently tightly controlled and censorship is common. But kudos to Pittsburg High School for providing an opportunity for their students to learn valuable lessons about the importance of a free press and how serious journalists can make a difference.

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LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS JOURNALISTS

Posted March 29, 2017 on 11:26 pm | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

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We are living at a time that might very well be when the American press discovers the way to overcome the nonsense and craziness that floods the internet and forces America to recognize that good journalism costs real money and requires real independence. The 2016 election illustrated what has happened with the turn away from paid news to free internet news – much of the latter turning out to have come to us via Russian and East European internet hacks aimed at the too susceptible Americans seeking easy negative answers and drinking the Kool Aid.

In 1973 I lived outside of Washington DC and worked in the city. It was a tedious bus ride made easier by the Washington Post and its daily dose of Watergate news. There is something about getting up in the morning to the news of the next step in the demise of a cheap, petty politician whose psychology placed him on the path to political demise that makes it easer to roll out of bed at 6 AM.

It was easy to despise Nixon for his shameless duplicity on Vietnam which had led to an additional 25000 American deaths along with literally countless deaths of Cambodians and Vietnamese in the name of my country. To see him go down was the pleasing result of the courage and commitment to truth of the mainstream American press. The fact that they let Henry Kissinger get away remains an unpleasant footnote but we took what we could get.

Now we have a similarly damaged president – psychologically unfit, intellectually deficient, and thoroughly dishonest – and the mainstream press is on the case. It is early to count on a particular ending but the signs are there. A Republican Congressman heading the Intelligence Committee and being slowly sucked into the morass of dishonesty that distinguishes a cover up of massive proportions. But there is a hope that we will see Trump get what he deserves – perhaps an early retirement, maybe even an impeachment, but minimally a recognition of what a waste he is as President. We shall see…

What many Americans have discovered is that there are serious journalists who work hard – with integrity – to bring to them the facts that add up to truth over time. So let’s recognize the work of the Washington Post, the New York Times, CBS News, even lately CNN, and those others who are out there giving us the raw data that wise people can use to understand what is being done to them under the guise of a phony American populism. These media outlets have each been criticized in tweets (tweets? Good God). Big American media does not typically pose a threat to power – but they did it in 1973 against a dishonest and mentally ill president and they are doing it again.

Trump has been critical of that part of the press that is doing its job and he has done everything he can to cow them. It is not working – he is being called on every falsehood, lie, fantasy that he calls up and it is the main stream, serious media that is doing it. As a newspaper junkie it is fun to watch it unfold and to put my money on the press to win this one as they did in 1973. It was essential for the truth to be told in 1973; it is as essential now when there are fantasists, crazy conspiracists and just plain liars out there trying to persuade us that facts don’t matter, that science is irrelevant, that kleptocracy is the way to go, that oligarchy is a good thing, that fascism is acceptable. Yes, a free press is our vaccination and our protection from the worst instincts of ourselves. Buy a newspaper.

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TRUMP IN CONTEXT

Posted March 10, 2017 on 5:24 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Politics, Press, TRUMP, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

So, is Donald Trump just the tip of the iceberg? Elections coming up in Europe might help tell us whether the age of Western liberal democracy is heading towards the exit.

While we rightly pay a lot of attention to the national disaster known as Trump it may be that he is only the first among many. The first clue that the West was heading into stormy weather was the UK’s Brexit vote – a vote that forced the Prime Minister out of office, replaced him with a pale imitation of Margaret Thatcher and has proven to be a first crack in the European Union. Then came Trump’s surprise win which has produced the beginnings of a major make-over of America’s economic and social reality, and not for the best.

But obsessing on Trump allows us to ignore a trend that has been developing for some time. Recent or upcoming elections in France, Hungary, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Poland have all indicated that Western liberalism is in decline. Poland now has a nationalist government with a shaky relationship to the EU; NATO member Turkey has effectively eliminated a free press while it heads toward a major policy conflict with the U.S. over Turkey’s unwillingness to accept American collaboration with Kurdish fighters in Syria; France is looking at a national election in which the National Front’s right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen is almost surely going to be one of the two finalists for President with a serious opportunity to win; The Netherlands’ parliamentary election this month is very possibly going to hand a victory to Geert Wilders’ extreme right-wing Freedom Party; and Hungary has already elected a Prime Minister who has turned the country against much of what have been Western values. Add to these, the strong arm tactics of Netanyahu in Israel, the rise of Russian influence in Serbia, and the rising risk to Merkel’s reign in Germany and we have the approach of a new world order.

There has been considerable press discussion of the role of Russia in all of this but the press might better put its efforts into exploring the failures of the West to develop and maintain working economies that provide jobs and benefits to restless, discouraged populations. There are exceptions – notably Germany and Canada – but by and large the West has produced an environment in which the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing, the opportunities for high quality lives have diminished for most people and economic growth is almost non-existent.

While Trump’s electoral victory no doubt hinged on many issues, in the states where it was decided, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin – the economy rose to the top. Whether Trump has the solution is highly questionable but a moot point. Probably he does not, but the Clinton campaign managed to largely ignore the issue and the people who felt it the most. This issue may also be playing out in France, the Netherlands, the UK and the rest of Western Europe. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the mantra that Bill Clinton ran on successfully in the 90’s; it may still reflect the dominant issue that affects the most people throughout the world and that determines the winners and losers of elections. So investment in defense grows while investment in production declines and the quality of the lives of the people our defenses protect remain in the background. Go figure.

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Don’t blame Trump – He’s just doing what he said he would, and he’s doing it with the class you expected

Posted February 1, 2017 on 10:11 pm | In the category Election, TRUMP, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

Now let’s wait a second.  All  of the decisions of Donald Trump in the last two weeks that are now being met with anger and derision by hundreds of thousands of marchers in the USA, many of whom didn’t feel like voting,  were long public  and cannot be a surprise.  These proposals  were thumped home in raucous fashion by the new President all across the country for months before the election.  There is certainly good reason to  be outraged by them, and  that is at least also partly because of the brutality and the amateurishness in which they have now been delivered.  The apparently spontaneous and unorganized travel restrictions placed on Moslems of seven countries that  the president doesn’t like, and the way it was announced and commented upon by a neanderthalean Press Secretary may be beyond any pale.  And the treatment of the President of neighbour Mexico also takes some kind of cake for arrogant boorishness and non-neighbourliness.  But the actual contents were  made clear long ago.

So didn’t anybody vote  for that programme?  Well, yes,  it turns out somewhere around 60 million Americans did vote for that, even if you don’t know any of them.  That’s a lot of Yanks who are not protesting.  That’s democracy for you and as the greatest troubadour of our times, Leonard Cohen, now safely buried on the peaceful north side of the border, wrote and sang not so long ago – “Democracy is coming  to theUSA”.  So get used to it and now get your act together and make sure it can”t happen again in four years time.

 

 

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IS THE AMERICAN PRESS UP TO THE CHALLENGE?

Posted January 28, 2017 on 7:11 pm | In the category Politics, Press, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

I take a grave view of the plight of the press. It is the weak slat under the bed of democracy.
A.J. Liebling

With the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President, the United States is now faced with the rather considerable task of making him appear to be the new normal. The press, in particular, will struggle with the task of being fair to him while not ignoring his past behaviors and the ongoing and emerging truths about his personal ethical background, business behaviors, and tendencies toward self-serving grandiose rhetoric in support of his own ego. And then, there are the lies. The traditional press tends to avoid calling politicians – especially presidents – liars but we seem to have entered a non traditional situation in which the President is not shading the facts but is rather ignoring them in order to manufacture new, “alternative facts”. This has led our two major newspapers – The NY Times and the Washington Post – to begin ongoing logs of Trump’s lies. There is no need to regurgitate the list of lies to date here – any sentient human can follow those in the daily press and even on major TV network news programs.

Of course there will always be outliers – Fox News, which is to be expected, and the NY Post which seems to be Trump’s personal choice as newspaper of record. And it has been disturbing to note the overly cautious approach of the PBS Newshour which so far has avoided calling out the Fabricator in Chief. But CNN has made an obvious commitment to fight back from Trump’s lies about its coverage of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ investigation of reports of Trump-Putin conspiracies. As for the Alt Right news outlets like Breitbart News, there is no reason to expect them to become honest now that their use of fake news has helped elect their man. And the White House news operation is for now led by Sean Spicer who almost immediately made a fool of himself while embarrassing an office that, under past Presidents has at least made a pretense of honesty and commitment to facts.

So, with a daily dose of bizarre tweets from Trump, a threat to close the White House to working press, a press spokesman committed to ignoring facts and manufacturing fantasies designed to protect his boss, a freeze on information flow from government agencies, a cast of lieutenants organized purposely to mislead and a public not always inclined to do the work of separating fact from fiction, the press has a major challenge.

If the past can be trusted as a clue to the future we can expect the Washington Post to continue to provide leadership in providing tough, fact-based journalism that has been their hallmark during the campaign. The NY Times can be predicted to be tough but possibly somewhat less inclined to do the kind of hard reporting that has characterized the Post under Managing Editor Marty Baron. Several other papers can be counted on for solid work, among them the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and the McCatchy papers.

Editorials and op ed pieces will continue to cover a range of opinion which is appropriate. But it is up to the reader(s) to assess these pieces with an eye to the background of the authors. For an obvious example, if Newt Gingrich offers his wisdom it is safe to assume that it will be self-serving, pompous blather. We are all left with the need to remember, “reader beware” and to actually think about what it is we are reading, from whence it comes and whether it has a basis in fact. This is not always easy, but newspapers have a record and while all have made mistakes in the past (see Judith Miller on Iraq War in the Times) all have an historic record that provides a basis on which to form a judgment. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for one scary ride.

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One last chance for Cyprus

Posted January 13, 2017 on 8:35 pm | In the category Erdogan, Europe, Greece, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago and the always somewhat fragile agreement between Northern Ireland, part of th eUK  and the independent Irish Republic there is only one place left in Europe where a dividing line separates parts of what had once been a united country: Cyprus.    A Nomansstrip runs through the capital city of Nicosia, and beyond, that divides the country into a northern part, with an ethnic Turkish population, occupied by Turkish troops from the mainland, and an independent southern part populated by ethnic Greeks.  Previous attempts to unite the two parts have failed but once again discussions are going on.  Much depends on the approval of the Turkish government in Ankara, which is by no means a certainty, as well as agreement on land exchanges, and a method for organizing a single government for the entire island, built on two somewhat autonomous provinces.  There are many problems to be resolved, but also much to be gained if agreement can be reached.  It would in particular  be a very welcome development for the European Union, to which the southern part belongs – and the newly united one would  presumably enter – as it would be a demonstration of trust in the future of the EU despite the unwitting British effort to demolish it.  Stay tuned!

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Competing in the Information War

Posted December 17, 2016 on 10:58 am | In the category International Broadcasting, Public Diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”
― Edward R. Murrow

In March of 2014 this blog published a lengthy post about Russia’s growing and America’s shrinking public diplomacy efforts, specifically international broadcasting. So here we are now with a population beginning a flirtation with Russia and its president – a man with an easy solution to his troublesome media – jail them, kill them, or both. Some of this new American infatuation with Russia and Putin is certainly due to the full force gale of Trump and his Breitbart accomplices, but there is considerable evidence that Russia Today TV has made successful inroads throughout the West. It has done this with a well supported, worldwide broadcasting effort with enough real news to gain a degree of credibility while slipping in the news that is not real when it suits them.

On a recent trip to Italy we had access to three government supported English language TV stations: BBC occasionally, Russia Today regularly throughout the day and an English language station operated by China. CNN International – a private organization of mixed quality – was also available. On a trip to Germany a few years ago we had access to CNN which was having a Wolf Blitzer extravaganza about the balloon boy and Al Jazeera English which was by far the better of the two.

International broadcasting, as a part of public diplomacy is cheap, has in the past been effective, and can reach millions of people – as the Russian program does. But in the great competition for American taxpayers’ money, U.S. armament companies win, with the help of job hungry Congresspeople. So we are spending over $500 billion on defense, including billions on costly and frequently failed weapons systems and can barely squeeze out $750M for international broadcasting. To put it in a different perspective, Russia, with a broken economy, currently spends in excess of $1.4B on international broadcasting, the U.S.spends ca. $750M. China spends an estimated $7B.

Looking to the future, the Congress recently provided a clue by passing the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that includes an amendment that would “permanently establish the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position as head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the federal agency that oversees all U.S.-funded non-military international broadcasting, while removing the nine-member bipartisan Board that currently heads the agency.” The philosophy behind the historic role of the Board has been that it serve as a firewall between broadcasters charged with providing honest, fact-based reporting and the ideological whims of politicians. It served the interests of the country through the years of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, both George Bushes, and Barack Obama.

Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and the Voice of America made major contributions to ending the Cold War by providing honest journalism to countries behind the iron Curtain, but any lesson from this seems lost. The likely emasculation of the Broadcasting Board of Governors indicates that it will likely not survive the presidency of Donald Trump who may instead finally get his very own TV and Radio Networks to do with as he wishes. Under the new law the CEO who will take over the responsibilities formerly belonging to the bipartisan Board will be appointed by the President. What could possibly go wrong? Well, how about Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon for CEO?

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The World According to Trump

Posted December 10, 2016 on 8:15 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iran, NATO, Russia, TRUMP, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

If the President elect of the U.S. has a world view it is a mystery. Similarly, if he has a strategic foreign policy strategy for the U.S. it too is a mystery. But there are clues that lead to thoughts of possible threats to world stability and, by extension, to American security.

Trump’s recent break from U.S.-China policy by accepting a call from the President of Taiwan was initially presented by much of the press as a faux pas. It was subsequently presented by the Trump camp as a clever, thought-out strategy to put pressure on China to bend to the will of the President elect. This theory is as realistic as his plan to have Mexico pay for America’s Great Wall. U.S. policy toward China was transformed in the Nixon years and clearly both countries have benefited from what was seen then as a seismic shift. Trump risks changing the nature of the relationship at a time when the U.S. has been focusing on developing stronger economic ties throughout Asia – the continent with the fastest growing economy.

During his campaign, Trump provided his view that NATO had become a too costly commitment for the U.S. and one that was unnecessarily confrontational to Russia. He has threatened to weaken America’s commitment to the NATO treaty that has served American and European vital interests for over 50 years, unless the European members step up their financial stake in NATO. While there may be a reasonable argument that Europe has not shouldered its share of the costs, (arguably true for some countries, not so for others) reducing America’s commitment to NATO would give a message to Russia that an invasion of the Baltic states could be a risk worth taking. As it did when invading Eastern Ukraine, Russia could argue that they are assisting ethnic Russians gain their freedom. It is curious that Turkey’s President Erdogan is the one NATO leader that Trump has reached out to with praise. He is the one NATO leader who is turning his country into a near dictatorship, with thousands summarily jailed, including hundreds of journalists who have been critical of him.

Trump has been highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal which has been supported by the members of the UN Security Council (incl. Russia and China), as well as America’s European allies. In criticizing the agreement Trump joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, several Republican Senators, right wing ideologues like John Bolton, and several major funders of GOP candidates, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. While Trump has said he would walk away from the deal it is easier said than done, since our European allies and other treaty signatories would refuse to follow suit and American economic interests would likely suffer as other countries’ businesses take advantage of the U.S. reneging on the deal.

Trump has reached out with praise to the new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has become a human rights nightmare as he exhorts his countrymen to summarily execute anyone in the country suspected of being involved in drugs. This has led to thousands of killings – many simply murders – with no reference to a system of justice. In this case Trump is making a mockery of the U.S.’s historic commitment to human rights and systems of law. His behavior shrinks our stance in the world and begins to provide a nasty model for the application of quasi fascist behavior. See this NY Times piece for a taste of Duterte’s world:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/07/world/asia/rodrigo-duterte-philippines-drugs-killings.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Trump has not said much about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East in general other than to criticize Obama for failing in everything he has done in that part of the world and claiming that he will defeat ISIS almost as soon as he is in office. The decisions his administration make in that region will affect millions long into the future and we are largely left to guess as to what he would actually do.

Trump has made it clear that he believes he has a special relationship with Russian President Putin and indeed he may. They share a capacity for bullying, a disregard for human rights, a sensitivity to criticism, a willingness to harass the press (in Putin’s case including murder and imprisonment) and an attraction to kleptocracy. He does not seem to worry about what Putin has done in the world – e.g. Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, etc. – and has been eager and able to participate in the Russian economy, an economy that could teach Wall Street a thing or two about cronyism.

There is currently much talk of giving Trump a chance before judging him. Since he was elected we have no choice but to give him his chance, but judging can begin anon. Look at his appointments, listen to his words, read his tweets and form a judgment. If he fools us and turns out to be realistic, thoughtful and intelligent then we can adapt our judgment. Looking at his appointments to date, his short list for Secretary of State, and his statements during and after the campaign, it seems unlikely we will find that necessary.

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Death of an Everybody Man

Posted November 13, 2016 on 3:02 pm | In the category Canada | by Mackenzie Brothers

It has been an awful week for Canadians. On the day before their US neighbours made a mysterious and potentially threatening choice of a leader, Leonard Cohen died in Los Angeles, and on the next day, as he had requested, a plane flew the body of the crown jewel of post-war literature and song, back to his home city of Montréal, and on the day after that he was buried there in the family plot after a private traditional Jewish ceremony.  It was almost twenty years ago that the best German writer of his generation, the very cerebral Durs Grünbein, told me that he really only knew only knew of one Canadian writer, Leonard Cohen, as he had become  the splendid troubadour of the post-war world.  At that time Cohen had  written two novels, one of which received Canada’s highest literary honour, and about ten books of poetry, all of which contained some poems   that had become as well known as any lyrics  written by anybody else in this period. What set him apart from other writers was that he had set a number of his published poems to music, and had made a very successful career singing them. Space here is far too limited  to begin listing the several dozen of these songs which have become part of the repertoire of the twenty-first century’s gathered memory. No other author comes close to matching them.

But the most extraordinary part of Cohen’s career was still to come. Instead of moving at seventy into a well-endowed retirement, he began  anew his travels around the world as a true troubadour would do, presenting these and many newly-conceived poem-songs in  almost 400 concerts over six years, most of them sold out, while expanding the themes of his new songs into a celebration of the broadness of life’s possibilities and the inevitability of the ending of it all.  And he  had widened their scope by  powerfully adding  a foundation of spiritual satisfaction with the whole process that had been missing in his earlier years. And what a group of songs they were (according to his son Adam he was writing on the day he died), culminating in several new disks that were as unexpected as they were triumphant. His last one , “You want it darker” begins with a title song accompanied by the choir from his childhood synagogue in Montreal, and with a Hebrew solo by its cantor. It appeared a couple of weeks before Cohen’s death.  When you look carefully at the full implications of his extraordinary poems about Auschwitz, Hitler and the fate of Jews including his family and that of his Montréal friend, the Rumanian-born Canadian poet Irving Layton,  for whom he served as pallbearer, we can certainly add Leonard Cohen’s name to the small list of the foremost Jewish writers of the post-war period. In the end he completed the circle,  returning in full force to his beginnings in the Jewish section of  Montréal.  Cohen begins Harry Rasky’s film, “The Song of Leonard Cohen”, the best  presentation of his life, by singing  in French the wonderful French-Canadian song “Un Canadién errant”  (“A wandering Canadian”) and admitting on questioning that he feels it pretty much also applies to him.  May the force be with  him.

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