IOWA:: ETHANOL, JESUS AND THE PRESS

Posted February 1, 2016 on 7:49 pm | In the category Election, PBS NEWSHOUR, Politics, Press | by politics

Today is the official start of the long slog toward the election of a new leader of the Free World in – of all places, Iowa. Now I like corn as much as the next guy, and while I know it is absurd to be forcing ethanol into our gas tanks II am finding it difficult to get too worked up about a political process that rewards candidates’ ability to drive elderly Evangelicals to precinct meetings where they can discuss the second coming of the Lord with fellow believers. One measure of the relevance of the process is to look back 8 years when the Iowa Republicans put forth the Reverend Huckabee, following that four years later by putting forth Rick Santorum, a guy who lost his last election by 16 percentage points – perhaps a modern record.

Americans do many things well but running a national election in an intellectually stimulating and cost effective manner is not one of them. Thanks to the Supreme Court we now have campaigns awash in money – frequently from billionaires and huge corporations with very personal axes to grind. This year is no different except for Bernie sanders who seems to be scraping by on some $20Million raised from some 3 million individuals. And of course He! Trump is for now mostly spending only his own money, but being a billionaire makes that seem a bit unsightly.

With some ten months remaining in the process it is amusing, in a cynical kind of way to watch the press exude excitement over a primary process in Iowa that is rarely definitive and based largely on how many people each candidate can get rides to 1681 distinct locations in the state. Typically Republican turnout has run around 20% of registered voters; Democrats have had a slightly larger turnout. Soon the focus will turn from Iowa to New Hampshire where the process will be a more traditional primary election. Tonight the national media will be flooding us with results from a state that represents very little of the country’s diversity. diversity. Indeed tonight Judy Woodruff on the PBS Newshour gave us several minutes of political analysis from Evangelical Ministers who all seem to agree that Jesus should be picking the winners. I leave it to others to determine whether the tax-supported Public Broadcasting System should be going out of its way to seek religious analysis of political events. But for me, Judy Woodruff is, in this instance,  a disgrace to journalism who might seemingly consider a life in a convent. It is simply irresponsible to provide a national audience to a bunch of religious charlatans and present them as serious political analysts. It is about the  level we can expect from Woodruff who, on a good day, can find her way to ask the same question in three ways in the hope she gets – finally – the answer she wants.

Soon we will be on to New Hampshire. Fewer cows and Evangelicals, and not much of a corn field. But the horse race is on, the touts will be crying their picks and then we can sit back and wait nine months for the real thing. Too long, too tedious, too absurd.

And I resisted till now the reminder that the Junior Senator from Iowa made her bones by telling Iowa’s voters that she had an excellent record in the castration of hogs. I kid you not. Why didn’t Woodruff interview her?

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Can pro sports survive?

Posted January 27, 2016 on 3:22 am | In the category Russia, Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

This is obviously a rhetorical question. In many ways pro sports has never thrived more.  The big events, especially among elite participants in team sports – the World Cup of Soccer, Super Bowl of US football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, even cricket and rugby world cups are more popular and profitable than they ever have been and betting on them is very big business. Although there have been some recent exceptions, most games at the highest level are  beyond the reach of the plague that is now tearing apart all individual sports and second and third rung team sports – results fixed through gambling.  It is  hard to see how a successful offer can be made to convince the extremely high paid stars of the elite tournaments to purposely lose a game.  They are paid too much to be interested in such deals, and in any case, just who could guarantee a loss for such highly talented teams, unless the whole team signs on, and that is not going to happen.

But this is not true of the players and the teams that lurk below the elites, and plenty of bets are made on their games, nor does this theory work as convincingly when it comes to individual sports.   Tennis is only the latest sport to come under serious suspicion, especially with regard to matches played just below the elite level, for which much betting takes place in any case.  Needless to say it is much easier to unexpectedly lose a match in tennis – a bunch  of bad returns, double faults, or sudden injuries will do the trick – than it is for a high-level football, rugby, hockey or basketball team to suddenly collapse.

And soon  we will  have the Olympics,  making its every fourth year stop, this time in Rio.  Poor track and field, the heart of the Olympics and once the mark of the pinnacle of individual performance, has been really seriously, if not fatally damaged by the other kind of cheating – the use of illegal substances to help you win, not lose as is the case in being paid to throw the result.  And the elite athletes in this are no longer anything like the amateurs who once performed.  Great amounts of money are at stake and the Olympic governors have been unable or unwilling to get unlimited doping under control.  This time it seems like the entire Russian track and field team may be banned  for drug abuse, and just about everyone in the know thinks that is just the tip of the iceberg.  The real victims here are the honest athletes who are playing by the rules.  Some of them may even be Russian.  Good luck to them!

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Another Tale of Two Cities

Posted January 21, 2016 on 12:17 am | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

So the statistics are now in for homicides in North American cities in 2015.  Here are a couple for readers to consider.

Baltimore, a US city  has a population of 622,000.

Vancouver, a Canadian city, has a population of 603,500.

Baltimore, in a country which seems to have become ever more enamoured of guns in the last decade , including public display of them, had 344 homicides in 2016, the great majority delivered by such guns.

Vancouver, in a country whose laws aim at strict control of firearms, had 14 homicides last year.  The police reported that  they were disappointed because they like to see homicide numbers in single digits, as it usually has been  in the last years.

Nuff said.

 

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Carly Fiorina: Blood on Her Hands

Posted December 2, 2015 on 10:10 pm | In the category abortion, Carly Fiorina, Politics, Republican Party | by politics

As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, it’s heart beating, it’s legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.– C. Fiorina

So, when does a politician’s lie mean more than just the ordinary pumping up of one’s persona? Well, maybe when said politician starts to promote lies about others – lies intended to destroy their humanity. And then those lies contribute to a culture – an environment – that produces false reasons to lash out. Carly Fiorina’s easily disproved lies abut Planned Parenthood fit that category. It started at a debate with a bizarre tale of a video of an alive baby flailing its arms while its brain was harvested by Planned Parenthood. A video that does not exist. It takes some fairly big balls to make up such a story and then double down on it – which she did in later interviews. It puts her in the Goebbels category – Uberprograndischesturmfuhrer for the Monster.

So okay, she has illusions of grandeur. Okay, she wants to be President – or maybe Vice. So she is willing to do whatever is necessary to gather a few Iowa votes in two months – and even fewer in New Hampshire. What in God’s name motivates someone to lie in such a way to further infect an already diseased culture; in such a way to contribute to the motivation of the likes of a mad man in Colorado Springs to take his gun to Planned Parenthood and start shooting up the place? How shallow can a person be? How utterly debauched? Just watch.

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AMERICA’S POLICE: PROTECTORS OR THREAT?

Posted November 30, 2015 on 5:53 pm | In the category Terrorism, U.S. Domestic Policy, Uncategorized | by politics

On November 22, 2014, 12 year-old Tamir Rice made the mistake of playing with a toy gun at a playground in my old hometown, Cleveland, Ohio. A citizen called 911 to report that there was a person in the playground with what looked like a gun. Said citizen also told the dispatcher that the person might be a juvenile and that the gun might not be real. The police rolled into action with only the first part of that information, drove their car into the playground, opened the door and in the time you count one, one-hundred, two one-hundred Tamir Rice was shot, bleeding to death on the ground. The two cops stood around watching while Tamir said goodbye to his chance for a teenage birthday. When his 14 year-old sister arrived and tried to approach Tamir the cops forced her to the ground, handcuffed her and locked her in the backseat of the patrol car. The shooter was a white rookie cop who had flunked a Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Deputy exam (46%, when 70% is a passing grade), had been refused employment at several neighboring towns’ police departments, had been terminated after 5 months for poor performance at another neighboring police department, and then hired by Cleveland’s PD without a proper background check.

A year later Tamir’s family waits for justice. The prosecutor hired three outsiders to investigate and report on the incident and as in almost every incident of police abuse, the reports said that while tragic, the policeman’s action were “reasonable”. Tamir’s family hired their own experts (two separate California former police officials) whose reports are highly critical of the policemen – both the shooter and his colleague, or accomplice. A sidebar to the story emerged that an off-duty FBI agent appeared on the scene while Tamir was dying and administered first aid while the two cops stood around either bewildered, or just uncaring.

So- a year after Tamir’s death a grand jury continues to consider evidence. Perhaps justice will be done, but precedence is not a cause for optimism. The dice are almost always loaded in cases involving police killing citizens; there is always some real or imagined or made-up threat. For Tamir it is that he was reaching for his “gun” so the policeman had to shoot him in less than 2 seconds after arriving.

This is only one example of what may have been an historic epidemic of white policemen shooting black males regardless of age or real threat. Much of the current public awareness results from the ubiquitous presence of videos. And the judicial system seems to have been unable to address these incidents impartially, often now in the face of overwhelming eyewitness or video evidence. Currently there are at least three high visibility cases in various stages of potential or actual prosecution. In addition to the Tamir Rice case there is the matter of 17 year-old Laquan McDonald, shot by a police officer 16 times in Chicago, mostly in the back and mostly while lying on the street, and Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died while being transported to jail by Baltimore police. The Rice and McDonald cases are being presented to Grand Juries; the Freddie Gray case is being prosecuted in court in Baltimore after a Grand jury confirmed prosecution charges. These cases are tests of the American judicial system, but in a broader sense are tests of America’s basic values of judicial equity and fairness.

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A Tale of Two Countries

Posted November 27, 2015 on 3:23 pm | In the category Canada, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that his election pledge to accept 25,000 refugees from Syria by the end of 2015 will have to be altered with a new deadline of March 1, 2016 in order to provide sufficient security checks and to deal with transportation and housing issues.  10,000 refugees will arrive by January 1, 25,000 by March 1 and 35,000 by the end of 2016.  The refugees will be restricted to families, single women and children.  All the premiers of all the provinces and the two northern territories have agreed to this and there has been virtually no opposition.  On the contrary.  Housing will be located on military bases and other available sites, and no one will be settled in tents.

The United States has pledged to resettle 10,000 refugees by the end of 2016. However, according to CNN, the governors of 31 US states have announced that Syrian refugees will not  be welcome in their states, including President Obama’s home state of Illinois, and  Canadian  border states Michigan, New Hampshire  and Maine.  Dylan was right.  The times they are really achanging.

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Trudeau hits the ground running

Posted November 6, 2015 on 12:54 am | In the category Canada, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Now comes the hard part for young Justin Trudeau. Canada seems to be breathing an audible sigh of relief today as he presented the new cabinet of the Justin Trudeau regime. Young Trudeau  sports a Haida tattoo on his shoulder, which seems to have been accepted by the First Nations peoples (that’s what Canadians now call the people they used to call Indians, a word somewhat taboo in Canada now) because his father was adopted into the tribe.  And Justin just appointed an aboriginal woman as Attorney General who has been both a crown prosecutor and the  top chief of British Columbia First Nations for relations with Ottawa. This move on its own is certain to dramatically alter the increasingly poor relations between indigenous peoples and Ottawa under the last regime. In this case you could almost hear the thunderous applause of First Nations members from coast to coast, as they can finally see that their legitimate concerns with the law would now be judged by one of their own.  Trudeau  named 15 men and 15 women to his cabinet, fulfilling a promise of gender equality that he made at a time when no one thought he would win. (In the Obama government women make up 25% of the cabinet).  He  included 3 First Nations people, 3 East Indians, two of them turbaned Sikhs highlighted by the new Minister of Defence, a former soldier and policeman who looks like a very tough guy, 1 Afghani=born refugee and 1 Inuit.

When asked why he has constructed such a cabinet, Justin simply answered, “because it’s 2015” which also seems like a good way to start trying to deal with the uncomfortable current world scenario. The whole country seems to be breathing a sigh of relief. One of the almost periphery things that this election did was to reverse the growing two solitudes between Quebec and ROC as there is now a completely bilingual prime minister, a very French, very intelligent and very experienced foreign minister, Stephane Dion, and several high-level cabinet ministers who took the oath first in French. The separatist movement for an independent Quebec, which almost won a referendum 20 years ago, has very probably been laid to rest for good with the Trudeau win.

One thing that seems clear is that the relationship between the US and its largest trading partner, Canada, has been very poor during the Obama years. Some say it may well be that Obama simply didn’t like Harper, but that surely can’t explain why the President spent almost no time in his neighbouring country, in any case much less than any of his recent predecessors. Journalists reckon it was a total of seven hours, most of them at international meetings held in Canada. And it surely didn’t help that Obama appointed a Chicago fundraiser for the Democrats to be the Ambassador and he made himself so unwelcome playing the role of the ugly American that he did not have access to members of the cabinet, never mind the Prime Minister, during his term.

Justin is already being warned to try avoid the fate of Obama, who came to power at about the same age but somehow never figured out how to use it well. The US seems to have such a chaotic legislature nowadays, almost a defunct political system, that poor Obama may have had no chance. But there are many who think he’ll go down as something of a disappointment no matter what happens now.  There is good reason to hope that Justin will do better, if only because he will not have to deal with a strange and defiant opposition determined to make his plans unworkable. There are also many who would argue that it is unfair to blame the current dramatic decline of the US position in global affairs on Obama alone but to rather put the most blame on the elected legislature that worked so hard to block all his laudatory efforts. But what should we then conclude about the country that elected the legislature that seems to have become almost unmanageable at a time when Canada seems to be finding its way again through an election. Surely it would be a good idea for these two young leaders to have some friendly talks together, and try to get North America working together again instead of continually at odds, as has been the case with its two biggest countries over the last decade.

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Words Fail: The Republicans Try to Debate

Posted November 4, 2015 on 11:24 pm | In the category Politics, Press, Republican Party | by Jeff

When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser(s). Socrates

There has been much mindless toing and froing among the literati and iliterati about the GOP debate that was interrupted – some say ruined – by actual questions directed at the participants. Some say the questions were “snarky”; others that they were – “gotcha” questions (a la Sarah Palin). Then there were some who said they did not really matter since none of the candidates answered any of the questions asked, choosing instead to launch unarmed missiles at the questioners. This has led to an opportunity for the mainstream media to cut off its collective balls and run. which to a large extent they have done.

GOP candidates want to be treated with a respect they have not earned but might actually earn if they found the courage to answer directly and honestly questions. And if they are offended by the questions to answer them anyway. Anyone who watched the Benghazi hearings saw a lesson in intelligence and intellectual courage and patience in the face of some of the stupidest questions anyone could come up with. Seems like Ms. Clinton provided a lesson in grace under pressure while the Republican candidates have provided a lesson in cowardice in the face of facts.

So given that the Republican candidates could stop being whining crybabies and put on their big boy (or girl) pants and answer some semi-tough questions, what about the press? Do your job: report on them, call them out, do not let them get away with their fatuous BS, and defend whatever integrity you have retained. Let Faux News carry their debates and then simply report on them – honestly and toughly.

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A Home Run from Justin Trudeau

Posted October 22, 2015 on 11:17 pm | In the category Canada, Politics | by Mackenzie Brothers

Why it seems just yesterday that Canada’s premier Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century, Pierre Trudeau,  managed to produce two sons on different Christmas Days and the country watched the first of them, Justin, turn into an adventurous young man (just like his Dad) who would travel widely, live for quite awhile in beautiful Vancouver, where he taught English and theatre at a local school, and enter politics as an MP from a francophone riding in Montréal.  He certainly went far beyond what was expected of him in  his first campaign as the leader of the Liberal Party, which in the last decade has been declared dead in the water by many political experts, as it slipped into third place in the last election, and seemed to be following middle-of the r0ad liberal parties in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia  and elsewhere into oblivion, squeezed out in the face of competition between right wing and left wing parties with more profiled platforms.  In the last election, Michael Ignatieff, surely the most prominent intellectual running for headhonchoship of a country lately proved completely incapable of putting his  ideas across to the general public, and the Liberal Party was reduced in Quebec to a small rump representation in anglophone parts of Montreal and in British Columbia to two Vancouver ridings.  Times were tough.

Enter Justin, who, as it turned out, at the very least has a way with a crowd that hasn’t been seen in Canada since the days of Pierre, although some would suggest that Brian Mulroney, who was asked by Nancy Reagan to give the eulogy for Ronald (imagine that these days when the President of the United States has spent 7 hours in 7 years in his neighbouring largest trading partner. This time the Liberals sent a young man with a big old name out into the ring.  He was mocked and branded by the ruling Conservatives as a lightweight who should try again in a decade or two.  When he responded by challenging the largest Conservative politician in Ottawa, an aboriginal Senator, to a boxing match, he was warned to not risk his body on such a dangerous mission and then promptly knocked the Senator out in the first round.  When the Conservatives cleverly said that they’d consider him to have overachieved if he showed up at the first national debate in long pants, he kept his short pants on long enough  to lead a bevy of reporters up the classic Grouse Grind mountain challenge in Vancouver, leaving almost all of them gasping for breath in his wake.  Youth and athleticism does, as it turns out, have its charms.  In the debate, he proved to be at least the equal of his two perfectly intelligent rivals, one from the right and one from the left.  In short he had the opportunity to display in the longest campaign in Canadian history (8 weeks!, as Amurcans might note as they suffer through the torture of 2 year-long campaigns)  that he not only had the physical stamina of his father, who could throw a canoe up on his shoulders and paddle through whitewater rapids in his sixties.  He also seemed to have   at least a reasonable percentage of the brain power of Dad.  The jury is still out on this, but many have pointed out that  Papa  had the smarts to fill his cabinet with the best experts in the most important areas of national concern, something which  the outgoing Prime Minister failed to do in spades.   In his first conversation with Obama, Trudeau informed Obama  that Canada would recall its fighter jets from the US-led mission in Iraq and Syria, so he is listening to a different drummer than the outgoing regime was.

So the next months will be very interesting as the second-largest  country in the world is fronted by a young very attractive leader who will at the very least put a new tone on relations with his own people and other heads of state, and Canadians are hoping that that new tone will distinguish Canada’s return to its long-held former position as a reliable, independent, tolerant and sensible middle power.

 

 

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The Powerful and Complicated Angela Merkel

Posted September 28, 2015 on 12:41 pm | In the category Germany, Greece, Human Rights, Merkel | by Jeff

Angela Merkel, one of the world’s most powerful women, appears on the surface to have a dual personality. On the one hand she has dealt a very tough hand to Greece through the German-led austerity program, a program that has not led to improvement in Greece’s economic situation while harming the Greek people immeasurably. On the other hand she has been the strongest voice in Europe for a compassionate, human rights program to assist refugees from the Middle East conflicts. While the Greek austerity program is politically popular in Germany, her proposed refugee program has mixed support among German voters, especially mixed among those in the former East Germany. And while she has had to back off from her initial willingness to accept signifiant numbers of refugees, she is apparently sticking to the basic effort to address the issue, and pulling the rest of the EU along with her.

While forced Greek austerity and welcoming refugees seem to come from very different places, it can be argued that they are both viewed by many in Germany as being in the country’s national interests. But it is perhaps better to view them in terms of her domestic political interests. There is a strong impulse among Germans to punish the Greeks for their past sins of profligacy as well as a view that hard working Germans should not be paying to bail out Greece. The refugees present a human rights issue that many Germans view as an opportunity to do the right thing, while also satisfying Germany’s need for workers in the face of the country’s falling birthrate. But as the numbers of refugees heading to Germany increases beyond original expectations Merkel is now risking a loss in her domestic political support. But having criticized her for her austerity policy it seems fair to give her credit for taking on the refugee issue in a humane and positive way, despite growing domestic uneasiness.

In addition to these major challenges Merkel is now faced with the the unpleasant story of Volkswagen’s deceit in hiding the true polluting effects of its diesel engines. The thought of Germany’s largest and most successful corporation knowingly poisoning the air people breath and hiding the fact of it has an especially ugly resonance and just might force Germans to look in their mirrors before forcing Greeks to continue to accept the destruction of their economy. While this introduces another tough issue for Merkel, I would not bet against her. Her political skills and instincts are simply too impressive to ignore.

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