Posts Tagged ‘Merkel’

Letter From New York 03 16 2016 Riding into New York…

March 16, 2016

The Hudson River is nearly mirror still as I rumble south on the train, into New York for a visit to my gastroenterologist for a [ugh] colonoscopy, a follow-up to my stay in the hospital last month.

The morning was full of news about the primaries.  Trump, as had been expected, trounced Marco Rubio in his home state of Florida and Rubio, also as expected, withdrew from the race.

Bernie Sanders is wondering about what next as Hillary Clinton handily beat him in Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina and, of course, Florida.  It is looking like she eked out a win in Missouri, beating Bernie by a mere 1500 votes the last time I looked.

Kasich took his home state of Ohio so he is still playing the Republican game of musical chairs.

53% of Americans would choose Trump to be the Republican nominee.  61% don’t like him.  Go figure.

Trump is preening in his victories, winning everywhere but Ohio.  He claims there will be riots if the Republican Party denies him the nomination.  Even in victory he summons images of violence.

While there will likely not be physical violence, there will be much name calling and shouting now that Obama has nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Scalia’s death.  Republicans have vowed not to move on the matter until there is another President, keeping their fingers crossed a Republican will occupy the White House.

Congressional chaos…

In the streets of DC and its environs there was another piece of chaos on the streets.  After two electrical fires within the last year, the new head of the Metro ordered it shut down for twenty-four hours while they inspect it to ensure it is safe.

Having once lived in DC, I can only imagine what the day was like and be grateful I wasn’t there.  It’s how I usually get around DC.

Also, the Fed is being dovish about raising rates.  The dollar falls, gold rises as do the markets, modestly.

In Brussels, an Algerian, illegally in the country, was killed in a raid by police.  At least two others were detained; an Islamic flag was found with them.  Belgian police are promising more raids.

In Nigeria, two female suicide bombers killed twenty-four at a mosque.  A bomb placed on a bus in Pakistan killed fourteen.

Angelina Jolie has met with refugees in Lebanon and Greece in a bid to bring the spotlight on them.  Germany’s Merkel thinks only Turkey can stem the flow and has called for a Pan-European meeting to address the issue.

The Kurds in Syria are calling for a Federalization of Syria, creating more independence for them.  No else seems very much in favor of the solution, especially Assad, who sees it as the beginning of the break-up of  his country.

Putin has announced in the last couple of days that Russia has accomplished its mission in Syria and is beginning a withdrawal of a majority of its forces.  Indeed, half the Russian planes have departed but eyebrows are raised as to whether this is actually going to be the kind of withdrawal that Putin intimates.

“The Happiest Place on Earth” is Disney owned.  However, the happiest country on the planet is Denmark, which has held the top spot for three of the four years that the World Happiness Report has been issued. 

Next are Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, The Netherlands,  New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

Poor Burundi is the unhappiest country.  Just above it on the list are Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania and Madagascar.  Poor and riven with war or disease or both, they are at the bottom.

You’re wondering where the US is on this scale, aren’t you?  We’re number 13, actually a little higher than I thought we might be.

Russia is number 110 and China is 83rd and India is 118th.

If interested in Hollywood and the often salacious stories that come out that place,  a new book is due out, “James Dean: Tomorrow Never Comes,” by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, claiming that James Dean and Marlon Brando had an on/off sadomasochistic sexual relationship from their meeting to Dean’s death in a car accident in 1955.

Long dead but still capable of steaming up the book sales.

New York approaches.

Letter From New York 09 01 15 Hot day, hot news…

September 1, 2015

It’s a sunny, warm day in New York. Waking up in the New York apartment, I was disoriented and not quite sure where I was. Then I got a cramp in my left leg that catapulted me out of bed and into the realization I was in New York. During the morning I worked out of the apartment and then headed down to the offices of Broderville.

It is supposed to scrape ninety degrees today but it didn’t feel that warm when, around noon, I reached the office. Since then, I have been cossetted in the air conditioning while doing my afternoon’s online work.

While I have been hammering on the laptop’s keys, the market has been swooning over more bad news from China. The Wall Street Fear Index is up again today but not as high as it was a week ago.

No longer standing at all is the Temple of Bel/Baal at Palmyra. Satellite photographs have shown clearly that it has been demolished. Until these shots came through there was some hope but it is now gone, forever, a temple which has stood since the time of Christ.

Video of a man who appeared to have raised his arms in San Antonio and was then shot by police is posted online by a local television station, KSAT, and can be seen on their website. http://www.ksat.com/news/ksatcom-exclusive-unedited-video-of-fatal-deputy-involved-shooting

I couldn’t watch. I didn’t want to see a man gunned down, rightly or wrongly, though it is looking very suspect at this moment.

In Chicago, a manhunt is on for three men who allegedly shot a police officer there.

All in all, according to a NY Times article I read, murders are soaring in a number of cities. People are struggling to understand after years of falling murder numbers. One reason posited is that gangs are better organized and better armed.

Kim Davis, the County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to prevent her from having to issue gay marriage licenses.   The Supreme Court was having none of it. Nope. No way. We’re not hearing this.

This morning a rowdy group showed up demanding their marriage licenses. She now must show up in Court on Thursday for a hearing. Gay couples that want licenses don’t want her to go to jail but do want her fined.

Rand Paul, erstwhile candidate for the Republican nomination for the Presidency, thinks Ms. Davis’ protest is all just part of the American way. Unfortunately, I agree with him but not for the reasons he has, I suspect. I’m only surprised there aren’t more holdouts like Ms. Davis.

The migrant crisis is growing in Europe. Today, trains were halted in Hungary and migrants, even those holding tickets, were not allowed to board. Hundreds have died at sea, attempting the crossing from Africa to Italy, just in the last week.

The number of Syrian refugees accepted by Britain would barely be enough to fill a car on the Underground, hence all the rush to get to Germany where Angela Merkel is fending off a rising right that wants to put a stop to it.

The EU has had, at best, a slapdash approach to the refugee crisis, ignoring or suspending its own rules willy-nilly with no central government organized response.

All of this, after the Greek Crisis, further strains the credibility of the EU.

My credibility is not feeling strained today. I’m going to close up shop for the night, head up to Café du Soleil for a bite to eat and then go back home and read a book for a while.

All good. Hope it is for you, too!

Letter From The Train 08 25 15 Black holes, Putin’s justice and barbarians on the march…

August 25, 2015

It was a hot, muggy day in New York. About four this afternoon, as I was strolling back to the office after a meeting on Park Avenue South, a walk of about fifteen minutes, I determined that I would go home even though I have a meeting tomorrow in the afternoon.

It’s a gorgeous day and I want to be home, sleep in my own bed and listen to the insects buzz outside while I sit on the deck and watch the creek, lit up by floodlights beneath the deck.

The markets bounced upwards most of the day before closing another 205 points down. The China rout continues; one Chinese billionaire by the name of Wang has lost thirteen billion dollars so far. That’s a big bucket of dollars.

The outrage of the world about the destruction of the temple to Baalshamin continues. Much has been destroyed by Islamic militants in the last year, including the temple to Baalshamin as well as the two statues of Buddha destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan some years ago and treasures in Timbuktu.

Barbarians. Barbarous in the way they treat treasures and barbarous in the way they treat people.

Refugees are swarming across the world. The island of Kos in Greece is overrun and the Mediterranean is filled with boats of every size carrying souls from Africa. From Kos, thousands have made their way by hook or crook through the Balkans to the border of countries like Hungary, which is scrambling to build a fence to hold them back. The refugee problem is the worst it has been since the end of WWII.

Germany alone will be taking in 800,000 refugees this year, four times last year’s total. I don’t think we take in that many immigrants in a year and Germany is a fraction of our size. If I am remembering correctly, Germany has some eighty million people living there. They will be adding one percent to their population this year. That is a lot of assimilation.

The Baltic countries are balking about taking in even a couple of hundred refugees and anti-immigrant rallies are all over in Germany. The immigrant problem has overwhelmed Merkel’s agenda as thoroughly as Greece did.

Putin’s Russia has just sentenced Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film director, to twenty years in a Labor Camp for plotting terrorist attacks against Russians after their annexation of the Crimea. The Russians say the bruises on his body after his arrest were from S&M sex he had before his arrest.

The chief prosecution witness against Sentsov withdrew his testimony halfway through the trial, announcing he had been tortured to get it.

Ah, the joys of Putin’s democracy…

Think of Sentsov in the months to come. He will haunt my thoughts for a while.

Megyn Kelly is flourishing despite The Donald’s tirades against her on Twitter. She has been gone on an eleven-day vacation, which may or may not have been scheduled. Her return resulted in her best ratings of the year, even though she didn’t mention Trump.

Her boss, Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of Fox News, has demanded that Trump apologize. What is an ice cube’s chance in hell?

Sex sites have taken a beating recently. Ashleymadison.com was hacked. 15,000 of their email accounts were linked to .gov or .edu addresses, causing some wonder about our government officials and our educators. Josh Duggar was a member, furthering the nation’s perception of him as the sleaziest man alive. Lawsuits are landing on their doorstep.

Today rentboy.com was raided and six present and past employees were arrested. It is alleged it was actually a site for prostitution and not for companionship. I think the allegation may prove true.

Stephen Hawking, the legendary physicist, speaking is Stockholm has said that if you fall into a black hole, don’t worry. There is a way out. You might pop out in an alternative universe. Do I find that comforting? I’m not much worried about black holes, not having encountered one in my life but, if I do, I will remember this as I am sucked in.

Letter From New York 07 10 15 From Hudson to Greece to Ukraine

July 10, 2015

For the most part, today has been sunny and warm, not too humid, the sun slipping in and out between the clouds, more out than in. I’m sitting at the dining room table at the cottage, looking out at all the green that surrounds the cottage.

For two days, I didn’t write a Letter From New York. I had a feeling I had run out of things to say or that what I had to say wasn’t all that important. Perhaps it was just a case of emotional inertia but as the afternoon wore on today, I wanted to put fingers to keyboard and see words appear on the electronic white page on my MacBook Air.

Waking early, I had coffee, scanned the Times [NY], dashed off a few emails and then ran errands. I picked up prescriptions, I dropped off shirts at the laundry, went to Lowe’s, had the car washed, filled it with gas, all pedestrian things that need to be done, usually Saturday chores but done today because I was home.

Last night was my first night at the cottage in twelve days and I reveled in being home and in my own bed, surrounded by the coziness and my books. I finished reading “My Townie Heart” by Diana Sperrazza; I sent off a congratulatory email.

The surveyor came and I paid him for the work he did on seeing if can get me from needing flood insurance. We chatted for a while and then I went off to mail some things to my cousins and headed into Hudson for a long, leisurely lunch with Peter Spear, who does market research. We haven’t sat down in years and it was good and fun.

As I did my errands, I heard the cheering on the radio as the Confederate Flag came down in South Carolina. There were eulogies for Omar Sharif, who passed away today in Cairo, best remembered for his role as “Doctor Zhivago.” It is in that role that I first remember him, a breathtaking film that made me curious about the period in Russian history when the Empire gave way to the Soviet Union.

The markets were buoyant today, as it appeared to many that a Greek deal would be done. The Germans are still not convinced but we will see what the weekend brings. There will be more meetings. Greece is taking up a huge amount of Europe’s political bandwidth.

There is an argument to be made that Greece today is worse off than the US during the Great Depression. Then the US joblessness rate topped out at 26%. Greece is at 28% now and it could conceivably go higher.

The deal Tsipras is selling to the Greeks is essentially the one they rejected last week but it feels, in the news reports, like they will go along with it.

Dylann Roof, who allegedly killed nine in Charleston, SC, bought a gun to commit the deed. It was revealed today by the FBI that he should not have been able to buy it; he should not have passed the background check. He slipped through the system.

Prevented from falling through the system was a young, homeless seven-year-old Filipino boy. Photographed studying on a stool by the light of a local McDonald’s, the photo went viral and aid is being delivered to he and his mother, enough money to get him through college. He wants to grow up and be a policeman.

Tunisia has declared a state of emergency to deal with terrorist threats. Some tourists are leaving, cancelling trips to the country and at least one cruise line is not going to be calling there this year and next.

Shanghai, the largest city in the world by population, is battening down the hatches in advance of Typhoon Chan-hom, which will be upon the city tomorrow. While not a huge storm it is the first time in near 65 years that a storm this size has hit Shanghai.

Angela Merkel of Germany and Hollande of France, when not dealing with the Greeks, are putting pressure on the President of Ukraine, Poroshenko, to begin giving autonomy, promised in the Minsk Accords, to the rebels in the East, something he is dragging his feet on doing. Merkel and Hollande are becoming very blunt about it, something that usually doesn’t happen in diplomacy.

The sun is setting in the west, light is filtering through the trees and I will soon head down to Hudson for a light dinner at the Dot. It’s been a lovely day.

It was good to write again. Hope you enjoyed it..

Letter From New York 07 01 15 Different ways to celebrate nationhood…

July 1, 2015

By the time this summer is over, we may be calling this “The Grey Summer” as most days seem to be more grey than sunny. Today is no exception, nor was yesterday, nor the day before. When I left the building this morning, William, the doorman, warned me it was supposed to rain. So far it hasn’t but the day hasn’t been sunny.

Yesterday was another day that got away from me without a Letter, too many meetings and calls and running to make appointments, through the crowded subways of New York.

On my way to a 5:00 drinks meeting at the Warwick Hotel in Midtown, I passed through the Times Square Station, where many of the city’s line converge. As I was getting off the 1 train to head to N, Q, R line, I met a man in a wheelchair, holding out his hat, plaintively asking for money. Usually, I don’t but this time I slipped him a dollar.

Traveling toward the N, Q, R I passed a man with stumps for arms and legs, sitting in a motorized chair, singing with one of the most breathtaking voices I have ever heard. Then came the man on a microphone pronouncing the end of the world, loudly, stridently and incoherently for the most part. Just yards from him was another man, handing out Biblical Literature with a friendly smile and soft voice. I nodded to him and smiled back.

Just another subway day…

It’s the 1st of July and that means it is “Canada Day!” So Happy Birthday Canada! I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Canada. Many of my relations are Canadian. My maternal grandmother’s sister emigrated from Sweden to Canada rather to America like her sister. So there were Canadian cousins and not infrequent trips to Winnipeg where they lived.

In my senior year of college, I spent some months there with my college roommate who was marrying a very proper Torontonian young lady. He wanted me around for moral support. [That may not have worked out so well; her parents definitely liked me while they loathed my roommate.]

But the marriage happened and I went back to Minnesota to finish my degree with lots of great Canadian memories. Like us, they celebrate with barbecue and fireworks.

There is another celebration of nationhood going on also. IS is celebrating one year of its Caliphate with a spree of executions. I don’t know if they are including fireworks. They have been particularly gruesome in their celebration. They have taken to crucifying [yes, you read that right, crucifying] young boys who, in their opinion, did not sufficiently fast for Ramadan.

They have started beheading women, which they haven’t done before. They have locked people they don’t like in vehicles and then used them for rocket practice. I am not sure what constitutes magic to the Islamists but they have been beheading men and women accused of that crime. And, of course, if you’re Shia, better hope they don’t find out. That will get you killed, too. Sodomy results in being thrown from a tall building. Some children have just been tortured. Some have been buried alive or sold as sex slaves and, if they can get them to, they are being recruited for the Caliphate to fight. They have a group called “Cubs for the Caliphate” that grooms young fighters.

What a way to celebrate. Good old blood and guts on the streets!

I will take a moment to pray for those who have died in these terrible ways.

There are over three thousand who have been executed, not to mention all those who died in the fighting.

Not physically fighting but verbally sparring, the EU and Greece are still attempting to resolve their differences. Tsipras announced that Greece would accept most of the latest European proposals and markets soared on the news but that doesn’t mean the deal will be done.

Merkel and other European leaders are saying no negotiations until after the referendum on Sunday. What’s the point?

And in a note that is sad but more hopeful, at least about the human condition, Sir Nicholas Winton passed away at the age of 106. In the months leading up to World War II, Winton managed to get over 600 children out of Prague before the declaration of war between Britain and Germany.

He worked as a one-man advocate for children when most resources were working to get intellectuals away from the Nazis. His efforts, which earned him the title “Britain’s Schindler”, were unknown for nearly fifty years after the war. He didn’t mention them. Only when his wife found papers in the attic was he convinced to speak about what he had done.

Good job, Sir Nicholas! Good job!

Letter From New York 03 03 15 An interesting day, all in all…

March 3, 2015

Yesterday, I made the round trip to the city and back so I woke up at the Cottage again this morning where the temperature was nine degrees with a wind chill of zero. Starting about now, the weather will deteriorate and there will be snow, wind, sleet, the full panoply of winter delights. It is not supposed to be much better in the city but at least I won’t be trying to get here.

I have a few appointments this week, including picking up my Indian visa this afternoon after successfully [!] booking the flights I wanted to and from Delhi. Yesterday they were unavailable and today they were! I will leave New York on the 22nd and return on the 5th of April. My speech at the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, will be on the 29th. Before and after, I will spend some time with friends in Delhi and perhaps travel to Goa.

While going about my business this morning, my phone went off with alerts about Israel’s Netanyahu’s speech before Congress. He warned us not to make a “bad deal” with Iran, that they couldn’t be trusted. From reports I have read, it was an eloquent speech and may have been the most important in his life. Netanyahu is facing a tough election back at home and this certainly could give him a boost.

Or it might all backfire.

Certainly there has never been a time when Israel’s relations with the US were so fraught. Netanyahu’s opponent has been making points at home by indicating that Netanyahu’s tweaking his nose at President Obama is causing trouble.

The political exegesis of today will go on for days and will be great to watch.

While Netanyahu was addressing Congress, President Obama was on a video call with Hollande of France, Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Cameron of the UK to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

General Petraeus, once a military legend in his lifetime, resigned in shame from the CIA in 2012 after the revelation of an extramarital affair with his biographer. He also shared some classified information with her. Today, he pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge, agreed to pay a $40,000 fine and will escape jail time.

It was also revealed today that Hillary Clinton used a private email address as opposed to a State Department email while Secretary of State and may have broken rules in doing so. I am sure this will fuel the fire at Fox News. The Washington Post has declared that she is her own worst enemy. Perhaps that is true of both Hillary and Bill Clinton.

In just three days, the Department of Homeland Security once again faces the possibility of being out of money. However, it appears that Boehner will allow a “clean” bill [without anything about Obama’s Executive Order on immigration in it] to reach the House floor. The Tea Party wing is enraged but the bill has a good chance of passing.

At this moment, 2:33 PM, oil is trading higher and the market lower. Clashes in Libya are spooking the oil market while the markets are pulling back from yesterday’s NASDAQ high.

The Supreme Court tomorrow will look at four words in the Affordable Health Care Act. Their interpretation of the meaning may gut Obamacare by making it unconstitutional for the Federal Government to offer subsidies to the poor for health care. The Court may determine that only States are able to offer subsidies. If that is way the ball rolls up to seven million Americans in as many as 37 states will lose their health care subsidies.

Andrew Lack guided NBC News in the halcyon days when both The Nightly News and Today rose to new heights. He brought in Brian Williams to groom him to replace Tom Brokaw. Apparently, he is being wooed to return to NBC News to help them straighten out the mess they’ve fallen into, at least that’s the rumor around Mediaville.

Today has been light on global reports. What’s been happening here in the US has been fascinating, what with “Bibi” Netanyahu stirring the pot in Washington and Hillary having found herself with another “situation,” the Supreme Court about to make what might be its most momentous decision as well as General Petraeus’ foibles.

An interesting day, all in all.

Letter From New York 02 12 15 A very interesting week…

February 12, 2015

From Washington, DC to battered Boston, the east coast is being plunged into a dose of bitter winter cold. The temperatures will drop into minus territory tonight and tomorrow and Sunday. At this very moment, the sun is flashing down on the snow-covered drive. As I’ve said before: this is the coldest winter I’ve experienced in the fourteen years I’ve been in the cottage.

The breaking news this morning was that a ceasefire has been announced for Sunday in Ukraine. The pact was announced in three separate news conferences. One was held by Putin, another by Ukraine’s Poroshenko and the third by Merkel of Germany and Hollande of France. That there were three press conferences rather than one has caused observers to already speculate that this is an agreement fraught with trouble.

Already it is known as Minsk II and Poroshenko has announced it will be difficult to implement. Ukraine said that even while the marathon talks were happening more Russian heavy armor entered eastern Ukraine in advance of the stand down.

Minsk II is not too similar to last fall’s Minsk Protocol, which was violated within weeks of signing. Regardless, markets responded well and Merkel and Hollande cautiously celebrated.

The West has made it relatively clear that it will not use military means in Ukraine while Putin plays that hand continuously. His economy may be shattering but he has got a good army on the ground.

While I was in New York yesterday, Bob Simon of CBS News was killed in an auto crash on New York’s West Side Away, near 30th, a spot I have passed many a time. One of my first memories of a network news correspondent was of him, reporting from Viet Nam. He was on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon before it fell. He survived many a war zone; it seems ironic he would pass in an accident on the West Side Highway.

It is another marking point in an extraordinary week for news organizations. Brian Williams is on suspension, Jon Stewart is stepping down and Bob Simon has died.

In news that is hardly happy and seems incomprehensible as I look out at nearly six feet of snow piled outside my window but droughts in the continental US are predicted to become incredibly severe in the second half of this century, the worst in a thousand years.

Judicial disarray reigns for yet another day in Alabama over same sex marriages. A minority of counties are obeying the Federal rulings, a majority are not or are just not marrying anyone, gay or straight. The Probate Judges in Alabama are the ones who give out marriage licenses and the one in Mobile today was ordered to get going and give them out but that ruling was for one specific jurisdiction and it is unclear whether that will influence other counties. Probate judges are declaring themselves caught between two courts.

Ah, sweet Alabama!

And while we are visiting issues in the South, three Muslim students, shot execution style by their neighbor, were buried today. Supposedly it was about parking spaces though Keith Ellison, Democratic Congressman from Minnesota and first Muslim elected to Congress, doubts that’s all there was to it.

A labor dispute is closing West Coast ports for four days. Each side blames the other, of course, but ships will be floating out at sea unable to offload their cargoes. The father of a friend of mine was bankrupted in such a situation many years ago.

Ashton Carter has been named the new Defense Secretary. It was widely expected he would be. Though President Obama’s nominee, he is widely liked by the Senate. The nominee for Attorney General has not been so lucky. Her nomination was not voted on today. The Senate doesn’t convene tomorrow nor is it in session next week.

The sun has almost set. The deer have yet to make their appearance. I have begun to think that it is timed to a moment when the sun is setting. I expect them soon. I have already started the cold-water faucet in the kitchen dripping against the bitter cold of tonight.

As I finish this, my brother is landing in Honduras to begin his two-week trip giving medical care. I will keep him constantly in my thoughts.

Letter From New York 02 11 15 A bit of chaos here and there…

February 11, 2015

As I ride south into the city, the Hudson River to my right is ice bound, with bright light glittering off the frozen surface of the river. The journey into the city was precipitated by a couple of meetings, one of which has already been cancelled while I was boarding the train. My friend Rita’s plane from DC was cancelled and she is rushing to the train station to get the next train.

After many bad experiences, I am skeptical about the wisdom of doing anything but training between Washington and New York.

My train is bumping along as it works its way to New York. It arrived late in Hudson because of equipment trouble but only by thirty minutes. The equipment is suffering from the cold and hence the ride is rockier than usual. I can feel it in my back.

The world of television has been rocked in the last twenty-four hours.

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show for the last fifteen years, announced yesterday that he would be departing the program this year, as early as July or as late as December, but he is leaving.

It is a double blow for Comedy Central, which also lost Stephen Colbert this year to CBS where he is taking over late night duties for David Letterman. The network has indicated The Daily Show will continue and there is scrambling to find a replacement for him.

Scrambling is also going on over at NBC. Steven Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal, paid a visit to Brian Williams yesterday and informed him that he was going to be suspended without pay for the next six months. It may be the beginning of the end of Williams’ career. Twitter has tweets that NBC is now looking into his expense reports and investigating the veracity of other stories that Mr. Williams has told about his in-field experiences.

As I write this, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France are huddling in Minsk, Belarus, in an effort to find some political solution to the Ukrainian crisis. There are rumors of some progress, but sides still seem far apart. More than 5,300 have lost their lives. Somewhere between 1.2 million and 1.5 million have been made refugees.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, has commented that there has been “noticeable progress.” Interpretation: Russia is getting closer to what it wants, I guess. Ms. Merkel of Germany holds out slim hope but will continue to walk the diplomatic path in honor of the civilians who have died.

Hundreds of refugees from Africa are believed to have died in an attempt to reach Italy, joining the thousands who have already drowned in the last years, trying to cross the Mediterranean, hoping to find a better life in Europe.

Three Muslim adult students were gunned down in Chapel Hill, SC. It may have been a hate crime or it may have been a parking dispute. Either way, a tragedy.

Obama has asked for war authorization against ISIS. He used interesting phrasing, with the plan barring “enduring offensive combat operations.” It is to last three years. Speaker Boehner quickly criticized the plan and indicated there would be Congressional changes.

A little over three years ago, the cruise liner Costa Concordia ran aground off an Italian island and 32 people lost their lives. Today, just moments ago, its Captain, Francesco Schettino, was found guilty of manslaughter. He faces 26 years in prison. He was also accused, and found guilty of, abandoning his passengers to save himself.

It was said that when the Costa Concordia hit the rocks, there was chaos. In Alabama today there is a bit of judicial chaos. The Supreme Court refused to put a stay on gay marriage in Alabama and that should have been the end of it. But gay couples can only get married in parts of Alabama today as some judges refuse to carry out ceremonies. An Alabama female minister was arrested on disorderly conduct charges after offering to conduct a same sex wedding. She is in jail.

Alabama has a long history of fighting orders from the Federal Courts. It will be interesting to watch how all this plays out.

Far enough south now, the Hudson River flows freely at the center. The train is approaching New York City. The equipment, however, has not thawed out and I will be glad to end the bumpy ride.

Letter From New York 02 07 15 Before the storm…

February 7, 2015

Soft jazz has been playing in the background almost all day. It is still chill out and we’re facing another winter storm, promising another foot of snow and brutal cold. Feeling a bit of cabin fever, I went out for a walk around my circle and then went and put in a few groceries in case the storm is even worse than they are predicting.

Grey and rather depressing, I found the music helped alleviate my mood, which was also brightened by a spontaneous text message from my godson, telling me he was thinking of me and that he loved me. It made the grey day bright and cheery inside me.

Sitting here with a fresh cup of tea, I have been reading the day’s news. My usual routine was broken this morning and I didn’t have a chance to read the NY Times as young Nick was coming to help me much earlier today than he normally arrives on Saturday. We piled in a stock of wood in case the electricity goes so I can heat the house with the Franklin stove, made our weekly trip down to the Transfer Station [aka “the dump”] and cleaned up all the marks we had left hauling in the wood.

While I slept last night, suicide bombers blew themselves up in Baghdad, taking at least 40 others with them and injuring dozens more. ISIS claimed responsibility for one of them, near a packed restaurant, while the others have not been claimed by any group. It is another case of Sunni against Shia.

Jordan has escalated its attacks on ISIS and is striking them both in Syria and in Iraq. One Jordanian official says they will continue until ISIS is destroyed. The UAE, which had suspended its bombings after the capture of the now dead Jordanian pilot, has now rejoined the fight and is basing a squadron of F-16’s in Jordan.

Meanwhile, in Mosul, one of its two stronghold cities, messages are being blared from the city’s mosques that any family with more than one son should give one up to become a jihadi. Apparently, an underground has formed in Mosul and is attacking ISIS. Interesting.

In Africa, the Boko Haram are also trying to carve out an Islamic State, and are being challenged by troops from the African Union. Nigeria has been mostly unsuccessful in combating them but its neighboring states are committing troops to the effort. They have had better luck.

Ukraine festers, despite the efforts of Merkel and Hollande. Europe is dividing over what to do next and it may well be that Europe is now “too civilized” to do too much. They are also heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies and there is still some winter left to this year and more winters to face. Some are calling for the US to make more natural gas available to Europe so that the EU will feel, perhaps, a little more able to stand up to Russia.

The UK newspaper, The Telegraph, had an article today that questioned whether Putin was strategic, cunning or just plain mad. It is a question worthy of asking. His actions seem to defy logic, which is another reason it is hard to deal with him.

Feeling he has become the news rather than just reporting on it, Brian Williams will not be appearing on The Nightly News for at least the next few days. The storm around him has been getting bigger, even since yesterday. There are unconfirmed rumors that Tom Brokaw is badgering for his dismissal amid other reports that Brokaw has known for years that the story Williams was telling was untrue but that he had done nothing. It is also being reported that some time ago, NBC News told Williams to quit telling the story. He didn’t and now he is in the cross hairs of news organizations all over the world. Ouch.

The days are growing longer. Even a couple of weeks ago, it would be almost dark by now, as I sit finishing my blog for the day. It causes a smile.

Now I’m off to prepare to go to a friend’s for dinner, a good night, hopefully, before the storm begins.

Letter From New York 02 06 15 Strange Patterns…

February 6, 2015

It is that time of day when the golden light of the setting sun flashes across the mounds of snow lining my drive. It looks inviting but the temperature is very low, with a wind chill pushing it down even further. It was a day to be huddled inside. Even with the heat up and a sweater and a fleece jacket on, there is a chilly feeling to the cottage. When I finish writing, I am going to build a fire and begin prepping dinner.

As I usually do before sitting down to write, I scan the trending stories on Google News, trying to catch up with all that is happening out there in the world, far from the tranquil spot where I sit.

By now, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Hollande of France must be on their way home from Moscow, where they were to meet with Putin today. Meanwhile, while they were in Moscow, a truce was called and buses were sent to evacuate more people from the contested zone. As of now, 1.2 million have fled the fighting in Ukraine, helping to add to the global refugee crisis. It has been reported that there are more refugees now than at any time since the end of World War II.

NBC has launched an internal investigation of Brian Williams, the face of NBC News, now accused of inflating events in Iraq in 2003. It is also now being claimed he may have also “misremembered” things that happened to him during Hurricane Katrina. His scandal is growing and there are even a few of his peers who are suggesting he had best resign.

ISIS has issued a report that the Jordanian bombing of Raqqa killed an American hostage, a young woman by the name of Kayla Mueller. She was working with Syrian refugees when she was kidnapped. Other than the statement, there has been no verification. It maybe that the Jordanian attack gave ISIS cover to announce the death of Ms. Mueller. The beheading or immolation of a female hostage could have been a nightmare for ISIS. They are doing these terrible things to garner attention but they have a sometimes canny sense of what they can or cannot do.

Though they seem to have gone too far with the immolation of the Jordanian pilot. The backlash they are receiving is louder and more strident than anything before and they have now an entire Islamic nation enraged.

Enraged at Obama is what the Christian right is today after his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. He reminded the audience that Christians, too, have had blood on their hands over the course of history. He mentioned the Crusades, the Inquisition and Jim Crow. And the response from the right was thunderous. But Obama has no more campaigns to run and is saying what he thinks. While he was correct, it is not actually current. Christianity hasn’t been fighting crusades for a long time and the horrific behavior of the Colonial era is sliding into the past as Christians are now emerging as the most persecuted group in the world. They have moved from the persecutors to the persecuted in a few generations.

But the ones who are suffering the most, I suspect, are Muslims. The rift between Sunni and Shia is enormous and is used to justify a lot of suicide bombings.

One of the questions that often asked is why is religion so often the cause for violence and not for healing?

I don’t have an answer. I do know that historically religion has been at the center of most of human conflict. My God doesn’t like your God so I am going to kill you. It’s a strange pattern. Jesus wouldn’t have agreed but over the centuries lots and lots and lots of human beings have lost their lives to other human beings with a different interpretation of Jesus.

A similar thing seems to be going on within Islam.

Ah, the sun has almost set. There is a pink glow to the west. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Let us hope that the pink glow presages a good day tomorrow.