Posts Tagged ‘Minsk’

Letter From New York 01 13 15 Deciding for yourself…

February 13, 2015

On this Friday the 13th, I find myself in the Acela Lounge at Penn Station, warding off the freezing temperatures that have descended on the Northeast. Actually, I am waiting here to hear from my friend Paul, who may need some help from me after he has outpatient surgery today. He is having a stent put in his leg this afternoon. I am waiting to hear from him about going to his apartment, not far from Penn, to be with him after his surgery.

While Claverack will probably only get bitter cold today and tomorrow, the coastal areas of New England will be hammered again by snow, another foot added to the already record amounts that have fallen. Locally, the harsh winter has resulted in a road salt shortage and rationing has been started.

While a peace deal has been signed in Minsk, fighting is continuing in Ukraine and there is some skepticism that fighting will end when it is supposed to at midnight Saturday night. Ukraine has a slumping economy and has received a promise of $17.5 billion from the IMF to prop it up.

The negotiations to reach the agreement were difficult and “buckets of coffee” were drunk, according to the host, the President of Belarus. It was the first time in years any western leader had visited his country. He’s known as Europe’s last dictator. He met Angela Merkel with a small bouquet of flowers and seemed very pleased she and Hollande were there.

Probably not very pleased right now is President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina as a prosecutor has launched an investigation concerning her potential involvement in a cover-up regarding facts about a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a synagogue in which 85 people were killed. Iran has been blamed, a statement they deny.

It is the latest twist in a bizarre case. The last prosecutor, Nisman, was found dead in his apartment the night before he was testify in the case. Supposedly a suicide, it is now being investigated as a potential murder. The case is riveting Argentina.

Another riveting scene is watching who will blink first in the Greek debt restructuring negotiations. Greece isn’t budging from its position of wanting a restructuring and European Finance Ministers are not moving from demanding that Greece honor the terms of the bailout. Particularly severe is Schaeuble of Germany, a formidable figure, in a wheelchair as a result of a 1990 assassination attempt.

The Boko Haram launched their first attack on Chad. The BBC reported that the savagery was severe. Soldiers had their throats cut and women were carried off as “war booty.” President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria is requesting American troops to fight Boko Haram.

In another chapter in a sorry week for media, David Carr, the well-respected media critic for the New York Times, collapsed last night in the Times’ newsroom and died. He had battled drug addiction in his younger years and had climbed out of that hole and become one of the most respected reporters in the country.

Brian Williams is reported to be considering an apology tour of the country after seeking counseling. As he considers his next moves, investigations are continuing into many comments that he made that are now doubted. Was he with Seal Team 6 as they flew into Baghdad? Did he actually shake the hand of Pope Paul II? Was he at the Brandenburg Gate the night the wall fell? He might need to wait to make that apology tour until he knows exactly all that he needs to apologize for.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of our Supreme Court is reported as having had a bit too much wine the night of the State of the Union address and drifted off during Obama’s speech. It made her seem so human.

Speaking of things human, the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey opens this weekend. The reviews I’ve read or heard are all over the place, from superb to terrible, beautifully acted to woodenly performed. One reviewer reported that at the end of the screening she attended, everyone began to giggle, probably from a combination of factors. If you are interested [and it is assumed a lot of people are going to be interested], you will probably have to rely on your own take.

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 10 15 Of sex and politics and other things…

February 10, 2015

Taking advantage of the fact it rocketed to just above freezing today, I went for a walk to break the spell of cabin fever that has settled upon me as it snowed and snowed and snowed. It is both above freezing and the sun is brilliant, causing me to squint as I walked. It appears that the weight of the snow has felled a couple of trees in the neighborhood.

Early this morning, Nick, who helps me out at the house, and his sidekick, Bernard, arrived to finish digging me out. It was while they were shoveling and knocking down icicles that a report came in from the BBC that, indeed, Kayla Mueller, the last American hostage in the hands of ISIS, was dead. It is not clear yet whether she died in the Jordanian bombing of Raqqa or if she had died at another place and time.

Regardless, she is dead and my heart goes out to her family. Her “crime” was that she was an American, helping refugees. She paid with her life for her humanitarianism.

Tomorrow, my brother goes to Honduras to bring medical care to places that have no medical care except when teams like his venture there. He has done this for many years. Honduras has a place in his heart; he ran a clinic for children in El Progresso, Honduras, after finishing his internship. Yearly, I worry because Honduras, never the safest of places, has devolved in recent years and is now one of the most violent countries on the planet.

Jeb Bush continues to groom himself as a Presidential candidate. Today he released the first chapter of an eBook about his time as Governor of Florida, filled with emails from his first weeks. Chris Christie, current Governor of New Jersey, is being dogged by tales of a lavish lifestyle to which he has managed to grow accustomed. After all, he said, he is just “trying to squeeze the last juice out of the orange.” The King of Jordan picked up a tab for him for $30,000 to pay for a vacation in that country.

Once upon a time Dominique Strauss-Kahn was considered a front-runner for President of France. Today, he is on trial in Lille, France for pimping. He denies it, not for a moment believing that the provocatively dressed women at the “swingers” parties he attended were prostitutes. He has a “horror” of sex with prostitutes. His sexual activities have been under the microscope since 2011 when he was accused by a housemaid at the Hotel Sofitel in New York of forcing himself upon her. That was settled out of court. He had to step down as President of the IMF. He has been attempting to rehabilitate his reputation since then. I don’t think it is working.

In other sexual/political news the High Court in Malaysia has upheld the sodomy conviction of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar. He was convicted in 2008. That conviction was overturned and now that overturning has been overturned. Prime Minister Najib of Malaysia defended the decision, even as criticism of him is mounting in that country. As Imelda Marcos had a thing for shoes, his wife has a thing for handbags, the kind that can cost as much as $150,000. She has lots. He doesn’t earn that much as a politician. And no one seems to quite believe the story of family money from somewhere.

In Minsk, tomorrow, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are meeting. They are going to discuss creating a de-militarized zone in the southeast of Ukraine where the September truce is being broken by both sides on a daily basis. While dialogue may continue, it is beginning to feel as if the door on diplomacy is closing. The US is talking of arming Kiev and the EU is against it. Putin maintains his inscrutability.

All of this is news and if this were a normal week, Brian Williams would be leading the dissemination of it on NBC. It is not. NBC says they will resolve the Brian Williams crisis in the next day or two. According to a Rasmussen Reports poll, 40% of Americans think he should resign.

This weekend the highly anticipated film, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, will premiere. The film version of the naughty book of the same name will probably do well at the Box Office though first reviews of the film aren’t particularly good but then reviews of the book were awful but it didn’t prevent it from lingering for what seemed forever on the best seller lists.

I’ll wind down now and get ready to go to the local Mexican restaurant, Coyote Flaco, for some dinner. The sun is setting and the temperature is supposed to dip again, making this the longest cold stretch I can remember in the fourteen years in Claverack.

Letter From New York 02 08 15 As the snow falls…

February 8, 2015

About fifteen hours later than was predicted, snow has begun to fall in Claverack. We are supposed to get another eighteen inches tonight if the forecast actually holds. It will be interesting to wake up in the morning and see what we actually have gotten. I am supposed to go into the city tomorrow but have a feeling I may have to cancel my meetings and reschedule them.

Freshly back from the Red Dot, my favorite local place, I am sitting at my desk, looking out at the small snowflakes which are falling, growing slowly in their intensity and size. It’s been another one of those grey and gloomy days and I went down to the Red Dot for both a bite to eat and a bit of company. Living alone sometimes leads to a bit of isolation, which I do my best to counter with forays into the world.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and the de facto leader of the EU, is facing her biggest challenges right now. Desperately, Europe is attempting to defuse the growing crisis in the Ukraine and the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine are meeting tomorrow in Minsk to see if they can avert a spiral into chaos. Meanwhile, she is also attempting to manage Greece’s rebellion against austerity. The former chairman of the Fed, Alan Greenspan, has predicted that Greece will leave the Eurozone and that the Eurozone itself is doomed unless there is greater political connectivity – in effect, a United States of Europe. That’s grim.

Brian Williams’ problems continue to grow. More and more folks are calling for him to resign and it seems that he will be irrevocably damaged even if he keeps his job, which is becoming more doubtful by the day.

Out in the Mideast, Jordanian planes continue to pound ISIS. Jordan is claiming it has destroyed 20% of ISIS’s military capacity. The immolation of the Jordanian pilot, Moaz Al-Kasasbeh, has apparently united the Arab coalition against ISIS, which is the opposite of what they expected. The globe is uniting in their condemnation of ISIS in a way they haven’t before.

In Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is facing a crisis and may well lose his leadership position in his party, echoing what happened to his predecessors. Internecine warfare seems to becoming the norm in Australian politics, regardless of party.

Iran is indicating this is the best opportunity there will ever be for a nuclear agreement. President Rouhani of Iran, a moderate, is walking a fine line against the religious leaders of Iran while our Congress is talking about more sanctions, which could scuttle the talks. President Obama has said that he will veto such sanctions but everyone is walking a tightrope right now. Rouhani’s Foreign Minister, Zarif, was criticized for taking a walk with Secretary of State John Kerry. Rouhani struck back at the critics but he is playing a very limited game of cards. He is not the final say in Iran. Khamenei, the religious leader, has the final say.

Ah, what a world in which we live, full of discord and violence, while at the same time, so full of beauty. My deer are crossing the yard as the snow falls around them, moving slowly off to the west, beautiful in their passage and innocent in their lives. Jazz still plays on Pandora and soon I will leave to watch the Grammies with friends.