Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Letter From New York 07 04 14 Happy Birthday, America!

July 4, 2015

Today is the birthday of the United States and I am spending it in Baltimore, sitting in a lovely apartment in the Inner Harbor area called Fell’s Point. Outside it is, as almost everyday seems to be this summer, grey.

We all went to see “Inside Out,” the new film from Pixar and it was everything I didn’t expect it to be. It was heartwarming and brought tears to my eyes. I highly recommend it. A young girl from Minnesota migrates with her parents to San Francisco. In a mishap, the emotions and characters Joy and Sadness get lost with all her good core memories and poor Riley, the girl, finds herself left with Disgust, Anger and Fear. Not a good combination. But the combination of elements in the film make it wonderful and so, once again, I highly recommend it.

We are waiting to see the fireworks tonight – unless they pull a rain check and decide to do them tomorrow though the forecast for Sunday isn’t better than today’s.

While America is celebrating its birthday, the Dalai Lama is celebrating his July 6th birthday all weekend with a whole series of parties. Happy Birthday! The venerable Dalai Lama turns 80 on Tuesday.

As America celebrates its nationhood, Vladimir Putin has sent holiday greetings to President Obama and suggested there were many things they could work on together, like global terrorism. Obama apparently reminded him of the necessity of living up to the Minsk Accords, which require Russia to pull back men and armaments from Ukraine. I suspect it was not a jolly conversation but at least they’re talking, always a good thing.

Yesterday, I mentioned that IS has begun destroying some of the ancient artifacts of Palmyra. One of the noted spots in the ruins is an amphitheater where, I suspect, the plays of the ancients were performed. I’m sure there was nothing quite like a good comedy by Aristophanes to lighten a moment in Roman times.

Yesterday, the amphitheater was used by IS as a stage for killing 25 captured soldiers. The firing squad was composed of militants as young as 13 and 14.

Iraqi jets soared over Mosul earlier today, dropping not bombs but leaflets promising that soon a campaign to free the city would begin. A new radio station, Mosul FM, would soon begin broadcasting and the city’s citizens should listen to it for instructions when the campaign to retake the city begins.

IS did its best to keep people from reading the leaflets.

In the meantime, bombs in Baghdad killed 19.

Tomorrow is the fateful day for Greece. They will go to the polls to vote yes or no about the bailout that has already expired. Apparently, media is encouraging people to vote yes while the government is encouraging a no vote. Lots of Greeks aren’t really sure for what they’re voting. Polls indicate it could go either way, with the country seeming to be split almost exactly down the middle.

European leaders are predicting a Greek collapse if the vote is a no. The Greek leaders are telling the Greeks that it will give them a stronger position in negotiating with their creditors.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t bring a collapse for the rest of us if Greece votes no.

While Greece is voting, the British will be celebrating the christening of Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge which will occur on the Queen’s Sandringham estate at St. Mary Magdalene Church on the grounds. The Princess is fourth in line to the throne and generally someone this close to the throne would be christened in London but the Cambridge’s are breaking with tradition.

It will give the world something happy to focus on while watching the vote in Greece.

Right now, I am munching on cheese and crackers while writing and sipping a martini made by Lionel. Our chairs are on the balcony, facing the Inner Harbor, ready for the fireworks.

It was here, in Baltimore, that Francis Scott Keyes composed the “Star Spangled Banner” during the war of 1812, a song set to a ditty that was making the rounds of London’s Gentleman’s Clubs in the late 1700’s.

I hope all of you have exceptional and safe 4th of July’s.

Letter From New York 06 16 15 Vladimir the Saint and Vladimir the President…

June 16, 2015

Just moments ago, the sun broke through the cloud cover that has weighted the city down all day. According to the weather reports, we were to be having thunderstorms about now but, nay, nay, we have sun. But will it last? I hope so. It’s been a grey week that hasn’t done much for building happy spirits among New Yorkers.

I started the day with a delightful breakfast with a young entrepreneur I met a few years ago at a Producer’s Guild event. He has started a company called Kite, which connects large corporations with start-ups that can help solve their marketing problems. Fascinating.

Then I came to the office and worked on a whole variety of things, before sitting down to think about today’s Letter. Before I started work, though, I happened on a VICE News short documentary featuring Simon Ostrovsky, one of their correspondents who was kidnapped, detained and released by pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. While in custody, he was beaten and accused of being a spy. There was an international outcry at his disappearance and three days after he had been pulled from his car, he was released, without explanation. He still continues to cover the Ukrainian conflict.

Today’s piece showed him following a Russian soldier through social media, making a very good case that the Russian soldier had been in eastern Ukraine. He posted selfies from a variety of places that could be identified in Ukraine. Russian soldiers seem to have a penchant for posting selfies on VK, the Russian Facebook.

Yet, according to Putin, there are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine, not now or ever.

The young soldier denied that he was there when contacted on the phone by Simon though the pictures were pretty convincing.

We all live in a world of lies and illusions though it seems they are a little deeper when we are around Vladimir Putin.

A very tall statue of St. Vladimir, the patron saint of Russia, is being put up in Moscow and it has the anti-Putin forces striving to get it stopped. History has taught us that is not likely to happen. He will be very tall and will be set on the tallest hill in Moscow, looking down on the city. Vladimir the Saint was a Russian warlord who converted to Christianity and then told everyone he ruled that they were going to convert, too. Or else, I suspect.

The Russian Orthodox Church has a very cozy relationship with the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin, who was once a Communist and therefore, theoretically, should not have believed in God, has found a relationship with the Church a very convenient thing. They are strong supporters of his conservative views on things like homosexuality. And Putin has seen to it that there are now “anti-blasphemy” laws on the books that squelch any critics of Russian Orthodoxy.

Ah, how often in history have churches served politics and politics, churches.

Interestingly, St. Vladimir hailed from what is now Ukraine. Perhaps a connection to Russia that Putin is underscoring?

It is the 1000th anniversary of Vladimir’s death and the living Vladimir is going to squeeze every ounce out of it that he can for his own political purposes.

No one has said that Vladimir Putin is stupid. He is frightening but not stupid. He is now replacing older nukes with newer, smarter nukes that can elude anti-missile systems. Do I hear the drumbeat of an arms race?

I hope not but fear so. In a brighter note,

Pope Francis, the rock star Pope is apparently coming out in an upcoming encyclical as against climate change deniers. Parts of it have been leaked as the Vatican reminds all that it is a work in progress. But if what is leaked is true, Pope Francis comes down hard on the side of climate change being created by human actions.

You go, Francis!

Letter From New York 05 11 15 Of glittering sun and charming princes…

May 11, 2015

Today dawned gloriously, bright shiny sunlight came barreling down from the east, casting a disc of yellow/white onto the creek, glinting up at me as I stood on the deck for a moment before heading for the city.

The Hudson looked peaceful as I rolled south on the train, giving no evidence that there had been a fire at Indian Point, the nuclear reactor forty miles north of midtown Manhattan or that oil from there had seeped into the river, causing environmental concerns. Governor Cuomo was there over the weekend, being briefed on the happenings. It makes him and many others nervous about a nuclear plant that close to the city.

Anything nuclear makes me nervous.

For those who have a fond spot for Britain, it may be time to be nervous. While last week’s election has saved the political career of David Cameron it might just herald the beginning of the end for “Great Britain.” The SNP [Scottish National Party] won 56 of 59 seats that Scotland has in Britain’s Parliament. They also are very much in favor of holding another vote about Scotland going its own way from the rest of the United Kingdom [England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland]. Just doesn’t seem right but it could happen.

What does seem right is the idea of a truce in Yemen that is supposed to start tomorrow to allow aid to reach the Yemenis. Fuel resources are almost exhausted and food is scarce. Days ago it was estimated that 80% of Yemenis were going hungry. It’s only become worse since then.

As the time for the truce draws near, the Saudis are deploying a strike force near the Yemen/Saudi border. Trucks carrying tanks have been traveling through the night to take positions. The Houthis say they will honor the truce as long as the Saudis do but if there are infractions they will immediately respond.

One UN official felt five days would not be enough time to get aid to the Yemenis but it is all they have, if they manage to hold the truce for that amount of time.

Secretary of State John Kerry is off to Sochi, Russia to meet with Vladimir Putin to discuss Syria, Ukraine and Iran. I wonder what that conversation is going to be like?

In more Washington news, writer Seymour Hersh has written a piece for the London Review of Books claiming that the story of Osama Bin Laden’s death was a lot of bunk and the truth is quite different. Seems he thinks that it was an American/Pakistani conspiracy and that OBL was actually a Pakistani prisoner at the time of the raid and the raid was a cover-up for Pakistan’s involvement.

Pretty far fetched and, like most conspiracy theories, pretty hard to prove.

From The Moscow Times, an English language newspaper in Russia not known for partisanship to Putin, claims that Russian soldiers have, in small numbers, quit the army after being forced to serve in Ukraine.

According to Vladimir Putin, no Russian soldiers are in Ukraine, only volunteers.

While the migrant focus has been on the thousands attempting to cross from Libya to Italy, another migrant drama has been playing out. Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshi immigrants have been rescued at sea attempting to reach Malaysia since Thailand has been cracking down on human trafficking. The Rohingya are not allowed citizenship in Myanmar and as Muslims are a minority in that mostly Buddhist country and have been singled out for ethnic violence. Because of the Thai crackdown, aid workers are concerned that many have been abandoned at sea by their smugglers.

George Zimmerman, he of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, is back in the news today, having been himself slightly wounded in a road rage incident.

And Tom Brady, Quarterback of the Patriots, has been suspended by the NFL for four games while the Patriots were fined a million dollars and two draft picks in coming years. Seems a slight slap on the wrist though it is almost assured that Brady will appeal his suspension. Ah, Deflategate!

Prince Harry, now fifth in line for the British throne after the birth of his niece, Charlotte, is in New Zealand, learning about the aftereffects of the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. By all accounts he is charming the New Zealanders to no end.

And that brings me to the end of today’s Letter From New York. I am about to do a conference call and then see about some dinner. That sounds charming.

Letter From New York 03 15 15 Great Operas in the Future…

March 15, 2015

As I do on many Sunday mornings, I went down to Christ Church Episcopal for Sunday Services. I started a tradition a few weeks ago, lighting a candle for myself and one for my friend Tim and his wife, Vidya. Tim, who lives in London, has multiple tumors in his brain and the prognosis is not good. I am scheduled to see them on my layover in London on my way to India. We hope to have lunch and spend a few hours together before I fly off to Delhi.

After church, I ran out to Staples to get a plastic container for this year’s tax receipts and an additional international adapter for electricity. With all the devices one carries, one adapter is no longer enough.

After Staples, I went back into Hudson for Eggs Benedict on potato latkes while perusing my phone for the latest stories of the day.

The advance in Tikrit continues. Iraqi forces have chosen to pause while they work out a coordinated plan on how to deal with the snipers and booby-trapped roads. Commentators on NPR today all agreed that the loss of Tikrit would be a psychological blow to IS.

There were also more stories of young Brits and Americans who have chosen to go fight against IS.

Plus there is a story of Turkey turning back three young Brits on their way to join IS, who are now back in London and in jail.

The guessing game continues in Moscow as to where is Vladimir Putin. Likeliest explanation is that he has been felled by the flu. Least likely is that he is dead or that a secret coup has been staged.

It is no secret that Venuatu has been devastated by Cyclone Pam with no one really knowing the extent of the destruction because many of the nation’s islands have had communication cut off. Aid has begun to arrive but caregivers are estimating much, much more will be needed to get the country on its feet again.

20-year-old Jeffrey Williams has been arrested in the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, MO. He claims he was firing at someone else. In jail, he’s been held on an all cash $300,000 bail.

Robert Durst is the scion of a wealthy real estate family in New York, owning something like twenty skyscrapers in Manhattan. He admitted that he killed his neighbor and chopped him up and scattered his remains in Galveston Bay. He claimed self-defense and the jury bought it.

He is also suspected in the disappearance of his wife and in the murder of one of his closest confidants. You would think a man with this much baggage would keep a low profile but he allowed himself to be the subject of a six part docu-series on HBO called “The Jinx.” It may well have jinxed Mr. Durst. In it, there is potential new evidence regarding the death of Susan Berman, his confidante, killed just before she was to be interviewed about the disappearance of Durst’s wife.

Will make a great opera one day.

Another great opera will be one day made about the saga of Bill and Hillary Clinton. House Republicans are going to ask her to appear before them about Benghazi. Again. They are also continuing to scrutinize her use of a personal email while at the State Department.

And thinking of the State Department, I have to remember to register my trip with the American Embassy in Delhi.

Next thing on my deck is to call my oldest friend in the world – we’ve known each other since we were three – and chat with her before I leave for India.