Friday, December 5, 2008

Senator Kennedy (D), NY?

Will Caroline Kennedy follow in her family's historical footsteps and fully enter the political arena?

According to ABC, Ms. Kennedy---a fervent Obama supporter---is said to be considering the possibility. New York Gov. David Patterson, the man tasked with picking Hillary Clinton's successor, has not yet issued a statement on the process. Earlier, similar rumors circulated that former President Bill Clinton might be interested in the job, but his office quickly released a statement saying he was not willing to consider any offers. Caroline Kennedy's cousin, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., was also discussed as a potential successor, but formally took his name out of the running earlier this week.

It's a big job and somebody has to do it. Despite the high-profile recusals, Gov. Paterson still has a strong team of candidates from which to choose. There are a number of contenders, including several members of New York's delegation in the House of Representatives, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, and Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi.

The rumours don't seem to sit well with a small faction of Obama supporters who feel the change they were promised comes in the form of long time Clintonites and White House insiders, as well as savvy party satellites such as Ms. Kennedy.

In any case, whoever is chosen would have to be ready for hard core, non-stop campaigning and fundraising over the next four years. Clinton's successor will face a hotly-contested campaign in 2010 to fill out the remainder of her term, followed by a re-election bid jut two years later.

The Killing Fields South of the Border

If you've been able to stand a break from following the beautiful collapse of our economy and have been willing to turn your eyes down south for the occasional disheartening diversion from the insular American news cycle, you've no doubt noticed the alarming, increasing reported carnage left in the wake of brutal warfare between Mexico's drug cartels.

But before you get glazed over and dismiss this issue as irrelevant and unimportant (cockroaches killing cockroaches in another country), remember how this bled through the border into Vegas, in one of the better-covered stories of October.

This issue is personal to this household in that two of our close friends living in Tijuana are constantly affected by the violence that has erupted recently. So much so that even the tough-local cookies they both are, they've advised us to postpone an upcoming trip to visit them.

The explosion of violence connected with Mexico’s ruthless drug cartels has left more than 5,000 people dead so far this year, nearly twice the figure from 2007, according to unofficial tallies by Mexican newspapers. The border region of the United States and Mexico, critical to the cartels’ trafficking operation, has been the most violent turf of all, with 60 percent of all killings in the country last month occurring in the states of Chihuahua and Baja California, the government says. And it has raised fears that violence will consistently spill across the border, because dozens of victims of drug violence have been treated at an El Paso, TX hospital in the last year.

The federal government argues that the rising death toll reflects President Felipe Calderón’s aggressive stance toward the cartels, which has forced traffickers into a bitter war over the dwindling turf that remains. So far the feds have no concrete answer other than the fact that dealers are being squeezed and so this is all collateral damage.

True, most of the deaths do appear to be the result of infighting among traffickers. But plenty of innocent people are caught in the crossfire, and the spate of brutal, disfiguring killings — bodies are routinely decapitated or otherwise mutilated and left in public places with handwritten notes propped up nearby — has left people from all walks of life worried that they might be next.

The savage madness has permeated almost all aspects of Mexican daily life. From the New York Times:

Hit men (are) pursuing rivals into intensive care units and emergency rooms. Shootouts (take place) in lobbies and corridors. Doctors are kidnapped and held for ransom, or threatened with death if a wounded gunman dies under their care. With alarming speed, Mexico’s violent drug war is finding its way into the seeming sanctuary of the nation’s hospitals, shaking the health care system and leaving workers fearing for their lives while trying to save the lives of others.

“Remember that hospital scene from ‘The Godfather?’ ” asked Dr. Héctor Rico, an otolaryngologist (in a Tijuana hospital), speaking about the part in which Michael Corleone saves his hospitalized father from a hit squad. “That’s how we live.”

Doctors are particularly vulnerable. When they leave their offices, they say they face the risk of being kidnapped and held for ransom, as about two dozen Tijuana physicians have been in the last few years. Doctors also complain about receiving blunt threats from patients or their relatives. “Sálvame o te mato,” save me or I will kill you, is what one orthopedic surgeon said he was told by a patient, who evidently did not grasp (or care for) the contradiction.

Adding to the madness, hospitals and health care workers have to legally notify the authorities when a patient comes in with a gunshot or knife wound, a requirement of which traffickers are fully aware. That leads to further threats.

Hospital General de Tijuana, the city’s main public hospital, has twice been raided by police officers and soldiers in the past two years. The first time, in April 2007, gunmen stormed the building either to rescue a fellow cartel member who was being treated in the emergency room or to kill a rival, said the police, who were not certain which scenario it was. Two police officers were killed, and all but one of the gunmen got away. The second time was this past April, when soldiers in camouflage ringed Hospital General de Tijuana, shutting it down to allow doctors to treat a handful of traffickers wounded in various shootouts throughout the city. The Mexican Army was apparently trying to prevent a repeat of the 2007 shootout.

The problem everyone in Tijuana faces is that they might be indirectly associating with traffickers without even knowing it. You're headed out to the supermarket where, unbeknown to you, the son of a rival cartel bodyguard is also shopping. The opposition decides to take him down with a flurry of Uzi lead at around the same time you're picking fruit from a bin, standing next to him. This is happening more and more.

Doctors in private practice now screen their patients carefully. Traffickers usually pay well and in cash, but they are not worth the trouble they bring, doctors say. But general hospitals do not have that luxury. They have to treat everyone. They are morally obligated to do so.

(sources: NY Times, CNN, AP)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No Confidence: No Shit!

A little news from Canada, where for once, the political news is a little more interesting than it is in the US. That'll change soon enough, but for now, indulge me and read a little about how our Prime Minister is using the financial crisis to dupe and railroad the rest of us.

Read this from Naomi Klein

I don't even particularly want to talk about this but I don't suppose it would be responsible to completely ignore. It's totally ridiculous how something so monumental has all but forced me into a news coma. For all those out there who aren't aware of what's happening in the Great White North right now, I'll say this: our dastardly leader is decidedly close to destruction. 

I'm not even going to provide a link to the news. Google any Canadian news source (CBC, Globe and Mail, The National Post) and every story is another aspect of this coalition take-over. I'm going to sidestep a lot of complicated political mumbo jumbo and say simply that I'm glad that Stephen Harper is getting torn out of office (it seems). All of the opposition parties are on board with a coalition that will take power and see soundly defeated Stephane Dion of the Liberals take power if the Governor General decides in the direction of the non-confidence motion. A new leader will take his place early next year. The Liberals are sorting that out.

It's hard to make this simple. Yes, I'm glad that Harper will likely be removed. His tactics and policies are intolerable. But, really, I'm not jumping for joy that a coalition that includes a destroyed party (Liberals had the worst showing since confederation in the last election), a soft-left down-home party (NDP with folksy, energetic Jack Layton) and a separatist party (the Bloc Quebecois who was formed for the sole purpose of removing Quebec altogether from the Canadian political landscape) will take the power and have to govern making decisions that haven't been smooth between them before now. They have to do something. As Ms. Klein indicates, the Conservatives were taking insidious advantage of the global financial crisis and their recent and dubious election win to "push through a more radical agenda". But, this is politics after all. It's apparent that the Bloc and the NDP have had this in the works for quite awhile and the Liberals were included recently as the timing looked perfect for the non-confidence motion to pass. Dirty work. 

There you have it. I'm sick of trying to sift through the smoke screens. You'll find me turning to the silent simplicity of photographs soon enough. I'll pop my head in to see who's winning some time later and let you know. 

Prop 8 Hunh! What Is It Good For?

I was hoping the artistes would come up with some kind of response.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Slow Faulty Leak?

Extry, extry, read all about it! The Huffington Post has tapped its hush-hush source at NBC, a poor man's version of Deep Throat, and is announcing that Nice Guy cum Frankenstein's Monster David Gregory has been picked to host "Meet the Press."

Gregory will take over from interim moderator Tom Brokaw, who is now free to retire again and pursue his childhood dreams of fighting in WWII. Or writing about the men who died in it. Either way, we are happy Mr. Brokaw will have ample time now to extricate that very long pole from the inside of his posterior, and perhaps take care of those pesky, blocked nasal passages (during the Presidential debate, momentofchoice was somewhat bewildered: "Is he drunk?").

From the Huffington Post:
"In recent weeks, a short list including Gregory, Andrea Michell, Gwen Ifill, and Chuck Todd had been considered the top candidates for the position, while Katie Couric and Ted Koppel were viewed as dark horses.

Brokaw will conclude his duties as interim moderator this weekend, when he will interview President-Elect Barack Obama."

We can only hope that in his last interview on "Meet the Press," Mr. Brokaw will this time allow the Prez-elect to actually expound on his queries, and not cut off the man because his two-minute window is up.

Meanwhile, mum's the word for NBC. And when contacted by the New York Observer, Gregory's agent said he could neither confirm nor deny the report.

How Much Is Enough?

Hey! Good morning sunshine. Have you heard? The Man just announced we're in a Recession. Twelve months and counting, no less. Wake up! Up you wake. Do you see it all around you? Blink it into focus. You see? I don't. I look for it, but I can't quite grab it. Maybe The Man is lying. Not like he's got a great historical track record, this Man.

"...probably one of the top five Recessions in history..." is what I heard this morning from the brilliant mind of Joey "Da Mayor's Son" Scarborough. Really? People must not be hurting all that badly, seeing how they're willing to stomp a man to death in order to get their hands on toxic, plastic, Chinese shit discounted at Walmart. Some of my friends on the social network I recently joined boasted that they were out there at 3 a.m., wallets in hand, ready to go at it. How's that? Shop 'till you...

In the 1930s we had soup and bread lines. In 2008, in the middle of a Recession, we have iPhone and iPod lines. Wake up! I am beyond disgusted at this time of year, watching B-roll of grinning, agitated consumers pressed flat against locked Walmart/Target/Macy's/Whateverthefucktheretailername's double doors, buzzing to get in. You've seen these hordes. News outlets cover them every year in the Ha-Ha Holiday Vibe and Cheer segments with which they jam the airwaves. These shopping machines have the same feverish, glazed with adrenaline look in their eyes the Hutu militia carried while chopping down the Tutsi with machetes in '94. I'm not reaching. Look at them. They're in a savage, weird shopping trance. Up you wake!

This Black Friday cash-strapped consumers spent 7.2% more on things they didn't need than last year. $10.6 billion in just one day, according to figures released by RCT ShopperTrak, a research firm that tracks total retail sales at more than 50,000 outlets. It's hard to stand it when even my close friends drop the age-old excuse of having held out all this time...all these years until it was beyond finally buy new shit. Because for being prudent and frugal, Bhasundara the Goddess of Prosperity is rewarding them with up to 75% off that plastic garlic press made in China. And don't even get me started on the futility of "stocking stuffers."

Please excuse the Scrooge-like rant. I am usually more level-headed and methodical in my pieces for this esteemed site. I'll try to calm down and stealthily exit stage left, eeeven. But not without leaving you with one of my all-time favourite scenes from cinema history. It can applied to everything:


Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Por Ahora..."

Last year, Venezuelan voters rejected a sweeping package of constitution changes put forth by president Hugo Chávez, which would have ended presidential term limits. On the heels of that narrow defeat, Chavez proclaimed that, although the people had spoken, most of them would need to be further educated (Communist re-education campspeak comrades?), but that he would respect their choice. "Por ahora." For now.

Chávez, the paratroop commander who co-led a failed military coup in 1992 and who was democratically elected in 1998 is back again, asking supporters one more time to amend the Venezuelan constitution and allow him to seek indefinite re-election. Opponents have again raised concerns that Chávez intends to be "el Presidente" for life---as most dictators wish---however, Chávez on Sunday said he would stay in office only until 2019 if voters abolished the term limits. He said he needs more time to build a socialist economy in Venezuela.

As the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, Chávez promotes a political doctrine of democratic socialism and Latin American integration. He has also been a fervent critic of neoliberalism, globalization, and United States foreign policy. But for all the talk of cooperation among the world's poor nations, especially those in Latin America, and his actions against the Washington Consensus by supporting alternative models of economic development, Chávez is a Castro wannabe in socialist sheep's clothing.

And despite the muscle flexing, tough talk, and anti-American rhetoric, Chávez knows full well he's engaged in an interdependent political game with the United States to buy his country's oil. What most people don't realize is that Venezuela has no other market for the greater part of its oil: heavy crude.

Heavy crude is special stuff and is not for the average refinery. The majority of Venezuela's oil can only be processed in the specialist refineries run by Hovensa (a joint venture between US refiners Hess Corp and PdVSA) located in the US Virgin islands, among other places. Meanwhile, the U.S. readily accepts the Venezuelan heavy crude because without it the heavy crude refineries would close. There is no other supplier of this special crude available, so the U.S. would lose around 11% of its total domestic oil products supply in one fell swoop.

The result is of the 2.15 million barrels per day (mbpd) Venezuela pumps presently, 1.35mbpd has to go to the U.S. Simply put, without Venezuela, U.S. refineries will close and the country will have an oil supply crisis. Meanwhile without the United States, Venezuela will have no market for the lion's share of its crude, and thus Señor Presidente would be voted out.

In the Nov. 23rd elections, the pro-Chávez United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 72% of the governorships and 58% of the popular vote, dumbfounding the predictions of most of the pro-capitalist pollsters, and the vast majority of the mass media who favored the opposition. The election results point to deepening polarization between the centrist right and the socialist left. The centrist social-democratic ex-Chavista governors were practically wiped from the political map.

For now, Chávez' term expires in 2013.

Por ahora.