Thursday, June 30, 2011

Est Dominique Strauss-Kahn sur le point d'être un homme libre ? (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 10:08 p.m. EDT (June 30): Additional details from the New York Times on the potential for the Strauss-Kahn case collapsing:

Senior prosecutors met with lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn on Thursday and provided details about their findings, and the parties are discussing whether to dismiss the felony charges. Among the discoveries, one of the officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who is Guinean, and possible links to criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers will return to State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Friday morning, when Justice Michael J. Obus is expected to consider easing the extraordinary bail conditions that he imposed on Mr. Strauss-Kahn in the days after he was charged.
Indeed, Mr. Strauss-Kahn could be released on his own recognizance, and freed from house arrest, reflecting the likelihood that the serious criminal charges against him will not be sustained. The district attorney’s office may try to require Mr. Strauss-Kahn to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, but his lawyers are likely to contest such a move.
Meanwhile, Business Insider is asking a provocative question -- did someone set up Mr. Strauss-Kahn? The report suggests:
Before he was arrested in New York, Strauss-Kahn himself suggested that his biggest weakness as a presidential candidate was his fondness for women. Specifically, he suggested, someone might be able to set him up.
So did someone set him up?
Could this be the biggest political scandal in history?
Let's be clear -- there is NO evidence at this point of a set up, meaning the Business Insider article borders on the unethical. It is incumbent upon that information source to follow up on these questions.

ORIGINAL POST: Is Dominique Strauss-Kahn about to be a free man?

The legal case against the former head of the International Monetary Fund could be on the verge of falling apart. The New York Times sent the following news alert at 9:20 p.m. EDT (June 30):
The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that she was attacked by the French politician in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.

Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn and the woman, prosecutors do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.  

Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.

Enjoying the greatness that is Anthony Calvillo

The 2011 Canadian Football League season kicked off tonight with the Montreal Alouettes playing the British Columbia Lions.

The Alouettes ought to have the label "dynasty" associated with them. Dating to 2000, the Als have appeared in eight of the past 11 Grey Cup games, which is the equivalent to the NFL's Super Bowl. They've won three of them, including the last two, in that stretch.

Anthony Calvillo has been the constant centerpiece of the team and his statistics demonstrate just how dominant he's been since joining the Als as a free agent before the 1998 season. He won the CFL's Most Outstanding Player award in 2003, 2008 and 2009. His teammates named him their Most Outstanding Player eight times since 2001, and he also was the Grey Cup Most Valuable Player in 2002.

You'll find his name all over the CFL's record book, and this year he has a chance to set a league record for passing yards. If he stays healthy, he's got a great chance to do it.

Mind you, the man is now 38 years old, but over the past three seasons he has put up numbers that are expected of men 10 years younger.

Now, there are sure to be naysayers prepared to grumble that the CFL is inferior to the NFL and that any records established in that league tell us little about how great a player Calvillo is. We Americans can sometimes be such an arrogant lot. Instead of instantly comparing (which automatically leads to "we are better" regardless of whether we really are) perhaps football fans on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border ought to simply savor greatness while there is still a chance to do that.

Let's assume Calvillo finishes this season by establishing new league records and gets his team to the Grey Cup. That might be enough for him to say he's done. Remember, he had surgery for a cancerous lesion on his thyroid during the off-season and for a period of time there were worries about his return for 2011.

Watching Calvillo is watching greatness. Do it while you can.

Le président français Nicolas Sarkozy est attaqué par un homme

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is attacked by a man.

It happened as he shook hands with the public. As the video shows (scroll toward the bottom of the link to access it), Mr. Sarkozy was caught off guard and would have fallen to the ground had the barrier separating him from the crowd not been present.

In describing the incident, the New York Times reports,

The exact motives of the assailant, who the police say was unarmed, remain unclear. But his ability to get so close to France’s head of state and physically assault him, before being tackled by security guards seconds later and detained, may raise concerns about presidential security just as the campaigning for the 2012 election gets under way. 

Mr. Sarkozy had come to the southwestern French town of Brax to attend a meeting of mayors and after welcoming back two French hostages released from 18 months in Taliban captivity earlier in the day....

The local police could not be reached for comment, but French news reports identified his attacker as Hermann Fuster, 32, from the nearby town of Agen. An employee of the municipal conservatory, he was arrested and being questioned in Agen. One police official, cited by the Web site of the weekly L’Express, said he wanted to challenge the president on France’s war effort in Libya.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Srakozy made changes to his Cabinet. France 24 reports the decision is "spurring many in France to view the new team as the “war cabinet” that Sarkozy hopes would guarantee his re-election."

The news agency adds:
President Sarkozy has struggled for four years to establish a stable cabinet. Former Labour Minister Eric Woerth and former Foreign Affairs Minister Michele Alliot-Marie were ushered out after separate and humiliating scandals, and are only the most outstanding in a long list of ministerial basket cases.
The French press is not convinced Sarkozy has finally found the right formula, only the right focus. “One year away from the presidential poll," Le Monde wrote, “only national politics counts.”

France 4, Canada 0

It was the first blowout of the 2011 Women's World Cup.

As AFP reports,
A double from Gaetane Thiney and second half goals from Camille Abily and Elodie Thomis put France on the way to their first quarter-final appearance at the women's World Cup with just one group game to play.
France, in fact, secured its place in the quarterfinals after Germany beat Nigeria, 1-0, later in the day. Germany also is through to the quarterfinals.

The Sports Network provides additional details on the French victory.

France sits atop Group A because of a better goal differential, and that means France can win the group with a victory or just a tie against Germany. That game is next Tuesday and closes out Group A play.

Our man/woman in Pyongyang

A Western news agency with a bureau in Pyongyang?

Stop laughing. It's happening.

As Poynter notes,
AP says it would be the first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital. 
The aforementioned report includes the AP's press release, which in part states:
Under one memo of understanding work begins immediately on discussions aimed at opening an AP bureau in Pyongyang. It would be the first permanent text and photo bureau operated by a Western news organization in the North Korean capital. Five years ago, AP Television News, headquartered in London, became the first Western news organization to establish an office in North Korea.
The second memo of understanding outlines cooperation on journalistic and photo/video technology issues, including a joint photo exhibition by the two agencies in New York next year.
The contract signed this week designates AP as the exclusive distributor of contemporary and historic video from KCNA’s archive, providing a new source of video content from North Korea to AP’s members and customers around the world.
Okay, let's get the jokes out of the way -- the AP will be duped; the person/people assigned to that bureau must really have upset someone; the censors will dictate what the AP reports.

Are there legitimate questions to be asked about the freedom the bureau will have in its reporting? Yes. Are those questions going to be asked (and certainly already have) by the AP's management? Yes. Could this become a frustration for AP that leads to the bureau being shuttered in short order? Yes.

For now, let's see what develops.  

Elections are coming...

...but will real political reform follow?

Kyrgyzstan was ruled for a long time by strongman Kurmanek Bakiev, who was overthrown last year. When Rosa Otunbaeva assumed the presidency, legitimate elections before the end of this year were promised. Today, parliament delivered.

As Reuters reports,
Kyrgyzstan's parliament today set October 30 as the date for a presidential election designed to move the country closer to completing constitutional reforms aimed at creating Central Asia's first parliamentary democracy.
To learn more about Otunbaeava, who will be a formidable candidate in the elections, consider this story from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

No matter who is in charge, economic reforms are desperately needed. Right now, it appears the government is interested in spending rather than spending wisely. As Eurasianet notes
The country’s new leadership stepped into a difficult situation, with state coffers nearly empty. But rather than engage in belt-tightening, officials proceeded to double-down on debt. In a move that won popular plaudits, the government reversed a utility tariff increase that had been imposed during the Bakiyev era. Then, officials went on a spending spree, pressing ahead with infrastructure projects and raising state-sector salaries. In addition, authorities allotted $100 million for the reconstruction of Osh and Jalal-Abad following the ethnic clashes, though critics complain about opaque accounting practices in connection with the reconstruction process.
Reuters adds
The country has promised much since electing a new parliament last October, the first in ex-Soviet Central Asia not beholden to a presidential strongman. But early hopes that Kyrgyzstan could become a model for a different way to do business in the region are fading.

"The last two governments didn't encourage any great confidence in their ability to create a level playing field. There's a hope that things might get better under the new government, but it's very much 'wait and see'," says Nick Chalmers, mining analyst at Mirabaud Securities in London.

"There have been instances in the past of companies coming unstuck when trying to move from exploration to production, and finding that the goalposts have been moved. Until ... this transition is tested under the new administration, scepticism will remain."
These concerns shouldn't be ignored, but they also need to be tempered with a reality that eradicating years of corruption cannot be done in months. Encouragement of the political and business communities will aid Kyrgyzstan as it develops into whatever it will be. And let's remember that if that orientation is not Western in every way that the nation shouldn't be considered a failure.

Education in Pennsylvania is a non-priority

An unfair criticism of Gov. Tom Corbett and his budget?


But please explain to me how education can face such drastic cuts in this state. Consider this: the state's education department is losing more than $1 BILLION. Higher education is getting whacked to the tune of $90 MILLION. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review provides a look at the winners and losers, so to speak, of the budget in this chart.

In its accompanying story, the newspaper outlines the partisan response to the budget.
"Today we're doing what some said couldn't be done," said Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland County.
"I'm ashamed of it all, and it didn't have to be this way," said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, arguing against it.
Mind you, Governor-who-appears-to-not-value-education Corbett had planned to cut millions more from higher education until legislators stepped in and told him that was one hatchet he wouldn't be allowed to use.

Nevertheless, for students who attend any of the state's public colleges or universities, today is going to be a bad day. Consider what they are losing as you read this story, and then check out this report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which suggests:
A spokesman for the union that represents faculty members and coaches at the State System universities speculated tuition could climb as much as 10 percent.
I doubt it will be that high, but an increase of 6.5-7.5 percent seems likely.

Now, let me make clear that I recognize the governor and the state legislature had tough choices to make; Pennsylvania is in the same boat as many other states in running a terribly high deficit. But to slash education so drastically isn't practical. It might make for good short-term political goals, but the burden it places on teachers, students and parents is not right.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Goodbye, WDUQ

The final hours of a Pittsburgh institution are counting down.

Come Friday, WDUQ -- the NPR-affiliated radio station in Pittsburgh -- will be no more. Its mix of news, jazz and NPR will be replaced by a lot of news and talk, and just a little bit of jazz. Its call letters also soon will change.

I've made it clear that I'm in favor of the changes, which come about as a result of Duquesne University selling the station to Essential Public Media. Of course, you'll find people within the Pittsburgh media community who agree with me (here's one example), but I came across one opinion that deserves special attention.

This blog post was written by Katherine Fink, who worked at WDUQ before leaving the station to pursue graduate studies at Columbia University. In her post, she notes that the "local" that defined WDUQ could be lost.
I appreciate that the station will have a local interview/call-in show, and a weekly program dedicated to local public affairs issues. I look forward to seeing what PublicSource will do in its partnership with WDUQ. But it remains to be seen whether the changes EPM will bring will result in better community service.

EPM has suggested that going all-news at WDUQ will improve community service. In one press release, EPM cited that “Pittsburgh is one of only two U.S. cities in the top 35 radio markets without a full-service NPR news and information station.” While Pittsburgh’s absence from this club certainly warrants some examination, it’s not clear what exactly listeners are missing. Are people who live in these other top radio markets better served by “full-service” stations? How do we know? Are they more engaged in civic life? Are they more aware of their history? Are their institutions held more accountable? These aren’t such easy things to measure.
It’s also not so easy to compare WDUQ to those other big markets with “full-service” NPR news stations. Their offerings vary widely. Some full-service stations even play music. KJZZ in Phoenix (the 15th-largest radio market; Pittsburgh is 25th), for example, airs jazz at night and on weekends. Its weekly schedule includes 49 hours of jazz. The new WDUQ will have six.
She adds that one recent trend in public radio is that it's becoming too much like commercial talk radio -- emphasizing national hosts, programs and issues over local ones.
The common thread in a lot of recent format changes at noncommercial radio stations is that they are becoming more mass, less niche. More mass also often means less local. EPM’s new local news offerings are laudable, but when you factor in the loss of jazz, it appears that the number of locally-produced program hours on WDUQ overall will drop. To me, that’s a concern. After all, jazz has performed a community service, too—not just because of its role in Pittsburgh’s history, but because local jazz hosts have connected people with the music.
For many Pittsburgh residents, WDUQ's mix of information and music has been the equivalent of a long-time family friend -- always there, ever reliable, comforting. It's easy to understand why so many people are upset, frustrated, worried and anxious. Their friend is leaving.

The new WDUQ will have a heavy national and international focus (here's the program schedule), but that doesn't mean that local voices will be shut out. Nevertheless, it's management's responsibility to ensure that those local issues, voices, ideas and attitudes come through loudly and clearly.

I'm confident management will deliver. And I'll be listening for them.


This is what happens when someone believes that altering a photograph is a good idea.

This is what happens when people believe, you know, uh, having fun...while parked on a major roadway is a good idea.

This is what happens when someone believes that faking a disability is a good idea.

And this is what happens when one person decides that interrupting an event in which two people are trying to punch the hell out of each other is a good idea.

Professional sports and concussions

I read today about another athlete, multiple concussions and the end of a career.

His name is Paul Kariya, and today he accepted the inevitable -- he can no longer play the game of hockey that he loves because he's suffered too many concussions. Consider what ESPN's Scott Burnside wrote about Kariya's retirement.
Mark Lovell, one of the continent's top concussion doctors and a man familiar with NHL players, told Kariya last season that the forward suffered brain damage and wasn't able to play.
"He said to me, 'No one in my profession would clear you to play this season,' " Kariya recalled.
Lovell also told Kariya that if it had been up to him, he would have suggested Kariya retire right then and there.
"I was shocked," Kariya said.
Even this past spring -- when Kariya was feeling better and teams were calling to see whether he might be available for a late-season run or perhaps for the 2011-12 season -- Lovell told Kariya he was in no position to play.
Kariya began working with Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the NFL's leading post-concussion experts. After five months of hyperbaric chambers and other workout regimens, Kariya jumped from the 20th to the 80th percentile in brain function.
Still, Amen echoed Lovell's sentiments: Playing in the NHL again would be foolish.
Reading about Kariya got me to thinking: Perhaps we need a professional athlete to die right there on the field, court, diamond or ice before a zero-tolerance policy on concussions rings loudly and clearly. (Now, let me insert an editorial here -- I covered Kariya in the early part of his career when he played for Anaheim; he was a fantastic young man. Always friendly with the media. Always a positive attitude. Seeing how his career unfolded disappoints me; too many hockey fans were unable to watch his brilliance.)

Thinking more about the issue of athletes and concussions got me to think about a couple ways to end (or at least dramatically reduce the number of) concussions. My solution is blunt, enforceable and allows for no wiggle room. How about this:

1. Ban hits to the head; 
2. Mandate $500,000 fines for each hit to the head; 
3. Mandate suspensions equal to the number of games that the concussed player has to miss.

Now, any and all ideas to combat head injuries will need the support of the players' unions (and any of them that vote against such ideas should be ashamed).   

If the leaders (meaning everyone involved in the game) is serious about making concussions a rarity instead of a regular occurrence, then serious penalties are needed. 

I've said all I have to say. 

Juger un temps plus simple

Appreciating a simpler time.

The Los Angeles Times takes a look at how dance halls are offering the French an opportunity to enjoy life when it (supposedly) was less complex.

For a glance at the history of the guinguette, consider this post from Wikipedia.

The Greek government has listened to the international community...

...but in doing so, how will the Greek people react?

The following news alert was sent by the New York Times at 9:32 a.m. EDT:
Greece’s Parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of an austerity plan demanded by the country’s foreign lenders before they would provide it with a financial rescue package and avert a debt crisis that could have shaken its European neighbors and economies throughout the world.

The austerity steps, which include wage cuts, tax increases and privatizations in a recession-starved country, were required to unlock the next installment of aid that the country needs to avoid default on its debts.
You're certainly aware of the protests that have engulfed Greece (they continued this week) as citizens express their anger at their leaders. Nevertheless, today the vote was to do some belt tightening demanded by the international community.

As AFP reports,
As clashes between protesters and police rocked the streets outside the parliament for a second day, Papandreou admitted "there is no Plan B" to save Greece, evoking the threat that public salaries and pensions might go unpaid otherwise.
The plan is a condition for 12 billion euros of emergency loans needed by mid-July from stressed eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund, that could now be unlocked by eurozone finance ministers as early as their next meeting on Sunday.
Clashes had intensified earlier around the parliament, with protesters erecting makeshift barriers on Syntagma Square, as an opposition lawmaker said she would back the government.
As the Guardian notes, today's vote by the Greek Parliament allows for the next steps in a delicate and difficult process that cold save the nation from default.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tahrir Square is again a scene of rage

It was almost six months ago to the day that Cairo's Tahrir Square became the epicenter of the so-called Arab Spring. Tonight, as the Guardian report, it is again the location of angry protests.
Armed central security police showered Tahrir Square with tear gas canisters and fired bullets into the air as several thousand demonstrators amassed and called for the resignation of Egypt's de facto head of state, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
Some members of the crowd tore up paving stones and threw them towards police lines.
The Guardian witnessed successive volleys of tear gas launched into thesquare and surrounding streets by government forces, including towards areas where ambulances had congregated to treat the wounded. Injured protesters, mostly with head wounds and gas inhalation, were carried to safety on the shoulders of fellow demonstrators.
Al Jazeera reports that the protesters appear as determined now as they were earlier this year.

The clashes near the interior ministry on Tuesday evening were triggered by family members of the more than 840 people who were killed during the Egyptian uprising in February.
Tahrir Square was the epicentre of the nearly three-week-long uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin reporting from Cairo said at least eight people had been injured.
Various photographs, including this one and this one, provide a glimpse of what the square looks like.

My friend Kim Fox, who is teaching at the American University of Cairo, tweeted her encouragement to the protesters a short time ago, noting that it is in the middle of the night that the" riot police love to do their dirtiest work at this hour, so be strong and resilient."

To this point, international leaders have remained quiet about the recent protests, which are gaining in intensity.  

Michele Bachmann is...

...and it's once you get past "is" that it gets dicey for her male rivals. Of course, they need to criticize her, but it's how they do it that will speak loudly. As the New York Times notes,
...the real challenge, according to political strategists in both parties, may be for Mrs. Bachmann’s rivals, who will have to find ways to disagree, sometimes vociferously, with Mrs. Bachmann without being accused of making subtle references to her gender.

“They need to respect her gender but ignore it,” said Kellyanne Conway, a pollster for Republican candidates and conservative causes. “What happens is in unguarded moments, if you are rolling your eyes or are chuckling when a woman says something, it’s often taken as you are chuckling at their intelligence.”
“There are pitfalls because gender in politics is still such a novelty,” Ms. Conway said. “It’s a deft balance.”
Anita Dunn, who served as President Obama’s communication’s director, agreed. She said the men in the Republican field (and, eventually, Mr. Obama, if Mrs. Bachmann becomes the nominee) have to figure out how to “attack a woman” without allowing the criticism to turn into what she called a gender slight.
“The challenge is to disagree without crossing into an area where you sound condescending, patronizing or nasty,” Ms. Dunn, a Democratic communications strategist said. “It’s about tone and it’s about respect.”
It's interesting to me that the media are talking about the challenges for Republican presidential candidates in 2012 when many of them went out of their way in 2008 to discredit a vice-presidential nominee named Sarah Palin. In too many cases those attacks were based on her gender.

Now, let me make clear that Ms. Palin during and since 2008 has done more than enough to ensure that the words "serious", "political and "candidate" ought not be placed in the same sentence; nevertheless, it has been my contention that the media unfairly treated her in the last presidential election cycle.

Consider, for example, the incessant coverage about her as the mother of a young child. I hope this doesn't sound sarcastic, but I could care less if a politician is the mother or father of a baby; his or her role as parent is not a political issue. Yet, for Ms. Palin, it was. And I hope someone can give me a non-partisan reason.

Stepping down from my soap box, I find it intriguing that the media are interested in how various politicians treat Rep. Bachmann as she moves her candidacy forward.

One area in which Rep. Bachmann is open for criticism is in her legislative record, which as Politico points out is thin. No challenger can be deemed sexist, chauvinist or any similar term for asking her to address that.

But can we leave her marriage and children out of the discussion, please? And while we're at it, let's make sure the media don't turn Ms. Bachmann into the Ms. Palin of this national campaign.

This Bud's for Selig

I confess, I'm not a fan of Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

I don't know the man, but whenever I see him, I see a man who appears interested in ensuring that the owners make a lot of money even if that means suggesting something that is not in the best interests of the game. (Can anyone say 5 teams per league making the post-season? And a one-game playoff series?)

However, I never question the man's love for baseball, and so I have no doubt that he will do the right things when it comes to straightening out the disaster that is the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The team's current owner -- Frank McCourt -- is a disgrace to the game he claims to love. Suggesting as he did that a television deal involving the team and FOX Sports was proper -- knowing that millions of dollars from it would go toward completing his divorce -- indicates a man who is not only divorced from a woman but also from reality.

To then take the next step of placing the team into bankruptcy so as to be better positioned to fight to retain control of the franchise cements that Mr. McCourt needs to go.



Yes, at some point before this season is over, the Dodgers will be taken over by Major League Baseball, and it will be Mr. Selig's responsibility to ensure that the Dodgers' financial house is put in order as the initial step in selling the team to a person or group that knows what ownership means.

Now; let me confess a bias -- I grew up in southern California and was a Dodger fan for a few years. When the O'Malley family owned them, the Dodgers were among the few model franchises in professional sports. Sadly that is not the case any longer, though Mr. McCourt is not solely to blame for creating the entire mess; he, however, attempted to use a very public, once very respected baseball team as a personal tool. In doing so, he failed as miserably as he appeared to fail as a husband.

Mr. Selig is everything Mr. McCourt is not. A family man. Honorable. Humble. Decent. A baseball fan.

Baseball fans everywhere -- regardless of whether they like or detest the Dodgers -- should be thankful that he will be making the short-term decisions that will cement the long-term stability of the team.

Turning down a full scholarship

There was no good way out of the situation created when Southern Illinois University gave an $80,000 full-ride scholarship to an incoming student whose grandfather was the school's president. (And for the record, on paper the young lady deserved the award.)

So, she has done the only practical thing -- she has had to turn it down. As the Chicago Tribune reports,
Maddie Poshard, 18, made the decision after a Tribune report Sunday that revealed she was one of 24 students selected for the school's Presidential/Chancellor Scholarship, a taxpayer-funded free ride for four years worth about $80,000.
She still plans to attend the Carbondale campus in the fall, SIU President Glenn Poshard told the Tribune on Monday night. Poshard said he and other family members will pay the cost of Maddie Poshard's college education. The scholarship would have covered tuition, fees, room and board.
The issue was never whether Ms. Poshard deserved the award but whether it was tainted by the perception that her grandfather's position somehow ensured her selection.

Personne d'autre que Lagarde (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 1:40 p.m. EDT: Ms. Lagarde has been chosen as the new head of the IMF. She becomes the first woman to hold that position. For a biographical sketch of her, consider this story from Slate or this one from the BBC.

ORIGINAL POST: No one but Lagarde.

There is now no doubt that French finance minister Christine Lagarde will be the next head of the International Monetary Fund. Two nations -- the U.S. and Russia -- announced today that their representatives will vote for Ms. Lagarde as the IMF convenes to select its new chief.

As the Globe and Mail reports, the U.S. decision was not a surprise but was deliberately made public late in the selection process.
The United States is the IMF’s largest member, controlling 17 per cent of the voting shares. That makes the U.S. the only country with an effective veto because most major decisions require 85 per cent of total voting shares, or quota.
[Treasury Secretary] Mr. [Timothy] Geithner waited until the last moment to reveal the U.S.’s intentions, as the IMF’s 24-member executive board is meeting Tuesday morning to decide who will replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who resigned as managing director to concentrate on defending sexual assault charges in New York.
Russia's finance minister addressed why his nation also is supporting Ms. Lagarde. As RIA Novosti notes
Russia plans to support the candidacy of French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde for the head of the International Monetary Fund, Lagarde's Russian counterpart Alexei Kudrin said on Tuesday.
"She has all the necessary qualities, and we will back her candidacy during the vote," Kudrin said at a Russian government inner cabinet meeting.
"The platform and proposals of Christine Lagarde are absolutely in line with the aims and tasks of the IMF," the Russian finance minister added.
One mutual fund executive outlines the challenges and opportunities available to Ms. Lagarde. And there is at least one critic who thinks the IMF is making a mistake selecting her.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Uh, are a little late

Slate has finally found out what readers of this blog have known for months -- Russia Today is not worth your time or attention.

Today, it's David Weigel hammering away at the nonsense that passes for serious news analysis on that cable "news" network. At one point he writes,
...the network relishes in its reputation as propaganda. One of the house ads that runs between segments quotes angry comments from its many YouTube pages, with sentiments like "RT clearly is anti-American propaganda." Sure, these stories about America in steep and hilarious decline are funded by the Kremlin. Why hide it?

"I think people are just so scared of an 'other,' something that might be unknown to them and they can't see past that," suggests [host Alyona] Minkovski. "So in their eyes, working for RT de-legitimizes you. If you want to find a channel with an agenda, go to Fox News. They want to dumb down the masses and scare them so they can't put any pieces of the puzzle together."
Remember, it was in February of this year that I outlined why Russia Today was intent on spreading an agenda first, its interpretation of the news second, and then the news third. That was more than four months ago!

Why it has taken Slate this long to acknowledge what regular readers of this blog already know is astounding.

Oh. and the good folks at RT would be wise to remember that one person's propaganda is another person's analysis.

Deutsche Diplomatie hier...Deutscher Militärhilfe es

German diplomacy here...German military assistance there.

The German government confirmed today that it had the approval of the Israeli government to begin diplomatic efforts that might have led to a prisoner exchange involving Galid Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held by Hamas for five years.

But the Germans say Hamas refused to accept their assistance. The Associated Press reports
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he had accepted the proposal, but Hamas rejected the deal. It is thought to include hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit.
Hamas said Netanyahu was lying about the mediation effort.
On Monday, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert confirmed that Israel had accepted a German-mediated offer.
This story from Haaretz includes a photo of Mr. Shalit.

Meanwhile, the German government also announced today it will supply military weaponry to assist NATO in its military operation in Libya, but it stopped short of committing any of its forces to the effort. As Reuters notes,
Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere has approved the measure, according to government sources cited by the online media, which would still mean Germany would not participate directly in any military action.
Spiegel Online said it was not clear what supplies Berlin would provide, but it said it could include complete rockets and high-tech guidance systems.
A spokesman from the defense ministry told Reuters that a request for supplies came from the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA), but declined to give details about the nature.
Interestingly, it was just today that the Wall Street Journal reported that Germany's decision to not more directly assist NATO was met with disappointment in various European capitals and in Washington.
Germany recently shocked its NATO allies by refusing to back their military intervention in Libya. When the United Nations Security Council authorized the intervention in March, Germany abstained, along with China and Russia, instead of supporting the U.S., France and Britain. 
Decisions like these have led critics to ask whether Germany is becoming an unpredictable country and an awkward partner. "This is an aging, sometimes crotchety society that wants to avoid risks and hang on to its money," says François Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
Even President Barack Obama, who awarded Ms. Merkel the Presidential Medal of Freedom on June 7 while showering praise on her, tactfully suggested Germany could be doing more to help out with international conflicts.
A "sometimes crotchety society"? That wasn't very nice.

China will be a country that "fully achieves democracy and the rule of law"

Okay, who made that statement?

A. German chancellor Angela Merkel
B. French president Nicolas Sarkozy
C. U.S. president Barack Obama
D. China premier Wen Jiabao

If you said...


...then you are correct!

As the Telegraph reports
...Mr Wen pledges that China will be a country that "fully achieves democracy and the rule of law".
China is on a journey that will inevitably mean granting its huge population "freedom, equality and human rights", he says.
However, he cautions that change will be a "long and arduous task" completed only by "tomorrow's China".
And China's democracy may not resemble that of the West, as freedom will be "achieved in different ways and forms in different societies and countries."
Of course, it would seem logical that an endorsement of human rights would be necessary for democracy, no matter how it is defined. But perhaps Mr. Wen has his own definition, because, as the Financial Times notes, today he rebuked British prime minister David Cameron for his and the West's incessant criticism of China's human rights record.
Amid growing signs of anger in the Chinese leadership at the emphasis Mr Cameron has been putting on the need for greater political freedoms in China, Mr Wen indicated that the UK should cease ”lecturing” Beijng over the issue....

At a press conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Wen said: “On human rights, China and the UK should respect each other, respect the facts, treat each other as equals, engage in more cooperation than finger-pointing and resolve our differences through dialogue.’’
He later went on to evoke how China had a 5,000 year history in which the country had been exposed to untold sufferings. “This has taught the Chinese never to talk to others in a lecturing way, but to respect nations on the basis of equality,” he said.
The state-run news agency Xinhua provides the full text of the address Mr. Wen made today in London. In it, he reaffirms the idea of China as a future beacon of democracy.
Tomorrow's China will be a country that fully achieves democracy, the rule of law, fairness and justice. The struggles against feudal autocracy in the human history gave birth to the concepts of democracy, the rule of law, freedom, equality and human rights. These ideas have greatly emancipated the human mind, although they may be achieved in different ways and forms in different societies and countries. People's democracy is the soul of socialism. Without democracy, there is no socialism. Without freedom, there is no real democracy. Without guarantee of economic and political rights, there is no real freedom. To be frank, corruption, unfair income distribution and other ills that harm people's rights and interests still exist in China. The best way to resolve these problems is to firmly advance the political structural reform and build socialist democracy under the rule of law.
We are committed to respecting and protecting human rights. Pursuant to the law, we protect the right of all members of society to equal participation and development. We will improve mechanisms for checking and supervising government powers so as to ensure that these powers entrusted by the people are exercised in people's interests. China was long under the influence of feudalism. After the founding of New China, the country went through the turmoil of the decade-long Cultural Revolution. Since China opened itself, some new developments and problems have occurred. To promote democracy, improve the legal system and strengthen effective oversight of power remains a long and arduous task for us. We need to create conditions for people to oversee and criticize the government to make the government live up to its responsibility and prevent corruption. With a keen sense of responsibility and democracy, people will spur social progress. The more the people participate in social management and public affairs, the greater the momentum there will be to sustain social progress.
Mr. Wen was in London to sign trade deals with Mr. Cameron.

It is no coincidence that within the past week China has released two prominent dissidents, the Christian Science Monitor notes:
And just before the start of the tour [of three European nations], China released the dissidents Ai Weiwei and Hu Jia, a move that is being interpreted in Berlin as a sign of goodwill on Beijing’s part.
“The Chinese have shown in the past that they have good timing for symbolic gestures,” says Eberhard Sandschneider of the German Institute for Foreign Affairs. “But let’s not forget that the charges against Ai Weiwei have not been dropped yet.”
As he travels next to Germany, Mr. Wen should expect to meet another leader -- Ms. Merkel -- prepared to talk human rights. 

Un engagement de plus de 1 milliard de dollars envers la puissance nucléaire

A commitment of more than $1 billion toward nuclear power.

That's what the French government is ready to do. As the Guardian reports, in making the decision, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is acting in direct opposition to international trends.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has bucked the anti-nuclear trend following Japan's Fukushima disaster by pledging €1bn of investment in atomic power.
Despite growing worldwide concern about the safety of nuclear plants, Sarkozy said the moratorium on new nuclear reactors adopted by certain countries since the Japanese nuclear crisis in March "makes no sense".
"There is no alternative to nuclear energy today," he told journalists on Monday.
"We are going to devote €1bn to the nuclear programme of the future, particularly fourth-generation technology," Sarkozy said.
Just yesterday, French protesters demanded that one of their country's oldest nuclear plants be shuttered. As Reuters notes

The plant at Fessenheim, in Alsace, has become a flashpoint in the renewed debate over nuclear safety in France following the Fukushima disaster In Japan.

Its location near the German border has also made Fessenheim a point of tension between France, which is heavily reliant on its 58 nuclear reactors and has defended their safety, and Germany, which has decided to abandon nuclear power.

Ecology Minister Natalie Kosciusko-Morizet said on Friday there would be no decision until a report from the nuclear safety watchdog was submitted in early July and the results were in from safety tests set up in the wake of Fukushima.
The BBC reports that the French commitment to nuclear power stations includes exploring how to make nuclear power safe. 
The new investment will include a boost for research into nuclear safety.
The French nuclear giant Areva is developing the fourth generation of reactors. France gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power.
Underscoring the international discussion about nuclear power is the terrible accident earlier this year in Japan. Efforts to cool and contain the Fukushima nuclear plant continue

The French decision to expand its nuclear program and the German decision just weeks ago to abandon it provide ample discussion for issues such as political leadership, clean energy, the environment and public health.

The words "bankrupt" and "Los Angeles Dodgers"...

...don't belong in the same sentence. Unfortunately, as the Los Angeles Times reports in the following news alert, today, it does:
The Los Angeles Dodgers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to gain time to complete a television-rights deal and ward off creditors, the Major League Baseball franchise said in a press release. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt cites Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig's interference with club operations and refusal to approve a Dodgers TV deal with Fox Sports as the cause for Monday's bankruptcy filing.
The bankruptcy filing can be accessed here, and it suggests that Manny Ramirez is owed more than $20-million (the most of any person) on the list.

Frank McCourt, the Dodgers' owner, claims that the bankruptcy protection is necessary because the commissioner's office refused to accept a deal with FOX Sports. Mind you, that deal would have given Mr. McCourt money that in part would have been used to complete his divorce agreement.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Mr. McCourt's action is designed to prevent the league from taking over his team.
Mr. McCourt filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 in Delaware in a last ditch effort to save his team from being seized by Major League Baseball, which took over day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles club in April amid concerns over team finances and security at Dodger Stadium.
Mr. McCourt will ask the bankruptcy court to approve a new long-term media rights deal that he says will save his team from its liquidity crisis. The Dodgers' assets still outweigh their liabilities, but the team doesn't have enough cash to meet the June 30 payroll.
One critic examines what Mr. McCourt's embarrassing conduct has led his team to become.
Having tickets to a Dodgers game now is like having tickets to a Clippers game back in the 1990s, when they were still playing at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. You couldn't give those tickets away. I tried. Nobody wanted to see a bad team. Nobody wanted to go to a venue that was perceived to be unsafe at night. And nobody wanted to support a cheap owner they didn't like.
The Dodgers are now suffering from a similar stigma and all you need to do is look at the thousands of empty seats at Dodger Stadium to see the effect it has had.
I can't help but feel like a sucker sitting in these seats, watching the Dodgers stumble through another uninspired loss.
It's a shame that Mr. McCourt is interested more in his ego and less in what's in the best interests of the game he pretends to love. He should announce he is going to allow Major League Baseball to take over the team as a precursor to selling it. But he appears to not be man enough to do that.

If you are a university president...

...would it be wise for your granddaughter to earn an $80,000 scholarship at that institution?

The Chicago Tribune takes a look at how that delicate situation is playing out at Southern Illinois University.
People involved in college admissions say family connections are often delicate issues, and in this case everyone says the rules were followed. But some wonder whether the university's president would have been wiser to have asked his granddaughter not to apply, to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

"That's a tough question. It's a tricky one. It's a hard call," said
Dan Mann, director of student financial aid at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "I would think (Poshard) would say, 'This isn't appropriate for you to get the scholarship and you shouldn't be considered.'"

"At the same time, they try desperately to get good kids to come to Southern," Mann continued. "It's a no-win situation for them."

Poshard, 18, said she grew up getting SIU gear for Christmas and is excited to be a third-generation Saluki. She applied for the scholarship after getting a letter in the mail about it. She said her grandfather's position did not deter her from applying as she "knew he would have nothing to do with the decision."
This is a no-win situation. How can a 4.0 student not be deemed worthy of a significant scholarship? But the perception here is one the university and the family cannot get past. And in difficult economic times such as this, the perception is going to seem all the more bitter.

Arrest warrant issued against Moammar Qaddafi

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi and others close to him.

As the BBC reports,
The court had accused him of crimes against humanity and of ordering attacks on civilians after an uprising against him began in mid-February.
The Hague-based court also issued warrants for two of Col Gaddafi's top aides - his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanussi.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed in the conflict.
In issuing the warrants, the ICC states,
Today, 27 June 2011, Pre-Trial Chamber I of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued three warrants of arrest respectively for Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah Al-Senussi for crimes against humanity (murder and persecution) allegedly committed across Libya from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February 2011, through the State apparatus and Security Forces.

The Chamber, composed of Judges Sanji Mmasenono Monageng (Presiding), Sylvia Steiner and Cuno Tarfusser, considered that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the three suspects committed the alleged crimes and that their arrests appear necessary in order to ensure their appearances before the Court; to ensure that they do not continue to obstruct and endanger the Court’s investigations; and to prevent them from using their powers to continue the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

An incredible story

I love good stories. And when they are true, I like them all the more.

Tonight, the priest who celebrated Mass my family and I attended told of a now-deceased priest who a few years before his death met an elderly Jewish woman who told him of her final couple years at Auschwitz. It was the item she didn't recognize but was asked to protect and share that captivated me. I'm sure it will captivate you, too.

I searched and found the story as told by that priest. Here is the full essay he wrote, and the portion told tonight is found at about the midpoint.

Before you finish reading this post, you really should read the full essay.

I don't know if the Catholic Church has investigated this story to determine its potential as a miracle. And no, I have no idea of the name of the Jewish woman.

But it's an amazing story.

A significant realignment of the NHL

Multiple media agencies are reporting that beginning with the 2012-2013 season, the National Hockey League will see a major realignment of its teams. One such report comes from The Sporting News, which suggests:

The leading plan calls for the league to be divided into four divisions -- two with eight teams and two with seven teams. The NHL currently has six divisions -- the Northeast, Atlantic, Southeast, Central, Northwest and Pacific.
The plan is expected to be finalized during December's Board of Governors meeting.
“I’m just happy we’re discussing it. Maybe there’s a way for Detroit and Columbus to get in the East,” said Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. “I’m glad we’re all open to it. We’ll see where it all goes.”
Howson said the Blue Jackets plan a proposal that would place Columbus in the Eastern Conference. He said he hopes the league would be open to the idea of 16 teams in one conference and 14 in the other.
Without a doubt, the goal is to move to a more geographically friendly alignment in which no teams located in the eastern third of North America will find itself in the Western Conference. That makes perfect sense.

No report I've seen has identified the proposed alignment of the teams or the names of the four divisions, so what I offer here is conjecture. What about:

NORTH: Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Toronto
-This alignment keeps the traditional Montreal-Toronto rivalry; ensures that Ontario neighbors Toronto and Ottawa are together; and unites two other Original Six teams, Boston and the New York Rangers.

EAST: Carolina, Columbus, Detroit, Florida, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington
-This alignment isn't as tidy and compact as the North Division, but Columbus and Detroit are natural rivals; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are hated rivals; and let's not forget that Pittsburgh and Washington don't particularly care to exchange Christmas wishes. 

MIDWEST: Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis, Winnipeg
-This essentially is the Spine of North America division. With the exception of Colorado, every team is in the Central time zone.

WEST: Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, Vancouver
-This division makes sense because of the ease of travel to the U.S. cities and the equal ease to the three Canadian cities. Yes, there are two time zones represented here, but the Alberta province teams (Calgary and Edmonton) belong in the West.


The world's most historic stadiums

As I watched the first half of the Germany-Canada World Cup soccer game, I got to thinking -- what are the world's most historic sports stadiums?

I admit this is an exercise that will lead to incredible debate, and the inevitable bias of the writer (or reviewer) is sure to come into play. Nevertheless, let's give this a shot.

Keep a few things in mind:
--I'm selecting larger facilities (thus eliminating stadiums such as Wimbledon, which certainly belong in this conversation)
--Stadiums built in the past 10 or so years are omitted
--No country can have more than one facility on this list
--The facility must still be standing

Anyone who disagrees with these choices ought to chime in.

10. Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Constructed in 1956, the facility served as the central stadium for the 1980 Olympic Games. It will be the host of the 2018 World Cup soccer final. 

9. Koshien Stadium near Kobe. Built in 1924 and renovated (though not replaced) a few years ago, the stadium is the home of the Hanshin Tigers and the annual high school baseball tournament. When opened, it was the largest baseball stadium in Asia. 

8.  The Cricket Ground in Melbourne. It's hosted the Olympic Games, cricket and soccer, among other events. It dates to 1854.

7. The Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. With Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, this facility will grow in international prestige.

6. Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. It's the third-largest (by capacity) stadium in the world, and it has hosted numerous domestic and international sports events. 

5.Camp Nou in Barcelona (this is not the stadium's official site). At one point it was the largest soccer stadium in Europe.

4. The Olympic Stadium in Berlin. It hosted the 1936 Olympic Games, which Nazi leader Adolf Hitler intended as a showcase and validation of Aryan superiority. We know that the four gold medals won by America's Jesse Owens, who was black, destroyed that myth. The structure still stands, and it is still in use.

3. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It welcomed the world to the 1932 and 1984 Olympics; has hosted countless important collegiate and professional football games; and despite its age remains the symbolic center of the Los Angeles sports scene.

2. The Colosseum in Rome (this is not the facility's official site). The stadium was built around 70 A.D. No it doesn't host any athletic events any longer, but it is a must-see for anyone who visits Rome.

1. The Panathenaic Stadium in Athens (this is not the facility's official site). Come on, it was constructed around 555 B.C. and used for the first Olympic Games of the modern era. With various updates over time, it is still being used today.

France 1, Nigeria 0

AFP reports that France earned an important victory and three points after beating Nigeria, 1-0, in the opening match of the 2011 Women's World Cup.
A near sell-out crowd of 25,475 in Sinsheim saw a number of good chances but no goals until Delie's goal in the 56th minute gave France three points in the group with Nigeria remaining on zero.
The game at Rhein Neckar Arena was considered a near must-win for both sides with two-time reigning champions and hosts Germany must likely to advance as the other team from Group A to the quarter-finals.
France were the dominating team right from the start, especially on the left side through Louisa Necib - for whom the Nigerians had no answer.
Necib was named the player of the match.

The BBC reports that Nigeria's head coach remains optimistic that her team will still advance in the tournament. But considering Nigeria plays host Germany, the pre-tournament favorite, on Thursday, optimism will need to turn into results quickly.

It's, Herb?

If it's summer, then it's the perfect time to conduct a presidential poll.

This time, it's Iowa, and the Associated Press reports,
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann sit atop the standings in the year's first Des Moines Register Iowa Poll on the Republican presidential field.

Romney, the national front-runner and a familiar face in Iowa after his 2008 presidential run, attracts support from 23 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers. Bachmann, who will officially kick off her campaign in Iowa on Monday, nearly matches him, with 22 percent.
"She's up there as a real competitor and a real contender," said Republican pollster Randy Gutermuth, who is unaffiliated with any of the presidential candidates. "This would indicate that she's going to be a real player in Iowa."
Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who has never held public office but has found a following among tea party supporters, comes in third, with 10 percent.
One person not doing well in Iowa is former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. And Politico suggests a reason:
Up close, Huntsman’s challenges as the supposedly “electable” candidate for the GOP nomination are unmistakable — and, by all measures of modern Republican politics, likely insurmountable.

For all his obvious gifts, and his potential appeal as a general election candidate, it seems to us Huntsman has two even more obvious problems. He’s got the wrong issues for a Republican nominating contest. And he’s got the wrong persona, especially for this angry moment in GOP politics.
As Rep. Bachmann moves forward, she might have to explain how her ferocious anti-big government rhetoric jibes with her having benefited from government aid. The Los Angeles Times notes,
...the Minnesota Republican and her family have benefited personally from government aid, an examination of her record and finances shows. A counseling clinic run by her husband has received nearly $30,000 from the state of Minnesota in the last five years, money that in part came from the federal government. A family farm in Wisconsin, in which the congresswoman is a partner, received nearly $260,000 in federal farm subsidies.

And she has sought to keep federal money flowing to her constituents. After publicly criticizing the Obama administration's stimulus program, Bachmann requested stimulus funds to support projects in her district. Although she has been a fierce critic of earmarks — calling them "part of the root problem with Washington's spending addiction" — the congresswoman nonetheless argued recently that transportation projects should not be considered congressional pork.
The real problem here is Ms. Bachmann is the latest politician trying to argue absolutes in the real world of gray. How well she navigates this will determine if she's able to remain a favorite of the Tea Party. It appears that Republicans are willing to forgive any past sins of Mitt Romney (can you say Massachusetts health care?) because of their passionate goal of winning the White House.

Let's remember they were not willing to forgive him four years ago, when at this point he was a favorite to win the Iowa caucuses. He didn't. And his campaign never recovered.

A conversation about drinking

The Morettis returned home late Saturday from a fun evening watching the Pittsburgh Power beat the Milwaukee Mustangs, 39-38, on the final play of the game.

And if those teams aren't recognizable to you, they are in the Arena Football League.

Needless to say, when you are at a football game (or other sports event), the potential is real to sit close to someone who doesn't know when to stop drinking. Unfortunately, the Morettis were close enough to four such people. And two of them were making spectacles of themselves, and completely oblivious to their stupidity.

Those people afforded my wife and I an opportunity on the drive home to have a conversation with our sons about drinking. We were aided by the knowledge that our older son already has been exposed to these kinds of talks; his teachers, local police officers, other adults, and my wife and I all have been involved in reminding him and other kids about the dangers of drinking.

I won't dive into the details of what our family discussed, except to say that we talked, among other things, about the pressures on young people to accept drinking as a sign that someone is cool, the legal repercussions parents can potentially face when underage drinking leads to accidents (or worse) and the value of being a designated driver.

At one point as I sat at a red light, I wondered to myself if I have enough "serious" talks with my boys about topics such as drinking. Our older son is entering that wonderful, frightening, amazing, confusing, challenging, demanding and fun period of his life called being a teenager. I reminded myself to make sure he hears from me -- and that I listen to him -- about what all of that means.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

France continue d'insister pour la liberté de Gilad Shalit

France continues to press for Gilad Shalit's freedom.

Shalit is the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas five years ago. The French are interested in securing Mr. Shalit's freedom because he has dual French and Israeli citizenship.

Haaretz reports details of a letter to Mr. Shalit written by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and presented to his family.
"Since your kidnapping, I have taken it on myself to do everything to return you to your family," Sarkozy wrote. "I repeated this commitment when I met with your father at the Elysee Palace on June 10 and I repeat it now: France will not abandon you to your fate and will continue to act, along with other bodies, including those in the Arab world, so that this unjustified suffering comes to an end."
AFP notes that Israelis gathered near the Israeli-Gaza border to recognize the fifth anniversary of Mr. Shalits capture. 
At noon, Shalit’s family and supporters were to gather at the site in southern Israel near the Gaza border where he was captured in a deadly cross-border raid on June 25, 2006 by militants from three Gaza-based groups, one of them Hamas. Later, 24 Israeli celebrities were to take turns to enter a tiny dark cell for an hour for a symbolic protest calling for a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas that would secure Shalit’s freedom.
“The message is: yes to a deal, no to indifference. Gilad has to be returned home,” said a statement from the organisers of the event called the Gilad Shalit project, which was to be filmed live and broadcast on Facebook.
Mr. Shalit's grandfather says his grandson remains in Hamas' hands because Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanhayu refuses to accept a prisoner-exchange plan that would allow for Shalit's release. Earlier this month, Mr. Shalit's father filed suit in France seeking an investigation into his son's kidnapping.

Your boss is a friend of Vladimir Putin

If you play for the New Jersey Nets, that's the case.

As the Associated Press reports,
Russian tycoon and New Jersey Nets basketball team owner Mikhail Prokhorov was confirmed Saturday as the new head of a Kremlin-friendly political party.
The 46-year-old billionaire was all but unanimously elected head of the Right Cause party by its members.
Right Cause is seen as a Kremlin creation designed to lure opposition-minded, pro-business voters, while building an illusion of competition with the ruling United Russia party ahead December's parliamentary elections.
The New York Times adds that Mr. Prokhorov is attempting to appear both an ally and a foe of Mr. Putin.
In his speech on Saturday, Mr. Prokhorov clarified that he is opposed to the political party Mr. Putin founded, called United Russia, and that Right Cause will take on his party in the elections. But at a subsequent news conference, he suggested that he may not openly criticize Mr. Putin personally. He said Mr. Putin is not always in full agreement with United Russia.
“Let’s ask an honest question: Do we have a multiparty system? Of course not,” Mr. Prokhorov said, defining his goal as creating a party that could be part of such a system in Russia.
“We should have at least two parties,” he said. “Now, there is one. Any political monopoly, and any other monopoly, spiritual, natural or economic, is our main opponent. It is in every schoolbook — a monopoly is the enemy of all development.”
To learn more about Mr. Prokhorov, consider this Reuters article.

I haven't seen any response to Mr. Prokhorov's political promotion from the headquarters of the National Basketball Association.

Hum, Brasil... temos um problema.

Um, Brazil...we have a problem.

Brazil is the host of the 2014 World Cup, soccer's most prestigious event. But while the Brazilians will certainly have one of the best teams at the event, it is having significant trouble preparing. As the Associated Press reports,
FIFA remains concerned at the slow pace of Brazil's preparations for the 2014 World Cup, saying soccer officials in South America appear to have invested more energy in winning the tournament than organizing it.
"We don't have stadiums, we don't have airports," secretary general Jerome Valcke said on Friday at the Inside World Football forum in Moscow.
He added it looked increasingly likely that some facilities, including Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana, would be ready with only a few weeks to spare.
Chronic problems have derailed Brazil's efforts at putting the many elements in place necessary to stage the World Cup. As the BBC notes,
A new stadium in Sao Paolo will not be ready for the 2013 Confederations Cup, seen as a World Cup dress rehearsal.
Airports and transport links are also reportedly behind schedule and Valcke said: "I won't say Brazil started too late but we are not advanced in Brazil.
"We don't have stadiums, airports, or a national transportation system."
At the risk of sounding sarcastic, they had better get them quickly.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Six down...perhaps 44 to go

New York is about to become sixth state to allow same-sex marriage.

Late Friday night (U.S. EDT), the New York state senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage, and the state's governor is likely to sign the bill soon. (In fact, by time you read this post, he might have done it.)

The New York Times captured the emotion of the final few hours, noting:
The same-sex marriage bill was approved on a 33-to-29 vote, as 4 Republican state senators joined 29 Democrats in voting for the bill. The Senate galleries were so packed with supporters and opponents that the fire marshals closed them off. And along the Great Western Staircase, outside the Senate chamber, about 100 demonstrators chanted and waved placards throughout the night — separated by a generation, a phalanx of state troopers and 10 feet of red marble.
“Support traditional marriage,” read signs held by opponents. “Love is love, Vote Yes,” declared those in the hands of the far more youthful group of people who supported it.
Same-sex couples can legally marry in New York 30 days after the governor signs the bill.

New York joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont as states where same-sex marriages are permitted. (They also are legal in Washington, D.C.)

The significance of tonight's vote is obvious and supporters of same-sex unions are hopeful that the vote in New York will spur momentum for similar laws in other states.

No, I doubt all 50 U.S. states will vote to legalize same-sex marriages. However, New York's political leaders have ensured that because of their state's stature, influence and prestige that their decision will echo loudly across the nation.

S'il existe des autres victimes...

If there are other victims...

...then the woman who says Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexually assaulted her wants to know about them.

The attorneys for a New York hotel maid who says she was attacked by Strauss-Kahn are going on the offensive though perhaps not in the expected way. As France 24 reports,
The team of New York lawyers representing the 32-year-old Guinean hotel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her have asked Paris-based lawyer Thibault de Montbrial to help dig up previous victims of the French politician, news reports on Thursday stated.
The 42-year-old Montbrial, described in the French press as an avid athlete who loves football and combat sports, is not considered “one of the star criminal lawyers in France”, according to French daily Le Monde’s legal correspondent Pascale Robert Diard.
Still, he is “very respected and has worked on some of the big French political and financial cases”, she said.
Mr. de Montbrial spoke to The Telegraph, saying, "They (the U.S. lawyers) were looking for an attorney in France who had a certain amount of visibility and independence in France, where this is a very complicated case."

Though there is no indication of this happening, at least one journalist is wondering if the maid is gearing up for an out-of-court settlement, sooner rather than later. Alexander Cockburn suggests:
Enter Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who recently laid out the arguments for a deal with some verve in Newsweek: " sense is that the victim would like a big payday. Why does she want to make a deal now? Why not wait until the conviction, and then sue? [Because] the defendant doesn't have much money.
"All the money is his wife's money. And if you win a suit - let's assume she wins a $10 million judgment against him. She's not going to collect it. He'll go bankrupt. Whereas if she settles the case, the wife pays up.
"So the difference is between getting, say, a million right now from the wife, or $10 million from the husband which the lawyer has to spend the rest of his life chasing."


The owners of the NHL's Winnipeg franchise have done the right thing -- they've given the team the name Jets.

The Winnipeg Free Press reports the official announcement is due during tonight's draft.
No logo, sweaters or colours are expected to accompany the announcement when it comes, but the Free Press has been told when it does, it will likely bear no resemblance whatsoever to the style used by the former NHL team in Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Sun notes that no other name but Jets was appropriate for the team.
Naming the city’s newly acquired NHL franchise the Winnipeg Jets makes sense on so many levels.
It not only honours the city’s hockey history, but returns a piece of Winnipeg’s identity that lingered on life support for 15 years after the original Jets left town.
It’s an homage to all the great players who wore the jersey and proudly represented the city in a different era.
It’s for Bobby Hull and Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, Dale Hawerchuk and Thomas Steen. It’s for the late John Ferguson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Ben Hatskin.
It’s for the legion of fans who maintained an allegiance to the name even in its zombie state, purchasing merchandise at an amazing rate even without an actual team to support.
It’s for the people who grew up with the Winnipeg Jets and felt heartbreak when they left but never really let them go. The ones who struck up the “Go Jets go!” chants at every hockey event in the city and kept their jerseys close by so they could wear them with pride the minute it was announced the NHL would return to Winnipeg.
The front office this week also named the team's head coach. He's Claude Noel.

When 19% is seen as a "reprieve"...

...then you know how bad it could have been.

Pennsylvania's public colleges and universities got good news (if you want to use such a term) today, as they learned the state government will cut by only (only!!) 19 percent the funding they will receive next year.

Earlier this year they were told the cut would be 50 percent.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes,
For Pitt, that will mean a state contribution of $136 million. The school received about $168 million in the current budget, which included about $7.5 million from federal stimulus funds that were not available for next year.
Still, the minority Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, which voted this morning along party lines to approve those cuts, said the General Assembly was ignoring the more than $600 million in excess tax collections that could be used to help college students.
Rep. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, said the proposed reduction for those four schools is much deeper than what they lost in stimulus dollars and cuts into what they received in state aid last year. He and others said those cuts will result in higher tuition for students.
The House Appropriations Committee, following a lengthy debate, approved bills that would provide $214 million for Penn State, about the same level of support Penn State received for its operating budget 15 years ago. That appropriation is down from this year's $264 million.
You know how I feel about this topic, so there's no need for me to say anything. 

You like football, don't you?

Then you should be following the Canadian Football League, which kicks off its 2011 season in one week.

So, to assist you in getting ready for the upcoming season, here are Moretti's Fearless (and Hopefully Not Flawed) predictions:

Montreal: The Alouettes won the title in 2009 and 2010, and the pieces are in place for another championship run.

Toronto: The Argonauts are getting better, but I don't think they're ready to challenge for division superiority or a Grey Cup championship.

Hamilton: The TigerCats need more consistency, and they could have enough talent to overtake hated Toronto and finish second in the East. Whether that translates into winning a playoff game is still debatable.

Winnipeg: The Blue Bombers are not THAT bad, but they remain the least-talented team in this division.

Calgary: The Stamps are the West's best team, and they also should be given strong consideration for being the CFL's best. Anything less than an appearance in the Grey Cup will be a disappointment.

Saskatchewan: The Roughriders have lost the last two CFL championship games. Don't expect them to make it three in a row. In fact, second place is not a certainty.

British Columbia: The Lions are on the way back. But the hill is still steep.

Edmonton: This fine city deserves better than the CFL's worst team and the NHL's doormat.

1st ROUND:
Toronto over Hamilton

British Columbia over Saskatchewan

Montreal over Toronto

Calgary over British Columbia

Calgary over Montreal

See Mitt...see Mitt collect money

When you are a politician who is running for office, and you enjoy frontrunner status, you are going to find it easy to collect money.

Lots of money.

An outrageous amount of money.

So, for Mitt Romney, generating donations as he continues his run for the White House is not a problem. As Politico notes,
Romney is so confident in his fundraising that he will not put any of his own money into the campaign this quarter, campaign officials tell POLITICO.
The former Massachusetts governor’s commanding financial position is just one of the themes that will emerge from the paperwork filed for the quarterly reporting deadline — the first true metric of the sluggish 2012 presidential campaign.
Tim Pawlenty, unable to show fickle donors any poll numbers indicating a pulse, is likely to reveal that he hasn’t yet met his potential. Newt Gingrich’s finances, much like his broader campaign, seem to be going bust.
Beyond that, there are mostly questions.
For Romney, the only question is where to go to get the money he'll need to defeat his Republican rivals and President Obama. One of his stops will be in England. As the Boston Globe reports
It is a rare step for a presidential candidate - and unheard of so early in a campaign – and is yet another indication of his front-runner status, his overwhelming fund-raising strength, and his desire to have a statesman’s reach.
The fact that he is choosing to begin the next fund-raising quarter in a foreign capital also illustrates his current strategic focus of raising hordes of campaign cash rather than making the normally required appearances in VFW halls and small-town diners.
In fact, Romney will have spent more time this year around Westminster than he has Waterloo, Iowa. He’ll also be making the trip less than six weeks before the Iowa Straw Poll, for which other candidates are spending time organizing but which Romney is choosing to skip.
“There is a lot of interest in this election among Americans living abroad who like everyone else are worried about what the weak economy and lack of jobs means for our status in the world,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, one of Romney’s advisers. “They want to know if we are going to lead the world economically or become something less.”
As Romney continues to enjoy his media-created air of invincibility (remember Hillary Clinton in 2008 for just how correct the media can be in this effort), according to Politico, there are discussions within the Tea Party about how to deal with him.
Romney, the current Republican front runner, is viewed skeptically – at best – by many tea partiers. And disagreement over whether to actively oppose him threatens to undo the uneasy truces forged in the run-up to the 2010 midterms and undermine the fledgling movement’s influence in the GOP.
The possibility of Romney winning the nomination is even reviving debate about whether activists should embrace, or even form, a third party – an idea that until recently had been dismissed as harmful to both the movement and the GOP. 
Romney not only has to decide what to do with the Tea Party (and vice versa), but he also has to determine how he will handle the social conservatives within the Republican Party (and vice versa). And, of course, he needs to maintain his frontrunner status. That last point might be the easiest of them all.