Media (396)


Yankees and Politics


(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

It’s hard to tell who is in bigger trouble, the New York Yankees or the Republican Party.  In the 16 games they have played so far this season the Yankees have left 120 runners on base and accumulated a record of 7 wins and 9 losses, putting them nearly at the bottom of the American League East.  Since the team’s pitching is acceptable and the opponents have not outscored the Yankees by much, it is evident that the hitters are not getting the job done.  Desperate to score a run Friday night center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury stole home, together with the inside-the-park homerun the most spectacular play in baseball, which tied the score against the Tampa Bay Rays and ultimately led to a 6-3 victory.  Hopefully this will turn the team’s fortunes around, and the Yankees still have 146 games to get where they belong: on top of their league.  The management of the GOP, also known as the Republican National Committee or simply the establishment, has a more daunting task ahead.  After the New York primary Donald Trump’s chances of winning the nomination outright have improved, and therefore the party leadership is in total disarray.

In spite, or maybe because, of the fact that Trump has been blasting the RNC for allowing a primary process that is fundamentally undemocratic, since in a number of states conventions, and not the voters, elect the delegates who will choose the GOP nominee at the party’s convention, RNC chairman Reince Priebus is trying to placate the Donald by urging delegates not to change the convention rules, which would exclude anybody but Trump and Ted Cruz from being nominated.  To convince the RNC members that they can live with Trump as their nominee Trump’s new campaign manager, Paul Manafort, told them that everything the Donald has done in the campaign so far, insulting Hispanics and women, calling for Mexico to pay for a wall on the southern border and for a complete ban of Muslims from entering the US, suggesting that the use of nuclear arms in the Middle East and Europe is an option and that maybe South Korea and Japan should develop their own nuclear arsenals, just to mention a few highlights, has all been an act, and that in the general election we’ll see a different Trump: polite, balanced and presidential.

While the RNC is chewing on the idea that Donald Trump’s behavior in the forty five years he has been in the public eye only had the intention to hide his real personality, which he saved for his presidential bid, Ted Cruz is executing his own version of stealing home, or the nomination, by getting as many delegates that will support him as possible elected at state conventions, and by ensuring that delegates who are bound to vote for Trump in the first round will vote for him in the second.

The dilemma for the GOP leadership is clear: if the rules don’t change, they’ll end up with either Trump or Cruz as their nominee, in which case Trump has a better chance of unifying what’s left of the party, because his followers simply won’t vote for Cruz.  If they change the rules and other candidates can still be nominated the party will break up and their nominee won’t have a chance.

Donald Trump may not be God’s gift to women, but he might be God’s gift to Hillary.  On the Democratic side Bernie now has to decide whether he wants to enter Ralph Nader territory, by hurting Hillary without having a chance to be nominated himself, or not, and hopefully wisdom will prevail.

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Walking with Ghosts


(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Nothing shows the senselessness, the insanity, the cruelty and the criminality of the Iraq war better than Michael Ware’s documentary ‘Only the Dead See the End of War.’ George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and all their neo-con cronies should be forced to watch it every single day of the rest of their lives.  Ware lived in Iraq from 2003 to 2010 and filmed the war on both sides, embedded with the US forces and as an eyewitness of the actions of the emerging insurgency, the precursor of ISIS.  The film consists of four parts.  In the first part Ware is in Baghdad right after the American invasion.  There is hope, even excitement, until the US starts handing the government over to the Shiites and the first suicide bomber strikes, under orders from Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, a butcher who was even too barbaric for Al Qaeda.  The second part shows the US effort to retake Falluja, where the insurgents make a stance, a surreal battle for an empty city.  The third part takes place in an American army outpost in Ramadi, and the fourth part again in Baghdad, when the US finally realizes that it has totally messed up in Iraq.
      The film evokes raw emotions, and many of the images are gruesome.  Innumerable mutilated corpses, of US soldiers, insurgents and Iraqi civilians, are shown in close-ups, and I had to turn my head away when the insurgents decapitated a hostage and when the US military watched a critically wounded insurgent die without providing any medical assistance, a scene that lasted at least five minutes.  The battle for Falluja could have taken place on a distant planet, between armies of clones and zombies, and the total emptiness of life in the Ramadi ‘hotel,’ where the American presence didn’t seem to serve any other purpose than to emphasize that they were still there and the massively outnumbered troops were engaged in a daily routine for survival, makes a profound impression. Ware did not only tape nightly incursions by the Americans, but also terrorist actions by the insurgents.  At Zarqawi’s instruction he was given DVDs with videos of suicide attacks that show how carefully the insurgents recorded their own operations, both for training and propaganda purposes, providing shots of explosions and the following carnage.
      If the movie exposes anything, it is the total horseshit of the US government propaganda about Iraq during the Bush years, when Pentagon spokespeople constantly trumpeted that progress was being made, while in fact ISIS was emerging.  It also shows that you cannot look at these kinds of events through a military lens, because it completely distorts reality, not only of civilian life, but also of the military operations themselves.  The US army has this down to a fine point.
      In retrospect, Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ was just as delusional as the current Republican narrative that Obama lost the war because he halted the surge. The film justifies the president’s unwillingness to send any more troops into an Iraqi quagmire, and it strongly illustrates why soldiers who were not sick already could not escape this war zone without acquiring PTSD.
     
In a recent interview Michael Ware said that he walks with ghosts every day, but that he can finally sleep again and has come to consider it a privilege.  It’s a privilege he now shares with all of us, no matter how hard it is to unwrap the precious gift.

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Ted and the Donald


(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The Republican campaign for the nomination for the presidency has finally landed at the level where it was bound to arrive sooner or later.  Ted Cruz declared that although Donald Trump may be a rat, he has no interest in copulating with him, so that we knew we’re now in the sewer.  It all started when a Stop Trump Super PAC posted a glamorous picture of Trump’s wife Melania from her modeling years, undressed but with all the vital parts more or less covered, with a text like: ‘Is this what you want for your First Lady, if not, vote for Cruz.’  Trump of course thought that Cruz was behind the commercial and promised to ‘spill the beans’ on Cruz’s wife, Heidi.  Cruz vehemently denied that he had anything to do with it, and warned Trump to stay away from his wife.  Responsible for the ad was Liz Mair, a former Scott Walker aide who has her own reasons to be jealous of Melania Trump, although you’re not allowed to say that since Trump attacked Carly Fiorina for her facial features.  Liz Mair stated that she never worked for Cruz and had only met him twice, but Trump wouldn’t have any of it and the game was on.
      Trump’s response was the posting of a gorgeous picture of Melania next to a very unflattering picture of an angry Heidi Cruz, adding that the ‘pictures tell the whole story.’  Cruz took the bait, and responded with a line he had lifted from the 1995 movie ‘The American President,’ without mentioning the source.  Strangely he suggested that Trump was also attacking his children, and he questioned Trump’s manhood because of the Donald’s apparent fear of strong women.  Trump of course was not finished, and after one of his surrogates had made a statement about Heidi Cruz’s being on leave from Goldman Sachs, linking her employment to a loan Ted Cruz had ‘forgotten’ to mention on a financial disclosure form, he went all out.  The National Enquirer published an article about Ted Cruz’s having had affairs with at least five women, in which the only person quoted was a former Trump associate, Roger Stone.  Cruz couldn’t get five women to have sex with him if he had Trump’s money to pay for it, and of course he denied the allegations, calling Trump a ‘sniveling coward,’ but he’s been on the defensive ever since, because part of a story like that always sticks.
      It was now Trump’s turn to deny that he had had a hand in the National Enquirer article, and he did so mischievously saying that he hoped the paper was wrong about Cruz, even though it had been right about OJ Simpson and John Edwards.   Roger Stone’s role is fascinating.  He is a dirty trickster out of the Nixon school and was ‘fired’ by Trump in the beginning of the campaign, but it now becomes clear that he was really freed up to exercise his craft while giving Trump deniability.
      If there is one single reason for all this mudslinging it’s Trump.  In a recent interview with the Editorial Board of the Washington Post he exhibited his absolute ignorance about every topic that came up.  Trump may know something about bricks and mortar, fairways and greens, and tits and ass, but other than that his knowledge goes as deep as a rowing boat.  Smut is all he’s got to work with.
      In a week when the world saw another horrendous terrorist attack and Obama set a giant step towards repairing the US relationship with Cuba, the two main Republican candidates were wrestling in the manure.  The GOP won’t wait with breaking up until Cleveland, it’s collapsing before our eyes.

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Raul


(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

It’s Tuesday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Rays are playing the Cuban national baseball team in Havana, and I cannot keep my eyes off Raul Castro whenever he is in the picture.  He reminds me of my ex-father-in-law, a Polish economist, now in his eighties, who simultaneously rooted for and hated communism all of his life.  He spent his entire career in the Department of Commerce, selling cheap construction materials to third world countries.  The Reds activated and de-activated him at will: Countries could suddenly be removed from his portfolio, for fear that he was getting too intimate with his customers, or the whole portfolio could be taken away, so that he would spend the next year staring at the walls of his office, until some apparatchik would suddenly walk in to inform him that he could go back to doing business in Africa and South America.   After his retirement he ended up designing intellectual games that nobody wants to play, and whenever I visited with my family he could not leave me alone, trying to explain the intricacies of his latest game to me and then hoping that I would play with him.
      Those memories come back when I see Raul Castro sitting next to Barack Obama in the baseball stadium, constantly badgering the other president with some opinion that has to be translated by an interpreter, so that Obama has to turn backwards and cannot watch the game.  I recognize Obama’s reaction as my own from years ago: Polite but slightly annoyed, with a look on his face that says ‘will he ever stop?,’ while simultaneously realizing that he cannot be rude, because he’s trying to fix the relationship with Cuba, just like I could not be rude because I was trying to keep my marriage intact.  Awkward is the only word that adequately describes Raul Castro’s behavior, and during the almost two days that Obama has been in Cuba now there have been plenty of awkward moments.  It started when the authorities decided to arrest members of the ‘Ladies in White’ – who were peacefully demonstrating for the release of political prisoners, as they do every Sunday – a couple of hours before Obama’s arrival, and it continued during a joint press conference the next day, when Castro was asked to release Cuba’s political prisoners.
      Raul didn’t appear to have all his marbles available to him, was taking his headset off so that he could not hear the interpreter any more, got angry, and told the journalist who had asked the question that it was inappropriate to ask him about political prisoners.  Then he told that same journalist to give him a list of political prisoners and promised to set them free immediately.  I don’t know if Raul ever got that list, and the topic was not revisited, but I sure hope he did.
      Obama tried to nudge Castro into answering a question from Andrea Mitchell, whom he called ‘one of America’s most respected journalists,’ but Raul had had enough and only stammered ‘Andrea, Andrea’ a couple of times before trying to raise Obama’s hand while they walked off the stage.  Obama resisted the gesture and let his hand drop, which was the last awkward image of the day.
      Raul or not, I cannot wait to get to Cuba.  I learned in Poland that (almost) former communist countries are the most fun when ‘the head of the dragon is dead, but the tail is still alive.’ Once the tail of communism is dead, Cuba will be just another Caribbean island.  Still great and beautiful, but no longer this special.

 

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St. Patrick’s Day


(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Last Saturday Hoboken had its annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and as always it was a pretty disgusting spectacle.  Until 2012 the town had a St. Patrick’s Day parade on the first Saturday in March, a day that was chosen because all the drum bands in the area were available, but since the event brought thousands of youngsters from all over New Jersey to Hoboken with no other intention than getting completely hammered, and the day always ended in violence, the Mayor – Dawn Zimmer of Bridgegate fame – canceled it.  In 2013 the parade was canceled again, but to accommodate the local bar owners, who were very upset that the parade was now a thing of the past, and the thirsty millennials, who kept coming to Hoboken anyway to get drunk on the first Saturday in March, something called Lepre-Con was created, in an attempt to localize the heavy drinking and contain the violence.  A limited number of bars, all on the south side of town, were open for Lepre-Con business, and participants paid a small fee and got a wristband indicating that they were part of an organized drinking exercise.  Of course it didn’t work as planned, and most of the drinking still took place un-organized and outside of Lepre-Con bars.
      And so it happened again last Saturday that droves of New Jerseyans, most of them barely of drinking age, descended on Hoboken, starting at about 10 am.  The young women, often half-dressed in green, with wide open eyes looking forward to the attention they would be getting and the possibility that they might get laid by day’s end, and the young men totally focused on the tasteless American beers they would consume all day, which would make them completely impotent by nighttime.   As the day progressed this crowd got louder and more stupid, and while some people started vomiting and passing out in the bars you could run into herds of others moving from bar to bar on the streets, laughing and yelling at each other and with a look on their face that said: ‘Look at me, I’m unique and special and funny,’ while in reality none of them was unique and special anymore and all had become extremely annoying.  I did what I always do, get away to a golf course as far as possible from Hoboken if the weather is good enough to play, and stay at home if it isn’t, but the whole thing reminded me of something that happened at my last job a couple of years ago that made me understand the Irish better.
      In the summer I was co-teaching a program for a group of Irish high school kids who were spending six weeks in New York City, partly in the classroom and partly in internships.  They were from Dungannon, a small town in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.  Half of the group was Roman Catholic and the other half Protestant.  The program was an initiative of a New York City businessman who did business in Ireland, got to know the Mayor of Dungannon, and wanted to make a contribution to peace in County Tyrone.
      On their first day in class I discussed the program with the students.  Among other things, I suggested that we would watch the movie ‘The Molly Maguires,’ about the violent struggle between Irish miners and their Welsh supervisors in the Pennsylvania coal mines in the nineteenth century.  Most of the kids had not seen the movie, but two of them had, and they told me they didn’t want to see it again.
      Since I considered it a great movie I asked them why, and they said: ‘Because it’s just another stupid movie that shows the Irish as people who can only drink and fight.’  It is of the maturity of those two students that I think when I see dumb American drunks acting ‘Irish’ on the first Saturday in March.

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