Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

US justice: “One in a million”?

30 years, and counting…

30 years, and counting…

“A convoluted legal row has erupted over [Jerry Hartfield] a Texas prison inmate who has been behind bars for more than 30 years after his case was overturned.”[1]

Please take a moment to read this tragic story for several reasons, including:

  • The Texas ‘justice’ system (yep, that’s where Bush comes from)
  • Incompetence (yep, that’s where Bush comes from)
  • Failed bureaucracy (deliberate tautology, on my part)
  • Inhumanity (yep, that’s where Bush comes from)
  • State criminality (chorus! all together now!)
  • Justice versus Vengeance? (no chorus)

Unwanted exclusivity quote

“It’s one of those one-in-a-million deals,” Mr Hartfield’s defender, Kenneth Hawk, told the Associated Press. That’s his defence, speaking?

Then think of Bradley Manning quaking in court, having been incarcerated in ‘harsh’ conditions ‘for his own safety’ for about 3 years before coming to pre-trial (and they say the Bulgarian legal system is slow!).

And, whatever you think about Julian Assange’s online activities and alleged offline capers, pause to wonder why, precisely, he fears extradition (I almost wrote ‘extraction’) to Sweden, with its own kinky legal procedures possibly leading onwards to that man-trap of US ‘justice’.

Or even the young UK guy, Richard O’Dwyer, who cannot now be extradited from the UK to the US for allegedly running a website that provided links to unlicensed streams of TV shows, but who still has to travel there to pay the fine imposed in a plea-bargain deal. I wonder if he has bought himself a simple one-way plane ticket?[2]

And more; British businessman Christopher Tappin accused of brokering arms deals (forget entrapment by US ‘Intelligence’), also having to settle on a plea-bargain to avoid disappearing for ever into a dingy US jail. Whether guilty or innocent.[3]

Oh, Land of the Free, Leaders of the Free World…

… until they, somehow, “forget” you for 30 years. But then, only one in a million, according to Hartfield’s own defence attorney. Ha, ha!

Excuse me now, I’m off to watch a cowboy movie.

[1]: The Independent

[2]: CMU

[3]: The Independent

Image: Prison Studies


Sofia Sunday snippets: finding grace

Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Maxim

Patriarch Maxim.

Bulgaria’s day of mourning

Bulgaria observed an official day of mourning on 9th. November, as Orthodox Patriarch Maxim was buried at Troyan monastery.

His body had lain in state in Sofia following his death three days earlier, at the age of 98.

On Friday, following a liturgy at Alexander Nevsky cathedral, the cortege travelled to Troyan, near to Maxim’s birthplace of Orashek, and where the young man had entered the priesthood.

Maxim (real name Marin Naidenov Minkov) had ruled the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for 41 years. He was possibly the last senior cleric to have lived through three successive Bulgarian political regimes: monarchy, communism, and republican democracy. He was the spiritual ruler of the more than 80% of the population who declare themselves as Bulgarian Orthodox.

Now is not the occasion to delve into alleged, negative events that may have casts shadows on Maxim’s long life at the heart of the church and the nation.

His successor will have to be nominated and appointed within the next 4 months. Meanwhile, the faithful mourn his passing…

… as millions around the world observe Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day, to honour the members of their armed forces who died in the line of duty.

The dismal daily headline

One of my regular English-language news sources, Focus Information Agency, invariably carries a depressing headline. This is Sunday’s version:

31 injured in road accidents in Bulgaria in past 24 hours

For once, no deaths.

Saturday’s lugubrious version read:

4 die, 25 injured in road accidents in Bulgaria in past 24 hours

And Friday? “Only” 2 deaths.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to work to an approximate annual death and injury toll by noting a week’s worth of such information.

The good news is that the final annual statistics for 2011 showed a continuing downward trend  in road fatalities in Bulgaria. That year, there were 657 fatalities and 8,300 injuries. Casualties have dropped by 11% over the past three years (to end 2011). However, looking at statistics on a different basis – fatalities per 100,000 of population, Bulgaria still registers about 8.7 persons, compared with the UK’s 3.0.

Sofia police are currently engaged in a safety blitz. I haven’t yet seen this happening but, apparently based on a Dutch police method, our Best in Blue are carrying out multiple safety checks on vehicles, even while cars are stationary at traffic lights on busy intersections.

“Multiple” means up to 10 instant checks, including driver documents, windscreen wipers, tyres, and lights.

While welcoming this intensive initiative, I reckon as a driver I’d be terrified to be swarmed over by a police posse while patiently waiting for the lights to turn green!


Rezovo, Bulgaria-Turkey border town

Rezovo: the border between rumour and fact.

Rumbling rumours

The past 18 months have seen a number of Bulgarian media reports, even while the business of Belene and the forthcoming referendum sparked and raged, that Turkey is going to build a nuclear plant near the Black Sea coast, 5 kms south of the Bulgarian border.

The rumoured site, Igneada, is a town of about 2,000 inhabitants, and would have been Turkey’s third NPP – the first two projects are underway.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu assured a Bulgarian MEP last week that there would be no nuclear plant built at Igneada, and an official government note to the same effect has been sent to Bulgaria and Brussels.

Local Bulgarian communities had voiced environmental concerns, predicting adverse effects on the property market, and a negative impact on tourism and the fishing industries.

The governor of Burgas, the coastal resort situated only 75 kms to the north of the border, also stated that, whereas there would be no Turkish NPP, they were planning on “only” a thermal power plant.

If that’s true, then all our needless worries evaporate, don’t they?

Wind and weather

Almost the middle of November, and the autumn is beautiful – and kind. True, the days are noticeably shorter, and we suffered several days of severe winds; but today, for example, we’ve enjoyed blue skies and sunshine once again.

Yes, it’s nippy at night, but not bad at all, even though Vitosha had a sprinkling of overnight snow.

Our neighbour has just mowed his lawn this afternoon, probably its final cut of the year. We are also gardening, clearing up before winter sets in. We are certainly being spoilt, this year – so far!


Thracian gold horse Sveshtari Bulgaria

The gold of the Getae.

Bulgaria strikes gold – yet again

Over the past several weeks, there have been a few astonishing archaeological finds in various regions of Bulgaria. Last week, there was yet another.

A team led by Prof. Diana Gergova, one of the country’s foremost experts on Thracian archaeology, discovered fragments of a wooden box containing charred bones and ashes, along with 4 spiral bracelets, numerous decorations, 100 buttons, and a beautiful component of a harness or bit – a miniature sculpture of a horse’s head on a base decorated with a lion’s head.

All these are solid gold, and are dated to the end of the fourth, or beginning of the third century BCE, and were crafted by Thracians, who inhabited a wide area of present-day Bulgaria and part of what is now Romania.

The site of these latest finds, one of a complex of 150 tombs near the village of Sveshtari, some 400 kms north-east of Sofia, is particularly associated with the Getae (or Getes) tribe.

“These are amazing findings from the apogee of the rule of the Getae,” said Gergova, with considerable understatement.

The Sveshtari burial complex was discovered in 1982, in what UNESCO describes as “one of the most spectacular archaeological events of the 20th century. The tomb itself is a unique artistic achievement with its half-human, half-vegetable caryatids enclosed in chitons in the shape of inverted palmettes.”[1]

Unsurprisingly, the unique burial complex is already one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.


predicted spending 2012 US presidential election

Unlimited budgets, limited policy debate

We can never escape them, can we…

Politicians, I mean.

Somehow, at long last, we are now free of an extremely prolonged, acrimonious, non-constructive US presidential election. To the relief of most senior European politicians, Obama won. The prospect of having to endure Romney, with his foreign gaffes and his downright ignorance of geography (see cartoon below), must have caused our political élites some sleepless nights. After spending an amount estimated to be in excess of $6 bn on this 2-horse race (including the hugely ignored Congressional elections, to be fair), it’s status quo for Europe.

Romney foreign gaffe Iran

Romney all at sea (again).

So, all sympathy for Israel’s PM Netanyahu, who’s had a rocky year with Obama, and apparently favoured Romney for his (declared) aggressive Middle East “policy”. It seems Benjamin backed the wrong horse this time; now, to mix my metaphors, he’s got some transatlantic fences to mend, especially if he hopes to win the next election.


Sergei Stanishev, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader

Stanishev getting personal.

Back to domestic politics

Speaking of which, next year Bulgarians will vote in their own parliamentary election. The war of words (and deeds) is already warming up.

Sergei Stanishev, leader of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), addressed the Bulgarian Social Democrats on Saturday, and launched a virulent attack on the present Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov.

“Today, constitutionally Bulgaria is a democracy, but in practice it is ruled by a one-person authoritarian regime that on a daily basis deprives citizens of their political rights, crushes democracy, and treats the state as its own property.”

Strong words! But, objectively speaking, even non-socialists (apart from one BB) would heartily agree with this withering assessment. Roll on, spring 2013!

[1]: UNESCO Thracian tomb of Sveshtari


Patriarch Maxim

Rezovo, Bulgaria-Turkey border 

Thracian gold

US election spending 

Romney: Facebook


That 10-yearly orgasm: ‘Theory, not practice’

Chinese Congress 2012

“All together, now, all together, now (The Beatles).

I have admit to being amused, yet again, by western media reports of what is apparently going on in China in preparation for their 10-year orgasm – this time around, the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th. National Congress.

Some 2,300 delegates will meet in Beijing for the next official transition of leadership power in China. The congress will continue for x days – I can’t find out how many, but never mind, it’s all planned, of course.

A UK press item describes the situation:

“Beijing is in security lockdown – kitchen knives have reportedly been removed from shop shelves, racing pigeons are confined to their lofts, and the window controls removed from passenger seats in taxis across the city to stop people furtively passing out dissenting messages from the back seat.”[1]

The article continues:

“Few surprises are expected at the very top. Xi Jinping is due to replace Hu Jintao as General Secretary of the party that has ruled China since 1949. Li Keqiang is set to succeed Wen Jiabao as Premier.”[1]

Local quotes

“There is too much unfairness here and the government controls everything. I have to say we need more human rights. I don’t feel disappointed with the current leadership, but there’s nothing to be very cheerful about either.”

“The main problem is unfairness, and that people’s basic rights cannot be assured, such as land rights, property rights, food security and environmental safety. I don’t know if I am disappointed, and I’m not sure what the result will be if some wise leaders are replaced … The government should strictly implement the laws.”

“The thing most needed in this country is supervision of the Communist Party and an independent legal system, but this seems unlikely in a country with one-party rule, so the rules and regulations lack justice and are in the service of the rulers.”

“The most disappointing thing is corruption. From the government to the ordinary people, everyone here is attached to a code which represents a theory that nothing is real except money.”

“It is not possible to have change or political reform because the leadership is all about extending the leadership. I cannot see hope unless there is more freedom and supervision of the leadership.”

Please note the above are selective quotes from  the article in The Independent, as already cited.[1]

Why am I amused?

For purely personal reasons.

Two anecdotes, from my own time as a trainer with The Thomson Foundation (a UK NGO) over the years, which gave me an unexpected but authentic view of the mind-sets of Chinese media players.

1: Production course, Beijing, 1995

The international media training NGO I worked for finally succeeded in organising a course for central and regional TV producers, to be held in Beijing. It proved to be a fortnight of hilarity, serious work and deep frustration.

First, the “trainees” went on strike, because they didn’t want to be challenged and asked about what they actually did, followed up by practical exercises as to how they did it; instead, they insisted on “lectures”, so as write down and “understand what to do”, not to be “shown how to do it”. As the rebel leader told us “We want to learn theory, not practice!”

A 36-hour stand-off was eventually resolved (we even threatened to return to UK), and we continued with practical shooting and editing exercises.

Then: permission and authority, and the inability to do the stories “we want”

Without wishing to denigrate the media personnel in attendance, it’s fair to say they were scared shitless of “authority”. They had some lovely ideas: “let’s do an item on Beijing Zoo”, “what about a street market, interviewing the sellers and buyers”, “what does Tiananmen Square really mean to us” (some 2 years after the events there). All ideas they, the participants, proposed, only to come back to us trainers saying “Not possible! ‘They’ won’t give us any permission”.

Well, we managed to get all those three things (and more) done, and the “trainees” were astonished by their own (aided) success.

My personal part was to take on the challenge of filming in Tiananmen Square. I simply took a video camera, commandeered one of our drivers, and told him to drive slowly around the square several times, while I shot out of the rear window, and on the pavement itself. He was terrified!

Ironically, and totally unexpectedly, as well as general shots of the square and the “mausoleum”, I returned with a sequence of shots of a formal 21-gun-salute being given in honour of the visit of the Lithuanian President. The “trainees” were amazed, and aghast. The driver was still shaking. They asked how I “got permission”. I told them it was a public space, so I never thought of asking, as a tourist with a video camera.  Why didn’t they approach it in the same, bold (admittedly more discretionary) manner, in insisting on their (?) rights? But, yes, I could well have been arrested by an earnest, pimple-faced, ideological adolescent twat, in a (compulsory) green uniform.

Similarly, we eventually gained access to the zoo, and to the street market (the best story of all, as it happened).

I hope we “big-nosed, red-faced” Brit trainers, as they amusingly saw us,  managed to instil some more courage into those young, aspiring journalists. Who knows, given the system within which they still have to operate?


I did feel ashamed, when telling one of the colleagues on the course, that I had to fly for over 10 hours to get home to UK. He replied that he had a 96-hour journey by rail ahead of him to get home to his province – I suppose he missed that wonderful Congress.

2: Management and planning course, Guangzhou

On my own, this time, I had a 3-week training course to deliver to top managers of CCTV and some other (carefully selected) TV stations. Needless to say, the “others” were the keenest, the most challenging participants.

This was about 10 years ago – you get the drift, now?

I’d realised, while preparing for the course, that the previous (2002) Congress would overlap the final 2 days of the course, and prepared some material that I hoped might be relevant.

Well, what a waste of time! With 3 days to go on the course, my interpreter informed me, quite seriously: Mr. Trainer, you may not be aware, but the most important event in China is about to begin tomorrow”.

So, to cut it short, the course was prematurely terminated: “Maybe you can tell us everything for the next 3 days, today,” was the suggestion I was given.

My Welsh answer (non -PR) was succinct: “Piss off! We were supposed to be discussing planning… your bosses had 10  years to plan this course in relation to the Congress.”

The course collapsed, and I spent a delightful couple of days in sight-seeing. I just felt sorry for those media participants who’d also been well aware of a small timing problem, but were too scared, or polite, or powerless, to mention it to their superiors.

Post-script: Albanian Christmas

This all reminds me of another wonderful occasion. Working in Tiranë, capital of Albania, one December, I was again caught out by a totally distraught TV producer who told me she’d been informed, with only 6 days to go, that she had to produce a “Christmas Special” for 25th. December. An event almost 2,000 years in the planning… but the management had just realised the date!


Planning? Followed by non-thinking acceptance. And top management never changes, even in its attitudes and ineptitude.

Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for the result of the US presidential election, aren’t we? Look again at the Chinese quotations above: one-party, two-party, not much choice, the rich, eh?)

[1}: The Independent


Caustic perspectives on you-know-what

Madeleine Albright wades in on Romney's foreign policy

Madeleine Albright: still sparky at 75.

On the eve of the US Presidential election, Spiegel Online International has a withering sequence of stories and commentaries. Ouch! No wonder the 5th. November is called Bonfire Night…

Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation

1 of 3

Romney has a 'Shallow Understanding of Foreign Policy'

2 0f 3

America Has Already Lost Tuesday's Election

3 of 3

Click on the images above to go directly to the items.

Sources: Spiegel Online International

US countdown/up

us debt indicator online

Ticking election time bomb?

I last featured the American online US National Debt clock back in May 2011. It then stood at over $14 trillion.

The image above shows it today, 3 days before Americans vote in the presidential election. An increase of $2 trillion in 18 months.

I watched the clock race up another $1 million dollars (US public debt subject to limit). It took all of 80 seconds.

As of last month, another public clock in New York ran out of digits.[2]


[1]: US Debt Clock

[2]: BBC Online

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