Lava jato

These are Portuguese words for car wash.  But for 200 million inhabitants of Brazil,  it is a scandal of the highest proportion.  All accusations involve kickbacks totaling billions of dollars.

It began by investigating a money laundering operation in Brasilia, at the Posta da Torre (Tower Gas Station).  The roots of this investigation date back to accusations as far back as 2008.  It soon zeroed in on Petrobras and their corrupt supply procurement  officials.

Lavo Jato Analysis by the Brunswick Group

Both the Executive and Legislative branches of the Brazilian government are under investigation.

I remember back in the 1990’s, a  Brazilian joke about the “Brazilian triangle”  which they said was like the Bermuda triangle.  Apparently Petrobras and two banks (Banco do Brasil and BNDES)  owned three buildings in Rio  which formed a triangle.  They said money went in and disappeared.

The arrests started in March 2014, and likely many more are to come. Recent arrests include a Brazilian billionaire who has resigned as president of BTG and a prominent Senator:

Supreme Court ordered arrests of BTG Pactual’s Esteves and Sen. Delcidio do Amaral

Normally,  cleansing of corrupt officials would lead to a stronger government, able to bring badly needed reform and austerity  measures to Brazil.

However, as the magnitude and intricate nature of  bribery network has been exposed,  President Dilma Rousseff  popularity has plummeted.   As stated in the Brunswick article, since Petrobras is listed on the NYSE stock exchange, the  US Securities and Exchange Commission has opened up its own investigation.

The rather cynical joke that the light at the end of the tunnel is actually another  train coming in the opposite direction,  may  be true.  If the Brunswick’s prognostications hold true,  President Rousseff  will not be impeached, but she loses all chances of advancing the needed fiscal reforms.

The corruption scandal, I believe, has arrested most of the core players within Petrobras.   These new arrests  appear to be more  at the periphery of the scandal.

Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company,  is too big to fail.  It fortunately sells oil in dollars, which it desperately needs.  It is developing a number of large discoveries in deep water, which might be the real light at the end of the tunnel.


Stay tuned,













Pope Francis Central African Republic Visit

Why go there?   I am certain this is what anybody related to the Pope’s safety is thinking.

But by now,  I think Pope Francis security forces know the Pope goes where he wants to.  So, last Friday, he was in Kenya’s slums,  Saturday in Uganda, and today in the Central African Republic (CAR).  This small  former colony of France  has been plundered by dictators and ravaged by civil wars.

Last couple of months have been particularly bad, with bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims:

Recent events in Central African Republic

He will visit a mosque in the capital city  to show unity between Christians and Muslims .  I think this visit could not have come at a better time.

But few would have gone to the Central African Republic, given the situation.

Pope Francis Visit (CNN)

A very brave man.   See the video clip- he looks happy among the poor.

Stay tuned,



Anastasia Lin and Falon Gong

Anastasia Lin, age 25, is quite incredible.  She is beautiful, talented, intelligent  and articulate in her beliefs.  China has barred her from participating in the Miss World pageant because she practices Falon Gung.

Anastasia Lin barred from China

So what is Falon Gung?   It is a spiritual practice in China.  It preaches virtue.  It encourages its adherents to contribute to society.    Falon Gung is non-political.

Falon Gung

The most gruesome accusation against China is that they routinely imprison and later murder Falon Gung members for body parts (organ harvesting).  The murder of the practitioners  has been well documented.

I don’t think Anastasia ever expected to be thrust into role of human rights advocate.  She was put into a difficult situation, and did what was right.   And did it so well  that she deserves more than a Miss World crown.

Thanks to the efforts of Anastasia Lin, the world is beginning to learn more about China’s deplorable human rights abuse.

Stay tuned,




Enjoy the holiday season, if possible

The holiday season is a time to resist all the natural urges to be yourself.  Hold your thoughts in check  and do not say or do what comes to mind.  Let it be, let it be …

Enjoy your flight- no matter how unlikely

Take your time- but don’t be ridiculous

Mi casa e su casa-  here are my bills

Visit Miami, anyway

You may smoke – if you must

I haven’t spoken to my wife in 18 months,  I don’t like to interrupt.


And to steal a line from Henny Youngman (retold by Barney Frank):

How was your Thanksgiving?    Response: Compared to what?

Rather frightening news from,  Black Friday starts now! Gee I thought I had until Friday.  Time to turn the computer off.

Stay tuned,










Tell it like it isn’t Trump



The worst of the worst:

American Muslims celebrated 9/11 by the thousands.

Obama is sending Syrian refugees to Republican states.

Trump said: “Refugees are pouring into our great country from Syria. We don’t even know who they are. They could be ISIS. They could be anybody.”

African-Americans are responsible for the overwhelming majority of murders of white people in the U.S.

The one I heard him say was:

China is the big winner in the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership.

And I was thinking that the TPP doesn’t include China.  Finally, Rand Paul corrected Trump.

Donald Trump’s Lies (so far!)

Stay tuned,






Libya- and the diminishing hope for peace

Avoiding a catastrophic war takes more cleverness than hubris- although both work.

“Force is all conquering, but it’s victories are short lived.”
Abraham Lincoln

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall take flack from both sides.”- Unofficial UN Motto

Imagine putting together a puzzle, and all of sudden, the pieces of the puzzle start dividing into more pieces.  But the pieces are hardly made of cardboard, but have money, arms and in many cases hold the most valuable resources of Libya- its oil fields.

Blessed UN  peacemaker Bernardino Leon of Spain has been attempting to negotiate a peace agreement among rival factions  in Libya.  It is far easier to topple a unpopular dictator, than to create a  unified country.   If Syria is the ultimate in a failed state and civil war by proxy,  then Libya easily qualifies for second place.

It has looked for many months as a peace agreement might be close at hand,  chiefly between the Tripoli based government and the Tobruk based government, but to also  include other rival factions.  The 42 year reign of Gaddafi came to an end in October 2011, after approximately 10 months of fighting.

There was great hope for a far more open and democratic society, post 2011 throughout Libya.  Things appeared to be returning to normal, with the election of a new President in 2013 – but there was a political storm brewing below the surface.  The second civil war began in May 2014 with Operation Dignity followed by Operation New Dawn.  These military operations captured the airport in Tripoli and drove the elected government out of Tripoli.

Leon’s time in Libya appears to be ending soon as he has accepted a position to head a thinktank in UAE, but not without controversy as UAE supports the Tobruk based government.

Leon Bernadino – New Assignment and Controversy

He will be replaced Martin Kobler, a German diplomat,  with extensive background in the Middle East.

German to take up UN Libya Post

The UN representatives can only make peace if the rival factions want peace.  If they believe more will be gained by waging war, then the Libyan civil war will continue.   But,  this immediately ends the attacks on Leon Bernardino, by the Tripoli based government, which I believe  were done  for popular support.  Bernardino had hammered out a peace proposal among the rival parties, but the Tripoli based government refused to sign it. Libyans have been fleeing their country in record numbers since last year as the civil war has continued.

So, perhaps the Tripoli government will sign the accord now, with Bernardino out of the picture.  Or more chaos will ensue.

Stay tuned,



Changing the balance in the Supreme Court

Three justices will be over 80 years old, when the next president is elected: Ginsberg, Kennedy and Scalia.  Also, Breyer will be 78 years old.

Both Ginsberg and Breyer are liberals and  Scalia is a conservative.

Kennedy has sided with both liberals and conservatives in a number of narrow decisions.  He was nominated to the SC by Reagan.  Wikipedia states that in his earlier decisions, he sided most of the time with the conservative faction.  Often, he is referred to as the most important justice because of his role as a swing voter.  Each side has to convince him to vote their way if their side is to get a majority.


If all are replaced by conservatives,  this leaves a court divided 7-2 in favor of conservatives.  Remaining liberals would be Sotomayor and  Kagan. If all are replaced by liberals, this leaves a court divided   6-3 in favor of liberals.  Remaining conservatives would be Roberts, Alito, and Thomas.

None of the elderly justices appear to have any health problems.   In fact, they are all incredibly alert, active and brilliant.  I was very surprised to learn the age of both Justice Scalia and Breyer.

Now, if the court majority becomes conservative, could they overturn a number of decisions?  Could the same happen if liberals are the majority? Maybe, but it will be done  sparingly and really dependent on the cases before the court.    This is because the court can’t do a re-vote on a particular decision, but must have a case in front of them, which relies on a prior ruling.   Then, in deciding the new case, the SC can overturn prior decisions.

Once a case has been decided, a legal precedent has been set.  The case becomes part of case law, and all courts in the country must respect the decision.   The principle of setting precedents is called “stare decisis”  as explained below:


So, how many decisions have been overturned?  Wikipedia provides a list, noting there are likely other cases it missed:

Overturned SC  Cases

The “Obergefell v. Hodges”  in 2015, is of course, the gay marriage decision, which overturned Baker v. Nelson (1972).  The court had previously ruled that state  laws prohibiting gay marriages was legal.  Thus, the ruling was overturned 43 years later.  A second recently overturned case was again a gay rights case, “Lawrence v. Texas” where the majority struck down state anti-sodomy laws.  It was decided by liberal faction, with dissents from four conservative justices.

Lawrence v. Texas

These are just two examples of liberal justices overturning conservative decisions.  If the conservatives become the solid majority, then will they overturn liberal decisions?   Certainly,  if the right cases come before the court, there could be a number of overturned decisions.

Stay tuned,



The Holiday Season and the I won’t do list

It’s here.  In your face.  Brandsmart ads do not show a happy Santa or Christmas wreaths- it BLACK FRIDAY, where shoppers are expected to go  berserk and stampede  like cattle into stores as soon as the doors open in the wee hours of the morning.

Count me out.  In fact, around this time of year, a nice list of what I won’t do,  seems to work.  Ok, I recognize millions of people make “to do” lists, but from experience, this is a frustrating exercise, as you see the same stupid stuff on the list,  every day.  There is a whole lot more joy in the “I won’t do that” list, and right at the top is the insane Black Friday stuff.

The greatest part of Thanksgiving is food.   Food, food and more food.  Glorious food.  (yes, Oliver, we all want some more, but you got to pick a pocket or two, boys)


Buying a turkey is wonderful.  You look for the biggest one at the lowest price.  That’s it.   Even a guy can do it.  If you find a 23 pound turkey, at 75 cents per pound, you win.  If you never cooked one before, it’s pretty easy and instructions are normally included with the turkey.  If you happen to throw out the instructions,  go to the internet for instructions. Basically you stick a thermometer into the bird and cook it until it reaches 170 degrees F.

Keep it real simple.  I used to stuff a turkey  and it was fun.   But,  with all the food at Thanksgiving, the stuffing wasn’t being eaten, so now I just cook the turkey and leave stuffing to somebody else to do on the stove top. Do not fry your turkey.  I will give you all the reasons just before Christmas.  Particularly dangerous is deep frying a turkey on a covered patio when you are drunk.

The real artistry comes in the presentation.  The turkey must be cut at the table.  If you haven’t a clue of how to carve a turkey- smile and fake it. There are some instructions on the internet on how to remove the drumsticks.  Go for the full orchestra- turkey,  gravy, and cranberry sauce.  Giblet gravy is the best, but I’ve messed it up in every conceivable (and a few unimaginable) ways.   Cranberries should not be cooked, but chopped up in a food processor, and orange slices added. Add sugar as needed, and serve with whip cream. I have a secret ingredient- carambola jam.    I guess it’s no longer a secret.  Add to the banquet, a  few vegetables and salad, and you are set.

But, there are the people attempting to disrupt the happiness of  thanksgiving- so beware.  The most  basic rule is:  biggest turkey with the lowest dollar per pound cost.   This is a time honored tradition and it should not be broken.   If this requires a 100 mile trek to some unknown grocery store- so be it, because you win.  This rules out all fresh turkeys and  antibiotic free turkeys.    Your local supermarket is practically giving away those frozen turkeys as door prizes in hope you will do all your thanksgiving shopping at their store.  So, if they have big turkeys at low prices- they deserve to win.  They are true believers in big and cheap- the American way, right!

Turkey is healthy food relative to most of the stuff we eat.  The turkey growers say that the antibiotics are good because it further reduces diseases in turkeys like salmonella.   You got to defrost the turkey and cook it well.  Fish has mercury, red meat increases the risk of cancer,  and everyone knows pork is full of fat and will clog your arteries.  Turkey, chicken and fish usually come out top in the meats area.  I never argue with vegetarians, as they can find ample evidence of people being poisoned with any kind of meat.

Come to think of it,  the best way to enjoy Thanksgiving is to be invited to your friends or relatives house.   Arrive early and leave early.   Don’t forget to bring something easy to carry like a bottle of wine, and thank your hosts.  I try not to let my opinions spill out about antibiotics laced turkeys, fried deep turkeys or Black Friday being on top of my do not do list, as I want everyone to enjoy the holidays in their own peculiar ways.

From Oliver:

Magical food

Wonderful food

Marvelous food

Beautiful food

Food, Glorious food, glorious food …. foooood

What are we waiting for?   …. FOOOOOOOOOOOOOD

Enjoy the holiday season if possible in your own peculiar way!

Stay tuned,




Just turn the channel…

Fox, OANN and MSNBC do “suck-up interviews” all the time.   Fox is the worse.  The guest is promoted as an expert in a particular area.  On Fox and OANN, the questions begin with “We would like your opinion on the terrible mess that Obama has created in ….  ” and you can fill in the blanks.   What ever the expert responds,  the interviewer will act amazed at the answer, with a comment, like “that’s exactly right” , “absolutely”,  etc. Frequently, the interviewer will be the one supplying the opinions, and all the other person has to do it agree with what is being said.

I call them suck-up interviews,  because it is exactly what employees do with a demanding boss, namely agree 100% to whatever is being said.

It is done less on MSNBC, but they will often be interviewing liberal democrats and not critically questioning them.

People can select their particular show, and begin to absorb conservative or liberal ideas as their particular religion.  You too, can join the choir.  If it makes you feel good, it can’t be all that bad.

Unfortunately, this leads to highly conservative and liberal groups, and not much in between.

Who doesn’t do suck up interviews?   For the most part, CNN.   Other stations,  BBC and Al-Jazeera are two good stations.

Don’t listen to the suck up stuff, just turn the channel.

Stay tuned,



Religious freedom burdens

This stuff gets pretty long, but hang in there.  “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler,”    is often attributed to Einstein,  although nobody can really agree who said it.   “Things can be as simple as you want, as long as you say it is just your opinion”  is what I believe in.   I am not giving the whole story, only the bits and pieces I think are important.  So be it.

A case involving Obamacare and religious freedoms has now been accepted to be heard in the Supreme Court.  A similar case has already been decided.  You can call these cases  ACA I and ACA II, where ACA 1  is the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case   ACA II is the Little Sisters of the Poor v.  Burwell case.   These challenges are based on Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) cases which can be pronounced  reef-rah if you want to impress folks.

It started with the First amendment, enacted in 1791. The first 16 words of the amendment are, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Laws are passed by Congress rarely directly  prohibit normal religious exercise.  The Fourteenth Amendment made certain that no State or local government could pass laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  If a local government passes a law specifically against a practice of a religion, then it can be held unconstitutional, as occurred in the “Santeria” case

Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, 1993 (pre RFRA)

But this case is the exception.  Local communities pass to prohibit other practices or activities, which causes a burden or conflict with  religious groups beliefs or practices.  For example, let us say that your religion requires smoking pot, and the government passes a law against smoking  marijuana, have they violated your right to religion?  Hypothetically, let’s say there’s a noise limitation rule in a community, and early Sunday morning, a Church wants to blast gospel music from their lound speakers.   Does this rule impose a burden on free exercise of religion?

Suppose,  you belong to an Indian tribe, which ingests peyote buttons in religious rituals, and then got fired from your job, when tested for drugs- has the government made your practice of religion more difficult?  This is  “Employment Div. v. Smith” Case. The complaint was denial of unemployment benefits to two individuals (Alfred Smith for one)  belonging to a Native American Church because they tested positive for mescaline.  The Court agreed with the denial of benefits in 1990:

Employment Div. v Smith Case, 1990

Just in case you are wondering, the individuals had eaten peyote buttons, full of mescaline, which is a hallucinogen. You can be stoned up to 12 hours.  Do not use peyote and drive.  Also, stay far behind pick up trucks in places like New Mexico and Arizona, which might drive into the direction of the sun.

The Court decision was based on the fact that the law was religiously neutral.   Smith case was a 6-3 decision, with Justice Scalia writing the majority opinion.  Justice Blackmun dissented, joined by Brennan and Marshall.   O’Connor’s filed a separate opinion, concurring with the judgement but not the reasoning.  She wrote that a law which is religiously neutral (generally applicable), may still pose a burden on the practice or conduct of religious beliefs.  Thus, it is a case of competing interests.

Blackmun’s dissent  pursued the same logic, and felt the drug testing was overly broad, noting harm from peyote could not be demonstrated. So,  the First Amendment rights are neither obvious not absolute.   The court had imposed the “generally applicable” test to allow state’s interests to come before consideration of religious freedoms.  The states’ interests or objectives had to be narrowly tailored.   The alternative would be to require  exemptions for individuals’ religious practices,  but  only when this was practical and not be detrimental to the  overall state’s objectives.

But the issues can be complicated pretty quickly.  Congress got involved with the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), in 1993, which I’ll leave to Part III.   The use of peyote  as part of religious practice in now part of the Oregon statutes as an “affirmative defense”,  as given on the Smith  link.

As we will learn in the next couple of blogs,  how far government must go to accommodate religious exercise has been a controversial issue, involving both the courts and the congress.  State governments have also passed laws, in support of religious groups which oppose certain laws on religious grounds.

Wikipedia has listed on the bottom of the Smith case summary, a chronological listing of the “Free Exercise Clause” notable cases starting in 1879 to 2006. There are 16 cases listed.  One notable case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, 2014 did not make the list, because it is likely much more related to RFRA than First Amendment rights to religious freedom.  Hobby Lobby was a 5:4 decision, with the more liberal justices (Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan) dissenting.

The court has changed its thinking on how to decide these cases, Also, there isn’t a unified doctrine among the members of the court on how the cases should be decided. But based on the decisions which have been made in the past,  the basis or criteria used in deciding between individual liberties and the ability of government to uniformly apply laws has changed as follows:

  1.  1879 to 1963,  Was the law religiously neutral?  Was the law enacted to burden one religion?
  2.  1963 – 1990  (beginning with Sherbert and ending with Smith case),  Are there  compelling interests of the state and if so has the law/ rule been narrowly tailored to these interests?   This is consistent with viewing a laws as remedies to a problems, and they are too broad, they can unnecessarily cause conflicts with religious free exercise.
  3.  Nov 1993 forward –  Added complications of Religious Freedom Restoration Act to subsequent challenges,

So buckle up, there are some twists and turns in the road.  Things in this blog will not only be explained as simple as possible, but to the best of my abilities, even simpler.  Sorry Einstein or whoever said it.

Stay tuned.


Why the polls are wrong?

Trump and Hillary are leading in the poll.  Carson on the Republican side and Sanders on the Democratic side, are close seconds. Now, we are a year away from the election, and a lot will change.  Even a week before the election, with all the massive data gathered, the experts may be wrong.  Why?

  1. The proportion of people favoring one candidate or another changes.  So,  polls become less related to the overall population with time and events.  One particular event is when a candidate drops out of the race.
  2. There is a significant undecided group or people only vaguely familiar with the candidates.

The polls generally are trying to find out who will win in the primaries not the election.  When you hear that Trump is 5% above everyone else, it is with registered Republicans.   Another problem is polls ask too many questions, and people will at some point, get tired of responding.  Imagine pollsters reading off a list of 16 candidates and then asking whoever has agreed to a survey, which one is their favorite, or second favorite, or who they would not vote for in any case.  They may say they like Jindal, because the sound of his name, or Trump because he is so well known.  They are not seriously going to vote for these people.

So, how much more agony until we know which two candidates we have to choose from?  It’s a good question.  From the party’s perspective,  it would be nice to channel the maximum amount of contributions to just one candidate.  I’ve heard estimates of April to June 2016 for the final decision.   It is well decided before the primary, so the nominating conventions are just  big pageants, promoting a single candidate.

Now, the job of the pollsters should be in theory easier after the conventions,  as they have only a 50% chance of picking the wrong candidate to win.   Also, by this time,  the general platforms  of each party are well defined, so the undecided or poorly informed groups should be smaller.

All attention will be on the swing states. Candidates will work the hardest in the swing states where the polls say they are lagging.   Thus, while the polls attempt to identify who is ahead in the half dozen key states, the candidates frustrate this effort by pulling out all stops to improve their numbers.  Television plays a huge role.  Huge numbers of people polled does not necessarily translate into better predictions, because it takes time to poll many people and in that period of time, people are changing their opinions.

So, if you want to shut all this stuff out for the next 8 months- I don’t blame you.

Stay tuned,