Stateside with Charlie Harper
The US annually commemorates its fallen military heroes on Memorial Day, creating the first three-day weekend of the summer at the end of May. For the past 32 years, one of the most impressive Memorial Day demonstrations has been organised by 74-year-old army veteran Artie Muller. He and a few associates started the motorcycle-driven Rolling Thunder rally in 1988, but have announced that this year’s huge assemblage will be the organisation’s last.
For many years now, during the days before and after Memorial Day, the highways around Washington DC and throughout America’s Mid-Atlantic region have been jammed with motorcycles heading to the capital for a demonstration of solidarity with both dead military heroes and those who may still be held in captivity by enemies of America’s many foreign wars. The POW/MIA drama reached its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, fuelled by movie myths and some truth around the notion that American soldiers, sailors and aviators were still being held in grim Vietnamese prisons decades after that war’s end in 1975.
While the roar of hundreds of thousands of motorcycles is indeed an impressive tribute by and for veterans, it turns out that the logistical cost of $200,000 to stage the rally had become too much for the organisers to sustain. A big part of those costs reportedly covered parking lot rental fees at the Department of Defence, whose massive Pentagon parking lot serves as the rallying and start-off point for the bikers’ traditional passage across the Potomac River to the National Mall and the US Capitol. It’s kind of ironic, since the Vietnam veterans served commanders who sat in the same Pentagon.
Amid all the rumours that this year’s rally would be the last, US President Trump tweeted from a state visit to Japan that “The Great Patriots of Rolling Thunder WILL be coming back to Washington, DC next year. It is where they should be.” But not everyone seemed to fall in line with or believe the president.
A Pentagon spokesperson warned ominously that “effective preparation for an event like Rolling Thunder is a complicated and lengthy process”. The White House declined to comment on Trump’s tweet, offering little hope for Rolling Thunder in 2020.
“They (the government) would have to do a lot before we would agree to come back next year,” Muller said to reporters. Still, the size of the turnout this year did impress him. “It shows there are some people who still care about others – not just about themselves.”
Canada hoping Raptors pull surprise against Golden State
A Canadian professional team last won a North American championship in 1993, when the Toronto Blue Jays successfully defended their World Series baseball title. Since then, it’s been a long drought for Canadian teams – a particularly painful period for fans of the nation’s seven NHL hockey teams. Hockey is, after all, Canada’s national sport, and Canadian teams regularly triumph in international competitions.
Now comes the latest Canadian championship hope in basketball’s Toronto Raptors. They begin play tonight in the NBA finals against the powerhouse Golden State Warriors, and the Raptors will hold the home court advantage in this best-of-seven series because they had a better regular-season record. Few observers expect the Raptors to beat the Warriors in the series, but Toronto was the early betting favourite to win the opener at home.
This season marks the fifth straight NBA finals appearance for Golden State, which will move after the finals from Oakland across the bay to San Francisco, where more residents can afford their ticket and luxury suite prices. The Warriors have won four of those five most recent finals, with their only defeat coming to the Cleveland Cavaliers of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love three years ago. After that stunning defeat, the Warriors kept intact the nucleus of their team and then added probably the most talented player in basketball in Kevin Durant. Since then, the Warriors have been unbeatable when it counts most.
The Raptors have had their own problems recently with LeBron and the Cavs. Cleveland swept the Raptors out of the playoffs in both 2017 and 2018 by 4-0 counts each time. Now LeBron is at home for the playoffs and Toronto has taken advantage, most recently by upsetting the strong and deep Milwaukee Bucks in six games. The Raptors are led by long-time stalwart guard Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard, the all-star acquired after last season from San Antonio in one of the most daring trades in NBA history. Credit for the trade goes to Toronto President of Basketball Operations and Nigerian citizen Masai Ujiri, who also fired NBA Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey after last season. Ujiri’s moves have succeeded brilliantly.
Leonard will become a free agent after this season and may well not choose to return to Toronto, meaning his might be a one-year tenure in Canada. So what? No one in Ontario or anywhere else North of the Border is complaining. The Raptors are in the finals!
The Warriors, meanwhile, have been confidently waiting. As they should. This team may be the best team in NBA history, but if they’re not, very few could rank above them. They are the best team in professional basketball history without a true centre. (Sorry, Bulls fans.) They have just breezed through the Western Conference playoffs again, vanquishing the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets (who were purpose-built to challenge them) and the Portland Trail Blazers with their two brilliant guards.
And, by the way, Kevin Durant hasn’t played in weeks. The rest of the Warriors, led by the inimitable Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, have been easily up to the task of carrying on in Durant’s absence. In fact, if the Raptors don’t put an early scare into Golden State, Durant might not even play any more this year before departing after the finals in free agency. When he leaves, he’ll take another championship ring with him.
A cautionary tale for The Bahamas
Every once in a while, local curiosity surfaces about possible oil reserves sitting tantalisingly under the surface of Bahamian waters in the area of Cay Sal, a southwestern Bahamian territory closer to Cuba and even to parts of the Florida Keys than it is to Nassau. Some reports as far back as 1956 link the eccentric and enigmatic American entrepreneur Howard Hughes with development deals with Bahamians who had acquired crown leases for the purpose of oil exploration.
Nothing too significant has come from this sporadic interest. Maybe that’s a good thing. From New Orleans and other locations comes new information that might serve as a new cautionary tale for The Bahamas.
We all remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010 that fouled beaches and severely harmed marine life all along the Gulf coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. British Petroleum, which had leased the platform, eventually was assigned two-thirds of the liability for the catastrophe and has paid out billions of dollars in compensation and penalties. A movie starring Kurt Russell was made about the disaster.
But new information is only now emerging about another rig failure in the Gulf of Mexico - the Taylor Energy spill. This occurred in September 2004. Taylor-owned oil wells ruptured when the force of Hurricane Ivan collapsed deep sea canyon walls and sank an oil platform. The US Coast Guard and various other American agencies have been overseeing efforts by Taylor to contain the estimated 2.5 million barrels of oil that have slowly leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over nearly 15 years, and until this month have continued to foul the sea. The Taylor spill could eventually be larger than Deepwater Horizon, though spread over a much longer time period. Taylor has also reportedly tried to contain the flow of information on the spill, presumably to limit its liability.
Energy watchdogs in New Orleans, investigative reporters from The Times Picayune, The Washington Post and other news outlets and citizens groups have followed the case and now report that a new Coast Guard contractor may have been able to finally stem the oil flow and engage in a potentially successful clean-up.
Hopefully, technological advances and closer oversight will limit future oil spills. But after the way the Taylor spill has been handled, you wouldn’t want to bet on it.