A sliver of a silver lining in the Great White North

Who says the current economic slowdown is all bad?

The Associated Press is reporting that Canada’s version of American Idol won’t be produced in 2009 because of the slowing economy. Called “Canadian Idol,” the show has been a consistent success during its six-year run.

Although tragic news for imitators of Anne Murray, Bryan Adams and Rush, let’s hope this trend catches on south of the 49th parallel.


Russia caught between past and present


It’s hardly surprising that today’s Russia, where citizens remain almost evenly divided between those who believe Stalin was a “wise and successful” leader and those who think he was an “inhuman tyrant,” has yet to come to grips with its past.

In a lengthy piece in The Nation, Stephen F. Cohen looks at Russian society’s struggle with the legacy of Stalin’s Terror and Gulag, where 12 million-14 million victims were killed, brutalized or sent into exile, and which didn’t end until Stalin’s death in 1953.

Beginning with Nikita Khrushchev in the mid-1950s and aided by some who somehow survived the Gulag, the Soviets made considerable progress in exposing at least a portion of Stalin’s barbarity, and a small number of Stalin’s henchmen were actually brought to justice.

But the more rocks Khrushchev overturned, the more those around him worried that he was endangering too many people, and possibly even the Soviet system itself.

When Khrushchev was overthrown in 1964, failed economic and foreign policies, ill-considered reorganizations, increasingly erratic behavior and dismissive attitude toward collective leadership were all cited.

Unstated, but unquestionably a factor in Khrushchev’s removal was his anti-Stalin views, as well, Cohen writes. To demonstrate the shift in Soviet society toward Stalin, his reputation began to be rehabilitated following Khrushchev’s ouster.

This began to shift again under Mikhail Gorbachev, who rehabilitated all Stalin’s victims. And Boris Yeltsin, the first Russian president, formally exonerated all citizens politically repressed since October 1917, not just those under Stalin, according to Cohen.

However, as Cohen writes, few victims were ever compensated for their years in the Gulag or lost property, and today Russians again appear to be losing interest in remembering The Terror.

Cohen concludes by stating that “there is little popular or elite consensus about the nation’s present or future, partly because there is so little about its Stalinist past.”

Remembering an honest Mexican power couple

Amalia Solorzano de Cardenas, the world’s oldest surviving first lady, died last week at age 97. She was the wife of Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas, who served from 1934-40.

As interesting as Mrs. Cardenas was (she became First Lady at the age of 23 and was the mother of a presidential candidate), her husband’s life is even more remarkable.

Lazaro Cardenas made a genuine effort to root out high-level government corruption – no mean feat in the decades following the Mexican Revolution – never employed bodyguards for protection and provided safe haven and protection to refugees of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.

And while he nationalized Mexico’s petroleum reserves and expropriated the equipment of foreign oil companies in Mexico in 1938, he followed that with a national fund-raising effort to compensate the companies, according to his Wikipedia entry.

Perhaps most amazing, Cardenas is said to be the only Mexican president associated with the dominant PRI party that did not use his office to make himself rich.

“He retired to a modest home by Lake Patzcuaro and worked the rest of his life supervising irrigation projects and promoting free medical clinics and education for the nation’s poor,” according to Wikipedia.

Let them eat (inexpensive) cake

Major League Baseball’s recent decision to deny a proposal that would have increased meal money for minor leaguers on the road to $25 from $20 smacks of the myopia that has characterized the national pastime for so long.

Upping the per diem for minor leaguers would have cost each MLB club about $25,000, according to the Boston Globe, hardly an extravagance in a league where the average salary is $2.92 million and the minimum is $390,000. And don’t forget: Major Leaguers get a per diem of $88 a day when they’re traveling.

Compare that with the minors, where the first-year maximum salary ranges from $850 a month in Class A to $2,150 in Triple-A.

As an aside, MLB revenues are estimated at $6.5 billion so it’s easy to see why Bud Selig and Co. would be reluctant to fork over more money to up-and-coming players.