Now What?

NO GOOD OPTIONS

NO GOOD OPTIONS

The reports of the past week suggest that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons against rebel strongholds on the suburbs of Damascus .  As the Syrian conflict goes from bad to worse to intolerably worse to indescribably worse, the extent of the damage incurred by the United States of having a ‘no policy’ policy is becoming ever so abundantly clear. From the moment President Obama in his 2009 Cairo speech re-framed the historical perspective of Islamic  world instability and turmoil as a direct outgrowth of western imperialism, suppression of arab democracy, and the age old whipping boy, the Palestinian -Israeli conflict, and declared  a ‘new’ American attitude of understanding and hands off policy to the region’s internal contradictions, the capabilities  of promoting the positive and suppressing the negative in the region  have disappeared into irrelevancy. Like the turtle above, having walked out on a precarious ledge and now facing unpleasant choices, the United States is concluding in turtle fashion, that maybe pulling inside your shell and hoping everyone just goes away is the last best policy.

This is what happens when you don’t know what you are doing, and you do it anyway.

From Iraq’s defeat in the Kuwaiti desert in 1991 to the forced overthrow of Saddam in 2003, an intense world discussion as to the incendiary qualities of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unstable regimes gripped most of the international consciousness.  Of all of Saddam’s crimes against his people the one that stood out particularly to the international forces arrayed against him was his use of chemical weapons upon his own people, the Iraqi Kurds.  The world, so scarred with the 20th century use of such weapons indiscriminately for destruction, felt that zero tolerance was the only capable deterrent to further use.  World bodies monitored nuclear proliferation, signed chemical and biological weapon elimination treaties, and aggressively inspected Iraq for signs of continued interest in WMD development.  With the defeat of Hussein’s army in 2003, the world gasped and cringed at the lack of evidence of supposed WMD supplies, and despite a several decade history to the contrary, declared the U.S. as having created a false narrative regarding the threat.  Rumors that Hussein simply redirected his stockpiles to Syria were never taken seriously.  Now, with accusations of both sides of the Syrian conflict having potentially used chemical weapons, the source of these weapons becomes ever more curious.

If what is alleged is true, the use of chemical weapons would indicate a complete lack of concern on the user’s part as to potential consequences.  President Obama declared in August of 2012, a “red line” beyond which the United States would find intolerable and a direct threat to its national security, and that was any use of weapons of mass destruction.  This was added to the “red line” warning Iran that any development of nuclear weaponry would be considered intolerable and a direct threat to its national security.  The proliferation of red lines and the crossing of them without punishment, exposes the U.S.’s internal contradictions and has only emboldened the worst elements of the region to risk further escalations. It dramatically highlights the arab suspicion that was only briefly extinguished by the U.S.’s 2003 smackdown of Iraq the the U.S. is an empty suit when it comes to acting decisively.

In an effort to absorb blame for its actions and promise to act more “constructively” , the U.S. has sown the seeds of a dramatic proliferation in its potential need for involvement.  The abandonment of an onsite military presence in Iraq has emboldened the dictators of Iran and Syria to act with impunity. The declaration of disproportionate ‘blame’  by the United States for perceived injustices has led to a propagation of the idea of the United States as weak and without conviction.

So what now?  What do you do when you have a policy that stands in tatters and progressive fractures are developing in your capacity to contain dangerous weapons of mass destruction?   Having managed to destabilize Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and Syria in five short years, the U.S. –  is now focusing its destabilizing efforts on its one ally in the region, Israel.  The tortured logic has returned that the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the “sore” that prevents the peaceful resolution of arab turmoil, and Secretary of State Kerry is working hard to see if he can draw Israel into the American web of defeatism.  I must say, even if you don’t know what you are doing, its the height of folly to think that 1300 years of Islamic strife, the schisms that lead to Indian muslims to bomb Hindis, Egyptian muslim brotherhood to kill Coptics,  Syrian Alawites to gas Schia, Iraqi Schia to kill Sunnis, Palestinian Hamas to kill Fatah,  and Taliban to kill everybody, originates with a 65 year old, 40 mile wide sliver of land that stands as a local gash to Arab pride.

Arab culturists have long warned against projecting  the appearance of indecisiveness and weakness  to an insecure society that despises weakness. Well, the sequelae of that strategy are upon us.  Violence everywhere, strengthening of radical and terrorist influences, and the unsheathing of weapons of mass destruction are the seeds of an inevitable expanded conflict. So much for  this administration returning “smart power” to Washington.  What to do now?  There are no good options. But this time we really did do it to ourselves.  We deftly managed to become a turtle in a world full of alligators.

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The Governors

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER - WISCONSIN

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER – WISCONSIN

I’ve always had a rule when thinking about presidential politics.  It has kept me from the mindless speculation and useless musing that infects so many others, years from any serious vetting for an election.

The rule has been: We have a President.

Elections are meant to matter in a functioning democracy, and a national election for chief executive is meant to matter most of all.  In 2012, the country voted to maintain in a position of leadership, Barrack Obama, and 2013 notes we are only in year one of a four year cycle in which the election results stand.  The winner should be respectfully allowed to lead the country with the general support of the population, and without the whining and fawning over others who aren’t the elected leader.   Its a democracy after all.

And yet, with this President, I find myself breaking my rule,  whining about this leader and fawning over others who aren’t.  The President’s unique style, so oxymoronically referred to as ‘leading from behind’,  goes through me like fingernails on a chalkboard.  Permit me a brief rant on this particular style. Promoting a huge increase in government stimulus spending, and when it fails to stimulate, suggest more stimulus. Passing a massive overhaul of healthcare that no one has vetted for value, much less read, then as it begins to fall apart before it has barely initiated, suggest no corrections other than further protections for your favorite government employees against its worst attributes, leaving the rest of the nation to fend for itself.  Indicating the necessity for a more ‘humble’ position for the free world’s leadership in a dangerous world, then stand back as essentially every hot spot in the world progressively unravels in the vacuum of leadership you created. I could go on and on and on – but I already have so many times before. Thus the need to daydream about 2016. And I don’t mean longing for Hillary – please(!) .

Lets stay with the right side of the aisle, and as far away from Washington as possible.  As much as the Capitol building is full of those that look in the mirror and see themselves as next in line to the throne, the missing factor needed to stabilize this wobbly republic is adult executive experience.  The nation has a nearly fatal attraction to pop celebrities, but the hard work of effective leadership is more often than not learned in the nuts and bolts of state governance.  Thankfully while the media attention has been on electing the One over the last two election cycles, some pretty effective governors have been showing the skill sets of leadership so absent at the nation’s capitol. I have no idea of whether any have actually given a run for President serious thought, but the list of those who deserve a look is extensive:

Mike Pence – Indiana                                                                                                                         Bobby Jindal – Louisiana                                                                                                                       Rick Snyder – Michigan                                                                                                                   Chris Christie – New Jersey                                                                                                       Susana Martinez – New Mexico                                                                                                      Tom Corbett – Pennsylvania                                                                                                                Nikki Haley – South Carolina                                                                                                              Rick Perry-Texas                                                                                                                                  Scott Walker – Wisconsin

Each of these effective executives have shown skills that are sadly lacking in the current chief executive.  Bobby Jindal is a truly visionary executive that understands how large bureaucracies work and can be effectively reformed. His national profile has suffered from his initial difficulties in the media spotlight, producing a bland caricature that has proved difficult to shake, but no one doubts his intellectual chops. Tom Corbett has propelled Pennsylvania into the fracking revolution, and along with North Dakota, made Pennsylvania a leader in the nation’s energy renaissance.  Though not currently popular in his blue home state, the continuing juxtaposition of an energy successful Pennsylvania against a floundering New York, which has ignored its equal access to the Marcellus Shale, continues to impress. Nikki Haley has long been on  list of up and coming female executives, promoting unwavering conservative fiscal policies, that continue to drive her southern state’s entrepreneurial attitude about economic vitality.  Mike Pence has continued the revolution in state government management devised by his predecessor Mitch Daniels and has national government experience as a congressman known for secure principles not easily dislodged by a newspaper editorial.  Three years is a long time and any from this paragraph could rise to the national position. But I prefer to focus on the current big hitters in the middle of the lineup, because my whining about the current President has left me fawning for a winner:

The Dark Horse – Rick Snyder is on no one’s current list but should be. Blessed with an intellect on par with Jindal, he was college graduate, CPA, MBA,  and law graduate from the elite University of Michigan by age 23.  He was CEO of the Gateway computer corporation and head of Michigan’s Economic Development Corporation.  Part of the 2010 electoral revolution, he won election in the blue state of Michigan, home to the private industry most powerfully in the grip of union recalcitrance, and managed amazingly to effect the conversion of Michigan to a right to work state.  Pulling this important state out of economic somnolence, restoring fiscal sanity, carefully sheparding the state’s most important city, Detroit, out of the catastrophic mess it finds itself in after 50 consecutive years of democrat mismanagement, will make Rick Snyder the kind of no nonsense executive the country may want after nearly twenty years of fiscal slovenliness.

The Bull Dog – Chris Christie has the unique characteristic of not really caring if someone is offended by his version of the truth. Smacking straight into the teeth of entrenched liberal special interests strangulating New Jersey government, he showed the moxie needed to accomplish change in the bluest of states and an underappreciated skill in using executive powers move the process forward.  After winning conservative accolades, Christie, sensing an Obama victory,  took a significant left turn just before the national election of 2012, and has continued to walk a careful line between liberal and conservative blocks before he stands for re-election for  the New Jersey governorship in 2014.  If he wins again in the bluest of states, he will have secured a powerful block for national projection as a “bridge” candidate so popular with the nation’s media.  Will conservatives forgive him his wobbles? As Winston Churchill once said so eloquently, “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain amount of ingenuity to re-rat.”

The Feminine Mystique – Having succeeded at pulling across the finish line the first “black” president, the nation’s media is anxious to crown the next fracturer of the glass ceiling, the first “female” president. The choice of the entrenched powers is the infamous Hillary Clinton, despite her abysmal actual record of performance.  This myopia regarding Clinton disserves many talented and effective female politicians on both sides of the aisle.  Of particular note is Susana Martinez, who would bring a boatload of “firsts” to the presidency, first female, first Hispanic, and first female Hispanic democrat turned republican that was willing to assert that the principles she believed in, were not found in the party she grew in: ” we talked about many issues, like welfare, is a it a way of life or a hand up? Talked about the size of government, how much should it tax families and small businesses? And when we left that lunch, I looked over at (my husband) Chuck and said ‘ Ill be damned. We’re Republicans’.”  A popular governor in a purple state, tuned into the issues of border politics, and balancing budgets in a time of budget stress, Martinez is a potential key for the lock that the national media has placed on the door to national success for females who by the media must serve the liberal mantra to be accepted as having the ‘necessary gravitas’.

The American Pathfinder – Rick Perry came on the national scene in 2011-12 and popped like a weak balloon. But to underestimate him on the basis of his hesitant performance would be a mistake.  Struggling through a terrible back condition and subsequent surgical recovery, Perry stumbled, and looked overwhelmed.  This won’t happen again.  Feeling better, and equipped with a record of guiding Texas through a spectacular period of growth and economic vitality, Perry takes a backseat to no one in the understanding of what America is deficient in currently and the path to  economic resurgence. In 2012, the nation was willing to overlook economic incompetence on the part of the president in order to not upset the cultural victory of overcoming past prejudice he represented.  Four more years of floundering around like a halibut out of water, however, is likely to make the country yearn for someone who has “dun it” over time, and Rick Perry has “dun it”. Unburdened with any state responsibilities with his retirement in 2015, and with the wind in his sails of the second most populous state in the electoral college, Rick Perry, is going to be a lot harder to ignore the second time around.

The Eisenhower Dejavu-er – When World War II started for America, no one had heard of a non-descript lieutenant colonel who functioned as chief of staff for the celebrated general MacArthur. Within three years, everybody knew who Eisenhower was.   The Kansas farm boy brought an incredible steadiness under stress, mature absorption of constant backstabbing and attack by others who felt they were more worthy, and an overwhelming competence to the job as Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe.   In Wisconsin, a non-descript former county executive who never graduated college, has shown a level headedness, backbone, and superb competence at each step of the ladder, and is progressively being mentioned as Presidential timber.  Scott Walker achieved a principled reworking of state government, restoring the power of the taxpaying citizen of the state, balancing the budget of a state with a heretofore unsolvable budget deficit, and did it under the most withering attacks any governor has had to absorb, with money fueled attacks to overcome his judicial and legislative support, and finally, a direct re-call upon himself as governor.  Like Eisenhower at the Battle of the Bulge, he stayed true to his strengths, never let the  bluster or temporary advantage of his opponents distract him from his path to victory, and an overwhelming victory it was.  The first governor to successfully fight off a re-call, he has led the state of Wisconsin to budget surpluses and markedly improved position as a state to bring businesses, all while forming a record of conservative successful governance that leave principled conservatives in other blue states in awe.  If Walker succeeds at a 2014 re-election, making three consecutive affirmations in four years in the most politically volatile of states (see US Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin), Walker may follow Eisenhower’s path to the White House, as the competent supreme commander of the most powerful nation on earth.

The governors are out there waiting for the rest of the nation to get over itself, and look for a return to what we do best.  We are going to have to wait three long years.  All this whiner and fawner can say at this junction in our nation’s history is …hurry up. Please, Hurry Up.

 

 

 

 

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Dog Days of Summer

Dog Days of Summer

Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer are upon us.  Not a particularly hot summer but it had its moments.  The persistence of a warm day absorbs our energies and makes the worries and concerns of a complicated life seemingly remote.   Try as we might to keep our eyes open to the issues of the times, the comforting rays of the late afternoon sun beckon a state of somnolence and ennui.  A good nap is in order.

This phenomena is not restricted to my window facing the southern exposure.  Washington DC is full of the desire to forget, leave town, and have a nice siesta.  The President in particular is exhausted from his summer of fighting phony scandals, the collapse of his navel gazing foreign policy, and the tendency of his driver to find the rough.  After a non-illuminating 9 question press conference to gloss over any particular responsibility for his myriad troubles, he is determined to get away from it all in the rustic village of Chilmark, Massachusetts.  He has selected a quant little cottage to start to restore his karma:

Aerial View - Obama Vacation

Aerial View – Obama Vacation

Obama Vacation Home in Chillmark - Forbes

Obama Vacation Home in Chillmark – Forbes

Though certainly no one denies the President the utmost in privacy for his getaways, it remains an interesting phenomena that the last two democrat Presidents looking to escape Washington continue to look to exclusive Martha’s Vineyard as their “home” away from the White House.  Now unlike President Clinton, President Obama actually owns a home in Hyde Park, Illinois:

Obamas home Chicago

Obamas home Chicago

One might remember that then community organizer and recent State Senator Obama in 2004 managed to achieve the securing of the mortgage of this million dollar property due to a large book advance from a publisher for a yet unreleased autobiography and additionally have his privacy assured  when convicted felon Tony Rezko’s wife secured and closed  the adjoining lot’s mortgage coincidently on the same day.  The property apparently has little relaxation value to the President as he rarely finds a reason to return.

Thankfully Martha’s Vineyard provides that “going home” vibe to relieve the dog days. He can kick back his feet and slow the chaos down with some ‘on the porch’ reviews of the country outside of  Washington with the local residents of Chilmark, such as actors Ted Danson or Jake Gyllenhaal, among others, who live on homes with the highest property values in Massachusetts.  As much as he felt Trayvon Martin could have been his son, the President will not have the capacity to easily interact with other Trayvons as the current population of Chilmark is 866, 97.7% Caucasian, and only 0.36% black leaving only approxiamently four residents who would be able to provide a diversified experience at any community gathering.

The dog days sap the energy for problem solving.  It can hardly be expected for the President to secure the many unstable features of his administration during such days.  Items that will have to wait for the cooler days of autumn and beyond include bringing to justice those pesky street protestors who, incensed by a video, managed to destroy a consulate in Libya and murder among others a US ambassador. Patience will hopefully be gained on vacation by the President to still the outrage he felt when he learned that the country’s tax collection authority, the IRS, had a few rogue agents that prejudiced their position of power to undermine conservative groups who intended to organize against the President’s policies and re-election.  Cool ocean breezes will thankfully calm the President’s disappointment in a country that continues at an unemployment rate that remains 50% greater than its predicted value 4 years after the biggest government stimulus investment in American peacetime history.  Those lovely ocean views on the golf course will likely suppress the anger the President feels toward Vladimir Putin for providing the traitor Snowden asylum resulting in the need to cancel a perfectly good trip to Moscow in the fall.

So many issues.  So many challenges. So many decisions needing a decider.  Thank God for vacations that let the world be put aside for awhile. Al Qaeda, the economy, the Egyptians, Obamacare, the Russians, the Congressional investigators, and tea party zealots can all just wait.  Its time for another nice summer nap…

Dog Days of Summer

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Shame

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter

Sin.  Remorse. Confession. Redemption.  These are the steps of an ancient process of acknowledging a societal standard for behavior and using a form of public confession with its resultant  humiliation to induce behavior modification.   Hester Prynne, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the struggles of an individual and society to come to grips with ‘unacceptable’ behavior, wore a Scarlet Letter to identify her action to the community and her acceptance of her action.  The rudimentary nature of the Letter belied the complex considerations all the characters in Hawthorne’s novel face in dealing with and facing up to  sin, guilt, piety, rejection, anger, sanctimony, and hypocrisy.  Hester as part of her own redemption accepts her role and consequences of her behavior, the punishment, and takes a road of personal dignity to help others in the novel, not as strong as herself, to finally face up to their own demons.

Hester’s strong example finally gave strength to community leader Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale to admit his own role in her requiring the Letter and finally confessing and thereby achieving some redemption.  Shame, both public and private, formed a mighty anvil upon which all learned and shaped their responses.

Well, there are no Hester Prynnes in own current society’s leaders.  The concept of public shame helping to curb poor behavior in politicians and force a dignified response has lost all impact.  We are being treated to a special group of people who can not be humiliated and are immune to public shame.  The sins are old fashioned but both the reaction of the public and the individual to their liability is not.

Anthony Weiner, a nondescript former New York congressman who achieved a modicum of fame through a special talent of expressing outrageous bombast on TV and marrying a member of the  extended Clinton royal family,  proved to have a more prodigious skill – taking pictures of his privates and sharing them with anyone who would care to look.  Forced to resign his congressional position by the shear volume and inappropriateness of his hobby, he lay in the reeds for a year and a half before determining that a morally deficient New York City public would have amnesia for his personal deficiencies and love for his over-the-top bombastic politics.  He found himself in a short time leading the race for Mayor of the country’s largest and most influential city.  Unfortunately, his alter ego, a pornocentric superhero named “Carlos Danger”  continued to prowl the internet, extoling superhuman body parts and expousing the potential actions of these capacities on various young women, and has come to public attention. The public exposure of personal perversion used to be a special scarlet letter for politicians, but no more. Mr. Danger has determined to stay in the mayoral race, and  is relying on the public’s comfort with immorality as no longer defining a public character, as if complete lack of discipline in a personal life would suddenly evolve into good and just public governance.

The modern disconnect is not limited to Mr. Weiner.  The mayor of San Diego is Bob Filner, who has determined that being in a position of power as mayor, allows him special dispensation at seventy years of age to grope, taunt, grab, and demand lascivious behavior from whatever female happens to come within his force field.  Apparently as a democrat campaigning against the republican party’s supposed war on women, he felt he had vaccinated himself with women to the extent that he could nuclear. Public righteousness, private hypocrisy – the modern cultural equivalent of “do as I say, not as I do.”  Is there sufficient humiliation to force Mr. Filner to resign?  Mr. Filner doesn’t think so.  Once again, being in a position of power to tell other people how they should act and follow workplace laws has made him impervious to law in his own mind.

The examples could go on and on, but it really relates to a progressive societal exhaustion with having a shared concept of behavior. The mutual tug that both Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale felt has left us as a society, and we have drifted into the hypocritical circus of the bizarre.  Because Speaker of the House Bob Livingston felt his own internal shame of having had an affair in his life, while accusing President Clinton of similar malfeasance in office, he determined to resign in 1998.  President Clinton, who perjured himself and broke numerous workplace laws having sexual relations with employees, felt no shame, and did not resign.  Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, whose IRS prosecuted untold numbers of individuals for tax evasion, felt no shame or need to resign, despite not having paid his own.  Barack Obama in 2004 , working to gain national prominence by running for Senator from Illinois, made sure that his formidable republican Senate opponent Jack Ryan’s private court documents in a divorce child custody case be exposed through the press detailing some private accusations his wife made regarding Mr. Ryan’s sexual requests of her.  Knowing of Mr. Ryan’s unwillingness to drag his child through the political mud, he counted on Mr. Ryan’s personal shame to drive him from the race, and succeeded.  That certainly did not lead to Mr. Obama feeling a Arthur Dimmesdale moment to release private personal birth records or college transcripts which no doubt would reveal at least ‘inconsistencies’ in his personal storyline, but it did lead to a Senate seat, national prominence, and eventually the Presidency.

All roads of understanding lead to the concept of Shame requiring the secondary concepts of personal guilt and desire for redemption to be present to have any last effect.  We see in our modern society a significant disconnect, in that the exposure of personal flaws are merely a temporary hurdle to overcome, not a abject lesson to learn from, and grow beyond.  Our current society desires a feel good strategy of pick and choosing things to become outraged about, avoiding any collective responsibility, acting beyond approved laws, spending beyond approved limits, and fundamentally denying any personal remorse or collective action to change.  Is it no wonder, that our unwillingness to stand as Hester Prynne and wear our Scarlet Letter, learn about ourselves and achieve collective dignity in acts, has led to a generation of politicians who are oblivious to their own dignity and societal clarity?

Shame…shame on us all.

 

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The Disease Within

IfYouCanKeepIt     The past week was pregnant with omens for those of us who fear the permanent estrangement of a people from the magnificent experiment in liberty their founders created for them.  The fragile nature of our experiment, a means of societal empowerment in which the free will of a people is balanced by the order of measured laws, has finally become visibly shaky.  Though multiple somewhat disparate events came together to paint a picture of distress, the final framing was achieved by the President, the chief law enforcement official of the United States, suggesting the only thing separating him as a black American from a racially profiled shooting and a miscarriage of justice was  three decades of life.   Three more years of such leadership, and we can remove the uncertainty as to the great experiment’s final extinction.

The first of the peals of thunder was the declaration that the once great American metropolis of Detroit was going to file for bankruptcy. A half century ago Detroit stood as a colossus of cities, home to hundreds of thousands of jobs building the premier implement of personal freedom, the automobile, flush with the highest standard of middle class living in the world.  Fifty years of one party government and unionized monopoly in city services and education,  and city now finds itself with one third the population, a horrid crime and murder rate, a collapse of available services, an almost 50% functional illiteracy rate,  miles and miles of abandoned capital in shuttered homes and businesses,  and a suicidal governance that still manages to spend a hundred million dollars a year more than it takes in in revenue.  The final nail in the bankruptcy coffin is a common story, the governmental class securing for themselves gold plated pensions and health benefits that swallow up essentially all the available tax base, with hardly any thing left for essential role of city government, police and fire, snow removal and sewer maintenance, and no hope to fund future needs.  Is this the distortion of a republic or the corruption of a democracy?  It is very much the synthesis of both, as the key feature of contract between the governors and the governed, the integrity of the compact and the respect for its institutions and laws, has been lost.

The second wave of disturbance was the testimony of IRS officials before Congress that indicated that everything put forth by the executive branch thus far in the scandal has been a deceit.  From the initial claim that the apparent coercive efforts of the IRS to suppress  grass roots political groups they saw as a threat to the President’s election were driven by a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, to the farcical claim that the extra scrutiny was equally applied to all political groups equally, the testimony showed a ugly laceration across the chest plate of equality under the law and a government without prejudice.  Forty years ago, the idea that the executive branch would interpret the President’s will as a ticket to intimidate American citizens was an impeachable offense.  Now, a direct line of command from a political appointee of the president is secure to the offense, and the media projects a collective yawn.  The evidence is growing of a direct White House effort to use the powerful enforcement arms of the executive branch to manipulate the national election to their favor, a direct assault on the constitution they were sworn to uphold.  Darker clouds can not role across the  compact  a government holds with its people.

Finally, one of the great triumphs of a free people, the right to trial by a jury of peers with a presumption of innocence was put forth for all to see in Florida, and the result was viewed not as a  celebration of the magnificence of such a process denied to so many people throughout history, but rather a hysterical denial of the justice obtained. The Bill of Rights secures for every citizen in the Sixth Amendment the right to an impartial process without the intimidation of the governing class:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense

The Zimmerman trial offered all Americans to see the process in all its glory, the presentation of evidence, the burden of the prosecution to identify the perceived offense beyond a reasonable doubt, and the care to allow the jury to deliberate without prejudice or intimidation. The President had a perfect opportunity to celebrate the protections the unique American judicial system offers all Americans.  Instead he found a need to demagogue the issue and incite the development of a myth of injustice and racism where by all accounts of those who watched the trial, there was none.  It was a pion to the mob mentality, that asks for a premeditated justice, a bias for a perceived outcome to assuage a perceived cultural disadvantage.  It fed into the national consciousness that once again the system of principled laws was at fault, not the actions of the individuals.  To a progressively civically illiterate population this is becoming easy to believe.

A once great city collapses on its own hubris. A government intimidates and manipulates its own citizens to secure its permanence.  An impartial ruling of law is attacked as a miscarriage.  Like a terminal disease slowly sapping the strength of the body, the outer edifice still superficially appears to stand, but progressively feels the tiredness and  incapacity.  America with so many strengths of foundation, is experiencing the death of nations, and the government sworn to diagnose and defend against threat, is instead helping to plan its funeral.

 

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Democracy and the Radical Chic

democracy in EgyptThe collapse through coup of Egypt’s democratically elected government only a year after its inception represents another unfortunate example of the disconnect of popular will and actual governance without the bond of a common set of principles that bind their success.  In most discussions of what would represent modernity for so called backward or underdeveloped nations, the use of terms such as democracy, freedom, and popular consent are thrown about as if they were omnipotent tools for progress.  The entry of the United States into World War I was declared to be the war to make the world “safe for democracy”.  It has been suggested that the Cold War was the philosophical battle between democracies and totalitarian regimes.  The term ‘democracy’ as an indicator of popular will has even led the most authoritarian regimes in the world to style themselves as “Democratic Republics”.

What of course was lost in Egypt last week was not democratic process, but rather, the rule of law. Democracy, in simple terms, is the will of the majority, and like a great shape shifter, the will of the majority that brought the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohammed Morsi to power last year in a free election, summarily turned him out of office without a whiff of legality.  It turns out that like all radicals who utilize the levers of democracy to assume power, Morsi and his cadre were looking to rapidly make their ascendance permanent.   The radicalization of the ruling government to destroy diversity, approve popular thuggery, and institute draconian rules against personal freedom, however,  were not what brought the Morsi regime to its catastrophic end.  Democracy in its purest form has little time for those in the minority who have differing views.  No, the fact that he ended up having no ideas to stabilize a crashing economy, provide any hope for Egypt’s huge underclass, or even provide the basics such as food led to the rapid turn of the popular will against him.  Morsi’s incredible ineptitude at governance was the fatal blow to the Muslim Brotherhood using the radical chic of democracy to achieve their authoritarian ends.

The confusion of democracy and republic, freedom and governance, rights and responsibilities are the sloppy mentations of our modern society.  The founders of the American experiment in 1776 and later with the profound development of the Constitution and balancing bill of Rights, were at their essence not democrats but rather republicans, in the original context of those labels. The democracy of ancient Greece was not what they were after but rather the better characteristics of the republic of Rome.  Mob majority rule did not interest them; frankly, their opinions regarding their need for severance with Great Britain always represented a minority view in America.  They were instead profoundly interested in the rights and freedoms of the individual, and the need to set up a system of laws that would protect those rights against all potential assaults by a majority rule.  Laws were designed to promote the individual, government was designed to be limited only to provide a means for cultivating and protecting those rights, and the passions that drove mob rule were to be deflected by an onerous, purposely deliberative system of checks and balances.  An executive was to be hemmed in by the power of the people in the form of the legislature to control the monies and the judiciary to assure that governance would stay true to the principles expressed in  the Constitution.  Democratic voters could elect representatives to discern their will, but only within the range of principles that superseded every whim.

Democracy without these careful underpinnings of law and limitation has proved to be an irrepressible device for the radical chic to subvert freedom in the name of popular democratic “support”. The greatest example of this was Herr Hitler, who flummoxed around as a young radical anarchist fronting a group of thugs known as the ‘brownshirts” in the 1920’s, until cleaning up his appearance and message to a sufficient number of the voting public to allow him into power to permanently install himself and eliminate all other factions. The inherently brilliant maneuver on his part,  upon taking power, was the declaration of war and stamping out of his own “brownshirt” thug army that brought him to prominence, to assure the population that he would be ultimately a autocrat of societal order above anarchy.  For order and economic stability the democratic tide would support him no matter the severity of his vitriol against those vulnerable who disagreed.

The American radical chic has their own democracy champion in Barrack Obama.  The concept of deliberative action has little appeal to him.  The power of democracy to achieve permanence for his vision of America has been the great attraction.  The support of massive governmental takeover of healthcare in a bill termed ‘Obamacare’ was produced in a vote in which the majority voting block admitted freely they had never read the bill or really assessed its consequences.  The immigration reform that seeks to assure a permanent democratic voting majority suggests its strength will be adherence to new laws when the very need for the so called reform was the government’s unwillingness to enforce the laws already on the books.  The use of the IRS to intimidate and suppress the development of alternative opinions that would be put the inevitable march toward socialism at risk.  All are the usual weapons of intolerant majority rule to assure the eventual coalescence of power in the hands of a powerful few “true believers”.

Egypt has long been heading toward the rocks of failed statehood because like so many other states that have substituted the elixir of democracy for the hard work of building the institutions that protect freedom,  the end is a detached populous with nothing to believe in, or hope in.  Hope does not come though change, as expressed in the nonsense of the radical chic.  Change without principles and institutional protections and careful vetting, are as ephemeral as rain in the desert.  The next change simply brings more waywardness and drift. President Bush declared  freedom was an unalienable right of all men, and all men desired most of all the capacity for liberty.  Liberty and freedom, however,  are not the same as immature democratic rule, and the confusions of Iraq, Iran, the Arab Spring and Egypt show how complicated the actual relationship of such at times contradictory forces can be.  For the radicals of the planet, radicalism has never been about the reality, but about the predetermined outcome, and democracy without the rule of law and institutional maturity is an unsavory mistress indeed.  Even in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

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Seeking, and Facing, the Truth

The field at Gettysburg

The field at Gettysburg

The next four days, July 1st through the 4th, are the jewels of American history.  In Philadelphia in 1776, representatives of the thirteen American colonies were meeting to debate and approve a declaration of ‘self evident truths’ that would forever sever their dependent relationship with their mother country.  At the junction of major turnpikes that entered like spokes of the wheel centered at the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863, two massive armies would be drawn into cataclysm to determine if the declaration of those truths would continue as a singular expression.  Fireworks and parades will remind us of the events, but it takes greater meditation to absorb the greater connection to our current lives, and we are often want to do so.  It is hard to imagine in this time of malleable and ignoble commitment to truth, that there was a time when truth was felt to be so important to the quality of a person’s existence, that people were willing to fight, and as necessary, die for the principle of it.  Yet, this country of ours is almost unique for the purified expression of all our economies of effort on the idea of principle rather than power as our fundamental reason for being.

The foundation of what is truth is not a historical constant.  The truths that the men of Philadelphia, and later, Gettysburg were fighting to define were more humanistic than the stark clarity of Aristotle:

To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true

This is the clarity of the perfect, absolute truth and requires only its discovery, not its interpretation.  The rationalization of truth by later philosophers accepted the presence of a divine truth, but recognized man’s interpretive intellect and saw what was knowable could be achieved by reason.  For Saint Thomas Aquinas, this was a divinely inspired capacity of man to use intellect to identify the existence and essence of things:

Truth is the conformity of the intellect to the things

By the time of the Enlightenment that would shape the thoughts of the writers of the Declaration of Independence, truth was an equally balanced reality of both experience and reason.  As expressed by Immanuel Kant, experience was purely subjective without being vetted by pure reason, and reason without experience would lead only to theoretical illusions.

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence 1776

Franklin, Adams and Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence 1776

The men of Philadelphia were fully aware that their determination to sever ties with Great Britain amounted to more than a desire to go their own way.  The ability to stir men to take up arms and potentially sacrifice themselves for a cause would have to be based on more than who owned the land mass called America, but rather in the age of Enlightenment, who better owned the truth:

We hold these Truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain Unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

That an individual could perceive his own truth, the direction of his life, and ultimately determine his own fate accepted the superior position of each person to both experience and rationalize their experience to a moral end, without subservience to some outside force.  It was no longer the province of kings to be infallible, but rather within the capacity of each individual man, experiencing the natural laws laid out by a Supreme Being, and rationalizing his best path within those laws, that would form the moral force of the new nation.

How would objective definition be inferred on the last two truths, as subjective and experiential,  as liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  The armies that faced each other at Gettysburg on July 1st both firmly believed in the declarative truths of Jefferson but were willing to fight and die for their evolved interpretation.  The 20th century philosopher, Erich Fromm, recognized the historical nature of truth, based on the revealed truth available to the rational observer at any one time:

“the history of thought is the history of an ever-increasing approximation to the truth. Scientific knowledge is not absolute but optimal; it contains the optimum of truth attainable in a given historical period

To the forces of the north, the truths of the declaration were born out of the self evident nature of the process of truth, that all men were created equal.  To have the republic exist in an atmosphere that blasphemed the foundational truth, where some men were held by other men as slaves, corrupted this truth, and threatened its self evidence.  For the forces of the South, liberty and pursuit of happiness demanded each individual rationalize the interpretation of optimal truth, and not once again, have some distant outside power determine the direction and pace of their understanding. Laws that warped the ultimate  individual pursuit of truth, were as such artificial, and could be nullified.  Each saw themselves as upholding the truths expressed 80 years before, and were willing to impel the other side to accept their version, at the potential cost of ultimate  individual sacrifice.  Across the fields of Gettysburg would be decided who owned the truth of the Founders.

Over the next four days, the nation will crescendo to the celebration of the fourth day as the culmination of the unique moment of expression known as the American experiment.  It was perhaps a necessary historical prism, that the declaration of one generation of Americans would be tested in such an extreme test of blood by another generation of Americans, and settled in the very same state, on the very same day on the calendar.  It is the unfortunate ignorance of our time, that so many our current celebrators will have absolutely no understanding of the reasons for the celebration, or the events that occurred in Gettysburg that were its ultimate test.

Our current truths have now devolved to pure experience, and rationality has been demoted to the dustbin.  Current thought has no precedence and needs no evidence.  It is a child only of feelings and impulses.  We see the truth as settled, because we want it to be so.  We warp equality to force equality.  We desire equality of outcome, not of opportunity.  We see our science as existing to reinforce our ideals, not helping to define them.  We live in a darker age where are willing to have a government exist as our superior arbiter in matters of ultimate truth, determining the elements of our health, the accepted norms of our education, even the means of our energy, the morality of our entrepreneurship,  and the notion of our family.  We are left to argue only our wants and are needs, not our aspirations and our challenges.

Within the next four days, a moment to remind ourselves about who we are, and how we came to be,  offers an opportunity to retrench from our current waywardness.  Celebrations are wonderful, but hollow without context. When you see the flag waving in celebration, look at the stars and stripes as reflections of the journey for truth this country was founded upon, and  the constant struggle required to participate in such a journey.  The men of Philadelphia in 1776 embarked upon a revolution, the men of Gettysburg fought to ennoble it.  In these days of loose and corrupted values, we may need a another revolution, a revolution of truth, to secure the past sacrifices.

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act

George Orwell

 

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World Policeman No More

New York policemen on the Beat 1940s -  vintagephoto.com

New York policemen on the Beat 1940s – vintagephoto.com

The world is coming to the steady recognition that the forces that secured a peaceful resolution of the intense 20th century battle between totalitarianism and democracy are unraveled.  The key ingredient, and the accompanying heavy burden of responsibility, was founded on the concept of a “world policeman” to secure trading routes, work to resolve local strains, achieve regional alliances, and as necessary impel cooperation to maintain security.   In the first four decades it was the role of Great Britain, and with the cataclysm of the second world war, progressively the role of the United States in the next six decades, to take on the mantle, economic and military responsibility, and moral persuasion that produced the eventual triumph of democratic ideals over totalitarian unity. The device of “world policeman” so effectively maintained a will and clarity over the decades  that historian Francis Fukuyama declared in 1989 to have seen the “end of History”with the world settling on the victorious governmental form of political and economic liberalism known as western democracy as a final form of governance.

The world of today bears little resemblance to the post historical world declared by Fukuyama.  The role of world adjudicator and stabilizer appears to have achieved a progressive moral insecurity and spiritual and financial exhaustion in those two countries that accepted the burden.  Neither Great Britain or its successor the United States has the desire any longer  to be the forward defender of free people and free ideals,  and the world is noting the vacuum created.  The result is a return to local passions potentially creating a kindle for international violence that will make the world yearn back to the days when there was someone “in charge”.  It turns out that history abhors a vacuum and the number of unstable forces willing to fill the vacuum is growing exponentially.

President Obama took the opportunity of the world stage with his speech in Berlin to declare the end of a different history than we all remember.  The President, whose philosophy of “lead from behind” has defined his five years as President, sought to frame the current world as the triumph of such thinking.  The greatest threat to world security for this president, nuclear arms and global warming.  The means of achieving security against such threats? Peace with justice.

Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons — no matter how distant that dream may be.  And so, as President, I’ve strengthened our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and reduced the number and role of America’s nuclear weapons.  Because of the New START Treaty, we’re on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons to aggressive totalitarian states like North Korea and Iran is therefore to be solved by the reduction of nuclear weaponry by the United States.  This policeman will unilaterally disarm, to show those who would arm themselves the moral futility of their aggressive nature.  That’s likely to work.  The president could not even bring himself to  acknowledge the stated goals of both North Korea and Iran to be nuclear weapon powers.

At the same time, we’ll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe.  And we can forge a new international framework for peaceful nuclear power, and reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking.

North Korea has already tested atomic weapons, shown its desire to achieve an intercontinental missile capacity, and threatened its neighbors with nuclear destruction.  Iran has declared its goal the annihilation of the state of Israel.  Beyond the unilateral disarmament far afield from either threat and the moral rejection he states above, how will he achieve the stability and suppression of proliferation declared by such rogue states?  Thankfully by “hosting a summit in 2016 to secure nuclear materials“.

After such logic, it becomes increasingly difficult to rally behind this leadership for the even bigger threat to world peace with justice – global warming.

Peace with justice means refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet.  The effort to slow climate change requires bold action.  And on this, Germany and
Europe have led.

With a global middle class consuming more energy every day, this must now be an effort of all nations, not just some.  For the grim alternative affects all nations — more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise.  This is the future we must avert.  This is the global threat of our time.  And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late.  That is our job.  That is our task.  We have to get to work.

The storms we need to defend ourselves against to propel humanity forward turn out not to be storms of terroristic violence, nuclear proliferation,  religious fundamentalism, governmental attacks on liberty, and dangerously unstable regimes, but rather…thunder storms and the floods they cause.  This President who has declared himself the most scientifically directed in history continues to talk about a science that is in outcomes free fall, with no identified warming in the 15 years that we were supposed to be overwhelmed by biblical calamities from man’s desire to drive his car and heat his house.  Science’s need to hypothesize is understood, but the need to test the validity of such hypotheses has been sacrificed to the political ideal, when it has been progressively shown that no validity exists.  The lack of validity would be sad, if it weren’t so economically and socially destructive to true human progress.

To this President, our current threats can be summarized as springing out of our own flaws and shortcomings as a people:

We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.   We may strike blows against terrorist networks, but if we ignore the instability and intolerance that fuels extremism, our own freedom will eventually be endangered.  We may enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world, but so long as hundreds of millions endure the agony of an empty stomach or the anguish of unemployment, we’re not truly prosperous.

The summary translation might look as follows:  People don’t kill people. Guns kill people. Get rid of our guns (nuclear armaments), and we can finally feel safe.  It is our forcing our ideals of freedom on others and intolerance for their nihilistic, anarchistic tendencies that fuels terrorist’s extremism, not their desire to reek havoc on an ordered civil society.  Our standard of living that has brought spectacular development for the world and fed it for the greater part of a century, is tool of suppression and hunger.

The logic boggles the mind.

The argument that world policeman is an unenviable, potentially corruptible, and likely long term intolerable burden is an appropriate  discussion for a society to undertake, as long as the alternative to such stabilizing forces is understood.  The policeman that walks the beat rarely must inject himself forcibly when the neighborhood understands that he stands for lawful behavior and will protect the citizenry if necessary.  Its becoming clear to the neighborhood thugs that no one is in charge, and the risks of some real spasms of violence are growing by the day.  Syria, at one time a local revolt against a tyrant, is now becoming the fault line for two massive antagonistic religious philosophies with jihad as their common  logical expression of moral certitude.  China, sensing the American withdrawal, now looks to enforce a new East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere with Chinese naval dominance to put previous ancient enemies of Vietnam and Japan in their place.  Europe decays from within with a loss of identity from reduced birthrates and societal suicide  through social spending at the expense of any residual effort to support their own defense, or cultural clarity.

And America?  The world’s policeman shackles its own economy, mortgages its own future through profligate spending, increases its governmental spying and suppression of its own citizens, destroys its foundational compact with its citizens through porous borders and arbitrary enforcement of law, and pretends that the world would be better place if we weren’t in it.

The world could turn out to be a very scary place in a few years, with the devils on the ascendant, no one left to call for help.

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Vercingetorix and Drunken Wolves

VERCINGETORIX wikipediaIn no other part of the world does a mix of history, romantic legend, factors of geology, and a curious genetic quality for maximizing quality of life come together as it does in France.  Though fitted with spectacular alpine peaks and thousands of kilometers of picturesque seascape, it is the center core of less spectacular landscape that carries the real mystique.  The temperate part of the planet is full of nondescript rolling hills and rock outcroppings, but leave it to the French to create from a querky ridge of metamorphic limestone known as the Cote de ‘Or, a wonderful tapestry of heroes, stories, legends and magnificent wines that make the region of the Bourgogne famous the world over.  The tapestry is of Roman proconsuls and barbarian kings, the bones of pilgrimage and Benedictine monks, engineers and future French presidents, even rampaging wolves, and they all have their story, but perhaps it can be simplified in saying at a base level they all came for the grapes.  Those special grapes of Pinot and Chardonnay that reach their zenith on the limestone bluffs beyond the towns of Chablis, Chambertin, Beaune, and Nuits St Georges make for some of the greatest wine in the world, and bring us to look in wonder at the characters that were drawn by their allure.

The first recorded burgundian wine interloper happened to write an excellent travelogue of his experiences, and from which we draw our first acknowledgement of the region.  Our author was none other than Gaius Julius Caesar, who in his epic Commentaries on the Gallic Wars introduces us to our first local hero, Vercingetorix, leader of the local tribes of Gaul.  The Gaul of Roman times was already known for its wine crop when Caesar decided to make his mark in history(and expand his bank account) by subduing the tribes of Gaul.  Vercingetorix was more noble than barbarian, but for the haunty Romans, apparently a man much in need of subjugation. Vercingetorix as heroes go was not exactly a humane figure, but rather crafty and violent Celtic leader of the Avernii tribe that fought Caesar to a draw on several occasions before meeting his final defeat at Alesia just outside the modern burgundian town of Alise Sainte-Reine,  in 52 BC .  There was no doubt much burgundian wine consumed by Caesar and his legions as the brought the captured Vercingetorix back to Rome for public humiliation, imprisonment, and in due time, death by strangulation.  To the locals of Burgundy who still see themselves as Aedui, the original inhabitants of the Cote de ‘Or, Vercingetorix is the triumphant hero of the region, and perhaps the first historical French resistor.

The Romans having finally successfully subdued the Celts, converted the celtic lands into the Roman Provence of Gaulus Lungdenesis, and contributed to the agricultural development of the wine crop with high demand for drink, excellent ramrod straight roads like the Via Agrippa for transport of goods, and relative peace.  Nothing lasts forever and that was certainly true of Pax Romana.  Half a century later and it was the “barbarians” that returned the favor on Rome, sacking it, it making wine once again a local product.   It was left to the successor to Roman empire building, the administration of the Christian church, to bring the area back to prominence as a nursery for leaders.  the Benedictines founded one of their great abbeys in Vezelay, and wine is a tonic for all great meditation.  VEZELAY ABBEY BASILICAThe town became a mecca for pilgrims who sought to begin their great pilgrimage on the way of Saint James, and to get close to the bones of Mary Magdelene herself, said to be housed as relics in the cathedral at Vezelay.  The fact that this was only one of several churches holding the so called remains of Mary, required Pope Stephan IX in 1058 to declare the Vezelay relics as the genuine article, making the little town in Burgundy a center for visitors from all over Europe.  The popularity made the local dukes very rich and very powerful, and the Dukes of Burgundy, ruling from Dijon, became important rivals of the House of Valois for the French throne, stopped only by their lack of fecundity leaving the Duchy without an heir, absorbed in the fifteenth century into the greater kingdom of France. The house of Valois had their Bordeaux and Loire valley wines but nothing quite like the chardonnay and pinot of the Burgundians, thus completing the greatness of the French Kingdom.

As Paris progressively became the center of French power and prestige, the homeland of Vercingetorix concentrated on exploiting the the encarpment of limestone but still occasionally contributed to French civilization with great engineers like Gustave Eiffel, Dominique Denon, developer of the Louvre Museum, and Francois Mitterand, mayor of Chateau Chinon (Ville) , parttime Vichi collaborator and French resistor, and later, President of France.  Well, maybe I should have stopped with Denon, as Mitterand was not a Burgundy native and definitely not Aedui.

800px-Vineyards_Combe_Lavaux Gevrey Chambertin

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the little towns of Burgundy take full advantage of the unique terrior and create some world famous vintages of their special grapes, bringing the Pinot Noir of Gevrey Chambertin and Nuits St Georges and the Chablis of Les Preuses and Blanchot, and the Chardonnays of Montrachet to the pinnacle of world prominence and wine excellence.  I had the occasion to drink a young 2009 Gevrey Chambertin last night, full of flavor to the point of being slightly tart, but already showing the finesse known for burgundy Pinot Noir.  It set off the lamb chop rosemary sweetness perfectly and made me go home and order some more as well as a few Nuits St Georges for my more economical nights of relaxation.

And so with all the history we’ve reviewed, where do the drunken wolves come in?  Well, World War II legend has it that the war made the towns and chateaus of Burgundy  so devoid of people that food was scarce and the wine crops undefended, resulting in hungry wolves from the countryside forests seeking any food they could find feasting on the fermenting grapes, and sauntered into the towns drunk . Laying around burgundian  towns drunk without a care in the world, they met their maker, as the horrified town residents found their presence, drunk and docile as they were, unacceptable.  To this day, one can understand, that there is little sympathy and consolation for those who would drink and travel, regardless of the context.  Loving the Gevrey Chambertin as I did, and wolfishly devouring the bottle, I made sure to have someone else drive me home, so as not to meet the fate of those poor drunken wolves, and miss out the next time I experienced the greatness of the wines of Burgundy.

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Crusade Against the Darkness

OmahaBeachFromNormandyCemeteryTo watch the gentle waves timelessly crest against the quiet beach sands, it must seem to be all about inevitability.  From our venue, we see a open serenity, with a path through the cove of the cliff leading to the beach below and it seems inevitable, that like the rising tide we would leave the beach to the environs within through this peaceful cove, up this quiet cliff.  Like the countless beaches the world over, the endless communication of the sea to the land takes place every day all day in peaceful solitary.  As it was. As it is. As it ever will be.

The serene beauty only becomes haunting and and laced with trepidation if we look down from our visage and recognize the beach is French, located in the Provence of Normandy, and has held an attached moniker for almost seventy years- as the beach known as Omaha.

This week marked the 69th anniversary of the moment when powerful forces of light and darkness clashed at this very spot and determined that inevitability would be defined by the winner and suffered by the loser, at the cost of great death and destructive violence. The cove leading up from the beach would be littered with bodies of men who were pushing up against the scythe of Death himself, against the will and lives of men who were determined to throw them back into the sea.  For someone 20 years old today, the drive up this path would have been led by men who were the father to their grandfather if they somehow survived the dash up the cliff, so long ago are the events of that day. So long ago that it seems inevitable to believe, that the forces of freedom and individual liberty were overwhelming, and that victory was assured over the forces of evil.  So long ago, that we see newsreels and read books regarding that day and see it as if in a movie or a fairytale, with snapshots of action that seem out of an ancient silent time, almost dramaless in its quiet inevitability.  First the scenes of the soldiers in preparation, then the boats slowly unloading, a few soldiers traversing the beach, a few dropping silently, quiet puffs of smoke, then cheering French crowds.  It all seems inevitable, a good action story, with a happy ending.

For the generation alive actually lived it, they know there was nothing inevitable about the ending.  For 5 years the entire world had been sucked into the blistering vortex of a battle between two diametrically opposed visions of humanity.  A totalitarian behemoth held most of Europe and the cliffs of Omaha beach, driven by dual passions of powerful efficiency and bottomless hatred, under the assumption that an ordered world ruled by an all powerful state and a superior race, was the pinnacle of human advancement.  Attempting to gain a foothold on the continent was a messy alliance of diversified races and religions, bonded only by their sense that a society that celebrated individual liberty and personal freedom of action were the perfected outcome of 3000 years of civilizational development and adversity.

5 years of hellacious conflict was compressed into a moment in time at 630 am June 6th, 1944, as the first troops unloaded on the beaches at Omaha and four other beaches of the Normandy coast to attempt to settle the issue as to the superior societal version.  The Allied forces had coalesced for two years on the British Isles collecting in massive amounts the means of war, training hundreds of thousands of men, thousands of ships and planes and endless hours of planning to attempt the largest amphibious landing in the history of conflict.  The goal was to land 165,000 men securely on the French coast in 12 hours, cracking the “impenetrable” Atlantic Wall devised by Nazi soldiers and engineers.  Previous allied attempts to deliver sea, air, and land forces in a coordinated fashion against the German defenses had proved bloody and disastrous in the landings at Dieppe in 1942 and the beaches of Anzio in January 1944, with much smaller scale and complexity.  Failure of such a spectacular investment in men and material gambled in the landings at Normandy would likely have required years of retrenchment before another attempt, if ever.  A successful push of the landing force back into the sea would have likely allowed Nazi troops to reorient towards the east and likely stalemate Russian forces, probably securing the permanence of a Nazi Europe.

The story of such immense forces would be told in future celebration by the forces of good only because of the individual will of every soldier that stormed the beach that morning.  In particular at Omaha Beach, there was every reason to give in to defeat.  Three hours into the landing thousands of soldiers lay dead on the beach and the waters behind, with the few survivors clinging to a breakwall under a withering hail of shrapnel, and the American commander Bradley contemplating abandoning the beach.  So broken was the plan, that the impetus that allowed the surviving beach officers to drive their men forward, was the appeal that the chances of dying were less attempting a charge up the cliffs under fire then they were huddled behind a wall of bodies on the beach.  Better to be a moving duck, then a sitting duck. One by one, men decided they were dead anyway, and decided to push up the coves against the machine gun and mortar fire.  One by one, the coves were taken, then the hills then the cliff and finally the pillboxes and machine gun nests.  The allied deaths on Omaha were so appalling that for years after, the official toll was reported by authorities as 2500, so as not to devastate the public knowledge of the butcher’s bill.  It seems the truth, that over 5000 casualties incurred on the beach on that one morning at Omaha, had to wait until sons of the fighting fathers were grandfathers themselves.

Somehow, what had never been successfully done before, in much smaller and less complex fashion, succeeded that day at Normandy, and changed the world on its axis.  It turned out that it was not the clash of civilizational will that Hitler was counting on that won the day.  It was something he could never have contemplated, the role a free man feels he plays in making his own destiny.  The soldier that Hitler was counting on, the American soldier softened by easy society and lacking in discipline who would prove weak under the stress of fire, existed only in his fantasy.  The reason that the cliffs were taken that day is perhaps personified in the story of one man, Private Hal Baumgarten, who determined to fight his own war against Hitler. Baumgarten, a Jewish college student at New York University, volunteered for infantry, when he saw how poorly Jews were treated in Hitler’s Germany.  Knowing the consequences of a Jewish soldier potentially being captured by Germans, American military authorities recommended that Jews not put their religion on their dogtags.  Baumgarten decided not only to list Jewish as his religion on his dogtags, but to have a large Star of David placed on the front and back of his army  field jacket beneath the words The Bronx New York, because he wanted ‘the bastards to know exactly who they were shooting at and who was coming to get them’. A single man defending his free will proved sufficient to crack an impenetrable wall of collective obedience.

We are coming to the end of those who personal remembrances of how awful it was, how uncertain it was, and how close it came to extinguishing liberty’s light forever.  The current populations of free societies now willingly give up their freedom and personal privacy without a whimper, and could not conceive of what D-Day soldier felt as he left the landing craft. Our personal Atlantic Wall of hard earned freedoms are proving as porous as the supposed impenetrable wall constructed by the Germans so long ago.  Our own government has declared war on those who would articulate the value system of our Constitution and proselytize it to others less aware.  In honor of  Private Baumgarten, we should “wear” the Constitution and the acquired freedoms he and others sacrificed so much to preserve on our sleeves, and make sure the bastards know exactly who they are shooting at, and who’s coming to get them.

 

 

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