The Magnificent Croissant and Jan III Sobieski

The Magnificent Croissant

The Magnificent Croissant

So, one starts the homage to the magnificent croissant with a story of its origin too good to be true – which of course it isn’t.  When it comes to food, however,  great stories don’t have to be true in order to be truly great, and this one has all the elements of greatness.  The wonder bread known as the croissant which forms the perfect meal through its irresistible airiness, flakiness, and buttery goodness has its origins in legend, but is the more likely descendant of more mundane bakery craft.  The concept of rolling plates of flour with intervening filling has many mothers of invention.  The ancient kipferl, a similarly shaped yeast dough based baked layered roll designed to be sprinkled or glazed, projected out of the misty depths of the ancient Hungarian lands of southeast Europe.  The recognizably modern croissant was essentially borne in a Parisian boulangerie in the 19th century that looked to mimic the pastry concepts of Vienna, achieving the lightness and richness through applying layers of butter between the plates of dough, battering the layers  into thinness and cutting them into triangles that are rolled and twisted, pulling the ends into a crescent shape and baked.  The wondrous magic is in the texture and taste, but the real romance is in the shape itself.

A pastry shaped as a crescent with origins in Vienna became linked with the city’s rich past.and a legend was born. Why shouldn’t such a glorious food have a heroic origin?  And thus we recall the croissant as an eternal reminder celebrating the moment when western civilization, on  the verge of submission to an alien culture, pulled itself together and emerged victorious.  In 1683, at the Gates of Vienna, history was at one of those balance points. The zenith of of a 350 year unimpeded march of ottoman islam into the core of Christian Europe culminated at those gates, as the very future of european culture tremulously looked for a miracle way out.

The Ottoman Turks pushed from their homeland in Anatolia in 1299 to become the dominant caliphate of the muslim world, tied together through the culminating 16th century conquests of Suleiman the Magnificent.  From Iraq to Egypt, Algiers to Budapest, the massive empire had consumed the previous islamic caliphates and put the final nail in the remnant of imperial Rome in defeating and subjugating the Byzantine Empire, its capital Constantinople and its provinces of southeastern Europe.  The jewel of central Europe, Vienna, lay before it, and with it, the gateway into the residual Holy Roman Empire through control of the Danube waterway.  Christian Europe of 1683 was an ungodly mess, barely through the devastation of the Thirty Years War, that left its economies devastated and a third of its population dead.  The squabbling power centers were constantly in conflict with each other,  plotting to take land and riches with the first indication of weakness of a neighbor. The idea that Europe could focus mutually upon a threat as unified, powerful, sophisticated, and confident as the Ottomans seemed the stuff of wistful dreams.

The Ottomans were led by the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha, a general in charge of an estimated 130,000 troops against grim city walls and a local Hapsburg Austrian force of an estimated 15000 led by an opposing general grandly named in hapsburgian fashion, Ernst Rüdiger Graf von Starhemberg.  Consistent with their desire to subjugate when possible rather than destroy captured value, Mustafa settled into a strangulating siege of the city, blocking all sources of food progressively starving the inhabitants.  The rings of siege were moved ever closer to the walls with tunnels dug to allow placement of explosive at the walls to take them down. From such facts the legend grew that the bakers of the city, first to rise in the night to prepare the bread of the diminishing food supply, heard the tunneling actions and warned the city guards sufficiently in time to prevent a breach of the wall.

Heroic bakers were not going to be enough to turn back the irresistible Islamists.  It would take a Polish King named Jan III Sobieski.  Sobieski, the leader of one of Europe’s largest states, the Polish Lithuanian Confederation, did not sit back when the threat presented at his southern flank.  He gathered his army led by Europe’s greatest heavy cavalry, the Hussars, and sought the cooperation of the multitude of less virtuous leaders that stood between him and Vienna. The Hapsburg , Holy Roman , and French royals had to not only resist combatting his effort but additionally underwrite its enormous expense.  Hordes that had invaded Europe had a way of focusing their attention, however, and having a King willing to fight when all others were fatigued by war was a godsend.  On September 12, 1683, the Ottomans determined to have it out and settle the issue.  The battle was vicious and extended with the outcome in doubt, until twilight when, out of the Viennese woods, Sobieski came into the late afternoon sun, and smashed into the Turkish flank.  In the largest recorded cavalry charge, 18000 Polish Hussars crushed in the Ottoman flank and the rout was on.  The victory became total, Vienna was saved, and the defeated Mustafa Pasha met the end of defeated islamic generals, a silk cord garrotment of the neck by his own troops.

The city was said to have celebrated by commemorating the victory by having its hero bakers who had played their role in blunting the Turks prepare a pastry.  It was a baked good that would be shaped into a crescent to forever more remind all of the victory against the soldiers of islam, led by their crescent symbol.  The wondrous victory would always be associated wtih the wondrous pastry, and the romantic origin of the croissant was identified.

Except of course, that not how the croissant originated.  It would be an additional two hundred years before anybody would determine a recipe for the fantastic pastry we recognize  today.  No matter.  The glory of the croissant resonates with us, even if the story told is a wonderful myth. Me? I like my myths, with coffee, thanks.

Posted in FOOD AND WINE, HISTORY | 1 Comment

Donald Trump – Novice Maximus

Donald Trump salon.com

Donald Trump                             salon.com

You have to give the man his due.  Donald Trump entered the nomination process last June as a rejiggered Democrat non-politician running in the Republican Party nomination process alongside 16 other experienced, motivated, better funded and better prepared candidates – and with last Tuesday’s crushing of the final two pretenders in the Indiana primary – left all 16 in a pile of rubble the Trump bulldozer had cleared off the road. But not only the 16.  He additionally has created a meme where the power structures forming the fifty year edifice of a conservative movement that had at the beginning of the primary season demanded that Trump declare loyalty to the party and not go off the rails with a third party run, were now fumbling to say if they would declare loyalty to him.  The former Speaker of the House, who led the first  congressionally directed conservative takeover of American political philosophy in 1994, Newt Gingrich, enthusiastically supports Trump.  The current Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who was hostilely drafted to resurrect the conservative will of a corrupted leadership in 2015 and is the chairman of the party’s nominated convention, cannot bring himself to declare the undisciplined, unideological Trump as his movement’s standard bearer.  The brother of the President of the United States who Trump declared lied to the American people regarding Iraq vows Never Trump.  The former Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, who championed the very Iraq policy that Trump says was a perpetrated lie upon the American people has come forward to support Trump.  It has resulted in the 1996 loser of the presidential election Robert Dole to vociferously endorse Trump, and the most recent loser of 2012, Milt Romney to scheme to get rid of Trump.  Down the line, governors and senators, congressmen and assemblymen, conservative think tanks and journalists, industry chiefs and regular tool box guys, wise thought leaders and talk show blatherers alike, are finding themselves aghast at the prospect of having to choose who they are, when they thought they already knew.  The meme is a question – If you are for Trump or you are against Trump, what does it say about you?

The American style electoral process to this point has been based on a party structure that looked for candidates who would represent the party members values, and attempt to convince the rest of America, on the values fitting the currents times and events.  It has been said and believed, all politics are local.  The party’s strengths are formulated through retail politics of local leaders meeting the constituents, kissing the babies, and fixing the potholes. Successful local leaders then take their local resumes to achieve state offices and learn the art of compromise and debate, interest groups and budgets that prepare them for the national stage.  At the national stage the lessons learned from a career of relationships with like minded people forms the party structure of a national vision that a fully vetted standard bearer must earn the right to represent, perhaps earning after having fallen short a time or two, and refining his or her understanding of the vision process to eventually be selected and succeed.   This was the structure that was built to prevent the hijacking of the party vision by an extreme version or transiently enthusiastic impulse.  The Pat Buchanons, Ron Pauls, George Wallaces, and Pete McCloskeys could not get through the obstacle course and subvert the party to their extremism. It was a protection against demagogues such as Huey Long or Douglas MacArthur democratically overwhelming the mechanisms of restraint.

However perfect the restraints, the parties would occasionally struggle to avoid falling in love with a relative novice, like Wendell Wilkie, Dwight Eisenhower, or Barrack Obama, on the basis of a single gift. Even then there was some logic.  The Republican candidate of 1940, businessman Wilkie was a sacrificial lamb against the massive Democratic machine that controlled all facets national politics led by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  The party had nothing to lose in trying a non-politician against the ultimate politician.  In 1952, Eisenhower’s singular gift was that he had adroitly managed the most massive military machine ever assembled and had helped save the entire world.  That certainly made him hard to turn down.  In 2008, the Democrat Party turned to a  state senator who became a one term US Senator only so he could become President.  As to his party’s nefarious recognition of his supposed singular gift, his eventual running mate and gaffemeister Joseph Biden  crudely framed it, saying  “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Donald Trump has exploded all the constraints by being Novice Maximus.  He is not an industrial leader like Wilkie, he is a wheeler dealer business speculator.  He is not a leader of men and women like Eisenhower forged in battle, he is leader dealer  who sells to others his version of dealing, defining success and failure by how closely they adhere to the Trump model, firing non-acolytes in the Apprentice, or failing non-converts in a fraudulent “Trump University”.  He has not captured the media by superficially looking and sounding nonthreatening to them like Obama, but rather overwhelming them and enslaving the media through ratings success their previous biases had prevented them from ever achieving. Trump, the Novice Maximus, towers over all previous models, converting individuals who would not remotely respect his bizarre politics into ‘Trumpeters’ for the cause.

And thus, the dilemma for anyone who has an inkling as to the principles that make this modern republic great.  The Republican Party has positioned themselves to endorse a candidate who shows no identifiable message discipline or understanding, and is proud of it.  This party of limited government influence on people’s lives is about to underwrite an individual that declares he alone will adjudicate whether a company moves their business, a person of muslim faith can gain entrance, another sovereign country will be forced to pay fealty, or that the country he represents will resolve to default on its debt.  The Republican Party, wholly unable to control Novice Maximus in his inevitable drive to the party nomination, now asks its constituents who did not buy into Trump to ‘trust’ the party to be able to ‘control’ Novice Maximus once he has obtained the reins of power through ‘wise council’ and ‘checks and balances’.  This type of logic has been ludicrously promoted before against of demagogic figures, the most disturbing historical example being  the decision of the German right to believe it could ‘control’ Hitler by bringing him into government as Chancellor and having him mentored by Hindenburg.  Obviously, Trump is no Hitler, but the Republican Party is not even remotely Hindenburg.  Donald Trump refined modern social media control with the best propagandists of the 1930’s, and once in place of the ultimate bully pulpit, would be out of the reach of any stabilizers.

What to do?  Vote your principles, and your desire for forward looking, rational answers to our many problems goes down to defeat.  Jump on the Trump Train, and assure the complete destruction of ideological clarity to problem solving, while still going down to defeat, win or lose.  For me, principles trump Trump.  Losing one’s soul is not a reasonable price for defeating the less defined of two evils.  The 1932 german patriot who held on to his humanity and civility and didn’t join the lemmings, at least didn’t have to live the evolving calamity soulless.

Posted in CULTURE, POLITICS | 2 Comments

Checking The Box

The Ballot Awaits - What will you do?

The Ballot Awaits – What will you do?

Voting is one of the great privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.  The vote represents the compact a country’s people hold with its government to follow the agreed upon constitutionally ordained mandates, laws, security, and strategic investments.  It is the pat on the back for positive performance, the weedwacker for removing governmental congestion,troubled concepts and inadequate or corrupted leaders. The great arsenal of democracy is the ballot box, converting the performance chart into measurable, digestible time frames that allow an engaged citizenry to control their future.

The zenith of the American voting process is the vote for the Presidency.  Every four years, the country puts its prospective leaders through an onerous process that vets each prospect’s  capacity to articulate a vision, respond and modify to others’ criticisms, and engage and hold the attention of a majority of Americans who see the future as they do.  Its an intense process, and it should work at a level of outcome worthy of the great democracy it serves.

Yet, for years, the process has appeared significantly out of sync with the voter, and has time and time again positioned candidates that seem incomplete or unworthy, and that leave the voter with a choice of selecting the lesser of two evils.  Progressively, the Presidential vote has come to voting against someone we feel will be damaging to our future, rather for someone who positively represents our views and our vision. For the past thirty years, this has been particularly an unsavory process for the conservative or libertarian voter.  The Republican Party, positioned to represent the world of the individual initiative and limited government, has put forth candidates who are further and further removed from this philosophical pact.  It has demanded the conservative go into the booth, hold his or her nose, and vote against the other party rather than for the republican candidate, to protect a rapidly diminishing societal compact with those two pillars the party claims to be fundamental.

This year, the wheels have completely come off the wagon.  Short of a radical change in events, the two party nominees will be Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Clown against the Criminal, and a huge segment of the Republican Party’s base are left with the impossible choice of voting for intolerable options, or abdicating their responsibility as the ground troops of democracy and staying out of the Presidential vote all together.

The Republican Party is wholly responsible for this approaching debacle.  Every four years, the process of selecting candidates has leached out the more principled conservative candidates on the premise that a principled conservative could not possibly appeal to the greater population.  The Voter got Bush instead of Kemp, Dole instead of Graham, Bush instead of Forbes, McCain instead of Romney, and Romney instead of Perry.  Each time, the consensus candidate either significantly let down their conservative base of support once elected (in case of the Bushes), or got clobbered by the ideologically purer democratic alternative in the general election.  On multiple occasions, the base got back of the floor and organized off year election victories and with the exception of 1994, had their elected legislators turn their back on the ideological struggle and give in to the statist Borg.

2016 was going to be different. This was to be the year in which the executive election ideology would match the legislative thrust, and the conservative voter could go into the booth and positively pull the lever for our version of an ideologically pure candidate. Perry, Jindal, Walker, Rubio, Cruz, Fiorina.  All are gone or nearly so, and the man left standing is Donald Trump, the anti-ideologue whose base instincts would fit securely into the Democrat Party’s vision of leading society through correct beliefs rather than correct facts if he had determined to run under his life long party, rather than his recent epiphany that he must be a Republican. Certainly a surprise to his children, who didn’t even have time to change their party allegiance in order to vote in the “other” party’s primary in New York for their father.

Instead the party of individual initiative and limited government will be represented by the             very candidate who has publicly declared these concepts an anathema to him.  The result has been a sense of doom and withdrawal that are normally foreign to the conservative voter, usually the most committed and engaged supporter of the constitutional process.  One can vote for Trump and pretend that what one believes doesn’t matter in governance, or stay out of the election and allow Clinton to be rewarded for a life of insolent behavior, statist, collective ideology, and lousy performance.  Peggy Noonan in her Wall Street Journal editorial of April 28, 2016, refers to this sullen recognition of  what she calls the Moment, when the lack of an out is expressed as a psychological wounding.  The Republican Party,clumsily looking to expand its appeal rather than firm up its convictions, set up the primary process so that an outside demagogue could parley minority anger into a majority delegate position. The Party is now desperately attempting to imply the conservative voter must once again “hold their nose” and vote to prevent a supposed worse outcome, or risk the shuttering of the party.

The final defenders of the Ramparts are being labeled the NeverTrump clique and are being set up to either be a hypocrite to their principles, or permit a final closing of the door  of a vision of a country once uniformly seen as a place of opportunity, self responsibility, and societally moral relations.  Well, a stark future awaits, and unless something unexpected happens, it is not clear  a way out of Peggy Noonan’s Moment can be formed out of the madness.

A difficult, tumultuous summer and fall looms.

Posted in CULTURE, POLITICS | Leave a comment

Unleashing the Whirlwind

Old North Bridge Concord Massachusetts

Old North Bridge                 Concord, Massachusetts   / thecrowleyconnection.com

Two coiled springs had been tightening, gaining immense potential energy for years. The question was simply where and when the spring would release, and whether it would be premeditated, or spontaneously let go. The overwhelmingly powerful British Empire, supported by the greatest military capacity present anywhere, was coiling against a perceived challenge to its authority that had consequences that were simply unacceptable for its very being. The opposite spring, a group of British subjects in the far away American colonies, saw a world that had yet to be invented, and like a prophet that had foreseen the glories of heaven, could not wait any longer to undertake the ascension.  On April 19th, 1775, the spring uncoiled, and the whirlwind was released.

Since the climax of the French and Indian War, that in 1763 left Great Britain in the dominant position on the North American continent, the seeds for strife between the British crown and its colonial subjects grew progressively, and inexorably.  This journey to the American Revolutionary conflict is (or at least was) an essential foundation of every elementary history course.  Following the French and Indian war, the British Parliament felt that a significant burden of the massive financial debt created by the war should be assumed by the American colonies given the tremendous advantages for growth and security that had been created for them with the victory.  The most direct was the Stamp Act, a tax that the colonists objected to not so much that it was oppressive in size, but rather in that it had been enacted without any representation and discourse with the colonies.  With the elite educated class in America, progressively enthralled with the momentum of what would be called the Enlightenment, the lack of ability to influence their present or future was intolerable to the concepts of personal liberty and freedom of initiative.

Particularly in the restive New England colonies, radical discussions and progressively organized dissent proliferated. One such group, the Sons of Liberty led by Samuel Adams, became recognized as driving for a world beyond British parliamentary representation.  The Adams radicals looked to kindle the fire that would make the world anew. The answer from Great Britain was to assert its authority, and progressively British regular soldiers were seen in Boston. The spark first showed itself in the so called Boston Massacre of 1770, in which a  platoon of British soldiers threatened by a snowball throwing mob lost its cool and shot into the crowd, killing three.  The Boston Tea Party of 1773 led by Samuel Adams was a direct affront, and the British government saw a local problem beginning to spiral out of control.  The response that turned the process into an irreconcilable mess were the Intolerable Acts of 1774 enacted by Parliament, that asserted a form of military dictatorship over the colonists, restricting assembly, seizing control of the critical Port of Boston, removing a legal authority over British troops by American courts, and allowing British troops to be housed in American homes without consent of the owner.  The response was predictable, for now the colonists that for 150 years had pretty much determined their own way in the Americas were forcibly notified of their subservient position in the British hierarchy.  The colony of Massachusetts exploded in fury, and initiated a shadow government to the local British authority, a Provincial Congress that put forth the Suffolk Resolves, a group of acts that declared a boycott of British goods and public disobedience with the Intolerable Acts until they were repealed.  Even more worrisome and threatening to the British, a meeting of all American Colonies took place in September 1774, forming a continent wide shadow legislature known as the 1st Continental Congress, that suggested the local radicals had permeated the concept of disobedience to British authority across the entire continent.

The Suffolk Resolves suggested the detachment of British authority from its American colonies and was an Intolerable Act to the conservative parliament and the king.  Regular army detachments were sent to Boston to put it in a vise, and the reaction of the colonists were to form organized militia capable of rapid deployment with arms collected and positioned for maximum impact in case of conflict. The arms were distributed to allow 12000 militia to respond immediately to an aggressive British military maneuver, secured in 50 man units known as Minutemen.  The commanding general in Boston, General Gage, recognized he could not possibly stand by and allow an organized force to arm itself.  He determined to extend his forces into the countryside with strength, arrest the radical leaders, break up the militias, secure the arms, and send the leaders back to Britain for trial for high treason.

The when was April 19th, 1775 and the where was the public green in Lexington and the Old North Bridge in Concord.

The opening battle of the American Revolution - April 19th, 1775 Lexington and Concord

The opening battle of the American Revolution – April 19th, 1775 Lexington and Concord /wikipedia

Gage heard of massive stores of arms being collected in Concord, Massachusetts and selected the little town 24 miles from downtown Boston to be the sight to reassert British authority.  The goal was to send overwhelming force in a stealthy fashion, marching through the night, but Boston was rife with spies, and the rebels had already planned for an early warning system.  When it was determined that British troops were moving and their determined target, the Internet of the time sprang into action.  Horsemen, most notably the silversmith Paul Revere, left Boston in three directions to alert the many communities that contained the Minutemen companies, and for the most part succeeded in marshaling the rapid deployment force before the British could intercede. Gage sent a massive force of 700 regulars on the road to Concord, with a desire to break arm stores in the intervening towns of Monatomy and Lexington.

At Lexington green, just as the sun came up, the advance British forces encountered the first of Revere’s alerted Minutemen led by a grizzled Indian fighter named John Parker.  77 minutemen stood in formation on the green nervously facing a representation of the most powerful military on earth, led by Major Pitcairn of the Royal Marines, who demanded the “rebels” immediately disarm and disperse.  Parker, fully aware of the gravity of the moment and the importance of how it had to evolve to secure the right side of history, had told his men earlier,  “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they want to have a war, let it begin here.”  There appeared to be a brief moment of indecision as both sides realized what might result from a mistake, but a shot rang out, and the British fired a point blank volley into the Americans.  The damage was done. 8 Americans lay dead or dying and the British moved in and bayonetted.  The minutemen dispersed and retreated to Concord.  The British marched on to Concord and soon realized they were in a world of trouble.  Initially the town allowed them to search uninhibited, but it was obvious that the weapons stores had already been removed, and the British became frustrated and burned downed several structures in town.  British detachments moved to secure the bridges into town, and at the Old North Bridge it became clear the honeybees were being replaced by hornets.  Minutemen were waiting for them on the bridge, and this time they didn’t just accepted the punishment delivered at Lexington.  The volley was returned, and this time there were dead on both sides. As Ralph Waldo Emerson famously described,

By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to freedom’s breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard’round the world

The British retreated, and it became apparent that a potential calamity was underway.  The officers began to retreat back toward the safety of Boston, and the extent of the hornet’s nest they had kicked over became apparent.  The march back to Boston became a Hell’s road, facing a fully aroused guerrilla force, having been made aware of the morning’s events and sacrifices, that sought nothing short of full annihilation of the 700.  Behind every rock and tree for twenty miles, a diffuse force of militia trained in the savage warfare of the Indian conflicts, snippered, ambushed, and harassed the beleaguered British force to massive loss, saved only by a rescue force from Boston that brought heavy artillery and cavalry to bear.  The proud British force had been decimated with 0ver 250 casualties compared to 88 for the American militia, and came within an eye-blink of complete annihilation.  The British, who hoped to assert complete authority, now found themselves under siege in Boston ringed by an entire countryside of furious hostility.

There was no going back from the brink, and the whirlwind was unleashed.  The fighting was more savage than anyone could have predicted, and the losses stunning to the British. The Americans recognized the next battles would be of epically greater scale and began to form a Continental Army led by a Virginian named George Washington.   The British saw that this was no longer a mob action led by a small minority, but a growing fire that could consume their hard won dominance in North America.

It would take 8 years of incredible sacrifice, amazing moments of heroism and initiative, epic mistakes, and a level of savagery of relative against relative that would presage the Civil War 80 years later.  At the end of it all stood a dream and a promise, of equality of men, freedom of thought, and liberty in action that is as close to anything that man can claim as inspired greatness.  On the 241st anniversary of the April events that shook the world at its foundations, we can only gaze in awe of the tiny contingent of brave men who stood their ground in a little town in Massachusetts  and were willing to make such an ultimate sacrifice, on the sliver of faith that a promise could support a dream and create a better world.  The impossible was made the possible, and the possible, happened.  The dream and the promise held by common men were able to surmount the greatest military force of their time and turn the world upside down.  Some felt it was Divine providence; it amazed even the most secular of men, when they looked back and realized what had transpired. As fellow Virginian John Page wrote to Thomas Jefferson after the after the Declaration of Independence was signed:

We know the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?

We are still in the whirlwind of history.  Maybe we will once again listen to our better angels, and find our way through our current storm.

 

Posted in HISTORY | Leave a comment

Ssshhh! …Still Some Clear Thinking Going On…

 

General Petraeus in Field - Roberto Schmidt getty images/cnn.com

General Petraeus in Iraq           photo Roberto Schmidt getty images/cnn.com

The political discourse these days is so trivial, hyperbolic, and lacking in thought that we might wonder if we are undergoing staging for a reality show rather than vetting potential Presidents of the United States.  The idea that there might be a philosophy of engagement for the most powerful nation on earth or an identified self interest is anathema to the candied brains of the current front runners.  The Democrat front runner sees the Libyan fiasco as a great accomplishment.  The Republican front runner wants to get rid of NATO and demands fools gold from other allies to maintain positions in the world that long have been critical to the nation’s self interest.  The current President uses political calculus rather than in-depth analysis to attempt a policy of retrenchment.  As a result, his concept of retrenchment waffles between red lines and withdrawals, disdain for his enemies capabilities and inept, pinprick reactionary responses to threats.  Is there anybody left who has thought this through?

Well, there is someone.  Someone who could have been President, but ruptured his bond with integrity and took himself out.  General David Petraeus, who served both Republican and Democrat Administrations and was the strategic genius behind the Iraq surge that finally won the Iraqi conflict, only to have it dissolve with the forced withdrawal of his carefully and painfully won stabilizing force.  The general committed political hari-kari when he exposed three classified documents to his biographer mistress, who as an intelligence officer additionally had classified document clearance.  It resulted in a very public humiliation by the Obama  Administration by Petraeus, who was forced to resign as CIA Director, and a Justice Department prosecution that led in 2015 to 2 years probation and a 100 thousand dollar fine.  The four star general’s career was over, and the unique means of his political demise takes on special focus when weighed against the massively larger security breach that was brazenly propagated by Secretary of State Clinton. Ms. Clinton, who could very well be our next President.

It is David Petraeus, not Hillary Clinton, who is banished to the wilderness.  We should remind ourselves however who General Petraeus is, because the old war horse has a soaring intellect and much yet to teach, if we are willing to listen.  David Petraeus was in the top 5% of his 1974 graduating class at West Point, the top graduate of his 1983 class at the 1983 US Army Command General Staff College, and subsequently earned a MPA and PhD in International Relations from Princeton University.  As a commanding intellectual, Petraeus proved equally adept at the real testing ground of soldiering, becoming a commissioned Army Ranger, promoted to commanding a battalion of the famed 101st Airborne Division, a brigade with the 82nd Airborne Division and eventually the commanding major general of the 101st in the second Gulf War combat assault on Baghdad, Karbala and Mosul.

What tied Petraeus’s unique balance of intellectual depth and combat assertiveness into success was the depth of his own philosophical development in concepts of counter insurgency.   Petraeus saw counter insurgency as requiring creation of security and stability by the twins of tactical force and political compromise, achieving the trust and the buy in of those he was asked to defend.  Nowhere did he succeed more profoundly then when he was asked to command the surge of US forces in 2007 in the desperate attempt to salvage the floundering US effort to pacify Iraq. Recognizing the Anbar Awakening for what it was, Petraeus presciently identified the appropriate winners and losers and supported his winners until they could assert their own control.  The success of the surge was so dramatic, that the key issue of the 2008 presidential campaign was lost to then candidate Obama. By 2010, the Obama Administration, noting that Iraq was so pacified that US Army deaths due to monthly training accidents exceeded combat deaths, declared a stable Iraq as their Greatest Achievement, and promptly threw it all away by not renewing the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq.  All of the hard work and sacrifices of the American effort in Iraq came to nothing as the black anarchy of death rapidly seeped into the vacuum.

Obama requested Petraeus’s help in Afghanistan and then the CIA in an effort to contain Petraeus rapidly rising political star, before Petraeus removed himself as a political foe through his own foible.  Nobody was more relieved then Obama.

Petraeus might have been the next in line of the perfect citizen soldier statesmen, such as Washington, Grant, Marshall, and Eisenhower that helped this nation out of its doldrums in the past.  Instead his personal vanity led to foolish weakness that has deprived us of this generation’s great leader.  Petraeus thankfully has not given up on helping format a way out of our current international morass.  In a Washington Post OpEd, Petraeus helps suggest the principles in countering the plague of radical Islam, that could direct future Administrations to a restoration of stability in this most unstable world.  His Five Big Ideas in the OpEd reflect Petraeus’s philosophical underpinnings he has previously described for breaking sclerotic impasses and achieving Institutional Change: First: Get the Big Ideas RightSecond: Communicate the Big Ideas EffectivelyThird: Oversee Big Idea ImplementationFourth: Capture the Lessons Learned, Refine, and Repeat the Process.  The current opinion piece mirrors the foundational Big Idea concept. Petraeus defines the Five Big Ideas as :

  1. Recognition that ungoverned spaces contribute the agar dish of chaos that draw radicals and allow them to flourish.
  2. Radical Islamists will not confine their attacks to their lairs or strongholds.
  3. The U.S. can not absolve itself of responsibility as the singular world leader capable of coordinating a counter insurgency
  4. The path to success will be comprehensive, multi-faceted, involve allies and friends,   and not just precision strikes and special operations.
  5. Victory ( and Petraeus does not see U.S. self interest in something short of victory) will require sustained U.S. effort for extended periods, defined by conditions on the ground, not enforced timetables.

What the general is describing is nothing more than the reversal of the last seven years of U.S. strategy of leaving the chaos of the world for others to solve, and retrenching to the role of leading from behind.  Such strategy has led to propagation of Syria’s catastrophic collapse, Iraq’s dissolution, ineptly permitted by  a puppet government of the Iranian mullahs that lost the Anbar to the ISIS monsters, sacrificed the Yazidis, offended the Kurds, and seek to destroy the Sunni ,  and the Libya, Mali, Somali, and Nigeria calamitous infernos of Mad Max warscapes.  I could easily see where it might be long past time to reverse such strategy.  Unfortunately, the political discourse would suggest we may  be willing to elect even more wrong way thinking approaching at its extreme, real bone headed logic.

There is real thinking out there.  If the country is willing to overlook completely profligately amoral and sustained behavior from its leading candidates, could it possibly overlook a brief lapse in a career of brilliance for our nation’s sake?

Where have you gone, General Petraeus, Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you woo,woo,woo…

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Down The Homestretch

Apr 25, 2010; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Klements Racing Sausages get ready for their race during the sixth inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. The Cubs defeated the Brewers 12-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Down the Homestretch with the Final Five                                                                                                      Photo : Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

 

The Great American Extravaganza that culminates in the election of a Chief Executive  of the United States is fully upon us.  There have been tens of scores of debates, town halls, fundraisers, greeters, and interviews.  Over half of the state party caucuses and primaries have declared their voters’ preferences.  The compression of the pack has seen the dropping out of the race of the O’Malleys, Chaffees, Walkers, Perrys, Jindhals, Rubios, Huckabees, Santorums, Patakis, Carsons, Fiorinas, Grahams, Gilmores, Pauls, Bushes, and Christies.

We are are left with the Not So Magnificent Five.

Every four years the  over-wise pundits that suggest an ideal candidate for the nomination of either party are left dumbfounded with the recurrent verdict of the electorate to select someone who is anything but ideal.  How does the vetting process designed to get us a Washington or a Lincoln, end up with Sanders, Clinton, Trump, Cruz, and Kasich?  When somebody famous was quoted as saying anyone could grow up to be President of the United States, they weren’t kidding.  The process has become a manipulable grind that removes measured considerations of a candidates bonafides in any discernible way the average voter can engage.   We are left with winners of ‘Survivor’, and the country is the loser.  Different from other years at least, some of the winners are not yet sure if they survived and some of the losers refuse to admit they are beat.  It makes for some superficially compelling drama. Let’s see how the Not So Magnificent Five are positioned as they approach the final furlong.

Hillary Clinton:  It was supposed to be a coronation.  The old war horse had the money, political machinery, and the pedigree to swat aside the ridiculously weak challengers she would face, and yet last weekend, the sure thing candidate lost to her opponent challenger Sanders in all three contested states by historically enormous margins.  Sanders won 82% of the vote in Alaska, 70% in Hawaii, and 73% in Washington.  Are you kidding me? What kind of sure thing front runner loses by margins 4 of 5 voters, and 3 of 4 voters respectively anywhere?  Where is the love?  Hillary Clinton once again has shown what a notoriously poor candidate she has always been, and the lack of connection she makes with people.  Add to her natural lack of political talent, the uncomfortable reality that in her own party, polls have shown only 36% of Democrats view her as honest or trustworthy, and you have the makings of an epic fail.   Clinton has a substantial delegate lead for her nomination becomes of the previously secured so called “super” delegates, but she leads Sanders only by 1243 to 975 in delegates selected by voters in her own party.  Facing a potential spring of squeamish and uninspired voters, and an elephant in the room investigation by the FBI of potentially both security breeches and influence peddling, the coronation may look more like a Charles I moment.

Bernie Sanders:  What do you do for an encore after a life of back bencher eccentricities and contrarian views acknowledged by no one in power? You at 75 years of age run for President, and install the Glorious Revolution on the strength of voters who weren’t yet born when you turned fifty. Pretty amazing for a self styled radical of the sixties who protested under the banner ‘don’t trust anyone over thirty‘.  Awards should be given for anyone who can stand the rigors of an extended election campaign at nearly 75 years of age, but then again, Bernie looks youthful compared to the irritable and forgetful nearly 70 year old he is running against.  The fountain of youth has struck this back bencher on a wave of unachievable dreams of tax rates of 90%, tripling the deficit and making everything free, but… at least it’s a plan for the future.  Having principles, even when they are this wayward, looks appealing to kids, who feel their only other choice is to support their mean grandma.

Donald Trump:  The whole thing was supposed to be a publicity campaign to support a flagging brand.  Spend a few months talking about how everyone else is stupid, you’re the smartest, and then get out while the going was good.  Who could have known that the cynical opinion of the average American held by the billionaire real estate pitchman from New York, was not remotely close to how cynical the voters actually were?  Now he finds himself the leading delegate getter in a party with which he has no philosophical commonality and people are starting to take notice that he actually hasn’t thought anything through.  At some point, talking about 80 foot walls, 45% tariffs, and taking countries’ oil was going to run into stiff winds when people began to realize the guy might actually win the nomination.  Well, he suffers rebukes not at all.  The race is such that even this realization may not be enough to stop a Trump nomination, but watching the whole edifice collapse in a cloud of dust and fire is going to make for real entertainment for those who thought conventions were boring, predictable exercises lost in distant yesteryears.

Ted Cruz:  Somewhere way in the past, teenage Rafael Edward Cruz decided no matter what the circumstances, if he simply hung in there with his significant intellect, unbounded ambition, and thick skin, even a person of his circumstance could become president.  Well, he is one of the few survivors of The 17, and probably the one no one would have predicted still standing, based on his narrow vision, and reputation for poor relationships with his comrades in arms.  Don’t look now, but he seems to have outsmarted and outworked all the more ‘deserving’ choices, and has secured the rail position as alternative to the Trumpzilla.  Would a one term Senator who has cut his teeth on irritating everyone he has worked with blossom into a leader who sees beyond the horizon and fashions a future for this suddenly uncertain giant of a country?  It likely comes down to Wisconsin.  A Cruz win, and it will be interesting how many hesitant travelers jump on board.  A Cruz loss, and the tenacious effort will have only delayed Cruz joining the Other 14 who have been booted off the island.

John Kasich:  I’m No.3!  hardly seems like a path to victory, but Kasich will not be denied.  A record of 1 win 24 losses does not exactly instill a veneer of inevitability but some people just can not be dissuaded.  The race for President is usually about seeing a potential path for victory, but Kasich is after something else entirely.  His idea apparently is to stand by and see if the other two candidates kill each other off, and leave the electorate yearning for the Ohio Everyman.  The problem for Kasich is, if the top two go, it is likely that everyones’ next up, will not be the current No. 3.

On April 5th Wisconsin votes, and from that point onward, the Great American sausage race will run for the tape.  Its times like this, I wish I was a vegetarian.

 

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Miracles

tombe-jesus-drap

In the darkest times, when it seems that the world has fallen from grace, and the way out has been obscured so densely that hope appears extinguished, miracles can occur. We live in such times, but these are not the first of those times.  Finding a way out of the morass is often predicated upon pressing onward, and having faith.

Evil feeds upon the angst and weakness that lies in the absence of faith.  It looks to declare the absolute certainty of a future, to remove all hope, and to force compliance.  Faith secures the ultimate freedom, elevated from the native fears and doubts that can bring such turmoil to human existence.  The faithful don’t need reassurance, because the present holds no sway over an ultimate truth.

The tests are everywhere among us.  A muslim shopkeeper seeks to bridge the cultural divide with simple respect for those who see things differently, and is killed for his generous spirit.  The President of the United States participates in a press conference with a Cuban dictator, standing by passively as Raul Castro denies keeping any prisoners of conscience.  The long hand of the current Russian czar snuffs out any opposition to his worldview.  Innocents are brought to slaughter to serve as examples of evil’s inevitable march.

A transcendent faith is the gift of that day so many years ago when the tomb was visited on the first day after the sabbath, the stone was found shunted aside, and the inhabitant of the tomb was nowhere to be found.  Those that gazed in and were dumbfounded showed expected human reactions, worrying where the body was taken and who would have removed it.  The truth was of course greater than any perceived before in human existence, in that the truth was amongst them as they wondered, and had been all along.  Those of the greatest faith could see the truth, and those who would doubt but were open to a better world, could still receive the truth.

The realities of our days bring doubts, but not certainties. The faith that good will triumph over evil speaks to the enormous power of good and the inherent weakness of evil.  In good is the future of enlightenment, love, and paradise.  In evil, lies the empty blackness of a world devoid of meaning.

The miracle of Easter morning is not only that it happened, but that it happens continuously, through the breath of spirit that infuses people with the strength to carry on through the darkness, and never given in to those who would surrender or desecrate our goodness.

Have faith. With it, all things are possible.

Happy Easter.

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Around The World

Lowell Thomas used to bring you the world on Movietone

Lowell Thomas used to bring you the world on Movietone

At the height of the calamities of the mid twentieth century, an assured and distinctly American voice brought focus and attention to world events in brief  movie vignettes presented at the primary American gathering place of that time, the movie house.  Thomas, a very American entrepreneurial character, was in a strange way his own news

Lowell Thomas

Lowell Thomas

service, and invented many of the concepts that currently form our visual news services today.  Thomas was the man who brought the visual media to news celebrity, finding and engaging T.E. Lawrence, helping turning him into “Lawrence of Arabia”.  He helped found nightly radio national news broadcasts, was responsible for the first television news broadcast, and anchored the first telecast of a political convention.  But Lowell Thomas is secured in history for going around the world in Movietone News, tying crisp and tight prose to sharply edited and dramatic newsreel footage to bring impact to the stories of the day, often in far off places ,to the contained world of the viewer.  You could leave the movie theater knowing what you needed to know, because Lowell had synthesized it for you.

  Well, nobody could possibly do like Lowell Thomas, but there are plenty of reminders out there of a world of ongoing events that we should keep in front of us as cascade down the year of 2016.  Ramparts therefore humbly borrows the snapshot techniques of Lowell
Thomas and Movietone and takes you Around The World with RAMPARTS-TONE NEWS.

Great Britain: On June 23rd, 2016, the voters of Great Britain will contemplate in the voting booth a referendum decision to potentially overturn the political directions of Europe cultivated over the last 70 years since the end of the Second World War.  Out of the calamity of war, the governments of Europe determined to bind themselves together ever more securely in a union that they hoped would sublimate the nationalist tendencies that bedeviled Europe’s peace for five hundred years.  BrexitWhat was at first the concept of a common market, has progressively become more of a political union in which the member states have less and less to say regarding their own economic and political decisions.  Great Britain, the fifth largest economy of the world, feels increasingly hamstrung by its place in the European Union, the rules of trade with any partners outside of the EU at the mercy of joint EU decisions, its monetary system based on the pound sterling unteathered to the Euro.  Germany and France, the joint force behind both EU and Euro policies, is not about to let Britain make independent decisions without being lashed to the Euro.  Given the economic events in Europe over the last several years, being lashed to the Euro is the last thing on Britain’s mind.  What makes up a modern nation state, how do economies work, what would happen to the United Kingdom (particularly pro EU Scotland), and what is the effect on the stability of post WWII Europe are just some of the small considerations Great Britain’s voters will need to educate themselves upon before voting on June 23rd.  Polls suggest that those who want to stay in the EU comprise 45% of the voters, those that wish to exit, the BREXIT voter are close behind at 40%.  The BREXIT referendum currently has a volatile 14% undecided, so with so much on the line, the heat will certainly turn up as one gets towards the June referendum.

South China Sea: A great economic power inevitably looks to secure its economic future and defend it with a strong military.  What is happening in the South China Sea is more complicated than China simply defending its right to commerce.  China is claiming hegemony over the South China Sea and the islands within it, and it is not asking the opinion of any of its neighbors.  The South China Sea happens to be one of the world’s busiest sea trading lanes, and many countries see it as vital to their independence and prosperity.

The South China Sea - and the competing claims of the little atolls and reefs that form the Spratly and Paracel Islands

The South China Sea – and the competing claims of the little atolls and reefs that form the Spratly and Paracel Islands

The sea lanes have been guaranteed for decades by the world’s largest military, the United States.  What happens when a country such as China sees free access to a region it feels is vital to its economic self interests is a recipe for real trouble.  The region is thought to contain huge oil and gas reserves, and the neighboring countries of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan, do not intend to allow China to exclude their access to the riches of the sea, or the freedom to navigate.  China is forcing the issue by building up the reefs into capable islands with air and sea access for their military, and the United States, responsible for freedom of  the sea lanes is none too happy. When a country like China starts determining to secure its neighborhood, the reverberations can be very,very dangerous.  This is a building story that will go far beyond the calendar year of 2016.

Libya: Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, it doesn’t look like the calamity of Libya she fostered in her ill considered decisions as Secretary of State, is going away any time soon. The country was unravelled by France, Britain, and the United States by assisting in the overthrow of Muammar Quadaffi in 2011, then passively standing back as the wolves descended on the carcass of the country.  Clinton’s unique role in the US disaster at Benghazi is still being investigated, but the future is much scarier than the past. The country is split in half with a General Al-Sisi like strong man, General Khalifa Haftar, running the eastern half of the country and looking to extend his control over the western half which includes the capital of Tripoli, , truly a wild,wild west, run by competing Islamic extremists, including with increasing radicalism and strength, ISIS.  The formation of a caliphate with its dagger edge pointed much as in the days of Carthage

Carthage and the Punic Wars

Carthage and the Punic Wars

directly at the Italian and Iberian peninsulas is a dream come true for ISIS and a nightmare for Italy and Europe. In classic President Obama fashion, the lead from behind strategy has promulgated special levels of damage in a region where passivity is seen as true weakness, and ruthless strength is considered the calling of greatness.  Obama, and his apparent successors in Clinton or Trump, are not exactly the type of deep thinkers that understand existential risks.  It may be up to Europe, if it wants to survive, to start understanding and reacting to what is at risk from its southern exposure.

Turkey and Syria: Lawrence of Arabia, if he were to accompany Lowell Thomas today to the Middle East,  would recognize the increasing calamity that is Syria and every one of its players.  Events are happening on a daily basis that are rending the decisions of the day before rapidly past tense.  The vestiges of the Ottoman Empire continue to vibrate in every action and reaction.  Syria, converted into a horrible wasteland by marauding warriors from distant places and the corrupt and genocidal acts of its on government is at the mercy of ever larger forces.

The current battle for Syria - washingtonpost

The current battle for Syria – washingtonpost

Turkey, looking to insert its dominance on the region in an effort to reinstitute an Ottoman past, now finds itself under dual direct threat from a vicious ISIS terrorist cell and an increasingly aggressive Kurdish minority that sees a way to a greater Kurdistan across Iraq, Syria, Iran…and Turkey.  Russia has masterfully succeeded in entirely usurp US influence in events to become the dominant international broker, creating strange bed fellows, but now must see how to lock in its newfound position while avoiding getting sucked in to the day to day battles.  The pressure on the innocents has led to the greatest migration of people within Europe since the wars of the twentieth century, and ISIS has diabolically placed its wolves among the sheep, making for multiple threats across the continent.  Iran, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are warily watching each other, knowing an emotional decision could create a real, first class regional war.  The Obama United States, forever inward turning, can only watch, as 70 years of being the steadying influence, is going up in smoke.

United States of America:  Can a great country overcome its desire to self destruct?  Facing a world of increasing instability and threat, internal debt, and a progressively self absorbed, uninterested population regarding the hard work of a republic, the US is looking at  a socialist, a populist, an ideologue, and crony capitalist would be felon, three of the four around 70 years of age, to lead it ShowImage.ashxthrough these many events demanding innovative and assertive leadership.  Sanders. Trump. Cruz. Clinton.   That is the roster of talent that will be asked to handle this increasingly difficult world.  Not exactly an inspiring thought.  There are terrific talents waiting in the wings, but none are positioned to help the country on November 8th, 2016.  Will the rest of the world be willing to wait for the US to get its act together?

Stay tuned.  Now it can be shown. Maybe just like the old days…

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America In Transition

 

Fully Automated Robotic Assembly Line in a Tesla Factory - smashgear.com

Fully Automated Robotic Assembly Line in a Tesla Factory       photo/smashgear.com

It’s an emotional time when one is transitioning from what was, to what will be.  America, as a result, appears to progressively be an emotional wreck.   The economy sloths along at an anemic 1-2% growth rate with job growth being led by service industries such as call centers.  The most powerful military in the world has devised rules of engagement that defy any engagement that would secure any meaningful outcomes or strategic advantage.  The political parties are in tatters, with candidates promoting populist nationalism, serving up extreme versions of the past in an attempt to preserve what is no longer viable.  The foundational principles that have adjudicated  so many other previous periods of upheaval  are helpless to buttress an increasingly ignorant population that has only the vaguest notion of what they are. What passes for public discourse is increasingly more reactionary, emotional, and agitated, defined by the slogan, What Do We Want (fill in the blank), When Do We Want It? NOW!!

Its enough to make you want to simply sign off.  That would be denying however any hope for civilization, and we of course, in our own little way, are defenders of the ramparts of that very civilization, so a little more introspection and looking for silver linings are called for.

The first thing is to recognize that we are at the end of one order of civilization, and yet to discern the elements that will begin another.  In the chaos of watching things fail that no longer work, it is easy to believe you are seeing change at work, when you are simply watching the last tired efforts of a society to desperately hold on to what it knows.  The current President thought he was bringing the Change and the Hope, but the reality was that trying to make people’s behavior bend to your will was a worn out idea that was bound to fail. Something new is indeed coming, but we need to understand what is likely gone forever and let it go, if we are going to be able to respond and potentially flourish in a new world.  The answer is leveraged in a return to, and a celebration of, critical thinking, and the challenge is to raise our consciousness to that reality.

Personal Privacy:  The concept of personhood as mysterious as an unbreakable code and  unique as a fingerprint is about to disappear.  Almost every fact and nuance about each of us is available electronically to those who would look, and is progressively given up by many freely without the least concern.  We are a data cache to large companies, governments, and social exchanges to the extent that our behaviors, thoughts and reactions are comprehensively known and open to manipulation.  Social exchanges such as Facebook have discovered people are only too willing to put the most intimate information out into the cloud to any one who wants it.  The health information of essentially every modern society is on an electronic platform, and what you eat, drink or interact with, are increasingly owned by the society rather than the individual.  Governments such as China see themselves as the ultimate owners of every citizen’s thoughts, and have become world leaders in surveillance cameras, internet monitoring, and even proactive policing (predicting and preventing the “crime” before it occurs).

There is no sense to arguing the information is yours any longer, the question is, will we be willing to protect our individuality, our personhood against unwanted invasion or manipulation.  You can’t be comfortable with the loss of some fundamental liberties, and be squeamish about losing others, without losing them all.  A higher definition of liberty and personhood is in order, and the fight for the next generation is to recognize what is at stake.

Labor as a Means of Personal Freedom:  A physical job used to link directly to personal opportunity and freedom.  It provided the stability of predictable income, health care and future pension that allowed the individual to either maintain or position oneself for advancement.  A relatively small group of people had the pride of ownership and production, and the risk/reward equation that came with ownership.  For most people, the job was simply the byproduct of a stable life and other pursuits.  Now, the very concept of “job” is disappearing.  Manual labor, the capacity to contribute to production of goods and services, that would provide the economic means to eventually secure those goods and services for oneself, is, for most of the planet, the relic of a bygone era.  Robots are substantially more productive than people in assembly work, mining, and farming.  Computers reduce the value of human data interpretation, with their ability to summon and source massive amounts of data in infinitesimal amounts of time compared to humans.  What will most people do, when there are fewer and fewer jobs for them to do?  This has been the primary impetus of our current anxieties about immigration, free trade agreements, and loss of industries to other countries.  The very number of jobs in the world are diminishing, as the ability to more productively outsource to machines increases.  No amount of tariffs or taxes as proposed by current candidates are going to protect jobs that will be increasingly performed by machines no matter how onerous we make their transition  to other countries. Governments placating people with safety nets will only delay the critical thinking required to recognize what is at stake. What will more and more people do when their productive value is progressively outsourced to machines?  Critical thinking regarding what brings value to lives, not protectionist tactics, will be necessary to imagine a way forward when industry labor is no longer the source of individual productivity.

Traditional Education Defining Advancement:  Education has become the unholy home of artificial value and pseudo – self actualization. Increasingly exploding in cost beyond anyone’s rational ability to pay, at the very time that the ‘education” offered promotes the lack of any actual skill development, traditional means of education are becoming incapable of providing us with the critical thinkers to help solve our problems.  Degrees lean more and more to dividing our knowledge base into expertise in victimhood, chaos theory, and manipulation of the masses, rather than rewarding critical thought and linking disciplines to provide creative outcomes.  Requiring massive amounts of individual investment or societal support to fund further examination of our divisions – our blackness or brownness, our sexual variance or physical differences, does nothing for recognition of our common problems or contribute to their creative solutions.  Forcing people to identify their intellectual development through a degree rather than an accomplished set of achieved insights or skill acquisitions has led to an enormous ignorance as  to what provides real personal development.  Education no longer requires rigid isolation to  campuses where thinking becomes both expensive and able to be manipulated into a politically correct ‘groupthink’.

Government as the Collective Answer:  The sense of loss of control and situational anxiety  has led to people seeking the comfort of  worn out concepts of the last century to protect them against change, particularly lashing themselves to the masts of  an ever larger  and more intrusive government. Once designed in America to support only actions that individuals could not do for themselves, government has become the dumping ground for every failure in insight.  Designed to exist for our collective defense against attack, it now seeks to protect us against unconquerable foes such as changes in climate and equality of outcome.   The result is a morbidly bloated government that promises everything and secures nothing except the pathologic maintenance of the status quo. We are now inexorably committed to securing our future health and well being through devices that were inadequate from inception, long ago  destined for failure, and financially, catastrophically unsupportable.  And yet we cling to the concepts because the alternative to government’s sclerotic approach is to require some risk of ourselves, and anxiety makes it easier to pass the responsibility onto an unborn generation.  It won’t matter because the virus effecting all world order is the reliance on historical conditions that no longer exist and insight that long since failed.  The beauty of the critical thinkers that fashioned the Constitution is that they built the perfect machinery to evolve a society, rather than codify solutions.  We need a return to critical thought processes in our governance to cleanse ourselves of the last century’s loss of focus.

Nationhood:  The concept of what makes a nation has been traditionally tribal.  A tribe linked by language – Uzbeks forming Uzbekistan, Swedes forming Sweden, Japanese forming Japan – has conceptually been the means of nation building.  Where ignored or artificially  subverted, strife has resulted.  Kurds have seen their cultural whole divided into multiple countries within each they are a restive minority. Catalonians feel little affinity with Spaniards. Yugoslavia was ripped apart by sectarian and religious differences once the totalitarian government fell.   The United States was formed on a unique concept-a union of various peoples bound by a political philosophical culture founded on British juris prudence, British legislative governance and the British concept of freedom of assembly and speech. To best codify this political culture, the tribe became Americans and the binding language of freedom, English.  The permanent nature of this union was never in doubt when America was seen as the beacon of freedom in a world of torment, and the nation was the undoubted economic superpower of the world.  Strains are developing, however, after decades of flat economic performance, progressive assault on institutions, and a general laissez faire attitude regarding the vulnerability of hard won freedoms.  There is a growing perception that there should not be an American “tribe”, and the nation should simply be a repository for whoever sees reason to subsist there.  The critical thought that formed unique nationhood for America is no less critical today, if the idea that a nation of shared ideals rather than genetic commonality is to survive.

This year, America has determined to vote for the end of something, rather than the birth of a new beginning.  The three top candidates for President will be 70 or older, by the time they would be inaugurated, and they are selling a clinging grasp of the past with promises of illogical economics, class and racial envy, and perpetuation of the status quo.  All of which are doomed.  It is understandable that a citizenry, poorly educated about its innate strengths, looks to others to be strong for it.   It is a scary time for those who see human freedom and individual opportunity for what it is – mankind’s most successful means of maximizing our species’ capabilities and conquering our fears and darker instincts.  Inevitably, the choice is ours. And regardless of what we think, history will not wait for us.

 

 

 

Posted in CULTURE, HISTORY, POLITICS | Leave a comment

Republican Party 1854 -2016(?)

The Republican Party - Heading For The Rocks?

The Republican Party – Heading For The Rocks?

On March 24th, 1854 in an unadorned schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin, a group of men came together to form a new political movement.  The impulse was provided by the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854, which opened two new territories to the possibility of slavery, allowing the settlers of both territories to determine through popular sovereignty the presence or absence of slavery in the territory.  This abrogated the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which permitted slavery in the Missouri territory to “balance” the entry of “free soil” Maine into the union, but contained any further slavery introduction below the 36th latitude. With the Kansas Nebraska Act, both Kansas and Nebraska fell above that line, and the future of slavery suddenly became a matter of who could get the greatest number of their supporters in place.  “Bleeding” Kansas resulted, with nasty violence growing rapidly into a low intensity civil war that predestined the massive carnage of the national civil war to come.  The nascent republicans in that schoolhouse recognized the country could not possibly survive the extension of a concept like slavery antithetical to the very foundational philosophy of an American union.  They determined to form a party that stood up for the concept of both personal and economic freedom, imbued in the slogan, “free labor, free land, free men.”  The party found its voice in the form of Abraham Lincoln, was forged through the ordeal of the Civil War, and became a dominant force in American politics.

The party has put forth great presidents like Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Reagan.  It has matured into a firm conservative reflection of the American experiment, championing free enterprise, personal initiative, fiscal responsibility, muscular defense, and equal opportunity.

The current party should be at its zenith.  Having secured itself as the effective representative of the individual versus the collective state, it has achieved current electoral dominance at the state level with 3044 of 5411 state lower chamber representatives, 1,134 of 1,972 state upper chamber representatives, 31 of the 50 US governorships, 246 0f 435 US Representatives, and 54 of 100 US Senators. That last piece of political unity with the nation, the Presidency, occupied by a philosophically secure conservative, stood before the party in 2016 like never before, with a cratering government party stuck  defending its last political redoubt reliant upon an unrelatable candidate potentially fatally weakened by felonous behavior with America’s most secret information.  The Republican Party appeared  poised for an electoral renaissance that would finally implement a fundamental restoration of the principles of exceptionalism that brought America such bounty and morally secure standing in the world.

Yet..Its all about to go up in smoke.

In 2016, the national party has been infected by an insurgency that is bringing it to its knees and will fracture it forever if not eradicated. The insurgency is through the dark forces of demagoguery and nihilism in the human form of one Donald Trump.  All democracies are potentially susceptible to the charlatan who speaks to the population’s baser instincts of survival, envy, and revenge.  It is why the prescient founding fathers secured a constitution with checks and balances, separating powers to prevent such a demagogue from usurping power.  It is why they devised an electoral college to prevent the   unrestrained mob majority from securing the executive.  To many in today’s day and age, however, these olympian principles that have bound America’s diverse population into a workable whole are entirely trifling.  In a complicated world full of competing strains, many people who feel left behind  are looking to others to solve their problems, and are willing to trust them with unbounded power to do so. Trump has seen this before in the microcosm of his own life, using the concept of self importance to overwhelm any careful vetting of facts.  It has led to a veneer of uninterrupted success, when the facts suggest multiple bankruptcies, failed concepts, and at times outright fraud.  It was a sign of his shrewdness that he felt the timing was right to sell his pablum on a national stage.

One doesn’t have to travel very far back in time to see this developing trend in American political discourse,  of the so-called indispensable man.  President Barrack Obama has been a savant in this tactic, presenting himself initially as the everyman, appearing from nowhere to course serenely above the fray, seeing not a white America or a black America, only America.  Obama suggested he could achieve through his very persona a resetting of  the national attitude on race, stop the oceans from rising, heal the earth, restore America’s reputation for fairness through  constant apology and humility, and fundamentally change America from its moorings in personal risk, unfettered markets, and non-collective morality driven individuality.  He progressively overcame the restraints of compromise and coordination through a combination of bully pulpit and executive action that circumvented those constitutional restraints.  The IRS became a tool for surgical strikes against perceived enemies.  The EPA devised a regulatory vendetta against coal and oil to attempt to make the market for the products untenable.  Budgets became quaint relics of the past, so that burgeoning unvetted spending would annually move forward, with the only alternative government shutdown. On and On.

Now Donald Trump has risen from the muck and fashioned himself a better, more streamlined version of Obama. Threats to those who would oppose him are now direct and malevolent. Other countries will pay for our laxity and incoherence. Banks and insurance companies will lose decision making capacity in their businesses. No proposed solutions, just the assurance that things will be “so much better”, “waste fraud and abuse” will be eliminated, and enemies will be “destroyed”.  The executive can be trusted with the coalescence of power because he is so much smarter, more successful, and realistic than everyone else, and is the greatest deal maker that ever lived.

A tired citizenry is increasingly vulnerable to such balderdash.  Say it enough and the seepage into the national consciousness can become unavoidable.  The weak , ineffective governments of 1920 Italy and 1932 Germany were susceptible to the ubermensch argument, and the results were devastating.  It is no small coincidence that Trump quotes Mussolini:

Trump quotes Mussolini on Twitter February 28,2016

Trump quotes Mussolini on Twitter February 28,2016

Is America the sheep the Trump lion is about to devour?  Possibly not, but the Republican Party will not survive the Trumpian form of fascism.  The virus of an unprincipled demagogue is not compatible with the generation of conservatives that conceived the ideal of the modern mantle of limited government, individual rights, tax fairness, national security, and belief in the founding principles.  If Trump achieves the coup d’etat and runs the primary table, the vast segment of millions of identified republicans who wear this mantle as the definition of the patriotic American will leave the party in droves, rather than directly participate in the country’s deconstruction.  To the party establishment who have help create this unbounded frondeur, a word of warning.  This particular Pandora’s box can not be re-sealed.  The Republican Party will permanently fissure and will cease to exist as a national force.  So get a grip, America.  You still have time to come to your senses.

For millions of Americans ,there can be no ‘getting’ along with our own home grown Mussolini.

mussolini

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