Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Tea Party's Roots

I love a good political dog fight, and that's certainly what we should be getting this Fall before the mid-term elections in November.  But, most political fights have two dogs, so to speak, and right now, I'm wondering who they are.
Lovely Sarah is there, so is John Boehmer for the GOP. Barak is doing his bit for the Democrats, but the other Dems are lying lo-oo-oo-w. So, where's the fight?
It's not even on the political screen, I'd say, it's in the financial markets Americans have learned to love to hate. While the Tea Party is urging votes for patriotism, religion and the troops, it has given only lip service to its original purpose. Has it forgotten that it came to life in 2009 when a financial expert in Chicago suggested starting a tea party to force the government to come to its senses, stop spending and get to work on solving America's financial mess.
The mess is still there, only bigger and more entrenched. The presence of the Tea Party has forced the GOP to make its Pledge to America - a lackluster promise of lower taxes and more citizen input, all papered over with a return to constitutional values. No detail but lots of "Mother and Apple Pie." Meanwhile, the Tea Party waves the flag and blusters over "big government."
And the President? I don't think he understands the problem. He's been co-opted by the Tea Party flag-wavers and so he can't suggest loudly that patriotism means higher taxes to help America out of the mire because that message would only stoke the Tea Party fires. His own political philosophy would not allow him to utter the words "less government," and his taking of the bait in Afghanistan has eliminated his 2008 anti-war message. So, he reaches out to college students, surely knowing that they probably won't bother to vote again, but using them to deliver his own version of the old Democratic tax-and-spend-us-into-prosperity message.
Meanwhile, the real GOP seems hypnotized. It's frozen in the spotlight glare, unable to see or comment, simply waiting for a voter verdict and hoping that when it comes in, the GOP will win and be able to handle the feisty Tea Partiers and use them for its own goals.
And, yes, Virginia, the financial markets are doing just fine - for now.
No honorable dog would allow itself to enter the ring.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jim Furyk

I've been playing golf and watching golf tournaments ever since my father, an Army officer who once was the commander of the 7th Cavalry unit General Custer led into the Little Big Horn, turned me over to an army golf instructior at the age of 10 and told him to make a lady of me. I had only the vaguest notion what that meant, but through the years it has become more and more clear.
Golf is a game one plays against oneself and for the honor of being able to say, "I made that score, not by cheating on the number of strokes I took or by moving the ball to get a better lie, but by controlling my nerves and muscles long enough to finish 18 holes." Being perfectly honest with oneself is the foundation of the game and it goes hand in glove with being respectful of others and admiring their successes as much as one takes pride in one's own.
I've watched Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus, Love, Couples, Mickelson, Singh and a host of others honor that code of ethics even when they must have been bleeding inside at losses they never would have experienced if only their muscles and nerves had held up.
And, last weekend, I watched the glory that is golf once more. Jim Furyk is a serious and respected golfer. He's quiet and tenacious on the course. I like to watch him play, not only for his unique swing but for his mastery of almost every type of golf shot. But, what we all have seen many times is his inability to hold on to his nerves and muscles to the 72nd green.
Sunday, he made it. Something inside him toughened up and he didn't let the final few holes get the best of him. So, he won the Masters and 12 million dollars, and I can't think of a better person to be the hero of 2010, a year when, heaven knows, we need a hero.
This weekend, it's the Ryder Cup and I truly hope Jim Furyk makes his mark again. He has the stuff of golf greatness, even at 40, if only he can tough it out to Sunday evening.  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Israel and Palestine

The clock struck midnight last night without any sign that Israel would, or could, continue the moratorium on West Bank construction. The settlers cheered, sent up blue and white balloons and poured a load of ceremonial cement into a hole meant to symbolize the start of a new building in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Mr. Abbas was consulting with his Arab brothers to try to decide what course of action Palestine should take. And Mr. Netanyahu was asking Mr. Abbas to be patient and not quit the peace process even before it really got started. And Hamas was telling a TV camera why Israel and the United States had never been serious about giving Palestine a real homeland.
As all that was going on, a few shells were lobbed into Israel.
It all was so familiar, and sad.
What seemed to me different this time was that, while we expect Mr. Abbas to have trouble controlling his constituency, this time it seems apparent that it's Mr. Netanyahu who is in difficulty with his. The Israeli political party he represents wasn't very helpful in calming the waters in the West Bank settlements. Some even called for a rapid restart to the building. The West Bank settlers would not listen to his pleas to stay calm and not provoke the Arab side. They responded with an all-day and all-night party to celebrate the lifting of the sanctions.
And this morning on the French news, President Sarkozy said that Europe would do all it can to find a way to a lasting peace in the Middle East but that without a solid, muscular American determination to control Israel, nothing can be achieved.
There we have it. The hopes for peace dashed once again and the world ever nearer to an outright Middle East conflict.
Whose fault is it? Can anyone say. Surely, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Senator Mitchell were trying hard to keep the Israeli governing party in line. Surely, Europe was talking to the Arab side quietly and fervently. Surely, Mr. Abbas wants peace so he can at last have a real state named Palestine. Surely, Israel wants a peace that it can rely on.  Even Syria seems committed to some sort of compromise.
But, who will bring Hamas and the Israeli West Bank settlers to the table? I don't think we have a clue.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

America and France

The French unions are on strike today - marching in all the large French cities against the gonvernment's new retirement law. The law moves retirement age from 60 to 67 in gradual steps over ten years. And, French workers will now have to pay into their form of social security for an extra year-and-a-half before being eligible for a full retirement.
I can hear you shouting "SIXTY !!!" - they must be mad. But, the French were given this cushy retirement plan in the 1980s by the only socialist president France has ever had, Francois Mitterrand. And, as we all know, once something is doled out by the government, it's very hard to take it away.
So, the French are out on the streets, as they love to be when the government does something they don't like. Most of the time, it results in a rollback of the new law or a compromise. Someone once said that France is the only country in the world where citizens strike first and negotiate later.
But, this time, it's Nicolas Sarkozy who's president. He was elected by the French, most of whom are still very conservative fiscally, to help pull the country out of its continuing economic decline. Now, Sarkozy is a tough cookie, if I may be so informal, and he's not about to change anything, because he believes, as do most experts, that if France doesn't change its national social security plan soon (as the rest of Europe is already doing), it'll be too late and the French will finish with no pension at all. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but you get the point.
That brings me to the mid-term American elections. Have you noticed the difference? Americans are not out in the streets, they are at election rallies and on TV. The average American is just as angry with his government as the French are, but in America it ends in political battles, not national walkouts.
The other difference is that this year Americans are asking the government to do less, not more. That would be a novel idea in France, where the government is expected to do everything. Just one example - Mr. Sarkozy has just announced that he's eliminating the Wedding Gift. You heard it right. Every French couple get a huge tax break in the year they marry to help them get settled. Can you imagine the uproar if President Obama suggested a Wedding Gift tax benefit for Americans?
So, we'll see what happens in November, but you can bet that Americans will vote, not strike, and they'll vote for less, not more, government. Maybe Americans aren't as stupid as the world likes to make them out to be. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

General Powell and John McCain

I saw Colin Powell on Meet the Press last week. He hasn't changed much - still smiling, calm and a Republican. It hurt to see him have to defend himself as being "still a Republican," adding that he thought there was room for many viewpoints in the GOP. His thoughts were very much on point in this week when the Tea Party seems to have swept to a pre-eminent position in the Grand Old Party. He asked why we are trying to paint President Obama as a Muslim or a non-American when he is clearly a US citizen and a Christian. He said we ought to be attacking Obama's policies and actions, not confusing the issue with non-facts to try to damage his standing with Americans - one is tempted to add, "even more than it already has been damaged by the President himself."
And, then, there was John McCain, a loyal Republican and patriot to the end, looking a little exasperated as he stood in the pit of the Senate debating the question of homosexuals in the armed forces. His position seemed so reasonable : let Secretary Gates and the Defense Department finish their report on the question before beginning the debate or changing the law.
Two Republicans, two personal histories, two loads to carry. But both of them defending Republican ideals of measured government and civil debate instead of name-calling and a rush to act for action's sake.
I hope Americans, and especially those who are our candidates in this election season, will follow Colin Powell's and John McCain's example. We can win, but it would be a shining example if we win with our heads held high and our ideals intact.
Several days later, I watched an episode of The Tudors - the one in which Thomas More is beheaded for not agreeing to what he saw as the illegal seizure of power by Henry VIII in divorcing Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, a course which required that he form a new church dedicated to his will alone. Just before he died, Thomas More said, "I am the King's good servant, but God's servant first." Thomas More is the patron saint of lawyers and he could not have given us a better motto to follow.
My dearly beloved GOP, please take note.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sarkozy and Merkel

It was probably not given much air time in the USA last week, but something significant happened in Europe.
French President Sarkozy was called to the European Union Headquarters in Brussels to explain his position on the French deportation of gypsies (Roms to be exact, who come from Romania and travel all over Europe).
France has been deporting Roms for several weeks now. They are rounded up in their camps, their caravans are confiscated, and they are put on charter planes and sent back to Romania, with about 350 Euros (270 US Dollars) in their pockets. In some cases, France has paid up to 3500 Euros to help Roms with a plan to re-integrate themselves into Romanian society - the money has resulted in a few small businesses but there's not much to show for France's efforts.
Romania has also received several billions of Euros from the European Union to settle Roms and integrate them into Romanian society. The program has yielded almost no result and the money has disappeared.
Roms are the pariahs of Europe. They are dirt poor, mostly illiterate and discriminated against vis-à-vis jobs and settlement space. France has been the exception, giving them a state health card and minimum funds for food and shelter.
Now, France has stopped and is deporting them. A European Commissioner said the deportations were reminiscent of French deportations of Jews during World War II. This caused President Sarkozy to react violently in Brussels. While defending his policy, he suggested that German Chancellor Merkel was also ready to begin deportations. She reacted equally violently, denying she had ever said such a thing. It must be said that the very word "deportation" is anathema in Germany because of Nazi treatment of Jews and Roms during World War II.
So, Brussels is trying to come up with a policy to integrate Roms into the European Union. This ought to have been obvious before France reacted to the presence of 300,000 Roms wandering all over France.
And, more importantly, Germany and France are at loggerheads over the Rom question. These two countries are the lynchpin of the European Union and if they fall out irreparably, we could be in for a much more fragmented Europe. Analysts are even suggesting that the Euro itself could be in jeopardy.
While this may seem trivial to the average American, it is not to be ignored. A fragmented Europe bickering over customs taxes, separate financial policies, immigration and borders could lead to what has occurred twice in the past century - worldwide war.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can We Be Calm about Muslims?

I was astounded by the comment I got about trying to get to know some Muslim Americans in order to understand that they are not the problem.
Our fight is with terrorists who are using Muslims pretty much in the same way American extremists are using American Muslims - to sow discord, mistrust and hatred. It suits their purposes to get all of us angry and frightened.
I was around in the 1960s when everyone was against Afro-Americans who were demanding their civil rights. Today's reaction to Muslims is a lot like that - hatred without a glimmer of information or comprehension of the real problems.
Can we be civil enough to lower the tone and try to solve the real problem instead of beating up on victims who were and are every bit as innocent as we were on 9/11 ?

Monday, September 13, 2010

One Wedding and No Funerals

We were at a family wedding this weekend. It was in Switzerland near Montreux and the weather was fantastic. After a week of rain, the sun came out and shone all weekend.
The bride and groom had been married ten days earlier at the mayor's office, as is required in civil law countries. But, the church wedding was for family and friends to celebrate with them. The church, decorated with white flowers and streamers, is 800 years old, at least some of it, and part of the old rampart wall still stands behind the church, which also served as a watch tower against attackers and as protection from enemies and night-prowling animals. The stained glass windows had been redone in a modern style in the 1980s. The minister was protestant.  The music was taped rock songs to the accompaniment of a live saxophonist (not Bill). Four generations of guests mingled during 18 hours, with no political or religious fights, no inter-generational tormenting, and only laughs and good words for each other. Weddings can do that to people.
That pretty much sums up Switzerland today. It is a country steeped in tradition and growing side-by-side with a modern world that recognizes churches as places for marriages, funerals, and museum tours the rest of the time. But, the Swiss are trying to hold on to their way of life and often get out of step with the rest of the world in doing so. Remember the "no minaret" referendum that passed nicely about a year ago?? But, at the same time, the Swiss are anxious to keep up with modern times - don't forget that it was the Swiss Canton of Vaud that welcomed Charlie Chaplin when nobody else wanted him.
That made me think of Charlie Rose again. One evening last week he had as his guest a Muslim professor who had been tossed out of both French and Swiss universities for seeming to support lapidation of women and other difficult-to-justify Sharia practices. His refusal to repent and his alleged support of terrorist cells got him booted out of mainland Europe. But, there he was on Charlie Rose's program, flouting interfaith relations and sounding harmless.
Do we do justice to Muslims when we support such pandering? I doubt it. There are vastly more Muslims in Europe than in the USA, and they are law-abiding, peaceful citizens who do their best to fit in, not an easy task when they are so often the focus for politicians and religious leaders who use them for their own ends.
Maybe we should invite some of our Muslim neighbors to a wedding once in awhile. And they could do the same. It might bring the whole picture back into better focus. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tony Blair and George W. Bush

Last night, I watched the Charlie Rose interview of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Blair has just published his political memoirs and he talked extensively about them and, in particular, about the Iraq invasion and President Bush.
It was a fascinating 45 minutes.
Tony Blair articulated with precision and clarity the reasons for the invasion and the ideas held by George W. Bush but never clearly explained. The fear of WMD, the concern that Saddam would wait out sanctions and then pursue his terrorist use of nuclear weapons, the need to draw the line somewhere vis-à-vis those terrorists who had attacked the Trade Center. But he was clear that September 11 had little to do with the reasons for the Iraq invasion.
He said that the Iraq war was won, but that we didn't realize how determined the terrorists would be in destabilizing the country. His position is that Iraqis were eager to govern themselves and paid the price in terrorist bloodbaths. He feels the same thing is now happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He turned to the question of Iran and said that, in his view, waiting out Iran with sanctions will probably lead nowhere and that we need to be clear that military action is always on the table. He thinks this is the only stance that might bring Iran around to abandoning its nuclear weapons program.   
If Bush had been able to articulate his views as clearly as Blair has, we might be living in a different world today, because he surely would have had more international support.
I think Tony Blair's memoirs are worth reading carefully, certainly for the past, but perhaps even more so for the future.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

This Presidential Remark Is More Telling

(CNN) – Those following President Obama’s prepared remarks during a speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Monday were thrown a bit of a curveball when it came to a description of his critics:
“Some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time and they’re not always happy with me. They talk about me like a dog. That’s not in my prepared remarks, but it’s true,” he told a crowd largely consisting of union members.

Now, recently I made an argument that Obama's leaving Michelle out of his Saudi trip could be interpreted many ways that don't lead to his being a Muslim. And, I still believe he's a Christian, but the remark quoted above tells me something fundamentally disconcerting about him.
Muslims detest dogs. Dogs are to Muslims what cockroaches are to us. That the President would use that comparison spontaneously tells me that in his sub-conscious he thinks like a Muslim.  His childhood images were Muslim and that has spilled over into his way of looking at the world. That's not bad in itself, but it may be bad for America if the President doesn't realize that his world view is to some extent not Christian but Muslim. And that probably leads to his political world view being to some extent Muslim, too. That's dangerous for the US and for the world.
He’s not American in his psyche, he never will be and he doesn't even realize it. He cannot possibly get it right about being President of the USA.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Weekend Is for Relaxing

It's Saturday evening here and I was at choir practice all afternoon because the new season of music is beginning.
We were in a little mountain village, Bernex, up above Evian and the weather was sunny and warm.
But, the signs of Autumn were everywhere - baled hay, gardens looking a little worn, and the cows were being brought down from their summer pasture higher up in the Alps.
It's a great tradition here to take the cows up in May during a festival so they can feed and make the milk that's especially good for cheese. The herders stay with the troop and do the milking and make cheese all summer long and each village has its special cheeses that can only be made because of the particular grass and water in their Alpine pastures. Then the herders bring them back in September with another festival. The cows are decorated with flowers and the men wear their traditional costumes. It's lots of fun to watch but a sure sign that summer is coming to an end.
So, happy weekend and start thinking about putting a fire in the hearth.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Obama and the Millenium Voters

I just read a piece in the New York Times that says polls are suggesting that young voters are deserting President Obama.
We all remember the droves of young people, many first time voters, who went to Obama rallies, knocked on doors for him and helped him win in 2008.
Well, two and a half years later, they're out of work or unable to find their first real adult job. That spells trouble on a lot of fronts.
First, we're wasting their talent and the money spent on their education.
But, we're also creating a mini-generation of young Americans who probably have serious doubts about the value of hard work or the American Dream. It'll be easy to turn that around if the great recession ends sooner than expected and they find good jobs.
But, what if they get stuck in a no-job rut. That's been happening in France for the last decade and its effect is to demoralize French young people who worked hard to get university degrees only to find that they can't earn enough to rent an apartment. So, there's been a rush back to their parents. I know that's also happening in the US. The result? Cynicism about any government or party, disenagement from the political process and in some cases, sympathy for extremist causes.
So, if Millemium Voters are deserting Obama, that's the good and the bad news.
As Bill Clinton said so succinctly, It's the economy, stupid. And we better get out the vote in November to begin the big task of turning the economy around...not just for ourselves, but to save the mini-generation of young people left out by Democratic spend and tax policies that are leading nowhere fast.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


There seemed to be several different themes this morning in the news.
First, the ink wasn't dry on the Israel-Palestine agreement to try to find a formula for peace when settlers in an Israeli colony were killed in a surprise attack
Second, Hurricane Earl is not yet sure exactly which path it will follow up the American East Coast.
Third, the last report on Katrina - Five Years Later was published in my local paper.
Where's the connection?
Maybe it's the government, because its role in all these will be vitally important.
The peace negotiations will surely be the target of many terrorist attacks, as Hezbolleh and Hamas try to destabilize the process for their own non-democratic political goals.
Hurricane Earl is already requiring government action - today from NOAA and tomorrow and over the longer term from national, state and local governments in an effort to avoid loss of life and property.
Katrina. We all know too sadly the governmental failures that surrounded it and that are still making the rebuilding process slower than it needs to be.
Let's hope this time around our political leaders hold on to the peace process, to the alert reaction required by Hurricane Earl, and to the final surge, if I may borrow the word, needed to finish the job in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
But, private Americans everywhere can help enormously - by supporting the peace effort and staying informed about the Middle East where so many of our national interests lie, by following the sound advice about how to protect loved ones' lives and property from Earl, and by not abandoning Katrina rebuilding efforts.
Afterall, the government is us, all of us, and our responsibility as citizens is to do our best each day to insure that America and the world survive as we all would like them to be for the next generation.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Give Him a Second Chance for All Our Sakes

I watched the President on TV last night, talking about Iraq and the Middle East and the economy. Seeing him made me remember that he’s a good father and husband but, as Michelle once remarked, needing a little hit on the head now and then to help him remember. I thought about him on a comedy spot in the Situation Room and playing games with Jay Leno about mopping up with a socialist broom.
Right then and there, I knew why you were elected.
It’s because you’re a really nice guy. You know, the pal we’d all like to have over for the Sunday football game, or invite to the Fourth of July barbeque. It’s actually hard not to like you. You make us smile, even laugh, when times are not exceptionally funny right now. That’s your charm.
But, dear Mr. President, maybe it takes another set of talents to run the country. Maybe what you need to do is give a few slaps around the ears to the Democratic leadership in Congress, or do a little tidying up in your White House staff. Your party cannot be right all the time. Nobody is.
Most of all, a little muscle when it comes to leading the world wouldn’t hurt.
If you lived outside the USA, as I do, you’d probably understand a lot more about why muscle works better than smiles when the chips are down, and sometimes just to be sure the chips will never be down. You made a big step in that direction last night regarding Israel and Palestine. But, don’t think your job is over, that the assignment can now be carried out by your appointees. Stay the watch. Don’t let anyone slack off or find excuses not to make peace, however fragile it turns out to be.
The same goes for the economy. Heaven knows, it needs all the help you and the rest of us can give it. Don’t let yourself fall into the partisan trap of siding with the Democratic Party just because it feels more comfortable to your liberal ideals. Be sure you include people from all points of view to discuss the issues and present ideas. You’re a constitutional lawyer. Don’t forget that social discourse makes the difference between democratic and other forms of government. Ronald Reagan was the last American President who never shouted or got angry, he just found solutions and worked with everyone to get them adopted. Give it a try and you’ll see how much things improve between you and your disenchanted electorate.
Keep up the jokes and charm, but give us all a little more of what we elected you to do – clean up Washington, not with a socialist mop but with a few well-defined and executed programs to get us back on our feet again and moving forward.