Monday, August 29, 2011

Casey Pops Time Out

Dear Readers,
My husband died Saturday morning after a very long and exhausting battle with heart disease. For twenty years he fought the problem of a heart muscle that was too weak to keep his system functioning. It brought many other problems with it - kidney failure, lack of lung fitness and a slow and irreversible eating away of his energy.
That said, he was an athlete all his life before his heart problem started. He was on one of the Swiss ski teams as a teenager and taught skiing, while at the same time being an architect and jazz musician, until that moment 22 years ago when his heart cried, "I can't do it anymore."
So, we have lived a full but increasingly restricted life. But he left behind thousands of happy memories and my sense of having been privileged to watch a fine human being fight for each day and win the battle for 20 years. Saturday morning the disease won. 
I am filled with grief and my heart, and the hearts of his many friends, ache for our loss.
But, he will always be there, watching over them, and me as I make a determined effort to continue to live.
To do otherwise would be a betrayal of his legacy.
So, I'll be back this weekend, but in the meantime, enjoy some of the earlier blogs and keep my husband in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

St. Luke, the Patron Saint of Doctors

For family reasons, I have spent a lot of time recently in a university hospital in Switzerland. The doctors there are well-trained, efficient, polite and hard-working.
Today, as I was watching several of them try to figure out what to do, I thought about the doctors around the world who work in far worse conditions and with older equipment and medications. Medecins sans Frontiere, for example, is all over the world, and especially in Africa, trying to help in natural disaster conditions, with war casualties, and preventing or arresting epidemics.  
There were images this week of doctors in Tripoli, asking the world for help because they had no more blood plasma or drugs.  Doctors have been arrested or harassed in Syria for trying to help the wounded.
In Europe and America, we tend to think of doctors as a highly-paid elite whose social and financial advantages are great. But, there are doctors all over the world, from the Appalachians to Bangladesh, from Haiti to the Philippines, who are working long hours under enormously difficult conditions simply to save lives and make everyday existence less dangerous.
And, just a word for the generalists, a rapidly disappearing type of doctor. Today, I watched as one, named for the patron saint of doctors and very close to retirement, made a special trip to the Swiss hospital to try to help an old friend battling serious infections and the younger doctors whose experience may be lacking for the problem they are wrestling with.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Germany's Angela Merkel and the Tea Party

Last week, I wrote that the crisis in Europe will be settled only when and if Angela Merkel convinces the German voting public to support the rest of the Eurozone more or less forever.
Today, Mrs. Merkel said that the idea of Eurobonds, which would degrade the quality of the German bund (bond) and help all other Eurozone countries’ bonds be acceptable to the investment community, is a foolish idea which would not solve anything except to make the Eurozone a debtors’ compact.
So, it will not be tomorrow that we see Germany step up to save the Euro and the Eurozone countries.
But, today, Angela Merkel was elected by Forbes Magazine as the most powerful woman in the world.
So, Mrs. Merkel has a lot going for her, if she chooses to use it, in trying to steer the Eurozone away from more debt and bigger deficits toward a balanced-budget-zone with conservative financial rules, which is her preferred path.
In many ways, Mrs. Merkel is the one-person Tea Party of Europe.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DSK Has All Charges Dropped and an Earthquake Hits the East Coast of America

Today, as a New York City judge was dismissing all charges against former IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the case of his alleged sexual assault on a New York hotel maid, an earthquake of 5.8 on the Richter Scale, shook the eastern United States. As the judge was talking, the courthouse shook and people in the courtroom scurried out and down eight floors of stairs to get out of the building.
Now, I do not pretend that the two events were related. But maybe, just maybe, there is Somebody up there who was not amused, as Queen Victoria used to say, at the day's judicial events.
If so, I agree with that Somebody.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and the End of the Libya Civil War

President Abraham Lincoln is surely the most eloquent president America has ever had. And, if we exclude the almost miraculously heaven-sent Gettysburg Address, his Second Inaugural Address is considered by many to be his finest.
The Second Inaugural Address is a short speech which summarizes the reasons for the American Civil War, the wrongs righted by that war and the marks it left on the nation and its citizens, both black and white.
As we celebrate with Libya its liberation from the tyranny of the Qadhafi reign of terror, I thought about the Second Inaugural Address. What would Mr. Lincoln have said today to Libya and the world?
Certainly, he would have acknowledged that this time justice won, with the help of the Divine, and thus saved an innocent and beaten down people who were long ignored in their suffering.  
Certainly, he would have thanked the Almighty for the deliverance granted to the Libyan people, and especially for those brave freedom fighters who fought their way along the desert roads from Benghazi to Tunisia and back to Tripoli.
Certainly, he would have wished fervently that the war would not forever scar the country, but that its citizens would come together to build the nation they long for and deserve if they are able to secure it.
Mr. Lincoln, being the great orator he was, would have found the proper words to describe the evil visited upon the Libyan people by the Qadhafi cohort, something none of us has yet been able to do, for the thrust and parry of war has occupied our minds and prayers and has made us rush to our maps more often that usual, so that now we know where Benghazi is and how difficult was the six-month journey the freedom fighters made to arrive finally in Tripoli this last weekend.
But, I believe Mr. Lincoln would have ended his speech about the liberation of Libya with the same words he used in his Second Inaugural Address to bring cloture to the America Civil War.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”  ______President Abraham Lincoln, 4 March, 1865.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Victory Belongs to the Libyan Freedom Fighters

Napoleon said, “Victory belongs to the most persevering.”
Tonight in Tripoli, the rebel freedom fighters of the National Transition Council can say that they persevered and they won.
Qadhafi’s elite military guard has deserted him, throwing down their weapons and joining the NTC fighters.
Rebel spokesmen report that Said and Saadi, two of Qadhafi’s sons, have been captured.
Even as Qadhafi calls for Tripoli residents to go out into the streets to fight off the rebels, he is being ignored and Tripoli citizens are celebrating, cheering for the rebel soldiers as they pass by in their now-famous pick-up trucks. CNN is reporting that in the streets of Tripoli, one can hear cries of “Allahu Akbar” - God is Great.
Earlier today, the military base and ammunitions dump of one of Qadhafi’s elite units near Tripoli was overrun without resistance, and the rebels tossed ammunition into their trucks to be used in the Tripoli assault.
But, these joyful hours just after midnight on Monday, 22 August 2011, are also dangerous. No one is now really in charge in Tripoli. The rebel leaders say they will advance through the city carefully to avoid wounding or killing peaceful civilians.
No one knows exactly where Qadhafi is, but we can be sure that his inner circle of fanatic followers are positioned around him waiting to defend their “Guide,” as Qadhafi likes to call himself.
But, their effort will be in vain because the regime of Moummar Qadhafi is in the process of disintegrating and passing into history.
The nightmare has ended for all Libyans who suffered so terribly under his terrorist control.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Does Bashar al-Assad Think Everybody in the World Is Stupid?

Two days ago, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad promised the world that the "security" forces had ended their incursions into Homs, Latakia, and the rest of Syria, where, since March, they have been shooting at and killing civilians, arresting innocent citizens, subjecting those arrested to beatings, torture and death, and allowing armored tanks to fire indiscriminately into neighborhoods. All because the Syrian people want to be rid of al-Assad and his security forces and choose their government for themselves.
Since his promise on Thursday, al-Assad's forces have pounded Homs, taken prisoners, killed more Syrian citizens and rounded up many civilians in Latakia.
Does he think we're all stupid, or that we don't really care how much harm and terror he inflicts on his own people?
Or was he simply doing a little "tidying up" of recalcitrants before the UN delegation arrives on Sunday? Because it might look bad if there were street marches during their visit. Or, since it is obvious that no amount of terror tactics from hoodlum security units is going to stop the Syrian people from trying to oust al-Assad and his cronies, did he just want to lower the risk of being embarrassed in the presence of his UN guests.
I really don't know the answer.
But, I do know until today, the world has been dealing with Bashar al-Assad as if he were normal, as if he could respond to reason, as if talking and cajoling and threatening could make him stop his murderous assault on innocent people. 
The world was wrong.
Bashar al-Assad is a raving lunatic. He prefers murder to discussion. He prefers security sweeps to sitting down with the Syrian people to try to work out a future for the country. He prefers lying about his motives and his activities to telling the truth. 
Does this remind you, dear readers, of anyone else? Moummar Qadhafi perhaps? 
So, we now have two madmen to deal with.
Bombs and soldiers seem to be doing the job in Libya. Why not try them in Syria?

Friday, August 19, 2011

It's Up to Germany Now

After a week in which European stock markets lost more than 5% on average, and the Americans didn't do any better, the questions are flying fast and thick about what's happening and how to cure the illness. Analysts want to find "a bottom" to the market so it will start to rise again. They want to see better employment numbers in America so markets
will rise again (wouldn't we all like to see that!). They want Asia to bail out the Euro. They want, in a word, Santa Claus in August.
My dear readers, it is not going to happen.
One thing is sure. America will get hold of its debt problem. It'll find a way to power over political differences and get the job done. It always has. The worst of all bad news would be if America fails to come through this time. It will take more muscle than President Obama seems to have, but there are others, the old pols, who will push him forward to where he should have been all along - leading. Or they will simply walk over him.
The real question, the moment of truth, does not lie with America. It lies squarely on the doorstep of Germany. It is now or never for Europe and the concept of a common currency, and only Germany has the financial muscle to save either one.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has, despite teh bad press she usually receives, paid a lot of German tax money to keep the Eurozone and the European concept alive. She has done it despite a  staggering 75% of her citizens wishing that she would stop and save some of Germany's money for use at home (does that sound familiar, my dear American readers?).
Merkel will need to be heroic to save either the Euro or the European Union concept as it is now structured.
Perhaps she will succeed. Perhaps she will overcome the huge political problem she has at home and force Germans to follow her into the morass of paying for all of Europe for all time - because that's what she will need to agree to do. France cannot do it, nor can any other  European country.
So, forget about unemployment figures and bottoming out. Forget about Greece's bankruptcy. Forget about the recent market crash of French banks (the most conservative in Europe, by the way).
Follow Angela Merkel and the German electorate. That is where Europe's future lies, and the decision will have to be made before the end of 2011 in order to save Europe before it is shredded into such tatters that even Angela's fine hand will not be able to stitch it back together.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rick Perry Is Right about Global Warming

Texas Governor Rick Perry has opened the global warming box that the world has been afraid to look into ever since the “politically correct” thing to do was to smile at Al Gore and be nice to the folks who are pitching “green” as a replacement for “growth.”
It seems long ago but it was early in 2010 when the committee of scientists published the startling UN report explaining how fast the world is warming and how the only solution is to stop emitting greenhouse gases. Their numbers and mathematical logic were proven wrong, but nobody could simply say “the Emperor has no clothes.” Instead, we were all fed the line that the conclusion was right even if the numbers were concocted out of air and slight of hand.
But, along comes Rick Perry, the newest Republican candidate for president, whose frank approach to politics is refreshing, to say the least. His comment about global warming?
Perry told the Guardian, a respected English newspaper, that global warming is "one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”
Perry hit the mark dead on. We do not know much, if anything about global warming cycles. We may know why they occurred tens of thousands of years before the internal combustion engine created the industrial age. It is perhaps a cycle of CO2 that rises from volcanoes and falls into the seas, warming them before being re-absorbed back into the magma deep under the seas and re-rising to be spewed again from volcanoes. The El Nino cycle may have something to do with it. It May Be. Nobody knows and anyone who tells you differently is lying or has been sold a rather large Brooklyn Bridge.
Manmade CO2 is evidently not something to be proud of in excessive quantities. It can be reduced, even eliminated from some industrial processes. It cannot be eliminated from cow dung, which is one of its greatest sources.
But, what is stifling to growth is to have governmental agencies pass regulations that make the elimination of greenhouse gases (CO2 and others) the most important work of industry. Developing countries who are still building their industrial base are right to fight its being applied one-to-one for them, the same as for already-developed industrial countries.
American industrial countries are right to complain bitterly that they cannot maintain their EPA profile as the government wants it to be and at the same time lead the world’s industrial engine.
Natural resource companies, oil and gas for example, are right to ask that “green” regulations at least take into account that the main purpose of these companies is to produce carbon-based fuels, which we all need.
I am not advocating going back to the smoky, coal-dust days before World War II. And, by the way, it was the Republican Mellon family that joined hands with a powerful Pittsburgh Democrat mayor, who probably started the whole “green” idea because they just wanted to clean up Pittsburgh, which was then the steel-making capital of the world. They succeeded without an EPA to tell them what to do. They succeeded because they were civic-minded and wanted their city to be one they could be proud of.
So, clean, yes. Fewer greenhouse emissions, yes. But not to the degree that they halt the fundamental industrial processes that make our world function. And not to the degree that make goods and services made in the developed world become so expensive that they can no longer compete with those coming from the developing world that often ignores the environment. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Putin and Medvedev Go Fishing while Russia Exports Arms to al-Assad

Ten people were killed by al-Assad forces on Wednesday, as the Syrian leader, speaking to a convention of his Baath Party, vowed to “remain firm” against the pressures being applied by the rest of the world. It was the first such Baath Party meeting since the riots began six months ago.
Well might al-Assad posture, because the European Union, the United States and some Arab countries have demanded a special convocation of the Council of Human Rights of the United Nations. This is a seldom-used procedure and should apply even more pressure to the Syrian regime, but it seems that pressures are not enough to stop the killings for the moment.
Door-to-door searches were mounted in Latakia and Damascus today, with many arrests being made. A civilian living near Deir Ezzor was shot on his balcony early this morning by security forces.
Palestinian refugees in a compound near Latakia are caught in the attacks and the UN is trying to relocate 400 of these families.
Tunisia has become the latest Arab country to recall it ambassador from Damascus. Saudi Arabia, Koweit and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors ten days ago.
And, despite all the international pressure and the estimated 1,800 dead in the Syrian security force sweeps, Russia continues to deliver arms to al-Assad. This was reported by French news channels to have been confirmed by the Russian public export agency, Rosoboronexport.
Could Mssrs Putin and Medvedev halt their much-publicized fishing trip just long enough to try to control these murderous exports of arms to a regime engaged in an immense bloodbath?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Obama Tosses His Hat in the Ring from a Black Bus

President Obama said he was on a White House trip, so it'll be paid for by taxpayers, but his shiny new million dollar black bus trip through the Middle West sure seemed to me like a campaign whistle stopper.
His remarks were the same old stuff - raise taxes on the rich, cut loophole for oil and gas companies, save the American family, and toss out a Congress that disagrees with me. And, in case you voters have forgotten, I inherited all this mess and I'm just watching while Washington dysfunctions, the same as you are.
We've heard it all before. The latest twist is that Obama is promising a "plan" to deal with jobs in September. It seems to me that if he actually has a plan, which I seriously doubt, he ought to put it on the table right now. Americans have suffered through two years of extremely high unemployment. Why wait for September to try to solve the problem??
And, as we all remember, the President has not just been watching in Washington. He managed to pass an 800 billion dollar bailout program with his Democratic-controlled Congress in 2009. He managed to get his Obamacare bill passed, again with a Democratic-controlled Congress. So, he can't say he's just a bystander. And he certainly can't say he has nothing to do with the mess America is in because he helped create it with spending that's so far out of line with US historical spending levels that it takes one's breath away.
Meanwhile, his Obamacare is being nibbled at by federal appellate courts because it contains unconstitutional penalty provisions papered over as taxes that overreach the Commerce Clause's scope. The Supreme Court will almost surely finish the job.
So, what is the record he's running on? A large deficit and a year wasted on a health care law nobody wants, except him.
Maybe he's masquerading as one of the Men in Black - on a black bus going nowhere.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Battle of Tripoli and the Siege of Tobruk

Swiss and French radio news reported today that the freedom fighters of the Libyan National Transition Council are close to surrounding and sealing off Tripoli. The Swiss report included an interview with a staff member of the journal Young Africa, stationed at Benghazi, who said that Tripoli is now without water, that there is no fresh food entering the city and that electricity is severely rationed. The escape and supply route once held by Qadhafi from Tripoli into Tunisia to the west is now sealed off and he is more or less trapped in Tripoli.
There was agreement among the reporters that the Battle of Tripoli will soon begin in earnest.
It made me think of Tobruk, that great World War II siege carried out by the Nazis under Field Marshall Rommel in 1941 against the Australian troops stationed there, who held on for five months before being relieved by British, Polish and Czech troops, and later, the American 8th Army. The siege lasted 240 days. The breaking of the siege of Tobruk marked the first time that Rommel’s Panzers were beaten by the Allies in the North African campaign.
Tobruk was important because it was the only large port between Benghazi farther west and the Egyptian border. Holding the city was crucial to the Allied effort in North Africa because if it had fallen into Nazi hands their supply lines would have been shortened. The siege also kept Rommel from threatening the important Allied hubs at Alexandria and Cairo farther east.
So, we now await another siege in the desert of North Africa, this time not between the Allies and Nazis but between the despot Qadhafi and the NTC freedom fighters. It would be wrong to say that the stakes are small by comparison, because if the NTC forces hold their positions and break Qadhafi’s grip on Tripoli, it will mean the end of his regime and the beginning of the real effort to reform and democratize Libya.

Qadhafi's Supply Lines in Danger of Falling into Rebel Hands

It was late last night when the news became clear - the Libyan freedom fighters have taken at least the major part of  Zawiyah, a town 50 kilometers west of Tripoli that is very important in the Qadhafi regime’s supply lines from Tunisia. With Zawiyah in the hands of the insurgents, Qadhafi will have difficulty maintaining the flow of supplies of petroleum, food and other necessities needed in Tripoli.
The rebel national transition council reports that 52 Qadhafi force soldiers were captured in the attack, which was described as difficult because Qadhafi regime forces held civilians hostage in buildings along the route.
Qadhafi sources say that the southern and western entries to Zawiyah were secured by the rebels but that they have not been able to enter and fully control the city.
At the same time, the NTC says it has “total control” of the 15 kilometers between Zawiyah and Sorman, another coastal town important for Qadhafi supply lines from Tunisia.
Qadhafi himself remained defiant last night, announcing that the rebels were fleeing “like rats” and that “the masses” were driving them away from Tripoli.
French media report that, despite heavy UN bombings, the lack of coordination and professional military leadership is preventing the freedom fighters from gaining advantage of the situation.
We will have to wait for more clarity. But, one thing is clear - Qadhafi forces are not advancing as before and the rebels seem to be on the move toward Tripoli more than ever.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bachmann, Paul, Pawlenty...and Perry

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll today with 4800, or 27%, of the 16,790 votes cast. Congressman Ron Paul was second with just under 4700 votes. Third, surprisingly, was former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Mitt Romney, the so-called frontrunner for a year now, garnered fewer than 500 votes, because he chose not to participate in the straw poll. Newt Gingrich, with 69 votes, can go back to preaching Georgia conservatism on Fox News.
But, the real political news today was Texas Governor Rick Perry’s announcement in a South Carolina speech that he is now a candidate for the 2012 presidency. With Perry’s hat in the ring, Mrs. Bachmann has the kind of competition she has so far lacked. Perry is what Americans call a “social conservative.” He supports the GOP conservative wing’s platforms of pro-life, and the importance of a religious presence at the heart of the GOP’s conscience, as well as fiscal conservatism’s low taxes and balanced budget goals.
Michele has had these key GOP ideals, in a bundle, all to herself until now. But, with Perry’s entry, she will have to deal with someone who has the social conservative credentials to match hers, and who also can boast about being governor on one of the few states that has added jobs in his state during the recent recession and who has actually managed a political entity, unlike Mrs. Bachmann whose congressional experience, while important, is a lot like the experience Barak Obama brought to the presidency with miserable results.    
So, the race is engaged and now we will listen and weigh the words of the real frontrunners - Bachmann, Perry, Paul, and Romney (I’m not so sure he really has a future, but he does have a lot of money in his presidential war chest and can cause trouble for those trying to unseat him as frontrunner).
However, it would be wise to remember that Romney won the 2008 Iowa straw poll, only to fall flat as Huckabee beat him in the real Iowa caucuses that decided how the Iowa GOP would vote at the convention that nominated the 2008 GOP candidate.
So, Romney may not be dead yet, and there just may be someone besides Michele Bachmann to beat him. Someone like Perry.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear but the Triumph Over It - Nelson Mandela

The United States is tightening sanctions against the Syrian al-Assad regime.  The US Treasury Department has announced that the mobile phone operator Syriatel, the Commercial Bank of Syria and the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank have been designated. It said Americans are "generally prohibited from engaging in commercial or financial transactions" with the companies.
CNN reported that Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said the government is "taking aim" at the "financial infrastructure" of President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, criticized for cracking down on peaceful protesters over the last five months.
In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton targeted Syria’s oil industry, telling reporters, "We urge those countries still buying Syrian oil and gas, those countries still sending Assad weapons, those countries whose political and economic support give him comfort in his brutality, to get on the right side of history." Mrs. Clinton specifically named China, India and Russia. The International Monetary Fund says that oil and gas make up about a quarter of the Syria's economy.  
Secretary of State Clinton said the United States and its allies are trying to help opposition groups "create a unified vision of what an inclusive participatory democratic system in Syria could look like."
But, the killing goes on. After prayers today, some 16 Syrian protesters were shot after they emerged from their mosques to join marches against the Syrian regime.
In a further escalation, the President of the Syrian Human Rights League, Abdel Karim Rihaoui, was arrested by al-Assad authorities. The UN, the Unites States, Italy, France and Turkey have protested vigorously to the al-Assad regime, demanding his immediate release.
Nelson Mandela said, in speaking of his own political imprisonment, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
We might say that the quotation also applies to all the Syrian marchers, who are risking their lives for freedom.    

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Death of Heros

Sorry, dear readers, that I missed yesterday’s blog, but I had an experience that has, I am sure, marked me forever.
My husband is chronically seriously ill and spent July in hospital. He came home last Thursday and we had to go to his doctor yesterday. Entering the building, he partially lost consciousness and fell backwards onto a marble floor, hitting his head. He was conscious but bleeding profusely because he takes blood thinners. I watched it in what seemed slow motion, knowing that he had killed himself. But, he opened his eyes and said, “Je tiens, ambulance.” (I’m holding on, ambulance.)
After the emergency call and while I was afraid to move him, blood started oozing all around his head. It finally covered an area the size of a 15-inch halo and I thought he had cracked his skull.
As if in a miracle, a young doctor walked into the building, saw the blood, said don’t touch him, and ran to get his kit. He saved my husband’s life, I am sure.
The ambulance arrived, the skull was intact, there were no broken bones, and my husband is back in hospital trying to recover yet again.
But, in those moments when I was watching, helpless, I saw images of my father, a career infantry officer - WWII, Korea, Vietnam - and wondered how many time he had knelt, helpless, beside one of his men, shot and bleeding to death, his hands covered with the dying man’s blood as mine were with my husband’s. As my father aged, he would get tears in his eyes when he talked of his men, who were for him, the most important people on earth. He won many medals but he always said that they weren’t for him but for his men.
And, then I thought of the pieces I’ve written about men dying in Syria, Libya or Egypt. And, suddenly, I saw their wives, children, mothers, fathers, comrades in arms kneeling beside them, watching the life bleed out of them, helpless.  For them, there was no world class ambulance to save them. There was only their determination to die, if need be, for their dignity as human beings, for the freedom to live in the way that they knew was their right.
The reported 50’s dead, the 15’s wounded, the 100’s fired on and in harm’s way. They will never be numbers again for me. They will be my husband lying there dying, drenched in their own blood. Heros in the cause of freedom.
My husband is out of harm’s way, and when I visited the hospital today I told him what I had experienced, and he looked at me and then turned his eyes away. He knew my father. He now knows the many men who are dying in equally brave circumstances, for freedom and heroic love of family and country.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What Your Mother Told You Is Coming True Grand Scale, Good-bye S&P

Every Mother in the world tells her children that they cannot spend more than they have. We all learn to save and to control our expenditures so that we will have something "put aside" for a "rainy day." 
Well, somebody forgot to tell the world's governments what every mother's child knows. They have been spending without thought to tomorrow and without saving for a rainy day. That day is here and we now see the result.
Who is to blame? I really don't think it matters very much. Some elected officials will lose at the next elections. Some monarchs in the Arab world will tighten their belts - no new 747s, no new cars...and no more towers to the sky, except for the ones already underway. China will try to manipulate its economy out of the troubles it created by trying to spend itself to world economic dominance. Europe will revert to nation states, letting the Euro find its natural level in the countries that can support its presence, and the other European countries will go back to their old currencies. Will they be chastened, finally, to save a little and not to live on borrowed funds that the rest of the world can no longer afford? We hope so because there is no more money to bail them out.
And America? My guess is that she will come out still leader, still the backstop for the world's economic and social problems, still the "hope on the hill." But, even in America, people will learn to live with less, to love frugality, and to expect less of their government that can only give what their citizens pay as taxes in the first place.
This will all be wrenching and we will feel often that the end of the world is near. It isn't. But, we must change so that our world doesn't become again the barbarous one of the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Standard & Poor's??? My guess is that they are "chopped liver" as New Yorkers would say. Consigned to the garbage heap of financial history because their overbearing pride and hubris made them take that one step too far. No one can dictate to the entire world. No one can cause the damage S&P has caused in the past three days. No one is above the law of common sense and reason. No one is Hitler, so to speak.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Syria's al-Assad Isolated but Clinging to Power

Today, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain denounced the actions of Bashar al-Assad and his regime and recalled their Syrian ambassadors. The Saudi king said that al-Assad’s actions contravene their religion’s humanitarian and moral codes. The Imam of the highest sunni institution, Al-Azhar in Cairo, also condemned al-Assad’s actions, saying they had passed the limits acceptable.
The Syrian regime is becoming more and more isolated, but the killing continues and al-Assad seems not to hear what the world is saying.  
The north of Syria is undergoing what could be called a “political cleansing,” with towns being invested, men humiliated, children killed, teenage boys arrested and tanks firing indiscriminately on civilians.
In Deraa, the militant Maan Awadat, the brother of opposition leader Haithem Manaa who lives in France, was shot in the head in what was called by human rights groups a political assassination.
The al-Assad endgame must be near, but how it will end is not clear. This is because the Syrian military has, so far, supported him. There are many regiments which are not engaged, but those involved in the attacks are long-time comrades of the Syrian leader and regional analysts suggest that they are fighting for their own lives and futures, as much as for al-Assad’s, for they would be sanctioned with him if the regime falls.
The Turkish foreign minister has a difficult day ahead of him on Tuesday when he will talk with al-Assad and deliver the messages from world leaders that the killing must stop and the repression must end.
What will come next is not clear, but surely al-Assad cannot hang on to power much longer. If the majority of the non-combatant military join the marchers, we will see al-Assad fall.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Syrian Bloodbath Continues

Syrian security forces killed 52 people on Sunday, 42 in the town of Deir Ezzor, 250 miles north of Damascus. Thousands are reported to have fled the town today.
The killings were justified by Bashar al-Assad as needed to eliminate “outlaws.”
The Syrian League for Human Rights reported that 10 marchers were also killed today in the region near Homs, stating that some 250 tanks and armoured troop carriers are involved in the attacks.
The marches are those planned for every day after the Ramadan evening prayers.
Both Pope Benedict XVI and the Arab League have called for the violence to stop. Today’s statement by the League is the first against al-Assad since the attacks against Syrian citizens began in March. The League secretary-general called for all security sweeps against civilians to stop immediately.
UN Secretary-General Ban-ki-Moon phoned al-Assad Saturday to demand that the violence stop now.
Germany, France and America are considering new sanctions against the al-Assad regime and clique.
Turkey, apparently completely exasperated with al-Assad, has decided to send its diplomatic head to Damascus Tuesday to express with force its call for an end to the killings and repression.
It is reported by the Syrian official news agency that when the Lebanese foreign minister spoke with al-Assad this weekend, the Syrian president said that “such attacks are required when there are outlaws blocking roads, closing towns and terrorizing the population.”
Thus far, 2059 deaths have been confirmed by Syrian human rights groups during the security sweeps against the marchers, among which are 391 military and security personnel.
Will it take the deaths of all civilians before al-Assad feels secure? And, more importantly, will the world intervene before the death toll mounts even more? Because it is quite clear that reason is not a language that Bashar al-Assad understands.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

President Obama's and the Tea Party's Political Tombstone

As we all knew from the moment when President Obama demanded higher budget cuts than John Boehner could deliver, given the "no new taxes" stand of the Tea Party on his GOP’s right wing, the United States has lost its triple-A credit rating from Standard & Poor's.
It is a dramatic embarrassment and condemnation for the world's largest economy.
S&P cut the long-term U.S. credit rating by one notch to AA-plus on concerns about growing budget deficits.
"The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics," S&P said in a statement.
"More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18," the statement said.
S&P warned U.S. officials that if they did not cut spending by $4 trillion, the rating would be at risk. Congress and Obama, who squabbled for days, had great difficulty in agreeing to cuts of $2.1 trillion.
The downgrade came after a Friday afternoon of news leaks, during which Standard & Poor's told the U.S. government that it was going to downgrade the U.S.'s triple-A credit rating and U.S. officials notified S&P that it had made a $2 trillion mathematical error.
The error was in the calculation of the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio over time and was based on a misreading of what the correct congressional baseline was, according to government sources. They said that once informed of the error S&P revised its rate-cut rationale to emphasize the political aspects of the country's debt situation.
David Beers, who is the head of sovereign ratings at S&P, acknowledged that the agency's decision was highly influenced by the change in Washington's "political dynamics" that hampered members of Congress from reaching a more comprehensive plan to cut the deficit.
"From the standpoint of fiscal policy, the process has weakened and became less predictable than it was," he said.
In other words, part of the reason it downgraded the U.S. was because of the debt ceiling feud in Congress.
As its answer, and still in full denial, a US Treasury spokesman said, "A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself."
In short, dear readers, the debt ceiling debacle has led directly to the calamitous lowering of America’s debt rating. There is no need to look farther for a reason. If the members of Congress and the President had done their jobs professionally, the rating would still be AAA. Instead, AA+ is the epitaph on their collective tombstone.
The most troubling aspect of the entire affair is that, instead of addressing the reasons for the downgrade, the United States Treasury has taken the position that it was downgraded because of mathematical errors made by S&P. (We have yet to hear from the President, perhaps because it is not an important matter for him?)
Of course, S&P math errors are not the reason. The reason is that America has far too much debt, both short and long term, and it has no plan whatsoever to deal with the problem and no political will to overcome partisan politics in order to lower the debt.
Let’s hope that America has not had its tombstone epitaph written, too, on Friday, 5 August 2011.

PS: U.S. Treasury bonds, undisputedly seen as the safest investment in the world, are now rated lower than bonds issued by countries such as the UK, Germany, France or Canada.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Reflections on Justice and the Arab Spring

We are witnesses to the beginning of trials for those leaders who controlled the despotic regimes targeted by freedom fighters in the Arab Spring.
First, Ben Ali of Tunisia was before the bar of justice, in absentia since he is being sheltered in Saudi Arabia. He was tried and found guilty of misuse of public funds, illegal possession and sale of drugs and illegal possession of firearms. The misuse of funds was fairly clear since the money was found in a safe in his home. The drugs were also found, but there was little evidence of his selling them. As for the illegal possession of firearms, his lawyer said most were gifts of state on display. We do not know the truth because the 2 trials were held quickly and the decisions arrived several hours after deliberation began. Future trials concerning the murder of marchers will take longer and we are promised more witnesses and better proof.
This week, we saw Hosni Mubarak being wheeled into court on a hospital bed to be present at his trial. He has pleaded not guilty to ordering the murder of marchers and of corruption. We do not know the outcome of this trial. But, from every corner of the Arab world, we have heard that there is satisfaction with the trial and the sight of Mubarak before the bar of justice.
More trials will follow - of presidents deposed, of their friends and supporters, of police and military who kept them in power.
I think it is time to reflect on Justice.
President Barak Obama said in Cairo that “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Obama’s definition of Justice is Anglo-Saxon, that is, a well-organized and historically accepted system of laws and legal procedures.  
Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy articulated the same idea, “For all my years in public life, I have believed that America must sail toward the shores of liberty and justice for all. There is no end to that journey, only the next great voyage. We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.”
In the western tradition, Justice is easily defined, if not so easily arrived at. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a great advocate for Justice for American minorities, said “Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.”  And President Eisenhower warned that “Though force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.”  This connection between Justice and peace has been made by many, including Pope Paul VI, who said, “If you want peace work for justice.”
None of these dedicated men and women were vindictive. They did not demand oppressive measures as punishment, but rather reasonable punishment meted out by courts with well-established systems of law balanced by mercy. For as Shakespeare said in speaking of Justice versus forgiveness, “The quality of mercy is not strained; it drops as the gentle rain from heaven.” It was Racine, the great French thinker, who wrote, “Justice in the extreme is often unjust.”
These concepts are difficult, especially for those in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries touched by despotism and regime violence of the most horrible kinds. The idea of “an eye for an eye” is always present in the hearts of those who have been oppressed beyond their capacity to endure.  As long ago as ancient Greece, Aeschylus understood this dilemma: “For there is no defense for a man who, in the excess of his wealth, has kicked the great altar of Justice out of sight.”
This is where we are today in the world of the Arab Spring.
But defense there must be. The people on trial are clearly responsible for enormous crimes against their people. They deserve to be punished. But, they deserve Justice, not vengeance. They deserve the rights that their people were so long denied. They deserve not mercy, but they do deserve Justice. A Justice that will not tarnish the citizens who are now in power by its arbitrariness or unreasonable severity or lack of due process. 
The great French philosopher, Pascal, said “Justice and power must be brought together, so that whatever is just may be powerful, and whatever is powerful may be just.”
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
These words could easily be applied to the Arab Spring countries, but they were spoken byFrederick Douglass, the great American champion of civil rights, who argued against slavery and debated Abraham Lincoln several times in what have become centerpieces in the slavery issue that led to the American Civil War.
It ought to be everyone’s fervent desire that the new governments in the Arab Spring nations will be Just. That they will be honorable. That they will not inflict on their tormenters the severe lack of Justice that they bore. That they will not destroy their own values by becoming like the despots they have overturned.
Thomas Paine, an American Revolutionary hero, said, “I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”
A happy Ben Ali or Mubarak? No. Yet, subject not to vengeance but to Justice, as all of us would like to be in this imperfect world.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Senator John McCain on President Obama

Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, gave Newsmax an interview on 3 August, and as always, McCain says straight out what many are thinking but are afraid to say.
Here are some excerpts from the interview made by Jim Meyers and Kathleen Walter.

Concerning Obama’s push for closing tax loopholes for the oil and gas industry and private jets, Senator McCain said: “I think most Americans are sick and tired of this class warfare…. And it would take about 200 years to get the budget in balance if we did away with jets…. I want to encourage the oil companies. I want us out there in offshore drilling. Class warfare doesn’t work. One reason why it doesn’t work is because we all want to be rich.
“On this topic of loopholes, if you call ethanol subsidies and solar subsidies loopholes, count me in. I’ve been against ethanol subsidies for the last 15 years. I think we should take the corporate tax and cut it from 35 percent to 25 percent and at the same time do away with these special tax breaks that special interests have gotten just because of their lobbying power in Washington.
“Ethanol subsidies, sugar subsidies — I’d want to get rid of all agricultural subsidies, and if you call that a tax increase, fine. I call it doing away with special interest influence.”
Asked about this disconnect between politicians and the public, McCain — who spoke from Phoenix — responded: “I saw [a] poll that said seventy-some percent said we were behaving like spoiled children and I think 14 percent said we weren’t. I haven’t met anybody in the 14 percent category since I’ve been home.”
“Americans don’t like to be frightened – they’re not going to get their Social Security check or their access to the benefits they earned would be cut off. So in a way I don’t blame them. ...But I would like to point out that last November the message to Congress from the American people was: cut the spending. Stop mortgaging our children’s future. So for us to betray what was a clear message from last November, then we would be ignoring the will of the voters.”
As for which party was helped most by the debt debate, McCain told Newsmax: “Neither came out looking very good. But it is a fact that the president was basically a bystander. The deal was really orchestrated by Mitch McConnell. Presidents are supposed to lead, and I think the American people are fully aware that he didn’t lead.”
Asked what four more years of the Obama administration would mean for America, McCain said: “I’d obviously be very concerned about it. And I’m confident, by the way, that we will come up with a candidate that will be viable, that will be competitive, and I really believe we will win.”

McCain: GOP on 'Super Committee' Will Fight Tax Increases

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Will Be Barak Obama's Place in History

Barak Obama came to Washington to “throw the rascals out,” so to speak. He campaigned on being an outsider and on his firm commitment to end the “politics as usual” atmosphere in America’s capital. Sufficient numbers of Americans believed him and sent President Obama to Washington to get the job done.
What has happened in the two and a half years since the 2008 election is a lesson for all voters everywhere who want to believe that they have found a messiah. Nothing has happened, in fact, except to spend more money than America has on programs her citizens do not want.
Barak Obama is devoid of majoritarian ideas. He shot his minority wad in getting health care passed, and he lost his Democrat majority in the House of Representatives in the 2010 congressional election as punishment.
Since then, he has seemed to be absent. His voice is ignored, even when he might have something to say, and he has been so shut out of Washington’s power politics circle that he has to phone Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to get anything done.
When Obama tried to negotiate a deal with the GOP in December last year to end the Bush tax cuts, he lost. John Boehner, not yet Speaker but waiting to be named by the newly elected GOP majority in the House, won the day and Obama suffered at the hands of his Democratic left wing who accused him of caving in to conservatives.
The debacle that just ended in the raising of the debt ceiling was a repeat of last December. Obama did not and perhaps is not capable of negotiating from strength. It was the Washington insiders, the very people he had come to Washington to get rid of, who saved his skin and got him a debt ceiling high enough to see him safely through the 2012 presidential election period. Without those Washington pros, Obama would have been raw meat put before the hungry lions of the Tea Party.
His platitudes about sharing the burden, which means that oil companies, business owners and wealthy taxpayers should put up AND shut up, play well to the extreme left fringe of the Democrat Party but they are anathema to the majority of Democrats and most other Americans.
Who is Barak Obama and what does he really want? My guess is that he is a lawyer-politician untrained in the practicalities of negotiation trying to run the world’s largest economic and military power. It hasn’t worked so far and it will not work in the future.
Obama may go on supporting underdog liberal causes, but he has become irrelevant in the American political process, and even if he’s re-elected because the GOP messes up badly, his briefcase is empty and his chances of making a real mark for himself, one that would put him alongside his hero Ronald Reagan, is “dead on arrival,” to quote Harry Reid.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Congress Raises America's Debt Ceiling but Why Is No One Cheering

Nobody is cheering the deal to raise America's debt ceiling because the whole process, played out before worldwide TV, showed the American Congress in as dysfunctional a mode as one could possibly imagine. Votes with no value except to rub salt in the other side's already-bleeding wounds. Angry words hurled at one another. Senate Majority Leader Reid not even bothering to see one of the House's bills before saying it was "dead on arrival." It was not a legislative process, it was slapstick comedy - but being played for enormous stakes that affected the entire planet.
 The American public was predictably horrified. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted before Obama announced the deal last Sunday, 37 percent said they saw the president as less favorable. That was double the number (18 percent) who viewed him more positively. House Speaker Boehner had a sharper drop in his image. Three times as many had deteriorated opinions of him as improved opinions (34 percent less favorable; 11 percent more so).
Nearly three-quarters of Americans offered a negative word to describe the budget negotiations. The top words were “ridiculous,” “disgusting” and “stupid.” Overall, nearly three-quarters of Americans offered a negative word. Just 2 percent had anything nice to say.
And that doesn't even account for the rest of the world, which used such words as "idiots" and "insane" to describe the affair.
So, America has its borrowing power back, but it lost a lot of good will and respect that may never be restored.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Happy 720th Birthday, Switzerland

On Ausugt 1st, 1291, three alpine cantons (Uri, Schweiz and Unterwalden) came together in a field called Rutli  near Lucerne, in what is now Switzerland, to pledge their bond of brotherhood and to promise mutual action if any of them was attacked by outsiders.
That is why today the Swiss celebrate their National Holiday on the 1st of August.  The Swiss Confederation is 720 years old this year, and is surely the oldest continuously functioning democracy in the world.
Some Swiss will gather at Rutli to listen to a patriotic speech from the president of the Confederation. Switzerland is a true confederation, with the Cantons, or states, independent but linked in a confederation called the Helvetic Confederation. Helvetic? - because that’s the name the Romans gave to the tribes they encountered along Lac Leman. It was an approximation of the real name but that’s what was heard by the Roman ears.
The Confederation adopts laws and regulations, and the Cantons decide to accept or reject them. If something is accepted but the citizens aren’t satisfied, they hold a national referendum, and a majority of the Cantons plus a popular national majority is required for passage. Switzerland is a real democracy.
The Swiss are fiercely protective of their democracy and fight any attempt to dilute it. They are also very proud to be Swiss, but modest in talking about their country. It takes time for a foreigner to realize that the Swiss love Switzerland even though they are always talking about the mistakes the Confederation is making. Not to worry. The referendum always clears things up.
On the 1st of August, there are barbecues, farm brunches (you sign up ahead of time to go to one of the farms offering cheese fondue or cheese raclette or sausages and cheese with terrifically good Swiss wines). Later in the day, there are corteges - parades in every village and town, with brass bands and people dressed up in local traditional costumes. Often, there is choral singing because the Swiss have superb local choirs.
Then come the fireworks. Everywhere.
And, just before the fireworks begin, the villages light their bonfires. I think that’s my favorite part of the Swiss National Holiday. The bonfires were originally used to call for help from mountain to mountain village, when there was a natural disaster or an invasion. The bonfires are lit on the 1st of August to keep this tradition alive. It is humbling to see the fires start up all around in the darkness and realize that at every bonfire there are Swiss, celebrating but also saying, ‘we are ready if there is a problem.’
Don’t believe most of what you hear about the Swiss and their country. They are hard-working people, not wealthy, with no gold in the streets. They are simply proud and cautious democrats who work every day to stay together and independent. The European Union tries to rope them in, but so far the Swiss have politely said, ‘no.’
So, happy 720th birthday, Switzerland. May you have many more because we need your example of a nation with 4 languages, 4 cultures, and 23 Cantons, which has managed to stay free, linked in a democratic confederation that is an inspiring beacon of true democracy.