Monthly Archives: February 2015

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

That famous quote from 1961 belongs to Yogi Berra, all-star catcher for the New York Yankees, and was made in the context of on-going baseball events. Yogi had a way of mangling the English language, (or in this case, the French) but in a humorous fashion that sports writers loved to quote. If you’re interested, you can Google for other Yogisms. The trouble is, however, when deja vu keeps occurring in the unfolding events of mankind, it no longer becomes funny, but instead takes on tragic proportions. And the funny part is how it keeps happening over and over and over again.  Today, we have history repeating itself, with devastating consequences, but with hardly anyone seeming to learn from the lessons of the past. Let us then try to understand how and why this is occurring.

I’ve written many times before about how Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs came to power in Germany in the the 1930s, and the ensuing consequences  for the rest of Europe; but the 1930s so closely parallel today’s world events, that it bears repeating. Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1932, largely through the democratic process. But upon taking office in 1933, Hitler swiftly abolished all semblances of freedom and democracy in Germany, as well as any future elections, and became dictator for life. If you opposed his regime, it was off to the concentration camps, or you were just simply executed. In contravention of the Treaty of Versailles which ended WWI, Hitler started to militarily re-arm Germany, soon after he took office. If the French had sent troops into Germany at that point, as they were legally obliged to do by the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler could have been quickly deposed, WWII could have been avoided, and 60 million deaths in Europe as a result of that war would have also been avoided. But the French did nothing but just stood by as the Nazi military grew in strength. After all, who wants to undergo the messiness of war when one could luxuriate in peaceful endeavors. So, seeing that both France and England were essentially paper tigers, Hitler made his next move in early 1938 by invading and swallowing up Austria. The pretext was that Austria was a German speaking nation, so they should have belonged to Germany all along. Never mind that Austria was a separate country with its own government; it now became part of the Third Reich. That event came to be known as the Anschluss, as the Allies (France, England, and now the U.S.) rationalized Hitler’s aggression as being no big deal. A policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany could forestall military engagement. Or so it was thought.

Hitler, now convinced that all of Europe was his for the taking, in 1938 moved his Nazi war machine into northern Czechoslovakia, again on the pretext that most of its inhabitants were also of German ethnicity. This time, the leadership of France and England started to become “concerned.” A conference was arranged in Munich, Germany between Hitler and Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, of England and France respectively. The Munich Conference, as it came to be known, would go down in history as the ultimate failure of a policy of appeasement when dealing with aggressor tyrants.  A pact was signed there in Munich on that day in 1938, that allowed Hitler to retain the spoils of his adventurism in Austria and northern Czechoslovakia as long as he committed no further acts of aggression. After the conference, Chamberlain came home to cheering crowds in London and proclaimed he had achieved “peace in our time.” The British were in ecstasy because they wanted so much to believe this was true. Daladier also returned to Paris and was similarly greeted by mobs of elated Frenchmen at Orly Airport. But Daladier didn’t delude himself. He knew that a long, bloody war was just around the corner. Looking haggard and sleep-deprived as he gazed upon the cheering mobs, he was heard to mutter-“the damn fools.”

The ink was no sooner dry on the Munich pact than Hitler moved his troops into the rest of Czechoslovakia and gobbled up the entire country. Might as well, since nobody was around to stop the Nazi war machine. France and England continued to look the other way. The U.S. Congress continued to follow a policy of strict isolationism, despite President Roosevelt’s desire to become militarily engaged. It wasn’t until 1939, when Hitler formally invaded Poland, that the Allies were forced to come to terms with the fact that WWII was officially underway, and they had better deal with it quickly. By that time, it was almost too late. In the East, the Nazi army drove to the very gates of Moscow. If Russia had fallen, all of Europe would have been under Nazi rule, except for Britain, and the British were hanging on by their fingernails. The German Luftwaffe was bombing London on a daily basis, until it was mostly a pile of rubble. It was only the long, bitter cold Russian winter that stalled the Nazi onslaught in the East, and allowed the Red Army to regroup and begin to push back against German troops. In England, Neville Chamberlain was quickly thrown out of office and replaced by Winston Churchill who rallied the British to engage in a stout-hearted defense of their homeland. But it wasn’t until U.S. forces finally entered the war in late 1941, that the tide began to turn in favor of the Allies. At the height of WWII, the U.S. would have 10 million troops fighting in both Europe and the Pacific, at an horrendous cost of lives and treasure. So much for waiting until the last minute to do what has to be done.

Now comes the deja vu part as we fast forward to present day. In Europe today, there is another tyrant who is on the move against his neighboring countries. This time it’s, of course, Vladimir Putin, the Godfather, or Boss of Bosses who rules Russia with an iron fist. For over a year now, he has decided to slice and dice neighboring Ukraine, annexing chunks of it into what he hopes will be another Russian or Soviet empire. The first chunk he bit off was Crimea, a sizable portion of what was once the Ukraine. France, Germany, Britain and the U.S. pretty much stood by and proclaimed that well, that’s how the cookie crumbles. The Allies did put into effect some mild economic sanctions against some of Putin’s cronies, but none have had any significant results. Next, Putin began supplying Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine with heavy weapons as they battle government forces that are trying to prevent the eastern part of their country from falling under Russian domain, as the Crimea has. Russian troops, undercover, have also joined the battle with the separatists.  Thousands have already died as the war continues to rage. So last week, the PMs of both Germany and France, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, schlepped to Moscow to sign a peace accord with Putin that was supposed have put an immediate cease-fire into effect in the Ukraine. But once again, the ink was was barely dry on the accord when vicious fighting broke out and hundreds of government forces were slaughtered. Sounds a lot like Munich to me. Deja Vu. All over again.

All the while, the consummate evil of terrorism in our time continues to spread. Isis, Al-Qaeda, Boko Harem, Taliban or whatever you want to call these mass serial killers, are on the march and growing stronger. They’ve officially spread their wings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria, and to a some extent in Jordan and Egypt. If the U.S. and its European allies struck militarily against these barbarians now, i.e. by putting boots on the ground, instead of just engaging in token bombing raids, destruction of these terrorists is within reach at a relatively small cost. Every day that we hesitate, however, they grow stronger and the cost of confrontation becomes more expensive and deadlier. But, after all, who wants to become engaged in an all out war. It’s so much messier that the peaceful pursuits we’re all engaged in. Who needs that. As I said, it’s deja vu. All over again.

 

 

 

 

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AND ….THEY’RE OFF AND RUNNING

Probably, over 99% of Americans living outside of New York state have never heard  of George Pataki. Within the state of New York, perhaps about a quarter of the population still remembers that he was governor from 1995-2006. A pretty fair governor to be sure, but nothing that would set off a cavalcade of fireworks. Nevertheless, Pataki, at age 69, is putting together an exploratory committee to determine the feasibility of seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2016. His chances of success are about the same as mine if I ran for president. And why would anybody really want the job. Just the thought of having to deal with Congress would make me nauseous. Sure, there’s the fun stuff like getting to fly on Air Force One, or playing at elite golf courses, or hosting lavish state dinners. But every now and then the president has to deal with serious items such as combatting terrorism, Iranian nuclear ambitions, and budget and tax issues. The Obama presidency has seemed to focus more on the fun side such as playing golf, and as little as possible on world affairs such as the Ukrainian civil war and other other crises. But who needs all those headaches. I would probably do the same in Obama’s shoes.

In any event, with the election still more than a year and a half away, the race for the Republican nomination has attracted more than a dozen players, some whose chances of success are about as ludicrous as George Pataki’s. First off, like the ghost of Christmas past, Mitt Romney returned to the political arena figuring that the third time had to be a charm. It seemed for awhile that despite his losses in 2008 and 2012, His Mittness still had enough popularity amongst the GOP rank and file to secure the nomination for 2016. But as I’ve written many times before, financing is the name of the game in buying an American election, with the winning candidate usually being the most costly that money can buy. In our faux democracy, if a potential candidate can’t raise at least tens of millions of dollars, just for openers, he or she is usually toast. Romney did have huge money supporters until former Florida governor Jeb Bush figured that it would be a neat idea to follow the family heritage and become Bush number three to occupy the Oval office. When that happened Romney’s big money donors decided that the Busch name still had more commercial value than that of a previous two-time loser, and they swung over to Jeb’s side. Once Romney lost his major donors he knew it was all over, and time for him to get out of the game. The problem is, however, that Jeb Bush might be a tad too rational and sane to satisfy the looney-tunes element of the GOP which continues to grow even larger and more powerful.

The Rush Limbaugh faction in the Republican Party has focused on a number of potential candidates (excluding Jeb Bush) that would satisfy their far-right ambitions to basically destroy what’s left of the non-military portion of the U.S. government. First off, there are the holdovers from the 2012 Republican debates, such as Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania who is still seeking to criminalize social affairs such as birth control, abortion and gay marriage; as well as bible thumper Rick Perry, ex-governor of Texas, who couldn’t remember, last time around, all the government departments he would eliminate upon becoming president. Then their are new figures that  have lunatic fringe especially enthralled. One is Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, who pretty much was able to destroy public worker unions in Wisconsin that state employees belonged to, by taking away their rights to collective bargaining. He had to face a recall election because of that action; but thanks to heavy financing by the Koch brothers (whom I’ve written about before), Walker won the recall and is now the darling of the far, far right. He’s being hailed as another Ronald Reagan, their all-time favorite hero. With heavy money interests starting to galvanize in his direction, I would not discount Walker’s chances of securing the Republican nomination.

Of course he would have to contend with others that even the lunatic fringe considers lunatics, such as Rand Paul from Kentucky and Ted Cruz from Texas, who also have strong presidential ambitions. And, for the dingbat faction of the GOP, which is also growing in strength, there is always Sarah Palin who has mumbled something about entering the fray. I think more than half the fun of watching this circus unfold, would be lost if Sarah Palin didn’t have a go at the nomination. Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, was thought to have a shot for awhile, but his balloon seems to be deflating. Again, he seems to possess too much of that sanity thingy to be a viable GOP candidate. But, if you want irrationality,  there’s always Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, who traded in his Hindu heritage for a strict brand of fundamental Catholicism, and who would also criminalize abortion and gay rights. And the beat goes on with a slew of more aspirants, each seeking to outdo the others in their extremist views.

If the Republican side of the coin has an over-abundance of candidates striving for the presidency, the Democratic side has decided to put all their eggs in one basket; which, of course, belongs to Hillary Clinton. Which is a very dumb idea to begin with. First of all, Hillary will be 69 in 2016 and has had health issues that could raise a number of red flags. Secondly, Hillary has enough political baggage to fill every flight leaving out of JFK for a month. Republicans, who are so much better than Democrats at practicing the politics of personal destruction, would immediately jump on husband Bill’s personal foibles from the 1990s and blame them all on Hillary. Already, they are printing up bumper stickers that say: “Monica Lewinski’s ex-boyfriend’s wife for president.” You can be sure that all of Bill Clinton’s prior misdeeds would be dredged up all over again. Also the Benghazi fiasco, where 4 Americans, including our Ambassador to Libya, were slain by terrorists on Hillary’s watch as Secretary of State, would be thrown in her face. Add to that, the fact that Hillary isn’t exactly the most dynamic or charismatic candidate around, and you can see that the Democrats are in a real pickle. The problem for the Democratic Party is, however, that they have such a thin farm system, who else could they nominate that would have a viable chance of winning the presidency.

My prognosis is that the election of our next president is the Republican candidate’s to lose. Which wouldn’t be the first time that they’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Think back just to 2012 when Mitt Romney should have won by at least 10-15 points. In any event, it will be a fascinating spectacle to watch along the way, as the political scene unfolds over the next 18 months in our pretend election process.

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A VACCINE AGAINST STUPIDITY?

There’s been a lot of news, lately, about children coming down with measles because their parents refused to protect  them through vaccination against this sometimes deadly disease . A recent outbreak of measles that occurred in children visiting the Disneyland theme park in California was attributed to the fact that many of those in attendance at the park spread the infection to others simply because they remained unvaccinated. To make matters worse, the issue was then demagogued by 2 high profile Republican politicians, each desperately seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2016. Both Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, and Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky both made similar pronouncements regarding the sudden outbreaks of of an affliction that is 99% preventable through inoculation. Each politician stated that it should be within the parent’s prerogative as to whether to allow their children to receive disease-preventing vaccinations. Never mind that children are far too young to be knowledgable enough to make such decisions. And that both men made sure to have their own children receive the full regimen of available immunizations against all preventable diseases.

Christie made his remarks because he fears that the right-wing looney-tunes element within the GOP is large enough to deny him the nomination if he appears in favor of too much common sense regarding rational decision-making. Which, unfortunately, it is. After all, you can’t have the government controlling the populace through a program of mass vaccinations, or some such fantasy, as their thinking goes. Christie later tried to walk back his comments regarding parental prerogatives in this area by pointing out that his children had all their vaccinations, but the damage was done regarding his flight into looney-tunesville. As for Rand Paul, he’s a resident in good standing within the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, so his comments were not a problem. But he’s also a physician, so, as I’ve said, he had his own children fully inoculated. But it brings up the larger issue of why parents are willing to travel into a parallel universe of delusional paranoia by denying their children, who are supposedly their most precious possessions, essential inoculations to protect them against some very ugly diseases.

Let’s start with the bible-thumpers. Those who are fanatically devoted to what they think is the will of God, as expressed in both the old and new testaments, are likely to avoid having their off-spring vaccinated. The fact that both bibles were 100% written by flesh and blood humans with zero input from God is of no concern to these zealots. The fact that it took committees of men over a period of centuries to decide what to include in the new testament, and more importantly, which of the many writings to exclude, is also of little concern. If it’s not dictated in the bible, it’s not going to happen. In 2013, two such zealot parents from Philadelphia were arrested and subsequently convicted of murder because they allowed their two young children to die from pneumonia (on separate occasions) rather than seek medical treatment. A common anti-biotic could have saved both children’s lives. But the parent’s religious fanaticism would not allow for outside medical assistance. One can only wonder how the human mind can become so warped.

The next category of reality deniers are parents, mostly mothers, who allow themselves to be conned by junk-science, and thereby come to fear for the safety of inoculations. As a phenomena of our times, it has come to pass that many well-educated mothers have come to believe that the medical community urging them to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps, rubella, and whooping-cough is lying to them. But a has-been model and sometimes actress such as Jenny McCarthy, who tells them on afternoon TV talk shows that vaccinations cause autism must know what she’s taking about. I guess it’s due to Jenny’s impressive medical credentials and advanced degrees in micro-biology. In any event, in these days of over-dependence on electronic gadgetry and social networking, McCarthy knows that if she can plug her celebrity status into social media, her opinions will create an electronic torrent that will be virtually impossible to stop. The theory, however, that inoculations are somehow linked to autism in children has been thoroughly debunked in one scientific study after another. So who should we believe- the opinions offered by a fading model or the proof offered by the scientific community.

Not all vaccination deniers come, however, from bible-thumpers, government-haters or those conned by the electronic media. There’s a group of relatively wealthy elitists who usually support left-wing causes that also refuse to allow inoculations for their off-spring, because the vaccines are artificially produced in factories, and for the purpose of earning a profit. Vaccines must be either worthless or harmful if they’re chemicals manufactured on the assembly line, in companies beholden to their stock owners, rather than coming from plants grown in nature. And organic plants preferably, i.e. those plants harvested without the use of chemicals during the growing process. Such as organic poison ivy, or organic poison oak.  In some of California’s most affluent neighborhoods, school teachers have started noticing that between 5-10% of their students are showing up in class without the necessary inoculations. There’s no discrimination between poverty and affluence, apparently, when it comes to self-delusion over immunization.

When I was in high-school during the early 1950s, the polio epidemic was raging through America. I watched as a girl on my block in Brooklyn came down with this affliction and had to be transported from her house into an ambulance with the use of an iron lung. I gave thanks that it wasn’t me. Polio is an especially nasty infection wherein the virus usually invades the spinal column and paralyzes its victim for life. Everyone, at the time, literally prayed for a remedy. So when doctors Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin finally developed an inoculation against this disease, a huge sigh of relief could be heard throughout the land. People stood in line for hours to receive the vaccination as quickly as possible. But that was then and this is now. That was before people allowed themselves to get dumbed-down by the electronics revolution and social networking. When scientific discovery still had merit and value in the American psyche. Before Americans allowed their brains to become mush by that which was supposed to have made us smarter.

It leads one to believe that the next great scientific challenge is to develop a vaccine that prevents stupidity, especially when taking the necessary actions to enhance one’s health and well-being. That would really be the jackpot of all immunizations. I guess, however, that one can only wish.

 

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AUSCHWITZ, 70 YEARS LATER

Even after 70 years, pronunciation of the word still evokes feelings of terror, alarm, and revulsion among civilized societies. Even after 70 years, the full scope of the horror and atrocities committed there has not been totally documented. Last week, January 27th to be exact, marked the 70th anniversary since the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Russian troops. There was a major ceremony that day at the camp, with dignitaries from nations around the world in attendance. Camp survivors numbering about 300 now were also there, with some giving testimony as to the nature of their hellish experiences. A decade ago there were 1500 survivors in attendance at the 60th anniversary ceremony, but slowly their numbers continue to dwindle. The youngest of the remaining survivors is now in their late 70s. The buildings and gas chambers are empty now in the dreary cold; but to their credit, about 1.5 million tourists are visiting the Auschwitz every year to experience first hand, the epicenter of the human capacity to perform total, undiluted evil. An evil that could not have been perpetrated by Hitler and his Nazi thugs alone, without the willing accomplices of tens of thousands of civilian bureaucrats that organized and shipped all the logistics to that camp, including the poison gas that killed so many. As if they were manufacturing and shipping clothing to a department store. The banality of evil, as some have called it.

Auschwitz is located in northern Poland and was part of a network concentration and extermination camps built by the Nazis starting in September 1941, that included nearby Birkenau. The camps were built in response to Hitler’s “final solution” regarding European Jews, which was their total annihilation. A system of of railway tracks brought trains filled with supplies into the camps on a daily basis. The Holocaust murdered 6 million European Jews, 1.1 million of whom were killed at Auschwitz. Thanks, in large part, to the efforts of tens of thousands of faceless bureaucrats that came into play. Another 100 thousand people, mostly political opponents of the Nazi regime, or Gypsies, were also slaughtered there. Auschwitz was staffed by about 7000 Nazi goons, but only a small handful of higher ranking officers were ever brought to justice. The rest of the murderers lived out their lives un scathed by the Allied justice system. One officer, Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was captured by the British in March 1946, brought to trial, and hung for his crimes in 1947. Mass murder, torture and starvation were not the only crimes committed at Auschwitz. Nazi criminals such as Dr. Josef Mengele performed gruesome medical experiments on on prisoners which usually resulted in their agonizing deaths. As I’ve written before, Mengele escaped the Allies dragnet, and made his way to South America after the war, ending up in Brazil. He supposedly drowned while swimming off the coast off Brazil in 1979.

Life at Auschwitz usually began at 3 in the morning when all prisoners had to come out into the yard for attendance. Even the ones that died during the night. After shivering for 4 hours in the freezing cold, Nazi troops would arrive at 7 AM to take roll call. All prisoners had to be accounted for, even the dead ones. If any were found missing, troops were promptly sent out to search for them. Almost all potential escapees were eventually hunted down and immediately shot to death. Those prisoners that weren’t dispatched to the gas chambers were given grueling work to perform all day, with little or no food. Starvation in the concentration camps was endemic. When supreme allied commander Dwight Eisenhower and his forces entered Auschwitz a few days after the Russians, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The Nazis had fled and left behind a few thousand prisoners that were like walking skeletons. Piles of corpses lay everywhere. Eisenhower stated that it was like descending into the pits of Hell, and that it made him ashamed of his German heritage.

With the destruction of the Third Reich in 1945, the anti-semitism that had prevailed in Europe for 2000 years, and that gave rise to the Nazi empire, was supposedly laid to rest. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs could not have achieved their spectacular successes in evil domination and mass murder, if hatred and persecution of Jews had not been ingrained into the fabric of the European psyche for the past 2 millennia. Along with the many pogroms against Jews during that period. So it seemed that Jew-hating in Europe during the decades after WWII was finally discredited and became a thing in the past. But in actuality,it was just laying low, waiting for the opportune time to rise again. Now after 7 decades, it’s re-gaining its sea legs. The new rise of anti-semitism in Europe, is, in reality, just a return to the norm. The past persecution and pogroms against Jews were always the norm until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly where-in anti-semitism became socially unacceptable. The hiatus is over, however.

The killings of 4 Jews at a kosher food store in France a few weeks ago only gained prominence because it was done in conjunction with the murders at Charlie Hebdo. But the previous murders of a Rabbi and 3 school children in Toulouse garnered virtually no world-wide attention. Nor do terror attacks against Jews that have now become common in many other European nations. There are movements all across Europe (and most prominently, with our supposed allies) to boycott Israeli products, or even to expel in-country Jewish populations. It has now become respectable again in Europe to despise Jews. No more hiding in the shadows. European anti-semitism is not a Jewish problem, however. It’s a European problem, a stain on the human condition, a continent-wide disease that Europe is congenitally unable to rid itself from. And the size of this tumor continues to grow.

Hatred for any group based on their religion, skin color, ethnicity or for any other reason always occurs when the group in question is a minority. It’s the bully’s mentality at play. Among school children, the bully and his gang can always beat up a defenseless kid to compensate for their feelings of self-loathing. Among adults, the bully mentality transforms into hatred and discrimination for some minority group that similarly is in no position to take on the much larger majority. Another insidious aspect of the human condition.

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