Monthly Archives: April 2017

THE FRENCH CONNECTION

No, I’m not writing about the excellent movie, a few decades ago, that dealt with drug dealers and won numerous awards. Instead, this piece is about the recently concluded presidential election in France, and its remarkable similarity to the U.S. balloting concluded last November. The only thing different about these two elections is the role reversal of the major candidates. In France the female candidate is the white supremacist, xenophobic candidate while her male challenger is the voice of reason, moderation, and sanity. The irony of these 2 electoral predicaments  couldn’t be more stark.

France has a slightly different method of voting than the U.S. In their first round of balloting held this past Sunday, 11 candidates ran for the office of the presidency. With so many choices it was predictable that no one would receive the 50% threshold level needed to avoid  a run-off. So on May 7, a second round of voting will take place pitting the 2 highest vote-getters, Marine Le Pen of the National Front far right wing party against Emmanuel Macron, an independent moderate. One could rightly view Le Pen as a female version of Donald Trump, as she is running on a platform of anti-immigration, white supremacy, withdrawal from the European Union, demonizing minorities, and cozying up to Russia while abandoning relations with other Western countries. She wants to withdraw from the euro as France’s currency and reinstate the franc. Macron, conversely could be considered a male version of Hillary Clinton as he seeks to strengthen ties to the EU, as well as strengthening France’s famous safety net for the poor and disadvantaged. He would keep the euro in French circulation. Right now, political pundits in Europe are claiming that all French citizens that are not neo-fascist will coalesce behind behind Macron and give him an easy victory in the May 7 round of balloting. Trouble is, these are the same pundits who predicted that Clinton would coast to a sure victory over Trump. London bookies were giving 5 to 2 odds on Clinton being the next president.

Marine Le Pen, aged 47 and twice divorced mother of 3, inherited the mantle of the National Front party from her well known father, Jean Marie Le Pen, who got the ball rolling on the far right of the political spectrum in France in the early 1970s. At first considered a fringe lunatic, Le Pen and his party has slowly gathered steam over the ensuing decades to the point that his daughter is now on the threshold of becoming the next French president. What held Jean Marie himself back from achieving that goal, was his openly virulent brand of anti-semitism. He would often pooh-pooh the fact that the Holocaust ever occurred in the first place, or that 6 million Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps. He stated that a 500 page book on WWII would hardly devote 2 pages to the gas chambers, so inconsequential was their existence. It appears that there was still enough decency in France to not allow that type of rhetoric to occupy its presidential palace.

Marine Le Pen, learning from her father’s mistakes, has down-played the National Front’s overt Jew-hating. Instead she focused her bigotry on the surge of Muslim immigrants trying to flee to Europe from the nightmare wars and acts of terror on-going in the Mid-East, especially Syria. As Trump attempts to slam the door shut in the U.S. to any further Muslim immigration, Le Pen campaigns on enacting the same Muslim prohibitions in France. As Trump’s demagoguery against Muslims (and Mexicans) gained big-time traction in the U.S. among white voters, Le Pen’s anti-Muslim rhetoric has found favor among a large chunk of the French voting populace. (At least she hasn’t expressed any anti- Mexican sentiments thus far.) While it’s true that France and Germany as well as other European countries are being swamped with immigrants from the Mid-East, it must be remembered that these people are fleeing for their and their family’s very lives; and to deny them safe refuge exhibits a special type of heartless disregard.

Some years ago, a movie called “Ship of Fools” was produced based on a real life occurrence that took place shortly before the out break of WWII. It told the story of a group of German Jews attempting to escape Nazi persecution, and hiring a cruise ship to transport them to a safe harbor in some foreign country where their lives would not be in jeopardy. They literally sailed around the world looking for a safe port of debarkation but every country refused them entry. Including the U.S., which then had Franklin Roosevelt as president, supposedly a great friend of the Jews. In the end, they were forced to return to Germany where they were then slaughtered in the Nazi Holocaust. Such was the mindset of their fellow human beings around the world.

So, it will be interesting to see if Marine Le Pen, like her fellow demagogue, Donald Trump, can parlay French fears of being overrun by Moslem foreigners, into the presidency of her country. If she does, it will have huge adverse consequences not only for Europe, and the EU, but for the U.S. as well. But perhaps this time around, the French will exercise better common sense and sanity than Americans did last November, and elect the candidate of decency and humanity to their highest office.

 

 

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“WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE….”

I’m one of those people that faithfully reads the obituaries every day in the morning newspaper. Perhaps it’s because, as the old joke goes, I’m checking to see wether my name is listed there or not. Well, this morning’s obits had a bit of surprise for me. Listed as one of life’s casualties was a person that I had gone to college with named Reuben Goldstein, so many decades ago. He too was my age and born and raised in Brooklyn, but unbeknownst to me, was living in Las Vegas well before we had moved out here. I guess we were like two ships passing in the night. How unfortunate.

In those days of yesteryear (as the Lone Ranger might have said) I went to City College in Manhattan. It’s now called City University of New York or CUNY. Living in Brooklyn, I had to walk 12 blocks to the nearest subway station and take the train for about a 45 minute ride into Manhattan. A total joy in freezing cold, or rainy or snowy winter days. This station was elevated (above ground) and Reuben was often already there for the morning commute before I had arrived. When he saw me approaching, he would call out my name and shout that he would wait for me even if a train was pulling into the station to pick up passengers. And so he waited until I arrived and we then took the next train so that we could commute together and avoid the loneliness and monotony of those daily subway rides.

Reuben was not a great student as I came to realize when we sometimes did homework together after class. It turned out to be mainly a case of me helping him cope with subject matter that seemed to baffle him. In the end I wound up doing most of his homework in addition to mine. It wasn’t long after I graduated, that I latched onto a cushy assignment in Europe for three years (which I’ve written about in previous pieces) and lost complete contact with Rueben. That is, until now, when his entire life’s journey is summed up in a very brief paragraph in the daily obits. How sad. In those days, tuition at City College amounted to a $10 registration fee per semester for New York residents. When I had to spend $50 each term for school books, (used, of course) I considered it an outlandish rip-off. A subway ride initially cost a nickel then, and when it was raised to a dime, New Yorkers howled in protest, as if they were being slaughtered by Jack the Ripper. I don’t even want to know what obscene amount is being charged today. Garbage was picked up 6 days a week, even in poor neighborhoods like the one I grew up in. Now you’re lucky if they come around once a week. Is this what they call progress?

The title of this piece is taken from a song made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary. It’s an anti-war song about loss and death, which Reuben’s passing made me think of. Speaking of P,P,&M, the wife and I saw them perform here in Las Vegas when they were well into their sixties, or perhaps older. I’ve often written that Las Vegas is where dead performers can come back to life. For a fraction of the price that it would cost to see a headliner like, say, Celine Dion, perform at a strip hotel, one can see a has-been  perform at an off-strip hotel. Think Frankie Valli, and the Four Seasons. And so it was with Peter, Paul and Mary, who were well past their prime when we saw them go on stage at one of the local hotel/casinos. Peter and Paul were in reasonably decent shape but Mary had aged considerably. I remember in her youth, with her long blonde hair and bangs tossing about as she performed on-stage with huge vibrance and vitality.  Now she had gotten fat with multiple ailments and had to walk on-stage using two canes and sit while performing. Their voices were a whisper of past glories. The audience sat there respectfully, knowing it was likely to be the last time they would come together on-stage. Mary, sadly, would die not that long after, at the premature age 72. And so goes the cycle of life and death.

Today I also learned that a man my age, who lived in my community, and who we used to socialize and play cards with, also just died, this time from cancer. Add one more to the obits list. Indeed, where have all the flowers gone. Turned to dust, every one.

 

 

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A MASSACRE IN SYRIA

The recent chemical warfare attack that brutal tyrant Bashar al-Assad recently launched against his own people, that killed 89 and wounded hundreds more, is not the worst of the war crimes against humanity that Assad is responsible for. The Syrian civil war that started in 2011, almost exactly 6 years ago, to depose the tyrant from his throne, has led to horrific casualties on a massive scale. Over half a million Syrians have been slaughtered during this time, and millions more have been displaced. Some have been able to emigrate to the safety of Europe where they have been, by and large, accepted by various European countries, most notably, Germany, France and Sweden. A few thousand Syrian refugees have even made it to this country; but if Trump gets his way, that door will soon be slammed shut. The vacuum created by this civil war has also  allowed barbarian terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaida to flourish and perpetrate their own set of killing fields. There are hardly words to describe the on-going evil, and tragedies of events continuing to unfold in Syria. But suffice to say, it’s easily the worst holocaust of the 21st century.

Assad took over the reigns of power in 2000, when his father, who was the same type of tyrannical, despotic ruler, died. By 2011, most Syrians could no longer tolerate the brutality and lack of freedom, and an armed rebellion began to take shape. During the period of his dictatorship, however, Assad had accumulated a huge arsenal of chemical warfare agents. His total ruthlessness and lack of conscience showed that he would not hesitate to use that arsenal against his own people, and before long, he did just that. It should be noted that chemical warfare weapons were first developed during WWI and used against the Allies by Germany. But it was soon discovered that these chemical agents inflicted such anguished pain and suffering upon its victims before finally killing them, that it became unbearable for both sides of the war to tolerate. This led to an oath by all antagonists to ban the use of chemical agents as a weapon of war. Even Hitler didn’t use chemical agents during WWII. But obviously, Assad had no such compunctions when it came to combatting opponents of his regime.

The first time Assad used these horrific chemicals on his fellow Syrians, the Obama Administration supposedly strongly protested and threatened a military response. But Assad used them again, consigning more Syrians to a torturous death. To avoid military retaliation, a deal was worked out between the U.S, Russia and Syria. Assad would ship his entire arsenal of chemical warfare agents to Russia, so that he could never again use them again against Syrian rebel contingents. At the same time, President Obama warned that he was drawing a red line in the sand that forbade any further use of chemical warfare in Syria. Such use would surely invoke an American military response against the Assad regime. But guess what. Assad realizing that under Obama, the U.S. was really just a paper tiger, once again consigned more of the opposition to an agonizing death through the use of chemical warfare. Apparently all of Assad’s stockpile had not been shipped to Russia. And to make matters worse, the Obama Administration failed to invoke its promised military retaliation, even though Obama’s red line in the sand had been so recklessly crossed.

Interestingly, Trump, who at that time was obviously eyeing a run for the White House 3 years later, went on Twitter to warn Obama not to take any military action regarding Assad’s brutality against the rebels. Even then, his “America First” and the hell with the rest of the world philosophy was on display. During his presidency, Obama often stated that Assad must go before there could be any semblance of peace in Syria. But since Obama failed to hire any grown-ups to advise him on foreign policy, Obama’s weak indecisiveness led to a refusal to employ U.S. military forces when a world situation called for such a military intervention. Interestingly, it was the most extreme right-wing members of Congress such as Ted Cruz,  that applauded Obama’s failure to act. Assad had guessed right-the U.S. was a paper tiger.

Now that he’s been elevated into the presidency, Assad’s latest chemical warfare adventurism has shocked even Trump’s conscience, and that’s saying a lot. So last Friday Trump order his Navy to launch a cruise missile attack against the Syrian airbase that carried out the latest chemical attack. Unquestionably, it was better than any action Obama had undertaken during his 8 years in office. But it was still more of a token response since minimal damage was inflicted. No further U.S. military action is anticipated. What is needed is around-the-clock bombing of all of Assad’s air bases until his entire air force has been destroyed. It would send a powerful message not only to Assad, but to his Russian and Iranian sponsors and co-contributors to his despicable tyranny. Very unlikely to occur, however.

President Obama offered one very simple truth while he was in office. He stated that America “was the one indispensable country” on Earth. It’s time, however, for us to start acting that way. We, unfortunately, co-exist with an entire cabal of bloodthirsty tyrants that occupy much of the planet’s surface. There’s Vladimir Putin who rules Russia mafia-style and is responsible for the deaths of thousands in the Ukraine; the Islamic fanatics that control Iran and have murdered tens of thousands of Iranian dissidents; the nut case that reigns over North Korea and has also killed tens of thousands while turning that country into a giant concentration camp. The rulers of China are also not prizes and have blood on their hands. If the U.S. doesn’t stand strong against these forces of evil, the freedoms we take for granted in the West could rapidly begin to disappear. The world would then begin to resemble George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.”

I’m an old guy, so I’ve had a life. But for all you young people out there, I don’ think “1984” is a world you would look forward to living in. What do you think?

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, human affairs, Isis terrorist attack in Paris,, Israeli-Palestinan Relations, politics | Leave a comment

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