Thursday, July 24, 2014

Putin’s Crime


The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, deserves some kind of punishment for his crime. His finger-prints are all over the downing of the passenger jet over the skies of Ukraine. Here’s a brilliant essay that calls out the Europeans for being such cowards as they refuse a face-off with Putin.
by Charlie Leck
Occasionally, I get riled up enough to beg you to read something. This is one of those occasions. An essay appeared in the NY Times yesterday (22 July 2014) that calls out the European nations and points the finger of truth at them for their failure to stand up to Vladimir Putin.
“To see the European Union acting so pusillanimously is very discouraging. France wants to hold on to its arms contracts for the jobs they are supposed to save in its naval shipyards. Germany, a hub of operations for the Russian energy giant Gazprom, is petrified of losing its own strategic position. Britain, for its part, despite recent statements by Prime Minister David Cameron, may still not be ready to forgo the colossal flows of Russian oligarchs’ ill-gotten cash upon which the City, London’s financial district, has come to rely.”
I urge you to read this powerful essay by prominent a French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy. It is translated from the French by Steven B. Kennedy. You can find it here!
The following opening, few paragraphs are to tease you with the power of Mr. Lévy’s writing…
IN eastern Ukraine, Vladimir V. Putin has been playing with fire.
“He has mobilized the worst elements to be found in the region.
“He has taken thugs, thieves, rapists, ex-cons and vandals and turned them into a paramilitary force.
“He has permitted ad hoc commanders of separatist groups to kill or chase off intellectuals, journalists and other moral authorities in the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk.
“He has watched as a vodka-soaked rabble army destroys or takes over public buildings, hospitals, schools and municipal offices of the country it is pretending to liberate.
“He has allowed a veritable gang war to take hold — without caring that he is losing control of the forces that he has unleashed, with rival bands pitted against one another and carving out fiefs amid the growing anarchy.
“Most troubling of all: To this underworld without structure or discipline, to these undisciplined louts who know only the law of the jungle, to this new brand of fighting force that has only the dimmest idea of war and no idea, God knows, of the laws of war — to this motley collection Mr. Putin, the Russian president, gave a terrifying arsenal with which the amateur soldiers were unfamiliar and with which they have been playing, like kids with fireworks.”
Come on, Europe! Stand tall! Impose sanctions on Russia and stand tough until Mr. Putin steps aside in shame!



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Mais non! C’est impossible?


Mark Bittman, one of my favorite food writers and providers of recipes, has just broken my heart. He writes that the French have changed when it comes to food. No longer can you be guaranteed that anywhere you eat in France will be wonderful.
by Charlie Leck
“The people of France appear to have lost faith and even interest. They spend most of their restaurant dollars at chains, and they no longer trust that restaurants make a majority of their dishes themselves.” [Mark Bittman, NY Times]
I want to cry! Je tiens à pleurer!
I spent several months in France in ’78. I had a little, garret apartment in a working class section of the city. I could wander out into the city for a lunch and stop into almost any small restaurant and point to something for the waiter, asking him politely to bring “ca” for me.
“Merci beaucoup!”
I’ve gone back to France several times over the years. I love the nation dearly and think of it constantly. Even up until four or five years ago I knew I could depend on the universal promise of wonderful food in all of France.
Moments later an extraordinary meal would be placed before me. It never failed. It was always wonderful.
Bittman says it ain’t so in France of today. If you want that kind of French cuisine, he says, “you’d better hop in your time machine.”
I stand prepared, and even anxious, for my friends and family in France to scream and holler – to rant and rave – and to tell me that none of what Bittman says is true.
“C’est une catastrophe! Dites-moi ce n’est pas vrai!” (It is a catastrophe! Tell me it ain't true!)



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Monday, July 21, 2014

A Nation of War


Perhaps not because we wanted it, but because of our nature, character and historical circumstance we have been a nation that has seen a (seemingly) unending stream of wars (or military skirmishes). We have not always been wise in our decisions to participate in, rather than avoid, war. Perhaps that is also because of our national character.
by Charlie Leck
Wyclef Jean, a Haitian hip-hop recording artist who recently performed at the 2014 World Cup soccer event in Brazil, wrote the words; and somehow they play constantly in my mind…
“Listen, children…
Say peace, Lord peace
We don’t want no war no more
We don’t want no war no more
We don’t want no war no more
We don’t want no war no more
We don’t want no war no more
We don’t want no war no more
We don’t want no war no more
Ay, peace
Oh, peace…”
America has had enough of war. Yet, now, at this moment, they scream again like hawks. They want President Obama to send troops. Send them where?
“Oh, mon, you be know now don’t you?”
Send them there! And there! And everywhere!  To Syria! To Russia! To the Ukraine!
We have a brilliant war machine and a mighty war industry. Making weapons will improve the economy.
America was raised on war. We won our independence with war. We destroyed slavery through war. We kicked and licked the Indians of the plains with war. We taught Mexicans lessons with war. We fought important wars. We fought foolish wars. We fought downright useless wars.
We were weaned on war! We cut our teeth on war. We grew into manhood on war.
It is peace we don’t know about.
I shout for peace!
I sing for peace! I pray for peace. America must learn to step back from the brink of war and not off the brink into war.
Here is a summary of our history of war… some is heroic, but most is frustrating and foolish! Can we be honest historians and measure the true value and valor of our wars? Read it slowly and weep!
American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
Northwest Indian War (1795-1793)
Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794)
Quasi-War (1798-1800)
First Barbary Wars (1801-1805)
Tecumseh’s War (1811)
War of 1812 (1812-1815)
Creek War (1813-1814, as part of the War of 1812)
Second Barbary War (1815)
First Seminole War (1817-1818)
Arikara War (1823)
Winnebago War (1827)
First Sumatran Expedition (1832)
Black Hawk War (1832)
Second Seminole War (1838)
Second Sumatran Expedition (1838)
Patriot War (1838)
Mexican American War (1846-1848)
Cayuse War (1847-1855)
Apache Wars (1851-1900)
Puget Sound War (1855-1856)
Rogue River Wars (1855-1856)
Third Seminole War (1855-1858)
Yakima War (1855-1858)
Second Opium War (1856-1860)
Utah War (1857-1858)
Navajo Wars (1858-1866)
First and Second Cortina War (1859-1861)
Paiute War (1860)
Reform War (1860)
American Civil War (1861-1865)
Dakota War of 1862 (1862)
Colorado War (1863-1865)
Snake War (1864-1868)
Red Cloud’s War (1866-1868)
Comanche Campaign (1867-1875)
Modoc War (1872-1873)
Red River War (1874-1875)
Las Cuevas War (1875)
Great Sioux War of 1876 (1876-1877)
Nez Perce War (1877)
Bannock War (1878)
Cheyenne War (1878-1879)
Sheepeater Indian War (1879)
White River War (1879-1880)
Pine Ridge Campaign (1890-1891)
Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii (1893)
Second Samoan Civil War (1898-1899)
Spanish-American War (1898)
Philippine-American War (1899-1902)
Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901)
Border war (1910-1919)
World War One (U.S. involvement was 1917-1918)
Russian Civil War (1917-1922)
World War Two (U.S. was involved 1941-1945)
Korean War (1950-1953)
Second Indochina War (1953-1975)
First Gulf of Sidra Incident (1981)
Invasion of Grenada (1983)
Invasion of Panama (1889-1990)
Persian Gulf War (1990-1991)
Operation Restore Hope (1992-1994)
Bosnian War (1993-1995)
Operation Uphold Democracy (1994-1995)
Kosova War (1998-1999)
War in Afghanistan (2001 – present)
Iraq War (2003-2011)
2011 military intervention in Libya

History is the grand judge of nations and of peoples! History knows that we have gone to war too easily and that we have abandoned too quickly the art of diplomacy and persuasion.
I have no idea what to say, so I will be silent and cry.

“We don’t want no war no more!”




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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

One Meets the Damnedest People and it’s a Real Treat, Indeed!


On most Monday’s I take an old friend and former next door neighbor to lunch. As a veteran of World War II, he likes to go to the legion hall in a town west of Minneapolis. We’ve been doing this for almost two years now and nearly every Monday we get into a little, enjoyable verbal dual with a couple of people who lunch at a table very near ours. Turns out they’re very interesting people.
by Charlie Leck
Gordon Batdorf enlisted in the U.S. Army in November, 1941 as an aviation cadet. He became a member – and one of the original pilots – of the 63rd Fighter Squadron during the Second World War. He also flew missions for the 56th Fighter Group while he was stationed in England. The 56th is legendary for the extraordinary number of enemy aircraft it destroyed – more than any other fighter group in the Eighth Air Force. Gordy, as his friends at the Legion Hall call him, regularly flew the P-47 Thunderbolt. On the fuselage of his fighter plane was painted a slogan: “Bat out of Hell.”

After his return to Minnesota from the war, Batdorf enrolled in the Academy of Accounting in Minneapolis and he was hired by Mound Metalcraft. He rose rapidly in the company.
In 1961, Lynn Baker, who had founded Mound Metalcraft, removed himself from day-today operations at what was by then called Tonka Toys. Gordon Batdorf was elected as the company’s vice president and treasurer. In 1964, Batdorf became the President of the Company and guided Tonka’s growth, including several acquisitions and a number of new products. Tonka Toys saw growth that established it as one of the country’s largest toy companies. Batdorf resigned in 1969.
“Those were some good years at Tonka,” Batdorf onced told a newspaper reporter, “and I think we were good at what we did.”
Following his years at Tonka Toys, Batdorf founded a consulting company called Batdorf, Blair and Associates. During that time, Batdorf served on the board of directors of Larson Industries and was made president of the company during a period when it was floundering (I’m tempted to say “sinking” because it was a boat company) and had to declare bankruptcy. Batdorf persevered and helped turn that company around and set in on a stream toward success again.
In the 90s, Batdorf, along with Abby Jane Hodges, got involved with a small group that was investing in a local company that produced organic fertilizers made from soybeans and other agricultural products. Eventually Batdorf and Hodges ended up running the company and then sold it in 2007 to PJC Ecological Landscaping in Massachusetts. The two immediately formed another corporation, called Grow Organic, that sold organic products.
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It's these two, Abby Hodges and Gordon Batdorf, who we see nearly every Monday at lunch. It shouldn't take one two years to get to know someone like this, but, sometimes, it's worth the wait.

Abby Hodges is still a vociferous and feisty woman with plenty of spirit in her. At the moment, her greatest claim to fame is that she is the mother of Betsy Hodges, the Mayor of Minneapolis. It gives me some idea of where the mayor got her indomitable spirit. Gordy is well into his 90s now, but he still has a bright glimmer in his eye and a broad smile on his face. It’s been an absolute pleasure for me to get to know these two extraordinarily nice people.



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Monday, July 14, 2014

Joan Rivers isn’t Funny!


This once grand comedian has lost touch and no longer understands the art of comedy. She should just silently fade away.
by Charlie Leck

Joan Rivers, I am fully aware, has some serious age on her and she’s lost her touch as a comedienne. She’s also lost touch. I’m here to testify that I really admire our President and I adore the First Lady. So after what Joannie said about the President and First Lady (on video and fully miked), I have put her on my official sh*t list. Kiss off Joan Rivers and forget about trying to make jokes. You’ve lost it!

Many will probably say she was just trying to be funny. Forget about it!

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Voyage of the Damned


I ruminated on Facebook, the other day, about the great tragedy of sending all those children from Central America, who had illegally crossed into America over our border with Mexico, back to their homelands. How sad for all those kids. I just thought America should be greater than that and I invoked the engraved words on the statue of liberty (from a poem by Emma Lazarus): “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
by Charlie Leck
A Facebook friend responded and asked me if I remembered “the boat full of Jewish children during the 2nd World War?” I didn’t remember. Unsettled, I looked at a couple of sources to find out what she was talking about.
Ah ha!
A children’s book, “So Near, and Yet So Far; Klara’s Voyage,” tells the story of the journey of a luxurious German ocean-liner in 1939 that was loaded with hundreds of Jewish refugees. The ship’s destination was Havana. It left from Hamburg on 13 May 1939 with 938 passengers on board. It expected to drop anchor in Havana and to unload its passengers who would then begin to carve out new lives for themselves – far, far away from Adolph Hitler. At the time, however, it seemed that Jews were the most unwanted race on the face of the earth. The ship and its passengers were turned away from Cuba. Was this to be seen as a justification of Hitler’s extermination policies? The passengers ranged from countesses, medical doctors, academics, entertainers and the rudimentary and ordinary types of European Jews – along with many, many children.
Gustav Schroeder captained the S.S. St. Louis. He appears to have been a man of integrity and great conscience. He tried everything to convince the Cuban government’s leader to allow the passengers shelter and safety in Cuban. He couldn’t do it. He sailed with his passengers up the coast of the United States and began conversation with U.S. State Department officials about bringing his Jewish passengers to someplace in America. He initiated the same conversations with the Canadian Ministry of Citizenship.
In the little children’s book, eight year old Klara stands beside her father as the ship passes near Miami. Klara sees the grand city with her own eyes. With a sigh, her father says to her: “So near, and yet so far away!”
Most Jews in Germany had seen the handwriting-on-the-wall as early as Kristallnacht (9-10 November 1938), a night of prolonged and frightening violence against Jewish property in Berlin. The voyage of the S.S. St. Louis was only one of many attempts to move Jews out of Germany and into safer conditions. But, even on the day that the big ship pulled out of the harbor at Hamburg, the owners of the S.S. St. Louis knew their passengers might have a difficult time finding someplace to go ashore. Cuba was struggling with the great depression and was still not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. The nation certainly could not allow more competition for the few scarce jobs that there were. A large anti-Semitic demonstration took place in Havana on 8 May, just five days before the St. Louis sailed. The gathering drew more than 40,000 spectators. Many thousands more listened to the rally on the state-run radio.
Upon the ship’s arrival in Cuba, 28 passengers were allowed admittance to Cuba (22 were Jews who had valid U.S. visas). No others (908 passengers) were not allowed to leave the ship. Stories about the ship and its homeless refugees ran in newspaper all around the United States. On 2 June, the Cuban government ordered the ship out of its waters. The St. Louis sailed toward Miami and the eastern coast of the United States. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was contacted by several Americans who were sympathetic or connected with passengers on the ship. None of them received a response from the president.
America had strict immigration quotas. Those for German-Austrian citizens was quickly filled at the very beginning of the year.The nation was still experiencing the ravages of the depression and it had very little room for sentiment and kindnesses. Roosevelt could have intervened and he could have generated a special, executive order, but he did not. Robert Wagner (Senator from the state of New York) introduced a bill to raise the limit by another 20,000, but the legislation failed to pass.
Failing to get Canadian support, the big ship turned back toward Europe. Before arriving in Germany, the ship’s captain received word that England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands had agreed to divide the passengers among their nations.
In 1976, the story of the sailing of the S.S. St. Louis, was produced as a movie (Voyage of the Damned) starring Faye Dunaway and Max von Sydow.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Suffer the Little Children!


Sarah (pain-in-the-butt) Palin wants to impeach the President of the United States because Central American children are being pushed across the border into the United States. The woman has once again engaged her mouth without using her brain.
by Charlie Leck
Sarah Palin is one of the least tuned-in people in America. I’m trying not to tell you she’s ignorant (because she’s probably not); however, this woman learns only what she wants to learn.
For instance, the former Governor of Alaska is blaming President Obama because child-smugglers are bringing small children from Central America across the southwest border and dropping them off in a land where there is some hope that these kids might survive and thrive. One has to assume that these are desperate acts by desperate parents who have no way to support their children.
What Palin doesn’t get is that the President is breaking no laws (which is a significant standard for impeachment). One of the final laws that President George W. Bush signed was the “William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.” The law gives wide ranging protections to children entering the U.S. alone and who are not from Mexico or Canada by guarding against sending them back too quickly to their nation of origin. The children, by this law, are granted the right of counsel and advocacy and they are to be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services. That agency is directed to put the children “in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child” and then to look into the possibility of reuniting the children and their families.
A whopping 50,000+ children have been gathered up at the border since October 2013. As Diane Feinstein has pointed out, the President has the power to act and the law instructs him what to do. The problem, of course, is that there is not enough money to carry out the instructions of the law. The President is seeking those additional funds.
Now, granted, this is a complicated issue and it is not one that any reasonable person would expect Sarah Palin to understand. Nor, I expect, is she likely interested in understanding it. Palin never engages her brain before rattling off with her mouth. The entire American public understands that of her.
Republicans want the President to strengthen the border so that such crossings can’t occur. The President and Democrats want that, too, but they want the Congress to authorize the funds to enable this to happen.
“Use the National Guard,” many Republicans counter.
In fact, it would be extraordinarily expensive to use the Guard and it would be an inappropriate usage as well. It would be less expensive to provide the proper number of border guards for the job at hand.
Loud mouth Palin has shot herself in the foot again – as she has so many, many times. Is it any wonder that John McCain stood no chance to be elected to the White House?



Oh yes, by the way…
I came across this interesting sign posted on Facebook today…




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