Monday, July 28, 2014

Is Religious Freedom Truly Possible?


Japan may be the best example on earth of true religious freedom and harmony.
by Charlie Leck
There is something terribly awful and morosely sad about the way the Middle East is eradicating diversity. I felt a chill when I read this little sentence from a column by Thomas L. Friedman in the NY Times… [read it here]

“Jews and Palestinians, Shiites and Sunnis keep forcing each other into tighter and tighter ghettos.” [Thomas L. Friedman]
There is a large group in our beloved country that would like to see America shake its love affair with diversity and cultural and religious freedom also. It’s that crowd that keeps insisting that America is “a Christian nation.” It is not, of course, and it was never meant to be, but they would like it to be that.
Diverse nations that can live with their extreme diversity are the nations to be envied – they are the kinds of nations in which I could live peacefully. They are the kind of nations I want America to be.
But, can the Islam accept that there might be something beautiful and truthful about Christianity? Can the Christian live harmoniously with the people of Islam? Can the non-Jews of the Middle East ever sit down in peace with the devout Jew?
I have long dreamed of an America where religious freedom is real and not just tagged in our founding documents; that is, an America where Christians are not threatened by changing demographics. I dream of an America that does not get apoplectic about becoming a multi-lingual nation. I dream of an America that does quarrel about an Islamic Mosque being built in Manhattan (very near the former World Trade Center).
The truth is, however, that we are very afraid of losing our cultural exclusivity – we Christians and white people – because we are witness to such horrible developments as we see in Islamic nations. Such ugly and violent fights over sect control.
We often have a hard time admitting it, but that is the heart of the thing. We are frightened. We don’t really mind that another believes and practices a different faith, but we are afraid that other faiths want to eradicate our own freedoms to believe what we have deemed true and real.
The horrific battles all across the Middle East are frightening to us because we see them – true or not – as religious war by those who want to destroy all who do not believe as they. We hear it in America on occasion. We hear it constantly in the Middle East.
On a quick visit to Japan, more than fifteen years ago, I was so impressed with the Oriental ability to accept wide ranging religious views and actually make them a part of the cultural heritage of the nation. They were accepted – these diverse religious views – and they were tolerated and they were allowed to have their individual and singular impact upon the larger society and cultural standards without threat or fear.
I thought to myself back then, as I stood in a Buddhist temple, that this must be the kind of land that our founding fathers dreamed of. All these people of extremely different religious beliefs and people of strictly secular natures are able to live together in such blissful cultural harmony.
Yes, it is what our founders sought for America.

“In the Middle East today, though, the last remnants of poly-cultural nation states and communities are being wiped out. Christians are fleeing the Arab-Muslim world. Islamist jihadists in Syria and Iraq are beheading those who won’t convert to their puritanical Islam.” [Thomas L. Friedman]


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Friday, July 25, 2014

Hot Time Comin’ in Georgia


Political buffs and desperate party leaders will be watching the race for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat. So will I. This Georgia election could make all the difference.
by Charlie Leck
A primary race among Republicans in Georgia is over and the race for the U.S. Senate down there is all set.
David Perdue won the Republican nod to run for the Senate. He is a very wealthy businessman. Michelle Nunn, daughter of a long-time Georgia U.S. Senator, is the Democratic nominee and she needs to run a nearly faultless race to have a chance to win. I wrote about Nunn here on one of my blogs a few months ago (go here to read it).
“My first observation is that she seems like a bright and charming person – the kind of person I wouldn’t mind having as my U.S. Senator (although I’m far from being a Georgia type person). I have friends in Georgia, however, and I’ll ask them what they think of Ms. Nunn’s chances. I need a good band wagon to climb upon this summer and fall and this just might be the one I’ll take for a ride.”
I do believe I will be on Ms. Nunn’s bandwagon. I’m in the middle of plans to be in Georgia on election night. I’m hoping like hell it will be for a victory celebration.
One thing we do not need in the Senate is one more unreasonable man. I used “man” advisedly. I’m firm in my belief that the problems of Washington’s stalemate could be cured by more women senators and representatives. Really!
And Mr. Perdue is clearly cut out of the same cloth as people like Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell. And, he’s filthy rich. I don’t hold that against him, but the super rich have had enough representation in Washington in the last 16 years and we need to get another perspective out there. Really! We do!
Georgia, as I said in that earlier blog, “is not your run-of-the-mill southern state.” It’s more urbane and sophisticated than the deep-south states – and more open-minded and more intellectual as well.
Good hard work and some successful fund raising may do the trick for Ms. Nunn. As long as I’m on this point, let me please urge you to contribute money to the Nunn race because Perdue is going to spend millions of his own money on his attempt to get elected. Give to Nunn at… http://www.michellenunn.com/
I’ll be watching this election closely and I examine all the polls in great detail as they come in and I’ll get back to you with regular reports on what’s going on down there.
David Perdue is the former chief executive of Dollar General (stores), a former top executive at Reebok, and he’s somewhat well known as a turn-around specialist among the Wall Street folks. His formal reports show he’s already put 3 million dollars of his own money into this campaign. Justin Barasky, of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called Perdue “arrogant,” and said that “he is an elitist.” You can probably safely bet that the campaign strategy against Perdue will revolve around that idea.
Perdue will also attack Nunn’s lack of preparation for the Senate because of her work in the non-profit sector. He’ll have to go easy, however, because of the great popularity of Nunn’s late father, former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (Georgia).
Experts say Ms. Nunn is going to need to spend in the area of 10 million dollars on this campaign. That means that she will need contributions from you, me and lots of other progressive thinkers around the nation. Dig as deeply as you can and send her campaign organization some money. We’ve got to break the log jam in Washington and we can’t let the Republicans gain control of the Senate.

P.S. As the weeks move by, if you’re interested in this Georgia race, the site to watch is, of course, 538 (Nate Silver). Otherwise just keep watching here because I’ll be carefully monitoring 538 and the polling in Georgia. I’ll keep you up to date on what they’re saying.

UPDATE: This is just in! A really interesting column in the NY Times, by Nate Cohen, discusses just why Michelle Nunn might pull off a victory in in the Georgia U.S. Senate race... read it here!



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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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