Friday, January 31, 2014

This & That from the Cold North Country

     We really are running out of places to put
     snow around our house. I wonder what
     it will be like when all this stuff melts.

Occasionally, I ramble! This is one of those blogs in which I just take on a number of issue (big and little) that have been on my mind lately; and perhaps, also, on yours.
by Charlie Leck
Everywhere I turn, I see dcusine advertised (including on Facebook and it’s all over the New York Times). It’s an on-line, frozen food dinner you can order that is supposed to be of significant culinary quality. Hmmm, I don’t know! We tried it here by ordering their short ribs for a main course and a butternut squash soup for a starter. The dinner arrives in about 4 days, frozen in high quality packaging. Total cost came to over 50 dollars and the dinner was only satisfactory. There are a half dozen places around town where I could have walked in and ordered a dinner to go that would have been notably better – including
D’Amico & Sons on Lake Street in Wayzata. For that matter, I could have gone right across the road and picked up a couple of dinners to go at Windsong Farm Golf Club, which has one of the best kitchens in the entire metro area. I first read about dcusine in American Express’ very fancy magazine (Departures). It was among the magazine’s 100 nods of the year. And, in all honestly, I’ve read another half-dozen very good reviews of the product but I’m always suspicious that such reviews might be tied somehow to the roots of the company. If you want to, try d’cuisine here.
The NFL settlement over concussions!
Remember Rayfield Wright, the defensive star of the Dallas Cowboys NFL football team. Juliet Macur, in the New York Times, has written a touching story about him and the concussions he suffered while he played football and what it’s done to his mind and memory. This is a really good review of what’s going on with the legal settlement of the National Football League’s Players Association claims about the serious damage done to former players. Judge Anita B. Brody has rejected the settlement and she claims that the amount of money that players would receive simply couldn’t really cover the cost of services that players will need or compensate them fairly for their injuries. The National Football League is, of course, not happy about the judges ruling.
This NY Times story is worth your time and attention.
The most influential gay and lesbian folks in Washington!
This is a remarkably informative collection of photographs of impactful same-sex political types in Washington, D.C.. Liberals, conservatives and those in between will find these photos and captions interesting.
They come from the Washington Post. These issues are not easy ones to understand for a 73 old guy (such as I) but they are extremely important and I’ve poured out my sympathy and support to gay and lesbian issues over the last 20 years.
Open Culture!
I’ve told dozens and dozens of my friends about this incredible web site. It has remained on my list of the 10 best web sites for the last decade – since I discovered it really. It’s loaded with interesting and compelling information. And, you can find books, photos, artistic work and all kinds of free things here. For example, take a look at this posting from January 26 – WHERE TO FIND FREE ART IMAGES & BOOKS FROM GREAT MUSEUMS, AND FREE BOOKS FROM UNIVERSITY PRESSES. I’m telling you, there is great stuff and enlightening information to be found on this web site. I always look in on it two or three times a week. You’ll find the web site at Always scroll down through it to see what’s going on and what’s available for that particular day.
For you foodies out there!
There are a lot of great places on the web for foodies to spend time, but, after examining hundreds of them over the years, my very favorites have come from the Dining & Wine section of the NY Times. Oh my, but there is good stuff here and always lots of wonderful videos, recipes and recommendations. Be sure to visit Dining and Wine in the Times. You’ll get to visit for free for a number of times before they begin hinting that you ought to be paying for the experience. And, take my word, paying for it is worth the price.
Record snows in my Minnesota
It’s gotten ridiculous. I’ve shoveled and pushed around more snow this year than I have in twenty-three years. Back then, being 23 years younger was a big difference. This year has been too much and I’m going to make arrangements for someone to shovel my walkways around the house from now on.

This is the way the road-sides look out and around the neighborhood. It's getting difficult for the plow-trucks to find a place to put the snow.


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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Nunn will run in Georgia

I admired the openness, candor and moderation of U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. It makes me think his daughter might make an awfully good Senator too.
by Charlie Leck
Lordsy, but I have good memories of Sam Nunn, former U.S. Senator from Georgia. Now I read that his daughter, Michelle Nunn, has announced she’ll run for retiring Republican Saxby Chambliss’s seat in the Senate. Of course, it’s been awhile since Sam Nunn served in the Senate and one wonders how much the legacy factor will matter for Ms. Nunn.
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.
The New York Times reports that Ms. Nunn’s campaign coffers already contain three million smackers. That’s not bad for a starter; however, this will be a seat that Republicans will be loathe to give up and they’ll raise some pretty fancy bucks themselves when push comes to shove. And there will be a lot of that in this Senate campaign – pushing and shoving, that is – no matter who runs.
You can listen to a short NPR news story about Ms. Nunn’s consideration of a possible run for the Senate here. The story stresses the conservative stance all the other candidates in this Georgia race have taken.
Y’all remember Sam Nunn don’t you! Oh, my! He was a bright and well spoken guy who was generally a conservative or moderate Democrat. When Sam Nunn spoke, I would listen because he made sense and he was always open to negotiation and compromise.
Sam Nunn was a real Georgian. He was born in Macon and grew up in nearby Perry. He graduated from Emory University and the Emory University Law School. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard on active duty. He was elected to the Georgia State House in 1965 and to the U.S. Senate in 1972. He left the Senate late in 1996. Following his political career, Nunn served on the boards of a number of charitable organizations and also worked diligently toward safer and more dependable nuclear programs for the U.S. and other nations.
Somewhere in there he married and had a daughter, Michelle. If you’re interested in her race for the Senate, I leave it up to you to read about her. Here’s where you can find the NY Times story. I’m hoping she wins in the primary and gets to run for the U.S. Senate seat. I have a feeling I’ll be a supporter.
Georgia, you know, is not your run-of-the-mill southern state – certainly not in the last decade or so with all the growth of the state and the influx of people from other states to fill Georgia’s growing worker needs. This is not an “automatic” for the conservative Republicans. It’s still close down there, but no longer a certainty for either party.


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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Syria: A Nation Drowning in Blood

It is almost impossible for the American mind to comprehend a land like Syria. With limited understanding, it becomes dangerous to muddle around with such a nation – as it was in Egypt and Libya. America’s great puzzle is its need for self-protection, however, and it must always weigh what actions in strange lands could endanger us.
by Charlie Leck
A dear cousin in France wrote to me and included these words of wisdom in her note: “Americans don’t seem to understand that Syria has been there for over 5,000 years and U.S. intervention will only deepen the conflict. The guy in charge might be mishandling things but, my God, what would happen if some nut of a mullah took over?”
The morning paper carries troubling news from Syria again! An Associated Press story by Zeina Karam and Lori Hinnant refers to Syria as “a nation drowning in blood.” The terrible chaos in Syria continues to worsen.
“It will be hard enough to find a political solution to Syria’s crisis at an international peace conference convening in Switzerland on Wednesday, given the differences between the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the opposition.”
                                                                                   [Associated Press]
My cousin is correct – and she is incorrect!
Thomas Paine, at the time of America’s war of independence said so artfully: “These are times that try men’s souls!”
The horrible and cruel events in Syria are much the same. The question of conscience becomes: “Who can stand by and watch and still claim innocence?” President Assad is a cruel man; yet, as my cousin asks, “What kind of government would the alternative be?”
The bloodshed in Syria is revolting and sickening! The nations of the world are looking on and cannot agree on action. Russia and China are strong allies of the Syrian regime’s leader. It complicates things. It prevents the United Nations from taking significant action. It threatens the success of the conference that will convene today in Switzerland.
Consider Syria’s ancient history…
Syria is a mystery to most Americans; and one must say that this includes the American government. It is difficult for us to understand Syria. It begins with the difficulty of getting our heads around the fact that Syria is five thousand years in the making (5,000 I repeat). Most archeologists concur that Syria has one of the most ancient civilizations on earth. Evidence of ancient life, possibly dating back a million years, has been found there. It is part of the Fertile Crescent. Cattle breeding and agricultural practices appeared here before it did in any other part of the world. Its language is considered the most ancient written language on earth. Clear evidence exists that shows Syria in contact with ancient Egypt as early as the period of the Pharaohs. The area was fought over in wars that go back two thousand years before the start of our modern calendar. The current land of Syria was occupied by Sumerians, Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. It was a province of Greece during the height of Alexander’s empire and of Rome during that empire. When the Roman Empire declined, Syria identified with the Byzantine Empire in the latter part of the fourth century.
In the seventh century (634 to 640), Syria was conquered by Muslim Arabs and became a part of the Islamic empire and Damascus would soon after become the center and principle city of this empire. One must remember that this empire, at its pinnacle, stretched from Spain to India and into parts of Asia as well. During this period, Syria and Damascus flourished economically. As well, during this period, Christianity was completely tolerated and a significant number of Christians rose to high levels in Syrian government. Such tolerance disappeared with the collapse of the empire in the next century and hundreds of years of warfare would follow. The Greek, Latin and Aramaic languages that had begun to be popular quickly disappeared as various dynasties took and then lost control of Damascus and Syria.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, parts of Syria experienced visits by the principals of the Christian Crusades and their enemies, the Mongols. When the area was left devastated by these invasions, the Egyptians followed and controlled Syria for a time from Cairo. Then, in the sixteenth century, Syria became a part of the Ottoman Empire and was ruled from Turkey. During the First World War, Syria would fall under French control and a Kingdom of Syria would be established. There were serious and regular acts of violence and battles between the French and various groups of Syrians during this period. A treaty of Independence was negotiated between France and Syria in 1936, granting Syria independence in principle, even though French economic dominance continued. In 1944, Syria was finally recognized as a free and independent republic. The last of France’s occupying troops left in April of 1946.
Even then, however, freedom from turmoil would not come easily. This history has left Syria overwhelmingly Muslim. This is a significant, complex and extraordinary history. In the terms of such history, America is thought of by the Syrians as a mere child.
There were regular wars between Syria and Israel in the period after Syria established independence. They began in 1948, when both nations were mere infants as independent states. Serious fighting between the nations would erupt again in 1967 and in 1973. Since 1967, Israel has claimed possession of 460 square miles of Syrian land (known as the Golan Heights). In 1981, Israel claimed the land as its own. In legal terms, Syria and Israel are currently at war.
The current Assad regime was established in 1970 by Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current Syrian political leader (dictator). The family came from the Alawi minority. The Alawi think of themselves as the “chosen people.” Naturally, the traditional and majority Muslims consider them heretics. The Assads associated themselves with Syria’s most secular political party (the Baath Party) as a way of avoiding these religious questions.
The modern nation of Syria has about 23 million inhabitants. We refer to them as Arabs. They are, however, a complex blend of Semite peoples and groups. Religiously and culturally, about 90 percent of its population is Muslim. The dominant language is Arabic; although there are many Kurds (about 10 percent) and they speak Kurdish. The Kurds are found mostly in the northeast corner of the nation and along its northern borders with Turkey. Educated Syrians are very likely to speak French because of the colonial influence France had there in the twentieth century.
William Polk, an American expert on Syria and the Middle East, calls Syria “a small, poor and crowded country.” Look at it and it resembles the size of Washington State. Yet, only a fourth of that land is arable. Most of it is desert and some small part of that is marginally suitable for grazing. Polk refers to “economic Syria” and says that portion is only as large, perhaps, as Switzerland. There are frequent droughts and enormous dust storms.
Polk builds a case that climate and temperature are shapers of Syria.
Those livable areas of Syria are incredibly densely populated – so densely that arable land is almost impossible to farm
Oil was Syria’s economic salvation, but the nation’s oil is of a poor quality and nearly 70 percent of it never left Syria. Before the violence broke out, Syria was trying to build a serious export business for its oil. That has all but stalled now.
Under normal circumstances, education is provided at no cost in Syria and approximately nine years of schooling is required. The first six years of that is primary and general education and is followed by three years of a vocational training period or of academic studies for those who will seek university admission. The literacy rate for Syrian males is over 85 percent and about 75 percent for woman. During the current crisis, however, the Syrian educational system is virtually shut down.
The major cities of Syria are Aleppo (3 million), Damascus (2.5 million), Homs (1.275 million) and Hama (855 thousand).
Is it any wonder that Syria takes so easily to violence and disruption? America simply doesn’t understand such turmoil and instability. America’s inability to understand the nation has led to a series of mistakes in our foreign policy.
George W. Bush, in 2002, declared Syria to be a part of the “Axis of Evil.” Bush imposed sanctions against Syria in 2004. Congress charged that the Syrians were supporting terrorism and were building up a cache of chemical weapons. American aircraft had been used by the Israelis to strike against Syria in 2003. President Bush made moves to repair relations with Syria in 2006. The negotiations moved haltingly, but the U.S. sent an ambassador to Syria in 2010. Three months after he arrived, however, the U.S. imposed new and stringent sanctions on Syria that were meant to block government revenues (principally from oil production). The world watched and its verdict was that U.S. policy toward Syria was muddled.
In a period from 2006 to 2010, Syria was devastated by a drought that generally ceased all agricultural work and production. Crop failures reached as high as 75 percent. A majority of all livestock died of hunger or thirst. Competition for survival broke out among Syrians – neighbor against neighbor – and against hundreds of thousands of refugees who had sought escape from the violence that had broken out in Iraq and Palestine.
Civil war was breaking out! It became, in many ways, a religious war. Young, radical Muslims from other nations flocked to Syria to fight against counterfeit religions and against other Muslims who cooperated too freely with Christians. The radicals opposed the evidence of materialism that they saw among the Alawi and Christian faithful.
America and other western nations have trouble understanding and defining this civil war as a religious one. Without that understanding, however, a settlement of the issues in Syria is virtually impossible. Amazingly, as Polk points out, this is not a war to establish some sort of democracy. Again, this is something nearly impossible for America to understand. So, promises of a settlement that will lead to more democratic forms of government will not lead to peace. The religious war will continue against and among various factions of Islam.
Regard the following statement by Polk seriously and try to understand the essential nature of what he is saying…
“Paradoxically, governments that would have imprisoned the same activists in their own countries have poured money, arms, and other forms of aid into their coffers. The list is long and surprising in its makeup: it includes Turkey, the conservative Arab states, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the EU member states; and the U.S..”
Polk also refers to the “well of hatred” that exists in Syria and how we, as Americans, cannot begin to understand it.
What will victory by the rebellious forces bring to Syria? That is the very frightening question. Does the world look at evil leadership and conclude that it must be left unaltered because the alternative will be so much worse?
“How the victims and the perpetrators can be returned to a ‘normal life’ will be the lingering but urgent question of coming generations in Syria and elsewhere.”
                                           [William R. Polk in The Atlantic Magazine]


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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Goodbye Dear Donny (about Donny Kunshier)

A friend, my age, died recently and moved on out among the stars where he shall “forever sit, triumphing over death and chance and thee, O Time.”
by Charlie Leck

Donny was a good buddy. I liked him an awful lot. I met him through his marriage. His wife and my wife were good friends. We saw each other often as couples. Then, his wife divorced him. She was looking for rainbows and fireworks. She left him with the two boys and went off on an excursion of excitement. I was pretty pissed at her and still am. She’ll read this. She reads me occasionally and she’ll get her underwear twisted up over it. I don’t care. It just wasn’t right. – not that way! On the other hand, she marches to the beat of a different drummer and hears only that beat. Others are incidental in life.

I remained friends with Donny, but he was never really comfortable with the friendship. Somehow, he connected it to his marriage and it seemed he’d just as soon forget the connections. Nevertheless, my wife and I were helpful to him a couple of times when he needed it and we found it meaningful and self-fulfilling to assist him on those occasions. We probably got more out of the relationship than he did.

We saw each other somewhat regularly but it was always because we ran into each other and not that we arranged it. I did have him to my place to golf a couple of times but he never advanced any proposals to get together. We bumped into one another at golf events – at rules seminars and events associated with Minnesota golf.

So, our relationship laid fallow – untilled – over the years. It was there and it was pleasant, but it was certainly unfulfilled. Everyone likely has a relationship – a friendship – or two like this.

This was one very, very good man. He raised his sons and gave it enormous effort. They grew into good young men after the rockiness that most boys go through as they set off to sail their high seas. Donny gave the rest of his life to golf and to his work. You could count on one hand the things that were important to him: (1) His sons and his family; (2) His job and the company for which he worked; (3) golf; and (4) his golf friends. I’ve got a finger left over and don’t know how to use it. I’d like to use it to point to the name of another significant woman he found to share his life. He never did. He remained forever in love with the dippy broad who walked out on him. He’d never admit it (and some others might not either), but I’m telling the story and this story is mine right now.

I’ll go to a memorial service for him tomorrow. Guess what? It’s at a golf course where the Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame resides. Donny was the curator and tender of Minnesota golf history (he was our official historian) and the little museum he set up is there at the course. It’s where we ought to gather to memorialize him. Jesus, I liked him. I mean it, sir! If you’ve got any pull, find him a neat spot there among the celestial bodies– a place from which he’ll look out over some beautiful golfing land.

Sleep well, dear friend, prince among friends, and be forever at peace!

The Minnesota Golf Association
posted an obituary about Donny on its web site
you can find it here).


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Monday, January 13, 2014

Major General Robert Smalls, U.S. Army

      The Robert Smalls house in Beaufort, SC

I first heard of Robert Smalls approximately 22 years ago when my wife and I rented a nice room in a B&B in Beaufort, South Carolina.
by Charlie Leck

We’d just participated in one of the most extraordinary events of our lives. We drove across the state of South Carolina on 19th century coaches pulled by fours-of-horses, including one of our own teams. We had a schedule as we traveled across the state and we tried to arrive in each scheduled town on time, changing teams of horses about every 13 or 14 miles. At one point we actually carried a small parcel of U.S. mail with us. We were often met in a community by groups of people cheering us on and by the mayors of those towns.

Our final destination was a plantation in Yemassee, on the east coast. There, all the beautiful coaches were put-to their horses and paraded out to the plantation and made an extraordinary grand entrance. We had a group of approximately eight of these remarkable vehicles and teams. It was quite amazing and I was thrilled with how well our horses had done. Put it all, please, in the category of something never to forget!

We had reserved a B&B room in a small town, Beaufort (pronounced by the locals as ‘Bew-fert’), near the plantation. In our room a small book outlined the history of the remarkable lowlands community and in it was a picture of Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who had been born on a South Carolina plantation on Lady Island. Most people believed that Smalls was the son of the plantations owner’s son, Henry Mckee. That birthright allowed Robert only small privileges that were not available to most of the slave children. A small home was provided for Robert and his mother that was separated from the other slave quarters. And, he and his mother were given food that had been prepared in the kitchen of the plantation’s mansion. A certain amount of “book learning” was also available to Smalls.

The mother worried about her son. She thought he would be ill prepared for the harsh life that lay ahead of him when he reached adulthood. She convinced his father to send him off to another plantation where he could adjust to the realities of being a slave. There, Small trained as both a ship builder and pilot. During the early years of the Civil War, still a slave, he was piloting a small ship that carried bales of cotton to ocean crossing ships in various southern ports. He grew into a position of trust. Now married and with children, Smalls began to plan his escape to freedom. When an opportunity arrived, Smalls guided the ship, loaded with his family, and those of a number of other slaves, through the harbor at Charleston and surrendered it to U.S. Commodore S.F. DuPont. Smalls was able to provide large amounts of strategic information about the southern forces, including the location of mines within the harbor.

Robert Smalls went on to become a Union hero – for a time as a ship captain and then as an officer who commanded black troops in battle. He is credited with recruiting more than 5,000 black troops into the Union Army. He rose to the rank of Major General.

He returned with distinction to the plantation after the war and reunited with his mother. He purchased the McKee house when it was offered up in a tax sale. Mrs. McKee, his white grandmother, was suffering from dementia and Smalls made arrangements for her to stay in house and provided her with appropriate care. He went on to establish some successful businesses in the community, especially ones that catered to the newly freed slaves.

The little tourist booklet led me to wander over to the Robert Smalls house, which the booklet listed among Beaufort’s tourist sites. It remained a private residence and I could only look at it from the street. The town also has a street named after Smalls.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Robert Smalls’ dash to freedom in the Charleston Harbor. He died in 1915 in Charleston as a respected and successful patriot. He served in the South Carolina Legislature and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1874 as a Congressman from South Carolina.

Beaufort is the second oldest city in South Carolina and it is lovely town, with handsome and very narrow streets and moss growing everywhere. A horse and carriage ride around the town is a nice way to see it. A slow walking tour is even better. It’s very close to Hilton Head.

The photo to the left is from our 1991 arrival
at the Yemassee Plantation in South Carolina,
after a drive across the state from Aiken. Here
I am driving a team of Cleveland Bay crossbreds,
completely raised and trained by my
extraordinary wife on our farm in Minnesota.
She insisted I drive them into the plantation since
the affair was sponsored by a club to which I
belonged at the time. She was not completely
happy with all the hat-tipping I was doing,
however, and would have preferred I have both
hands nearer the ribbons (reins or lines). In spite
of the applauding spectators, the horses behaved
perfectly and there was no need for worry.


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Friday, January 10, 2014

Getting the Gangsta Thing Wrong in NJ

A great bit by Jon Stewart on his show the other night really captured the foolishness of the bridge closing in New Jersey.
by Charlie Leck

Only in New Jersey (NJ) and yooze better believe it!
Somehow, for some strange reason, last September they closed down all but one lane of the highway that led to the George Washington Bridge. It was to retaliate for something unfavorable the mayor of Fort Lee, NJ did or didn’t do (like not supporting Christie for governor in the hot campaign this autumn). It caused an awful mess and backed traffic up as much as three hours. Did Chris Christie the Governor of NJ order the closing? He says no! If he did, Jon Stewart says it disreputable conduct and the mob could teach the Governor a thing or two about doing such things correctly! Let’s have no more third-rate corruption!

I laughed my head off at this video. You have to watch it. It is absolutely yummy. If you’re from NJ you’ll appreciate it even more.

Stewart says this was a disgraceful show of roughing someone up when it comes to Jersey corruption – “third rate corruption” he calls the Bridge scandal.

Stewart talks about 4 mayors of NJ cities being arrested at one time and charged with corruption in office. Then he shows a video clip of 5 rabbis being arrested at one time for financial corruption. The Governor’s actions were a disgrace to real NJ corruption. He is nothing but an amateur.

Watch the video below or go to the Comedy Central site to Find it here!

The New York Times says in an editorial this morning: “At this point, the governor has zero credibility.” I think I agree. I watched most of his press conference yesterday and his usual smoothness was not there. He was struggling to make his case – that he knew “nothing” about this vindictive action that his staff took.

By the way, wait until you see the January 20 cover of The New Yorker. It's terrific!

New Jersey and the mob!
NJ has always been the butt of jokes when it comes to the mob. And, I must admit, there were times as a child when I had to wonder about my state and some of the goings-on that were reported in the newspaper. Follows some of the past blogs I've written about NJ and, occasionally, about some of its leading citizens.

Past Blogs about New Jersey
Some of my readers out in NJ wanted me to list past blogs I’ve written about the state (are they preparing to file suit against me?) so I have done so below…
Over the last four years, among the two-thousand blogs I’ve written, there are a number of them about NJ -- some flattering and some not so much… If you are interested in browsing through them, they are listed below – ok?
Ooooh, New Jersey (July, 2009)
Sweet Home New Jersey (July, 2009)
Gentleman Jack (February 2009)
Follow the Money (December, 2011)

Blogs about my NJ childhood!
Then there are also a number of blogs I wrote about my childhood memories in Jersey (these are not so much about NJ as about growing up in NJ). These blogs are about my childhood, my family, my friends and about all sorts of things odd and true... The following blogs are also being published in book format very soon.
First Love (August, 2007)
Becoming a Ball Player (August, 2007)
Great Love of My Life (June, 2008)
Cute and Not So Cute (August, 2008)
Do I Remember? (August, 2008)
Most Likely to Succeed (November, 2008)
Ad Astra (December, 2008)
Toby and I (June, 2009)
51 Years Ago (June, 2009)
Dining on Memories (July, 2009)
A Quiet Birthday Morning (September, 2009)
Notes from the Road (November, 2009)
1946 World Series (June, 2011)
Baseball Books (March, 2012))
The Art of Fielding (May, 2012)
Going Home Again (July, 2013)


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Thursday, January 9, 2014

1971 and the War in Vietnam Goes On

 Everyone supported the troops in Vietnam in the 1970s but very few people supported the war! That support was waning by the day and the presidency of Richard M. Nixon was crumbling and forced him into actions he never would have authorized in 1972 had the protesters in the streets not been so seriously damaging his policies.
by Charlie Leck

I loved the troops who were fighting for us in Vietnam. I respected them and thought them the bravest men about whom I’d ever heard. And, I wanted them brought home because I’d figured out that the war they were fighting was both unjust and internationally unneeded. I started speaking out publically about the war in 1968 and that year I joined the McCarthy movement against it and supported Gene McCarthy’s campaign for the Presidency.

Few people on the streets of America understood the war. They bought the simplistic explanation of the politicians who supported it – that we were fighting communism and its expansion. In fact, it was much more complex than that and the war had very little chance of U.S. success and thousands of American troops and innocent civilians were dying for undefined causes. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had erred in sending troops as advisers to South Vietnam’s military and President John F. Kennedy compounded the mistakes by increasing the number of troops and allowing them to take actions beyond providing advice. After Kennedy’s death (1963), President Lyndon Baines Johnson kicked the war into another gear and began pouring funds and troops into the effort to accomplish the unaccomplishable.

I began thinking seriously and thoughtfully about these questions in 1965. Led by a graduate school professor I greatly admired, I began reading the real histories of modern Vietnam and realized it was wrong and immoral to support the cruel and dictatorial government of South Vietnam. I began to have sympathy for the small groups that had begun to protest.

In the summer of ’67, emboldened by the growing size of the protest (yes, I’m admitting my earlier cowardice) I stepped out into the street to join my first protest. Along with hundreds of other people, I walked along Washington Avenue in Minneapolis, singing the songs of protest and urging other people to wake up and join us. The size of the protests in every city in America were now growing from hundreds to thousands. President Johnson’s response was to step up the bombing of the Vietnam countryside, killing more and more totally innocent citizens.

The first great break in the protest movement happened one March night in 1971, when a small band of young people found the courage to break into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. They stole documents that showed how furiously the FBI was working to stop the protesters in virtually any manner they could. I urge you to look at the short documentary video that the New York Times has produced called A HEIST THAT CHANGED HISTORY. It is a remarkable and absolutely intriguing report about young protesters, including Bonnie and John Raines, who broke into that FBI office and uncovered amazing and embarrassing evidence of activities that the FBI used to quash descent. Were the activities of the protesters criminal? Well, yes! Also noble and brave? Indeed!

By this time, Richard M. Nixon had become the President of the United States. He whole-heartedly supported the activities of J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI.

When the young protesters turned their evidence over to the Washington Post, holy hell broke out in America. President Nixon became apoplectic and began giving orders to find the people responsible. It is easy to trace the line between this event to Nixon's eventual break-in at the Democratic Party Headquarters in the Watergate Building in Washington.

You’ll be amazed as you watch this video that shows the young people responsible for the break-in at the FBI office in Media. Watch it here!

In addition, a new book, The Burglary, written by the reporter, Betty Medsger, to whom the young protesters turned over their stolen evidence, is now on the market and is amazing reading. And, Johanna Hamilton has done a documentary about the incident that I am told is really extraordinary. I plan to see it soon.

I hope you’ll watch this NY Times video. If you do, as you watch it, think about the recent “crimes” of Edward Snowden and allow yourself to wonder – just wonder – about whether it was a crime or an act of heroism.

More than 47,000 American troops died in the Vietnam War and more than 171,000 additional brave military men were wounded. Don’t tell me I “disrespected” the troops by protesting the war. I loved them and wanted them home where they belonged! And, with all my heart, I admire those brave American citizens who recognized the tragedy of that war and stood up to protest against it. My feeling of respect for Bonnie and John Raines is enormous.


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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Decline of the Tea Party

Are the paramount days of the Tea Party over? Is the Party losing its influence over Republicans?
by Charlie Leck

What has caused so many traditional Republicans to inch away from any identifiable association with the Tea Party? What has caused so many of these Republicans to be more amiable with Democrats and to indicate their willingness to enter into reasonable discussion, debate and compromise? The answer to the question is not really all that difficult to figure out.
by Charlie Leck

More than forty percent of Americans consider themselves independents when it comes to politics. The other approximately 60 percent is pretty much evenly divided between the two major parties. Notice! There is no real mention of the Tea Party here. There’s good reason. People – and not just politicians – are beginning to disassociate themselves from any connection to or with the Tea Party. Why?

There is an election coming up this year and not many politicians feel secure in being identified with the Tea Party because this unorganized political movement is identified with stagnation and obfuscation – or discombobulation. Many congresspeople who must run this November are convinced that a close identification with the Tea Party may spell doom for them.

Polls show that active political members of the Tea Party are identified most heavily with the lack of action in the U.S. Congress. The level of dissatisfaction with congressional representatives who identify themselves with the Tea Party is at an extraordinary high.

So, suddenly we are seeing lots of news stories about one congressperson after another indicating a willingness to enter into open discussion and debate about all manner of issues.

All of a sudden we are seeing Republican willingness to deal with growing poverty in America. Most every Republican – except the very hard-core Tea Party members – is willing to talk about how to extend unemployment benefits. Most want to connect these conversations with even more extensive talks about dealing with the problem in a long-term manner.

Lots of us – plain old citizens – are breathing more easily these days. We need to see a national political system and legislature that works. We have been screaming it for months and months and virtually begging for a return to reasonable cooperation in the Congress of the United States.

Let’s talk about more than unemployment (and I believe these discussions are going way beyond that single subject). We must also talk about the rising seas! We must talk about the future of the globe if we do not act in concert with all the nations of the earth. We must talk about new approaches to transportation. And, we must even have talks about developing fairer approaches to national income tax. Many of us (I included) are not paying a truly fair-share into the coffers of the U.S. Treasury because we are not being asked to.

It is foolish to think that this country can’t afford to tackle problems like education and transportation and energy use and not solve them because they are too expensive. OMG! It is much more expensive to not solve these problems and the day of reckoning is fast approaching.

Conservatives and progressives must find some ground upon which they can work together to reconstruct America and restore it to the greatness it once knew. I think the time is at hand.


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