Russia is a Special Place (and that’s not good)

We hear so much about Russia, of course, but the subject matter changes.  Today, everything you hear about Russia relates to the country’s attempt to hack into various systems to influence election results, or to increase fears, or simply to create a little chaos.  It’s easy to focus on the trees, and lose sight of the forest.  This essay will also focus on trees, but with the goal of giving the reader some idea of the forest.

Remember pre-1917 Russia, ruled by tsars who were the representative of God and who even could control the church, helped by a group of wealthy, sometimes well educated, aristocrats who led the military, the government agencies, commerce and agriculture, with the support (until the 1860s) of an army of serfs, and following the end of serfdom, a virtual army of peasants.

After years of turmoil, this fell apart in early 1917, when the Russian parliament (the Duma) took over under the leadership of Socialist lawyer Alexander Kerensky.  The West concluded that this was a sea change in Russia (it was), and that Russia was now ready to join the democracies of the world (it wasn’t).  Within nine months, the democrats and socialists were out and the Bolsheviks were in, leading Russia (now the U.S.S.R.) into over 70 years of ugly totalitarianism.

When it was clear that Soviet Communism was not compatible with the ever modernizing world, Gorbachev tried to give Communism a friendly face, open to the world.  He did undo much of what Soviet communism had established, but he saw increasing political anarchy, economic failures, and falling support.  Boris Yeltsin took over with the good idea to banish communism altogether, and bring capitalism to Russia.  This he did, but the capitalism he encouraged was not the capitalism of the United States or of western Europe.  He wound up making a capitalism to serve his buddies, the then new class of Russian oligarchs who bled the country dry by buying state assets (industries, factories, mines, businesses of all kinds) for a song.  All at the expense of the rest of the country – the former serfs and peasants, and everyone else.

It may be the Yeltsin knew that he had gone a bit far, and he in effect designated as his successor a politician from Leningrad (St. Petersburg), who had been for most of his career a KGB official, and who it would assume would bring some order to the wild west that was Russia.  This has not happened, as Putin has learned to wield enormous power, and so far for a period longer than any post-Romanov Russian leader (a period with no end in sight).  Russia remains Russia – with a strong, powerful leader, the masses following behind, freedoms diminished as time goes by.  The tsar lives; his name is Vladimir. 1917 never happened.

Recognizing this is so is important in trying to decipher all of the news (fake or otherwise) today, let me suggest some books you might like to read.

  1.  In the last blog post, I mentioned the biography of David Francis, the American ambassador to Russia at the time of the 1917 Bolshevik takeover.  Standing on a Volcano: the Life and Times of David Rowland Francis, by Harper Barnes (Missouri Historical Society Press, 2001).  If you aren’t interested in Francis’ career in St. Louis (where he chaired the 1904 World’s Fair), skip that part and read “Part II”, dealing with Francis in Russia.  A unique view of 1917 in Russia, from the vantage point of the isolated and very uncertain American diplomatic personnel.
  2. I then read a not very well known book, titled Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles: a Journey Revealing the People and Heartland of Post-Perestroika Russia by Canadian journalists Marq de Villiers (Harper Collins, 1991).  de Villiers decided to explore the Volga River, from its source not far from Moscow to where it drains into the Caspian Sea at Astrakhan. The first half of the trip was made on a small river boat, with four or five Russian journalists; the second half he did solo, using a variety of types of transportation.  He stopped in each city, and a large number of small villages on the river, and in each spoke to people, whom he often ran into by accident.  This was during the Gorbachev years, when the USSR still existed, and Communism was being loosened.  Most of the places he visited were in terrible physical and economic shape, and most of the people, rather than being cheered on by Gorbachev’s reforms, were dispirited, certain that no Russian story has a happy ending, and afraid of their own futures.  Russia, it appeared, was ungovernable.
  3. Next came Godfather of the Kremlin: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia by the late Paul Klebnikov (Harcourt, Inc, 2000).  Described as a biography of Berezovsky, one of the original and best know of the new Russian oligarchs, it is really a story of the extraordinary method of privatization of Russia’s state owned facilities in general – and how the oligarchs got rich with the help of the politicians whom they in turn helped in ways that would never be permitted here. Berezovsky was, for sure, one of the more interesting of the new Russian elite – he was in transportation, mining, media, and more; he was involved in ending the conflict in Chechnya. He was close to Yeltsin and one of his biggest supporters.  He became a supporter, but then an enemy of Putin, and that did it for the career of Boris Berezovsky. He would end up in exile in England, dead by hanging in his estate.  Suicide?  Murder? We don’t know to this day.  (And we can’t rely on Paul Klebnikov  to help us – this award winning investigative reporter was gunned down on a Moscow street in 2004 – again, we don’t have any idea who did it.)  But if you want to know how Russia’s privatization works, this book provides fascinating reading.
  4. I recently finished Red Notice: a True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Injustice by Bill Browder (Simon & Schuster 2015). Browder was the American hedge fund operator who, like the Russian oligarchs, found a way to make himself and his investors rich in Russia (not in a praiseworthy way, but by buying on the secondary market at a deep discount the vouchers issued to Russian citizens, many (most?) of whom sold them to brokers for a fraction of their eventual value.  Without giving the story away (you should read the book), at some point the Russians decided that this American and his international investors were making too much money off Russian privatization, and decided to close him down, again in ways that were immoral and illegal, but orchestrated from the highest levels of the Russian government.  Browder was named persona non grata in Russia, and was living in London, working with Russian and English lawyers and accountants to protect himself and his associates against a series of Russian civil and criminal charges.  One of his Russian attorneys was young Sergei Magnitsky, who took his role very seriously and even when things became very dangerous refused to leave the country.  He was arrested on trumped up tax evasion charges, convicted, sentenced, tortured and murdered in prison.  The book tells the entire story – including the  story of the now famous Magnitsky legislation in this country, targeting Russian officials who were involved in the persecution and murder of Magnitsky.  Even today, in spite of what would clearly appear to be incontrovertible evidence, the Russians (Putin on down) stick to their stories (talk about fake news).  If you are at all interested in this subject (and you should be), this book is essential.
  5. The last book that I am recommending I have not read yet.  Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (2017) is one of the world’s experts on Putin, having left Russia several years ago because of her fear as a lesbian married to another woman, with a child.  She has written an often quoted biography of Putin, and other books on contemporary Russia.  She is a very well respected analyst, and as you can tell from her title, her conclusion seems to be my conclusion.  I have read the review in the Washington Post, which was very positive.  It will jump up several places on my reading list.

What to take away from all of this?  Russia is not America. It is not western Europe.  It is Russia.  It has a complex legal system, subject to complete change, and rarely followed.  Everything important that happens is centralized from the top.  It will be along time before we can believe anything that comes out of the country, and an even longer time before we can count on them, no matter what they say.  They are willing to do everything (not an exaggeration – read the books) to get to where they want to go, and if they begin to falter, they will double down and deny they ever did anything.  Be aware; don’t be deluded.  In the 2016 election, many may have been convinced by their targeted fake news activities.  We must be smarter than that next time.

 

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Russia and the St. Louis World’s Fair

So, I’m interested in all sorts of things, as long as they don’t depend on familiarity with calculus or astrophysics.  And quite often, I will find a book, or an article, that speaks to something which I find of interest.  But how often do I find a book that relates to two separate interests of mine, especially when the two interests seemingly have little to do with each other?

But I did find such a book:  “Standing on a Volcano: The Life and Times of David Rowland Francis”, by Harper Barnes, published by the Missouri Historical Society Press in 2001.

The two seemingly disparate subjects:  (1) The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and (2) Russia/USSR.  David Francis, a man you probably never heard of but who, at one time, was spoken of as a likely candidate for President, was intimately involved with both.

Francis was born in Kentucky in 1850, and came to St. Louis about twenty years later to attend a small school called Washington University.  He stayed in St. Louis, got involved in finance and politics (both very successfully), and at the age of 35, in 1885, was elected mayor, the youngest mayor the city had ever had, and one of the more successful.  Following four years in that office, he was elected governor of the State of Missouri.

He left the governorship in 1897, and devoted the next several years to what became his pet project, the St. Louis World’s Fair, of which he became Chairman and which made him a celebrity.  

St. Louis was the fourth largest cities in the country at the time, but was beginning to pay second fiddle in the Midwest to Chicago, to which it lost out as the site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  St. Louis was losing ground in part because the railroads had decided to go through Chicago, where the obstacles of the Mississippi River and a conservative financial leadership which didn’t want to spring for a second river bridge, were not found.

But Francis was not deterred, and dreamed of a Fair bigger than Chicago’s, overcoming odds and obstacles to succeed.  The scope and breath of the fair was mind-boggling.  Even St. Louis’ Forest Park was too small, and the then new campus of Washington University had to be added to the fair grounds. 900 buildings, only a few of which were built to last a harsh winter, over hundreds of acres.  Lagoons were built, waterfalls cascaded, everything lit with colored lights at night.  Buildings highlighting industries, states, foreign countries.  Exhibits of animals – and controversial exhibits of people, people like Philippine tribesmen, the Ainu from northern Japan, and others.  Iced tea and ice cream cones were introduced.  A wide variety of restaurants, and entertainments.  And if that weren’t enough – the 1904 Olympics. 
None of this would have happened were it not for the determination, the financial intelligence, and the political savvy of David Francis, and “Standing on the Volcano” tells the story very well (as it does the story of the Francis family, and the course of St. Louis history).

The story picks up a dozen or so years later, when Francis, still one of St. Louis’ wealthiest and most prominent citizens, is tapped by Woodrow Wilson to become ambassador to Russia, in spite of his age and lack of diplomatic experience.  World War I (the “Great War”) is raging, Russia a problematic country, but an important ally of France and England.

Francis fits right in in Russia – he loves the diplomatic life, and he loves the imperial capital of St. Petersburg.  But all is not well in mother Russia – resentment, always present, is building against Nicholas II, the economy is weak, and the Russians are getting tired of the war, and the loss of so many of their countrymen.

Francis remains ambassador to Russia when the United States enters the war, and when the first of the two revolutions of 1917 lead to the abdication of the tsar, and the formation of the never stable provisional government under the leadership of moderate socialist Alexander Kerensky.  He becomes an ardent supporter of the provisional government, convincing his home country to recognize the new Russia.  He remains the ambassador during the second 1917 revolution, when the provisional government resigns, when Lenin and his Bolsheviks take control and when Russia pulls out of the war because of public sentiment, governmental philosophy and fear of a German invasion

Francis is very much anti-Bolshevik.  He leads a number of ambassadors out of the new, but dangerous, capital of Moscow, and takes them north to the old town of Vologda, where they remain with the hope that the Bolsheviks will fall, and where they lend their support to the White Army and the Czech legion, fighting the Communists.

But, as we know, although the Allies invaded in the north, the Bolsheviks kept control, and Francis had to sneak out and go back home to St. Louis, where he lived for the remainder of his life (with an unsuccessful excursion to warmer climates).

The book is long, filled with things you know and more things you don’t, and it took me some time to get through it.  It is also a book that you generally don’t find at your neighborhood book store or library.  But it’s a well written book, Francis more than a worthy subject, the detail about the World’s Fair fascinating, and the view of Russia between 1916 and 1918 as seen from the American embassy (including the hardships of the American residing in the now USSR, the differences of opinions among American diplomats and other ex-pats, and their communications with Russian and other foreign officials) is something I have not studied before, and is very interesting (and totally new for mell.

The author, Harper Barnes, is listed as a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor, fluent in Russian.  He should be proud of this book.

 

Rotterdam (Holland) and Columbus (Indiana): Two Tales of Two Cities

So this morning, I watched the last two segments of the 2017 Rotterdam triathlon – the ITU World Finals. I saw the cycling and the running. Missed the swimming.

Now, I don’t even know what ITU stands for. I am not interested in the triathlon, although I now know that winner today was French, but that someone else was the winner for the entire year.

What I really liked was seeing the course that ran through Rotterdam. Just like when I was glued to the Tour de France, it was not to watch the cyclists, but the scenery.

I was in Rotterdam a long time ago, and just once. The old port city was virtually destroyed by bombing in World War II, and, as opposed to most of Europe,  the decision was made not to rebuild old Rotterdam, but to construct a new, modern Rotterdam. The triathlon course which ran by a portion of the port and central districts were interesting to see. If I had been smart, I would have followed the course with a map, but I didn’t think of it.

Seven hours or so after the end of the race, we went to see the new, highly rated film, “Columbus”. It is named for its setting, Columbus, Indiana, the home of about 60 architecturally distinguished buildings constructed over a 25 year period beginning in the early 1940s, many of which represent the modernist school of architecture.

The story line concerns a relationship between a recent Columbus high school graduate and the Korean born son of a well known scholar of architecture who becomes very sick while in Columbus to give a lecture.

But the background, beautifully filmed, is the architecture of Columbus. It was of particular interest to me because we were in Columbus in the summer of 2016 and we saw much, and possibly most, of what is shown in the film. And it looked better in the film than in person, in part because so much of the architecture is dated, although radical for its time. And the upkeep of the buildings vary.

It’s worth going to Columbus, and it’s worth seeing the film. The young Columbus woman is fascinated by architecture. The son of the Korean scholar is not. She tells him that she is not surprised, that most people in Columbus pay no attention to it. That it’s too familiar.

And Columbus is more than the architecture that drives its tourist business. It is home to some large industries and is very much a company town, with the seeming majority of its citizens living very modestly, in small one storey houses often in need of repair. The movie gives you a sense of this, too.

I guess I’m just interested in cities, and there are so many ways (film and TV sports being just two) to satisfy that interest visually. With YouTube, as another example, you can explore any place you wish. And on the internet, you can see a most everywhere live. What a world!

The War in Vietnam

I hadn’t heard of the book, and when I started reading through it, I did not know whether or not it would be interesting.  It was.

The book is Gordon Goldstein’s 2008 book, Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam. For those who don’t remember Bundy, he was not the serial killer (that was Ted), but rather the National Security Advisor who served both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.  He was the epitome of those called by David Halberstam “the best and the brightest”.

Born into a wealthy, socially prominent Boston family, Bundy did his undergraduate work at Yale (Skull and Bones) and graduate work at Harvard (he was a Harvard Fellow, an exclusive program without the requirements of PhD candidates), and by the time he was 34, he was Dean of the Harvard Faculty.  His field was government, although it should be known that his undergraduate work was in mathematics, and his academic government work was fairly minimal.

He joined the Kennedy administration in time to see the first major Kennedy foreign policy defeat, the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.  From this, he saw Kennedy develop a fear of foreign policy adventures, which led to his administration’s keeping a low profile with troubles increasing in Vietnam, sending some military advisors, but vowing not to get involved in a war against the Communist North and not to send American combat troops.  It was enough that the United States was covertly involved in the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government, although this in the end did not help the cause of the South, and apparently Kennedy had no idea that President Diem was going to be murdered in cold blood, or he would not have even authorized the covert assistance we gave.

After Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson went back and forth on whether or not combat troops should be sent to Vietnam, listening to a variety of advisors, from super dove George Ball to the super hawks at the Pentagon and in the military.  Bundy was typically on the hawkish side, and certainly was not upset when Johnson made the eventual decision to commit the United States to the fight.  Nor was he against the large troop increases, even when it seemed clear that this was not a war that could be won.  American prestige, American credibility was on the line, and with the addition of hundreds of thousands of American troops, perhaps a negotiated settlement could be reached.  Of course, this never happened, and almost 50,000 additional American soldiers died, while we pretended that we were winning, or would win, or could win the war.  Bundy’s resolve wavered quite a bit as this useless escalation continued.

Bundy valued loyalty, both to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and maintained that he would not criticize either president for any decision made.  He kept up his vow until Robert McNamara, Kennedy’s Defense Secretary, published his memoir, In Retrospect, in 1995 (Bundy had read it in draft).  Perhaps, because of McNamara’s candor, Bundy thought it was appropriate for him to give his thoughts as to the past as well.

This is where Goldstein came in.  Bundy knew Goldstein and asked him to work with him on his book, doing the factual research, while Bundy, approaching 80, searched his memory for the more subjective narrative.  The collaboration was working well when Bundy, suddenly and unexpectedly, died of a heart attack in 1996.

Bundy’s book never got written (his wife did not want a book published under his name posthumously, it appears), but Goldstein wrote his own book describing what he learned about the period collaborating with McGeorge (who was called Mac, not George, by the way) Bundy.

The result is a very well written book, uniquely organized as to lessons learned, largely chronological but not exclusively, about the Kennedy and Johnson White Houses, the presidents themselves and their senior staff members, advisors and cabinet officials regarding the country’s foreign policy.

The book is very much worth reading, both as a review of the 1960s and because it provides some “inside the White House” insight that you might not find in many places.  The lessons are many, but they boil down to this:  you can get advice from many people based on their experiences, their intellectual or emotional make up, or their ideologies, and they are certain to vary, from one extreme to the other. And you are obliged to study all of these points of view – you are making a big mistake if you don’t.  But, if you are the president, you have to make the decisions and you (as well as the rest of us) have to live with them.  The buck really does stop there.

George Soros – It’s Unbelievable

Have you seen what’s going on with George Soros?  I quote from today’s Washington Times:  “A petition asking the White House to declare liberal mega-donor George Soros a domestic terrorist has garnered over 100,000 signatures, or more than enough to necessitate a response from the Trump administration……[The petition states that] George Soros has willfully and on an ongoing basis attempted to destabilize and otherwise commit acts of sedition against the United States and its citizens.’ through allegedly creating and funding organizations exclusively devoted to facilitating “the collapse of the systems and Constitutional government of the United States.”

Now, nothing could be more ridiculous than this.  But in fact (and I know this from some people that I know, who are otherwise fairly smart) many right wing Americans are convinced that George Soros is evil incarnate, and that declaring him a terrorist would be most appropriate.  Unbelievable.

George Soros, a Hungarian-American Jewish investor, is one of the world’s wealthiest men. Born in Budapest and a young teenager when the Germans invaded Hungary, he was hidden with false papers in the home of a non-Jewish friend of his fathers, who (for whatever reason) provided assistance to the German regime.  Young George accompanied him on some missions where his false father was apparently identifying Jews for the Nazis.  Based on this history, which saved Soros’ life, right wingers have decided not only that Soros was a self-hating Jew (whatever that really is supposed to mean), and that he was a willing Nazi sympathizer and supporter.  Some websites have even concluded that Soros was a German SS officer during World War II (putting aside the fact that the war ended when he was 15).  Have I said this before?  Unbelievable.

After the war, Soros went to London to study philosophy at the London School of Economics, and then (realizing that teaching philosophy after World War II was not going to result in his earning a good income) went into finance, finding himself quite adept at anticipating changes in equity, loan and currency markets.  He became very wealthy.  (Much of his wealth came from his anticipation of the collapse of the British pound and certain other currencies, and his shorting these currencies; his critics have claimed that he engineered the collapse of the currencies himself – something that is pretty difficult for one person to have done.)

He kept up his interest in and study of philosophy and its practical application, especially to social structure and political organization.  Having the resources at his command, and seeing where governments were failing their citizenry, he decided to set up a number of Open Society Foundations, supported by his own foundation, but by and large up to local leadership and direction.  His first efforts were in the Soviet Union and the countries freed from the Soviet grip during the 1980s and 1990s.  In all, it’s been estimated that he has donated $12 billion of his own money to these efforts.

Why have the right wing crazies (my term) targeted Soros?  Jealousy of his wealth?  Failure to understand his thinking?  Antisemitism?  Suspicion of motives (which can be influenced by Antisemitism)? Follow the leader?  I am not sure.

I wanted to learn more about Soros, so I picked up his 2006 book, The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror, to see if I could learn a little more as to why he has been personified by so many as the enemy.

Soros was a very vocal critic of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq (his reasons are those that now seem obvious – the entire Middle East would be destabilized, and Iran would be the winner).  He put a lot of money and effort in ensuring that Bush would not be elected to a second term.  He was obviously not successful, but he earned a lot of Republican enemies in the process. By the way, his main efforts to stop a second term for W were in voter registration drives – obviously a very un-American activity, to be certain.

The Age of Fallibility is a short, and unusual, book.  It is not Soros’ first, and he cites his others throughout, as his world view seems to have been very consistent over the past 50 years (he even quotes at length from a piece he wrote in 1961).  The first part of the book is about Soros’ philosophical stance, much of it based on his studies at LSE, and in particular on the teachings of Karl Popper and his book The Open Society and its Enemies.  From Popper, Soros got the name for his various foundations.

Much of the first part of the book relates to concepts such as reality and truth.  It’s important to search for truth, but it is impossible to identify truth (as I understand Soros) because so much of what one sees as reality is influenced by oneself. So, when one observes something, he is observing the object as he observes it, thus becoming a part of what he is observing and distorting the apparent reality as he does so.  Can you follow that?  Was I at all clear?  It helps explain, for example, why two people with different basic world views can look at the same item, or the same occurrence, and reach very different conclusions as to what they are seeing.  An important concept when thinking about today’s political realities.

I’m obviously not going to try to restate Soros’ full book; I encourage you to read it yourself, although the first part does require patience and attention.  When you get to the later parts, dealing with today’s political realities (today being 2006), it is easier to follow.

My brief analysis of Soros’ views is as follows:  There are “open societies” and “closed societies”.  Clearly, Communist and fascist societies (both of which Soros lived in, so he has personal experience) are “closed”, but so are any societies led by leaders or parties with fundamentalist ideologies. An “open society” is one that permits individuals to live their lives as much as possible in accordance with their own needs, desires and beliefs; it is a tolerant society.  A “closed society” is one where leadership is such that citizens need to conform to the party line, or risk being ostracized or punished one way or another.

Here we reach what I would call a paradox.  Soros, called by his enemies a “liberal”, would probably not call himself a liberal, at least as that term is understood today.  Soros is against, not for, big government. He believes in citizens taking action themselves (in his own life, through his Open Society foundations).  In many ways, Soros is more a Libertarian than a Democrat,  He supports Democratic candidates, not because he always believes what they believe, but because he finds the right wing Republican (and, with regard to foreign policy, the right wing ‘neocon’ positions) to be so wrongheaded.

The Open Society Foundations promote open societies, and teaching citizens how to strive for and operate open societies.  This is why he was so effective in the former Soviet occupied countries.  It is equally why today, in countries such as his native Hungary, which have become more “closed” and more right wing in recent years have also, like the American right, turned Soros into a bad guy.

The other reason that the right is so opposed to Soros is that Soros and the right have very different concepts of patriotism.  Soros’ concept of patriotism is to support your country as a citizen-country of the world; he is against nationalism, and he would certainly be against anything called “America First”. This is not because he doesn’t support his country, but because he believes that nationalism and American First-ism will lead away from, not towards, the goal of making the country the best it can be. He believes that American consumerism is an evil that has led to many of today’s problems – that we were stronger when we were implementing the Marshall Plan to rebuild other countries. He believes that globalism is here to stay, and that it should be encouraged and developed for the overall benefit of the planet, not that it should be manipulated for the supposed benefit of one country or another, and that his country should lead this effort.

He is also very concerned about the conservation of the resources of the planet and its energy sources.  He is very concerned about climate change.  He is very concerned about nuclear arms.  He is a strong believer in democracy, but does not think that democracy can be imposed from the outside, or can be rushed.

Soros is clearly very bright, and very serious in following what he believes is the right course.  He understands that, because of his enormous wealth (he is much richer than, for example, Donald Trump), he has opportunities that others do not have.  But he is not perfect.  Many of his efforts have failed, and he treats them as defeats, sometimes victims of circumstance, sometimes of bad planning.  He has an enormous ego, and I guess would be difficult to be around for long periods of time.  He is now in his upper 80s, and knows that his time is limited – whether he has provided for succession in his various enterprises, I am not sure.  He has a number of children, some of whom do work with him.

I hope I have done a decent job in describing Soros as I see him.  I have a biography of him, Soros, by Michael Kaufman, written about 15 years ago.  I know nothing about the book, but I plan to look at it soon to see if it adds to, or changes, my current views.

I certainly cannot see why Soros should be considered a terrorist any more than I should be.  But, I guess, anyone who supports open societies would be targeted by those who favor closed societies (even those people who don’t know that they favor closed societies – this gets us back to our discussion of truth and reality), and that an open society advocate with tens of billions of dollars behind him would naturally become the biggest target of them all.

 

DC Roaming (1)

This summer has been so busy for so many reasons that I have not had much time to do what I had been doing quite a bit of before this summer – and that is spending a day, or a good part of the day, roaming the city.  Today, my calendar was empty, so I decided to take advantage of a small lull.  I left the house about 9:30 this morning, and returned about 4.  As to my roaming skill – I think I’m a little out of practice.

It was a pretty nice day – a bit too humid, but not too hot.  My walk to the Van Ness was not out of the ordinary.  My only stop was at the mailbox at Connecticut and Albemarle, where a young woman and her do dogs were communing in front of the mailbox and had to step aside.  I escalated into the station, and found four young men – I would guess in their twenties – looking like sort of the type you wouldn’t want your sister to marry.  Their English was none too good, and their comprehension of the Metro fare structure and system was worse; the Metro lady trying to help them was having a difficult time communicating with them.  I decided that there was nothing I could add but more confusion, so I went on.

I had decided to go to the National Portrait Gallery, to see a Matthew Brady exhibit, so I stayed on the train until it got to Gallery Place/Chinatown, where I got off at the 9th street exit. I had forgotten that this museum, located right there, didn’t open until 11:30 – almost an hour later – so I needed to decide what Plan B was.  I thought about the Hirshhorn, so began to walk south from the station.  I was surprised by what I saw – several homeless people camped out on 9th street, on the west side of the museum, with all their worldly goods scattered about, including one who was living in a bright orange tent.  Then I saw that, on the museum side of the complex, on the other side of the low wrought iron fence, there was an extraordinary amount of trash.  What’s going on here?

When I got to the corner of 9th and F, I looked at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel, the old Riggs National Bank Building, now also the home of a Gordon Biersch restaurant. Built in 1891, it is one of my favorite buildings in downtown DC.  I took a nice photo, and thought that maybe I should photograph the buildings in DC that I find architecturally distinctive. There is so much mediocre design here, that sometimes you forget the good stuff.  This building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places over 45 years ago.  The architect was James Hill, who also designed the General Printing Office Building on North Capitol Street (which I walked by today) and St. Margaret’s Church on Connecticut Avenue, which I pass all the time.

I crossed F Street and turned left towards 7th (the Hirshhorn is at Independence and 7th), walked past the Spy Museum, and decided to duck into the gift/book shop of that museum.  It’s a shop I really like, with a very large selection of books dealing with the spy and intelligence biz, every single one of which I would like to read.  I’ve never bought a book there, however, since they sell them at full retail, and even their sale books average about $20 each.  But I looked around for a while and realized it still was not 11:30.

I walked by the Hotel Monaco, crossed 7th Street, and continued south, until I got to Constitution.  The Monaco, by the way, is located in an old Post Office Building, constructed in the 1830s and designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Treasury Department building, and the Patent Office Building, which now houses the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. Then, I changed my mind, and decided that I would save the Hirshhorn for another day and instead go to the National Postal Museum where they had an exhibition on the National Park System.  The Postal Museum is located next to Union Station in the city’s main post office building.  Like the National Portrait Gallery, it’s a Smithsonian Museum.

I like the National Archives, located at 7th and Constitution, but decided to exclude U.S. Government buildings from my architecture project.  I turned left on Constitution, and walked past the United States Courthouse (a particularly unattractive building) and a fine statue of early Chief Justice John Marshall.  At the east side of the courthouse, there is a statue that I had forgotten about – a statue of William Blackstone. 18th century English judge and legal scholar who, surprising when you think about it, died in his mid-50s, before his work was really completed. This statute was completed in 1920 by Paul Wayland Bartlett, a well known American sculptor.   He also designed some of the historical pediments on the Capitol (not completed until the early 1900s), and a couple of statues found inside the Library of Congress.  For my continuing project of photographing DC outdoors sculpture, I took a picture of Blackstone, which I will post on Facebook.

I crossed the street for a brief detour because I noted a sculpture on the eastern side of the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, a sculpture by well known artist Frank Stella.  Took a picture of that too, for Facebook. Stella is still around; he is 81.

From there, I noted two buildings on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.  The first houses the apparently financially stressed Newseum; I decided that, although it is new and rather unique, it was not a building that I feel distinguished.  Next to it is the Canadian Embassy; it is, to me, a very nicely designed building, but I decided I had to take its photo between December and March, but the trees surrounding it kept me from getting the view I’d like.

Crossing back and continuing to walk past the uninspiring Frances Perkins Building housing the Labor Department (how many people can identify her and her good work today?) to a much nicer building housing Washington Gas Light (maybe it’s now only WGL), the local gas utility.  This structure is not beautiful from all angles, but it is from some, so I took a picture to add to my architecture project (I now have 2 photos – in my statue collection, I have more like 250 photos), as I turned the corner up Louisiana Avenue.

But rather than continuing up Louisiana to Union Station (I decided the food court here would have my lunch), I decided to take another detour to the Robert Taft Memorial and Carillon across the street.  It’s a 100 foot tall marble tower with 27 bells (I had heard a few of them ring at the 11:30 mark). Another two photos – I could not remember whether or not I already had these in my statue collection.  Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard, Senator from Ohio, “Mr. Republican”, competitor to Eisenhower for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination. I am sure that no one under 60 knows anything about him (except perhaps in Ohio).

Continuing up the street, I saw an unusual cigarette package on the sidewalk (yes, that’s another collection).  This one was an Italian Benson & Hedges package, with a picture of a naked man curled up on a bed, and (in Italiano) stating that smoking can lead to impotence. A bit weird, to put it mildly, and certainly worth keeping.

A few more homeless people hanging out in front of Union Station, designed by Daniel Burnham (he also designed the well known Flat Iron Building in New York) and opened in 1907, but remodeled several times, and now a food and shopping facility as well as a busy railroad station (and Amtrak’s headquarters).  The latest upgrade has recently been completed, and I haven’t looked at everything, but it does look pretty spiffy.  The main lobby is now less crowded, because the central restaurant has been removed, and there are attractive benches for people to relax on.  It does seem that the retail business has slowed down a bit – although the only vacant stores seem to all be in the process of being converted for a new tenant, but there is more food on the main floor where there had been more retail establishments.  There is still the large Victoria’s Secret and H & M, and a number of other specialty shops, to be sure, but it looked like several stores are gone – like the Swatch watch store (just to name one example).  In addition, some of the shops that were specialty shops have now been enlarged so that the food shops at the next parallel level (there are four parallel corridors – the lobby, the specialty shops, the tickets, the train doors) move through to the ticket corridor.  For example, the Einstein Bagel shop has been increased and now has an eat-in section.

None of this is very interesting, I know, and besides that I didn’t study it so I might be wrong in what I say (who cares?), but what is most surprising are the changes at the downstairs food court.  There seem to be fewer eating establishments and less seating.  An entire section is gone (where the Indian and Chinese place used to be).  Also, the high end coffee bar is gone (maybe it’s been gone for a while).  And, there is now a Walgreen’s Drug Store on this level, and – even more oddly – a large Samsung Galaxy Gallery in the middle of the food court.  There are still multiple places to eat (how many? 20?). as there are throughout the building.

Surprisingly, I haven’t been able quickly to find a computation of how many food or other stores there are in the building.  But it looks like there are more than 90 on the Union Station website.  At any rate, I skipped the fancy restaurants on the main and second floors, and the new casual places on the west side of the main floor – which include Chopt, Roti, Potbelly, and Chipotle.  I went down to the food court, and stopped at the first place, Lotus Express and asked for the orange chicken and two sides special, for about $6.50. It turns out that you don’t get a choice of sides (according to the young server), but have to take fried rice and a cabbage/broccoli combination, along with the orange chicken pieces, which look not so much like normal orange chicken, but more like tater tots.  At any rate, I’d give the meal a B-, which is better than I thought it would be when I saw it being put on the plate.

I through away the trash and started towards the escalator, when I ran into my friend Bert Foer who was there with his son Jonathan Safran Foer, and two of his grandchildren (who look very big), who were apparently passing through town on their way to Colorado.

Leaving Union Station, I walked just next door to the Postal Museum.  I went through the metal detector, walked around the exhibits for a few minutes, and walked out.  I really like this museum, but I must admit that I don’t enjoy it.  It’s very well done, it has a lot of valuable stamps, and more than that has a lot of information about postal history (with supporting items and relics).  But I like the fact that it’s there much more than I like actually being there.  Now that I am home at night, I say to myself “I’d like to go to the Postal Museum soon”.  Go figure.

What to do after leaving the museum?  First, I walked up North Capitol Street, to the Government Printing Office, a building I have always admired.  It was built in 1903 and designed by the sames James Hill who designed the Riggs National Bank Building on 9th Street.  (I just read, by the way, that Frederick Douglass’ son was the first African-American typesetter at the GPO – interesting.)

Walking by the GPO, having turned left off North Capitol, I realize that I was close to one of the District’s Walmart.  I had not been in any of them, but I needed (or rather, I wanted) a new inexpensive brief case (I had thrown out two of them within the last month) and I thought they might have something, which they did. A nice black cloth (?) briefcase made in Cambodia, of all places.

The Walmart is very near one of the city’s largest and oldest male homeless shelter. Like a lot of shelters, they don’t let you hang around inside during the day, so the surrounding area is filled with homeless men talking and sleeping.  A little disconcerting.  As to Walmart, it was very busy, with a very mixed clientele (and a very mixed group of employees, it seems).  I felt like I had entered a different culture.  I had to ask a couple of employees where the luggage and cases were, and each time they told me in ways that I found hard to understand.  “See where that sign that says ‘Home’ is?  Well, don’t go that  way, but go this way until you see where that woman is and turn left and then walk past the ‘Home’ sign and turn right and you’ll find it.”  [That didn’t work].  “Go through the baby section and turn to the right.” [That didn’t work.] Eventually, I did find it.  But there was no price tag, and someone else told me I had to go to the microwaves and then look for the machine that would read the bar code and give me a price.  Very sophisticated, I thought.

Then, when I got to the cashier, who was very pleasant, I was told that the store could not process credit cards, only cash or debit cards.  No one knew why, but it hadn’t been fixed yet.

From Walmart, I walked back to Union Station and took the Metro to Dupont Circle, to do my normal review of the outside books at Second Story.  They were just taking down last week’s suggestion and putting in the new selection, so I went down the street to Emissary Coffee, and sat outside with an iced coffee writing a letter to Donald Trump (if you’re my Facebook friend, you understand this).  Then back to Second Story, where I bought a signed copy of Gloria Vanderbilt’s autobiography, and a harder to find biography of David Francis, the man who chaired the St. Louis 1904 World’s Fair.

Then walked down to 18th and Connecticut, an L2 bus home, looking at the mail, taking my car to get washed and picking up some food for supper.

That’s it, folks.

 

 

 

Ariel Sharon (an Israeli Donald Trump)?

I just finished reading Ariel Sharon by Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom, a biography published just after the Israeli prime minister went on life support following a cerebral hemorrhage in 2006.  The book is not difficult reading, but it took me a while to get through it, because it is filled with information (some of which I hope I will remember, but much of which escaped me within a page or two).   The book is a bit unusual in that it is based primarily on interviews (most of which without attribution), has no index and only a limited bibliography, and no footnotes at all.  But it is detailed and, I believe, balanced, and gives the reader a good overview of the life of Sharon.  I have another Sharon biography that I have not read, the one written by his son Gilad.  It would be interesting to compare them – but I leave that to someone else.

I am not going to go through the life of Sharon here – Wikipedia (or this book) will give you that. But what interested me was the psychology of Ariel Sharon.  And what surprised me was how close it was, in so many ways, to that of Donald Trump.  To be sure, there were differences:  Sharon grew up very poor; from an early age, he showed enormous personal courage, with no apparent concept of fear; Sharon was a military leader (some consider him a hero, some consider him uncontrollable wild man), and was intimate with the politicians of Israel (although he was not one) from the birth of the State in 1948.

But there were also fascinating psychological similarities.  Look at how the authors described Sharon (and remember that this was well before Donald Trump surfaced as a political persona in the United States).

1. One “….piece of the puzzle is his resilience.  No matter how dire the predicament. Ariel Sharon would never fly the white flag of surrender.  Most people capitulate or crumble in the face of public failure or personal tragedy.  Sharon was different.” [As to personal tragedy, his first wife and oldest son were both killed, his wife in an auto accident, his son in a firearm accident. As to public failure, this happened again and again.]

2. Another “….key to understanding the Sharon puzzle is his willingness to think and act outside the box so long as his conclusions corresponded to his sense of justice.  This characteristic is one of the main reasons that Arik Sharon, from an early age, found himself at the heart of so many controversies.”

3.  He was “…..always able to read the winds of change, had a long history of equivocation.  It is not difficult to find quotes from him in favor of and in opposition to the same issue.  Sharon was for and then against a Palestinian state, a security wall, a national referendum, and the forced withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank…….Sharon’s history of equivocations evolved from three separate aspects of his character.”

4. “Sharon was not motivated by a firm ideology, certainly not in the religious sense of the word.”

5. “Sharon liked to be in charge, the final arbiter.”

6. “Sharon viewed honesty pragmatically, as a commodity rather than an ideal.”

I find this fascinating.

In fact, I found most of the book fascinating – Sharon’s youth, his military experience in all of Israel’s wars, his refusal to let serious injuries slow him down, his decision to get into politics, his ability to attract friends and enemies and to manipulate both.  His ability to earn a lot of money and wind up with the largest “ranch” in Israel.  His tendency (a la Trump) to favor government policies that helped his businesses (e.g., keeping import of lamb and sheep meat at a minimum, while he had one of the country’s largest flock of sheep), and the continual accusations that he was either accepting bribes from or making promises to foreign individuals who had the ability to help his own business interests, and those of his sons.

The way Israel politics work is always interesting (and at times makes American politics look like child’s play).  The system of requiring potential prime ministers to negotiate coalitions of diverse parties to create governments sets the stage, of course, for deals and for dirty deals, for loyalty and for disloyalty, for promises and for lying.  And this book outlines this aplenty.

Finally, the change in Sharon, when he was in his 70s, is fascinating.  From someone who encouraged the settlements in both Gaza and the West Bank, who denied the possibility of anything approaching a two state solution, reversed himself completely when he withdrew from Gaza and forced the Israel settlers there to leave.  This was very similar to the turn of policy advocated by Yitzhak Rabin, which led to his assassination by a radical right wing Israeli.  Sharon was perhaps saved from a repeat assassination by his decline in health and final illness – that we will never know.  But, to me, the parallel changes of these two Israeli leaders, are meaningful, although I am not quite sure what meaning to draw from it. Yet no one seems to discuss this in these terms, particularly in Israel.  But as Netanyahu ages, will he become the third Israeli prime minister to follow the course of reversing his policy towards Israel’s neighbors.  Time will tell.

As to this book, I recommend I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about, or think about, these issues.

 

Right Wing Talk Radio

The definition of the TV networks and a few east and west coast newspapers as “mainstream media” and purveyors of  “fake news” intrigues me.  This is what we hear all the time from the right wing.  Based on the number of people who listen to right wing radio talk show hosts, it seems to me that they may better fit the definition of “mainstream media” today, and that their labeling of the more traditional media outlets as mainstream may simply an example of politically directed right wing “fake news”.

The most popular radio show in the country is the Rush Limbaugh Show, according to Talkers Magazine.  Also in the top ten, one finds Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Glen Beck and Mark Levin.

Right wing talk radio is vicious.  No Democrat that I know can stand to listen to any of these hosts because of their vitriol, lack of any balance or objectivity and constant disregard of the truth.  (Do their listeners agree with my characterization?  Of course not.  Do the hosts themselves? I obviously don’t know, but my guess is that, at least to some extent, they do.)

We know that these shows are very influential, particularly for those who tendencies are to trust Republicans and distrust Democrats, to be more nationalistic and ethnocentric. And for those who live in areas where these worldviews predominate, and where alternative listening choices are few.  We suspect that they are very influential in elections, local and federal.

Over the past few weeks, I have been spending considerable time in my car. listening to three different talk radio shows – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Dennis Prager.  I am not going to talk about them individually, although they have differences – but in most respects they are birds of a feather.  And not attractive birds.

The first things you have to get over in listening to any of them are their egos, which are monstrous.  And then you have to get beyond the constant stream of ads (particularly on Hannity’s show, where the ads seem to take up as much time as the talk).  Then, if you listen carefully, you realize something that, to me at least, is surprising.

What is surprising is how much the diatribes against the evil left subsume any attempt to explain what their affirmative beliefs are, what their ideal “conservative” or “right wing” political program would be.  They spend all their time badmouthing the Democrats in general, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, the “mainstream media” (in particular, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and, yes, the Wall Street Journal), the “coastal elite”, liberals and leftists, university faculties and intellectuals in general.  And by bad-mouthing, I don’t mean that they simply express disagreement with them, but they turn them into evil beings, dragging the country into disrepair (purposely), they refer to them as unpatriotic universalists, they turn them into scum, pure and simple. The drumbeat is constant and unrelenting.  There is no room for the serious discussion of policies or policy differences.

To their audiences, this is obviously red meat.  Why, I am not sure, but obviously red meat.  These people clearly need an enemy, need to see that there are evil powers conspiring against them, meaning to harm them, and they all come from the “left”.  If this is all you hear, all you read, and you hear it constantly, I guess this is what you will tend to believe.  And it’s easier to believe this sort of thing, than to look seriously at the issues facing the country, and the world, today.

It is this viciousness, this ignoring of true analysis, this total lack of compassion or understanding that has made right wing talk radio the success it has become.  And more than that, it is this viciousness that has led to various right wing political movements, such as the Tea Party.

None of this, it seems, was lost on one Donald John Trump.  His campaign was, it has now occurred to me, right wing talk radio taken to the next step.  He spoke like talk radio hosts speak, and he got much the same response.  He won the election (electorally speaking) the same way Limbaugh, Hannity and Prager won the ratings. So don’t discount right wing talk radio – it has made the country what it is today.

The next obvious question is:  am I going to continue to listen?  The obvious answer is:  not on your life.  To me, Limbaugh is an idiot, Hannity is pure evil, and Prager as much of an egoist as the Donald.  Oh – did I say I wasn’t going to review them?  Sorry.

 

 

 

Maryland, My Maryland

Baltimore had four outdoor statues dedicated to the Confederacy.  One honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, one honoring Justice Roger Taney, one honoring women of the Confederacy and one honoring the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy generally.  In the dead of night, all four statues were taken down and put into storage, leaving only bare pedestals where they once stood.  Although my own opinions about statues honoring the Confederacy seem to be evolving as time went on, I have no problem concluding that Baltimore finally did the correct thing with regard to at least three of the statues.  In the first place, the city is almost 2/3 African-American.  In addition, although Baltimore certainly had a lot of southern sympathizers during the Civil War, the city and the State of Maryland remained in the Union, never seceding.  And, although I don’t know the history of each of these four statues, I did read that the Lee/Jackson statue was only installed in 1948, over 80 years after the end of the war.

Another statue of Mr. Chief Justice Taney was, until the past few days, located in the Maryland state capitol in Annapolis.  It is now also gone.  Roger Taney is known, and anathematized as the author of the notorious Dred Scott decision, but it should also be understood that the vote of the Supreme Court justices was 7-2.  It was not a one man decision.  And it was consistent with Taney’s history as a defender of states’ right and promoter of a limited federal government.  Whether the Taney statue in the State House, or the one in Baltimore, deserve the same fate as the other statues is, to me, a harder question.  Just as the Dred Scott decision was not a one man decision, Justice Taney’s career was not a one case career.  And Taney was not an enemy of the United States.  He did not support the Confederacy (Maryland was his home state), and he was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The Dred Scott decision, which concluded that blacks are not and cannot be citizens or given the right of citizens, among other things, and which invalidated the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which limited the spread of slavery, was one of the worst decisions in the history of the Court, no doubt about that.  When I think of bad Supreme Court cases, I also think of the 1944 Korematsu case, which supported the placement of west coast Japanese Americans into concentration camps.  The decision in that case was written by Justice Hugo Black, and the concurring justices included William Douglas and Felix Frankfurter, as well as Harlan Stone, Stanley Reed and Wiley Rutledge.  No one is suggesting (I don’t think) that statues or memorials to those justices should be taken down.  What makes Taney different?  (I am asking the question, not giving the answer.)

But that brings me to another topic.  The official Maryland state song, “Maryland, My Maryland, which was adopted as the official state song by the state legislature in, believe it or not, 1939!  (Now, you may ask whether or not I have standing to say anything about Maryland’s state song, since I don’t live in Maryland and never had.  But, fact is, I am planning on residing there for eternity, which gives me as much  standing as anyone could possibly have.)

“Maryland, My Maryland” is a song dedicated to the glory of the Confederate States of America, a horrible song clearly anti-American, adopted as an official state song by a state that never left the Union 75 years after the end of the Civil War.  What goes here?  And why, in spite of a few attempts to rewrite the lyrics (and the lyrics are the song, as the melody is simply “Oh, Tannenbaum”, which has been used for any number of purposes, including Cornell University’s “Evening Song”).

“What am I talking about?”. you ask.  Here goes, with some of the lyrics:

“The despot’s heel is on your shore” [That’s Lincoln], Maryland, my Maryland

“His torch is at thy temple door”, Maryland my Maryland

“Avenge the patriotic gore that flecked the streets of Baltimore” [The riots in Baltimore trying to keep Lincoln from reaching Washington for his first inauguration]

“Dear Mother! burst the tyrant’s chain [still Lincoln], Virginia shall not call in vain” [Virginia asking Maryland to secede and join the Confederacy]

“She meets her sisters on the plain. ‘Sic semper’ tis the proud refrain'” [Sic semper referring to John Wilkes Booth, after he assassinated Lincoln]

“From hill to hill, from creek to creek, Potomac calls to Chesapeake” [again, Virginia calling to Maryland]

“I hear the distant thunder-hum, Maryland my Maryland,

The Old Line’s bugle, fife and drum, Maryland my Maryland,

She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb

Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!

She breathes! she burns! She’ll come! She’ll come!

Maryland, my Maryland”

This song was written by a Maryland native living in Louisiana during the war, a southern sympathizer who wanted his native state to secede join the Confederacy.  It became a popular song in the Confederacy, and was sung by Confederate troops as they marched into Frederick, Maryland, per the direction of Robert E. Lee.  It was a southern theme song, much like “Dixie”.

So tell me. Why did it become the official state song of Maryland in 1939?  And even more importantly, why is it the official state song in 2017?

 

A similar post could be written about Virginia and Florida. The rest of the Confederacy is clear.

 

Confederate Monuments – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

The former Confederate states are filled with monuments to the Confederacy.  Some commemorate those who died in military service; some commemorate particular battles; some commemorate individual officers of the Confederate military or politicians. Some of these monuments are simple plaques, obelisks or the like.  Others are representations of generic or specific representatives of the Confederate military.  Of course, there are also Confederate military cemeteries, some public, some private.

I don’t have a strong feeling as to whether they should go or stay, or whether they should be moved to locations with less prominence or traffic.  We just finished a trip through the Virginia countryside.  Monuments to the days of the Confederacy seem to be everywhere.  In Onancock, for example, a central public park features a monument to a general who was a native son (actually, he wasn’t a general although the inscription calls him that).  In Gloucester, we saw an obelisk dedicated to the residents of that town who had died in the war that has been in the center if the city’s unique historic district since the 1890s, and which was joined not long ago by another monument to a representative of a “Colored” unit that fought during the war.  I don’t find any of this offensive, although some people do.

There is now a movement to move or destroy these monuments in many places.  We saw what happened in Charlottesville following a city decision to move a monument to Robert E. Lee.  We saw what happened in Durham, where a bunch of folks took it upon themselves to destroy a statue.  We just saw what happened in Baltimore, where the four Confederate statutes where removed during the still of night by the city, without anyone being informed.  (I must say, I have a different feeling about Confederate monuments in places like Baltimore, which were never a part of the Confederacy and where at least one of the monuments was not constructed until 1948.)  And we saw what is happening in Alabama, where there is state legislation which makes it a crime to move or remove any monument that has been in place for at least 40 years.

We have heard all of the arguments on both sides.  These monuments are offensive to African-Americans.  They are not consistent with American principles.  They salute enemies of the United States.  Or:  they are an important part of the heritage of the area, and one should not attempt to rewrite history.  These are all good arguments.  And, in an ideal world, decisions would be made, after appropriate discussion, etc., by local governing bodies.  Some would decide one way, and some others. And everyone would accept the decisions.

But it’s a sensitive subject and, as we have now seen, can easily become a flashpoint for matters that extend for beyond the removal of a monument or statue.  For this reason, I think the country should chill a bit on this subject.  Save the discussion for a time when tempers are not so on edge.

Had the decision to move Robert E. Lee not been made, there most likely would have been no riot in Charlottesville last weekend. But it should be clear that these riots did not occur because residents of Charlottesville wanted the statue left in place.  The rioting occurred because a bunch of ultra-right wingers decided to hold a major demonstration uniting all of the ultra-right groups they could.  Those groups would include neo-Nazis, KKK, and all the others.  And they came prepared to terrorize and do battle, and to use violence and intimidation to make their point.  The fact that Charlottesville is home to a large liberal, university community made it the perfect place to insure that their message would be met with opposition and that major national news would be made.

When Hillary Clinton created the image of a “basket of deplorables”, she was thinking about the people who decided to demonstrate in Charlottesville.  An assortment of racists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, “alt-rightists”, anti-immigrationists, and other dregs of society, who generally espouse, each in their own way, the concept of white supremacy (as a matter of political ideology, or religious doctrine, psuedo-science, or home team support, it really doesn’t matter) and racial separation. And, they appear to be Trump supporters and Trump voters and an important part of the Trump base.

These people have always been present in America, but usually a small presence, marginalized, and not a concern. But with the campaign and election of Donald Trump, things have changed. They now believe that they have (and in fact may have) a representative, or at least a friendly ear, in the White House, and believe that now is the time for them to come out of their various closets and increase their influence.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has proven himself to be the ultimate “deplorable”, willing to criticize anyone who doesn’t love him, any political opponent, and any Muslim in words that usually belong only to teenage bullies. By equating KKK members and neo-Nazis on the one hand, with the disorganized anarchists who oppose them with equal violence on the other, Trump only divides the country.  And dividing the country has become one of Trump’s few consistent policies. In doing this, he is leading right wingers and left-wing anarchists to attempt to provoke each other, and terrorize the country, more and more.

So we need to come to grips with the unfortunate fact that we have a president who is working to endanger our country internally.  What can the rest of us to do to tamp down this problem?  I think the rest of the country should go slowly in doing provocative acts at this time.  That means going slow on removing Confederate monuments where the removal might cause conflict.  And those who believe that Confederate monuments represent a treasonous and racist strain in American society, it means counting to ten, and letting the monuments remain for now.

I don’t think that is giving in. I think that is helping keep the peace.