Monday, March 24, 2014

Political Hypocrisy

The Lady in Red with Mother and Daughters

The White House is not providing any information on the cost of the trip to China by Michelle Obama, her children, her mother, and her usual entourage. It does seem clear that most of the cost, probably totaling in the millions of dollars, will be borne by the American taxpayer. The trip is being cast as not a mere spring vacation but as a kind of diplomatic mission that could potentially bear great fruit politically and economically.

Be that as it may it does seem kind of hypocritical for the Obamas, who pride themselves on their concern for the poor, and who pose as crusaders against income inequality, to publicly flaunt such opulence. We shouldn’t be too surprised though since almost the first thing the Obamas did on assuming the Presidency was to enroll their two daughters in one of the most exclusive private schools in the country. I am aware that they did so out of “security” reasons in the same way as the Clintons did for daughter, Chelsea.

No one can blame them for wanting their children to receive the best education possible but hypocrisy rears its head when President Obama refused to support a voucher program in Washington D.C. for other families who would have liked to send their children to private schools rather than to the notorious Washington public schools. He thinks nothing about insisting that poor children be subsidized so that they can have the same health care as his children, but then will not allow them to have anything like the education his children are getting.

I hope in the future we will not hear the Obamas and their lackeys bemoan the poor conditions in the D.C. schools or the shortage of essential materials like textbooks.
With the money the President and his family have spent on overseas junkets in the past five years every student in the D.C. schools could have been provided with brand new textbooks as well as lap top computers.

The Clinton reference above calls to mind a story in the NY Times a little while ago about the financial difficulties of the Clinton foundation, the large non-profit organization set up by former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton. Apparently, the Clinton foundation has largely exceeded its budget and finds itself millions of dollars in the hole. Even though many of the Clinton family’s old political cronies are on the payroll, the Times reporter insisted that most of the staff works for sub-par wages. I guess people must count it as a privilege to be associated with the noble causes espoused by the Clintons.

Anyway, the Clinton foundation appears to be planning some major changes. Significantly, it would appear that it is planning to concentrate its future efforts on the most important cause of all: the election of Mrs. Clinton as President in 2016. Poor Bill will have to double his efforts on the speaking trail in order to bring in the additional funds necessary to fund the cause. Despite the subpar wages paid to Clinton foundation employees, I’m sure Mrs. Clinton will also bemoan American income inequality when she runs for the Presidency.

This obvious politicization of a so-called charitable organization would appear to be the latest and greatest of all the acts of self-service performed by this hypocritical couple form Arkansas in the name of humanity. Mrs. Clinton’s is now approaching her husband in craven effrontery. Her remark about the four murders in Benghazi—“what difference does it make”—will go down in history alongside her husband’s—“ I didn’t have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

After the end of his Presidency, the Clinton’s decided not to move back to Little Rock but instead settled in Chappaqua, one of the wealthiest towns in New York’s exclusive Westchester County. I suppose Mrs. Clinton’s famous book should have been titled, “It Takes a Village, as long as it’s Chappaqua.” Coincidentally, census figures indicate that about 1% of Chappaqua’s population is black or Hispanic.

It would seem that a primary qualification for a Democrat politician seeking high office must be hypocrisy. The word hypocrite means actor and it refers to someone who says one thing but does another, or who pretends to be some thing that they really are not. Al Gore attempted to succeed Bill Clinton in 2000 but failed after the most contentious election count in history. Florida got all the attention in that election but few noticed that Gore failed to carry his own home state of Tennessee. Perhaps the people of that state were better acquainted with him than the rest of us.

After his defeat in 2000 Gore became the high priest and greatest promoter of the Global Warming crusade. He claimed that the science was settled and that there was no point in even debating the issue any more. There is no need to go into how lucrative this stance has proven for this man who was already one of the richest in America to prove his hypocrisy. One only has to do a Google search for Al Gore’s Pool to discover that the large heated pool on his huge estate uses more energy in a month than the average homeowner will use in a year.

The above hypocrites can now be inducted into the Weekly Bystander’s Hall of Shame, whose motto is,

“Do what I say, but not what I do.”


Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Heritage


Practically everyone must know that the great migration of the Irish to America took place after the terrible potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century. However, even before that disaster the Irish had been the subject of persecution ever since the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century after King Henry VIII seized control of the English church.

The Irish were longtime enemies of the English and when Henry, who considered himself King of Ireland as well as England, attacked their thousand-year-old faith the enmity only grew worse. Henry’s daughter Elizabeth tried unsuccessfully to subdue the Irish Catholics throughout her reign. After the Puritan revolution in England in the mid-seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell brutally suppressed Irish resistance. By the end of the century William and Mary, after driving Mary’s Catholic father James from the English throne delivered another devastating blow to the Irish at the battle of the Boyne.

The almost perpetual Irish resistance led the English and their Protestant friends in Ireland to pass penal laws that had the effect of depriving most Irish Catholics of all their rights including the right to their own confiscated properties. Many Irish left their homeland for good in the century before the great famine. They were sometimes called the “wild geese” and many of them made a name for themselves in Europe. In the nineteenth century the ruling family in Serbia was the Obrenovich family, heirs no doubt of some Irish O’Brien. Years ago Ed Obradovich played linebacker for the Chicago Bears. His family must have come from central Europe but there must have been a Brady ancestor. I recall meeting a Polish American priest whose name, Okonski, must have derived from O’Conner.

When the Irish came to America, they didn’t starve because of the availability of jobs and land. Nevertheless, despite separation of Church and State in America, the Irish were still objects of prejudice and discrimination primarily because of their Catholicism. An American historian once argued that the most long lasting and abiding prejudice in America was directed not against Jews or Blacks but against Catholics. That assertion may be disputed by some but the KKK was so called because its hatred was directed against Koons, Kikes, and Katholics.

Just because a national or ethnic groups have been victimized by prejudice and discrimination does not mean that they themselves cannot practice such behavior when given the opportunity. Growing up in New York City in the 40s and 50s I vividly recall that only Irish need apply for membership in the City’s Transit Workers Union. I have never forgotten the resentment of my mother in law when her Italian parents were told by an Irish priest that they did not belong in predominately Irish St. John’s church and that they should attend the Italian church in town.

Still, the success of the Irish in America means that we all are in their debt. I would just like to give a few personal examples. I was born and raised in the Woodside section of Queens, a neighborhood after WW2 made up largely of the descendants of Irish and Italian immigrants.  My best friend was my cousin Pete whose father’s ancestry was Irish and German. Pete’s father, my Uncle Pete, was a New York City policeman who always seemed all Irish to me, and so did my cousin even though his mother was Italian. My next best friend was Dermot (Dermie) Woods whose family was very Irish. Both of Dermie’s older brothers had served in the Navy during the war.

St. Mary Help of Christians, my elementary school, matched the ethnic make up of Woodside. There were some Italian kids in my class but the majority was Irish. I still remember Richie Moylan, John Regan, Tom Fay, Charley Dunphy, and top student Pat Ryan who would go on to become a Jesuit priest and get a doctorate from Harvard in Islamic studies. Of course, most of the nuns were of Irish ancestry. They were of the order of St. Dominic and their formidable black and white habits helped them keep almost perfect order in classes sometimes numbering over 50 students. Only years later did I come to find out that many of them were barely out of their teens and still attending college.

It seemed natural for me to follow cousin Pete to Power Memorial high school in Manhattan. Power was a Catholic school for boys run by the Irish Christian Brothers whose most famous graduate would be Lou Alcindor, who would later call himself Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I still remember some of the Irish brothers with great affection and respect. There was Brother Hehir, my first home room teacher, a saintly innocent man who was the butt of innumerable pranks and jokes by us “dirty little stinkers.” No one fooled around with wise old Brother Gleason however. He was the Latin teacher with a passionate love of ancient Rome. Many years later did I discover that it was the Irish who had saved Western Civilization during the Dark Ages when monks in the mold of Brother Gleason preserved and later revived the lore and wisdom of antiquity. Finally, I remember Brother Conefrey who ran our honors class and exposed us modern barbarians to the wonders of English literature.

For some reason that still remains unclear to me I went to college at Fordham University, a famed Jesuit school in the Bronx. The Jesuits had been founded in the sixteenth century by Ignatius of Loyola, a young soldier from the Basque country in what is now northeastern Spain, but the Jesuit fathers at Fordham seemed to be largely of Irish ancestry. Nevertheless, in 1957 they taught and revered an old curriculum based on a model devised during the Renaissance. We studied Western philosophy, theology, history (eight credits in medieval history were required), rhetoric, literature, and language under scholars named O’ Sullivan, O’Callaghan, Mc Nally, Walsh and Clark.

Three cheers for the Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Risk in Ukraine


I still remember playing the game of “Risk” as a child more than 60 years ago. It was, and still is, a popular board game where the object was to conquer the world. It could be played by two or more combatants who initially drew cards containing the names of different countries or regions. Players would plant one of their armies on each country they had picked and then would proceed to attack neighboring countries by rolling dice.

Success with the dice was important but it was still a game of strategy. You could be cautious or daring and each strategy had its risks. It seemed to me at the time that it was better to control small areas, protect your home base, and marshal your forces together rather than spreading yourself too thin over the whole board.

Russia, for example, was so large that it was divided up into a number of regions with strange sounding names. Controlling that vast area was virtually impossible until you had gained an overwhelming superiority over your opponent. I distinctly remember that one of those regions was called Ukraine. It was completely land-locked and surrounded by a host of countries from which it could be easily attacked.

Today, I find it hard to believe that the Wall Street Journal, my favorite newspaper, is beating the drums for a very aggressive US posture on the Ukraine. It seems that not a day goes by without an editorial or an op-ed calling for the US to get involved in the Ukraine.  What kind of madness is this? The Ukraine is a next-door neighbor to Russia and we are about 6000 miles away. The Ukraine became an independent country with the break up of the Soviet Union only a short time ago.  Historically, it has always been dominated by its powerful neighbor to the East.

Nevertheless, ever since it became an independent republic NATO and the European Union have been trying to incorporate the Ukraine into their orbit for what reason I cannot say. Both we and the Europeans have been thumbing their noses at the Russians and literally forcing them to take action. The Wall Street Journal always applauds when two companies bid against each other to acquire another company. Yet, when Russia outbid the Europeans for the Ukraine and its assets, the Journal cried foul.

Now, the Journal and others demonize Vladimir Putin and call him a dictator. Yet since when have we opposed dictators, even those near our doorstep? We have allowed a brutal dictatorship in Cuba for over 60 years, and we will do nothing to topple the one that has ruled and ruined Venezuela for over a decade. We support practically every dictator on the continent of Africa.

Despite media attacks on Putin it would appear that both Russians and Ukrainians today enjoy a greater degree of freedom than at any time over the past 100 years. Recently former chess champion and political commentator Gary Kasparov wrote that the way to punish Putin was to threaten the investments of Russian millionaires in the West. Wealthy Russians did not buy luxury homes in New York and San Francisco during the Stalinist era.

In another recent Journal op-ed Matthew Kaminski argued that the recent revolution in the Ukraine created an environment that was an embarrassment to the Russian dictator. He mentioned new Ukrainian leaders who wait on line like everyone else at airports, who take the subway to work, or who stand in line in the government cafeteria. Kaminski contrasted such leaders with those in repressive Russia, but when he returns home from Kiev, he will be hard pressed to find any American politicians flying economy or taking the subway to work. Is President Obama a dictator because he flies in luxury aboard Air Force One? I doubt if ultra liberal mayor Di Blasio takes the subway to work each day.

At about the same time I was playing “Risk” as a boy President Eisenhower warned against the military industrial complex in this Nation and also argued that this country should never get involved in a land war on the continent of Asia. We have repeatedly ignored this advice to our great harm. Now we are sending planes and war ships into Lithuania and the Baltic Sea right into Russia’s front yard.  This could be far more serious than the mess we have created in Afghanistan where all we had to deal with was neighboring Pakistan.

We cannot and should not be the world’s policeman. When we have tried we have often done more harm than good. We deposed a dictator in Iraq but does anyone know how many Iraqi lives were lost in the process? You could even argue that despite their obvious political differences, our last two Presidents have de-stabilized the entire Middle East. Do we want to do the same in the great borderland between Europe and Asia?  After all, what is NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, doing in the Ukraine? Any child looking at a “Risk” board would see that the Ukraine is far from the North Atlantic.