Tag Archives: Putin

WHERE’S THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT GONE THIS YEAR?

The Trump has stolen Christmas!

It’s down to the wire with sending those Christmas cards, shopping for presents and decorating the tree. But why can’t I get into the seasonal spirit this year?

Never fear, I do intend to tell you why.

For the first time since 2000, I was in the US for the election. Back then it was bad enough. I was relieved to hear, as my plane lifted off for Germany, that the winner of the popular vote, Al Gore, had been declared president. Upon arrival in Frankfurt, George W. Bush was suddenly president. We all know how well those eight years went.

This time round, I was, during the course of the primaries and the election campaign, so appalled by DJ Trump’s campaign that I took a step unprecedented for me. I registered to vote in my home state of New York, a place I hadn’t lived since 1972. Over my adult lifetime in Germany, I have never felt a need to vote in US elections. The issues were mainly American; I did not know about them, I lived in a place beyond their relevance and was content to leave the choices up to the locals.

But as this election cycle progressed,  I was reminded of the undeniable fact that US foreign policy runs the world – even though American election campaigns cannot be won on foreign affairs issues! It seem to me that a good deal of at least the Western world should have a vote in a choice far too significant to be limited to the US populace. Alas, that will never happen. So I took up the gauntlet to play the minuscule role allotted me and voted for Hillary Clinton.

Again, as the campaign rolled on, it became increasingly evident that Trump did not possess the personality, judgement or even the interest in doing the job that would qualify him to govern a county that loves to call itself the greatest on earth. The thought of his winning was just too ridiculous to seriously believe it could happen.

But happen it did. And in N Jersey I witnessed up close all the coverage following it, all the flabbergasted pundits who said it couldn’t/wouldn’t and above all shouldn’t happen. It was addicting, keeping up with the latest news on T’s atrocious appointments and nominations, on his Tweets that revealed a wild-west gun-slinger shooting from the hip with nary a thought of consequences. It was a heady feeling seeing protests across the country of Americans  peacefully (in the main), declaring that T was #NOT MY PRESIDENT.

BUT this was the man the country had chosen. Well, at least the 56 % who went to the polls. Well, of them 46.1 % who voted for him. Pitted against the 48.2 % who voted for Hillary Clinton (also-rans clocked in with 5.7 %). Clinton’s lead in the popular vote continues to rise. And now as it is almost final, she has 2.86 million more votes than he does. Doesn’t that work out to be somewhat less than a quarter of the population voting for him? Doesn’t it make you wonder what would happen if everybody voted? (BTW in Australia voting is a legal requirement. You will be fined if you don’t do your patriotic duty.)

Who knew that it really takes this long to count all the ballots. Who knew that the 50 States each has its own version of outdated polling equipment leaving them wide open for rigging the count.

Not to mention the restrictions put on the Right to Vote Act that barred millions of willing voters from casting their ballots.

T keeps calling his win a historic landslide. Hmm, lots of adjectives come to mind to describe his “win”, but not that.

With far too many anomalies to be classified as an election as usual, it is impossible to return to the routine order of the day. We now know that the Russians, led by their top KGB agent Vladimir Putin, interfered with the process via cyper-hacking. Of course, the FBI did their best to stir up the idiotic email issue – again – a few days before the election – which turned out to be unfounded as well as completely politically motivated.

I could go on till Hell freezes over about what stinks in this election. And most of you reading my post will know this already. But please bear with me while I make a few modest suggestions:

  1. Something must be done about the electoral college system. Either get rid of it or give the states the number of electors that truly represents their population. Go to http://www.nationalpopularvote.com to find out about what is already afoot to circumvent the necessity of a constitutional amendment to neutralize the college.
  2. Update your polling stations with machines that work, cannot be manipulated and can actually be examined for correct results.
  3. Improve the teaching of social studies, history and ethics in the schools so that children can learn how to be good citizens, how to respect the rights of others with disabilities and different skin colors, religions and sexual orientations. Make sure you have teachers capable of fulfilling this extremely important mission! If I recall correctly, in the US the separation of Church and State is still anchored in the constitution. Schools are not a venue for teaching creationism or white supremacy.
  4. Political correctness has had some really bad press. Rethink why this sometimes awkward principle is so vital in today’s United States and in the world as a whole. It’s all about:

    RESPECTING THE DIFFERENCES OF OTHERS!

Which brings me back to our President-Elect who shows very little regard for anyone other than Number 1. He mocks people who are different; he is actively supporting racism by his choice of staff and cabinet, elevating unqualified people who bring with them from the get-go plenty of their very own conflicts of interests. His, of course, he dismisses as his divine right.

(BTW the US President is not a deity, unlike Roman Emperors of yore.)

It would be too much to hope that tomorrow the Electoral College will be self-confident enough to stop Trump’s march to the Oval Office. That being so, I see many rocky roads before us. And I see the time, effort and resources that should be used to solve the nation’s urgent problems, being wasted in the next couple of years to impeach this travesty of a president.

He is not my President and never will be. I am ashamed to have to admit that I am an American citizen.

With all of these thoughts in my head, I just can’t muster much enthusiasm for celebrating Christmas this year.

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Filed under civil rights, Disasters, Gender Questions, human rights, Politics, US Election 2016

MASS MIGRATION & THE NEXT PROXY WAR


After several months of silence, caused to a great extent by my inability to fathom the goings-on of our world, this blogger finally returns to cyberspace, with no solutions at all. But it is time to share my feeling of helplessness about all the current crises on our planet. Who knows, you may well also be suffering from the same syndrome and appreciate reflecting on it. Here I make a start by broaching the crisis that has Europe reeling.

 
It all started (or at least reached a new high) when, last summer, the floodgates opened. A rush of human beings, driven from their homes by lunatic IS jihadists or by the bombs their own governments were chucking, suddenly stood at the borders of the EU, seeking refuge and solace, seeking a safe haven from the hell their homelands had become. And it wasn’t even “just” Syrians, but also folk from Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and many other African countries that set off on a desperate exodus by land and sea in the hope of reaching EU shores.

 
I needn’t recap the events since then, for you are all literate. To have missed what’s been happening, you would have needed to have been on an extended vacation on a distant planet. But just to get us on the same page, and braving the risk of oversimplifying the situation, reactions to these developments have been mixed.

 
As I live in Germany, one of the countries that has been more welcoming than most, I have been reading daily of the ups and downs of dealing with this human inundation. We’ve experienced the rise of certain organizations, mainly in the east of Germany, that reject this migration out of hand as a dilution of their culture and a threat to life as they know it. Is it the fear that they will have less if these people receive help?

 
These groups hover on the verge of fascism; at best they are populists exploiting the situation. The number of attacks on refugee housing in the form of arson has risen greatly, but not just in the east. The only reason refugees have not been killed by these attacks is that they have been carried out on still-empty locations.

 
Is it only a matter of time before the perpetrators become murderous enough to burn down a building full of foreign families?

 
The only good news – but this is a biggie – is that in many, many areas of the country, private support for refugees flourishes. Local authorities have been overwhelmed with the task at hand but are doing what they can as fast as they can. Volunteers in every city and small town (yes, also in the east), who donate their time and efforts to helping these people, have taken up the slack and extended the limited reach of government. Refugees arrive with their world and their families destroyed; the personal involvement of locals like you and me puts a human face on the help offered. When communities open their arms, then there is hope.

 
MEANWHILE…

Russia joined the fray in September, unfortunately on the side of Bashar al Assad, and this has proven to be a game-changer. The bombing sanctioned by our dear and erstwhile best new friend, President Vladimir Putin, has augmented the torrent of migration to Europe. I can just see this character sitting in his office, rubbing his hands with glee at the chaos he has caused within the European Union.

 

And that Union is being sorely tested in its unity by this Völkerwanderung. With several former Soviet satellite states reacting with xenophobic zeal and NIMBY mentally, I can only guess that their exposure to the West has not yet been sufficient. That said, there are enough states in Western Europe that are not exactly opening their arms to the needy!

 
After World War II when Germany lay in ruins, 14 million German refugees from formerly German territories in the east inundated what was left of the country. Those in the west who had survived the war with their houses intact were forced to take refugees into their own homes, and that was the situation for years until more housing was built and people found work. This was not necessarily done cheerfully, according to local stories I’ve heard, but somehow the country was rebuilt, and by the 1950s, Germany found itself in the midst of an unprecedented economic wonder that is the foundation of today’s affluence.

 

The challenge now facing Germany – and any other European nation that takes up the refugee gauntlet – is far easier in some ways than it was in 1945. Even the least economically successful EU countries are in rather better shape than in the aftermath of WWII. Demographic concerns about ageing populations are actually eased by the prospects of an influx of young workers who could be trained and soon be paying into the social security coffers to pay the pensions of us oldies.

 

On the downside, these people come with cultures, languages and religious traditions foreign to most of us.

Is this a risk to society as we know it? YES. We are, indeed, at risk of expanding our horizons, of seeing beyond our own borders, of enriching our society with a fresh injection of vitamin C(ulture).
And those migrants? They, too, will have to learn our languages, learn about our customs and our religious traditions; they will have to accept the role of women in modern western society. Above all, BOTH SIDES will have to learn to live and let live, to respect each other’s differences, to even rejoice in the recognition that we are not all alike.

 
By the way, I obviously have a migration background, too. After 40 years in Germany, I still feel just a tick more comfortable speaking and writing in English, not to mention watching Hollywood and Brit movies in the original. We have plenty of German friends, but we also have a circle of English-speaking friends with whom we enjoy cavorting.

 
In other words, we shouldn’t expect newbies from wherever to renounce their heritage and forsake their customs. We should strive for a kind of integration that will build communities across the boundaries of nationalities and religion, integration that will tear down walls and build bridges. (Ah, bridges, a favorite theme of mine.)

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Filed under Disasters, Europe, Migration, Syrian civil war, Traditions

GERMAN REUNIFICATION – 25 YEARS AGO

WE’VE COME SO FAR – WE MUSTN’T TURN BACK

I am shaking off the stupor caused by house-related renovations to comment on a breath-taking event that took place 25 years ago. Throughout the spring and summer of 1989, the situation in the German Democratic Republic escalated. East German “tourists” went on holiday to Czechoslovakia and Hungary – just about the only places they were allowed to travel. But they did not return home. They ended up camping on the grounds of the German embassies in Prague, Budapest and even Vienna, while behind-the-scenes frantic diplomacy was deciding their fate.

Back in East Germany, while the powers-that-were were gearing up to celebrate the up-coming 40-year birthday of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) in October, activists in Leipzig and Dresden and other eastern cities continued their weekly Monday Demonstrations. The meetings and marches were non-violent and centered around the Protestant Church, an institution just about tolerated by the government. Plenty of “unofficial” Stasi operatives took part, to be sure.

What did these people want anyway? Just everyday things really. Like being allowed to travel unhindered and not be walled in. Like the freedom to speak their minds without fear of arrest. Like not being spied on by neighbors and “friends” who had been enlisted for this purpose by the Stasi – the secret state security police. Just simple things really, things we in the West have always taken for granted.

Of course on the west side of the wall, West Germans watched expectantly, fearfully. There was no telling where it would all end. And from past experience, there was a good chance it would not end well. But bit by bit, the regime granted concessions. And then, almost by accident, on November 9th the wall opened. People turned up at various Berlin border crossings, demanding to be let through. East German border guards who were not able to get any clear orders from above, raised the barriers. Thank heavens, they had no desire to fire on their own.

And my husband and I watched this spectacle, wide-eyed and incredulous, from the comfort of our West German living room, along with most other “Wessis” (West Germans). From one day to the next, separated families could be reunited, ordinary “Ossis” (East Germans) could suddenly go where they pleased. And over the following months the road taken in Trabis and Wartburgs would lead to what became an inevitable destination: reunification.

Those were heady days, weeks and months. We became addicted to following the news reports on TV and radio, anxious to hear of the next unbelievable milestone in the journey to once again becoming one Volk. And 25 years later a generation has grown up that did not know the sorrow of a Germany rent in two by the post-World War II settlements. Those young people can’t imagine what it means not to be free.

And although the east of the country still lags behind economically, huge strides have been made, billions have been invested in infrastructure. BMW builds cars in Leipzig, VW in Dresden. Berlin is now, once again as it should be, the capital of the country. Both the Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Federal President, Joachim Gauck, hail from the east.

Of course, the fall of the inner-German border was just the beginning. Along with it, the entire Iron Curtain came crashing down and the Soviet Union dissolved. Voila, the end of the Cold War and the commencement of a new world order.

Unfortunately, black shadows loom overhead. Need I list the crises that dominate the news every night? The new world order has not brought world peace but new instability. One of the crises in particular seems to me to be so stoppable. That would be the Ukraine.

Why, dear Mr Putin, do you want to go backwards rather than forwards?
I wish he’d give us an answer.

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Filed under Beginnings, Cities, Endings, German History, Remembering

The Warsaw Pact Takes on New Meaning

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When we were visiting Warsaw a week ago, I had no idea we were just missing Barak Obama’s arrival. After five days there, spent delving more deeply into the history of Poland in general and Warsaw in particular, I appreciate the President’s confirmation of the resolve of the US and NATO to defend, if necessary, Poland and the other former Soviet satellite states which are, indeed, now members of NATO. For the Ukraine crisis has certainly given the countries at our eastern outposts a mighty case of the jitters. And for good reason: Promises are one thing, carrying through can be quite another.

Warsaw is a city resurrected – by its own strength and resolve – from the ashes of World War II. Although under Soviet dictatorship, the citizens immediately started to rebuild their city, not a modern incarnation of it, but as it had been, as they had loved it before 1939.

Before / After

Before / After

After a visit to the Warsaw Rising Museum, which presented blow-by-blow the city’s last-ditch struggle to survive, I came away realizing that it wasn’t just the Germans and the Russians who raped Poland. In September 1939 when the country was invaded first from the west by the Germans and then from the east by the Russians, Poland’s allies – Great Britain and France – did not lift a finger. They were powerless; they could only let the invaders have their way.

With its low plains, Poland had always been an easy target for armies to march across. Napoleon certainly took advantage of that. And its geopolitical location between three greedy empires (Austro-Hungary, Russia and Germany) made it a tempting target. Thus in 1795 Poland became the tragic victim of its geography and topography. It was divided into pieces, like a cake, between Austria, Germany and Russia. Only at the end of the First World War did it reappear on the map as a sovereign nation.

In 1939 the German National Socialist regime was determined, once and for all, to quash Polish identity. One element of that was leveling Warsaw. In their perception, that would destroy their national identity. By 1945, 90% of Warsaw had been bombed and burned out. But they underestimated the will of the people to stay Polish, as evidenced by their final uprising in the summer of 1944. They went down but they went down fighting.

 Warsaw reborn_0002

Aerial view of a city devastated

 

During the war, the Polish government was in exile in London; Polish troops fought side-by-side with the British, French, Americans, Canadians and others. What remained of their airforce flew with the RAF. They fought bravely and believed when the war was won that they would get their country back.

At Yalta, a seaside town in then (and now once again!) Russian Crimea, in February 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin set the framework for the post-war political landscape of Europe. Poland was already occupied by Russia. The western allies, again, did not have enough strength to counter Stalin’s drive to secure his sphere of influence. Poland was left to Stalin. The rest is, obviously, history. My conclusion: Poland was f***ked, repeatedly, not only by her enemies but also by those she thought her friends.

Let’s hope and pray that the USA, within the scope of the NATO alliance, does in fact, this time, defend Poland and the other former Iron Curtain countries from Vladimir Putin’s latest version of Russian egomania and paranoia, should this become necessary. The rest of western Europe must move on from its tentative measures and show more backbone. For with one eye on 20th century history, it is easy to understand the nervous twitch from which Poland and her eastern neighbors are lately suffering.

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Filed under Cities, Fiction and Other Truths, German History, Great Britain, Holocaust, Politics, Remembering

A WORLD GONE MAD

In the month since I abandoned my writing career for a job as painter, decorator and general housekeeper in a futile attempt to ameliorate the neglect I’ve lavished on my home for the last few years, it became perfectly clear to me why my writing career began so late. Instead of a head full of ideas that I longed to share with my readers, instead of rushing through pesky morning tasks to at long last reach my desk, my thoughts have been dominated by “to-do” lists, cataloging every little outstanding chore. And those lists just keep getting longer. Thinking back, it’s no wonder that during my years as a mother of three children, my brain was more than occupied with daily necessities related to soccer teams and school parent-teacher councils rather than novel plots.

Although the projects here are far from finished, I am determined to stretch my writing muscles this afternoon, lest they completely atrophy from disuse. For during my time-out, the world has not stood still.

  • Italy has a new government,
  • Germany has a new political scandal
  • and in Great Britain the temperature of the debates concerning Scottish independence is rising steadily.
  • Most astonishingly, the people of the Ukraine have succeeded in jettisoning their unloved president.

That’s a lot to cover in a blog post. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. Let’s start with Italy.

So the mayor of Florence turns up in Rome, uninvited and unelected, and tells Enrico Letta that he’s going to run the government now. In some such fashion that is how Matteo Renzi became the new Prime Minister of Italy. In Florence his record – and reputation – as mayor is controversial. Apparently he cared more about keeping the city cleaned up and safe for tourists than about the needs of the populace living there on a permanent basis (i.e. voters!). However, although he’s a center left politician, he has not been too easy on labor and its interests. Will he have the wherewithal to pull off the reforms necessary to turn the country around? I sure hope so. But of course, a cynical reaction would probably be more understandable. For so far, no one since World War II has emerged on the political scene with the power and gumption to clean up Italy’s Aegean Stables.

In Germany, a Social Democratic member of the Bundestag, Sebastian Edathy, laid down his mandate and left the country. Why not? Nothing wrong about that. Except evidence had  turned up showing Edathy had in the past purchased pornographic photos of children from a Canadian website. He, of course, denied the whole story. They aren’t porno, he claims, because the children aren’t posed in sexual acts. They are only naked. Uhhuh. So why did he quit and leave the country?

As if child porno wasn’t bad enough, the real scandal for Germany is that the then-minister of the interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich (Christian Socialist), informed the top ranking SPD politicians – Gabriel, Steinmeier and Oppermann (now major players in the current CDU/SPD coalition government) about their fallen angel. Friedrich, who had become agricultural minister in the new government, was forced to step down and now faces charges of disclosing classified information that allowed Edathy to flee.  And the other three SPD grandees? I wonder who they informed…and what will happen to them…

Then there is Britain. And Scotland. In coming September the Scots will be going to the polls to decide if they want to stand on their own feet rather than be a part of the United Kingdom. The Scots leader, Alex Salmond, is a lovable kind of guy. However, he seems to live in a world of his own. And I don’t just mean Edinburgh. After David Cameron and the Bank of England had declared that if the Scots secede, they will NOT be allowed to continue using the pound Sterling as their currency, Salmond still happily insisted they will. It’s just posturing, surely. “Why wouldn’t they want to share their beloved pound with us?” he muses.

Oh yeah, the EU. If they declare their independence, Scotland will no longer be a member of the European Union. What? says Salmond, that’s absurd. But the leadership of the EU has raised its collective fingers in a no / nein. You will have to apply, just like any other country who would like to join. While the Scots in favor of independence believe that their dwindling supplies of North Sea oil will fuel their new status, the population north of Hadrian’s Wall would be well advised to make a reality check before taking what looks like a plunge into the deep end.

Of course, the most exciting – and scary – story in the news at present is Ukraine. Who of us doesn’t want to see these people freed from the yoke of tyranny as embodied in the persona of Viktor Yanukovich? The good news is that he’s gone – even if he also needs to do a reality check after hearing him say he is still the rightful president of the Ukraine. So much potential for the progression of the country to a democratic and prosperous nation is evident. But it has to happen first. The Orange Revolution didn’t bring the desired results. Will this one?

Located as it is, between Europe and Russia, it is an endangered species. How far is Putin willing to go to keep the Crimea under his power for the sake of his Black Sea Fleet? One hundred years ago when the First World War broke out, the tinderbox that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire supplied the match that set off an unspeakable conflagration. Now in our 21st century, Ukraine could become a bridge to reconcile the differences between the east and the west. Or it could be a box of matches.

As citizens of the world, we have a lot on our plates. So keep reading – Stay informed. It is the only world we have.

And speaking of bridges, this is the road to the one I’ve built:  www.dchubbard-writes.com

 

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Filed under Great Britain, Italy, Politics, Writing