Letter to Trump Supporters

You wanted a rich businessman to run the country. Didn’t seem such a bad idea, did it? Let’s give him a chance. I can understand that (never mind all the personality issues).

So now you got what you wanted. A rich businessman—with a lot of failing businesses—is getting richer with our tax dollars. We no longer refuel military missions to the Middle East at military bases, but at a small airport outside Trump’s failing golf course in Scotland. We use Trump property on the West Coast of Ireland to house American diplomats who commute across the island to Dublin for meetings. Every weekend Trump spends golfing at one of his properties enriches him. His invitation to G7 leaders to stay at his Doral Golf Club will enrich him. All those enrichment plans are against the law, the emolument clause in the constitution. Which is why Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm.

There are a lot of countries around the world where the leader is or used to be the richest person. Think Papa Doc and Baby Doc in Haiti. Putin in Russia. Tito in the former Yugoslavia. Idi Amin in Uganda. And certainly, the British Queen. America is not a monarchy, nor did it used to be a banana republic where those corruptions are common place.

A US President shapes policy. Trump has started trade wars. Farmers have lost the Chinese market. He has ordered businesses out of China. His tax laws have taken money out of the economy as wealthy people hoard, not spend, their money. The national debt has increased to $22 trillion. His immigration policy is racist, cruel, and probably illegal under current laws. He tells his lackeys to carry it out anyway—to separate those children from their parents—and to do what he tells them to do. If they get caught, he will pardon them.

His executive orders are harming the environment, from opening government lands to mining, to reducing and eliminating EPA regulations, to leaving the Paris Accords. Iran is now starting to make nuclear weapons. North Korea is stronger and more dangerous than ever. Saudi Arabia is enjoying immunity for a murderous crown prince. The UK is going through a horrendous Brexit with an incompetent and clownish leader cheered on by Trump. The rest of our Western alliances are being undermined and no longer look for American leadership. The Marshal Plan idea is dead.

All of this plays into Putin’s plan. Ever since the Fall of the Soviet Union, Putin has sought to undermine, weaken, and break up the Western Alliance. He has succeeded in the U.K. (they are leaving the EU) and in America by installing a Russian puppet in the 2016 election. His annexation of Crimea and his aggression in Ukraine continue his vision. The Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are surely on his list. Putin, if you have not figured it out by now, is rebuilding the Soviet Union and the glory of the 1957 Sputnik days, the one event where the Soviet Union beat America.

So yes. A businessman with failing businesses conned his way into running our country, and this is what we have three years later. Will America ever recover from this disaster? Trump could be impeached for breaking numerous laws. He could be made to pay back the money he gained from the presidency. His properties could be seized. He could be imprisoned for fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. One day, he will be gone. But what about our relationships with our friends and (used-to-be) allies? An apology tour from a new president will be insufficient. How can they ever trust us again not to elect another corrupt business man to whom our constitution is an irrelevant piece of paper written before he was even born?


Letter from Amerikkka: Trump

My stomach has been in knots for four days and shows no signs of improving. I feel like someone close to me has died. I’ve been on news sites since Wednesday morning, in the newspapers, on the television news channels both here and abroad. I’ve seen the growing protests. I’ve signed petitions. I still can’t believe what happened.

FaceBook has a new secret page with over three million members the last time I looked. The individual cries for help are harrowing. We try to support the victims, the harassed, the fearful. They say it means so much to them to know that we care. I don’t really see how me saying I care for a victim in Chicago means anything to that victim. Nevertheless I continue to try to comfort them. There have been over 200 election-related incidents of violence and harassment reported. The petitions are last ditch efforts to try to get the electoral college to vote Clinton on December 19th. But even if they did, the disaster would not be averted. There would be riots, not demonstrations. And a President Clinton would be even more obstructed by the now entirely Republican Congress than President Obama was for eight years.

We are stuck. Can I even say, President T—-? No.

For days now, I’ve read hundreds of opinions on both sides as to why this happened. We were so sure that a message of inclusion, of love, of working together, of rationality, of experience, of lifelong public service would easily win over a message of division, of hatred, of isolation, of experience not in the public sector, but only in businesses that, moreover, ended in bankruptcies, and a bragging about sexually assaulting women (if they’re beautiful enough).

I’ve come to the conclusion that none of it mattered. Not the false equivalency that I complained and pointed out so many times in my FB posts. Not Clinton’s lifelong commitment to helping people and her outstanding experience and readiness for the position, not the hatred Trump spewed, not the insane birther lies, not FBI Director Comey’s illegal interference in an election, not Putin’s coziness with Trump, not the Russian hacking of the DNC headquarters, not that Trump is spectacularly unprepared for the most difficult job in the world (would I want a taxi driver to perform heart surgery on me?), not the now famous “grab them by the pussy” comment. Yet that disgusting statement alone should have ended Trump’s run. Back in 1988, Gary Hart resigned from the Democratic primary when a photo of him on a boat with a woman not his wife surfaced. So quaint! Instead, white female Trump supporters were wearing tee shirts saying “you can grab my pussy.” I wanted to somehow let them know that they were not beautiful enough for Trump, but that would have been unkind.

It wasn’t only poor white working class males in Middle America who voted for Trump and won him the keys to the White House. They helped. It was the women. Only 43% of white women voted for Clinton. 53% voted for Trump. And it wasn’t just the poor and disenfranchised. It was 53% of all white women. Educated or not. They voted for a disgusting human being. What am I to say to them? That I dedicated my vote to my grandmother Sophie, my mother Marta, my sister Hanni, my daughters Suzy, Heike, and Julia, my daughters-in-law Jenny and Charla, my granddaughters Victoria, Madeline, Sofiana, and Caia? That their vote hurt me? That their vote hurt my children? My mixed race and Asian children? It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. They voted for a disgusting human being.


As Unai Montes Irueste points out on laprogressive.com, “no Democratic candidate could have won” because this was white backlash. Just look at American history. The backlash against emancipation resulting in Jim Crow, the civil rights act of the 60s resulting in voter suppression laws. Even recent history is plentiful: the Black Lives Matter movement resulting in the silly All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter as if they didn’t matter all along. America is well on the way to becoming a truly multiracial country. But we’re not there yet. According to the U.S. Census, the white majority will be gone by 2043. Another 27 years more or less. Is Trump a last ditch effort by white racists to retain power? Is it that no party has ever retained the White House for more than eight years?

If that is the case, then none of the ugly campaign speeches, behavior, and character of Trump mattered, and none of the lifelong service of a capable and experienced woman mattered. Trump would have won no matter what. I didn’t see it coming.

Now that we have what we have, what do we do? There are calls for unity, for coming together. My friend Edi is wondering how she can be expected to talk to the KKK even though that is, of course, a rhetorical question, and none of us will ever talk to the KKK. I told Edi we are the losers. We do not start with the building of bridges. The winner, if he wants to unify the country as he says he does (until he walks it back as he did so many things in his campaign), has to start. He has to ask us to come into his fold, and we will tell him under what circumstances we might. Anything else is groveling, and we will not grovel.

And the demonstrations are ongoing. And Michael Moore is developing a strategy to get rid of Trump as soon as possible. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. We’d have a President Pence, a known bad quantity. Trump is, as yet, an unknown quantity. He has begun to roll back some of his campaign rhetoric. He is no longer repealing Obamacare, but keeping two of its most important provisions: no denial of insurance to patients with preexisting conditions and children remain on their parents plan until they’re 26. According to Trump, “it will cost money.” Yes. It will. Maybe he could try to impose a tax penalty on people who refuse to buy insurance Oh, wait. I think I forgot something Trump never knew.

Other signs portend disaster. Masha Gessen, a Russian American journalist, talked with Rachel Maddow about recognizing signs that a country is slipping from democracy into autocracy. “The [American] system is defenseless against a candidate who runs in bad faith,” she said. She tells us Trump ran his campaign as an autocrat and has given us no reason so far to believe he will not be an autocrat. She mentioned specifically two press incidents: Trump not allowing the press corps to accompany him to the White House on his first visit with Obama and tweeting that the protests were incited by the press, “so unfair!” The first is a threat to press freedom, and the second a ground laying whine to justify a later denial to give the press access to his decisions. Both are dangerous. There were, of course, also a number of incidents during the campaign where Trump revealed his contempt for the press.

Richard Engel, a foreign correspondent at MSNBC who has lived in Muslim and other countries, talks about how to recognize this erosion of democracy and the rise of totalitarianism. First, you beat up on religious minorities, then you blame everything on immigration, then you blame the media for problems. Next, you criticize the media for being un-American, and call anyone who didn’t support you a traitor. Then the word “cancer” enters the vocabulary. Then we’ll see mass rallies by his supporters that look intimidating, and finally he’ll go directly to the people and call for referendums that will go around the constitution which will give him, as the ruler, more power. Engel has studied the rise of extra constitutional powers. Eastern European countries like Hungary with President Viktor Orban is a good example. Eastern Europeans warn us to be careful, watch for patterns. Engel says we’ll see if any of that happens and wonders if we are immune to it as most countries have not been.

But we’ve already seen the attacks on religious minorities, the blaming of immigrants, the media, the shutting out of the media. On Wednesday, he announced that yes, a database tracking Muslims would be a good idea.

But Trump is good for the economy!

Trump is using three of his children as well as his son-in-law on his transition team. There is no law to say this cannot be done just as there is no law that states a presidential candidate must release his tax return. All other candidates in recent history have released reams of their returns to show that there will be no conflicts of interest when they are elected president. Not so Trump. Ivanka and Eric and Donald Jr. will run the Trump Foundation as a “blind” trust so that the father cannot make presidential decisions that would benefit his own foundation. But Ivanka and Eric and Donald Jr. will choose the people who will make decisions that will benefit their foundation. They will “be very careful not to have any conflicts of interest.” So the American government will now become a Trump Family business venture. On one hand, I hope that he runs it like The Celebrity Apprentice and that Mike Pence is the first one whom he tells, “You’re fired.” Pence is, of course, elected, but a VP can be put in a pretty diminished position. (I am evidently even more opposed to Pence, but that’s for another column). On the other hand. Is there another hand? There is no other hand. Because an autocrat’s other hand is in his pocket.

I wonder what the generals are thinking. We’re going to torture again and we’re going to use nuclear bombs. And the generals will have to “follow my orders.” But maybe, just maybe, those were campaign promises from an ignoramus to the baskets of deplorables. I cannot imagine, I refuse to imagine, that the reasonable white women who didn’t care that they have now given the ok to have their daughters’ genitals grabbed by men like Trump, but who simply wanted to pay less taxes would even for a minute be ok with using a nuclear bomb on any country, that they would be ok with their own sons and daughters getting tortured in foreign countries, because that is surely what will happen if America breaks the Geneva convention and Trump sends them to war.

God Help America! God Help the World!

Note: I’ve read hundreds of sources, hundreds of personal FaceBook and Twitter messages. I cannot possibly trace all who helped me arrive at my opinions and conclusions. Important ones were Unai Montes Irueste of laprogressive.com, and guest interviews Rachel Maddow conducted on MSNBC.

The Letter From Europe: Austria’s Shameful Past

I have many acquaintances here in Austria who are “sick and tired” of hearing about Austria’s crimes and participation in the Nazi atrocities during WWII. It always makes me feel isolated and like a foreigner in the country of my birth. Their reason for wishing to have this part of our history over and done with is that they either didn’t know what Hitler was up to, that they were not yet born when this all happened and that, therefore, it wasn’t their fault, or that it’s all so long ago that we should now move on with our lives and talk about something else. Sounds familiar? I hear the same noise whenever we talk about slavery in America.

Yes, I’m white, and yes, I came to America only in 1978, and yes, neither I nor any of my ancestors had anything to do with slavery. And yes, I was born in 1945, and the war, which neither I nor my ancestors started, was over when I was five months old. None of that, however, gives me the right to move on and talk about something else. The very least I can do is acknowledge my parents’ and their friends’ sympathy toward the Nazis. I also understand their dilemma. If you didn’t heil hitler their “generals,” you were liable to disappear in some dark hole. And there was all that good stuff about having work and food and all that again after the Anschluss. I understand. Really.

The point is that it is our generation’s duty to talk about it. To listen to the old survivors. To tell the stories. To make the movies and the documentaries. To write the novels and the histories. The painful past is not to be forgotten because it’s painful and we don’t want to suffer. Ask your contemporary Jewish friends if they want to put the past behind them, having had to grow up without an entire elder generation.

Ask your Black friends if they want to put the past behind them, having been robbed of the chance to participate in the American Dream because their ancestors were neither citizens nor had the privilege to build a solid foundation for their descendants.

I was, therefore, happy when I found an editorial in my hometown paper that addressed exactly these issues. And more. I was 10 years old when Austria’s occupation ended. We had a radio at home, and my father listened to the news every evening. We children had to be quiet. But in the small village where we were living, there was no occupation, no French soldiers trying to be friends with Austrian maidens. And I did not know nor was I told, neither in school (whose history lessons always conveniently ended in 1939 at year’s end), nor by my parents (to whom I gave no indication that I was interested in politics at age 12-14) that the after-war years were perhaps even worse in terms of Nazi criminality than the war years. The Nazi terror was evidently not eradicated in Austria in 1945.

Here, with his permission, are the words of Charles Ritterband:

It is 70 years ago that WWII ended and 60 years today that Austria became independent, i.e., the four occupying powers left Austria. There was much reason for joy: the nazi terror was defeated, and although Vienna and other cities were destroyed, the people were free, and the Second Republic began. Ten years later, the occupying forces left, and there was more reason for joy: unlike Germany, where the Russians did not leave, there was no “Austrian DDR.”

The recovery from the war was an occasion for relief and pride. It would not have been possible, however, without American help via the Marshall Plan. Austria received $711 million, exactly half of what Germany received, $1.4 billion. Without that help, Austria’s recovery would have been much slower. And if Austria had made restitution to the Jewish community, the country would have remained in an economic situation similar to the DDR. The restitution occurred very late and very reluctantly. The interior minister of the time said, in 1948, that he was for drawing the process out, and his words became the symbol of the times. Emigrants were not encouraged to return. In fact, they were told not to return. While Austria treated survivors poorly, it treated murderers and supporters of the Nazi regime generously. In 1946, 530,000 Nazis were registered; by 1948, half a million had gotten amnesty because no political party of the New Democratic Austria wanted to do without so many potential voters. Of the 13,000 arrested and condemned Nazi war criminals, only 14 remained in prison by 1955. Many were already occupying positions of importance and power, among them the notorious physician, Heinrich Gross, who abused children at a playground in Vienna and was instrumental in killing them. In 1959, he received the Theodore-Körner-Price for his research on the brains of murdered children.

Only decades later did Austria think about and admit its own guilt in the Nazi crimes and started restitution to the Jewish victims–in many cases to their heirs as the victims had by then died. Until recently, Austrian diplomats were obligated to continue the propaganda of “Austria as Hitler’s first victim.” And late, only very late, did Austria decide to use the Wiener Heldenplatz to celebrate the end of the Nazi Dictatorship instead of providing police protection for right wing extremists to honor their Nazi heroes.

The post-war period is not something for which Austria should be proud. And the 1952 movie, “1. April 2000,” a sci-fi parody full of kitsch, sentimentality, and cliches, seems ironic. It’s a charming play directed at the occupation to please leave this harmless, innocent, sympathetic, and gemütliche Austria to the Austrians and go home. Which happened, as it were, three years later.

From an editorial (lose translation) by Charles E. Ritterband in the Vorarlberger Nachrichten, May 14/15 2015:

My Two Cents on Ukraine

Angela Merkel is meeting with Barack Obama today. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. Not that I would sit still. My buzzing would be loud and, most likely, annoying to both.

I have an opinion.

Mostly, I am looking at The Problem from a European point of view. This does not mean that America has no business interfering; rather, America has to follow the lead of the European community and not impose its own will as Sen. Cruz, for example, is advocating when he calls for America to lead: “It’s long past time for us to step forward and provide defensive weapons.” Even worse, Reuters reports that “U.S. lawmakers will write legislation requiring the United States to send arms to Ukraine if President Barack Obama does not move to send weapons, Republican Senator John McCain said on Thursday.” As if McCain could force Obama to sign such legislation into law.

As Angela Merkel has pointed out over and over, arming Ukrainians will not solve The Problem. Arming the people will escalate it instead. Escalation will lead to full scale war. Ukraine cannot beat Russia in a war. Europe will have to fight such a war alongside Ukraine, and America will have to support Europe/Ukraine. This is the scenario envisioned by Cruz/McCain. Surely, that’s just fine and dandy as it’s not happening this side of the Atlantic. And after hundreds of thousands dead in Ukraine and Russia and Estonia and Lithuania and Latvia and Poland and Slovakia and Hungary and eventually Germany and France (because surely this will spread), will we have another Iron Curtain to end hostilities and to keep both sides from murdering each other? Have we not seen enough of that?

We know about the (probably fraudulent) elections on Crimea, where 90some percent of the population wanted to belong to Russia. Putin’s proposals for peace right now call for separatists to be treated as equals in negotiations, an expansion of the territory under their control, as well as a new ceasefire line and a halt to Ukrainian attacks on rebel-held territory. It sounds like he wants to either annex Eastern Ukraine to Russia like he did the Crimea, or, at the least, cause it to be a separate nation, apart from Ukraine.

Putin’s view on The Problem is obviously different from that of the Europeans, and most certainly, from that of the American. From the Kremlin website, the Guardian reports that “The Ukrainian crisis was not caused by the Russian Federation. It emerged in response to the attempts of the US and its western allies – who consider themselves ‘winners’ of the cold war – to impose their will everywhere.”

I can understand his frustrations. The NATO block has been expanding ever since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Presently only Belarus and Ukraine are not NATO members. Ukraine wants to be Western aligned, has aspirations to join the EU, probably also NATO. It is no wonder Putin feels threatened.

So why not solve The Problem by treating Putin as honorable and trying to understand his point of view? Let Viktor Yanukovych call for elections in Eastern Ukraine, not the whole country, to let the people decide for themselves if they want to be a separate nation, if they want to remain with Ukraine, or if they want to be annexed to the Russian Federation. Putin should not call for such an election, but Yanukovych should, as painful as that might be for him. No nation on earth that I am aware of has in the past willingly relinquished territory. To do so exhibits weakness. To not do so, however, when the people wish it, results in war. And historically, territories have always been annexed through war except for those, in different circumstances, that have been bought or sold. Isn’t it about time we tried something different?

By now, it is also too late to end hostilities by forcing Putin out and telling the rebels to stop fighting. Ain’t gonna happen. “These people have been fighting a war against each other. It would be hard for them to live together,” President François Hollande told French television. Indeed.


The Letter From Europe: It’s All Greek to Me

There is a fascinating development taking place in the EU, specifically with Greece. Last Sunday, Alexis Tsipras (left-wing anti-austerity) won the election and chose The Independent Greeks (right-wing anti-austerity) as coalition partners. It’s like me getting in bed with the tea party.

Greece is in dire financial trouble with up to 50% unemployment for people under 25. The people are not happy. Their massive loans have massive interest payments, which the Greeks can’t pay. If the Greeks want more help, the EU says they have to institute even harsher austerity measures. The Greek populace said “no” to this last Sunday. The new Greek government now refuses to deal with the European banks. Tsipras has, furthermore, stopped the further privatization of government services. A couple of days ago, the Greek foreign minister refused to support the EU with new sanctions against Russia, who continues to wreak havoc (in the eyes of the EU and America) in Ukraine. Putin said he’d be happy to help out Greece.

Greece and Russia have a number of things in common. The Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian denomination in the world and is a major religion in both in Russia and Greece. Both Russia and Greece use a Cyrillic alphabet. A number of Tsipras’s cabinet members, like Putin’s cabinet members, are communists.

Which brings me to today’s musings. It’s hard to imagine a country in more distress financially than Greece. The people voted. One could say that they voted for change, which Tsipras definitely promised. One could also say they voted against the EU, who seems to be punishing its naughty Greek children. What if the Greeks voted specifically to institute a communistic way of life? It’s no so far fetched as it might appear. And Putin would be ecstatic, I’m sure. The Russians are practically cousins with the Greeks.

So I’m thinking about the differences between capitalism and communism. And no, it’s not “capitalism good,” “communism bad.” Leaving the devil and the details in the dust for a moment, and assuming no corruption in either system, both system would work very nicely. The main difference is that in capitalism the capital is controlled by many independent owners. In communism, capital is held by the state (which represents the people). Enter human nature. Corruption, greed, envy.

We saw the corruption of communism in the Soviet Union. If the state holds the capital, the danger is that its officers become entrenched in the power machine that decides how the capital is to be distributed among the people. The state’s officers refuse to relinquish power and enrich themselves at the expense of the people. We are seeing the corruption of capitalism in America today. When the many independent holders of capital in a capitalist nation work to draw more of the nation’s capital into their coffers, the “many” become fewer and fewer, thus concentrating the capital in the hands of the few who enrich themselves at the expense of the people. This is America today.

Which type of corruption is it possible to reverse?

I can see America heading into a sort of feudalist society where the Lords of Industry and the Lords of Wall Street and the Lords of the NSA/CIA control the nation and its capital, where the Middle Class is shrinking, and where the serfs work for bare necessities or beg for a few pennies under a bridge. How do we stop the downward trend? Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders? Ha. Ok, ok, that was cynical. But I can’t see it. What I can see is riots. And blood. It took Europe a long time and lots of blood to graduate from feudalism.

What if we can reverse the corruption of communism? What if Greece institutes a communist-type constitution with the caveat that elections have to be held every x amount of years. The biggest problem with the communist Soviet Union was Stalin, who stayed in power for 30 years (1922-1952), Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and eventually Gorbachev, who was willing to relinquish power to Yeltsin. Well, not quite, but by that time, thanks to Gorbachev, the people got to vote. So what if the Greek people decide they prefer to deal with Russia, adopt their system, and say good bye to the EU? If, and it’s a big “IF,” they can hold elections and not entrench their politicians for decades, this might work.

So if Greece goes its own way, its own communist way with elections every three years or so, who’s to say this would be a bad thing. Like I said a couple of days ago, I’m keeping my eyes on the Greeks.

The Letter From Europe: On the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation in Auschwitz

Tomorrow is my birthday.  Seventy years ago, on the afternoon when my mother was in labour, exhausted because she had been laboring for two days, the Red Army marched into Auschwitz and freed the remaining 7000 Jews, hundreds of whom died in the following days.  Tomorrow, Austria’s President Heinz Fischer will lead the Austrian delegation at a memorial service in Auschwitz.

Auschwitz was tabu for Austria until 1978, 40 years after the Anschluss, at which time Austria presented itself as the first victim of Hitler’s National Socialism.  It was only in 2005, after much criticism, that Austria’s foreign minister composed a text for the memorial in Auschwitz that declared that “This picture of history (that Austria was a victim) does not reflect the understanding of today’s Austria.”  In 2013, the Austrian Auschwitz exhibit was removed, the new exhibit was opened for competition.  Last year a design was approved, and the new exhibit is scheduled to open in 2017.

There is much discussion today about foreigners, immigrants, people with immigrant background (meaning those who were born in Austria of parents from other–though mostly EU–nations), Muslims (The Islamization of the Occident), and, of course, the Jews.  I have been reading many reports of the Paris tragedy, the Charlie Hebdo attack, and its condemnations as an attack not only on free speech, but on the Western way of life.  I am Charlie, too.  I am proud of my little hometown paper for taking the chance to post the crying Mohammed saying “all if forgiven,” thus putting itself in danger of violence against its staff.  I am 100% positive that this was not an executive decision, but that the VN staff itself decided that they would not bend to terrorist threats.  I stand with them.

I have also read the apologists.  One in particular, Cardinal Schönborn from Vienna, criticized Charlie Hebdo because for years it had been insulting both Christianity and Islam with vulgar caricatures. He reminded people of the antisemitic caricatures in the late 19th century whose “poisonous seed” contributed to the later holocaust.

I am an atheist.  I have no use for priest, Cardinals, popes, and such.  I was holding my opinion about Francis, but his statement about punching someone who would insult his mother and that one’s faith should not be insulted was less than stellar.  Yes, he explained himself.  Still.  Like I said, I have no use for religious figures.  But something Schönborn said sticks in my mind.  Those antisemitic caricatures.  I have seen them.  Perhaps we all have.  They carry a relentless message about how evil the Jew is.  Der Stürmer, http://research.calvin.edu/german-propaganda-archive/sturmer.htm, for example, was a paper published from 1923 to 1945 and widely available.  Yes, yes, I realize that Charlie Hebdo satirized an institution, or rather institutions (they are an equal opportunity satirizer), and Der Stürmer satirized a group of people.  Very different.  Still, the “poisonous seed” is a piece of the whole.

Social conditions in Europe were dire after World War I.  People were hungry, had no work, no social safety nets.  It was easy to believe it was all the Jews’ fault.  The newspapers confirmed that every day.  Evidently, the Jews had businesses.  They had money.  They were not hungry.  Everyone knew that.  They had their paws in everything, everything where there was money to be made.  They didn’t even get their hands dirty with hard labor!  My brother, now 80, tells me of the Jew he met when he was on duty (as a customs officer) at the border to Switzerland in the late 1950s.  This individual was well versed in the cliche people held about his race.  “See, my hands are dirty.  I have callouses.”  And he did.  My brother laughed.  One out of many.  But the rest of them!  There is something about them that’s not right.  And cartoons, ubiquitous when he was a youth, told him that.  And told my mother that.  “Dia verflixta Juda!”  These cursed Jews.  My brother and my mother were hungry during and after the war.  I was the baby.  Whatever food there was, I had to be fed first.  One egg a week for the three of us.  I got to eat it.

I used to correct my mother, told her the Jews were not cursed, and she could not say that.  I, her daughter, would not allow her to say it.  It was not true.  She was mistaken.  I did not know, still don’t know, how to make her and my brother see–actually understand–that it’s not true.  For her, it’s too late.  She is 91 and has very little short term memory.  Whatever I say to her now, she’ll have forgotten half an hour from now.  But she does remember that the Jews were “verflixt.”

I understand where the race hatred originates.  I see it in America today.  If a people is poor and if unemployment is high (especially for youths), we look for a scapegoat.  It’s those “others” who are taking our jobs.  They’re not even speaking our language!  We can’t understand what they’re saying!  They must be making fun of us!  Whether that “other” is Hebrew, Spanish, Turkish, Croatian, or Arabic makes no difference.  And when that “other” is also wearing different clothes, such as headscarves, for example, well then, who knows what we are capable of to get rid of them.  But to get rid of them is necessary.  That’s the message of Pegida, Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident).  Since October 2014, they organize weekly demonstrations and have thousands of people on the streets. And the media is right there to report.  In interviews I’ve seen mostly people from my generation who march with Pegida.  I would have thought that my generation was more enlightened, knowing our parents’ involvement.  But I’m wrong here, too.  When I’m here in Austria, I play cards with my mother and her friends once a week.  Once the conversation after the game turned to the holocaust.  A woman a couple years older than I got quite angry.  She didn’t want to hear anything else about or discuss the holocaust.  She was sick and tired of it.  It was in the past and she had nothing to do with it and it wasn’t her problem.  I wanted to ask her what if it had been her family—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles—who had been exterminated and she was the only survivor of her family, would it then be her problem?  But I didn’t.  My mother will play cards with her friends next week again and every week for as long as she is able.   It’s one of her few social activities.  I cannot destroy that for her.  I am supposedly an educator, but I do not know how to get people to understand that there is no such thing as racial superiority, that we are all humans, that those “others” have the same feelings, longings, needs as we do.  When the situation is dire and getting worse, when the media plays into people’s fears via the highlighting of anti-Muslim demonstrations, via cartoons that demonize a group of people, we see the rise of nationalism.  We see it in America, and we see it in Europe.

Then there was Kurt Tucholsky, a Berlin caricaturist, who warned with his caricatures of national socialism (Nationalsozialismus a.k.a. Nazism), without success. He was exiled in Sweden in 1935 where he killed himself near Schloss Gripsholm. He was the man who wanted to “hold off a catastrophe with his typewriter.”

What will hold off the catastrophe today?  I have my eye on Greece and the Greek people.

The Letter from Europe: on Spying

Spying is something that all governments do. Really. No, I mean, really. They do. A recent commentary in the Vorarlberger Nachrichten took Angelica Merkel to task for coming home empty-handed from a visit with Barack Obama. Apparently, Obama did not hand the entire NSA agency to Merkel to investigate. So what is Germany about to do? They will subpoena Edward Snowdon to tell them what America knows about Germany. They’re just not quite sure yet whether they will ask Snowdon to come to Germany or whether they will interrogate him in Moscow.

Recently, I posted a Ted Video on FaceBook where Edward Snowdon advises us on how to take back the Internet. I commented that my disgust with him abated slightly because he seemed to be more thoughtful than I had suspected given the reporting about him. And what he is saying is, indeed, valuable.

However, what Snowdon did regarding America’s listening in on other countries’ governments and trade organizations still amounts, in my view at least, to treason. The uproar in Germany was great. I just wish that Snowdon would come forward and tell us what he knows about Germany spying on the USA. And there is not the most infinitesimal chance that they are not doing the same exact thing. Perhaps America has better technology. I suspect it does. The answer to knowing you are being spied upon is not to feign outrage, but to put up better firewalls and to invent better spying methods yourself.

The first real life spying operation that I can remember in my lifetime was the British Profumo Affair. Christine Keeler was the MP’s mistress at the same time she was also sleeping with a Russian naval attaché. Exchanging “sensitive” pillow talk evidently. There are countless documentaries and movies about WWI, WWII, and Cold War espionage. The question arises whether spying in peace time is legal or illegal in international law. I do believe it is neither. It’s something that happens. You cannot legislate against it and have it stop happening. By its nature, it happens in darkness, when no one is looking. We know about it only when someone gets caught doing something that he/she ought not to be doing or when we prevent something from happening that would otherwise have happened. In the last instance–when something doesn’t happen–we don’t know about it either. Only the people who prevented the thing from happening know. And since it didn’t happen, there is no point in publicizing that it didn’t happen because that would jeopardize the operation of the very people who prevented the thing from happening in the first place. Am I making myself clear?

I am not in favor of having a spy agency out of control and responsible to no one. Obviously, there is a lot of potential for abuse. However, even internal spying must have its uses. It could not prevent the Boston Marathon bombing or Sandy Hook, but internal terrorism is an issue that needs to be addressed. The police force needs to have the backup information that only a good investigative agency can provide. That said, nothing is ever 100 percent safe. We will never stop all attacks, international or domestic.

Vetting the people who do the spying is of utmost importance. Having a disgruntled member of the team who tells other governments we are spying on them is terrible. Germany knows we’ve been spying. Having one of us tell them we are, is embarrassing both for us and them. I mean, how were they supposed to react? By saying, “yes, we know, we’ve been spying on you, too”?

That would, at least have been the truth. So now, they have to back up their fake outrage and ask this runaway himself. Perhaps in Berlin, perhaps in Moscow. Good luck with that. Wasn’t there a spy who was left out in the cold in Berlin? Perhaps we could convince him to grab this fugitive and come in. Oh, wait. That spy was British. Never mind. We’re spying on the Brits, too.

The Letter from Europe: the First Tear in the Iron Curtain

Twenty five years ago tomorrow, May 2nd 1989, Hungarian soldiers cut through the barbed wire of the Iron Curtain, opening a passage between Hungary and Austria. Photographer Bernhardt Holzner, who lived in Vienna at the time, heard about it, drove to the border and took pictures. He thought these pictures would be on the front pages of newspapers around the world. He was wrong. It was not until June 27, when Austrian Foreign Minister Alois Möck and his Hungarian counterpart, Gyula Horn, along with various government officials, cut through the barbed wire in front of cameras that the news spread.

In Poland, Round Table Talks had started in early February. In Hungary, Prime Minister Miklós Németh had visited Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev and told him he intended to open the borders and to hold open elections. He asked Gorbachev what the Russian reaction would be. Gorbachev replied that as long as he was in office the crime of 1956 would not be repeated. In East Germany, people had heard about these openings in the Hungarian/Austrian border. Then, on August 19th 1989, Hungarian civilians organized a “Paneuropean Picnic” at Sopron, where Austrians and Hungarians could dream of a Europe without borders. That’s when about 600 East Germans, who had seen photos of Möck and Horn cutting through the border fence two months earlier, made a run for Austria. And the Hungarian soldiers did not shoot.

Apparently it is still not clear what role Hungarian politics played. Németh said he wanted to find out how Gorbachev would react to East Germans fleeing. According to Hungarian Historian Zsolt Vitari, Gorbachev was at the center of these events.

Twenty five years later, Europe’s youth has no personal memory of an Eastern or Western Europe. Austria joined the EU 19 years ago, Hungary 10. Austria’s youth–who are allowed to vote at 16–has no personal memory even of European country borders. Perhaps we have to look to the young people to end xenophobia and nationalism and racism.

Note: I have been reading reports in the Vorarlberger Nachrichten, the Deutsche Welle online, a Sopron website with dramatic pictures of the August 19th escape (http://www.sopron.hu/upload/varos/paneu-piknik/attor_uk.htm), the Polish History Museum (https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/asset-viewer/high-noon-june-4-1989/DgHFW9cc7I9JvQ?exhibitId=wRdWMAgi&hl=en), and Der Spiegel (http://magazin.spiegel.de/EpubDelivery/spiegel/pdf/32362267).

The Letter from Europe: Austrian Election slogans for EU Parliament

In 31 days, Austrians go to the polls to elect their MEP(s), (Member of the European Parliament). Right now, Austria has 19 MEPs, the UK has 73, France has 74, Germany has 99, etc. This seems similar to the U. S. Congress, except there are at least 13 different European Parties, but the candidates here run on their Austrian party ticket, not the European ones. I suppose they can join a European party once they get to Brussels. I am not sure how many Austrian MEPs will be elected in May.

What I find fascinating is the electioneering. There are posters pasted everywhere. “A better Europe ensures peace and a future for our youth” is the slogan of the ÖVP, the Austrian conservatives. “Europe in my head, Austria in my heart,” declares the candidate for the SPÖ, the socialist party. “We understand your anger,” says a smiling FPÖ candidate with bis party boss smiling behind him. “My tomatoes must not become illegal,” says a worried looking Green candidate (she is referring to Monsanto genetically modified seeds, which presently are illegal here, but that could change if the EU/USA trade agreement goes through). And “Reach for the stars,” says the candidate for the NEOS, a young and fairly new party.

The interesting thing about all this is that very few people seem interested in voting at all. The people have been disappointed by the recent general election, where the two main parties, ÖVP and SPÖ were the winners with the FPÖ a close third. But the problems–too complicated to get into here–since then appear to be getting worse. So people say forget it. I’m not voting.

Johannes Voggenhuber, an ex-green politician and MEP, complains about the slogans. The Austria-First sentiment is xenophobic, nationalistic, and outmoded. None of the candidates is ready to discuss the real problems Europe faces: the possibility of a European war over Ukraine, the total surveillance of European citizens by the NSA, the financial crisis, the free trade agreement with the USA, the repair of the Euro.

I agree. It seems so, well, American. We have real problems, but knowledgeable people are denigrated as “intellectuals” (when did that word acquire a negative connotation?), which leaves the ignorant masses, who can understand only a cool slogan, to go to the polls–if they can be bothered–to vote for the coolest slogan. Or the handsomest guy. Or the sexiest woman.

On a more positive note, there is an Austrian rising star politician, Sebastian Kurz. He is very young, was 27 when he was elected, and he is Austria’s foreign minister. More about him in a future letter. In the meantime, I’m sure he’s googleable.

P. S. I just see in today’s paper that all of this poster sticking is illegal in Vorarlberg. Apparently, they passed a law last Fall, that posters may be placed only 4 weeks before an election. The FPÖ started 5 weeks before and everyone except the ÖVP followed. “The question is if this is not a coordinated alliance of Ignorance,” a Vorarlberg ÖVP politician said, but he suspects that they all got together in order to leave the ÖVP in the dust.

The Letter from Europe: American Pretend Posturing and Other Ramblings

Last Friday, the headline on page 3A was “America promises Assistance to Moldavia” because in the Ukraine crisis, Russia is a “gas station led by a mafioso.”

Wow! I thought, what’s going on? What did I miss?

I had to read fairly far into the article to discover that the speaker is John McCain, not President Obama. I learned that McCain, North Dakota’s John Hoeven, John Barrasso, and Ron Johnson talked to Iurie Leanca, the Moldavian Prime Minister, telling him that “we” (I assume that means the USA) will “never allow” Vladimir Putin to rob the people of Moldavia of their freedom to decide their own future. “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country. In fact, Russia is a gas station run by a Mafioso,” McCain said.

Brilliant. I bet Putin is laughing in his fist about what McCain will and will not allow him to do. “Yes, Papa.” Hahahahaha!

A crazy senator (who was trying to make an even crazier woman vice president of the United States) is saber rattling and challenging the Russian president, pretending to speak for the country. There has to be something illegal about this. We have a government appointed and senate ratified post–the Secretary of State–who is supposed to be talking to foreign leaders and carrying out the business of foreign affairs in accordance with the Commander-in-Chief’s policies. That would be John Kerry. And President Obama.

What McCain is doing is undermining the president, disrespecting the president and his office, and behaving like an ass in the eyes of the world.

The problem with such behavior is that the people reading this story assume that this saber rattling is the official position of America. Here is what I hear: America wants another war. America has it’s sticky fingers in every pie. There must be money to be made in Ukraine and Moldavia. Americans care only about money. They don’t care about people’s lives. They kill indiscriminately. Another reason never to visit America; you’re very likely to get killed in America with their crazy gun culture. American people are ignorant about the world because the rest of the world doesn’t even exist for them.

Ok. That last sentence is mine. It’s not what I hear, but what I myself think is true. For many, other countries exist as vacation destinations, not as the home of people other than themselves. It appears to shock many Americans that the American way of life is not eagerly sought after by everyone else. Not all refuges from war torn countries desire to land in America. And not all emigrants come to America. America is not the best country there is. By far. It has many good things, but so do a lot of other countries. And America has a lot of problems other countries do not have.

John McCain is one of them.