Maine Writer

Its about people and issues I care about.

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Location: Topsham, MAINE, United States

My blogs are dedicated to the issues I care about. Thank you to all who take the time to read something I've written.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Racism and unknown risk consequences for democracy

Echo opinion published in the History News Network by Donne Levy, a retired community college history instructor. 

The term “Trumpism,” alluding to a cult of personality surrounding the #FormerGuy, has penetrated the American vernacular. 

(Maine Writer: Trumpism is the modern euphemism for Naziism)

So much about the Trump presidency has been weirdly unprecedented. 

But, the cult phenomenon is not new.  

Apparently, a cult of personality also engulfed Ronald Reagan. Although the two men are very different from one another in character, their cults of personality share similar qualities. Both were not always truthful, both made serious mistakes and both were tinged with racism.

A political cult of personality means a strong and irrational admiration and devotion to a leader. Frequently, the leader spreads fame widely through mass media. Followers become enamored to the point of idolizing the leader, while overlooking or ignoring shortcomings. This characterizes the public life of both Trump and Reagan.

Familiar to millions of Americans by appearing in movies and hosting the weekly General Electric Theater on Sunday night television, Ronald Reagan began a political career on October 27, 1964 with a nationally televised speech on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. It was a week before the election. The speech was filled with false claims about the overbearing U.S. government and unverified anecdotes. This was all to support Reagan’s view that government needed to get out of the way of the economic freedom of the American people. Reagan created #fakenews by falsely claimed that farmers could be imprisoned who did not cooperate with federal government programs, and that the Federal Reserve Board planned inflation.

Reagan also said, “We were told four years ago that seventeen million people went to be hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.” (OMG!) Due to his building a cult of personality, this particularly callous and inaccurate quote was overlooked. When Reagan spoke, more than 36 million Americans were living in poverty, nearly one-fifth of the country. Following the formula of that speech, Reagan won the California governorship two years later by a landslide and would go on to win the presidency twice, by equally impressive margins. The Reagan cult of personality enabled him to remain popular with his followers even when violating his own conservative principles. Throughout his political career, Reagan railed against big government deficit spending. But when the national debt rose by 189 percent, he suffered no political consequences. When Reagan admitted to misleading Americans during the Iran-Contra scandal, his popularity went down temporarily, but bounced back by the end of his presidency.

Donald Trump, like Reagan, gained fame with the American public through show business. Trump starred in a reality television show called The Apprentice. Many Americans assumed that Trump was the “boss” starring in his own program, but in reality Trump was an actor employed by a television production company, just as Reagan was an actor employed by the General Electric Company. 

Trump's strangely favorable celebrity status leading toward a political cult of personality was supported by the appearances on The Apprentice. While Reagan launched his political career with a televised speech, Trump began his with a nationally televised (racist!) accusation that Barack Obama should not be president because he was not a natural-born U.S. citizen. With no proof other than his words, Trump claimed to have investigators in Hawaii uncovering evidence that Obama was not born there as his birth certificate indicated. “They couldn’t believe what they’re finding,” Trump asserted. Several years later, shortly before winning the presidency, Trump admitted that he believed Obama is a U.S. citizen.

When Trump announced his presidential candidacy, he declared, “Sadly the American dream is dead.” The campaign slogan became “Make America Great Again” That is not unlike Reagan’s decrying big government for destroying our freedom. The Reagan 1980 campaign slogan “Morning in America” is not very different in meaning from the Trump 2016 slogan. Like Reagan, Trump deviated from facts to support political points. Examples of this are legion, from Trump’s assertion that he saw thousands of Muslims on 9/11 cheering the collapse of the twin-towers to his claim of Obamacare imploding. One difference however is that Reagan’s factual deviations usually served to buttress his political points, while Trump’s were often to boost himself, from the false claim to have graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania at the top of his class, and the boast of being a “very stable genius.” That arrogance was not in Reagan’s character.

Trump’s personality cult protected him to some extent as it did Reagan. Trump’s popularity was never high as Reagan’s was. But his approval ratings always remained in the middle 40s, not dropping precipitously as in the case of Nixon and Carter for example. That is despite numerous scandals, including the Russia investigation, and a poorly-handled pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. Unfortunately, in the end, 74 million Americans (incredulously!) voted for Trump. The cult of personality remained intact.

Another and more sinister similarity in the Reagan and Trump cults of personality is white racism. Both men saw an opportunity to advance their political careers by appealing to white voters in a racially prejudicial way. In Reagan’s 1966 campaign for governor he appealed to white voters disgusted with the “beatniks, radicals, and filthy speech advocates” as Reagan termed it. In his 1976 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Reagan frequently told the “welfare queen” story about a woman on welfare who allegedly defrauded the U.S. Government of $150,000. The story was significantly embellished, but was in keeping with Reagan’s political views. He once called welfare recipients a “faceless mass waiting for a handout.” He did not mention race, but the implication was abundantly clear that the welfare queen is black. In his 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan after winning the nomination, traveled to Mississippi to give a speech at the Neshoba County Fair to a white audience glorifying states’ rights, which has long been the cry of white Southerners fighting civil rights. Neshoba County is the site where three civil rights workers were infamously killed in 1964.

Donald Trump’s appeal to white racism has been more blatant. In August 2017, the Unite the Right rally occurred with one counter-protester killed. Trump said that “you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.” One side had neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, and Alt-Right people. In the last presidential campaign, Trump in numerous ways appealed to racism attempting to win re-election. For example, he condemned NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. He condemned Black Lives Matter and predicted the “beautiful suburbs” will be destroyed by low-income housing if Biden wins. He blamed big city Democrats and their black voters for stealing the election, ignoring the fact that he lost battleground states because too many whites in the suburbs deserted him.

Two recent presidents have had cults of personality, although that is antithetical to democracy. That enabled both to win their party nominations and the general election. It gave both men the luxury of deviating from truthfulness and enabled Reagan to survive a severe scandal and Trump to be incompetent, scandalous and profane while maintaining a base of popularity. This also indicates something ominous about America. If a candidate has a cult of personality, and develops a large number of devoted followers who believe he or she can do no wrong, it could potentially make white supremacy or other malignant elements of politics seem permissible, with unknown consequences for democracy.

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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Yom HaShoah is Holocaust remembrance and genocide history

How to remember the Holocaust, in a poem. Raphael Lemkin offered a reminder that genocides destroy more than lives.

Echo report published in The Atlantic, written by James Loeffler*, professor of Jewish history, and Leora Bilsky, professor of law*

Jews around the world mark Yom HaShoah, the day of Holocaust remembrance. Yet, where once the memory of the Holocaust promised to unite the world in the pursuit of global justice, now it divides us. 

Holocaust Remembrance

In Eastern Europe and the Middle East alike, Holocaust history is currently weaponized in all manner of political disputes. In the United States, the invocation of Holocaust analogies once signaled that a heated political debate had reached its end—now it frequently marks the beginning. Even the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental organization dedicated to promoting global Holocaust education, has become enmeshed in debates about the legal definition of anti-Semitism.

These battles over the memory of the Holocaust stem from the problem of its uniqueness. They pit the appreciation of the singular nature of the crime against the need to apply its lessons to other past atrocities and present-day dangers. They confront the challenge of comparing genocides without slipping into moral relativism, on the one hand, and the challenge of retreating into facile Holocaust exceptionalism on the other.

One way to approach these dilemmas comes from the work of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish lawyer who coined the term genocide. He left behind a widely varied body of work when he died in 1959, including memoirs and legal texts. 

But, it’s a poem**  recently recovered, which he wrote in 1957, that might offer us a way to navigate these tensions.

Lemkin is better known today as an international lawyer and activist than as a poet. Born in 1900 in Russian Belarus, he embarked on a career after World War I as a public prosecutor in newly independent Poland. At the same time, he worked as an editor for one of the most famous Yiddish-language newspapers of the day, the Warsaw Haynt, where he wrote a legal-advice column; he also wrote essays and poetry in Hebrew and Yiddish.

Deeply concerned about the threat of fascism, in 1933, Lemkin launched an international legal campaign to protect Jews and other European racial and religious minorities from persecution. That effort failed, and it triggered an anti-Semitic backlash that cost him his government post. Lemkin lost nearly his entire family in the Holocaust. During the war he fled via Lithuania and Sweden to the United States, 
where he embarked once more on his quest for an international law against what he now called genocide. Lemkin’s campaign led to the 1948 United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which took effect in 1951.

Most of what we know of Lemkin’s ideas and efforts is based on his writings in English. His prose writings in Yiddish and Polish have only recently come to light, and his Hebrew poetry had long been presumed lost. We were therefore surprised to discover this poem hiding in the pages of an old Israeli newspaper. In a prefatory note to the poem, which was published in 1957 in Al HaMishmar, a newspaper sponsored by the left-wing Zionist faction Hashomer Hatzair, Lemkin said that “the world had begun to forget the great crime against the Jews.” 

In response, he turned not to law or history, but to literature.

Lemkin’s poem takes the form of a classic Hebrew lamentation over the tragic losses suffered by the Jewish people, whose names had been blotted out by their persecutors. In language echoing the Israelite prophets, medieval Ashkenazic liturgical elegies, and the modern Hebrew poet Haim Nahman Bialik, Lemkin evokes the classic imagery of the ruined Jewish cityscape. In his verse, dogs and pigs defile half-buried Jewish bones as a terrible silence reigns in the empty streets. Like Bialik’s Kishinev in pre–World War I Russia and Isaiah’s Jerusalem millennia before, the ransacked, desolate city symbolizes the vanquished Jewish people, who, to paraphrase Isaiah, live on only in the form of “a sign and a remembrance.”

Lemkin’s anguished text also explains why the world had already begun to forget the Holocaust. Genocide represents more than a large-scale physical assault on human bodies, he suggests; it is also an attack on the very existence of minority cultures. In a genocide, books are burned and memories are extinguished. Lemkin describes a silent piano and a muted violin, whose owners have been disappeared and whose songs will never be heard again. “In the school, where you once taught,” he wrote, “Your gifted
student will be punished, / For praising your name.

Lemkin’s lament spoke directly to the fate of the law he’d championed. In his original vision, the crime of genocide encompassed any systematic eliminationist attack on a group’s collective existence via its culture—the targeting of art, books, religion, language. That is why he’d hoped the UN convention would include both physical and cultural aspects of genocide. 

Nevertheless, to his great dismay, the latter half of his definition was dropped from the convention, falling victim to Cold War realpolitik: the great powers’ fear of being held accountable for their own colonial and racial injustices, and the broader Western reluctance to acknowledge the specifically Jewish character of the Holocaust.

But Lemkin’s lost poem reminds us of something valuable. When we remember the Holocaust only as a universal parable of racial hatred and religious stigmatization, we miss its full import as an attack against Jews as Jews. If we, likewise, condition the memory of the Holocaust, on its relevance to contemporary political issues, we risk distorting the crime itself and dishonoring its Jewish victims once more. Yet tribalism is 
no less dangerous. The uniqueness of the Holocaust does not require us to deny the possibility of comparison with other genocides.

Lemkin titled his poem not “Shoah” or “Holocaust” but “Genocide.” The supremacist hatred he described in it, “on account of race and religion,” can endanger any people. The crime in question is ultimately a universal one: the demonization of difference. All genocides share some common features, Lemkin insisted. Systematic cultural destruction and mass slaughter represent interdependent facets of a malevolent assault on minority identity, a philosophical rejection of the very idea of human diversity. Physical and cultural genocide are two sides of the same coin.

The problem today is not, as is often claimed, that we possess too little Holocaust memory. Neither, for that matter, do we suffer from Holocaust-memory overload. After all, memory is not data. We cannot simply bundle it into packets that we then deposit in the hands of the next generation or plug into moral algorithms. Nor is memory a sacred flame that we must zealously guard lest powerful winds—or competing fires—threaten to overwhelm it. Rather, memory is an ongoing process of active reckoning with the past from the vantage point of the present. The duty of remembrance is inseparable from the burden of moral reasoning. 

Indeed, the Shoah deserves its own specific day, but the lessons we extract from its memory can never be isolated from the other dangers that plague the world.

Meeting this challenge requires us to hold in balance the Holocaust’s unique features and its broader meaning as a form of genocide and mass atrocity. What was true of the Holocaust is also true of every great act of human evil. Each is horrific in its own way and must be remembered in its specificity, yet all feed into the record of history that demands our attention and inspires our vigilance.

*JAMES LOEFFLER is the Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century and The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire, and co-editor of the forthcoming volume, The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyering and International Law in Historical Perspective.

*LEORA BILSKY is professor of law at Tel Aviv University, where she serves as Director of the Minerva Center for Human Rights. She is the author of The Holocaust, Corporations and the Law.

**GENOCIDE by Raphael Lemkin

They came to kill you,
And not out of mere bloodlust –
God commanded them,

To rule over all other nations.

Your only sin — your very name;

They will blot out your seed,
On account of race and religion.

Squeezed into the cattle-car,
On your forehead the mark
From the policeman’s boot.

Your eyes full of anguish;
Never again will you see your families,
Sold into slavery, torture and pillage.

All the labor you once exerted,
Toiling to provide for wife and child,
To fill your souls with pride,
To brace yourselves in struggle—

Now will be reduced,

To final gasps and death’s touch.

The smoke of your burnt corpses,
Will rise higher and higher

To heaven.

Your gravestones plundered–
While the dog and the pig,
gnaw at your ancestors’ bones.

In the empty house,
The orphaned cat,
Your daughter’s favorite,
Alone from the empty cradle

Will arise.

The silent piano stands,
Waiting in vain for the voice to accompany—

And your violin,

Lies mute like a dry piece of wood.

The book you authored,
Will be consumed in flames.

In the school, where you once taught,
Your gifted student will be punished,
For praising your name.

And this for a sign and a remembrance:

Your orphans will never laugh again.

In distant lands,
The postman, his hands empty,

Will visit your relatives,
With a tear on his cheek.

A city of God this was,
And now— it lies deserted, pitying itself.

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Friday, April 09, 2021

"Humans who had a name": Fighting anti-Semitism in social media

BERLIN (AP) — Alarmed by a rise in online anti-Semitism during the pandemic, coupled with studies indicating younger generations lack even basic knowledge of the Nazi genocide, Holocaust survivors are taking to social media to share their experiences of how hate speech paved the way for mass murder.
Yellow Star badge of Heinz-Joachim Aris (Dresden 1941) reading 'Jew' is displayed in a showcase during a press preview in the new special exhibition 'Shoes of the Dead - Dresden and the Shoah' at the Military History Museum in Dresden, Germany.

With short video messages recounting their stories, participants in the #ItStartedWithWords campaign hope to educate people about how the Nazis embarked on an insidious campaign to dehumanize and marginalize Jews — years before death camps were established to carry out murder on an industrial scale.

Six individual videos and a compilation were released over Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, followed by one video per week. The posts include a link to a webpage with more testimonies and teaching materials.

“There aren’t too many of us going out and speaking anymore, we’re few in numbers but our voices are heard,” Sidney Zoltak, an 89-year-old survivor from Poland, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Montreal.

“We are not there to tell them stories that we read or that we heard — we are telling facts, we are telling what happened to us and to our neighbors and to our communities. And I think that this is the strongest possible way.”

Once the Nazi party came to power in Germany in 1933, its leaders immediately set about making good on their pledges to “Aryanize” the country, segregating and marginalizing the Jewish population.

The Nazi government encouraged the boycott of Jewish businesses, which were daubed with the Star of David or the word “Jude” — Jew. Propaganda posters and films suggested Jews were “vermin,” comparing them to rats and insects, while new laws were passed to restrict all aspects of Jews’ lives.

Charlotte Knobloch, who was born in Munich in 1932, recalls in her video message how her neighbors suddenly forbid their children from playing with her or other Jews.

”I was 4 years old,” Knobloch remembered. “I didn’t even know what Jews were.”

The campaign, launched to coincide with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, was organized by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which negotiates compensation for victims. It is backed by many organizations, including the United Nations.

It comes as a study released this week by Israeli researchers found that coronavirus lockdowns last year shifted some anti-Semitic hatred online, where conspiracy theories blaming Jews for the pandemic’s medical and economic devastation abounded.

Although the annual report by Tel Aviv University’s researchers on anti-Semitism showed that the social isolation of the pandemic resulted in fewer acts of violence against Jews across 40 countries, Jewish leaders expressed concern that online vitriol could lead to physical attacks when the lockdowns end.

Supporting the new online campaign, the International Auschwitz Committee noted that one of the men who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January wore a sweatshirt with the slogan “Camp Auschwitz: Work Brings Freedom.”

“The survivors of Auschwitz experienced first-hand what it is like when words become deeds,” the organization wrote. “Their message to us: do not be indifferent!”

Recent surveys by the Claims Conference in several countries have also revealed a lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among young people, which the organization hopes the campaign will help address.

In a 50-state study of Millennials and Generation Z-age people in the U.S. last year, researchers found that 63% of respondents did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust and 48% could not name a single death camp or concentration camp.

Claims Conference President Gideon Taylor told the AP that the surveys highlighted that “messages and concepts and ideas that were common and understood 20 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago” are not any more.

After the success of a social media campaign last year using the messages of survivors to pressure Facebook to ban posts that deny or distort the Holocaust, Taylor said it made sense to seek social media help again.

“The Holocaust didn’t come out of nowhere,” he said. “Before Jews were driven out of their schools, their jobs, their homes, before the synagogues, shops and businesses were destroyed. And before there were ghettos and camps and cattle cars, words were used to stoke the fires of hate.”

“And who can draw that line from dangerous words to horrific acts better than those who lived through the depths of human depravity?”

For Zoltak, the escalation from words to deeds came rapidly after the invading Nazi army occupied his town east of Warsaw in mid-1941. The Nazis rapidly implemented anti-Semitic laws that they had already instituted in the western part of Poland they occupied two years earlier and forced Zoltak’s parents into slave labor, he said.

A year later, the Germans forced all of the town’s Jews — about half the population of 15,000 — into a ghetto segregated from the rest of the town, subject to strict regulations and kept on restricted food rations.

Three months later, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto, transporting its residents to the Treblinka death camp or killing them along the way.

Zoltak was one of the few lucky ones, managing to escape with his parents into a nearby forest. They hid around the area until the next spring, when they were taken in by a Catholic family in a nearby farm and sheltered for the duration of the war.

After the war, he returned to his town and learned that all but 70 of its 7,000 Jews had been killed, including all of his classmates and his father’s entire family.

“It’s sometimes hard to understand,” he said. “We’re not actually dealing with numbers, they were humans who had a name, who had families.”


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Thursday, April 08, 2021

Capitol insurrection- What we saw with our own eyes!

#TheBigLie and the Former Guy:

Trumpzi's #TheBigLie failed to sustain his dictator ambitions.

This opinion letter to the editor was published in The Standard: The Official Newspaper of Allamakee County, in Iowa.

#FormerGuy's dangerous Trumpzi big lie - that the 2020 election was rigged, stolen and fraught with voter fraud - had deadly consequences. 

For weeks before and after the election, #FormerGuy Trump repeated The Big Lie. Trump supporters were enraged and followed Trump’s directives to march to the U.S. Capitol January 6th. Their intentions were to break into the Capitol, to stop the certification of Joe Biden, as the legitimately elected president of the United States, and threats were made to harm Vice President Mike Pence, plus Democratic leaders and anyone who stood in their way.

With our own eyes, we saw the rioters beat Capitol Police officers. We saw the noose this mob erected. We heard them shout, “Hang Mike Pence!” With horror, we saw the mob break into the Capitol and the Trump flags hanging from the balcony. Rioters wore Trump hats and Trump t-shirts, and waved Trump flags.

Republican senators and representatives failed to debunk the big lie which led to this deadly attack on the Capitol. Now, the Republicans are giving life to another big lie - the lie that Antifa and Trump imposters were the insurrectionists, the rioters, and the murderers storming the Capitol.

Recently at a senate hearing, FBI Director Wray gave sworn testimony that the attackers were violent militia groups and white supremacists. At the hearing, Republican senators again tried to blame Antifa and fake Trump supporters. Director Wray repeated his testimony that there were no fake Trump supporters and no Antifa involved in the attack on the Capitol. Wray testified that white supremacists are domestic terrorists and the major threat to the nation.

Yet, instead of condemning white supremacists, violent militias and other Trumpzi-supporting domestic terrorists, the Republicans continue to lie and say Antifa attacked the Capitol. This is cowardly and dangerous.

Republican leaders are placing our democracy, our national security and our safety at grave risk. This lie will result in more violence, death and destruction by domestic terrorists. For the sake of our nation, it is imperative that Republicans put country before party.

From Karen Pratte, in Waterville, Iowa

P.S. Maine Writer-  The Big Lie failed in 2020, but Republicans continue to blindly support the Former Guy, as their dangerous messenger.  

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Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Insurrectionists: The Enablers and The Big Lie

Echo opinion published in The Triad, by Jonathan V. Last

The Capitol:  I’d like to tell you a story.

I took my first grown-up, unsupervised trip to Washington in the spring of 1996. I was a college senior in Baltimore and during the pause before finals, a group of friends and I decided to drive down to D.C. for the night.

It was my birthday. We went someplace for dinner that seemed quite fancy, but was probably Hamburger Hamlet. Then we bought cigars and went over to the Capitol. We parked right by the building and walked up the steps on the West side and just hung out, smoking cigars, looking at the city, and imagining what it would be like to stake a claim in this place as real adults.

In January of 1997, I moved here. I drank in everything the city had to offer. A couple nights a week I’d take a book and spend two or three hours reading on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or one of the benches inside the Jefferson Memorial. From my apartment it was maybe a five minute drive. Parking was easy, even during tourist season.

About one Saturday a month I’d go to the main reading room at the Library of Congress, which, if you’ve never been there, is one of Washington’s hidden jewels.

I was making $18,000 a year answering phones and sorting mail at a tiny political magazine no one back home in New Jersey had ever heard of. I lived in a shoebox apartment and ate PB&J and frozen pizzas and felt like the richest man in the world because Washington was my sitting room.

My favorite of these rituals, though, were nighttime trips to the Capitol.

Some nights I’d got with friends. Some nights, I’d go by myself. I almost always brought a cigar.

I’d visit with the Ulysses Grant Memorial, which might be the best piece of sculpture in the city. I’d walk around the Capitol reflecting pool (a lot of people don’t know there are two large reflecting pools on the Mall). In the end, I always wound up on the steps. Usually on the House side.

I’d sit in the quiet—or chatting with a friend—puffing on a Macanudo Churchill and looking out over the city. Straight ahead would be Jefferson and Madison Drives. Off to the right, like a river, was Pennsylvania Avenue.

Just about every night I’d wind up talking with someone from the Capitol Police. They were always present, making the rounds. They would chat in that friendly but professional way designed to figure out if I was a drunk or a punk, and once they realized I was just some random romantic, they’d leave me alone. 

Except, on the occasions when they’d stay and talk for a bit. Because a lot of guys on the Capitol Police force were romantics about Washington, too. They understood that they weren’t manning a speed trap or guarding a Wal-Mart. Being part of the Capitol Police was a sacred duty. In the realist sense of the term.

I always brought a couple extra cigars, just in case. And more than once, on a slow night, one of the officers would take me up on it and smoke a stogie with me and drink in this magnificent idea that we were both so privileged to be part of.

So the January 6th insurrection and the tragedy about another attempt to attack the Capitol and the loss of a second Capitol Police officer, was a like being struck with a dagger.

A Free Society Cannot be Hardened

I understand the impulse to harden the Capitol. There is a faction in law enforcement that has slowly been trying to harden Washington against attack for decades. Before Trump. Before 9/11.

Over time, the people who subscribe to this school of thought have slowly turned the ratchet. They shut down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. You can no longer park at the Jefferson Memorial. Drive around Washington and you’ll see a proliferation of gigantic concrete flower pots spaced in odd ways. That’s all part of the modern D.C. security regime. Just about every agency in town is desperate to move out of the city so that it can have its own “campus.” In the name of security.

As I said, I understand that impulse.

But on the other hand, you cannot harden a free society. If you put fences around the Capitol, then people who want to attack our democracy will hit the National Archives or the Supreme Court. Or the Library of Congress. Or their state capitol buildings. Or their local courthouse. Or the Mall of America. Or a Little League game.

It’s not that the idea of security is hopeless. But you have to be able to strike a balance. You have to be able to find a way to say, “Okay, this place isn’t Fort Knox, but it’s secure enough.” Because if you don’t approach security that way, then eventually you’re on the path to turning everything into Fort Knox and it’s just a matter of prioritization.

The lockdown of the Capitol makes me sad.

I’ve been drifting away from my love affair with Washington for a long time. I got married. I had kids. I moved to the suburbs and no longer had time to spend my nights reading books on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, even if I still lived five minutes away.

Washington changed. Cities are always changing, but the pace of Washington’s transformation in the early '00s was fast and the direction was not great. The city simultaneously became both more glamorous and less interesting. The intellectual energy began to dissipate, replaced by the same sort of naked rapaciousness for status and money that you see in Manhattan.

So over the last decade or so, Washington was more like a lover I’d lost touch with, a romance from a different part of my life. And when you see something you once loved have something terrible happen to it, it makes you sad. Even if that thing is no longer the thing you loved.

But it also makes me angry. And I want to explain why:

Our government has two ways to make the Capitol more secure.

1.  The first is to explain to Americans that President Joe Biden is the fairly elected president of the United States. That his victory was quite large. That the former president and many of his enablers lied about the outcome of the election.

In so doing, this would leach the poison out of our political life and remove the impetus for mobs to attack the Capitol.

2.  The second option is to put fences and razor wire around the Capitol to discourage people whose minds have been poisoned from attacking it again.

Faced with these alternatives, our government chose the latter.

The Republican party did this.

They lied to America for months about the 2020 election. 

Moreover, they are still lying, right now.  #TheBigLie

And they would rather perpetuate this lie than try to explain to their voters what the truth is. Because the lie brings them nearer to power and the truth would repel the people they most need to vote for them.

Even if the price is insurrection. Even if the lie costs people their lives. Even if it means turning our Capitol into Fort Knox.

Because Republicans would rather lose freedom than tell the truth.

I’ve never seen anything like this in American politics.

And in addition to the sadness and the anger, there’s worry. Because a politics based on a lie cannot produce anything good. It’s simply not possible. It’s the fruit of the poison tree.

While this poison belongs to Republicans, it effects us all. It trickles into our polity, warping minds and blackening hearts. It changes the world—even the physical world—around us.

The fences and razor wire at the Capitol are the physical manifestation of the Republican lie. 

Every time you see them, remember #FormerGuy and....
  • Kevin McCarthy 
  • Ted Cruz 
  • Josh Hawley  
  • Jim Jordan 
  • Matt Gaetz 
  • Andy Biggs 
  • And hundreds of elected Republicans across the country who created this lie.

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Evil semi-automatic rifles are the choice for mass murderers

Opinion letter echo published in the Shreveport Times newspaper in Louisiana.
How many more mass murders must we have until the U.S. Congress takes the required steps to subdue this matter. Before we get started, I’m not advocating banning all guns. I have some myself.

It is LONG past time to ban semi-automatic AR style rifles and BIG magazines and eliminate background check loopholes.

Face it, ARs are the choice of mass murderers (and right-wing nut cases, so called militias -- the biggest domestic terrorism threat.). (Maine Writer- IMO, trained military notwithstanding, the private purchase of an AR, regardless of what the reason, is an intentionality to consider murder.)

It is time for our gutless politicians to ban ARs, big magazines and close the loopholes.

The public, even Republicans, backs all. Such bans have never been found to be unconstitutional. The only thing blocking these reasonable steps is the lack of courage in Congress.

George W. Bush didn’t extend the Bill Clinton ban on them for political reasons in 2004. Clinton's 1994 ban passed in the Senate with a vote of 95-4 and the House by 235-195.

AR style rifles should never been allowed in the first place. A buyback program, similar to Australia's, should also be enacted for them.

Congressmen with a high NRA (National Rifle Association) rating should be thrown out of office. Why? – Not only are they for keeping AR style rifles in the hands general public but supported the NRA’s advocacy of silencers and bump stocks (converts ARs to Tommy guns) for the general public.

From Robert F. Martina, Shreveport Louisiana

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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Jewish resistance during the Holocaust

Hidden Stories of Jewish Resistance in Poland

By Judy Batalion published in the History News Network
April 1943: Two Jewish resistance fighters arrested by Nazi troops during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Keystone/Getty Images

Judy Batalion has written for the New York Times, Vogue, the Washington Post and many other publications. Prior to her writing career, she was an academic and is fluent in both Yiddish and Hebrew. Born and raised in Montreal, she now lives in New York with her husband and children. Her most recent book The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler's Ghettos, will be on sale April 6.

Maine Writer*- As a gentile, I attended a Jewish nursing school, but I never learned about the World War II Jewish uprisings, like what took place in the Warsaw Ghetto, until I read the novel by Leon Uris, "Mila 18".  Moreover, I never understood why more information was not revealed or reported about this failed attempt to save the Jews of Poland from capture, yet some of them did manage to escape.  This report by Judy Batalion is her report about the researched account of Jewish resistance to the Nazis, and its history.  

Batalion writes in HNN:  In 1959, writing about the Holocaust, scholar Mark Bernard highlighted that Jewish resistance was almost always considered a miracle, ethereal, beyond research scope. Still today, this impression generally persists. And yet, Jewish defiance was everywhere during the war, carried out in a multitude of ways, by all types of people.
Leon Uris wrote Mila 18, a fictionalized portrayal of the Warsaw uprising. Wildly popular, Mila 18 spent 33 weeks atop the U.S. national bestseller list. (Samantha Baskind in Time)

Batalion first encountered this phenomenon several years ago, when she accidentally came across a collection of Yiddish writing by and about young Polish-Jewish women who rebelled against the Nazis. These “ghetto girls” paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in marmalade jars, and built underground bunkers. They flung homemade explosives and blew up German trains. She was stunned. Why – as a Jewish writer from a survivor family, not to mention a trained historian who held a Ph.D. in feminist art — never heard this side of the story?

And so began her research. She discovered, due to preconceived notions of gender, the girls’ educations, and the lack of evident markers of their Jewishness (i.e., circumcision), women played a critical role in the Jewish underground in Poland. But when she set out to write their story and sought a chronological context, it quickly became apparent that there was none. No comprehensive history of the men in the underground existed either. Sure, excellent academic biographies and case studies of rebellions in particular ghettos and camps had been published, but there were no recent English books that relayed the tale of Jewish resistance in the country as a whole. As much as she was baffled by the ferocious female fighters, she was equally baffled by the entire Jewish effort in Poland, the epicenter of the bloodshed, where 3 million Jews (90% of the pre-war population) were savagely murdered. The truth was, though she'd heard of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, she had no idea what actually happened. Certainly, she had no idea about the scope of Jewish revolt.

Holocaust scholars have debated what “counts” as an act of Jewish resistance. Many take it at its most broad definition: any action that affirmed the humanity of a Jew; any solitary or collaborative deed that even unintentionally defied Nazi policy or ideology, including simply staying alive. 

Others feel that too general a definition diminishes those who risked their lives to defy a regime actively and that there is a distinction between resistance and resilience. The rebellious acts discovered among Jewish women and men in Poland, the country of her focus, spanned the gamut, from those entailing complex planning and elaborate forethought, like setting off large quantities of TNT, to those that were spontaneous and simple, even slapstick-like, involving costumes, dress-up, biting and scratching, wiggling out of Nazis’ arms. Some were one-offs, some were organized movements. For many, the goal was to rescue Jews; for others, to die with and leave a legacy of dignity.

As guerrilla fighters, the Polish-Jewish resistance took only a handful of Nazi casualties and achieved a relatively minuscule victory in terms of military success, but the effort was much more significant than she'd known. 

Indeed, over 90 European ghettos had armed Jewish resistance units. In Poland, where many of these were located, the units comprised “ghetto fighters” who used found objects (like pipes), manufactured items (such as homemade explosives), and smuggled-in weapons (including pistols and revolvers) to engage in spontaneous or, more often, organized anti-Nazi assaults. Most of these underground operatives were young, in their twenties and even teens, and had been members of youth movements, which now formed the core structures of resistance cadres. Ghetto fighters were combatants as well as editors of underground bulletins and social activists. 

Moreover, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, she learned, was youth-driven, and strategically planned over months. Most accounts agree that about 750 young Jews participated. (Roughly 180 of them were women.)

Some Jews fought inside the ghettos, but 30,000 (ten percent were women) fled their towns and cities and enlisted in forest-based partisan units; many carried out sabotage and intelligence missions. ‘The Avengers,’ a Jewish-led detachment outside Vilnius, blew up German trains, vehicles, bridges, and buildings. They used their bare hands to rip down telephone poles, telegraph wires, and train tracks. Other Polish Jews joined Soviet, Lithuanian, and Polish-run detachments or foreign resistance units; while others still worked with the Polish underground, often disguised as non-Jews, even from their fellow rebels.

Alongside military-style organizations, Jews organized rescue operations to help fellow Jews escape, hide, or live on the Aryan side as Christians. Warsawian Vladka Meed, a Jewish woman in her early 20s, printed fake documents, distributed Catholic prayer books, and paid Christian Poles fees for hiding Jews in their homes; she also helped save Jewish children by sneaking them out of the ghetto and placing them with non-Jewish families.

In Poland, rescue networks supported roughly 10,000 Jews in hiding in Warsaw alone; they also operated in Krakow. Mordechai Paldiel, the former director of the Righteous Gentiles Department at Yad Vashem, Israel’s largest Holocaust memorial, was troubled that Jewish rescuers never received the same recognition as their Gentile counterparts. In 2017 he authored Saving One’s Own: Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust, a tome about Jews who organized large-scale rescue efforts across Europe. Poland, he claims, had only a small number of these efforts, and still, it was significant.

All these accompanied daily acts of defiance: smuggling food across ghetto walls, creating art, playing music, hiding, even humor. Jews resisted morally, spiritually, and culturally in public and intimate ways by distributing Jewish books, telling jokes during transports to relieve fear, hugging barrack-mates to keep them warm, writing diary entries, and setting up soup kitchens. Mothers kept their children alive and propagated the next Jewish generation, in and of itself an anti-Nazi act. Jews resisted by escaping or by taking on false Christian identities. Roughly 30,000 Jews survived by dying their hair blond, adopting a Polish name and patron saint, curbing their gesticulations and other Jewish seeming habits, and “passing.”

She became fascinated by this widespread resistance effort, but equally by its absence from current understandings of the war. Of all the legions of Holocaust tales, what had happened to this one?

While she researched the lives of Jewish rebels, she simultaneously probed the trajectory of their tales. As she came to find, though there were waves of interest in Jewish defiance over the decades, the resistance narrative was more often silenced for both personal and political reasons that differed across countries and communities. The history of the Jewish underground has generally been suppressed in favor of a “myth of passivity.” Holocaust narratives were shaped by the need to build a new homeland (Israel), the fear of exposing wartime allegiances (Poland), and redefining identity (USA). Early post-war interest in partisans turned into a 1970s focus on “everyday resilience.” A barrage of 1980s Holocaust publications flooded out earlier tales.

Many fighters who survived kept their stories hidden. Many women were treated with disbelief; relatives accused others of having fled to fight instead of staying to look after their parents; still others were charged with sleeping their way to safety. Sometimes family members silenced them, as they feared that opening up old wounds would tear them apart. Many hushed their tales due to oppressive survivors’ guilt: they felt that compared to others, they’d “had it easy.”

Then, there was coping. Women in particular felt a cosmic responsibility to mother the next generation of Jews. They wanted to create a normal life for their children and, for themselves. They did not want to be “professional survivors.” Like so many refugees, they attempted to conceal their pasts and start afresh. The fighters’ formidable tales were buried with their traumas, but both stayed close to the surface, waiting to burst out.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began in April 1943, on the first night of Passover. In her groundbreaking book, We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence After the Holocaust, 1945–1962, Hasia Diner explains that Passover, a holiday where Jews celebrate liberty, became the time around which American Jews commemorated the Holocaust. However, the uprising element was forgotten. When her book comes out this April, she hopes to bring the revolt to the fore once again. She cannot think of Polish Jewry without it; theirs is a story of persistent resistance and profound courage.

*On Thursday, on April 19, 1943, a small group of starving young Jews trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto mounted their now legendary rebellion against the Nazi juggernaut. Defying all odds these desperately under-armed militants held off the German war machine for nearly a month.

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Monday, April 05, 2021

Reckless Former Guy! Coronavirus response must be fixed!

"Since this likely won’t be the last pandemic in Americans’ lifetimes, it’s important to review what went wrong and how to avoid those mistakes next time."
Follow. The. Science! Full Stop!

Clarion call to support science in the face of stupid Trumpzism!
Opinion editorial echo published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Top government health experts who worked under #FormerGuy Donald Trump are now acknowledging what has long been obvious: The failed Trumpzi administration egregiously dropped the ball on the pandemic — at a cost of many thousands of lives. 

Former White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx has gone so far as to say the majority of America’s almost 550,000 pandemic deaths could have been avoided. Examining that failure isn’t about assigning blame. Since this likely won’t be the last pandemic in Americans’ lifetimes, it’s important to review what went wrong and how to avoid those mistakes next time.

A year ago, Trump was routinely commandeering his administration’s daily coronavirus news briefings, generally making a bad situation worse. He downplayed the severity of the pandemic, refused to encourage mask-wearing and distancing, used this important platform to engage in petty political sniping and generally made clear to his millions of followers that he regarded scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci with suspicion. 

As (highly esteemed!) director of the National Institute and Infectious Diseases and America’s top infectious disease expert, Fauci’s insistence on conveying the dire situation with blunt honesty made him a national foil to Trump’s anti-science rhetoric.

Others among America’s experts had to walk a finer line with Trump — especially Birx, who unlike Fauci worked directly for the White House and could have been summarily fired at any time. Who could forget Birx’s hostage-video expression during the April 2020, news conference in which Trump suggested injecting coronavirus patients with disinfectant?

In a series of recent media interviews that have the feel of a rehabilitation tour, Birx has been critical of Trump in ways she wasn’t during his presidency. An assessment she gave CNN, for a special on Trump administration experts that aired Sunday, should haunt those who refused to take the pandemic seriously: “The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
In the same special, Dr. Fauci described the “good cop, bad cop” roles he and Birx took on, to finesse the administration toward constructive action. “I was the bad cop,” he said.

Such head-games shouldn’t be necessary to focus a president during a national crisis, which stands as a lesson of the past year. Another is that presidents should lead by example where they can, as President Joe Biden has done on masks. Political leaders should let the experts convey information, stand behind them when they offer common-sense guidelines, and remind Americans that evolving knowledge about a threat doesn’t mean the experts are wrong — just that knowledge evolves.

If there are three more lessons the nation should have learned by now, it’s these: Trust the science. Trust the science. Trust. The. Science.

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"Help is Here"! Thank you President Biden: Working while Republicans are stuck in culture wars

President Biden must work around the myopic #FormerGuy and the cult that refuses to let go of the results of the legitimate 2020 election! 

"...World Economic Forum ranks America’s infrastructure 13th globally. This should stand as a national humiliation..."
"...bring a divided country together around a big and necessary goal"

Opinion editorial board echo published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, in Kansas.

President Biden has proposed a progressive infrastructure plan worthy of a great nation.

Promises from presidents to overhaul America’s infrastructure have been made and broken so many times in recent years that the whole topic has taken on an aura of impossibility.

In America, the world’s richest nation, there should be nothing to prevent bringing all those crumbling highways into the 21st century, yet former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both watched their big goals on the topic run off the road. President Joe Biden must succeed where they failed — and if that means working around Republicans, instead of with them, so be it.

Biden last week formally unveiled a plan with a price tag of more than $2 trillion, to be funded by a modest rise in corporate taxes. Right on schedule, Republicans — who just a few years ago were willing to lard the deficit with almost as much to grant tax cuts to the rich — started howling about the expense. This even though, unlike their discredited notion that tax cuts pay for themselves, the benefits of an infrastructure overhaul actually will pay for themselves. It could also bring a divided country together around a big and necessary goal.

The necessity is beyond debate. The World Economic Forum ranks America’s infrastructure 13th globally. This should stand as a national humiliation in a country that thinks of itself as first in all things. Even in this era of political polarization, Americans throughout the nation and across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support an infrastructure overhaul.

Biden proposes paying for it by partly reversing the Trump administration’s corporate tax cuts, from the current 21% to 28%. This is still well below the 35% rate in effect before those cuts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vow last week that not a single Republican would support Biden’s plan effectively prioritizes corporate welfare over this pressing national need.

Biden’s plan would repair or replace 10,000 bridges and 20,000 miles of road, and would spend $100 billion for new or upgraded schools. In a recognition that infrastructure means a lot more today than in past eras, the plan would also address issues like broadband access, clean drinking water and climate-change mitigation. It would build 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles, while providing grants and tax incentives to bolster the electric-vehicle industry. It would offer other incentives for investment in clean energy like wind and solar.

In addition to giving America an infrastructure worthy of a great nation, the plan would provide millions of jobs for years to come. Biden isn’t wrong to woo Republican support, but he must avoid Obama’s mistake of endless concessions in a fruitless bid for bipartisanship. If Democrats must make this lift alone, as they did with the recent pandemic rescue package, it would provide just one more reminder to voters that one party works for corporations and the rich while the other is working for America.

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