Pulaski

May 14, 2017

IMG_1668As the great- grandson of Polish immigrants who arrived on our shores in the early 1900’s it is natural for me to think of my heritage from that starting point. I often express my thanks for their courage and foresight to start a new life in this country, leaving everything behind. But in my expressions of gratitude I sometimes forget that they were not the only ones to leave Poland and make their mark on this country.

Last week my wife Carol and one of daughters, Laura, went to Boston’s Polish Fest to soak up the Polish-American culture, along with delicious pierogis and kielbasa. As we sat and ate and drank a few Polish beers we noticed a statue behind us of General Casimir Pulaski. I of course have been well-schooled in the heroics of Washington, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, John Paul Jones, and Nathan Hale, but I had paid little attention to the Polish connection to our war of independence.

At the base of the statue the inscription lists the enormous contributions of Pulaski  to the war effort- organizer and commander of the first American cavalry, instrumental in saving American forces at Brandywine, Pennsylvania, key participant in the battles of Egg Harbor, New Jersey and Charleston, South Carolina, and bravely succumbing to injuries in the battle of Savannah, Georgia.

Although not his war, Pulaski left his native country to fight for freedom and independence and like his countryman, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who helped build many military fortifications, including West Point, was instrumental in winning the war against the British.  Thankfully, Pulaski has not been forgotten as towns, roads and bridges all around this country are named after him. They are a fitting tribute to the heroism of someone who gave his life for an ideal.

In today’s United States we too often forget ideals, grand principles, and governing values and get caught up in defining this nation in terms of wealth, power and success. General Pulaski’s heroism should remind us that freedom and independence are not just words but require deeds and yes, sacrifices. I thank my great grandparents for their deeds and sacrifices, but now I can also thank Casimir Pulaski.


Golf For A Dummy

May 4, 2017

At  the urging of my wife and pressure from my friends I reluctantly spent some cash and took up the Scottish-invented game of golf. I don’t believe I ever offended anyone from Scotland, but I must have angered someone with a kilt because I am a pathetic golfer.

I dutifully go to the golfing range to practice and try to gain some confidence, but when I travel to the links for a real life test of my abilities I truly embarrass myself. Thankfully, my friends are patient and kind but what must be going their heads as I sputter and shank and slither is the stuff of nightmares. I clearly need a lifetime of lessons but I suspect that such advice will only have a marginal impact on my game, plus it will cost me money.

My only consolation as a duffer is that I do have some slight ability with my putting iron, as I have moments when even my friends stare at a 30 foot putt that goes in with envy. But then on the next hole my drive and mid-range iron work is simply horrible, and all the impressive work from my putter is quickly forgotten.

It is wonderful to get out in the open air and share jokes and gossip with my friends, but then I have to hit the ball in a straight line towards the hole, always a challenge if not an outright tragedy.

It is said that the golf game is the most frustrating of sports as so much thinking and adjusting is required to avoid ending up with a score card that is in three digits. My major failing is that I don’t have patience or the ability to think through the requirements of a successful drive. Too many times I just want to end the torture.

It is said that practice makes perfect; well I really doubt that old adage, since even the best golfers in the world end up in the woods or in a pond. But for now I will keep trying, in large part because I can’t let down my friends or lie to my wife about how much fun I am having. Stay tuned for a progress report, or at least a report.


Hillary and the Blame Game

April 19, 2017

It takes awhile when a candidate loses a campaign but eventually the truth wins out, despite the claims that the fault is somewhere else but in the mirror. Hillary Clinton is now in full blame game mode as she cites the Russians, Wiki Leaks, hateful white men, James Comey and the willingness of voters to buy into Trump’s lie narrative for her narrow defeat.

Now she does have a point about all these sources of her electoral demise, but she conveniently evades other critical factors that kept her out of the White House. Those critical factors have been lurking just below the surface of the political conversation but a new book by reporters from the Hill called “Shattered” have put all the missing links together to present a more accurate portrayal of Hillary’s loss.

Sure all of Hillary’s reasons for her defeat carry weight but she conveniently avoids looking into that mirror.  What she would see is a candidate who called potential white voters “deplorables”, spent way too much time raising money rather than visiting the Rust Belt, showed no understanding of the struggles of the traditional Democratic Party base, depended too heavily on a huge African-American and Hispanic turnout, and presided over a highly dysfunctional, data driven and disloyal campaign staff.

In true Clinton fashion, Hillary was a victim of her own arrogance, entitlement, and refusal to understand the voters and the country she was trying to lead. Trump for all his lies, exaggerations and false promises instinctively understood what was happening in America in the age of income inequality, forgotten voters, bigotry and hatred of the Washington elites ( better known as the Swamp). Hillary was playing from an old political handbook that was relevant in the days of Obama, but meant nothing in the America of 2016.

Hillary just cruised to the nomination and walked through the campaign ignoring the plight of angry voters, making policy speeches that put people to sleep, and not developing a election narrative that showed her as human and a true advocate for the working class.

The election is over but now we see that Hillary is at least thinking about 2020. Another run for the White House is predictable but given all the unforced errors on her part Hillary would have to have to take a crash courses in Election Management 101 and Communicating with Voters 102. Let’s face the fact, Hillary lost the election on her own.


Daddy’s Woman

April 6, 2017

It is not unusual for Presidents of the United States to offer key positions in their administration to family members – Eleanor Roosevelt was a valued advisor to her husband, Kennedy gave brother Bobby the Attorney General portfolio, and Clinton tasked Hillary with trying to get his health care bill off the ground. So when Donald Trump brings his daughter Ivanka into his inner circle it is not cause for outrage or even charges of nepotism.  Trump trusts his daughter and apparently values her counsel.

As for Ivanka, she has told anyone who will listen that her goal is to quietly talk with her father and advance policy issues that are on her agenda such as parental leave, women’s pay and matters related to children. This may be true and hopefully she can influence her father on these key domestic issues. I am not convinced.

What worries me is that Ivanka’s advice and agenda, while worthy, seems misplaced. Perhaps she has talked to dear old dad about stupid tweets, perpetuating lies and gross exaggerations, supporting serial sexual harassers, and making unsubstantiated charges that weaken his already declining reputation and popularity, but if she has talked to him about his self-defeating behavior, her counsel is empty and routinely ignored.

There are two possible reasons for Ivanka in the White House – the President likes having her around and she enjoys all the attention that can advance her brand. Ivanka in the White House is not about advancing specific policies but rather protecting Trump Inc. and dear old dad. Ivanka to her credit is a far more attractive face of the Trump presidency; she speaks with more than a six grade vocabulary; her clothes actually fit her; and she is clearly smart and poised. – all those qualities missing from her father. She is not, however, an advisor or counselor or quiet force for change.

President Trump can pretty much bring into the White House who he wants, but Ivanka is more like administrative eye candy and guardian of the brand than a key cog in the governing arena. Until this country sees policies that makes the lives of Americans better, Ivanka will just validate the President’s phony effort to show in his words that he “loves women”, but not women who make a difference.

 

 

 


What Ever Happened to Latin America?

March 30, 2017

U.S. foreign policy has often been driven by responding to crises or threats to our national interests and security.  This response is no different under the Trump administration, although the public pronouncements and policy decisions are to say the least unconventional.  As in the past we send troops to fight Middle East wars; we engage China and the rest of Asia over trade and investment; we pay close attention to our relationship to our European allies, especially in terms of dealing with growing Russian expansionism; and we often provide generous assistance to those desperately poor and ill in Africa. But as was the case with other administrations, this country takes a pass on Latin America. We know it’s there south of our border but that’s pretty much the extent of our interest.

Sure we are wrapped in an epic struggle with Mexico over the wall and the North American Free Trade Agreement, but our relationship with our neighbor to the south is more about domestic issues than foreign policy concerns. Take Mexico out of the equation and all the other Latin American countries are not viewed within the context of crises, interests and security. To quote the oft-used slogan, “There is no there there.”

The fact that Latin America is way down our foreign policy agenda is probably a good thing, since we have enough on our plate with the rest of the world. But it is kind of interesting that a part of the world that sends us cocaine, baseball players, tangos, rumbas, sambas, precious metals, cheap clothes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and of course Gisele Bundchen is all but forgotten. See what happens when a part of the world is generally at peace without war, border disputes, terrorists or crazed leaders.  Sure there is massive corruption, areas of gang violence, and desperate poverty, but compared to many parts of the world Latin America is likely happy to be ignored.

U.S. disinterest was not always the case as during the 20th century we sent our troops throughout the Caribbean and Central America to “bring order and democracy” and help the people become ” like us.” This work as policeman to the hemisphere didn’t really pan out as we left the region not so much better off as relieved. Now in the 21st century our mission is largely business related – to spread Wal-Marts everywhere, bring our brand of football to the masses (the Patriots play the Raiders in Mexico City in November) and make sure that the lithium from the deserts of Bolivia and Chile make their way north to our battery manufacturers.

Thank goodness Latin America is just “there” to our south so we can spread mischief, mayhem, and malice in other parts of the world.

 


Paul Ryan – Atlas Shrugged or the Sermon on the Mount?

March 27, 2017

Paul Ryan went to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Janesville, Wisconsin. As a fellow Wisconsin Catholic who attended St. John de Nepomuc School in Milwaukee, I remember the nuns telling me about Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus kicking out the money-changers from the temple and Jesus often associating with the poorest of the poor. I am proud to say that those lessons about Jesus have stuck with me even today.

Somewhere along the line Paul Ryan forgot the lessons of the Gospels that I learned in Catholic school. It appears that while a college student at Miami of Ohio University Ryan became interested in the darlings of ultra-right capitalism – Freidrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and the novelist Ayn Rand. It was Rand, a Russian-American atheist who wrote Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, that apparently Ryan read and re-read until her ideas, grounded in cynical selfishness, condemnation for those who are poor, and a fanatical desire to rid government from redistributing wealth to those who are on the dole, filled his soul.

In his public image Ryan appears to be a nice guy – earnest, family-oriented, honest and a practicing Catholic. So how does someone who grew up Catholic embrace an atheist who is as far away from the teaching of Jesus as earth is from the moon? Maybe the nuns and priests at St. Mary’s didn’t teach about the Jesus that I know; maybe Ryan came under the influence of one of those sinister professors who brainwash students; or just maybe he has convinced himself that it is impossible for people to be poor through no fault of their own.

As a US member of Congress and now the Speaker of the House Ryan must have come in contact with the sick, the unemployed, the aged, the homeless, the hungry, in short those people Ayn Rand hated because they were on the dole. But rather than leading with compassion Ryan carved together a health bill that would strip the poor (that indelible number, 24 million), of an opportunity to live a better life, a healthy life.

In the wake of the Republican health care bill debacle more and more people are asking what Ryan has against the poor and why he was in such a hurry to redistribute tax benefits from the poor to the wealthy though the legislation? I can’t answer that question, other than say that Ryan should sit down soon and read the Gospels, especially Mathew 5-7 where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”  Ryan might benefit also from Jesus saying, ” Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I’ll take Jesus over Ayn Rand any day.


This is US- After Dinner

March 15, 2017

According to our daughter Kathy my wife and I are in a television watching rut, a deep rut. After dinner it is the usual dose of Pat Sajak and letter-turning Vanna White watching the Wheel of Fortune go round and around and around. Then it is Mensa’s gift to nightly television, Alex Trebek as he smugly asks questions of earnest contestants that even he has no clue about. With game shows out of the way we turn to CNN and Anderson Cooper and his panel of talking head “experts” trying to make sense out of Donald Trump. In fairness to Ma and Pa Kryzanek, not a day goes by that something bizarre comes across the doorway of the White House making CNN a must watch.

Well Kathy kindly but forcefully told us we have to get out of the rut. Her answer to the silly game show ritual was This Is Us, the wildly popular NBC soap about a biracial family seen from their early days in the 1980s to the present. Because This Is US shows the Pearson clan with all the poignancy, drama and disappointments of a real-like family, it has taken Ma and Pa away from silly game shows and depressing politics, at least for awhile. We of course are hooked, although we are about 10 episodes behind and have given Kathy strict orders not to fill us in with the happy or sad details.

Americans love soap operas, no matter how much they say they prefer crime thrillers, hospital death spirals, and all those new spy-thrillers, end of the world survival motifs, and of course zombies. But This Is Us has caught on as a simple narrative about people who face everyday challenges – failed careers, obesity, discrimination, lost connections, alcoholism and dreams gone astray. There is not a viewer who cannot make a connection to one of the characters, and they are portrayed in real terms as they struggle with everyday challenges. The writing is simply superb and the acting is authentic. Somebody on this show is going to end up with an Emmy.

I must admit that Ma and Pa haven’t completely given up on game shows and the gamesmanship of CNN and President Trump; after all there are real people on Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and everyone just loves a circus, especially when the ringmaster is the President of the United States. But we owe Kathy a debt of gratitude for showing us the way to better television viewing. This Is Us is not going to change the world or for that matter change television but it does make viewers think about the trials and tribulations of family life by telling a simple story about real people.