Theater of the Absurd

bernie

Please stop the play. It has been running for too long. We are tired of waiting for Godot.

Donald Trump announced that he was running for President on June 16, 2015. The slogan “Ready for Hillary” was launched on December 28, 2013

hillary

Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot

Meanwhile a 59-year-old woman named Tsai-Ing-wen was just elected President of Taiwan. Most of us had never heard about her before (or since!)

Then On October 19 2015 Justin Trudeau was elected as the new Prime Minister of Canada and Stephen Harper melted away. This too caught us by surprise.

In most countries that hold elections there is a short campaign with two or more people running. Then comes election day, and one of them emerges as the victor. So why did the United States construct this elaborate, tortuous, Byzantine and grueling system of acquiring a new Chief? Why does it have to proceed with such painful slowness?

When it all started I had vowed that I would never write about Donald Trump because everyone else was, and why should I add to the noise and overexposure? He was so loathsome, ignorant, porcine and uncouth that I imagined if I just ignored him he might miraculously disappear. After all there were some 16 other unappealing candidates. Then one by one they dropped by the wayside and then there was only one. We were left with a jester and the joke was on us. I was not the only one afflicted with wishful thinking. The Republican Party after much soul searching decided to overlook his incoherent statements, boorish remarks, and relentless attacks on women, minorities and anyone else he felt like insulting. They coalesced around him. With him running (could he possibly win?) the American Dream becomes the Nightmare from which you cannot wake up. Can we count on the Democratic candidate to demolish him?

The Democrats started out with much civility, so much so that the TV Talking Heads mostly ignored them and buzzed like flies around the Donald. From the beginning, I favored Hillary but would not have been devastated had Bernie emerged as the candidate. Both of them reflected my values and I sensed that Bernie was authentic and sincere. Both of them saw the need to rescue the middle class from becoming an underclass.

Then Hillary started to forge ahead and the civility flew out of the window. Bernie became the disgruntled, raucous, angry old man, a hoarse throated shouter, constantly repeating himself. Where had the “nice guy” of yesteryear gone? The one who was sick and tired of Hillary’s damn emails? Now he suddenly says they are a very serious issue. Now he attacks Hillary ferociously and rails against the Democratic Party establishment. I now see him in a different light. I seriously doubt that his objectives of breaking up big banks and offering free health care and higher education to everyone are feasible given an obstructionist and recalcitrant Congress. He is eloquent about what he wants, but does not seem to have given much thought to “how” it can be done and who will pay for it. When he is pressed by interviewers on these issues he becomes vague and goes back to his prepared message. Does he think that his “political revolution” will also revolutionize the Congress and make it docile to his wishes?

Hillary has been accused of many things, one of which is changing her mind. Every intelligent person does this when circumstances change. I would not want a President who clings obstinately to ideas and methods that no longer work. Hillary is pragmatic and practical which may not be very inspirational but gets things done. She champions women’s right to choose, gun control, paid maternity and sick leave and child care for working women. She has also been listening to Bernie and has moved to the left.

Bernie now realizes he has missed the plane but persists in continuing to campaign because he wants his ideas to continue on without him and have a place on the Democratic platform. I hope he can persuade his supporters to endorse Hillary. We need everybody to focus on defeating Trump. Barrack Obama too campaigned in poetry but has learned that you have to govern in prose.

 

 

 

Thinking About How People Govern Themselves…

United States Senate

United States Senate

French National Assembly

French National Assembly

British House of Commons

British House of Commons

Senex means elder in Latin and so the Roman Senate was an assembly of elders. Perhaps they were thought to be wiser. They were not elected but appointed by the Consul and they did not actually legislate but deliberated on law proposals from the Consul. Their numbers varied from 100 to several hundred. Despite their seeming lack of power, they had great moral authority.

Many subsequent democracies inherited the name if not the functions of the Senate. In the United States the Congress consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which is the higher and more prestigious body.
The French too have an Assemblee Nationale (the lower chamber) and a Senat (the higher chamber)of Parliament.

In Great Britain the Houses of Parliament comprise the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

In Britain the Queen (not being a commoner) is not allowed to enter the House of Commons. That is because in 1642 King Charles I and his armed men came to the House of Commons to arrest five of its members for treason. They had already fled. But since that day no monarch has entered the House of Commons chamber. The State Opening of Parliament takes place in the chamber of the House of Lords. The Throne is not a part of the House of Lords but is the third part of Parliament.

Canada, not surprisingly has an amalgam of the British, French and American systems. They too have a House of Commons and a Senate modeled after the House of Lords.

In Germany the Bundestag was established in 1949 to succeed the Reichstag. With the Bundesrat it constitutes the German legislative body and elects the Chancellor.

The two legislative bodies of Japan (Kokai) are called the Diet in English. This has nothing to do with their eating habits but comes from The Latin “dies” which means “day,” (tag in German) and is also present in Reichstag and Bundestag.

Israel has the Knesset, a unicameral legislative body. The name means Assembly. Curiously Beit ha Knesset is the Hebrew word for synagogue and it means Assembly House.

Ukraine also has a unicameral body called Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council). It is known for some spectacular brawls and tumultuous physical fights.

Russia, an autocratic state, has nevertheless surrounded itself with all the trappings of a democracy. It has a president, a legislative body and a judicial system. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation revived the name “State Duma” for the lower house of the Russian Parliament. The name comes from the verb “dumat” which means to think. The irony is that it really does not have to indulge in any thinking at all. All it needs to do is rubber stamp the proposals of Czar Vladimir I who is called their President.

This is of necessity an abbreviated and very incomplete picture of legislative bodies but may perhaps give us some perspective on how some modern nations govern themselves.

Some Good News in the World…Aung San Sui Ky

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

In the constant avalanche of bad news which rushes past us at frightening speed, it is sometimes quite easy to miss that some things are going in a good direction. We may briefly glimpse some positive events before they are overshadowed by the next catastrophe.

For example, it was easy to miss the news that a democratically elected government recently emerged in Myanmar (formerly Burma.) It gave Aung San Sui Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy opposition party the job of State Counselor. This deceptively fragile looking woman spent many years of her life under house arrest because of her activism as a dissident. She became an icon when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. It took 21 years before she could deliver her acceptance speech in person in Oslo in 2012. In her place her 2 sons Alexander and Kim traveled to Norway in 1991 to receive the prize on her behalf.

Because Aung San Sui Kyi was married to a British citizen and her 2 children are not Burmese citizens and do not wish to become naturalized, her country’s constitution does not allow her to become President. Therefore she chose a proxy President and named the cabinet members, all loyal to her. Her next step will probably be to try to amend the constitution.

After Aung San Sui Kyi was freed, she announced plans to liberate some 500 political prisoners still behind bars. This lotus looking “iron lady” will oversee the transition of her totalitarian country, for so long ruled by the military, to democratic rule. She is looking for examples at other countries in Latin America who have overthrown military dictatorships and at countries of Eastern Europe who overturned Marxist rule.

Much is expected of her, beginning with improving the lives of the great masses of people who live in great poverty. In addition, the Generals, who are all also businessmen, still control many of the seats in Parliament.

So far she has been silent about the persecution of the Muslim minority in her country and the violation of their civil rights, and that is held against her. Myanmar is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and she must find acceptance in this mostly Muslim organization.

Aung San Sui Kyi has the right credentials for leading Myanmar. Her father was General Aung San who fought for the independence of the country and was assassinated. Her mother was ambassador to India. Her role models are Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. She was probably also inspired by Mandela.

It has taken very long for her liberation and ascension to power. We can only hope that nothing will derail this positive development.

Je Suis Tired of Posturing

charlierwbcharliegirlsjesuisrip

After the killing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, a spontaneous expression of popular solidarity erupted in Paris and other cities. The new slogan “Je suis Charlie” was born, perhaps echoing President’s Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” during the Berlin blockade. There was defiance in these expressions. What they were saying was: You cannot stop us. We will continue to target intolerance, evil and stupidity wherever we see it.

What started as a genuine outburst of indignation soon degenerated into a mandatory automatic response. Even John Kerry followed suit. No doubt he was moved and moving when he proclaimed: Je suis un Bruxellois after the massive killings there. He reminded us that after 9/11, a French reporter said “tonight we are all Americans.” Unfortunately this has now become a knee jerk reaction. “Je suis” sayings proliferate like mushrooms after rain. It is also, alas a very selective reaction. Paris and Brussels got their fair share but unless my memory fails me, I recall no such condemnation of the Madrid attack. And no one said: Je suis Tunis or Je suis Ankara. Nor was the Eiffel Tower illuminated for them.

Another sentiment often expressed by European leaders after terrorist acts goes something like this: We will not be afraid. We will live like we did before all this. We will continue to sit at cafe terraces, go to the theater and lead a carefree life. But what is really happening everywhere is:greatly increased security and surveillance, a rise of Right Wing anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment and the spread of fear mongering. Civil rights are being attacked and privacy is in jeopardy. We need only look at the Apple encryption brouhaha after the San Bernardino killings to see this. This is not unusual. It happens every time a people is “at war” and feels vulnerable. It sees spies everywhere. Perhaps some of this is justified but it creates a tense and unhealthy atmosphere. In the meantime the refugee tsunami continues to swell and exacerbates an already shaky equilibrium.

ISIS and Soup

bowlofsoup

Our problem in tackling ISIS is that it is not just a piece of land inhabited by enemies of the Western World but an ideology willing to die for its belief that the West must be annihilated.

Recently Avigdor Lieberman, (former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs) called for a full scale rooting out of ISIS…by NATO. Well, Turkey might not be so keen to help.

And as our military experts remind us, taking territory is so much easier than holding it. As Americans well know, it is very hard to know when it is “mission accomplished.” Is it ever? Lieberman’s Trumpian proposal has very real problems.

But how do we deal with a large scale ideological conflict? Didn’t we do that already when we defeated the Communist World? True it took a very long time to achieve and exacted a high price. In addition, although Communism started as an ideal it was quickly transformed into a “pretend” ideology. Its leaders stopped believing in it and used it principally to consolidate their power.

But Communism, though it stirred many people, did not generate the fervor that ISIS has achieved. Did anyone hear of any young communists blowing themselves up shouting “Marx is Great?”

ISIS, in contrast, is attracting and brainwashing young, ignorant, disaffected recruits with promises of a better life in Paradise where they will be greeted and wooed by 72 beautiful virgins. (Young women who become martyrs are not offered an equivalent benefit.)

It seems that we are dealing with a mutation to a new species of humanoids devoid of many of the traits of empathy, generosity and tolerance that mankind has slowly developed.

And so it is difficult not to be pessimistic about our ability to deal with this scourge. What can we offer in response? The imperfections of democratic rule? The greed of capitalism? Nobody has yet invented an anti-jihadist vaccine, and some of these addicts are too far gone for us to reach.

We can only start at the bottom with the very young. See to it that we give them the proper environment to thrive, a good basic education, role models to emulate, opportunities for jobs and social integration. We must make sure that they do not inhabit a parallel world, and live in enclaves where they nurse grievances that evolve into hatred.

We also need to keep stirring the melting pot of the world. It makes a pretty good soup.

Editor’s Note: Simone thrives on your comments. We encourage you to contribute your thoughts.