Archives for category: war

I know that everything I write about below is much more complicated than I present. Please keep this in mind.

ETA: The population of Northern Ireland is complicated. I use the phrase ‘majority English’ below, but the colonisation of NI includes a lot of Scots (known as Ulster Scots) who were granted lands confiscated from fleeing Gaelic nobility in the early 17th Century. My English brother-in-law indicates that refusal to grant the Ulster Scots language equal footing with Irish Gaelic is a sticking point in the peace process.

The situation in Ireland with regards to the backstop and one part of the island belonging to the UK while the rest of the island is its own republic exists because of history, that nightmare from which it is increasingly difficult for any of us to awake. At the time of Irish independence, earned by a full-on uprising before and after WW1 (and put on hold so the Great War could actually be won) , the six counties in the north (two thirds of the province of Ulster) voted to stay in the UK based on the fact that they had majority English population. This is a remnant of 250-plus years of English colonization of the island.

Oliver Cromwell went over in the 1600s to subdue the Catholics. Cromwell wasn’t just a protestant of the high church Henry VIII C of E variety – Catholic in all but name, but a Puritan. He’d shown his animus towards Catholics by engineering the beheading of England’s Catholic monarch, Charles I. (Dante might have placed Cromwell in the ninth circle of Hell, reserved for traitors.) So from sometime in the 17th century through the 19th, Charles Stewart Parnell notwithstanding, the English had been subduing a different nation – the same as they’d done with Scotland. (The Acts of Union with Scotland were enacted in 1707 and are also a really complicated matter. The Acts of Union with Ireland were enacted in 1800.)

All of that said, there was apparently enough fear or some such witlessness in what became Northern Ireland, that the peace deal included leaving six of Ireland’s 32 counties in the UK. The engineered Irish Famine of the 1840s and 50s also had something to do with the population imbalance. Engineered? Yes. The majority Catholic population were barred for two centuries from owning or leasing land and only in 1829 could they sit in their own parliament. The landowners exported the food that could have fed the native population during Black ’47 and the years that followed. You can read up yourselves on the mass evictions of Irish tenants by English landowners at the time. Is it any wonder a million emigrated and another million died?

So after the partition and the independence of what became the Irish Free State and later the Republic of Ireland in 1921, there are still factions wanting to unify the entire Island as the Republic of Ireland. The IRA is part of that. Sinn Fein is another (and often referred to as the civilian arm of the IRA). Yes, terrorists, we know. We’ve seen the movies. Friends and family of mine lived through some of the attacks on English soil in the 1980s. It’s not as though the Irish didn’t/don’t have a grievance though. I always point to the beastliness of Marching Season – that period of each year when when the Orange orders – protestants – in Scotland and Northern Ireland march through Catholic neighbourhoods to commemorate William of Orange’s victory in the Battle of the Boyne in 16 effing 90.

This is an obvious extension of the cry one hears these days that “we” won World War II, we can survive Brexit. ‘”We” were victorious over the Catholics 330 years ago, so we get to shove it down their throats now.’

If some merry band of undereducated nationalist shits did that in my back yard each year, I’d feel like terrorising them back as well. So now we have this situation where 20 years after an agreement was worked out to bring some measure of peace to the island, there’s a very good chance of it all falling apart. Just as America has the very small Mitch McConnell blocking legislative progress, this situation has the very small Arlene Foster, whose Northern Ireland DUP is propping up Mrs. May’s government, blocking the possibility of moving forward with a relatively peaceful solution. (She has help, of course, from May, and Corbyn, and a large number of people who will get very rich once the UK is out from under the EU’s regulatory heel.)

Yeah. The Democratic Unionist Party. Founded by Ian Paisley, a man who made his name by opposing Catholic civil rights in Northern Ireland, and in fact opposing any kind of peace process (including the Good Friday accords) and who refused to share power with the Catholics for nine years after the accords were signed. The DUP is also involved in the creation of two paramilitary units to oppose the peace process. Not really folks who have the best interests of the peace-loving members of the Northern Irish populace at heart.

The peace established by the Good Friday Agreement was earned in part by softening the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Possible because the sides are (for a few more weeks at least) both members of the European Union. The border, which as a few have pointed out, runs down the middle of streets and in some cases through people’s houses, is porous enough that people from each side go to work on the other – without border checks, which of course were common in the years before due to there being terrorist factions.

Make some kind of peace with the group at war, and many of those problems go away. Take the peace away – by exiting without actual plans from the organization that brokered and helped to maintain it – and the problems come back, especially when nothing has been done to redirect the energy of all that Marching Season implies.

Do I need to mention the idiocy of the BBC’s John Humpreys asking Ireland’s Europe Minister Helen McEntee why the Republic doesn’t rejoin the UK?

I met a woman from Dublin last week who is of the opinion that she *might* see a unified Ireland in her lifetime. That’s been my hope, as an amateur Celtophile, for decades. There are those for whom the hope of a united Ireland has been the hope of centuries.

England’s colonies, of which Ireland was obviously one, are former for several good reasons. None of those reasons include England leaving because staying was wrong. England has always outstayed her welcome and with the betrayal that is Brexit, she has outstayed her welcome on the last bit of the Emerald Isle she yet holds.

Links:

Donald Tusk: ‘special place in hell’ for those who backed Brexit without plan
Brexit: May’s pledge on Irish border threatens to reopen Tory rift
Ireland dismisses suggestion it should quit EU and join UK
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Boyne
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Union_1707
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Union_1800

Bloomberg News posted a rather disingenuous editorial comparing Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, the idea being that Trump is simply presenting a grotesque version of the Clinton presidency.

The upshot is that the sex scandals entrapping Trump are as unforgivable as those that Bill Clinton subjected us to back in the 90s, and that somehow because Dems gave Clinton a pass, we should do the same for Trump. I call bullshit. Loud and Clear. I won’t give Trump a pass for ostensibly the same issue (infidelity) for a great number of reasons. One is that Trump’s payouts push us into obstruction of justice territory that Clinton’s simply didn’t.

But let me back up. There’s some merit to this argument that it’s the same thing. For all his impropriety, if the allegations even of rape against Bill Clinton are true (and that’s a hard thing to write, given how loudly we howled in his defense back in the 90s), in general he had the interests of the country and its underclasses at heart. At least some of the time. The health care battle, in the history of those times goes head to head with welfare ‘reform’ and his Supreme Court choices get in the ring with the death warrant he signed during the ‘92 campaign. Yeah, he did dozens of things wrong from my liberal pacifist armchair perspective.

However, what devolved from the Clinton presidency onward was an intractable right wing that had only the interest of the the wealthy and the evangelical in mind and the continuation of their own power. Part of the issue is that the Democrats (as an organization, not an affiliation) have the same faults and predilections as the right, but never had what it took to separate the workers’ interests from the worker’s evangelical leaning in the public imagination. I’m not sure how it evolved that the best interests of the worker no longer lay with that of other workers. (Howard Zinn, if I recall rightly, explains that historically it dates back to slavery/reconstruction when whites in power peddled the line to the landless/luckless whites that ‘you may be trash, but at least you’re not black.’)

Fostering that seemed to hold things together. Oddly this was the Dems’ position, not the Republicans’. It wasn’t until Nixon that the Republicans took hold of Dixie. While it was a Republican that presided over the Union in the Civil War – the Dixiecrats held the south until a Southern white democrat signed the Civil Rights Act. It took the Dems 100 years to lose the South and Republicans have only tighetned their stranglehold in the last 50.

But it’s not unremarked upon that no matter what, both Republicans in legislatures and Democrats vote against the interests of the poor. Nine times out of ten, if not more. I’m not sure that’s just a recent New Democrat (the American equivalent of the UK’s New Labour) or if it dates further back than Clinton’s election. My suspicion is that recent statistics on the matter would be borne out if we applied them in every decade to the founding of the union.

I’ve said before that Clinton was a bastard (our bastard, sure), but we knew when he signed off on Rudy Ray Rector’s death penalty at the start of the ‘92 campaign, that he could be either disgustingly calculating or outright heartless. I think the left trusted it to be the former, because it’s somehow well-known that someone against the death penalty could never be president. I pulled the lever for him twice, because 12 years of Reagan/Bush were enough. And because in ‘96, Dole got the nomination because it was his turn, not because he was the best Republican for the job. Not saying he wasn’t the better man, but I wasn’t ready to question my own liberal ideology. (I’ve been ready enough in recent years, but 21st century American conservatism turns my stomach. So I’ll keep my lunch, thanks. And American Liberalism is firmly in Reagan territory at this point anyway.)

So all that noise above about Bill Clinton is simply to say that I, and possibly my fellow liberals, are not blind to his faults, and that we knew what we were getting into. He was as opportunistic a politician as any other, but no matter what bullshit was thrown at him with regards the so-called scandals of the time, he wasn’t found to be absolutely crooked. This is the key distinction between Clinton (and the Lewinsky affair which finally brought him to impeachment) and Trump (and his various scandals): we know that Trump is crooked. We know because he doesn’t release his tax returns; we know because the one lawyer he keeps close makes payoffs to keep stories from the newspapers; we know because several who did work for him came forward during the campaign to say he reneged on contracts; we know by the skeezy way he talks about his daughter.

I’m going to move from the differences between Trump and Clinton to the greater issue of how our recent presidents differ in similar ways.

Valerie Plame penned an interesting editorial on the pardon of Scooter Libby this week. Libby was the only person charged (and convicted) in the outing of Agent Plame as a covert agent in 2003. His situation plays into the essential what-aboutism of the Bloomberg editorial – Under Bush II and Trump, the worst elements of the party have twisted the agenda of the president. While we may have disagreed quite strenuously with Clinton’s policies, behaviour, and agenda, we didn’t doubt his grasp of policy and his understanding of how his actions would resonate in the geopolitical arena.

For example, when he joined in the bombing of the former Yugoslavia, he knew what the effects might be and he was aware of the historical context in which the war was taking place. (More on this in a moment.) When Rumsfeld and Cheney dragged us into Iraq, President Bush knew that we in the public knew that he was well out of his depth and had no idea what the fuck he was doing. (My apologies: Take a moment to diagram that sentence if you need to.) He told us as much during the campaign, that he was taking on the greatest minds of his daddy’s administration to guide him. The problem was then, as now, the massive conflicts of interest. Has anyone measured how much Dick Cheney’s fortune increased due to Halliburton’s Iraq/Afghanistan war contracts? Just for a start?

Cheney knew the effects of what was going to happen and apparently didn’t give a good goddamn.

Did anyone who mattered in the Shrub White House grasp the history of the region well enough to know the can of worms we were opening? In the public arena, they showed that they didn’t care. The impression they delivered was that eventually the oil would flow and its profits would flow back to the US, that they didn’t care about the war’s time line – the past history didn’t matter – the future would justify it, that they didn’t understand the distinctions between Shias and Sunnis and Kurds (the Yazidi didn’t even figure into the public equation at the time), that somehow all the ethnic hatreds that were held in check by Saddam Hussein would evaporate once we, um, liberated the place.

Clinton at least gave the impression that he cared about what was going to happen. With Bush and Trump, we don’t see that they understand the effects or that they care.

The Bloomberg editorial points out that one of the several parallels between Trump and Clinton is that when Clinton was in the hot seat regarding the Lewinsky scandal, he tried to divert attention by ordering a bombing raid, in Bosnia if I recall rightly. Trump, under slightly more pressure this week after a massive three-venue no-knock raid on that attorney I mentioned, and Trump pulled the same maneuver (possibly at the behest of Fox News), and sent soldiers to bomb Syria. The fact remains that there was feck-all for the independent counsel to nail Clinton on, despite the Republicans’ insistence there was (echoed later with all of the Benghazi bullshit flung at an unflappable Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State). The investigation finally got him for a blowjob, making the US the laughingstock of the western world. Bloomberg’s editorial suggests that the odd possibility that Trump might be brought down by a sex scandal somehow makes Trump’s presidency equal to Clinton’s. Of course I call bullshit.

Preet Bharara, in a recent interview with former Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson discussed Johnson’s efforts with President Obama to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Regarding Republican arguments against closing the prison, Preet asked ‘Do you think the Republicans were acting in good faith?’ This is the question I’m trying to parse with regards Bush’s actions, Clinton’s, and Trump’s. Did they then and do they now act in good faith?

And what do I mean when I use that phrase? I mean that what a politician says in public aligns with what they say in private, with what they promised to the public constituency on the campaign trail, and with a professed belief system. That’s a good start.

And I think that in general, the Dems have acted in better if not good faith to the extent they could, with the proviso that as politicians, they’re performing ethical balancing acts all of the time.

Trump, from my perspective, does not act in good faith, even in faith to what he’s said himself even a week before (viz his tweets about Syria within the month of April, 2018). Bush might have been an actor in good faith, but his advisors were not, and they not he were the government at the time. The fact remains that for the eight years of his residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., he was a figurehead, and most folks knew that.

An example of the good faith/bad faith discussion is the health care debate of the first two years of Obama’s first term. Obama and the Democrats acted in as good faith as they could, to the point of compromise on the most basic of principles, finding middle ground for every one of the Republicans’ arguments, and still we were shafted. One could argue that the Republicans in congress were acting in good faith, but their faith was to the insurance companies, hospital conglomerates, and drug manufacturers. By my definition above, this isn’t good faith. And in the end, not a single red tie voted for the bill. And then they proceeded to sabotage it in the courts.

There wasn’t a credible Republican atop the 2008 ballot, John McCain having chosen the most unqualified VP since, um, Dan Quayle in 1988. Eight years of Bush/Cheney had worn us out on wars and lies and there was readiness for change, to be sure, but Sarah Palin was another example of the Republican party acting in bad faith. Palin was barely qualified for the job she had, like Bush (and Trump), didn’t read much, and could barely answer very simple questions. McCain and the Republican party played us for fools when they thought (and rightly so, obviously, given that Obama’s victory wasn’t precisely a landslide – solid, but it was no 1984 Reagan over Mondale trouncing) we would buy her pretty face over Obama’s obvious experience. Acting in good faith in the political realm requires some modicum of honesty – the whole ‘Democrats are coming for your guns’ canard comes into play here. Palin, in the midst of the Republican sabotage of Obama’s relatively modest agenda had the gall to utter the phrase ‘How’s that hopey-changey thing working out for you?’ as if she wasn’t spending all of her (at the time excessive) on-camera Fox News time subverting rather than adding something constructive to the debate. Had McCain chosen someone credible to join him on the ticket, things might have been different. But we got the grifter instead.

McCain, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, and Hillary Clinton all have in common that their candidacies came about because it was their turn. They’d risen high enough in the party to be considered the de facto candidates. And they lost because they worked on the assumption that they didn’t have to fight. History might suggest (from more objective distance than we have yet) that Dole and Romney would have made for better history. Would the tea party have dragged Romney through it the way they did John Boehner? I suggest it’s possible, but counterfactual. Hillary Clinton might have lost the selection anyway given Jim Comey’s October Surprise, and the astounding amount of Russia-orchestrated fight against her, but the fight within the party to subvert Mr. Sanders didn’t help matters. She herself was also acting in bad faith.

And there is, of course, the bad faith of the media: Every venue that put Trump on camera acted in bad faith. He’d spent much of the previous decade proving himself an actor (on his TV show), and a political player of astoundingly bad faith. His insistence on the illegitimacy of Obama’s presidency did as much as anything else to sabotage that presidency in the eyes of the electorate. Even with that in mind, the news stations put him literally center stage to spew his schoolyard BS over people of actual political experience. Note: No love lost between me and any of the people running for the Republican nomination in 2016, but giving Trump center stage over and over again legitimized his brand of campaigning.

And we bought it. To try to circle this back to my original thought, it’s not that Trump’s presidency is simply Clinton’s repeated as farce. No, Trump in his personal, political, public, and private dealings is the apotheosis of fifty years of bad faith governance from the Republican party, epitomized by the savaging of the American working class.

It might look from the air like the Burning Man festival. It’s a gathering in the desert, but at 81,000 inhabitants in 2015, this gathering exceeds the population of Black Rock City by approximately 12,000 people. This is Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Last September, at the height of the Syrian crisis, Israel refused to take refugees from the conflict. PM Netanyahu claimed Israel was ‘too small‘. (That link points to the NY Times, but a google search on ‘Israel refuses Syrian refugees also provides links to the LA Times, Al Jazeera, and the Daily Mail in the first ten hits.) During the endgame last month the Israeli government had agreed to take a few. Netanyahu announced, ‘We see the tragedy of terrible suffering of civilians and I’ve asked the Foreign Ministry to seek ways to expand our medical assistance to the civilian causalities of the Syrian tragedy, specifically in Aleppo where we’re prepared to take in wounded women and children, and also men if they’re not combatants.’

I’ve possibly mentioned before that I’m Jewish by birth and have great love for the holy land and look forward to visiting there again, some day. However, I cry whenever enough Israelis vote for Netanyahu to put him back into office. He’s spent several decades fighting for Israel’s right to pariah-hood amongst the family of nations. At the moment they could have taken the moral high ground and admitted the refugees from one of this century’s more insane conflicts, he said no. Whenever there has been a chance to move towards peace, he increases the state of war. The main exponent of this behaviour has been the war on Israel’s Palestinians. (This subject is far more complicated than I present it and I know that in my idealism, I miss a lot of salient issues. I’ve consistently missed the point on this issue for well over 30 years, and I probably won’t stop now.) 

On the one hand there’s the treatment of the residents of the Gaza Strip, an insane piece of real estate sandwiched between the Negev desert, Egyptian Sinai, and a small piece of Mediterranean beachfront. Every couple of years, that area heats up and some idiots fire rockets from the strip into Israeli settlements on the West Bank. In reprisal, the IDF rolls in tanks and destroys another part of the Strip. Note that Israel blockades the Gaza Strip from receiving a great number of things including construction materials such as concrete. Rebuilding after these invasions, from what I gather, is well nigh impossible.

On the other hand, there are those settlements I mentioned. The ones the UN condemned last week or the week before, when, for the first time in 40 years, the US didn’t use its veto power to support Israel’s ‘right’ to construct Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The history of the settlements is well documented. For a very long time, I argued that Israel won the West Bank fair and square in 1967 and should have the right to do with it as it pleases. Of course, this ignores the fact that for 19 years the area we now call the West Bank had been in Jordanian hands, and Jordan had done feck-all to integrate the Palestinian population. When Israel occupied this area (and The Golan Heights and the Sinai Desert) at the end of the Six-Day War, there was already. The issue that refugees of the previous two wars for Israel’s right to exist (’48 and ’56) had deprived the residents of the area of houses to which the only indication the houses had ever existed were the keys the refugees and their descendants still cherished. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank precipitated its own refugee crisis for which Lebanon also provided the real estate for refugee camps.

I’m going to piss some people off here, not the least of whom are family members and friends who have made aliyah. At this point, the settlements are an abhorrent Israeli echo of Germany’s early 20th century claim to ‘lebensraum’ in northern Czechoslovakia. Netanyahu said last year that Israel is too small. The problem isn’t that Israel is too small; it’s that Israel thinks too small. Too small to do the right things for peace in a time of war, too small to say repudiate decades of No with a resounding yes, too small to give of its bounty instead of taking again.

As I said, I know this is more complicated than that. I’m well aware of how crazily hateful Israel’s enemies have been since the first shaking of the British Mandate. Remember, though, that Israel managed to make peace with Egypt and to establish diplomatic relations with Jordan. The process of peace is slow, but it was working. However, hate is easy and taking and holding the moral high ground is hard. An argument could probably be made that if the US hadn’t invaded Iraq, and perhaps had worked against the inflammation of the late 90s intifada, then we might be much closer. As I said, it’s really complicated. And dreams of what could have been are just that. Working with the now is much harder.

Beer: Brewdog Punk IPA // Music: Muslimgauze: Intifaxa

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/30/more-than-20-dead-missile-attack-iranian-refugee-camp-baghdad
It’s a strange and dangerous time we’re living in. The article indicates that those killed  in this missile attack in Iraq were members of the MEK, an Iranian opposition group welcomed into Iraq by Saddam Hussein in the early 80s. No source in the article blames Iran, save for a member of the same group based in Paris. She’s adamant that all concerned know  it was Iran who made the strike.
Now that there’s a power vacuum in Iraq, those opposed to the government of Iran there are sitting ducks. (Much like the Kurds in Turkey and Syria now that Russia has joined the fighting there.) With the Revolutionary Iranian government a welcome party at talks about the future of Syria, and with a newly negotiated agreement between Iran and the US a done deal, it seems they have taken a free hand with regards their opponents. And as the MEK are right next door, they were an easy target. The situation reminds me of how Stalin got rid of Trotsky, but while Trotsky was easy to find and relatively easy to off, his murder was committed at close range with a small tool. The MEK was hit with missiles – they weren’t even given the benefit of looking their attackers in the eye. 

While I’ve been a reluctant supporter of the agreement to bring Iran in from the cold, I have a friend who has recently moved from Los Angeles to Jerusalem and she’s been adamant that this agreement is bad for the region and gives tacit support to the mullahs who have spent the 35 years since the revolution calling for the annihilation of Israel. This seems to be the first strike against foes outside Iran’s borders in a very long time. 

And, yeah, as noted above, the Russians are providing air support for Assad in his war against his own people. Dan Carlin recently noted that Putin is at least being forthright about wading in. (If you don’t listen yet to Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, I can’t recommend it highly enough.) He’s making a case for Russian legitimacy as a player in the region and in the current conflict. The US hasn’t been able to train a dozen fighters in the battle against Assad. We don’t even know what that means. Assad’s foes include long time opponents of the regime and new players like ISIS. The West doesn’t know how to distinguish these and hasn’t really made an effort to do so. Carlin makes the case that this is what accounts for the power vacuum in most of the places associated with the Arab Spring including Libya, Egypt, and, yeah, Syria.

And, as I’ve noted, none of this is new. Some of the issues date back to before World War I, others are closely related to other civil wars in the region – Lebanon’s for example. This is gonna sound like a hard left turn into one of my music posts, but bear with me for a minute. In 1984 (when Lebanon fell into chaos), The Human League released a single called The Lebanon. It was the first US single off Hysteria, and their first US flop in about 3 years. Part of the problem was the guitars, and part was the title. In England, that country nestled between Syria, Israel, and the Mediterranean Sea has an article. In the US, it’s simply called Lebanon. The lyrics are fairly simplistic, offering a verse each to a man who joins the army and a woman who simply recalls when life was easier, and a chorus that asked ‘Who will have won when the soldiers have gone / From the Lebanon’. I was in high school at the time working at an independent record store.  My boss asked me if I thought it would be a hit. I thought perhaps it would be top 30, as it didn’t have the bounce of Mirror Man or Don’t You Want Me. It peaked at 62.  Looking as deeply as Wikipedia offers into the history of Lebanon’s civil war (which lasted 15 years), it’s a surprise Syria didn’t sink into chaos a long time ago, but the factions in Lebanon were far more diverse and featured only a supporting cast from Syria.

I think brinigng Lebanon into my discussion is simply a way of saying the madness of Iran striking opponents in Iraq, and Russia taking out Syria’s opponents in Syria (not to mention of few of Turkey’s in Turkey who just happen also to be opponents of ISIS as well) is merely an extension of hte madness that region has experienced for decades.

That phrase is displayed over a beautiful Danse Macabre in Fuessen, Germany. Spoken by Death, it means ‘Say Yes, Say No, Dance We Must. In the context of Medieval morality, it makes perfect sense. The rich, the poor, the virtuous, and the vicious all die eventually, and as such were taught what might lay beyond. 
I recently wrote about the town of Mittenwald in which a museum display indicated that the museum used to be on Jew’s Lane, but that in 1938, the name was changed. Walking through Rothenburg, Germany was a little bit different than walking through Mittenwald. At various places, one could see evidence of the former Jewish community there. Judengasse still exists – or exists again – with a plaque indicating the lane as the site of the community that was first expelled in 1520. A plaque in the garden that had once been the Jewish cemetery ‘commemorate[s] our fellow Jews who were expelled between 1933 to 1938 from Rothenburg’. Only since 1990, according to a few such plaques, has excavation of the town’s Jewish past been addressed in earnest. 
Note that Rothenburg is an ancient, well-kept town on the Romantic Road. It attracts a large number of tourists from around the world. For some reason, the region is very popular with the Japanese – enough so that signs indicating places or events of interest are posted in German, English, and Japanese. 

As Rachel and I wandered through this medieval town’s historical re-enactment weekend (commemorating since 1974 a victory that occurred in 1274), and relieved the Kathe Wohlfart shoppe of about 150 euros worth of Christmas tree decorations, and heard tourists speaking English, German, French and Japanese, I asked her ‘Why here and not Mittenwald? Why does this town pay more than lip service to its historic Jewish community (and that community’s destruction – at least twice)? Her answer was short and to the point: ‘American tourists.’ [Note: I’m a secular Jew from the US married to a secular Christian from England.]

She had a good point. Mittenwald hosts a lot of tourists – any established town in the Tyrol region will do well with tourists from Germany, Italy, and Austria, but not necessarily beyond, except for the participants in the annual nordic sports competitions. Attendants at those won’t have much time for sightseeing, is my guess.
But we’re at it again. At the moment it’s the damning of refugees from the Middle East and Africa in the press and social media, not those fleeing the Nazis. Perhaps Rev. Niemoller’s cry about speaking out for the ones everyone is speaking against before there’s no one left to speak out for you will make itself heard through the din. Now the Germans are calling for the EU to divide up the refugees teeming (and dying) on its shores somehow equally, and take care of them. [Note: NOT migrants – they haven’t left their home countries by choice – nor are they likely to be able to return any time soon. They’re seeking refuge. The hint’s in the name.] 
Now there are a lot of reasons Germany is better equipped economically and otherwise to absorb a large number of refugees than Greece or some of the other member states. [An argument might be made that supporting large-scale refugee intake programmes in Greece in exchange for – I dunno – debt relief maybe, makes a lot of sense. It’s for another blog, however.] The quartet that gets on my nerves right now are the so-called Visegrad states: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. These countries are fighting both against the tide of refugees, but against EU efforts to address the issue. The former US ambassador to Hungary, Eleni Kounalakis, wrote an interesting NY Times editorial on the matter this week  in which she asserts that the Hungarian authorities have been stirring up anti-refugee sentiment since this crisis was in its infancy. The thing is, these countries have had native populations of Roma (aka ‘gypsies’ – a derogatory term) for centuries. When one speaks of the 11 million victims of the Holocaust, Jews made up the majority at six million, but the number of Romani victims is variously estimated at between 220,000 to 1,500,000. Since WWII, the Visegrad countries have made little or no effort to integrate this group into society, regularly demonising them and occasionally going so far as to engage in forced sterilisation. [Oddly similar to how the US has treated poor African Americans at various times and how Australia has treated its aboriginal population. Homework: Compare and contrast.] The main issue is that parties in these countries already have a history of demagoguing an underclass to cover for their various stances and policies. Or simply to whip up hate and drum up votes. We’re doing it in the US right now, and my adopted home of the Netherlands has its own bastards in this regard. They’re all playing the same game that’s epitomised in a joke making the rounds: A billionaire, six white unemployed white people, a black person stand at a table with a dozen donuts. The billionaire takes eleven donuts and tells the white people, ‘Look out – the black guy’s gonna take your donut.’
  Many Hungarians and people all over the world who are addressing refugee crises [we haven’t seen much of the US border with Mexico in the press lately, but trust me, that situation hasn’t changed] know what needs to be done now – normal people are offering up their homes and resources to help people in need. Of course these aren’t the ones in the news. While we have to hear from the Viktor Orbans, Donald Trumps, Nigel Farages, Petra Laszlos, and Rita Verdonks of the world first, we’ve danced this dance before and really don’t need to dance it again.