Goodbye Mitt

January 31, 2015

by Avi Davis

The first time I met Mitt Romney, he was Governor of Massachusetts and I was a visiting fellow at Harvard.   A friend, who was a journalist at a Boston paper, invited me to attend a press briefing the Governor was giving regarding his position on gay marriage. During the year I lived in Cambridge, I followed Romney and had become convinced that he was a man with a huge political future before him.

After I met him, I became certain.

Romney stated his position on gay marriage succinctly and forthrightly and  with a measure of sympathy for the gay community.  Yet he stood steadfastly against gay marriage and managed to convince most of us that he was able to read the pulse of the times on the issue.  He seemed to be to be a man of substance and commitment who knew and understood politics. He appeared to know how to deal with a skeptical electorate whose blue state credentials remained unchanged by his election as a conservative Governor. I felt he knew his audience and understood his constituency.

But more than that, I felt he had presence.

Tall, with a fine figure, a winning smile and a warm speaking voice, he presented to me as more telegenic than any prospective presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy.  But in distinct contrast to the true JFK he was, I discovered, a steadfast family man with a committed spiritual life  –  personal characteristics which seemed to mark him apart from most of the conservative politicians I had met.  He had skillfully navigated around the gay marriage issue and although his state sponsored medical insurance plan gave evidence of troubling liberal tendencies, the good grades he had received from conservative pundits – and even from my journalist friend, seemed to suggest that he had the political skills and instincts to compete on a national stage.

It  was with this sense of  the man’s destiny that I eagerly anticipated his candidacy in the GOP primaries in 2008.  When I learned of his exemplary record of achievement at Bain Capital  and of his devoted work in rescuing the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, it became clear that here was a manager who could inspire loyalty and get things done.  Not since Herbert Hoover had a presidential candidate appeared on the national scene with such an abundance of financial acumen and the ability to take charge of large, troubled projects and guide them to completion.

That his candidacy fizzled in 2008 was a disappointment but not a surprise.  I marked it down then to inexperience in the rough water of  national politics. He didn’t seem yet sufficiently toughened for the spitfire tactics of his GOP adversaries nor as well prepared. But I believed that by the time 2012 rolled around, at the still sprightly age of 64, he would have developed the skills to take on his adversaries  with consummate skill, charm the media and the liberal institutions who had so demonized George W. Bush  and deftly slash a path to the GOP nomination and then the White House.

I was wrong.  The brilliant manager of funds and people could not summon those skills to run a brilliant presidential campaign.  He often appeared exhausted by it and not to particularly enjoy the endless amount of glad handing and back slapping that came with the nomination.   There was good reason for such exhaustion.  He had been savaged by the circular firing squad which became the GOP nomination process of that year, with his successes at Bain being used against him by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry who labeled him a ruthless capitalist unconcerned with the lives of ordinary working people and whose jobs he would extinguish with a stroke of a pen.  This was of course a complete fabrication and a selfish, hypocritical tactic.  Yet it had done its damage and the ruthless Obama campaign immediately seized upon it and then relentlessly pounded Romney on the issue for the remainder of the presidential campaign.

The Obamaites went to enormous lengths to spray mud on Romney’s spotless career and personality, even bringing up an episode from three decades earlier when the Romney family moved house and had placed their dog on the roof of the family car during a transfer from one state to another.  The image found a surprising resonance amongst centrists – one of whom told a friend of mine following the election that she could not bring herself to vote for a man who was so cruel to animals.

But the characterization of Romney as a robber baron, gleefully torching companies and then jettisoning their work forces, was the image that adhered and was never sufficiently answered. Rather than launching a counter offensive that aggressively defended his record as a businessman who had contributed immensely to U.S. prosperity in the 1980s and 90s, the Romney campaign let the charges gather force and they began to stick.  They clouded the true character of Romney, a man of great personal integrity and generosity – and created an image of a ruthless capitalist whose only interest as President would be in protecting his rich donors.

The public never got a chance to see the very human side of Mitt Romney and appreciate his truly admirable abilities in earning his self made fortune. The media built an effective barrier to inquisitive eyes and deflected attention to a more nefarious portrait lifted straight out of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Meanwhile, in the general election campaign, Romney faced a failed President who offered one of the weakest presidential records in modern U.S. history. Economic growth was anemic, an extremely divisive national health care law was roiling the nation and in foreign affairs restive rogue nations were taking advantage of the absence of the world’s lone super power from the international stage.  Obama had no other true legislative or foreign policy accomplishments to speak of.  More than even this, during the electoral campaign, the president never articulated a cogent plan for his second term, preferring to use his national platform to demonize his opponent.

Anyone in the swing states or sitting on the fence should have been able to see all this, but they didn’t.  They were not helped in any significant way by Romney’s two final national debate performances.  Whereas he had delivered a stunning blow to Obama in the first debate, outpointing a flat footed Obama at every turn,  in the following contests he failed to go on the offensive and deliver the knock out punch so many were expecting of him.  Instead he landed soft blows, particularly in the third debate, even sounding conciliatory and appreciative of Obama on many foreign policy issues.  Obama seized this gift and used it  to paint Romney as out of touch with ordinary Americans – reinforcing a persistent campaign theme.

Then came Hurricane Sandy which devastated large swathes of the eastern seaboard in the week before the election. Suddenly Barack Obama was able to project himself as the commander -in -chief  he had failed to become in his first four years in office.  Romney, hoping to look reasonable and concerned, suspended his campaign just at the moment he needed it to switch into high gear. And then Chris Christie, the flamboyant GOP governor of New Jersey, nailed his coffin shut by insisting on lauding the president for his participation in his state’s rescue and recovery from the fearful damage left in Sandy’s wake.

The bitter disappointment of election night on November 6, 2012 was compounded when it was discovered that the sophisticated voter turn out software that the Romney campaign had promised to deploy to encourage a stronger younger conservative participation in the election crashed, never to be revived. GOP activists throughout the country were left stranded without  the invaluable information that would have made it possible to rally the GOP base and encourage a march towards a possible victory.

Could Romney have done better? Perhaps. If he had chosen a better campaign team or if he had possessed better luck in not facing such a feckless bunch of GOP contenders in the primaries.

But part of Romney’s failure in 2012 rests at the very least with the man himself.  Despite his family values, great financial accomplishments, executive experience, personal morality and good looks – despite them all – Romney lacked the two things which tend to elevate leaders above mere also rans – charisma and conviction.  He was unable to project the air of a man who had a broad vision for America, who could speak passionately of its history and its mission in the world; who could convince voters that he could capably stand in the shoes of the greatest of American leaders – Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. He failed to compete against Obama’s renowned eloquence – racked with meaninglessness though it is – and his tone of confidence  – false though it is – as matched against his own talents and skills.

This is perhaps because Romney was unable  project true commitment to any particular worldview.  A writer for a Washington weekly, who had been a some time speech writer for candidate Romney, commented to me that up close it was impossible to get any other impression of the man other than one of utter blandness. He came away from his experience thinking that Romney did not believe in very much at all – other than his suitability for being President.  On the campaign trail, his impermeability to new ideas became legendary.  Many other reports indicated that Romney was socially uncomfortable, often aloof  and that he intensely disliked the unrelenting grind of campaigning.

These characteristics would not have differentiated him too greatly from some of the other middling presidents in America’s history.  In the roster of national chief executives it might have ultimately positioned him as a capable steward rather than as an outstanding leader  – alongside men such as William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge or Gerald Ford. But it would have certainly elevated him above the amateurish, churlish and intensely ideological Barack Obama, whose one term presidency would have evaporated as quickly as it had materialized and then consigned by commentators as an aberration in the long line of American patriots and capable chief executives who had previously entered the White House.

Which leads us to the approaching 2016 election and Romney’s decision, announced Friday, not to seek the GOP nomination for a third time.  It was a good decision.  In the two years that have passed since 2012, Romney has not distinguished himself as a firebrand critic of the President – a role which would have undoubtedly done much to overhaul his reputation as a policy wonk;  or as a rigorous fair minded commentator who injected a broad body of knowledge about national policy into his writings.   He wrote no books and made few public appearances – at least ones that garnered national attention.

So how could he have even considered a third run for presidency?  That is one of those imponderable questions that might only be answered by the man himself. Having a strong donor base, a great family and a reputation as a party centrist, was clearly not enough. He needed to prove to us and to himself that he deserved to run for president for reasons other than his mere suitability for the job.

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In the end the United States today does not need another William McKinley, Calvin Coolidge or Gerald Ford.  In a time where the United States leadership is sorely absent in theaters of conflict around the world; when our domestic life is riven by divisions deeper than at any time than perhaps the Civil War; when our deficit has ballooned beyond the imaginings of even the most die hard cynic, the country desperately needs a President who can offer more than platitudes and capable executive experience –  it needs a true leader who can inspire confidence and project a vision which can motivate a great nation to reclaim that greatness.

Sadly Mitt Romney, outstanding individual though he certainly is, is not that man. It is a good thing he recognized this himself and has taken himself out of the running so that a fresh candidate can advance the most vital mission in the world today – the saving of the American republic.

Avi Davis is the President of the  American Freedom Alliance and the editor of  The Intermediate Zone.


Deaths in Mexico are a Reminder of American Exceptionalism

January 30, 2015

by Avi Davis

 

There are certain stories which offer sharp reminders of how truly fortunate we are to be living in a country with the rule of law as well as a profound respect for human liberty.

On September 26, 2014, 43 male students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa went missing in  Guerrero State, Mexico. According to official reports, they commandeered several buses and traveled to Iguala that day to hold a protest at a conference led by the mayor’s wife. During the journey local police intercepted them and a confrontation ensued. Details of what happened during and after the clash remain unclear, but the official investigation concluded that once the students were in custody, they were handed over to the local Guerreros Unidos (“United Warriors”) crime syndicate and then slaughtered. Mexican authorities claimed Iguala’s mayor, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, masterminded the abduction.

 

Both Abarca and Pineda Villa fled after the incident, but were arrested about a month later in Mexico City. Iguala’s police chief, Felipe Flores Velásquez, remains a fugitive. The events caused social unrest in parts of Guerrero and led to attacks on government buildings, and the resignation of the Governor of Guerrero, Ángel Aguirre Rivero, in the face of statewide protests. The mass kidnapping of the students arguably became the biggest political and public security scandal Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had faced during his administration. .

On November 7, 2014, the Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam gave a press conference in which he announced that several plastic bags containing human remains, possibly those of the missing students, had been found by a river in Cocula, Guerrero. At least 80 suspects have been arrested in the case, of which 44 were police officers. One student was confirmed dead after his remains were identified by the Austria-based University of Innsbruck.

When contemplating this terrifying atrocity one’s mind is drawn back to Mississippi and the night of June 21, 1964 when three American civil rights workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were abducted and shot at close range by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department located in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three had been working on the “Freedom Summer” campaign, attempting to register African Americans to vote.

But what happened to those three students was an anomaly in modern American history, rarely ever to be repeated.  It is difficult to imagine a massacre as what I have  just offered above – with police handing whole busloads of students over to gang members in order to eliminate them  –  occurring today in  21st Century America.  Yet sadly we see it occurring every day in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Congo, Sudan and other parts of both Africa and the Middle East.

Yet several centuries ago – during the Thirty Years War – such scenes were not unusual and even expected.  Butchery became a hallmark of European wars and invading armies and militias were given to a blood lust which knew few boundaries.

What distinguishes the West today from those brutal times 600 years ago – and from the countries, such as Mexico, where gang dominion leads so often to summary execution of innocents, is not only the rule of law which is dutifully respected by a majority of American citizens, but an abiding respect for the value of human life.  Reading the stories and seeing the photographs of the executions of students who were only exercising their peaceful constitutional rights to protest, must not only send a chill down the spine of every American but also remind us of our deep fortunate to be living where we are living and at a time in history when such things are not regarded as ” usual ” or in the normally accepted course of events.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and  the editor of The Intermediate Zone

 

 

 

 

 


In Like Flynn

January 28, 2015

By Avi Davis

The sense that the United  States is not receiving adequate leadership in the war against terrorism is gaining steam from an even more audible group of critics.

On Monday, Michael Flynn, the former head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency slammed the Obama administration as paralyzed and playing defense rather than offense in the fight against Islamic militancy.  He said the administration is unwilling to admit the scope of the problem, naively clinging to the hope that limited counterterrorist intervention will head off the ideological juggernaut of religious militancy.

His calls were echoed by Gen. Jack Keane, the former Vice Chief of the Army who told the Senate Armed Services Committee that al Qaeda’s influence has grown exponentially over the past several years and despite the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the hydra headed movement is threatening American Interests all over the world and not just in the Middle East.

Flynn’s and Keane’s comments reinforce calls by other former Obama administration officials such as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who say that while in office they urged more intervention earlier in the Syrian conflict but met with a deafening silence from the Obama Administration. Repeated demands for a greater commitment in those theaters went unheeded.   No doubt Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, once his own inevitable memoirs are published, will amplify the criticisms of his two predecessors. It is no secret  in Washington DC that Hagel was dumped because of his strident advocacy of greater American military involvement in Iraq and Syria.

All of which is anathema to this president.  His decision to pull all troops from Iraq – and to leave only a handful in Afghanistan – after years of American sacrifices in both countries to bolster regimes friendly to the United States,  was more than  just the fulfillment of a campaign promise;  it was the practical reflex of an ideology which harbors only contempt for what he sees as  imperialist or internationalist missions and views America  as far too extended. He sees no good national interest advanced by the presence of U.S. troops in any theater of conflict and is viscerally opposed to the kind of nation building and interventionism which became a hallmark of the Bush Administration.

But as the world situation develops it is becoming clearer that the United States  – just like  every other Western nation – can no longer hide from the reality that if the war is not fought on foreign soil it will be fought on our own soil.  The Kouachi brothers in Paris two weeks ago brought back what they had learned about ambush strategy and tactical frontal assault warfare from their training and experience with ISIS in Northern Iraq and executed a technically perfect raid on the Charlie Hebdo offices in central Paris; ISIS inspired plots have been uncovered in Australia, Indonesia,  the U.K. and of course France.

What is patently clear is that the contagion of ISIS is going to bounce back to the United States.   We cannot leave a vacuum in the Middle East and expect it not to be filled by al Qaeda , ISIS and a host of other insurgent forces dedicated to undoing the work of the United States and using the countries in the region as platforms for striking out against the West. We can also not expect ISIS and al Qaeda to fail to export their military successes to the streets and boulevards of our cities and our leaders would be foolish to blindly turn away from this eventuality.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone


Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus – A Review

January 27, 2015

by Avi Davis

Director: Tim Mahoney
Release Date: January 19, 2015
In April  2001, 42-year-old Rabbi David Wolpe, regarded as one of the leading Jewish prelates and thinkers in America, dropped a bombshell.  Speaking before his congregation, Sinai Temple in West Los Angeles, he admitted that he had little reason to believe that there was much historical basis to the Exodus narrative. As reported in the Los Angeles Times he said:
“The truth is that virtually every modern archaeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.”
The fact that Wolpe was speaking on Passover itself – the Jewish festival which commemorates the Exodus  –  and that the Los Angeles Times was there to cover his sermon, goes a long way to explaining the purpose of Wolpe’s sudden admission: he was engaging in an act of political and theological revisionism (some might even say sabotage) –  attempting to bring Judaism into line with modern scholarship and archaeological research, which, he later averred, had found nothing in 200 years to corroborate the Biblical account of the Israelite departure from Egypt.
The characterization of the Exodus as a fanciful myth has of course some telling consequences.  Among them is that many of the greatest events of the Biblical period may never have actually occurred.  It would mean that there was no historical Moses, no Ten Plagues, no slaughter of the first born, no parting of the Red Sea, no desert wandering, no fall of Jericho and no conquest of the land of Canaan.  It could also just possibly mean that there was no ‘ historical’ Ten Commandments at all.
Without sufficient archaeological evidence to corroborate the Exodus, the entire story can be regarded as no more than a heroic narrative woven out of whole cloth by later chroniclers to lend both legitimacy and purpose to the Israelite claim to the land of Israel.  This of course plays into the hands of an assorted range of secularists, atheists, anti-Semites and Israel bashers who are looking for exactly such a quote from a major Jewish leader to either delegitimize the State of Israel, smear Judaism or else deny the Jewish people’s historical claims to the land.
Wolpe’s admission naturally whipped up a firestorm in the American Jewish community but he was quickly supported by many contemporary Biblical scholars who bewailed the absence of an authoritative archaeological record and who had to sadly admit that the archaeologists may be right.
But what if Biblical archaeology has made some fundamental errors about the historical occurrence of the Exodus?
It is almost universally accepted that the Exodus, if it occurred at all, took place in the 13th Century BCE, during the reign of the greatest of Ancient Egypt’s builders –  Rameses II.  And it is true enough that in this period there is scant archaeological evidence to buttress the Exodus story.
Yet is it possible that Biblical archaeologists for the past 100 years have been looking in the wrong time period?  Could it be that they may have been off the historical mark on the Exodus by up to 300 years? And if so, what would they find if they looked there?
That is the starting point for Tim Mahoney’s elegant documentary Patterns of Evidence, a film which records the personal journey of a film maker seeking to uncover the truth about the Exodus. His journey takes him to several countries – to archaeological sites in Egypt and Israel, to the halls of academia in the United States, England and Germany while attempting to maintain an objective mind  -free, as much as possible, of the pitfalls of bias and prejudice which at one time or another afflicts almost every historical academic discipline.

 At the beginning of the film Mahoney outlines his mission: “I didn’t go with a preconceived conclusion, but I was willing to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt as we searched for the truth. I went to the top people in the world and said: ‘Tell me what you know about this story and what does the archaeology tell you.’ I talked with both sides – people who can’t see any evidence for Exodus and people who see the evidence. It became a balanced approach.”

As the film proceeds the evidence mounts that the period of the Middle Kingdom,(2050 BCE and 1652 BCE) if assessed to be the correct chronological time for the Exodus, rather than the New Kingdom (1570–1070 BCE) provides a trove evidence for the existence of a slave tribe which resided in the Nile Delta, its sudden departure from the historical recor , graves which might belong to the twelve sons of Jacob and one grave of which is missing its sarcophagus and might be the grave of the Biblical Joseph.

The film reveals is that there is a body of scholarship – although substantially in the minority, which has found that there is abundant evidence to validate the Exodus, but only if the chronology is shifted back 250 years.  Included in such evidence is a papyrus dated from that time period which recounts an episode of blood in the River Nile and plagues of insects descending on the Nile Delta. In addition to this hieroglyphics on stelae indicating the existence of the Biblical Joseph and  grave sites offering a glimpse into the slave life of the ancient homeland of Azair – the Biblical Goshen  – all of which offer tantalizing evidence to support the Middle Kingdom hypothesis.

So what is keeping archaeologists from making this leap?   Well, first all, this kind of revisionism messes up history big time since the dating of other civilizations is tied to the Ancient Egyptian chronology and calendar. Second, there are reputations to consider since if the key Biblical archaeologists have been getting their chronology wrong all these years what does it say about their credibility as historians?  As we have seen repeatedly in recent years, money, reputation, career advancement and the quest for academic survival can often trump the search for truth in academia. Archaeologists have a great deal to protect in continuing to debunk the Bible as historical fact.

But as I watched the film I was visited by an uneasy feeling.

Arguing that secular scholars are completely wrong or that their opponents are completely right does not serve historical analysis too faithfully.  Could it be that truth falls somewhere in between the position that Mahoney stakes out and the one traditionally advanced by Egyptologists?   It is impossible to either know or to understand this from viewing a two hour film. Real historical research is pounded out in the dialogue between hundreds of articles and papers, and refined in the back and forth of peer review.

By viewing this documentary most people, for instance, would not know that the revised Egyptian chronology is not a new theory at all –  is in fact decades old –  and that it  has been shown to create as many problems for biblical chronology as it solves.

And one thing other thing Mahoney fails to do is to examine in depth the reason Biblical scholarship focuses so intently on the New Kingdom rather than the Middle Kingdom to locate the story of the Exodus.  After all, there is such a thing as carbon dating, as well as comparative literature from the period and other scientific indicators which might justify the time period almost universally accepted by the Biblical scholars.  This question demanded much greater examination.

And of course there are then the philosophical arguments.

In the midst of narrator’s journey Mahoney comes across the writings of Sir Alan Henderson Gardiner – one of the world’s most famous Egyptologists, who admits that all we really have left of the great civilizations that once existed in the desert sands of the Middle East are mere ‘rags and tatters’ –  the detritus of a civilization and not its essential core.

With so little evidence, not only for the Exodus story but for any civilization or event which once existed, how can archaeologists truly be sure of anything?  Is it not true that the findings of archaeologists lead not to the re-creation of historical  facts, but rather the establishment of theories that are rarely ever so water tight that they can never be challenged?

This kind of discussion also leads to some pretty heavy epistemological arguments, namely, how do we actually ever know anything?  Aren’t those who accept the argument that the Exodus never happened merely transferring their faith from one written version of the past to a faith in another’s scientific methods that they can neither personally nor empirically verify nor corroborate?

I have always marveled at David Wolpe’s reasoning on this level: for surely, as a rabbi who believes in the existence of a G’d, he understands the philosophical contortions through which he must pass in order to state so affirmatively that the Biblical story is almost certainly myth. He is, after all, relying on research that he did not personally conduct and on a historical methodology for establishing a chronology with which he is probably unfamiliar. How can he be so sure that the perspective he has so wholesomely adopted was not itself refracted through bias and prejudice and which might be just as determined not to find any evidence of the Exodus as the film maker’s archaeological subjects are to find it?

People of faith don’t require archaeology to corroborate their beliefs.  If we accept that archaeology is a notoriously inexact method of determining historical truth – given the ‘rags and tatters ‘ theory elucidated above, could it not be that the evidence of the Exodus is still waiting to be discovered beneath the mountains of sand and sediment in the Nile Delta?

Why then the rush to judgement when, in the absence of authoritative proof such as a contemporary manuscript, we have what is essentially a written historical narrative, composed many, many centuries closer to the events than we stand today and which operates as at least a tangential guide to understanding this era?  This amounts to giving the Bible ‘the benefit of the doubt’ as Mahoney states in his introduction and it is what the pre-modern archaeologists certainly did.

The eagerness to debunk the Bible’s historical validity is a default intellectual reflex in today’s secular world- a world riven with satirists, deconstructionists and debunkers who gleefully skewer religion at every available opportunity.

But as Mahoney himself states in his book on the subject, the absence of evidence should never be regarded as evidence of absence. That is a credo that both sides of the divide of this important historical inquiry would be well advised to adopt.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

 

 

 


Beware of Greeks Returning Gifts

January 27, 2015

 

by Avi Davis

On Monday morning, the Greek people awoke to find themselves confronted by a new reality.

 

 

In a landslide, the anti -austerity party, Syriza, won a decisive victory in national elections, positioning its tough-talking leader, Alex Tsipras, to become the next prime minister.

Appearing before a throng of supporters outside Athens University late Sunday, Mr. Tsipras, 40, declared  the era of austerity over and promised to revive the economy.

He also said his government would not allow Greece’s creditors to strangle the country.

 

Such a victory was hardly unexpected.  Since  Germany and other northern European countries had forced Greece to swallow the bitter pill of austerity in 2011,

the country has groaned under the dramatic cuts in government spending, the loss of public sector jobs ( at one time the public sector made up nearly 45% of the workforce)

and the evaporation of the once booming housing market.  The Greeks could not become accustomed to a situation in which  their future was controlled by other countries

and  there has been increasingly loud rallies calling for an end to the Euro mandated austerity regime.

But Tsipras’ plans to end austerity and grow the economy quickly will immediately encounter some insurmountable hurdles to which  the economists

in his party have not given sufficient attention.

 

For lets be clear about one thing:  Greeks economic pain is not due to the austerity measures forced upon it by the Eurozone.  It came about because of years of profligate

spending, irresponsible budgets, a debt to GDP ratio that was the highest in Europe and a country that failed to produce anything much at all that the rest of the world wanted.

Greece joined the Eurozone in 1999 flush with the expectation that the high valued Euro would bring with it a rush of international investment

which would power the economy into the 21st Century and contribute to widespread prosperity.

 

But in those giddy years, the people of Greece neglected to affirm the one value that they would need to enshrine in order to grasp their new golden egg:

they still needed to work and work hard.

 

That was not to be.  Given to years of lassitude, the Greeks, and most Europeans have no stomach for the kind of effort it takes to sustain a modern economy.

Profligacy, social welfare, neoptism, corruption, an over loaded and under-worked bureaucracy and a vibrant, fairly open black market, has produced a country where people don’t work much, retire young

and take long vacations. Add to this severe institutional problems – such as the fact that a third of the country doesn’t pay tax and a quarter of the economy operates

under the table and you have a recipe for economic catastrophe.

 

The Greek model actually describes the bulk of Europe, where the work ethic has given way to the pleasure ethic and the

lambent idea that government can always be counted on to bail out failed enterprises.  But what happens when the government has no money to bail out anybody

and the source that it must rely on – namely foreign investment, remains skittish and uncertain about the country’s future?  What happens when no one – not the European Union,

not the United States and not China – is prepared to say we believe in your future and we will continue to fund your debt?

That is exactly what  the new prime minister will face in the coming days and weeks when  the EU stands its ground and tells the Greeks that if they

welsh on their commitments then their debt will be called – leading to a pain unlike the people of Greece have ever known before.

 

For the EU, Greece and the austerity regime imposed upon it has represented the plug that has prevented them from hearing that sound of the wealth of Europe

gurgles down the drain and emptying into the Aegean.

Would detaching Greece from the Euro and letting it drift back into the drachma bring great pain to the heart of Europe?  Almost certainly, but it would not be fatal.

Will the Greek revolt against austerity encourage other countries under the same austerity regime – Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy – to follow their example and

buck their benefactors?  Almost certainly not.  The difference is that these countries have mature statesmen who have been able to convince

their populations that a  temporary belt tightening and fiscal discipline could lead to a far more prosperous future.

Unfortunately in Greece that kind of leadership has been absent and that absence is now even more pronounced with the ascension of  a new leader who eschews

the kinds of sacrifices the Greeks have needed to make for years

 

In 2011 the European Union – and most particularly its wealthier countries in Germany and France – handed Greece a gift.   Now the Greeks wish to

return that gift with contempt, thinking that the EU has more to lose than they do.  They could not be more mistaken. The Northern European countries

will rather let Greece sink into the Aegean before opening the floodgates to other fragile economies demanding the same accommodation.

 

A titanic tussle is about to take place.  But lets set it in perspective:   In this Olympian wrestle for dominance,

it is the Europeans who hold the Greeks by their vulnerable parts and not the other way around.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone

 

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Beware of Greeks Returning Gifts

January 26, 2015

by Avi Davis

On Monday morning, the Greek people awoke to find themselves confronted by a new reality.

 

 

In a landslide, the anti -austerity party, Syriza, won a decisive victory in national elections, positioning its tough-talking leader, Alex Tsipras, to become the next prime minister.

Appearing before a throng of supporters outside Athens University late Sunday, Mr. Tsipras, 40, declared  the era of austerity over and promised to revive the economy.

He also said his government would not allow Greece’s creditors to strangle the country.

Such a victory was hardly unexpected.  Since  Germany and other northern European countries had forced Greece to swallow the bitter pill of austerity in 2011,

the country has groaned under the dramatic cuts in government spending, the loss of public sector jobs ( at one time the public sector made up nearly 45% of the workforce)

and the evaporation of the once booming housing market.  The Greeks could not become accustomed to a situation in which  their future was controlled by other countries

and  there has been increasingly loud rallies calling for an end to the Euro mandated austerity regime.

But Tsipras’ plans to end austerity and grow the economy quickly will immediately encounter some insurmountable hurdles to which  the economists

in his party have not given sufficient attention.

For lets be clear about one thing:  Greeks economic pain is not due to the austerity measures forced upon it by the Eurozone.  It came about because of years of profligate

spending, irresponsible budgets, a debt to GDP ratio that was the highest in Europe and a country that failed to produce anything much at all that the rest of the world wanted.

Greece joined the Eurozone in 1999  flush with the expectation that the high valued Euro would bring with it a rush of international investment

which would power the economy into the 21st Century and contribute to widespread prosperity.

But in those giddy years, the people of Greece neglected to affirm the one value that they would need to enshrine in order to grasp their new golden egg:

they still needed to work and work hard.

That was not to be.  Given to years of lassitude, the Greeks, and most Europeans have no stomach for the kind of effort it takes to sustain a modern economy.

Profligacy, social welfare, neoptism, corruption and a vibrant, fairly open black market, has produced a country where people don’t work much, retire young

and take long vacations. Add to this severe institutional problems – such as the fact that a third of the country doesn’t pay tax and a quarter of the economy operates

under the table and you have a recipe for economic catastrophe.

Corruption, venality of office, an over loaded and under-worked bureaucracy and the fact that there is no history of accommodation between the political classes

and labor unions at all, have all added to the sense of hopelessness.

 

The Greek model actually describes the bulk of Europe, where the work ethic has given way to the pleasure ethic and the

lambent idea that government can always be counted on to bail out failed enterprises.  But what happens when the government has no money to bail out anybody

and the source that it must rely on – namely foreign investment, remains skittish and uncertain about the country’s future?  What happens when no one – not the European Union,

not the United States and not China – is prepared to say we believe in your future and we will continue to fund your debt?

That is exactly what  the new prime minister will face in the coming days and weeks when  the EU stands its ground and tells the Greeks that if they

welsh on their commitments then their debt will be called – leading to a pain unlike the people of Greece have ever known before.

 

For the EU, Greece and the austerity regime imposed upon it has represented the plug that has prevented them from hearing that flushing sound as the wealth of Europe

gurgles down the drain and empties into the Aegean Sea.

Would detaching Greece from the Euro and letting it drift back into the drachma bring great pain to the heart of Europe?  Almost certainly, but it is not fatal.

Will the Greek revolt  against austerity encourage other countries under the same austerity regime – Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy – to follow their example and

buck their benefactors?  Almost certainly not.  The difference is that these countries have mature statesmen who have been able to convince

their populations that a  temporary belt tightening and fiscal discipline could lead to a far more prosperous future.

Unfortunately in Greece that kind of leadership has been absent and that absence is now even more pronounced with the ascension of  anew leader who eschews

the kinds of sacrifices the Greeks have needed to make for years

 

In 2011 The European Union – and most particularly its wealthier countries in Germany and France – handed Greece a gift.   Now the Greeks wish to

return that gift with contempt, thinking that the EU has more to lose than they do.  They could not be more mistaken. The Northern European countries

will let Greece sink into the Aegean rather than open the floodgates to other fragile economies demanding the same accommodation.

 

A titanic  tussle is about to take place.  But lets set in perspective:   In this Olympian wrestle for dominance,

it is the Europeans who hold the Greeks by their vulnerable parts and not the other way around.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of The Intermediate Zone


The Echo of Auschwitz 70 Years Later

January 25, 2015

By Avi Davis

So here we stand once again before the gates of Auschwitz.   Seventy years ago the Russian army liberated this camp.   What, we might ask, did they first experience as they approached the gates emblazoned with the unforgettable motif Arbeit Macht Frei?

 Contrary to what most people think, the first experience of Auschwitz for the Russians was not the scenes that would later become immortalized in still photographs and film footage.   Rather, it was the overpowering stench of death carried in the air as the soldiers approached from ten miles away.  When they finally reached the camp gates, the scene of utter desolation could barely be believed, even by hardened soldiers who had survived the Battle of Stalingrad and witnessed its horrific carnage.

Bodies were stacked in places ten feet high; young children, clothed in rags, stumbled from the barracks, emaciated skeletons;  Young men and women, some only in their teens, looked aged well beyond their years, haggard, lice infested and covered in grime.  The footage that cameraman Alexander Vorontsov and director Irmgard von zur Muhlen, took that afternoon, offered us images that have become indelibly stamped on Western memory.   In addition to the utter destitution of the scene, the camera pans across mountains of personal possessions confiscated from the prisoners — nearly half a million suits and dresses and tens of thousands of eyeglasses. The gas chambers, the portable gallows, the warehouse that held countless bags of human hair ( 7.7 tons of it!) and the glare of the silent survivors as they stared unblinking at the camera, were the living reminders of how western civilization had turned on itself.

But the parallel tragedy of the day is often forgotten. Nine days before the liberation, as the Soviets approached the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, Nazi SS officers forced nearly 60,000 inmates to march west.  Only 7,000, too sick and enfeebled, remained in the camps.

The death march of the winter of 1945 was the final gift of the Nazis to Western civilization.  Although there were many death marches, from most of the concentration camps such as Buchenwald and Treblinka, the Auschwitz Death March is by far the best known and involved the most inmates.  The prisoners, were marched toward Wodzisław Śląski (German: Loslau) and were put on freight trains to other camps.  Of the 60,000, 15,000 prisoners died, either through summary execution, exposure or exhaustion, their bodies thrown into ditches or left to rot on the road where they fell. They marched in the bitterly cold Polish winter 180 miles in 45 days, with very little to eat or drink and no warmth, sleeping in open fields, barns, warehouses–anywhere they could find shelter along the way. They finally arrived at Camp Hirschberg, near the Czechoslovakian border. Many of the survivors of the march would not be liberated until the very last days of the war.

There is no color film that survives from the day of liberation at Auschwitz.   That is perhaps appropriate since color itself, a symbol of vibrancy and life, had become  the nemesis of the Nazi operation at Auschwitz. The drabness of the camp, its dank, gray barracks, the colorless prison uniforms and the stark parade grounds represent the Nazi attempt to erase any semblance of normalcy from daily life and convince Auschwitz’s inmates that this new world was the only one they would ever know.

Yet if anything stood in defiance at Auschwitz, it was the resilience of nature itself – the blue of the sky, the green of the nearby forests and the warmth of the sun.   Even in the bitterest months of incarceration, the surviving inmates took heart from these reminders that the earth still spun on its axis, that the seasons would still arrive and depart, and that nature, indifferent to Nazi terror, was the one thing that that terrible military machine could not control.   This knowledge infused them with the hope that the Nazi regime was itself transient and would one day be swept away by the tide of history.

Such a moment of realization is beautifully captured in a scene from Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning.   Frankl once visited a young woman in Theresienstadt’s infirmary.   The young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when Frankl talked to her, she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge:

 “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here-I am here-I am life, eternal life.”

The will to live, the determination to defy terror and resist evil, takes its inspiration from many sources, but among the most important of them is the sense that human life has purpose and free will is our most important weapon in affirming it.  As Frankl himself states, “Everything can be taken from a man but the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

We who are blessed with greater freedoms than any other human beings in history, might then wish to use this week’s commemoration to recall that nothing in nature, even a couple of blossoms on a chestnut tree, should be taken for granted.  We might want to reinforce the notion that humanity’s course, in defiance of the nihilistic fatalism that dominates so much of our culture, derives from the exercise of our free will.   And we might want to remember that how we choose to live our lives, as both individuals and communities, will ultimately determine our collective fate.

Many Holocaust victims learned that the art of survival involves more than just putting bread in your mouth.  It also embraces a certain moral world view, one which connects one’s being’s fate to another’s and through love, compassion and caring builds unassailable bonds between them. It is a trait, lest we ever forget, that is distinctly human.

 

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance and the editor of  The Intermediate Zone.


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