Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hundred Places that will Change your Life?

In the summer of 2016, the National Geographic Magazine published a special edition about “Hundred Places that Will Change Your Life.” It describes one hundred  fabulous places in fifty-five  different countries.

As an inveterate traveler, I had to look into this. For one thing, after seventy years of worldwide travel,  - how many of these spots have I  seen?  Regretfully,  I have only been in 32  of the sites listed by  the National Geographic, and only  in 19 of these 55 countries - just about one third.  Oh well, I’ll check out the remainder in my next life.

The National Geographic  divides its list into four categories, each containing 25 places: (1) Mind,  (2) Body, (3) Spirit and (4)Soul:

The first 25 sites  are places where you  may go to enrich yourself mentally and culturally. MIND. To clarify the point, the magazine quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. ,who once said that “A Man’s Mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions.” Here are some examples of such places:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Juicy French Politics

The current administration is mired in controversy, ranging from conflicts of interest and foreign meddling in our elections, to sexual misconduct, but looking at what is happening in France, we certainly don’t have the monopoly on political scandals.

The French Presidential elections are around the corner and of the five candidates that are competing for the job, two are under investigation: Francois Fillon, leader of the conservative party ‘Les Republicains’ and Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right populist party ‘Front National’.

If you think it unethical for Trump to hire family members to help him govern, you only have to look at France to see that nepotism is not exclusive to America. Giving positions to family members is actually common amongst French politicians, but the latest scandal going by the name ‘Penelopegate’ was too much to swallow for the French voter.

Francois Fillon, is charged with paying his wife $1 million with public money for a job as his assistant, that she never fulfilled. Fillon is seen as a hypocrite, since he has proposed cuts to civil servant jobs to save money. Read more...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

It's the Birthrate, Not Immigration

Just for once, let me NOT write about Trump - although, even today’s topic is prompted by what he stands for, namely white supremacy.

White supremacists include Geert Wilders and Steve King. The former is a Dutch nativist, a Dutch Trump, who fortunately just lost an election in the Netherlands. King is an Iowa congressman who recently said that   “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”  This apes Breitbart News, Trump adviser Steve Bannon, the KKK and all others in Europe, America and elsewhere  who, under the guise of “nationalism,” believe that the white race has a corner on human civilization.

Today, this white panic is prompted in part by the fact that whites make up an ever smaller percentage of the world’s population. There is panic at the prospect that people who are white andChristian are increasingly being replaced by people of color, people who are Muslims, etc.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Takeaway from the Dutch Elections

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders

Holland is in the news this week. They just had their elections and thankfully, the populist PVV party did not win the majority of votes, although it came in a close second. The rest of the world has been watching the Dutch elections closely, since it is the bellwether country for populism in the entire continent. Like the flu, populism is contagious, but the PVV’s relative defeat showed that the Dutch built up some resistance against the populist virus. France has Marine LePenn, leader of the National Front, Germany has the AfD, Italy has the Five Star Movement and Hungary is governed by ultra-right-winger Viktor Orban.

What does this disease consist of, you might ask? It manifests itself in the form of nationalism, anti-immigration on the right and anti-capitalism and a push for redistribution on the left. The ugly side of populism on both sides, is that it is based on exclusion, be it the ruling elite or immigrants, it pushes itself off by demonizing the ‘other’.

Geert Wilders, the leader of the PVV, is often referred to as the Donald Trump of the Netherlands. His is the second largest party at the polls, but that doesn’t mean that the PVV will even be part of the Dutch government, since no other party wants to work with him because of his extreme views on immigration.

In a nationally televised pre-election debate, the ‘Turkish crisis’ was discussed. This is in reference to two Turkish ministers being barred from campaigning in Holland in a bid to drum up support amongst the Turkish residents for Prime Minister Erdogan back home. This caused Turkish authorities to accuse the Dutch of being’ Nazis’. An angry crowd staged an all-out protest outside the Dutch consulate in Istanbul, stabbing oranges with knives and drinking gallons of orange juice. An outsider might conclude that the Turks have finally gone bonkers as a result of being ruled by a madman, but it appears that the color orange is linked to the Netherlands and stabbing oranges was their way to show their displeasure with the Dutch. Read more...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: an Eye Opener

Jane Mayer

I always knew that money was a big influence in politics, but I took it as a given, an unpleasant fact of life, like the harsh winters in New England. But after reading Jane Mayer’s ‘Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right’, I realize that there are different types of money spent on politics. Hard money is regulated and has to be account for, but soft money, also known as dark money, is not. This type is now so entrenched in the American political system, that it would take an earthquake of enormous force to dislodge it.

Of course, the biggest players in the story of dark money are the Koch brothers. I was not aware of the extent to which they are responsible for the rightward trend in American politics and how far they are willing to go to advance their political ideas, not to mention their fortunes.

They have been at it for almost half a century, inheriting their libertarian (if not anarchistic) views from their grandfather, Fred Koch, whose rabid anti-communism did not prevent him from making a fortune building refineries for Stalin and later made lucrative business deals with Hitler, whom he greatly admired.

Koch Industries’ corporate rap sheet is miles long. They were found guilty of countless health violations, causing the death of several employees. They were convicted of falsifying emissions output figures at their refineries; they willfully disregard safety regulations, which they consider ‘socialistic’. ‘My freedom is more important than your life’ should be the industry’s motto. Read more...

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Oh, Oh, Amerika

 I just read the book by that title, written by the Dutchman Charles Groenhuijsen (2015).

The premise of the book is similar to that of Rick Nieman’s What we Can Learn from America: An Optimistic Story about the Promised Land (2015), which we reviewed a few months ago (see What we Can Learn from America). While it provides a detailed critique of most of America’s many flaws, its basic theme is that the country is on the road to progress, and that it enjoys many advantages over Europe. In other words, it is one more optimistic and sympathetic analysis of the USA coming from the Netherlands. Interesting.

In this article, I will summarize Groenhuijsen’s book, and conclude that (1) the author is overly optimistic and that (2) his prognosis might have been more negative if he had written the book AFTER Donald Trump’s election rather than just a few months before.

First, what is good about America, according to Groenhuijsen?

For one thing, Americans are becoming more liberal in their lifestyle. Gay marriage is now the law of the land, more and more jurisdictions are legalizing recreational marijuana, the country is becoming more secular; church attendance is declining, etc. Read more...