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Poetic Justice for Dominique Strauss-Kahn

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The French have long been laissez-faire with regard to adultery and extramarital affairs, yet such moral laxity could never have been achieved and sustained without the permissive attitudes of women.  Rather than taking responsibility, it seems many Frenchwomen have, in their laziness, created monsters by allowing adultery to grow to epic proportions.  This coddling of their Frenchmen has now infected our shores (thank you, Anne Sinclair)  as 62-year old Dominique Strauss-Kahn has made yet another attempt (surely this is not the first) to cross a boundary and then run away like a two-year old, looking over his shoulder to see if Mommy will react or he will get caught. 

The question that should keep everyone and his wife up at night is, “Why does Dominique think rape and sexual assault is acceptable?” Is he drinking from the same lecherous chalice of entitlement that Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger have sipped?  Is the plan to keep acting out and hurting people – both spouse and victim – for as long as he can until he gets caught?

As a means of trying to understand why Anne Sinclair would fall all over herself insisting upon Dominique’s innocence, we must understand the context. The most obvious reason why so many Frenchmen have affairs is because women allow it and look the other way, practically rewarding them for their disrespectful behavior with their continued presence.  Like it or not, since the beginning of time women have found themselves in the unenviable and tiresome role of policing relationships.  Backs up against a wall, many women have been forced to react in one of two ways: either blow the whistle, slap on  a warning and ultimately walk away from the relationship, or conspicuously ignore and bury their heads in the sand consumed in denial, thereby emboldening the perpetrator to keep treating them like shit and betraying them either emotionally or physically.  In France, raping a woman and forcibly demanding subserviency from an innocent victim bears the same punishment as a minor drug possession or sale might in the US (2-5 years).  Suffice it to say, we are not making the friends with the French with this very public trial of Dominque.  They are doubtless rolling their eyes over the gravity with which we treat rape or any sex crimes in the US for that matter.  It would not be a stretch to imagine that Anne might want us to adopt the very maxim that has allowed Dominique to go off the rails for so many years “Boys will be boys.”

Sadly, that’s not the way we play in the Yankee sandbox.  Beyond Anne’s view of our puritanical morals, she could also be furiously concerned with the lining of her own pockets and the imminent downfall of DSK’s career.  Should he have perhaps thought about that before he savagely grabbed the Guinean maid’s breasts and forced himself upon her in the light of midday?  Now let’s not get carried away here.

True to form, 57% of French believe this is a conspiracy theory aiming to threaten Strauss-Kahn’s political aspirations against Sarkozy. The preference has been to doubt the veracity of a single mother emigrant trying to raise her 15-year-old daughter in the Bronx over holding a Manchild accountable for his actions. 

It is unfortunate that men such as Domnique, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods had to experience such a loud thud of reality as a result of their sexual flagrancy.  Their consequences have ranged from ruined careers to soiled reputations to discomfort of looking one’s self in the mirror to potential jail time.  At least Tiger and Arnold engaged in something consensual, one might argue.  Mike Tyson got 10 years for rape; perhaps Dominique will slide through with the same. Would these men have had to experience such dire consequences if their animalistic behavior were nipped in the bud, offense by offense, instead of responded to with a flippant “Oh, isn’t that cute, he’s virile!?”  Time is nothing more than the space between a crime and consequence.  Dominique couldn’t have thought he would keep looking over his shoulder forever. Surely at least one woman would find the self-respect to take a stand and speak for all of the women he devalued. 

In a letter to the IMF board, Dominique Strauss-Kahn denied “with the greatest possible firmness” the allegations he sexually assaulted a hotel maid.  This is too easy. No one doubts for a moment that our dear rogue was firm.  Perhaps  next time, (if our justice system grants Monsieur a next time) taking care of himself in the bathroom would prove the more prudent decision bearing  far fewer consequences. As it was, he could have spared himself the loss of a few swimmers, gotten on the plane peacefully without forgetting his phone and gone back to his wife’s permissive arms.  As it is now, he has destroyed his life in one fell swoop.  Tant pis, tant pis.

Update: It appears our Dear Dominique has wiggled out of trouble this time.  How did he do it? What are the implications? A former IMF employee, Piroska Nagy, told a Paris prosecutor who was assigned to a new sexual assault case he faces back home: “I felt that I was ‘damned if I did and damned if I didn’t’,” she added. Mr Strauss-Kahn was “an aggressive if charming man”, she wrote, with a “problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command”.  

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Us vs. Them

Last night I played for a corporate meeting in someone’s mansion high in the hills.  The meeting was for an organization of expats all from a particular foreign country (which I won’t name) now living in the US.  There was a panel of 3 very high-powered businesspeople (the likes of whom had held personal business meetings with people like ex-President Clinton and the President of Liberia.)  Towards the end of the talk I had developed a rancid taste in my mouth.  Let’s call this group of people who were from a particular country ‘The Greens’.  The Greens went on to talk about the traits of “their people” in regard to business and life.  The more they talked the more they seemed to be truly separating themselves – and believe me, there were 4 or 5″Blues” in the room who were clearly shifty, offended or uncomfortable.  “The Greens see through bullshit”, “The Greens are harder working and have little patience for incompetence or people who need to be coddled.”  It was clear to me that they really deemed themselves superior.

For the love of God, when is nationalism going to go away? It is an archaic idea and has long since outlived its function.  It is one thing to be proud of where you’re from and to have confidence, but as they continued to speak this confidence quickly bled across the line into arrogance, a superiority complex and an inherent “us vs. them” mentality.  So many countries have this issue – we all carry this tumor in our own ways.  I once lived with a first generation American (her parents were Chinese) and she readily admitted that the Chinese think they’re smarter than everyone else.  But she seemed to say it matter-of-factly, almost as if she believed it to be partly true, having been so deeply ingrained by her parents.  Please tell me how can one country (which is nothing more than a longitude and latitude on the map) own personal traits?  This is so ignorant.  Matthew Fox a modern day mystic and author once wrote in his book “Wrestling with the Prophets”:

“For there is no such thing as a Lutheran sun and a Taoist moon, a Jewish ocean and a Roman Catholic forest.”

Thank you, Mystic Matthew! By the same token how can Chinese own the copyright on smart, New Zealanders on entertaining and entrepreneurial, Japanese on innovative or Germans on being organized??  This is ridiculous.  Those traits are in and belong to all human beings and no one gets to claim a patent on any of them to the exclusion of others.  This type of thinking just like fervent association with any religion is the illusion that separates.  And people seem to really enjoy propagating such illusions for their own egos – whether out of insecurity or a need to oppress in order to control and to prevail, it doesn’t matter.  

Even though my exposure to this thinking towards the end of the night just seemed like a mild irritant to me, I can clearly see the grave danger of this seed-level thinking.  I daresay that some of the pronouncements made in that room about how ‘Greens’ are, would not have been so openly shared in mixed company (say of Blues, Reds, Browns and Yellows.)  What was slightly disturbing was that it was a fairly homogenous group of people so they could speak freely without censoring their true feelings, they were wearing no burkas of political correctness.  For example, on the ride home ‘The Green’ who was taking me home was having a conversation with ‘The Other Green’ in the front seat about her husband always talking about ‘The Bloody Blue’s.’  According to her eyes, I am ‘A Blue’ and naturally have those traits.  Realizing what she had said, she quickly backtracked and made the qualifier that I was welcome in her home because it would be nice to have a “positive Blue influence” in the house.  Ummmm…..WTF!?

It is this nationalism and us vs. them mentality and this very kind of thinking that sent millions of people to the ovens.  It was the seed of the German thought that they truly believed with every fiber of their being (at least some of them) that they were indeed superior – they were poisoned and brainwashed.  This type of illusory thinking is learned. To have this type of belief and put people in boxes is not only ignorant but incredibly dangerous.  We need to start ripping down these barriers and walls; the timing is overdue.  At the risk of sounding cliche We Are All One.  As long as someone is trumpeting a particular religious sect or positive quality with their country, race, or group of people then We Are Not One, but we are an amalgamation of several little boxes pushed up against each other, the walls of which are not only illusory but completely susceptible to abuse of oppression and ego-centric thinking and behavior which always separates.

We all still do the box thing; let’s keep tearing down those walls and open our mouths to break down illusions when it would seem unpopular, politically incorrect or provocative.  Superiority complexes in groups of people are frightful ways to behave and wholly unnecessary.  Such beliefs are  deeply rooted in fear and an ‘other than’ and us vs. them.

The solution then is to realize that when we dig a hole in our side of the boat it’s going to affect the person on the other end – oh yeah, and us too.  We’re not doing anyone anyone favors by siphoning ourselves off into categories and proclaiming particular labels or qualities onto ourselves because we happen to live at 41 S, 174 E on the globe and our neighbor happens to live at 64 N, 26 E.  It is easy to keep the illusion of separation with our languages, cultures, man-made borders, fears, wars and media.  Throw joyous or tragic circumstances at any human being and you will find that he will react and respond the same.  We all have deep reserves of courage, genius, creativity, perserverance, honesty, and tenacity, just as we all have smaller ways of reacting.  What we need to remember is that 30 or 40,000 feet up in a plane instantly takes that illusion away, and we remember how small we can be on the ground (both literally and figuratively) and that we really are  One.

Try As We Might to Forget War, Let’s Not Forget Our Veterans

Sometimes in the midst of all of our proselytizing and pacificism and regret over tragic wars, we forget those who have fought for social justice and freedom.  These are things we take for granted as we are wrapped warmly in our beds cocooned by the illusion of constant peace. Even the best-case scenario for veterans (they come back to us alive) is fraught with long-lasting and sometimes irreparable damage to their psyches. WWII sculp Loss of limbs or paralysis force them to go on disability when they would have rather worked.  For many whose mental constitutions were not impervious to the horrors of death, torture and suffering, they come back home but are never the same person again.  Although the human body is amazingly resilient in bouncing back, it is not always such a quick fix for the mind.  The psychological trauma that many young soldiers will go through is ten times more than any of us will ever have to experience in this life.  While at war’s culmination, society might rejoice with confetti parties and public kisses and go back to their lives, many soldiers don’t have that luxury.  Why do we cast them aside with such ingratitude? I don’t think it’s purposeful. It’s tantamount to not wanting to look into a mirror that is shows an ugly reflection. We don’t want to remember atrocities. That’s human. But our veterans are stuck with it. And it is easier for us to forget and go about our day. (‘I’m glad it’s not me that has to go’ or ‘I’m a pacificist so I’m going to sit in my ivory tower and spit on those who are protecting the things I take for granted’), forgetfulness? (self-absorption in our own lives), abandonment? (not investing enough in the vast resources that are necessary to rehabilitate and transition them back into society), judgment?(another crazy, homeless veteran). Abominable.

Veterans are another easy group to marginalize.  I believe that 99% of the time we forget or abandon people, it is because they are too difficult for us to look at.  The elderly are a constant reminder of the promise of death, the homeless are a constant reminder that any one of us could be on the street in a second if we make a wrong decision, with nowhere to go, the abused and battered remind us of the days we feel that we are not worth anything, least of all love.  The veterans, I suspect, are reminders of atrocities against of mankind and the lasting repercussions of fearful actions.  One need not be a warmonger to have a hunger in fighting against evil.

But I digress.

So it becomes much easier for us to cast all of those problems  that amount to enormous buzzkills aside.  We’ll deal with that later, or we won’t deal with that at all our thinking goes. Then everything will be rosy. 

That’s where we’re wrong.  The more we want to forget, the greater should be our resolve to focus our energies in that direction to heal and correct.  My grandfather was a Master Sgt. in General Patton’s 3rd Army.  I am only here typing this right now because he was one of the lucky ones who came back.  My cousins are here because their fathers survived Vietnam. Not all were so lucky.  My grandfather was stationed in Germany only six months after his marriage to my grandmother.  Few stories came from his mouth upon his return much to the chagrin of his children and grandchildren; but it was the best way for him to deal.  I do know that when my grandfather walked down the city streets while practicing as an attorney he would automatically check the 2nd and 3rd story windows of office buildings for snipers.  As much as he wanted to forget, there was always residual trauma. 

During the war he was taking soldiers through training practices driving tanks.  There was one boy in particular who was extremely nervous and skittish.  The slightest sound went off at the side of the road and he jerked the tank to the side in reaction.  My grandfather went back to the camp and told the Sergeant Major, “Do not let this man drive a tank.  He can’t handle it.”  Well, my grandfather’s advice was ignored and they decided to let him drive the tank.  He was killed on that mission.  These are the things that surely mess with the minds of a soldier. Killing our fellow man is not natural. 

Maybe this is naive, but why couldn’t we just take down Hitler and leave everyone else alone?? 

Countless stories of the same inhabit the psyches of those who do not have the luxury to forget when they come back onto American soil.

21 gun saluteWe can all put patriotic bumper stickers on our cars.  We can all vow to hug a veteran today and say thank you.  That’s not too tall of an order for one day out 365 days a year.  But then again, one day out of the year is not the problem.  The problem is the other 364. ** It would be much better if as a sincere thank you for the fact that we are living, walking down the street with no fear and participating in a safe, democratic society that we translated our gratitude into actionable steps in providing greater resources and care so that they don’t have to feel abandoned.  Let us demand better from ourselves.  Let’s not continue to let fighting for freedom and justice be a thankless job.  They took care of us and in millions of cases they are the very reason we are sitting here right now breathing and reading this article on an unmoderated internet.  They took care of us to the nth degree.  Let’s make the remaining 364 days of the year our turn to take care of them.

** Charity Navigator, a non-profit that posts online ratings of about 5,000 charities, added the veterans group to its database last month. Out of 71 charities listed, it was the only one to earn zero stars. It rated the charity low because more than 65% of its expenses went to fund raising. Most non-profits spend no more than 10% on fund raising, said Charity Navigator spokeswoman Sandra Miniutti.

The rating puts the veterans group in the bottom 2% of charities on the Web site, Miniutti said.

Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund – http://www.fallenheroesfund.org/

Fisher House Veterans Charity – http://www.fisherhouse.org/

Reagan Chutzpah, Fall of the Berlin Wall

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Reagan uttered one of the most oft-repeated lines of political speeches.  The controversy that prevailed behind the scenes at the conception of this speech was heated to say the least.  Although many liked to paint Reagan as a senile leader who would meekly defer to the powers that Berlin Freedombe, he was anything but.  He was a leader first and a politician second.  Politicians by their very nature are slaves to public opinion which grants them power, influence and fiscal benefit.  It is lost on few that most leaders go into politics for their own self-interest.  This is doubtless the reason modern-day politics has alienated so many.  People will tolerate feeling manipulated for only so long. The mark of a true leader is someone who is driven by principles for the higher good of all concerned and who doggedly fights any person, idea or thing which jeopardize those principles.

In this case, the jeopardy to freedom was the Berlin Wall, a symbol of communist tyranny.  Reagan would give the speech with the Wall as the backdrop and it needed to be no less than an adrenalin shot into the freedom movement.  The speech was drafted by a young White House speechwriter, Peter Robinson.  To refer to tearing down the wall was not a new idea by many, even by Reagan.  A year prior to the speech, Reagan had said, “I would like to see the wall come down today, and I call upon those responsible to dismantle it.”  The coup-de-grace was the insistence of an eye-to-eye staring down of the Soviet opponent in his speech.  Upon Robinson’s completion of the speech and Reagan’s subsequent approval, the power brokers began sweating bullets.  They tried everything in their arsenal to prevent Reagan from stating what obviously needed to be said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  They thought the line too provocative and defiant.  Well, I daresay, if there was ever a propitious time to be provocative and defiant this was one of them! How could he not mention Gorbachev by name with the wall behind him?  How could he not make such a forceful affirmation if he was to sincerely be vigilant against the evils of communism?  Were he not to be so resolute in his message it would have been a slap in the face to all of those suffering on the eastern side of the wall.  To those  in his inner circle, however, these were apparently not their primary concerns.  They were nervous to say the least and wanted him to play nice.  George Shultz was one of the louder voices in his circle and particularly insistent on eliminating anything in the speech that may insult or offend Gorbachev….like telling him to tear down the wall.

ReaganTrue leaders do not play it safe, period.  Especially, when required to step up to the plate and defend the side of the good.  There is a time and place for diplomacy, and even for politics.  This time was not one of them and Reagan knew it.  Reagan decided he liked the speech just as it was – much to the chagrin of his policy advisors – and that Gorbachev could handle it.  How might history have changed and the world be different today had leaders – at pivotal moments of history – listened to the people around them rather than to their own internal moral compass and principles in service to the good? A leader who looks to the people to make a monumental decision or makes his moves in accordance to which way the wind is blowing is not any kind of leader at all, but a follower.  The kind of man who would let his advisors talk him out of a speech in order to avoid a potential backlash or, God-forbid, an ebb in public opinion is no man to respect or trust in a leadership position.   A leader should be a fearless defender of the good and defiant in the face of evil, naysayers be damned; the minute a politician becomes passive or complacent when it comes to the jeopardy of human rights we are in big trouble.  Reagan employed chutzpah, not unilaterally or in service of drunk power, but when it furthered ideals in which he passionately believed.  Principles, chutzpah, fearlessness, but all in service to what was right:  these were the qualities that made Reagan a great leader.  Politicians are a dime a dozen, but great leaders are a rare breed indeed.  People called Reagan ‘The Great Communicator’.  Yes, he was that.  In no way did his capacity to communicate or his charisma dilute his message.  Reagan had chutzpah, and his chutzpah was sincerely on the side of the good. 

As Reagan taught us, we should never allow naysayers to weaken our commitment and resolve to championing those ideals we hold dear.  If anyone has the power to weaken principles or ideals, then those ideals have been built on sand and, by definition, must mean nothing.  If they meant something, one would fight for them tooth and nail. For have you ever heard of sitting down for ideals or beliefs in the face of dissent and consequence, real or imagined?  No.  To sit down is easy.  To stand up and defend is what is hard – and when it comes to true leadership, it’s the only thing that counts.