In my youth, high schools regularly required classes in world history in addition to American history and civics. These subjects didn’t thrill us, but in retrospect they had definite benefits. Today, when high school students are shown a map of Great Britain or France, many have no inkling where these places are located.
Still, most of us lack an understanding of less familiar parts of the world, especially where there is little current American involvement. That includes Eastern Europe and the Balkans, where we recently visited. Spending a week in this region certainly does not make me an expert, but it is enlightening and is a great reminder that we Americans are very fortunate.
BUDAPEST ON THE DANUBE
Visiting Hungary the second time in a decade was instructive. While the Capital, Budapest, remains a magnificent old city on the Danube River, with new buildings and an easy-to-navigate subway system, there are new ominous political concerns.
On one of our tours, our guide was answering questions about the current government and suddenly announced that he thought it was time for him to stop. Away from the group, he noted that the Hungarian president, Victor Orban, was now moving the country in an ultra right direction, causing fear and motivating educated young people to leave.
“SHOE ON THE DANUBE BANK”
Having previously passed by the Holocaust remembrance exhibit, “Shoes on the Danube Bank,” where Jewish men, women and children were told to take off their shoes and then shot into the river by Hungarian Nazis in 1944, this information was very disconcerting.
Taking a walk in a non-tourist neighborhood pointed out that cigarette smoking is frequent and constant. We may think that tobacco companies worry about the decline in American cigarette consumption, but Eastern Europe is picking up the slack. Another fascinating find was the large numbers of stores selling sewing notion, fabrics and machines. Obviously, the economy is such that homemade clothing is needed as it was here in the middle of the 20th century.
We visited Croatia and Servia, two of the six countries that once were part of Yugoslavia, a country that existed from 1942 to 1991, when the somewhat benevolent independent communist dictator, “Tito” (Josip Broz) kept those countries in line and prevented them from killing each other. This area, known as the Balkans, has always been a tinder point for wars.
Vukovar, a small attractive Croatian city, was about 85 percent obliterated in the 1990s in their war with Serbia, which extended into much of the former Yugoslavia. According to our guide, it’s peaceful now, but unemployment is 33 percent and emigration is causing a brain drain among the young educated people.
Perhaps the most amazing piece of information from our guide regarded schools. Croatian and Serbian people reside in both Croatia and Serbia and some have intermarried. But when the children of intermarried couples go to school in Croatia, they must decide if they will attend a Serbian or a Croatian school; the youngsters of these nationalities cannot mix in schools even if their parents have done so.
I wasn’t prepared to like Bucharest, Romania’s capital, as I’d heard that it was a grey boring city and a set of my grandparents emigrated from Romania over a century ago because of the dangers facing them.
A BUCHAREST CAFE
But what we found were friendly people, interesting places, great food, joy at getting rid of their Communist dictator in 1989, an amazingly modern McDonald’s and ease in getting around Bucharest with Uber.
Travel is always interesting; visiting a small part of Eastern Europe was enlightening.
[This wonderfully descriptive article first appeared in the Huntington WV Herald-Dispatch on Thursday, September 14, 2017. The author, Diane W. Mufson, a retired psychologist, and her husband Maury reside in Huntington, West Virginia. Ms. Mufson is a weekly contributor the editorial page of the Herald-Dispatch. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org]
STATUE OF ROBERT E. LEE - This is what started it all in Charlottesville.
A descendant of Robert E. Lee spoke these words at the MTV Video Awards last month in the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville:
“My name is Robert Lee IV, I’m a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was the center of violence in Charlottesville. We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin.
“Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on. We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched int he Women’s March in January, and, especially, Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs in Charlottesville.”
Long story short, his North Carolina congregants didn’t like what he had to say on national television and they decided to take a vote on whether he should remain as their pastor. Lee took the hint and issued this statement:
“I regret that speaking out has caused concern and pain to my church. For this is [sic] I offer my heartfelt apology. I understand that my views could be considered to be controversial. I never sought this sort of attention. But, I do believe in God’s role in calling out for positive social change for the good of all.
We are all called by God to speak out against hate and evil in all its many forms. There are so many good things going on with this congregation and I do not want my fight to detract from the mission. If the recent media attention causes concern with my church, I reluctantly offer my resignation.”
Lee’s congregants emphatically did not like the world wide media attention. Washington Post:
“Lee did not describe specific responses he received from congregants. But the comments section on an article about his VMA speech in the Winston-Salem Journal gives some sense of the backlash. One commenter wrote that there was “no way” Lee was a Christian and that “it seems anybody that wants to protect our country is a racist, or white supremacist. …It’s a sin to use your position to name-call and judge.” Another commenter wrote that rather than appear on television, Lee should devote his time to ministering: “You have how many faithful members? Maybe if you spent more time around the church that number would increase.”
“In an Aug. 18 interview with BBC News, Lee argued that statues of his ancestor honor white supremacy and endorse a system in which it is acceptable to be racist in America. He pointed to the complete lack of markers to fascists in Europe following World War II as evidence that there is a way to “remember your history and not commemorate it.” Lee talked of how he had spoken with a descendant of a slave owned by the Lee family, describing his heartbreak over hearing the firsthand experiences of those “hurt and oppressed by statues.”
“Lee has spoken openly about how he arrived at his own conclusions about his lineage, saying he has at once felt pride in the fact that Lee family members signed the Declaration of Independence and shame over Robert E. Lee’s leadership over the Confederacy. In one NPR interview, he spoke of how he was often given mixed messages on whether the elder Lee was a proponent of slavery or states’ rights.”
REV. ROB LEE
Rev. Lee is quite courageous. He is in a small, yet gradually increasing group of courageous pastors, notably John Pavlovitz and William Barber, who are unequivocally standing up for what is right in America. They truly are moral leaders in troubled times when churches and congregations are reflecting the divisions and turmoil that exist all over our country. Their moral compass is strong and we are fortunate. When Rev. Lee was asked “was it worth it,” he replied, “Unequivocally yes.”
[This article first appeared in Daily Kos on September 5, 2017. It was re-blogged by “Support the Dream Defenders,” “Street Prophets,” and “Daily Kos Liberation League.”]
Almost no presidential administration has escaped the taint of a scandal or two. Scandal substantially tarnished the administrations of Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding. More recently, most of us recall Watergate, Whitewater/Lewinsky, and Iran-Contra.
TEAPOT DOME SCANDAL
I selected only a few to make my point. I could have mentioned many more. Readers can google “Presidential Scandals.” Seth Cline, a staff writer with U.S. News and World Report, began his article “The 7 Worst U.S. Presidential Scandals” (March 1, 2017) mentioning Grant.
If you research Trump administration scandals, you will discover a hefty list of Trump’s disgraces, and you will realize these articles have been published in the first eight or nine months of his presidency. We may have three more years to go. Simply untenable!
We should have done more than raise our eyebrows when, from the beginning of the Trump administration, nepotism (“favoritism shown to relatives in appointing them to jobs”) reared its ugly head. Nepotism is illegal (see 5 U.S. Code #3110, Sub-Part B: “A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official.”)
The responsibilities President Trump has given to his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka will prove extremely troublesome. Kushner is already a major subject of current investigations by the Congress. He and Donald Jr. are also under scrutiny for their involvement in questionable meetings with Russian operatives.
TRUMP AND DAUGHTER IVANKA
According to an article in Politico by Sarah Holder (July 26, 2017) “13 Trump Scandals You Forgot About,” Ms. Holder barely mentions some potential problems for Trump before listing 13 in bold type. Combining the most dubious, Holder documents that Trump and his family are taking advantage of his position to increase their own personal wealth.
Holder begins with “Foreign Governments Are Paying Trump. The White House is promoting Melania’s Jewelry and Ivanka’s Clothing Line, Trump has ‘jacked up’ Mar-a-Lago’s rates, with his campaign paying his businesses and the government writing him a $15,000 check” for use of the plush facility.
Secretary Wilbur Ross is keeping investments he oversees as Commerce Secretary and the Kushners tout Jared’s White House connections to do business in China. Jared Kushner failed to disclose key assets, while he and Ivanka are still raking in cash from their businesses.”
PRESIDENT TRUMP “BUDDIES UP” WITH RUSSIA’S VLADIMIR PUTIN
Bluntly, the above plus Donald Trump’s solicitous attitude toward Vladimir Putin and the obvious (proven) Russian interference in our most recent presidential election will, I suspect, prove the Trump presidency to be the most scandal-ridden administration in American history.
Trump supporters take the attitude, “Who cares?”
These actions/behaviors suggest that Trump is unfit to serve as president of the United States–that he is using the highest and most important office in America for his and his family’s personal, financial benefit.
Investigations will likely show a collusion with Russia during the campaign and still influencing the Trump presidency. Unacceptable!
L. MILTON HANKINS
[This opinion-editorial first appeared in the Huntington WV Herald-Dispatch on September 11, 2017. Hankins is the publisher and editor of Columnist with a View. He lives in Ashland, Kentucky with his wife Deborah and furry buddy Jose. He is the author of two books “Ashes on the Snow” and “A Sensible Theology for Thinking People.” Both are available through Amazon.com.]