John Lennon Wall – Prague; A Poem

“All you need is love.” – John Lennon

We left our hotel with only a map and began walking. Past the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square that dates back to 1410, across The Charles Bridge constructed in 1357, and up the hill to the Castle where walls surround Saint Vitus Cathedral founded in the 10th Century. Later in the day I looked at the map as we descended back down the hill and spotted the John Lennon Wall, circa 1980. How could that be, I thought, in this magical medieval city?IMG_0956

Mala Strana, or Lesser Town on the west side of river Vltave below the imposing Castle, is a labyrinth of small cobblestone streets. When we turned the corner onto nondescript Velkoprevorske Namesti a crowd was gathered in front of a multi-colored wall pointing at the likeness of Lennon, talking, laughing and shooting photos. Just as many visitors were contemplative. A street musician played “All You Need Is Love” on a violin.

John Lennon was a folk hero in Prague during the totalitarian era when the Communist ruled. Western pop songs were banned by the authorities and in some cases musicians were jailed for playing them. Lennon’s lyrics praising freedom were especially threatening to the Communist regime.IMG_0953

After Lennon’s assassination in 1980 his picture was painted on the wall along with some of his lyrics. Young people began writing messages defying the authorities. By painting the wall and writing anti-government slogans, young activist risked prison for “subversive activities against the state.” But the threat of incarceration didn’t suppress the young who had no other way to express their outrage against the repressive government. As many times as the Communists police washed the wall, it was filled again with lyrics, slogans and messages.

The John Lennon Wall was more than a memorial to their hero. It became a monument to free speech and non-violent rebellion. Some people have referred to the wall as Prague’s equivalent to the Berlin Wall, others claim it played some role in the Velvet Revolution in 1989 which led to the fall of Communism.

The poem “John Lennon” by Mary Jo Salter is compliments of my good friend Monk who sent it along after reading this post:

John Lennon

The music was already turning sad,
      those fresh-faced voices singing in a round
            the lie that time could set its needle back
and play from the beginning. Had you lived
      to eighty, as you’d wished, who knows?—you might
            have broken from the circle of that past
more ours than yours. Never even sure
      which was the truest color for your hair
            (it changed with each photographer), we claimed
you for ourselves; called you John and named
      the day you left us (spun out like a reel—
            the last broadcast to prove you’d lived at all)
an end to hope itself. It isn’t true,
      and worse, does you no justice if we call
            your death the death of anything but you.
II
It put you in the headlines once again:
      years after you’d left the band, you joined
            another—of those whose lives, in breaking, link
all memory with their end. The studio
      of history can tamper with you now,
            as if there’d always been a single track
chance traveled on, and your discordant voice
      had led us to the final violence.
            Yet like the times when I, a star-crossed fan,
had catalogued your favorite foods, your views
      on monarchy and war, and gaily clipped
            your quips and daily antics from the news,
I keep a loving record of your death.
      All the evidence is in—of what,
            and to what end, it’s hard to figure out,
riddles you might have beat into a song.
      A younger face of yours, a cover shot,
            peered from all the newsstands as if proof
of some noteworthy thing you’d newly done.
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Independence Day 2017: A Day to Value Freedom, Rights and Opinions

“A closed country is a dying country.” – Edna Ferber

On this day in 1884 the French people presented the United States with the Statue of Liberty in honor of America’s commitment to democracy. Gustave Eiffel, engineer for the Eiffel Tower, designed the statue’s metal scaffold. Three hundred sheets of thin copper were hammered into shape and attached to the scaffold in France, then dismantled and transported to New York and erected on Ellis Island to greet immigrants who came here for a better life and to build America into the great country it is today.

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On a recent trip to Eastern Europe I spent time with a young man I met backpacking on Mount Rainier. Petr is a native of the Czech Republic who lived through the Velvet Revolution which ended Communist rule and was the beginning of his country’s democracy. Petr loves to travel, and was leaving for a skiing trip in the Italian Alps the day I left Prague for home. He also loves the United States, and had considered moving to America, but is now unsure. He asked me what is going on in my country, a question several foreigners I encountered asked. It is startling that in a matter of a few short months this Administration has enacted policies that changed the perception of the United States from world leader to isolationist. From the experiences I had talking with foreigners on my trip it is clear that the reputation of the country I had been proud of my entire life has diminished in the eyes of the international community.

I’d only been home for a few days before the same sentient was reinforced when I visited my friend at his home in rural Pennsylvania. As a little boy, Daniel fled Paris with his parents to a farmhouse in the French countryside to flee the Nazi occupation. His father, a respected oral surgeon, worked for the French Resistance. When Paris was liberated by the allies two years later he and his family returned home. Daniel emigrated to the United States at the age of twenty-one with no money and unable to speak the language, then went on to build a successful documentary film business and live the American dream. He adopted America as his own country, but today, for the first time, Daniel is frustrated and worried that the leadership of this Administration is on a path to systematically diminish our freedoms while enriching themselves. Always a robust and gregarious man, I’d never heard Daniel sound so pessimistic.Screen Shot 2017-07-04 at 8.23.52 AM

Independence Day 2017 is a day to reflect and reset on the values and freedoms of the American experiment. About the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “May it be to the world… the signal of arousing men to burst the chains … restore the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. … For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

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Freedom, Liberty and the Wide, Wide World

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” – Anita Desai

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Self-imposed borders shrink your world. They restrict understanding and appreciation of cultures and history. In short, walls imprison.

IMG_4275To journey through Hungry, Slovakia and the Czech Republic is to step on the cobblestone ground where common men and women of my generation bled and died in the streets to win their independence. Their definition of freedom is fresh and real compared to Americans who haven’t spilled blood on their soil since the Civil War. IMG_4960Every language spoken on earth can be heard walking through Town Square and across the Charles Bridge in Prague. Every shade of skin, type garb and style of hair is represented, yet smiles on faces and awe in the expressions are all the same in this magical city of 12th Century churches and a 13th Century bridge.

In the early months of 1969 Jan Palach and Jan Zajic set themselves on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest Communist rule near the end of Prague Spring leading to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. IMG_5061Residents in countries from Budapest to Prague all share similar stories about drab buildings in disrepair, bleak prospects on life, and the gloomy atmosphere before they won their independence. Once free of oppressive Communist rule investment began to trickle in to their countries, then poured in, entrepreneurs started businesses and hope returned.

A little-known rallying point to visitors in Prague is the John Lennon Wall where young people would gather and paint slogans of freedom and love that the Communists would wash off again and again until it became futile and the resistance became so strong the Communist decided they must let it go. It was the time leading to the Velvet Revolution in 1989 when the people won their freedom without a shot fired.

On this Independence Day let us not take our freedom for granted. Let us not allow our leaders to define freedom as exclusive. Let us not allow our leaders repress our voice.

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Vienna Time

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What Donald Trump And George Costanza Have In Common

“… kids can spot a phony a mile away.” – Fred Rodgers

There was a Seinfeld moment in the Rose Garden yesterday. Aficionados of the hit comedy series know there is a scene that pertains to every life situation, and yesterday the President proved it in the Rose Garden when he boasted he would testify under oath that he never asked former FBI Director James Comey to pledge his loyalty, a scene taken from the “Book of George.”

Would the President testify under oath that he never asked James Comey to pledge his loyalty? Would he deny he asked the FBI Director to find a way to let go of the Flynn investigation? Both of these conversations conveniently occurred in private, the first during a one-on-one dinner the President arranged, the second after a meeting in the Oval Office when the President held Comey back to talk privately. During the second encounter even Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner hung around awkwardly before they were excused.

Of course he would testify under oath! Why wouldn’t a man who maintains thousands of people were bused in to New Hampshire to vote against him; a man that claimed the unemployment rate under the previous Administration was as high as 42%; a man who was the last holdout to spread the unfounded rumor that President Obama wasn’t a native-born American citizen, but from Kenya, testify under oath that the lead law enforcement official in the nation who served under two Presidents, is a liar?

The question isn’t will he testify, but rather will Americans put party and ideology aside and objectively believe this man is telling the truth. In the end, the question of truth will be decided by the special prosecutor.

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Regressive in the White House

“Your actions speak so loudly, I can not hear a word you say.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

 

A few years ago my wife and I traveled to the French Alps and hiked a glacier below Mount Blanc. On our way down the mountain were markers indicating the level the glacier once reached going back more than a century. The most stunning thing I found was how fast the glacier had disappeared in recent decades. Scientific data and climate change experts attribute accelerated melting of glaciers and polar icecaps, and consequently rising sea levels, to greenhouse gases caused by carbon emissions. The reason they have melted so quickly in recent decades is because of burgeoning industrial activity, therefore environmental regulations to limit greenhouse gases were enacted to protect the environment and preserve our planet.

In yesterday’s grand spectacle in the Rose Garden the businessman occupying the White House pulled our country out of the Paris Agreement. In his meandering speech he made several flagrantly false statements. One was that he would renegotiate the terms of the agreement which he no doubt knew could not be done. But his most egregious lie was when he said he is committed to a clean environment, this in the same week he signed an Executive Order removing emissions rules for power plants, limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of social cost of carbon to guide government actions. This is an action of someone who is completely opposed to a clean environmental.

To this businessman in the White House everything is about dollars and cents, even at the expense of the environment. He has no long-term vision and doesn’t believe in science. He appointed a climate change denier, a man who sued the Environmental Protection Agency fourteen times, as the Agency’s head, the cabinet position charged with keeping our air and water safe and advising the president on environmental matters. One of his first actions was to remove climate change data from the EPA website, essentially keeping the American people in the dark regarding scientific data pertaining to the environment. At the same time he spreads the administration’s self-interested and largely false narrative about the cost of a clean environment to our economy and jobs. There is no denying the cost of transitioning to any new technologies, but this administration conveniently omits the other half of the equation, which is the number of jobs being created in the green energy industry (the future) and presenting a long-term strategic view.

China is the world’s leading producer of solar energy systems, they are also the leading producer in wind energy. The Trump administration is positioning America to be mining coal for decades to come while shielding environmental impact data from the communities they serve.

After decades of partisan paralysis and catering to special interest, the idea of a businessman in the White House was appealing to many Americans (though not the majority,) but America got the wrong businessman. This businessman is running our county the same way he ran his business, by walking away from contracts he entered, stiffing contractors, not fulfilling financial obligations and filing for bankruptcy six times. The difference is that now he’s stiffing our allies and making a fool of our nation on the world stage. In four short months he’s turned America from a world leader to an embarrassment.

This administration isn’t good for our nations’ s future. They are not good for our families, children and grandchildren. And they are certainly not good for our planet.

Send a message with your vote. Get them out before it’s too late.

The Enablers

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1

461 Days Until Mid-term Elections
November 6, 2018

Get them out!

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Patriot

“… kids can spot a phony a mile away.” – Fred Rodgers

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                  Patriot

Arbiter of the airwaves, his
voice full of anger and rage

spews righteousness
skews the meaning of Patriot

bestowed upon those who march blindly
to 140 taps of a nationalist’s finger

backdoor broker with democracy’s foe
while ignoring the council of allies

and rebuking science for profit
while poisoning the environment

turning a back to the indigent,
unwelcoming the persecuted

over those who left limbs on foreign soil
and care enough about liberty to question

the belligerent attack on the constitution
and mockery of Liberty and Justice for All

leaving me to ponder
his meaning of Patriot.

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