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December 2013 Archives

December 2, 2013

The FDR I Knew Little About

FDR carves a turkey as his wife Eleanor looks on

Franklin Roosevelt was one of the most consummate politicians ever. Emitting charm and practical intelligence, he was the Democratic sun in the 30s and 40s. A hero of experimental and energetic big government, conservatives believe he prolonged the Depression rather than ending it and was naive about Stalin's post-World War II aims. Regardless of one's appraisal, FDR, like his wife Eleanor and his distant cousin Theodore, continues to dazzle historians.

Film maker Ken Burns (far left)
In Warm Springs, GA recently, where my wife, Sarah, a descendant of Theodore Roosevelt, and I were involved in a family reunion of both the "Oyster Bay" (TR) Roosevelts and the "Hyde Park" (FDR) Roosevelts, visitors were treated to a screening of excerpts from a seven installment, 14 hour Ken Burns documentary, "The Roosevelts". It is set to air on PBS over a solid week next fall.

The reunion, with descendants now reaching to great-great-grandchildren, was an odd encounter, where in a reception hall holding 160 you could say, "Hey, Ted!" and a sizable share of the room's males would turn their heads. There also were small platoons of "Elliotts" and "Nicks", and even some "Eleanors" and "Franks." It was happy confusion.

Chapel FDR built in Warm Springs, GA
Among the agreeable discoveries was the extent of Franklin Roosevelt's personal attention to development of Warm Springs, GA-- where he erected a "Little White House" as a private retreat--as home also to the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation for polio victims. In Warm Springs the political FDR recedes and the compassionate innovator and detailed planner emerges. Fighting polio and disabilities was his personal cause.

He surely didn't do it for the publicity. FDR feared, perhaps correctly, that if the public fully understood how much the Infantile Paralysis he contracted at age 39 (in 1921) disabled him his political career would be damaged. Polio terrified people at the time. He would not want to advertise his infirmity.

The media kept his wheel chair out of sight for his whole later career and FDR himself found inventive ways to appear at podiums to speak--in leg braces, often with one of his sons helping to hold him up--and to drive a car with special hand controls. What he was doing to help other polio sufferers was known, but not prominently.

Model of Warm Springs therapy pools
Indeed, what FDR did at Warm Springs came at his own initiative and at risk to his personal fortune. Yet it had his devoted attention. In the mid 1920s he purchased a small spa in Bullochsville, Georgia south of Atlanta known for its warm, supposedly restorative mineral waters and persuaded the local council to rename the town Warm Springs to better showcase its main attraction. But then he found that tourist spa-goers were uninterested in sharing the waters with polio victims--it made them afraid--so he concentrated on making the facility a unique center for treatment of polio and other physical handicaps.

Campus of Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute

Roosevelt believed that the stigma of polio would only worsen with a hospital style environment for the mostly young residents. Instead, he devised a campus-style facility, sending architects to the University of Virginia to gain ideas from Thomas Jefferson's classical columns and arcades. He wanted as much year-round color and folliage on the grounds as possible and saw to it that the eating hub of the facility was not a cafeteria, but a dining room with real tablecloths, fresh flowers and waiters in bow ties.

An early iron lung
He found inventors and artisans to design new therapy techniques and equipment for the Institute's residents, including improved wheel-chairs and early versions of leg braces. Some patients with severe cases of polio were for greater and lesser periods placed in "iron lungs", which allowed them to breathe more easily, while less difficult cases received physical therapy, especially in the supportive warm water. The different pools the Institute developed allowed FDR and others to devise exercise opportunities and mobility unavailable on dry land. Polio sufferers could not endure cold water, but the naturally warm, 86 degree water at Warm Springs permitted the young FDR--who later was to become governor of New York, then President--to frolic with the children and teens. Physical play helping to develop upper body strength.
The Little White House
FDR never stopped innovating. The "Little White House" a few hundred yards away from the Institute, as I told my wife, can be seen as the first Americans for Disabilities Act-compliant architecture--several decades ahead of its time. Compact and accessible for its celebrated wheel-chair bound occupant, the place was a genuine retreat. FDR arrived from Washington by train, usually without attendant press or more than a couple of aides. A cook came over from a local hotel to prepare meals.
Pike Hazanne today, a patient in 1935
At the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute, meanwhile, Roosevelt liked to make personal rounds to meet patients, especially the young. At the Roosevelt family reunion I sat with a local Warm Springs citizen, Pike Hazanne, who was only four years old when she got polio in 1935 and became a temporary resident of the Institute--and met its illustrious founder. She remains an able advocate for the continuing services the Institute provides. The spirit of the Roosevelt Institute was cheerful, not dour, she reports.

Most Thanksgiving holidays for two decades FDR managed to come to Warm Springs to carve the turkey in the dining room. Then, standing in his braces at the door, he greeted each resident as he or she exited. It was his way of showing personal interest, and also giving the clear message: If I can do this kind of thing, there is certainly hope for you. The Ken Burns documentary undoubtedly will demonstrate that, as with Theodore Roosevelt and with Eleanor, FDR's determination in life was strengthened by the hardships he overcame.

FDR's favorite chair
On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, a few days before the end of the war in Europe, Roosevelt suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in the combined living and dining room at the Little White House and died soon after. The previous day, a Sunday, he worshipped, as usual, in the chapel he had erected on the Institute grounds. That chapel is still in use by Institute residents and staff.

The whole environment in Warm Springs speaks of sturdy American simplicity. The Little White House, for example, is a modest cottage. It becomes a republic, not an empire. Regardless of politics, you cannot witness what this shows about FDR without serious respect.

FDR swimming with other Polio patients

December 1, 2013

Poland a Success or a Flop?

According to Business Week, Poland is the darling of new hopes for Europe, the "most dynamic economy" around. International companies are locating branches there, tourism is booming, stadiums have been built, etc.

But down near the bottom of the story by Stephan Faris are hints about stubborn unemployment--reaching 26 percent among the young--and failed public development projects and excess borrowing.

A young Pole of our acquaintance is more than skeptical of the generally glowing report.

"You can present whatever you want if you need it for political reasons. Poland now is ruled by postcomunists and social-liberals, so in the media (which they own) they prove that we are a flourishing island. You don't feel that living in Poland. Of course the numbers which they presented are carefully chosen - they didn't mention a three fold growth in public debt, a doubling of unemployment (from 5% in 2007 to about 12% now), massive emigration, especially of the young people, and doubled inflation. This government is completely corrupted. According to the polls, this government is constantly losing support (even when they have virtually all media for their service). Believe me or not - the Polish situation is critical. It hasn't been so bad since communism. I don't think we will ever recover after this bad government."

An outsider would like to see some reporting on such a conflict of perspectives. Poland is an important, but under-reported, country.

December 4, 2013

Meet Ma and Pa


As the Daily Mail and others are reporting, a geneticist in Georgia contends as a scientific proposition that man descended from pigs as well as chimp-like apes ("Humans evolved after a female chimpanzee mated with a pig': Extraordinary claim made by American geneticist"). Since his is only a variation on Darwinian theory, not a repudiation of it, Dr. Eugene McCarthy's notion is to be treated with professional respect. His work is to be covered seriously.

Now, if his speculation were deeper and dealt with the increasingly daunting problems with Darwinian theory and with the growing evidence of intelligent design, he would have to be ignored or attacked for positions he does not hold.

December 5, 2013

How to Get Rid of the Doctors

To its great discredit, the American Medical Association, like the AARP that claims to represent older people and the major insurance companies, got in bed with Obamacare and helped get it passed. Unfortunately, as older people and insurance companies--not to mention the public--have found out, doctors now discover that the plan is a disaster.

Many already knew it, of course. In a fine article in The American Spectator today, Jonathan Witt, a fellow of the Acton Institute as well as of Discovery Institute, describes the damage. This is a good and novel piece, but I'm afraid it is not the last on the subject.

December 9, 2013

When the Left Undermines its Own Base

College campuses are full of hot-headed "progressive" rhetoric. But even in that closed environment--regulated by opinionated faculty--students may be figuring out that their hero, Barack Obama, has played them false.

By passing year after year of pension increases for public employees--at the behest of the public employee unions that supply much of the left's political finance and muscle--city and state governments around the nation are in deep trouble. In order to rescue themselves, states and localities are going to have to make pension cuts and also reductions in basic services. Today's youth will see these basic services deteriorate and myriad local taxes increase. They haven't done this to themselves--it was done to them.

Continue reading "When the Left Undermines its Own Base" »

December 10, 2013

Correcting the Record on Reagan and So. Africa

There have been some attempts to revise history in a partisan way relative to the life of Nelson Mandela. Arnold Steinberg, therefore, deserves credit for his useful article explaining how President Reagan took a personal role in changing the minds of the rulers of white South Africa in the 80s.

Continue reading "Correcting the Record on Reagan and So. Africa" »

December 15, 2013

The Affordable Care Act--Isn't

The Seattle Times describes the continuing failure of the Washington State exchange version of the Affordable Care Act. Yet Washington State is hailed nationally as an exemplar of Obamacare.

The worst surprise is that some of the people the Times interviews want more government involvement, not less.

Face it, the Affordable Care Act is none of those things:

Continue reading "The Affordable Care Act--Isn't" »

December 16, 2013

Conservatives Need Health Care Cure

Healthcare Clock.jpeg

The case against Obamacare gets stronger by the day. Economist Michael J. Boskin's article in today's Wall Street Journal is about as comprehensive as a mere op-ed can be. What Boskin shows is that the "train wreck" just keeps coming; more and more cars go off the track. And it isn't going to end anytime soon.

What conservatives need now is some alternative legislation that they can rally opinion around. The trouble, of course, is that by providing an alternative they also provide a new target. Instead of talking about what is wrong with Obamacare conservatives will be peppered with media demands that they explain and explain and explain their own ideas.

Photo Credit

Continue reading "Conservatives Need Health Care Cure" »

Speak Out, Act on Persecution of Christians

The American Spectator has run my article on the growing persecution of Christians worldwide and the need for governments and churches to rise to the challenge. My suggestion: raise this issue with your Congressman over the Christmas break. Once the hemming and hawing are over, he or she may feel the need to act.

In terms of showing the extent of persecution of Christians, I'd like to recommend the work by Paul Marshall of Hudson Institute, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea, and especially their book, Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians. Paul, I know, also is looking to produce action items for concerned Christians and their friends.

Meanwhile, we have a statement this week (reported by John L. Allen, Jr. in the National Catholic Reporter) by Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako wanting to know when Christians in the West will answer the cries of suffering co-religionists in places like Iraq. What does it take?

December 17, 2013

Victory for Religious Freedom Over Obamacare

A Supreme Court review of the religious freedom implications of Obamacare seems likely to be sooner rather than later after a federal district judge in New York ruled against the ACA. "Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York v. Sebelius" is the second judicial rebuke for the Administration.

This will encourage related freedom of religion cases and adds to the financial as well as legal setbacks endured by Obamacare only two and a half months after the law's official rollout.

Continue reading "Victory for Religious Freedom Over Obamacare" »

December 18, 2013

When Ideology Hits Reality

I must be channeling Peggy Noonan, who writes on her blog that she is worried about the dangerous incompetency of the Obama White House, the crowd that thinks they're so smart--and aren't.

There are so many screw-ups in this Administration, in contrast to, say, George W's--which was mocked, however, by the media--that Noonan worries about the President's safety. Think of how that fake signer for the deaf got into the Mandela event with Obama. What if he'd been an assassin?

The NSA fiasco shows a lack of oversight.

Continue reading "When Ideology Hits Reality" »

Scandals and Byzantine Intrigues Rock Turkey


The Islamic AKP (Justice Party) government of Recep Erdogan that overthrew the former secularists rulers of Turkey a few years ago and recently stood ferociously firm against liberal student protesters is now in turmoil, its own coalition visibly split by official bribery charges, arrests and firings. Millions of dollars of cash have been uncovered in police raids, at least three sons of AKP cabinet officers are implicated. Just as remarkable, the Prime Minister's administration has retaliated by dismissing the police chiefs involved in several of the raids.

If it is hard for people in Turkey to understand these complicated affairs, it is truly a murky business for foreigners. The U.S. Government has declined to get involved in a domestic crisis. Like the old song says, "It's nobody's business but the Turks." The trouble is, Turkey is a testy but crucial ally of the U.S. It sits next to troubled Ukraine and potentially explosive Iran. It has received hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Behind the scenes, it appears that the faction in Turkey dominated by Islamic leader Fethullah Gulen--who lives in Pennsylvania, USA, out of Erdogan's reach, and has a reputed base in the Turkish police and judiciary--finally has found an opportunity to move against its rival Islamists in the AKP, led by Prime Minister Erdogan. Earlier Erdogan began to close some of the schools the Gulen movement sponsors.

Continue reading "Scandals and Byzantine Intrigues Rock Turkey" »

December 20, 2013

Fix the India Foul-Up

The President should apologize for the arrest and humiliation of a female Indian diplomat in New York. He also should order an investigation of the individual or individuals who thought that the arrest and bizarre mistreatment were appropriate.

Whatever the rationale by the prosecutor in New York, there is such a thing as diplomatic immunity. Overseas, no country relies on that more than the United States. It is appalling that the President has let this incident escalate, leading the Indians to retaliate.

The public, thanks to Obamacare, is starting to understand what amateurism does in domestic policy. The international incidents are not covered as well, but are just as consequential.

December 22, 2013

Turkey's Impossible Course

The factional divide within the ruling Islamic party in Turkey continues to result in arrests for corruption in Prime Minister Erdogan's faction, Erdogan's continued effort to blame shadowy "international" players and more bold moves by Erdogan to remove the police and prosecutors who are bringing his supporters to account. Protestors, meanwhile, are being fiercely suppressed once more.

Many Turks believe that the U.S., which allowed Erdogan rival Fetulleh Gulen to live in the U.S., is secretly behind the arrests. But the story is more complicated, says Claire Berlinski, a scholar recently resident in Turkey.

Ms Berlinski sees the failings of both sides. "Part of me feels that the whole lot of them should be in jail," she says. "But another part, and probably the wiser part, knows that what Turkey needs is a Truth & Reconciliation Committee. This endless cycle of vengeance, power-hunger and mysterious arrests by occult forces has to end. We just cannot have a Sultan-Janissary feud playing out in Turkey in one of the most unstable moments of the modern nuclear era. The corruption has to end, the legal system has to be cleaned up, and someone needs to get back to governing the country--especially now, because the fallout from Syria and the Kurdish issue could very easily tear it apart-- as in, no more Turkey. This is just too dangerous a moment in the region to be playing these games. Someone in Turkey needs to step up to the plate and be an adult."

But who?

In the present breakdown of the legal process in Turkey it is hard to see the end of the game.

December 23, 2013

Obamacare Pie in the Sky

Health insurance for all is just around the corner. The next corner. Or the one after that.

Those corners must be on one of Washington, DC's famous traffic circles because they never arrive. In the real world Obamacare's problems never get close to a corner.

Sally Pipe's explains how the truth is now covered up--unsuccessfully. Remember: the cover-up scandal is usually worse than the original.

Continue reading "Obamacare Pie in the Sky" »

Iraq Declares Christmas a Holiday

In a welcome gesture to the suffering Christians of Iraq, the government in that country has declared Christmas a national holiday and, apparently, even put up some decorations.

Flying Censorship Monster Crashes in Kansas

Kansas is a supposedly conservative state, but it has an exceptionally pugilistic liberal counter-culture at the Universal of Kansas. When the subject is criticism of Darwin's theory--on scientific grounds, mind you--the left is eager for blood. There have to be some limits to toleration, but criticism of a science theory considered crucial exceeds those limits! Just try to get tenure at any university in Kansas--and not just in the Biology department--if you express public doubts about Darwinism. The faculty could hardly wait, moreover, to urge the State a few years ago to prevent high school teachers from raising any questions about Darwin's theory whatever.

But, historically, there is a funny thing about censorship; once it starts it doesn't know where to stop. So now we get University of Kansas faculty and their media backers all in a dither because the Administration has cracked down on a tasteless tweet about the NRA. Surely, it should be open-season, so to speak,on the NRA! Not Darwin, mind you, just the NRA!

Continue reading "Flying Censorship Monster Crashes in Kansas" »

December 30, 2013

Seattle's Economy and Politics--and California's

south lake union cranes.jpg

Seattle is as politically liberal and quirky as any other big city on the West Coast, yet it remains more affordable than many and is succeeding in attracting new enterprises, especially in the tech field.

An article in shows that both office and home prices in the Seattle area are far below those in the San Francisco-San Jose area:

"Average listing prices in cities such as Los Gatos, San Francisco, Cupertino, Redwood City, San Mateo, and Sunnyvale are anywhere between $1.1 and $1.4 million. To illustrate what this means to a young entrepreneur or skilled technologist looking for a home, the median price to buy a 2-bedroom home in San Francisco would cost $880,000, whereas in Seattle it would cost $385,000." (Granted, we are talking starter homes by the definition of someone in, say, Omaha.)

Salaries in the Bay Area are higher than in Seattle, but taxes and most other living expenses more than make up the difference.

"The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that San Francisco County's median income is $99,400 and King County's median income is $85,600. However, $100,000 salary in San Francisco is comparable to living on roughly a $70,000 salary in Seattle, according to CNN's Cost of Living Calculator. Keeping these comparisons in mind, housing costs about 53% less in Seattle and groceries costs about 13% less. Utilities, transportation, and health care costs are roughly the same."

One of the seldom-mentioned advantages of the Seattle area is that its land development is less advanced than the Bay Area's, or even Los Angeles'; there is more room to grow. Seattle itself still has plenty of opportunities for new apartment houses and condos. For example, from the I-5 Freeway in central Seattle one can see upwards of ten cranes in or around the South Lake Union area where billionaire Paul Allen's Vulcan development company is active. The City also has lifted some height restrictions for residential units around the University of Washington and the Northgate shopping mall.

Continue reading "Seattle's Economy and Politics--and California's" »

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