A Solemn and Colorful Ceremony in Grasse

Getting to know the inner streets of Grasse is a wintry diversion that includes leisurely strolls along quiet pedestrian walkways that are normally bustling with tourists and locals when the weather is warm. The relaxed pace allows time to appreciate the contrasts between the colorfully renovated buildings housing shops and apartment dwellers, on the one hand, and the crumbling and dilapidated vacant structures along narrow cobblestone pathways, on the other. An empty storefront has posted declarations from a group calling itself “l ’Alternative”, lamenting the high vacancy rate (40 per cent) and neglect for a healthy environment in the town, especially where there is also a housing shortage. But then, turning the corner, one sees other posters announcing sporting events in the coming months, along with the thematic promotion for this year’s traditional Grasse rose festival in May – all oriented to a thriving, revitalized Grasse!
It seems that the current Mayor of Grasse, Jerome Viaud, is trying diligently to elevate the image of this ancient perfume capital of the world. On a chilly grey morning, we came across yet another display of this revitalized pageantry in the square in front of the cathedral and hotel de ville (i.e. city hall).

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Reflections on Janet Yellen and Bill and Melinda Gates

It is such a pity that the flawed administration in the White House aggravated its flawed approach to responsible governance by choosing not to reappoint Janet Yellen to Chair the US Federal Reserve.  On the first day in office of her successor, Jerome Powell (whose policies were not expected to be a significant departure from hers) the stock market went into a nose dive of record proportions.  There were many reasons for this turbulence – bond prices were up, wages were up, inflation fears, bonuses to workers in major corporations as part of the “benefits” of corporate tax reform – many possible factors have been cited. What if?  What if Janet Yellen had not been displaced?  Might the very continuity of her presence have helped to calm things down?  Continue reading “Reflections on Janet Yellen and Bill and Melinda Gates”

Holiday Greetings 2017

 Dear Friends and Family,

Warm greetings to you for a happy and peaceful holiday season.  We are taking this opportunity from Villa Ndio to celebrate the small victories of collaborative efforts – the political inroads for positive change in Virginia and Alabama and yes, even here in France.  The shock and embarrassment of the US Presidential election result in 2016 continue to haunt us, but we are inspired to look to 2018 with these signs of change.  We are also hopeful that the cultural shift in addressing sexual harassment will in fact take hold.

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ACLU Reflections

Reflections on the ACLU: It would take me a while to search for the legal history on which case it was that Ruth Bader Grinsburg criticized the timing of the carefully crafted legal strategy during an ACLU Board debate on the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. Sometime in the 1970s – perhaps 1973? It was a case, she argued, that disrupted that strategy to build towards an interpretation of the 14th Amendment through case law that could essentially eliminate the need for an Equal Rights Amendment. Something to do with Oklahoma sticks in my mind.  As a new member of the ACLU Board by virtue of being a representative from the North Carolina affiliate, I remember being amazed by her stance and awestruck by her sophisticated arguments. It was quite a lesson in how constitutional law can be influenced by a deliberate strategy – not just through one case but through a series of cases if they are deliberately chosen and sequentially developed to move the judicial interpretation in a certain direction. Here are some reflections on a dramatic change in ACLU strategy today, but I start with a historical perspective.

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The Civil Liberties Perspective on Charlottesville

I have long been a defender of civil liberties for all groups, as long as they do not condone or engage in violence, but we were horrified by the evil on display in Charlottesville, Virginia. And we were further offended by the damage of a failed American president whose words and behavior were so lacking of a moral compass to condemn in no uncertain terms the fundamental evils of what these groups were advocating – and doing! To suggest that there were “fine people” on “many sides” of this confrontation is shocking, indeed.

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What is the range of free speech that makes it free speech?

The American Civil Liberties Union, of which I am a member, has a broad view about free speech, on the premise that it is only through freedom to speak as one chooses that flawed views can be effectively discredited. However, I do believe that the “Antifa” movement or the anarchistic groups against globalization who have mobilized groups and individuals to engage in destructive acts are a challenge to deal with. The idea that one has the right to oppose an abhorrent view with violence is contrary to the basic right of free speech, even where the abhorrent view is itself against that right. It is frustrating that these groups and/or individuals have infiltrated peaceful protests. Seattle in 1999 comes to mind, but also Geneva in 2004 among protestors against the G7 Summit in nearby Evian that year, or the G20 protestors in Hamburg this year. On the other hand, these are not advocates of the kind of racist, xenophobic and neo-Nazi views that we have heard from the groups that marched so aggressively in Charlottesville.

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Reflections on Liberation

The Carrefour de la Liberté is a traffic circle near our vacation home in Southern France. We have seen this traffic circle grow from a modest intersection in the 1980s into the substantial traffic circle that it is today. Five busy roads feed into the traffic circle, and its large grassy center features abundant displays of seasonal flowers and colorful iron sculptures of felines. To one side of the traffic circle, there is a World War II memorial. (To another side of the traffic circle, there is a permanently parked pizza truck – actually a double-decker bus – but that’s for another story.)

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