Ghosts from the life of a 17th century Mohawk maiden still haunt these hills  

The statue of an Indian maiden gazes across a New York landscape, the features calm, composed, giving no hint of the brutal existence of the real person it represents. She was Kateri Tekakwitha, and she will become the first Native American saint when the Vatican canonizes her later this year.

Echoes from her life over 300 years ago still resound in the hills and valleys where she lived and died. And also far beyond, owing to the work of Ellen H. Walworth (1858 – 1932) who more than one hundred twenty years ago researched and wrote the story of the Mohawk maiden’s life.

The thought of an Indian girl growing up surrounded by unspeakable violence and cruelty, yet winning for herself such titles as The Lily of the Mohawks and The Genevieve of New France, inspired her to research in the records of two centuries earlier every detail relating to her “Indian heroine”.

And the fact that the story had unfolded in the hills and valleys of Walworth’s native State was added motivation. She wanted everyone to know the history surrounding the rare and beautiful character of “this lily of our forest”.

Walworth even went so far as to walk the actual trails Kateri Tekakwitha followed in her escape to the “Sault”, and to go to the valley of the Mohawk, to “a quiet forest nook, where a clear, cold spring gurgles out from the tangled roots of a tree”.

Connected “with this spring is the story of a short girl-life, pure, vigorous, sorrow-taught”, long before the State had either “shape or name”.

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Obama’s 2012 State Of The Union Address straightens a few facts

Many U.S. watchers have written off Barack Obama’s chances for re-election, and they could be right. No sitting president with his current low rating has ever gone on to win a second term in office. But then again, no sitting president in a similar position has faced challengers of such low quality as in the current Republican lineup.

I wonder how many people outside of America know the name of even one of the Republican presidential hopefuls. By contrast, I’m sure the whole world knew who Barack Obama was long before he became the president.

An acquaintance put it this way: “Talk about a bunch of nobodies. Maybe the Republicans should get Sarah Palin back in the running. At least everybody knew who she was. And mediocre as she turned out to be, she’d be an improvement on that lot.”

As for Obama, the perception seems to be that he has achieved nothing positive as America’s president. I imagine some people will have changed their minds after listening to his State of the Union Address last night.

In his own inimitable style, Obama pumped us up with some great rah-rah stuff, but he also spoke to many of the basic issues that concern Americans most, ticking off facts and figures that cast his stewardship of the country in a better light than is generally supposed.

He pointed to positive things that have happened since he took over, among them the defeat of the Taliban (which a New York Times fact check found to be correct only in some respects); the bailout of General Motors which enabled it to recover and reclaim its title as the world’s top automaker in 2011; the upsurge in exports, currently at about $180 billion a month compared to $140 billion a month two years ago, and at this rate set to double by 2015; and the fact that in the last 22 months businesses have created more than three million jobs, the most since 2005.

Not bad, considering the state Bush left the country in.

Libertarianism is the politics of unabashed selfishness

Just as its adherents once held communism to be a blueprint for the betterment of humanity through collectivism, so, too, do those of libertarianism hold their ideology to be the ultimate panacea for a better life through individualism.

Their simple answer to the complications of the world and of life is the canon of each man for himself with little or no input from government.

In fact they range from “minarchists” who want to strip government of most of its powers to meddle in the affairs of individuals, leaving only the police and military to defend their rights and the country’s borders, to “anarcho-capitalists” who want to get rid of government altogether, leaving it up to the free market to provide law and order and border security (private armies to protect the interests of the masters and keep the slaves in their place).

Under a new libertarian order there would be no personal or property taxes, no regulations, no permits, no licensing, no zoning, and no labor laws. Individual liberty would be sacrosanct, never to be sacrificed on the altars of compassion, justice, civic responsibility, honesty, decency, humility, or respect.

Altruism has no place in libertarian philosophy, the view being that the poor, the weak and the vulnerable are parasites, as exemplified by the late Russian-born novelist and atheist Ayn Rand, a fractious, overbearing cult leader who in her writing holds that by responding to the plea of a poor man for help, a rich man actually debases himself.

In Rand’s view there are only two kinds of people: creators and parasites. And the former, the drivers of personal wealth, are entitled to anything and everything they desire without regard for the latter, the nobodies, who deserve nothing.

And that is pretty much the view of libertarians today, the ones who openly revere Ayn Rand.

Of course they try to hide the ugliness of their libertarian philosophy behind euphemistic terminology laced with sprinklings of truths, half-truths and deceitful omissions; and many, particularly among the young, find the idea of living virtually free of restrictions of any kind appealing.

But in reality there would indeed be restrictions — covered by the libertarian doctrine of do as you please so long as you don’t harm anyone else — tailored to suit the interests of the new masters, and enforced by their private police and military.

The restrictions would be applied incrementally — like the coils of a python which do not crush but simply tighten a notch each time the victim exhales — until the masters have an established order to their liking.

But, hey, none of this is ever going to happen. The very idea that extreme libertarians, or any kind of libertarians, could ever impose their will on the majority of Americans is preposterous.

Is the U.S. dollar living on borrowed time as the world’s reserve currency?

Lately we’ve been hearing a growing chorus of concerns about the possible collapse of the greenback.

Are those concerns ill-founded? Well, not entirely. But, hey, it would take an economic perfect storm to actually collapse the U.S. dollar. For that to happen a particular set of dynamics would first have to come together. So far, only two such are in place that could cause problems.

They are U.S. debt, and dollar weakness.

During the past decade, U.S. debt grew from $5.9 trillion to $14.3 trillion; and during that period the dollar lost 40 percent of its value. With other countries holding $4.45 trillion of that debt, of which China holds $1 trillion and Japan $907 billion, it’s understandable that there is some unease about.

If there were to be a panic, and foreign dollar holders rushed to sell them off and no one wanted to buy, then the U.S. dollar would collapse spectacularly. But that’s an unlikely scenario at this time, unless a major holder of dollar denominated assets, China, for instance, led the charge. But it would not be in China’s best interest to bankrupt its major trading partner.

However, there is another dynamic which, if put in place, could spark a dollar collapse.

With America deep in debt, nationally and internationally, the dollar’s value — such as it is — depends on its continued function as the reserve currency for other nations. In accordance with an agreement made in 1940, the oil producing countries of OPEC sell oil only in U.S. dollars. So anyone who wants to buy oil must keep healthy reserves of U.S. dollars. This means that America is the only producer of international currency. Which also means it can buy whatever it wants with new money, without having to produce the equivalent value in goods.

So it finances its international deficit simply by printing new money and spending it into circulation.

But — and it’s a big but — it would no longer be able to do that if the rules were changed to allow the world to pay for its oil in currencies other than U.S. dollars. In that case, the dollar would buckle under America’s debt burden and crash.

One analyst has described the effect of such an event on America’s economy as the financial equivalent of a nuclear strike. But then the rule-changers, and indeed the entire rest of the world, would quickly find themselves engulfed by the fallout — leading to grave economic consequences, probably even a world depression. You can’t destroy the biggest economy in the world and just walk away.

And that is probably why for the last decade there has been nothing but talk about switching the sale of oil from dollars to euros.

There will surely be changes. But slow changes. Probably a time will come when a basket of currencies, which will include the U.S. dollar, will replace the present system. Meanwhile, it’s up to the U.S. to do something constructive about its unsustainable debt burden, while there is still time.