Monday, August 21, 2017

Burrowing into Books - "Last Hope Island," Lynne Olson

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
Reviews of Selective Readings

                                                                                                                                     August 21, 2017

“Last Hope Island”
Lynne Olson

In less than a month, the British capital had become a haven for the
 governments and armed forces of six European countries conquered by Hitler[1]
                                                                                                            Last Hope Island
                                                                                                            Lynne Olson

Dark clouds that had formed over Europe burst in a maelstrom when Germany invaded Poland on the first of September 1939. Five months earlier, England and France had guaranteed her borders. More than a year earlier, in March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. One year later, in March 1939, in violation of the Munich Agreement, Germany occupied the rump lands of the Czechoslovak Republic.

On September 27, 1939 Poland surrendered. Within months, Denmark and Norway were occupied. In May 1940, Germany invaded western Europe; shortly thereafter Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands surrendered. On June 22 France signed an armistice, which allowed Germany to occupy the northern part of the country, including the Atlantic coastline. A collaborationist government, with its capital in Vichy, assumed power in the south.

After ten months of War, Germany appeared invincible. Alone among the democracies of Europe, stood England. Representatives of the seven countries mentioned in the footnote, along with small contingencies of their armies found their way to England, to “Last Hope Island.” There they established governments in exile, provided troops, pilots to the RAF, and worked with MI6 and SOE (Special Operations Executive) to infiltrate their countries, rally an underground and keep hope alive. Theirs’ are the stories Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London, Troublesome Young Men and Those Angry Days, tells, ones of of heroism and betrayal, agonizing defeat and finally, victory – at least for those countries that remained in the West.

Much of the book is about exploits of the resistance, bands of brave men and women who sabotaged German troops and equipment and passed on intelligence. Almost 100,000 died or were taken prisoner. Some revisionist historians have questioned the value of the work they performed, claiming that it was “boots on the ground,” mostly American, that finally defeated Hitler. Perhaps so, but in May 1945, General Eisenhower wrote to SOE head Colin Gubbins: “In no previous war, and in no other theater during this war, have resistance forces been so closely harnessed to the main military effort.” Air Chief Marshall Arthur Tedder echoed his words: “Its (specifically French resistance forces) greatest victory was that it kept the flame of the French spirit burning throughout the dark years of the occupation.”

Readers will be awed by the bravery of everyday people who fought to rid their countries of brutal oppressors. The book will also bring tears of rage about those abandoned for political reasons. We learn of the long game played by Churchill. Sitting between Roosevelt and Stalin at Tehran in March 1943, Churchill later recalled: “Here I sat, with the great Russian bear on one side of me with paws outstretched, and, on the other side, the great American buffalo. Between the two sat the poor little English donkey.”

One of the books most poignant passages deals with the Warsaw uprising. With their armies at the gates, the Soviets allowed the massacre of the Poles by the Wehrmacht. Churchill and Roosevelt understood that to defeat Hitler required a compact with the devil, Stalin – a man as evil as Hitler. The Soviet Union had borne the brunt of civilian and battle deaths[2]. Their reward was Eastern Europe – seven countries, plus East Germany, with a population of almost three hundred million people, all destined to live another 45 years under a police state.

Her story is one of people from different nations that stood together against tyranny and oppression. Ultimately victory was theirs, and freer and more democratic societies emerged, at least for those in the West. Ms. Olson quotes the writer Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, Holland’s most decorated resistance fighter: “We stood together, we died together, brothers and sisters in the classic sense.”  What meaning.” Ms. Olson adds, “could the War have if it did not result in radical change in society, leading to a more just and equal world?” That it did for the West, but not for the East.

The book ends with a call for unification. But I suspect that is, as Hamlet put it, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” Reality suggests Europe will always be more of a salad bowl than a melting pot. But that does not have to portend war and division. Cultural and societal distinctions are innate; they are ancient, and difficult to abandon. What is needed is tolerance, respect, and an understanding of one another’s history, cultural differences and boundaries. We do not have to be brothers in blood to live peacefully. In countries ruled by laws, peace can be based on civility and deference.

Lynne Olson has done a masterful job in bringing to light events hidden by time – irritating, in terms of bureaucratic in-fighting that too often proved deadly, but inspirational in what they say about the character of those who when faced with annihilation stayed and fought for their countries against terrific odds. With “Last Hope Island” as their refuge and guiding light, men and women of the resistance fought in fields and on farms, as well as in villages and cities, to rid their countries of Nazi tyranny. This is their story.

[1] The six countries were Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg and Norway. The seventh was France, represented not by government officials, but by a junior general officer who came, in time, to represent France – Charles de Gaulle.
[2] Exact numbers are impossible to determine, but estimates are that total Soviet Union casualties during the Second World War amounted to about 13% of their pre-War population. That would compare to 0.94% for the United Kingdom and 0.34% for the U.S. Germany’s, for comparative purposes, were just over 8%. Poland suffered the most, with total casualties of about 17%.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

"The Fate of State-Funded Nonprofit Organizations"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Fate of State-Funded Nonprofit Organizations”
August 14, 2017

It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”
                                                                                                Leon C. Megginson (1921-)
                                                                                                Author: Small Business Management

The need to adapt is universal. As a board member of the Mentoring Corps for Community Development (MCCD) in Old Lyme, CT, I have been witness to the effects of state budget cut-backs on nonprofit organizations that help those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Attention must be paid,” said Linda Loman about her husband Willy. She was speaking to her sons about the despair of their father’s life, as it was nearing its end. Attention must also be paid to thousands of eleemosynary institutions around the country, as state budgets are being strained, principally from demands by public employee unions for wages and benefits. While I write about eastern Connecticut, the problem, is nationwide.

Nonprofits throughout the state,” according to an article in the New Haven Register on July 4, 2017, “have been told to plan for budget cuts of 10% or more.” The State of Connecticut is not alone in fiscal mismanagement, but it has been more egregious than most. It is the nation’s wealthiest by per-capita income and by assets per resident, yet more than 12% of its population is on food stamps. Connecticut has the second highest state debt per capita and as a percent of GDP. Its deficit, estimated at $1.5 billion over the next three years, is among the highest relative to its budget and population. It is unfriendly to business. It is understandable why Connecticut is experiencing out-migration, especially among the wealthy.

The crisis for nonprofits, alluded to in the Register, should provoke a debate as to the purposes and priorities of spending by the State. Revenues are supposed to help pay for schools and support state universities and community colleges. They build roads, bridges and tunnels. They pay for state police and fund the national guard. They operate prisons and courts, and they supervise and maintain parks, harbors, wetlands and forests. But, when one looks at the budget, it is hard not to conclude that Connecticut’s spending is largely to pay for the approximately 50,000 employees, plus retirees. (The State ranks near the top of the list in terms of compensation per state employee and in number of state employees per 100,000 population.) Approximately 55% of Connecticut’s budget goes to pay employee salaries, benefits, and retiree health and pension programs.

Over the years, Connecticut’s budget has been squeezed, as the population declined[1] and as some businesses vacated the state, and as other responsibilities, including programs to help those with disabilities, were assumed. In the meantime, retirement benefits, along with entitlements – welfare, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, food stamps – kept expanding. Prudence is needed.

Forced by budget constraints, Connecticut has had to make tough choices, as the article in the New Haven Register explained. The unpleasant fact is that the governor and legislature have abetted the politically connected, and let the axe fall on those with less influence – including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, it is not the purpose of this essay to find guilt, but to explain that the State’s spending constraints are a reality for those in the nonprofit world, and to offer possible solutions.

In the New Haven Register’s article cited above, Ken Dixon quotes Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance: “There are devastating funding cuts to community-based providers. We continue to believe that budget solutions should be long term and include conversion of state services to the community, where $300 million can be saved over the next five years and used to prevent damaging cuts.” Perhaps. Maybe communities can save the day, but many local governments are under pressure, especially those in poorer parts of the state, like southeastern Connecticut.

The question facing nonprofits is what to do given this dismal state of affairs? Each year the situation worsens – demand for services expands, while revenues shrink. Options, apart from reducing expenses, are limited – and much of the cost-cutting has already been done. In eastern Connecticut, approximately 10,000 residents suffer from intellectual and developmental disabilities. They are served by multiple nonprofits – ten or twelve large ones and a dozen or more smaller ones. Another (estimated) 5,000 individuals in need are either not served or underserved. Each organization has its own director and staff, along with an independent board of directors. Thus, one possibility is consolidation. While mergers would make many of these nonprofits more efficient by streamlining programs and reducing administrative costs, there are, understandably, advantages to being independent and “local.”

Other choices include becoming more aggressive writers of grants. As well, they might expand efforts to find individual donors, but that activity is crowded. (Though, it is my belief that generosity is deeply embedded in American culture.) It is possible there are funds within towns and cities that could be tapped, but most municipal budgets have little flexibility. It is even possible that funds from other state departments may be accessed, but I suspect those sources are pinched as well.

One path we at MCCD have pursued, in working with a few of these organizations, in helping set up up for-profit businesses – bakeries, the manufacture of soaps, lawn services, and the like – within the nonprofit organization. All profits, obviously, accrue to the nonprofit. Such actions reflect a “can-do,” entrepreneurial spirit on the part of the nonprofit, which brings the advantages of self-sufficiency and independence to their boards, staffs and clients. Many of the latter work in those businesses.

Change happens. We adapt or we die. In contravention of my earlier promise to keep this essay apolitical, allow me to vent: I am incensed by the unconscionable cynicism of politicians who have, because of profligacy and promises to unions, put their most challenged constituents at risk. And I am disheartened by voters who refuse to challenge them.

Attention must be paid; facts must be faced, and decisions will have to be made. In The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, book six), C.S. Lewis wrote, “Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you will have to decide what to do.”  Lewis’ book was written for youngsters, but his message is for all ages, especially politicians, the voters they represent and operators of state-funded nonprofits. If you cannot be all things for all people (and most of us cannot), needs must be prioritized, values must be considered and decisions must be made. The lesson as I see it – accept change, and distance your nonprofit organizations, wherever and whenever possible, from the enticing but entangling, amoral arms of government.

[1] The Census Bureau reported last December that Connecticut’s population has declined three years in a row, at an accelerating rate.

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