Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mourning in America

"The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety."  David Remnick, The New Yorker, November 2016

For more than 50 percent of the electorate, it's mourning in America. I believe with David Remnick that the election of Trump "is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic..." Every day, as Pence's appointments are announced and his alt-right foil's erratic unhinged behavior threatens our stability and security, American democracy is being shredded and a fascist oligarchy is rising.  The toxic combination of unregulated corporate power and undisciplined government power looms like a black cloud over our country and the world.

yahoo image. 
Pence's nominations of those billionaires, most of whom hate the agencies they have been selected to lead, most of them 1 percenters who contributed to trump's campaign, bode ill for our democracy. .

Is this what people wanted when they voted for such an unqualified ignoramus with so little knowledge, so little dignity? Is this what evangelical Christians voted for, a man who literally encompasses the seven deadly sins  Are we so easily propagandized that we will fall in line like sheep to the slaughter?                                
Oh sure we old warriors will continue the good fight as best we can. Afterall, Hillary won the popular vote, which means the Pence/Ryan/McConnell regime does not have a mandate.  We are a divided country. In my view, Trump is the most hated man in America, and for the majority, he will never be our president.

Right now, this is not comforting.  In grieving for America, I remember my brother Loren.  I listen for his wisdom, huddling with our sister Andy.  I'm feeling so low.  Revulsion and profound anxiety in Remnick's words . The shock, the painful disappointment, has barely worn off.  Loren would paint a dystopian picture of how Trump will govern, with Pence really in charge because he knows how things work in Washington and Trump knows nothing.  Nothing. McConnell and Ryan, who's only purpose for the last eight years has been to obstruct Obama, exemplified in the refusal to hold Senate hearings on Obama's Supreme Court nomination, are ready to dismantle the government and especially social safety nets and environmental protections. Obamacare, Medicare, Social Security, agencies that deal with discrimination, women's equality and gay rights, all on the chopping block.

The alt-right Tea Party movement, funded by the Koch brothers and the "dark money" that has bought its way into the White House and the Congress, is threatening our democracy. Their glee is palpable. Fear for the make-up of the Supreme Court, for Rule of Law, for the influence of racism and misogyny on public policy, for the walls that will be built, for the hateful backlash against people of color and immigrants, for the disregard of climate change, the chance of a nuclear "accident," untold conflicts of interest and self-serving policies that benefit the 1 percent, and yes, for the nature of international relations and the world, now fragile and precariously balanced.

Resist, Loren would say.  He'd join the fight, a fight I'm not even sure will get off the ground. In fact this is right now a huge question in my mind.  My kids say I should stop thinking about it, but it's hard. Will there be organized resistance? Will our elected representatives in the House and in the Senate stand up and be counted? Will they have the courage to obstruct everything McConnell, Ryan and the Tea Party stand for, as the Tea Party did to Obama for so long? Will Guides to thwarting the Tea Party agenda, such as "Indivisible," written by former Congressional staffers who witnessed the Tea Party's successful tactics, be taken seriously.  Will enough of the 99 percenters protest and resist in every way they can, obstruct at every turn?   Can Bernie mobilize his fan base again to resist this tyranny? Will the people rise up and resist?

I'm not confident. I worry.  I know Loren would put on his warrior hat, and take to the streets. Never give up on goodness and justice and a peaceful world.  Never forget the goddess is with us, and that her values will reign one day.  Never forget the struggle.  I'll try, Loren  I'll try. But my confidence has been shaken.

For "Indivisible," the guide:

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Hollow Victory for a Hollow Man

"Nothing will come of nothing." King Lear, Act 1 Scene 1
So the House passed a terribly flawed health care bill without even trying to fix the Affordable Care Act (ACA aka Obamacare), without a rating from the Congressional Budget Office, without reading it, without thought for the harm it would do.  What kind of a victory is this?

It's a fake victory, just like the fake president spouting fake news from the White House. It is a hollow victory for the hollow man leading the House down the path of evil, as well.

Patting themselves on the back for a
fake victory. (BCC news/Reuter photo)
It was political theater, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (Macbeth, Act 5). The unconscionable thing is that these hollow men were playing politics with real people, with the life and death issues of their constituents.  It didn't matter to them. They smiled, laughed, posed for photos, partied, congratulated themselves as if it were a real victory.  What an astonishing display of delusion on the national stage.

People caught on right away, and so did the Senate. It rejected the Ryan/trump fake bill.  Mindful of the upcoming mid-term elections, most Senators will aim for a real bill, maybe one that fixes the flaws in the ACA, doesn't remove coverage for pre-existing conditions, and doesn't include provisions that allow insurers free reign or that essentially cut taxes for the super rich.

At this point what happened in the House doesn't matter.  The House Rs once again exposed themselves for the anti-democratic, uncaring, inhumane elected officials they are.  These are fake politicians who prefer a game, political theater, over the hard work of making policy. These are fake politicians who aren't listening to their real constituents and who are pursuing their own personal issues agenda come hell or high water. Many will be voted out in 2018. Resisters are ready. The campaign has begun.

The clock is ticking on this Administration and this Congress. Hollow victories don't last long. Trump's days are numbered, and the Senate knows it. Most of them want to stay in office after he's gone. The political theater orchestrated by hollow men is like a Shakespeare tragedy that won't end well. "Nothing will come of nothing."


Saturday, April 29, 2017

100 days of Misery in America

The first 100 days have been a disaster. Let us count the ways. 
1) In spite of criminal and ethics violations, no action has been taken against one of the most corrupt regimes in American history. The Government Office on Ethics, America's top ethicists, some judges and constitutional lawyers have noted the violations. Americans still haven't seen his tax returns, but we've seen his conflicts. Billionaires, nepotism, and dark money rule. 

2) A "mine's bigger than yours" presidency has been exposed. It's hype over policy-making, show over substance. Those 30 Executive Orders that reflect his obsession with numbers add up to little more than petty, self-aggrandizing efforts to undo the Obama legacy and boost the profits of oil companies, big corporations, and the president and his family. So we have Orders against Muslim immigration (halted by the courts); for a border wall; overturning the ACA; abolishing sanctuary cities; eliminating Obama's climate change policies and his ban on drilling in the Arctic. What a blowhard!  

But it's enough to keep his tiny 30% base happy, and his ratings low, the courts alert, the lawyers on their toes, the Dems spinning their wheels, and the resistance movement growing. The Women's March, the Scientists' March, the huge Climate Change Marches today in DC, in NYC, Seattle and other cities, demonstrate the outrage of millions of citizens here and around the world at Trump's environmental policies. Trump's  puny "campaign rallies" cannot touch these numbers. Not even close. 

3) While the White House is full of cons, liars, relatives and cheats, the Cabinet is loaded with billionaires, bankers and corporate execs with obvious conflicts of interests in charge of agencies they hate and want to eviscerate or eliminate. Senate Republicans approved them all, KNOWING that the anti-democracy, treasonous Transition Team of Bannon, Pence, Rebekah Mercer and Nunes chose them because they opposed the mission and programs of the agencies they were to head. "Let's deconstruct the government," tra la! Welcome to the Tillerson, Sessions, Devos, Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Carson et al Billionaires Club. In 100 days the damage has begun. 

4) Those Russian ties? 100 days gone by and the treason and tyranny continue unabated. Congressional investigations are tainted, with Rep. Adam Schiff (D, CA) the people's only hope, a slim hope. Not sure where the FBI, CIA, Treasury and Defense Departments, and other investigations are. Where is a special prosecutor? The Muscovite Candidate and cronies like Manafort, Paige, Mike Flynn, Wilbur Ross are getting away with treason like Putin is getting away with his invasion of Ukraine. 

The cover-up is so huge that if it's ever uncovered, the current regime will explode as if North Korea had unloaded a bomb on targets White House and Congress. The R members of Congress approved cabinet members and other top officials with Russian ties even after intel agencies briefed them. They knew the information was damaging, and ignored it. Rachel Maddow has connected the dots and made the case. So have other top-notch journalists and some Congressional Democrats. Millions of Americans have heard them, and agree. 

5) How smart is it to damage the White House's relationship with the Intelligence community?  We have our doubts about James Comey, but the FBI has its doubts about Trump. It's investigating the president. All seven Intel agencies are doing the same. We say this as though it were an everyday occurrence. It's shocking. The National Security Council, less Bannon finally, and its various departments are in confusion. The CIA is not impressed with Trump's braggadocio, on display while speaking in front of its Wall of Heroes. The director called Trump's comments "The most despicable display of self aggrandizement ever seen here." The Intel agencies are on to this hollow man and his sordid regime's web of conflicts, collusion, and unsavory connections. When will we see some action? 

6) We've had 100 days of lying. We are witnessing a president who delights in calling facts and truth "fake news" and a press secretary, silly Sean Spicer, who puts out Trump's lies as news. The tweets, one more outrageous than the next in flinging out accusations with no evidence, add to the litany of lies. It would be laughable (and many reporters do laugh at the excesses), if it weren't so tragic. Yep, fact check everything. As Maxine Waters said, this president "can't be trusted." On his 100th day he touted as an accomplishment "pushing back against the media." What kind of a president does this? What kind of man in the Oval Office would call the free press "an enemy of the people?"  

7) It took just 100 days for Trump not only to alienate the intel community and the media, but also the judicial branch of government. Have we ever had a president so ignorant of the US Constitution, Rule of Law, and the role and purpose of our three branches of government?  A guy so unread and unfit that he has blasted the courts' rulings and raised doubts in the mind of Chief Justice Roberts? Maybe Roberts is keeping an eye on his newest member, Neil Gorsuch, too, the Pence on the Bench who arose with $10 million dark-money backing on the ashes of Obama's Merrick Garland nomination, a nomination intentionally held up with malice aforethought by corrupt McConnell and the Senate's Republican majority. Roberts and the Court know the truth. So do we the people. It must mean something.  

Riding the bomb down,
Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove
8) Warmongering is up, diplomacy is down. Tillerson is over his head. Trump has alienated our allies, the EU, NATO, Canada and Mexico, and beyond. He's America's joke. The most transparent thing about him is how little he knows. 

That's why I think the Generals hold sway. General Maddox has a job on his hands managing such an ignorant president, but he and the generals are finding it easy to get their way. They just feed Trump his lines, and he's off like a rocket. Diplomacy takes great intellect, special skills, nuance, and patience--traits Trump lacks. War, on the other hand, can deliver a great macho image for a weak, ego-driven man. The Generals are pros at dealing with this kind of guy. Let's pray the Generals consider the options and the consequences of their talk and their actions more than Trump is capable of doing, and that they encourage the necessary restraint in any overkill type of thinking.  Is taunting Kim Jong's North Korea a good idea?

9) Trump does not speak like a president, act like a president, or think like a president. He lacks gravitas. He lacks impulse control.  Do you feel safe knowing  that Trump has his hands on the nuclear codes? He has an insatiable need for self-aggrandizement and adoration.  He lies.  He's running the White House like he runs his businesses, in chaos. He changes his chatter like a weak reed in the wind, turning back his promises, deflecting the real issues, appropriating other people's comments for his own use, twisting the truth in maniacal tweets. How can we trust a lying con? The overwhelming majority of Americans are on to him, and despise him.   

10) The next 100 days don't look good either. There are the ongoing investigations, the ongoing conflicts; doing the NRA's bidding on guns; undoing government agencies, including getting rid of 2300 skilled workers at the State Department; more tinkering with the ACA, an outrageous FY18 budget, and screw the middle class tax reform. Lots of programs are on the chopping block, from Education, Social Services, Health Care, and the EPA to the NEA/NEH and PBS. I fear for the USAID and Peace Corps budgets. So-called tax reform stands to make Trump, his family and the wealthiest Americans richer, and the rest of us poorer. Mnuchin has indicated as much. "Trickle down" economics has never worked. Why will it now? The Earth, our public lands, our environment, our cultural and social fabric, our social safety nets, our National Security, and a precarious world hang in the balance. 

I could go on.  Andrew Romano, a yahoo journalist, hit the nail on the head in his story about how Trump talks, which is at the level of a five year old: "The campaign allowed him to keep doing what he’s been doing his entire adult life: selling himself. The presidency is different: It requires you to sell your policies." Trump doesn't have any real policies beyond his own self-aggrandizement wrapped in massive conflicts of interests. Nor is he able to make a strong case for any position he takes, as is clear in his orders banning Muslim immigration from six countries for no clear reason.

He can't make a case; he can only spout doublespeak. How easy to turn vice into virtue, slander into truth, thievery into honor, brutality into patriotism, sadism into justice!  How well Joseph Heller captured this presidency in his 1961 Cold War novel "Catch-22."  The first 100 days have revealed a president who is a hollow shell of a man incapable of talking or acting like a president because he has no knowledge, no sense of justice or nuance, no aptitude for discernment. The latter will prove his undoing. The next 100 days of Misery in America starts now. 

Now imagine this scenario, posted by a fellow resister: "Hillary Clinton is president. It's learned that she has deep ties to Putin. She puts utterly unqualified billionaires in cabinet posts. She puts her daughter Chelsea in a position of influence in the West Wing. And Chelsea's husband is Hillary's chief advisor. She refuses to release any tax returns, she blocks access to the visitor logs in the White House and Bill refuses to live in the White House so our tax dollars are spent keeping him safe in Chappaqua. Hillary spends almost every weekend lounging in a resort. AND, in an interview she names the wrong country she bombed while bragging about the chocolate cake she was eating while she did said bombing. Impeachment proceedings would already be underway, I have no doubt." #Impeach45 Phyllis Farnham post on "Donald Trump is not my president" site.
 Why haven't impeachment proceedings started against Trump?  Will they? Will a special prosecutor ever be appointed? By whom? Certainly not Jeff Sessions. How about the new deputy director at the Justice Dept? How long will it take? Where are the lawyers? Where are the lawsuits. Where are the consequences for Trump's obvious ethics violations, his nepotism, his massive conflicts of interest using the presidency to make himself and his family richer.  How long will this travesty go on? 

Sources: Fact checked.  there are several other fact check articles.  trump rather a joke on the world scene. Justice Roberts expresses concern over Trump's executive order and what it reveals. The Russian connections, treason and corruption.  A scary article on how trump is destroying American govt as we know it, to the applause of the Freedom Caucus in Congress, the Koch brothers and Mercer family,and other dark money sources now ruling America. If only his base cared to be informed of how he has and will continue to betray them.   

Friday, March 31, 2017

Paul Manafort and Me in Ukraine

Paul Manafort had been in Ukraine for five years when I arrived in 2009 as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). Our experiences could not have been more different.

Manafort spent most of his time in Kyiv (Киев) or running back and forth between Kyiv and Moscow and Cyprus, where there are big money-laundering banks.
With master embroiderer Marta.

I spent most of my time in Starobelsk, a rural town in far-eastern Lugansk oblast near the Russian border. This is part of the industrial region of Ukraine called the Donbas, and it covers Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts, my old stomping grounds. Friends joked that I could see Russia from where I lived. They weren't far off.  Large swaths of the Donbas have been invaded, occupied and destroyed by Russia since 2014.

AP photo. 
Manafort worked for the pro-Russian Party of Regions and its candidate Viktor Yanukovych. He helped him revise his image in order to become the president of Ukraine in 2010. During the election, I accompanied friends to polling places in Starobelsk. They were not for Yanukovych, who was never popular and ended up fleeing to Moscow with his billions after the 2014 Euromaiden revolts. That's when Putin made plans to invade Crimea and destabilize eastern Ukraine. I'm sorry that Yulia Tymoshenko didn't win that election in 2010.

Manafort worked for Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, like the mineral magnate Oleg Deripaska, who paid him lots of money to promote Russian interests and curry favors with the USA. Manafort arranged special meetings, like the one between Yanukovych and Obama in 2012. During the Trump campaign, he flew Russian colleague Konstantin Kilimnik to the USA to meet with Trump and his advisers, and he arranged the secret and now-suspect Mayflower Hotel meeting between Russian Ambassador Sergay Kislyak, Jeff Sessions, and Jared Kushner.

The closest I came to any oligarch was knowing of Rinat Akhmetov, one of the richest men in the Donbas, who built a fabulous soccer stadium in his hometown of Donetsk. Football in Ukraine is as big as it is in any European city. Turns out Manafort worked for Akhmetov, too. Russian troops and Russian-armed proxies have decimated the city of Donetsk. I think Akhmetov regrets his pro-Russian dealings. Manafort might, too.

While Manafort worked with the rich and powerful, I worked with the ordinary and the powerless. It was my great privilege to become part of the community of Starobelsk, and to find out the best way I, an American stranger in Ukraine, could help them achieve their dreams. What were their stories? What did they want? What did they need? I was there to help. This is what PCVs do.

After many cups of tea, listening, and gaining trust, I began to make lists. I loved the people. I saw the faint hope. I saw the doubt and suspicions. "Why is she here?" I was the first American most of them had ever met. I made myself accessible. I never turned down an invitation, even if I didn't understand where I was going, which was half the time. I created my own well-worn path between Panfelova Street, where I lived with my host mom Luba, to the Market (where you could get everything you ever needed), and to the center of town, St. Nikolas Church, and Schools #2 and #3. The Monastery on Kyrova was also nearby. I learned from my friend Olga, a font of Ukrainian history, that this beautiful oasis had once been a site of the execution and burial of Polish army officers, soldiers and civilians captured when Stalin invaded Poland in September 1939. It's part of what's known as the brutal "Katyn Massacre," its history shrouded in mystery until recently.

That's how I learned first hand the history, culture, traditions and folkways of the people. I learned about Starobelsk poets and writers, artists, embroiderers, jewelry makers and dressmakers. I learned about Ukrainian national culture, sometimes strained, but I focused on the things that united Ukraine east to west of the Dneiper River. It's hard to accept that Manafort, on the contrary, exploited divisions on behalf of Putin and against the interests of Ukraine and its people.
A collage of English Club photos: club meetings, getting books, sharing.

In Starobelsk, I discovered that there was great interest in learning English and practicing with a native English speaker. That led to the English Club at the Public Library (Biblioteca). I learned the Library had no English-language books. That led to a successful book drive, with friends from America joining in.  I learned the Library needed computers and the community wanted free public access to the internet. That led to an application to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which led to getting ten computers and WiFi for public access. I learned through my work with the human and women's rights NGO Victoria that many people were victims of violence or falsely detained for crimes they did not commit. That led to a "Know Your Rights" project that reached 10 rural villages around Starobelsk.

With friends after an English Club meeting
While I tilled the fields, as it were, Manafort milked the oligarchs. He was busy in Kyiv with his projects for undermining Ukrainian nationalism and making Putin look good in the USA.  He sure made more money than a Peace Corps Volunteer, who got a monthly stipend closer to what the average Ukrainian lived on, about $300 a month. If I had known then what I know now, I might have hit Manafort up for donations for the Starobelsk Library when I was visiting Peace Corps headquarters in Kyiv, which was often. Heck, I probably could have walked from the Voksal (the train station) to his office and done some good.

Manafort flew all over the place, while I took trains and buses. At first, the 20+ hours overnight train ride between Lugansk and Kyiv was a killer, and on top of that it took almost 2 hours to get to and from Starobelsk to Lugansk. I got used to it, grew to like it. I was a traveller meeting all kinds of interesting people: students, workers, teachers, nurses, a trucker, a psychologist, farmers, computer specialists, small business people. I made friends of strangers. As soon as they learned I was American, and that didn't take long, they wanted to talk. My Russian was basic but we managed to get around it. I doubt Manafort ever had these experiences.

He worked from the top down. I worked from the bottom up.

Manafort hung out with the super rich and dined in mansions or ate at fancy restaurants. He was often spotted at the InterContinental hotel in Kyiv, a place I could only pass in wonder, like a kid looking in the window of a candy store.
Luba's New Year's Eve meal,
12 delicious salads

Luba's Paska bread at Easter, a Ukrainian.
I ate delicious home-cooked meals with Luba, sometimes with her grown son Sergei or her grandson Nikita, often with her many friends. She was an extrovert, witty, brilliant, funny. She was a fantastic cook, using fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits in season from her garden to make borscht, vereneky, and holubtsi. Luba prided herself on using "all natural" foods, no pesticides (Все натуральные продукты, без химических веществ). I also remember memorable meals with Natalya on Kyrova Street and with dear friends Olga, Tonya and Natalia the English teacher. I doubt Manafort could say the same.
Lunch at Olga's. I fell off my bike. and broke
my arm.  Home healing helped.

Not only did I savor the food but I savored the culture. I took the train all over Ukraine, to Lviv, Uzegorod,the Carpathians, Slavsky in the far west, down to beautiful Odessa and Crimea to the south. What a great country. I spent as much time in Crimea as I could because a PCV friend worked with the Crimean Tatar library (forced to shut down). We visited fabulous places: Simferopol, Bachysaray, Yalta, Yevpretoria.

At Stefa's in Lviv with Olga on our trip
.to  the Carpathians. East and West together. 
Manafort doesn't care that Crimea has since been illegally occupied, Stalinized and militarized, its social fabric destroyed, its tourism economy in ruins, and the Tatars, the indigenous people, once again victims of Russian human rights abuses. He helped Putin's propaganda machine, which was incessant and brutal, full of fake news and "alternative facts" before most western reporters knew what hit them. Manafort even "echoed Putin's justification for the annexation" just recently saying the majority of its people wanted to be part of Russia. Wrong. I weep for Crimea.

Perhaps Manafort weeps for his lost millions. Or for his egregious mistake in thinking that working for the amateur-hour Trump campaign was furthering his business interests. His "extreme makeover" of Yanukovych had worked, afterall, Why not try it on Trump? It didn't work out, too many questions got in the way, and remain.

Manafort and I had different priorities. His was to help the rich; mine was to get to know the people. He has little to no idea about their stories or their daily lives, about their suffering and their courage. I'm sure it bothers him not a whit that Putin violated a sovereign country's borders, that he has turned Crimea and large parts of Lugansk and Donetsk into wastelands. The war goes on, a "hybrid war." Thank god Starobelsk, so far, has been spared, due in part to the people's determined opposition. Still, Starobelsk has been inundated with refugees and the people live in fear. It haunts me.

With Natalia, the fabulous English teacher and
interpreter, & her husband Vasyl, at
the Lugansk Train station. 
Manafort doesn't care.  He doesn't care that the train station so many of us relied on in Lugansk or the beautiful airport in Donetsk have both been destroyed. He didn't travel by train across Ukraine's sunflower fields, where a Russian BUK missile blew MH-17 out of the sky killing 298 people. He wouldn't know about those fabulous English bookstores in Lugansk either, where we bought books for the Starobelsk Library. They are gone. The great Taras Schevchenko National University is shut down.
Vera Flyat, head of NGO Victoria, at a seminar 
on women's rights in Lugansk. The women leaders 
learned from each other. I had the chance to
to tour the city & meet up with Lugansk PCVs..
Nor would Manafort know much about the dedicated non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work on a shoestring to promote civil society and transparency in government, defend the poor, the disabled, the victimized. PCVs work with lots of NGOs. Sadly, their leaders had to flee the Donbas, along with thousands of other "internally displaced persons." When I hadn't heard from Vovo, director of an eastern Ukraine civil society NGO, I got worried. He finally emailed that he was living in Kyiv, that his name was on a target list and he had to leave his beloved Lugansk. My friend Serdar, whose family still lives in Crimea, fled to Lviv to finish dental school; he now volunteers his services on the front lines of war-torn Ukraine.

When I left Ukraine in 2011, unrest was growing, young people couldn't find jobs, taxes were rising and wages were going down.  The Party of Regions was viewed as a den of thieves, and Yanukovych's approval rating was lower than tRump's is now.  My friends in Starobelsk worried about their jobs and railed against the rampant, outrageous corruption. "What can you do?" I'd ask them. They'd smile at my American "can do" attitude. I was accused of being always positive! They would shrug their shoulders and say "That's the way it is" (Так оно и есть).

I didn't know when I left Ukraine in 2011 how bad it would get, how unsettled, how vicious and violent. Then all hell broke loose.

Manafort views Ukraine as belonging to Russia. He thinks Crimea belongs there, too, recently saying "the people voted for it." That's a lie. It was totally rigged election. People voted at the point of a bayonet, with only one choice on the fake ballots. Manafort was simply repeating the propaganda he had a hand in creating to whip up a hysterical nationalism in preparation for Putin's takeover. It infuriates me.

I view Ukraine as an autonomous sovereign nation with clearly defined, internationally recognized borders, with its own distinctive history and culture. Russia invaded the territorial integrity of a foreign country, and has gotten away with it. Russian-speakers had close ties to Russia, yes, but no more. They feel betrayed. Putin turned on them, like Stalin had done during and after World War II. It's a story told by historian Timothy Snyder in "The Bloodlands."  Today, in the Donbas, a renewed Ukrainian identity has been forged and it is stronger than ever. If nothing else Putin's aggression has solidified a sense of Ukrainian unity. Russia is a common enemy.

What I didn't know then, what no PCV knew then, was that while we worked with dedication and enthusiasm to strengthen and support Ukraine, there were Americans like Manafort working to undermine it. While we worked on behalf of the people to help them build their communities, Manafort worked with Yanukovych on behalf of Putin to undermine loyalty to Ukraine. That remains one of the greatest shocks to absorb.


Natalia Artelava, "How (Not To) Cover Lies," Coda, 3/28/2017.  Excellent article on how Putin went into Crimea and how his "alternative facts" propaganda campaign fooled western journalists.

*Steven Lee Myers and Andrew E. Kramer, "How Paul Manafort Wielded Power in Ukraine Before Advising Donald Trump," New York Times, July 31, 2016.  This is one of the best articles on Manafort's work in Ukraine.

This just out on Mariupol, as I was finishing up this blog:  Reprinted in the Kyiv Post, an excellent source for Ukraine news.

Natalya's beautiful beaded artwork, a special gift.
This photo doesn't do it justice.

Natalya and son Ivan visited me and my family
in Sylvania,  December 2016. We were amazed 
it really happened! She was visiting
 Ivan and his wife, who live and work in NYC.

The people of Mariupol protest Putin's aggression. "Putin out."
I think Putin still has his sights on this strategic  port town on the Sea of Asov.
(AP photo/Sergei Grits) 
My three host moms: Vera in Chernigov, where I had 3 months of culture and language training;
Olga (we're sledding down Panfelova Street; and for my last few months,
Natalya on Kyrova Street. All great cooks and fabulous women. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

No on Neil Gorsuch

Photo: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights/Twitter
On March 22, the Supreme Court ruled against Neil Gorsuch's opinion in a case involving autistic children's access to a meaningful public education, as required in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.  It was unanimous. 

This rejection of Gorsuch's reasoning says it all: His views of the law are extreme, in this case more extreme than the conservative justices on the Court.  

Gorsuch prides himself on being an "originalist," meaning he interprets the U.S. Constitution as it was originally written in the 1780s. He's stuck in the 18th century and calls it "the law."  In 1787, folks, only white males with property could vote. Does he support this, too?  

Do we really need a justice who channels John Jay (1789-1829), John Marshall (1798) or Roger B Taney (1777-1864), the most racist justice in America leading up to Civil War?  Do we really need another Antonin Scalia on the court for life?

This is the 21st century, and we have 21st century issues that the original founders could not have anticipated or imagined. We don't need a justice who rules against women, autistic children, and a frozen truck driver, and who supports big companies, bosses over workers, and "dark money" in politics, all in the name of "It's the law."

No, it's not the law, Gorsuch. It's YOUR opinion of the law, taking us back to 1787. 

Here are 10 reasons to vote "No on Gorsuch," which I've collected and borrowed from various online article.  He is no Merrick Garland, Obama's nominee and a true moderate.  
1. Thinks corporations are people who can hold religious views and deny women coverage for birth control. Remember Hobby Lobby.
2. Believes women are "manipulators," as in women "manipulate maternity leave."
3. Endangers Planned Parenthood. Come on folks, this is the 21st century. What's wrong with birth control?
4. Rules against the rights of people with disabilities, as in his ruling against autistic kids.
5. Opposes marriage equality and gay rights. Pence and the extreme-right evangelicals support him for this reason.That's why I call Gorsuch Pence on the Bench.
6. Rules against workers, like the frozen truck driver, and for employers & big companies.
7. Has ruled against Environmental Protection. Is he a climate change denier?
8. Has ruled against consumer protection.
9. Supports Citizens United, like the $10M 'dark money' now funding his campaign for the Court,which he refuses to discuss. If you want to limit the influence of money in politics, this is NOT your man.
10.Has weakened the Sherman anti-trust laws, and will continue to do so, with his narrow reading of the law. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

TIFF Final Night Honors Migrants and Mayans

The final evening of the 2017 Toledo International Film Festival concluded with Who is Dayani Cristal? (2013), a documentary drama that puts a human face on our current and distressing immigration policies, and Ixcanul/Volcano (2015), a Mayan-language film that takes us into the indigenous world of the Guatemalan Kaqchitel and their encounter with a cruel modern-day reality.

Who is Dayani Cristal? begins when the dead body of an unidentified young immigrant is found in Arizona's Sonora Desert with the words Dayani and Cristal tattooed across his chest. We learn that this "John Doe" is just one of hundreds of migrants who die every year in this "corridor of death." It's a sad and surprising fact. We follow along as the dedicated coroners and staff of the Pima County Coroner's Office, and employees at various consulates, work like detectives to put together the pieces of the puzzle in order to learn the man's identity. We are glad that, given the grim task, they are earnest and compassionate. The investigation runs parallel to the drama of a family in Honduras anxiously awaiting word about a missing migrant named Yuban, a beloved son, husband, and father of three children. We learn about the migrant's home, the family circumstances, the daily struggle to survive, and the reasons the young man decides to go to America. It's the universal dream of a better life that has pushed and pulled all immigrants throughout the ages.

Another thread in the developing investigation retraces the young man's journey from Honduras through Guatemala and across Mexico to the Arizona border, where he climbs over a high fenced wall onto the arid desert. He is holding "The Migrant's Prayer" for a safe journey, given to him by a priest who provides shelter and comfort along the rail route. The photography, of the landscapes of Central America and the Arizona desert, is stunning, but the journey, mostly atop trains, is treacherous and the outcome heartbreaking.

Marc Silver, the director who embedded himself in the Pima County Coroner's office to document the story, and Gael Garcia Bernal, the actor who plays the young migrant (also a producer), brilliantly develop the three threads of the migrant's story into a seamless and powerful mosaic of the human cost of migration. We can't help but think of how demented, in the face of it, the focus on building a wall. How cruel and insensitive the plans for mass deportations. How galling the attacks on immigrants when America is a nation of immigrants. How heartless the treatment of people who make the journey against the odds, and whose families are now under the gun, being disrupted, tragically so. It makes me weep.

The second film is no less haunting. Ixcanul, meaning volcano or more precisely the spirit of the
volcano in the Maya language, focuses on two strong women, a mother Juana, played by Maria Telon, and her daughter Maria, a shy 17-year old, played by Maria Mercedes Coroy. Director Jayro Bustamante insured the authenticity of the story, as well as its magic realism, by casting Mayans from the local community and training them to act in the film. It's lovely. Bustamante grew up in this part of Guatemala and learned Kaqchikel from his grandmother, though he was warned not to use it in public "for fear of getting bullied." This is how strong the prejudice is against the indigenous people.

Maria lives with her mother and father on a coffee plantation near the foot of the big mountain. They work hard, crushingly so, but they receive little wages in return. In a quiet but moving scene, the father hikes a long distance up the mountain, a huge bag of coffee on his shoulders, to get his money from the plantation overseers, only to be accused of adding water weight to the bag to make it look bigger than it was. He is thus denied the wages he has earned. It's a form of modern-day slavery that makes it impossible to survive. It reminded me of the sharecropping economy endured by former slaves after the American Civil War. The system was so exploitive and demeaning that sharecroppers could barely make a living, barely support families. They viewed sharecropping as another form of slavery, and it was. Out of desperation, farmers and sharecroppers left the South in the "Great Migration" to the North, swelling our cities and changing our culture. The ramifications of this internal migration are still felt today. Yes, we are all migrants and we are all immigrants in this land.

In Ixcanul the ever-present volcano is a silent witness to the struggle for survival."What's behind the mountain?" Maria asks. It's America, the dream of a better life. Pepe, the young suitor Maria is supposed to marry, falls under its spell, follows the dream, leaves Maria behind, and pregnant, and is not heard from again. It's the story of "Who is Dayani Cristal?" .

Another marriage is arranged for Maria, but not before her devastating encounter with the Spanish-speaking Guatemalan doctors and authorities who care for her after she gets a deadly snake bite. She survives, but she is told her baby did not. She is given a paper to sign, which is in Spanish and which she does not understand, and given a sealed coffin to take home for burial. Only when Maria opens the coffin to find it empty are the consequences of her signing a document in the hospital revealed. The language barrier had been used to take advantage of her. A thumb print had taken her baby away. The discovery is shocking and we gasped at the injustice. It was as if the volcano had suddenly erupted and destroyed everything in its path. Through the tragedy, the mother remains as strong as the volcano, and she helps Maria survive. Juana becomes the hero of the story, a determined survivor in the face of adversity, a bulwark of strength in the face of pain and depression, the elegant saving grace of her family.

Once the movie won accolades in America and abroad, it was well received in Guatemala, where filmmaking is new and a film that focuses on the indigenous populations is rare. It put the Guatemalan film industry on the map.

The evening program also featured a film discussion and a special performance by El Corazon de Mexico Ballet Folklorico. Dancers of all ages in wonderful costumes filled the stage of the Ohio Theatre. The beautiful dancing, in different styles, all with gusto, added to the celebration of diversity that makes Toledo's International Film Festival a wonderful asset to our welcoming community.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Art Connects Toledo and Mexico

 At the Sofia Quintero art exhibit, Rasquache Artist Residency. Some art work from the exhibit; street paintings and murals along Broadway; artists in Mexico, maybe Puebla; super volunteer Linda greets visitors.  
Exhibit catalogue.
An artist residency in San Francisco Cuapa Cholula, in the state of Puebla, Mexico, led to a wonderful exhibit at the Sophia Quintero Art and Cultural Center in Toledo, Ohio.  The Rasquache Residency, as it's called, honors the traditions and cultures of the pre-Hispanic indigenous people of the Cholula region in central Mexico and connects Mexican and American artists across cultures.

The Rasquache residency also seeks to increase awareness of the difficult situation of undocumented immigrants in the US, now under the threat of building a wall and deportations. It's a nightmare.  A friend at the exhibit said Border Patrol agents were scouring the neighborhood, stopping people, demanding documents. "We know them when we see them," another friend said, "in their large white van with green lettering." They said the intrusions are getting worse and people who have been long-time residents are scared.

Karina Monroy
That's why this exhibit is so important.  It's a bridge to understanding and a testimony to the contributions of Latino/Latina artists to our culture. The exhibit features the works of Mexican and American artists in residence and visiting artists and scholars. It consists of installations, video projects, ceramics, poetry, digital prints and drawings. It's a fascinating mix of artistic visions and mediums.

The 2016 artists are Matthew Sibley, Christina Erives, Sa'Dia Rehman, Karina A. Monroy, Jairo Banuelos, and Federico Cuatlacuatl. Visiting artists and scholars are Amy Youngs, Ken Rinaldo, and Leo Herrera. Kudos to all of them.

Toledo's Mexican-American community has a long history. I remember when Baldemar Velasquez, from a Texas migrant family who settled here, started the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in 1967/1968. Another early organizer, Sesario, was recently honored for his work with FLOC and remains a stalwart member of the community. These were history makers.  I remember meeting Velasquez at a grape boycott protest in front of Kroger's grocery store near the Old West End, and hearing him talk about the struggle here in our own backyard. Migrant tomato pickers, who worked from sun up to sun down, were organizing to secure wages, jobs and decent working and living conditions.

Delicious tacos at Michoacana, the best. 
A walk along Broadway in South Toledo still feels like a walk down a Mexican street in a country I love and visit as often as possible, full of color, paintings on storefronts and restaurants, and fantastic murals. Even on an overcast day, it sparkles. In summer the neighborhood is ablaze with flowers and freshly grown vegetables and herbs in Sophia Quintero's thriving community garden. The bounty from the garden graces meals in private homes, businesses, and in restaurants.

And here's another reason to visit and support this important neighborhood. I think it offers the best Mexican food in the city. For authenticity, this is the place to be. My friend Teddy and I had the best tacos--fresh, homemade, tasty--at Taqueria La Autentica Michocana, a little restaurant next to where the art exhibit was held. Our visit to the barrio lifted our spirits at this time of mourning and outrage over what is happening to our government and our democracy.

Jairo Banuelos
The Sofia Quintero center was founded in 1996 by members of the Mexican American community to support Latino/a art, heritage and culture. The center is named after Sofia Quintero, the first Latina to be elected to the Toledo Board of Education.  Her life was cut short due to illness, but her spirit and determination live on through the multifaceted programs of the Center. "She is our angel, watching over our work," the director has said of her.

Last night, I think Sophia the angel was hovering over us and the neighborhood, and it felt safe and comforting.