Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Frank and Roselynn Curro Arts and Humanities Award

Old family portrait.
My sister Andy and I were remembering our parents, recalling the hard times and the good times, recalling their dedication to education and making sure we went to college. It was May 2011 and I had just returned from Ukraine. A year before, our dear brother Loren had died suddenly of a heart attack while on a hike with the Tallahassee Trails Association. He joined our mom and dad we like to say to this day.

That's when we decided to establish the Frank and Roselynn Curro Arts and Humanities Award at the Harley School, a wonderful private school in Rochester, NY.  We wanted to honor our parents, avid supporters of Harley and of the arts and humanities. The award would go to a graduating senior enthralled with the liberal and fine arts and going on to college to pursue their dreams.

Our parents made sure we had a strong foundation in the liberal arts. They were readers and thinkers. Dad, a small businessman, filled our home with music and was a great, and funny, storyteller. Mom was a teacher, artist and opera singer. They inhabited the culture and art of Italy and Europe and we imbibed it as naturally as the air we breathed. Mom loved the Italian and German operas and sang the beautiful arias. She made sure we studied the piano and learned how to read music and to appreciate it fully. I was okay at the piano, but my sister played beautifully and I still hear her playing Clementi, Bach, Chopin. We played duets for family entertainment.  We can still hammer those out.

Both parents belonged to a Great Books Club, popular in the 1950s, which made for interesting dinner-table conversations. Imagine discussions about Plato and Aristotle, Dante's Inferno, Cervantes, Tolstoy, and other classics of the western tradition. Once mom went on a rant about Sartre and existentialism. Andy choked on her pork chop. I was entranced. We went round and round until dinner was over. I remember another dinner where we talked about Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Mom, ever the teacher, made it interesting. The best thing about that memory?   Mom and Dad actually planned a trip to New York City, where we went to see “West Side Story!”  I can never listen to that brilliant score by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins, such masters of their crafts, without remembering my mom and dad. The theater experience of a lifetime, one of my enduring childhood memories.

It's hard to believe that the arts and humanities are under attack today when we need them now more than ever. Trump and the extremist Republicans have zeroed them out in their proposed budgets, along with PBS and other cultural, historical, and environmental programs, including our national parks and historic sites. It will impoverish our spirits, impoverish our shared American culture.

What we took for granted so many years ago, we now cherish as a special gift. This year's Curro award went to a young scholar and high school leader going on to study the humanities in college. Previous awards have gone to art, language, and liberal arts students. We hope all the recipients of the Curro award will continue to enjoy the arts and humanities throughout their lives, and advocate for them in the public arena. I think this was one of the best lessons we learned from our parents, and at Harley, and it will stay with us forever.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Berlin Painter: Athenian Vase-Painting in Early 5th Century B.C.

The Berlin Painter, his real name and story unknown, painted many beautiful vases for all kinds of uses in early 5th century Greece. That's 2500 years ago! This is a lovely traveling exhibit organized by Princeton University Art Museum and made possible by many private and public funders, including NEA. Thanks to them. Photos: Some of the 84 vases exhibited, beautiful to examine closely; bird on a bear, a favorite (next to center photo of 3 vases); fragments and pieces (far left), showing what conservators had to work with to put them together (and upper right graphic); huge vase of red roses at Grove St. entrance near the Cafe); Teddy at the Berlin Painter-themed Exhibition gift shop, and at TMA entrance (couldn't resist!). 
Hard to read but explains how to
recognize the style of the Berlin Painter.
"The Berlin Painter and His World: Athenian Vase-Painting in the early Fifth Century B.C' is now at the Toledo Museum of Art, and it's a most enjoyable exhibit.  The vases, painted in a technique known as red-figure ceramics, are nicely displayed and have limited but helpful text, which I always appreciate.  The vase-paintings are attributed to one painter, called simply the Berlin Painter, his real name unknown, his gender determined by anthropologists and historians, his style bold and distinctive.

The Berlin Painter. A master artisan. His personal story may be unknown, but the Greek world he inhabited comes alive through his vase-painting. Through his eyes we see the gods and goddesses, the heroes and mortals of the early 5th century BC, at war, at peace, at work, at play.  We see Zeus and Athena, Demeter and Dionysos, Achilles and Hector and Aegina. We see warriors and nymphs and satyrs. We see Herakles (the Greek transliteration of Hercules) at some of his 12 labors, taking me back to reading Latin with Mrs. Bullard at the Harley School. It also inspired me to look for Haley's Classic Myths, a  great book that she gave me as a gift.  I especially loved the paintings of nature, a bird on a bear, a sprig of flowers, floral motifs and ivy wreaths.

I wondered how the vases could be in such perfect shape. Thankfully a well-curated text explained that while some vases were found in burial places and in tact, most were scattered in a thousand pieces and had to be painstakingly put together. If you look very closely at some of the vases, now 2500 years old, you can see the seams where small fragments were glued together. The results are amazing. 

From the Catalogue: "The Berlin Painter and His World is a celebration of ancient Greece and of the ideals of reason, proportion, and human dignity that are its legacy. Focusing on the extraordinary work of a single anonymous master artisan, the exhibition provides a window onto ancient Athenian society at a time of economic growth and cultural flourishing through the art of vase-painting, the largest body of pictorial imagery to have survived from antiquity. Depictions of myths, cult, and daily life on red-figure vases posit questions on love and war, life and death, that still resonate today./  Though the artist’s elegant style has long been appreciated, this is the first exhibition devoted to the Berlin Painter. The exhibition features eighty-four vessels and statuettes of the early fifth century B.C., gathered from museums and private collections around the globe, and examines the elements of this artist’s style that allow the attribution of objects to his hand while affording unique insights into life 2,500 years ago."
These three graceful, colorful hand-blown vases, in the Berlin Painter-themed Exhibition gift shop,
were inspired by Greek ceramic vessels and created in TMA's Glass Pavilion by glass artist Alan Iwamura.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Can Trump be charged with Sedition?

“We have a President who lies without a second thought. Big bold lies that are easily disproven. That is not normal... We have serious allegations around obstruction of FBI director fired for insisting on pursuing an investigation into the sanctify of our republic. It has never happened before in our history. That is not normal. ...We have Federal judges, our closest foreign allies, and the free press under scurrilous attack from the President and his enablers. At the same time we have despots praised. That is not normal....We have a sordid confluence of the President’s business interests and his political power. That is not normal." Dan Rather interview with Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, June 10, 2017

Trump has succeeded in turning the USA into an arena of conflict, and he thinks he is the top dog. It is trump vs. anti trump. Dog eat dog. Survival of the fittest. This is what America has become in just a few months. McConnell in the Senate and Paul Ryan in the House are in this arena to destroy the federal government as we know it.

Add McConnell's inhumanity, and we have
the US Congress today, the most corrupt ever.
It's like a boxing match, making a sport of war. In this corner are the tRump, Pence, Bannon regime, a sordid cabinet, and the leaders of the US Congress, committed to dismantling the government one agency at a time. Bannon calls it "deconstruction of the Administrative state."  They take glee in obliterating Obama's legacy.  Dark money, aka the Koch brothers, the Mercers et al, are funding the rampage.

In the other corner are the outnumbered Democratic members of Congress, Constitutional lawyers and ethicists, and the majority of the American people, some 64% according to the latest poll. Whoever has the most money and power are the winners and those with the least money and power are the losers. They get to join the "Losers Club," and the winners take all. Some of the "losers," those still in the Bully's corner, that 36% base, aren't aware of their status in this game yet.

The Comey vs Trump fight reveals the grotesque nature and parameters of the arena. We are talking about our democratic government after all. Trump has called Comey, the top cop in America as head of the FBI, a liar and a coward. It's a credibility pissing match, a game Trump himself created. Most Americans (over 90%) believe Comey. But Trump won't stop talking and tweeting himself into his corner of the arena, encouraging Americans to distrust Comey, the FBI and our intel agencies. At the same time, he rails against a free press. He tells Americans not to trust the mainstream media and has made a sport out of what he and his minions call "fake news." Trump continues to undermine the three branches of government and Rule of Law. He has alienated the judiciary and encouraged Americans to do the same. He has alienated our allies around the world, destabilizing our international relations.

Could this be called "sedition?" asked resister Linda Furman in an Anti-Trump site post. I googled it.
this and the  image at top, yahoo public images
Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition." (Wikipedia).
Sure sounds like the Trump regime.

But sedition as a legal concept has a complex history, dating back to John Quincy Adams and the Alien and Sedition Act. Those opposed to the American Revolution against Great Britain got hit with this act. Its use over time has been situational (dormant or revived during wartime) and often problematic. It cuts both ways when it comes to our First Amendment freedoms.  It can be dangerous. But I wonder if the concept can be resurrected in some form to address Russia's intervention in our election, the extreme conflicts of interest of almost all members of the tRump/Pence/Bannon cabinet, chosen because they oppose their agencies, and their extremist goal of dismantling the federal government. "Subversion of the Constitution" and undermining Rule of Law.  Can it become part of the treason charge in a case for impeachment? "Treason (including a form of sedition), bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors"?

America has descended into a battleground, an arena of conflict. It sounds like a computer game. And in fact, I discovered in doing some research, it IS a video game!  This is Our Times, good vs. evil, real v. fake, and it is surreal.

More from Dan Rather:
“We have an Administration fanning the flames of division over race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and gender. That is not normal....We have an overhaul of our entire health care system being written in secret on a rapid time frame. That is not normal. The list could go on and on. And feel free to add your own to the comments section./What concerns me even more than any of these items is the fact that they are largely being met by a shrug or excuses from most Republican elected officials. Even many Democrats seem overwhelmed and are inclined to let some of this just ride. That may be how politics works. But this is bigger. It’s about our nation.
We are shifting the goalposts for our democracy. We are failing to be outraged by the outrageous because there is something even more outrageous that always seems to hit the news cycle. And that is dangerous.
What gives me hope is we have had waves of abnormality in our country’s history. And we’ve had times when what we would consider now to be not normal, like segregation, was considered normal. What has centered and saved our country time and again is civic engagement. I believe that most people in this nation don’t think any of this is normal."

Some sources:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

On Tyranny: History Instructs

Hillary Clinton, at Wellesley, NYT, 27 May 2017,
by Jess Bidgood & Katharine Q. Seelye. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters.
"As the history majors among you here today know all too well, when people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society./That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality. Not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs." Hillary Clinton commencement address, Wellesley College, May 2017
Timothy Snyder, Yale historian and author of The Bloodlands, was in Toledo at the public library to talk about his latest little book called "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century."  He said he sat at his computer the day after the shock of Trump's election and wrote the book right then and there. He made use of his extraordinary knowledge of the tyrannies of Hitler and Stalin and the murderous havoc they caused during and after World War II. He's an expert on authoritarian regimes.

He saw red flags everywhere during the presidential campaign. Trump's overblown rhetoric and Hillary-hatred; his attacks on Mexicans, Muslims, anyone he didn't like; the whipping up of a false nationalist fervor; the way he framed and repeated his rants ("Build a Wall," "Lock her Up"); his ignorance of history; his ego-driven obsession with numbers and winning; the focus on himself and not the issues, which he knew little about; a facile disregard for Rule of Law; and perhaps most disturbing of all, his attacks on the media, the charges of "fake news" against any news he didn't like, the embrace of such outlets as Breitbart, his denigration of facts and truth.

Snyder notes in his book that Trump fact-checkers at one time "found that 78% of his factual claims were false."  That's a pretty high rate of lying. "Demeaning the world as it is begins the creation of a fictional counterworld," Snyder emphasized. Yep, his attentive audience nodded, and we are living with that "counterworld" today.

"On Tyranny" is a series of lessons on how to resist the totalitarianism Snyder sees in the rise of Trump. Lots of us saw it; experience is confirming it. The truth and timeliness of Snyder's message was not lost on this informed and appreciative audience. Marcy Kaptur, our representative in Congress, introduced Snyder.  It was Marcy who introduced me to The Bloodlands when I returned from Ukraine. It's her favorite recent history book, and it's become mine as well. Snyder wrote about eastern Europe caught between Hitler and Stalin.  He revisioned the history of WWII and the murderous legacy of the times, the consequences of which are still felt today. I felt them in Ukraine.

And they have only became worse with time. The rise of Putin's fervent Russian nationalism, his ramped up propaganda machine, his invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, his interference in our world as we know it and his goal to destabilize Europe and the US, confirm that totalitarianism is alive and well, and as devastating to human kind as it ever was.

Now, Snyder fears, it is alive and well in America too, and it will destroy our democracy, as the Founding Fathers feared it would, unless we deliberately confront it head on. Snyder repeats some of the obvious truisms about resistance--be an informed citizen, defend democratic institutions, remember professional ethics, beware the one-party state, stand out, investigate, be a critical thinker. But what for me resonated the most is the very issue Hillary Clinton addressed in her Wellesley commencement address. "Believe in truth."  Snyder puts it as succinctly and firmly as Hillary did: "To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.  If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do is.  If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.  The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights." 

Hillary warned us. 
I believe this. The whole phenomenon of questioning what is fact and what is "alternative facts," what are lies, what is real, has swept us onto the terrain of tyranny. People who believe they have facts when they have false information and false news on which they base their votes and their allegiance leaves the rest of us who know it's false news hanging out to dry in a kind of no-man's land. Hillary warned us time and again during the campaign. But a fictional counterworld had already arisen, it doesn't take long, and it spelled tragedy for the United States. When facts don't matter, when truth doesn't matter and becomes awash in "alternative facts" made up by tyrants, we are in dangerous territory. It's where we are today.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

McCain and The Trump Titanic on Impeachment Ground

The Trump Titanic: Created by the Senate Republicans
Now comes Senator John McCain, and slowly but surely the rest of his Republican colleagues, starring the Comey memos and the accumulation of outright lies, conflicts and treason  in the face.   He fears we are on impeachment ground the size and scope of Watergate. 

Well sure we are.  You put us there.  

You approved Sessions, Tillerson, Wilbur Ross and the rest of the rotten Transition Team's nominees knowing about their conflicts, having the intel you needed to vote 'no' on every one of them. All the Republicans did.  Did you do the right thing when it mattered most? No, you did not. 

Now you are saying things that you should have said in the confirmation hearings, McCain.  You surely knew about Kisylak, that old KGB spy, and Putin, the invader of Ukraine and friend of Assad, when you approved these guys.  You approved people who worked with the guy you knew was a "murderer and thug."  

America has had to face the consequences of your votes, and all your Republican colleagues' votes, ever since.  Millions of us knew it was only a matter of time before the truth was revealed and the shit hit the fan.

The resistance movement mounted. The women marched. The scientists and the environmentalist marched. The American people took to the streets. We followed the advice in the Indivisible handbook written by former Congressional staffers about contacting our elected officials.  We  started to make our voices heard, the majority of us common folk, outraged at what was happening in Congress.

How many calls did you and your fellow Senators get, flooding you with facts and warnings?  How many letters urging you to hear us out, knowing you were voting for DeVos, Tillerson, Ross, Pruitt, Price? How many emails and twitter and facebook posts, pleading with you, begging you, to do the right thing for America? How many petitions, dozens of them, signed by thousands?  

No matter.  You went ahead and voted for the worst nominees imaginable. You ignored our voices.  You went along and you did nothing.  

Do you know how helpless we felt in the face of your indifference.  Do you know how infuriating it is now to hear you say the things you are saying?  

Your mea culpas are needed, yes.  We knew we needed some Rs with a conscience to step up.  You didn't do it when you brought us the Trump regime.  We tried, to no avail.   Now you have to step up or go down with the Trump Titanic you created. You have to save your ass.  Now it's more a matter of self-interest than patriotism. 

We see it all. We will not forget that you created this monster.  We will not forget.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Rotten to the Core: The Republicans are on the Trump Titanic they Created

"...The Republicans know exactly what they are doing: They are taking [actions] that risks the destruction of the American republic to advance their personal interests."  Josh Barro, Business Insider, May 3, 2017
It all started with the Transition Team of Pence/Bannon/Rebekah Mercer and the self-interest billionaires.  It all started when the Senate Republicans rubber stamped nominees who were against the mission and programs of the agencies they were to head.  Didn't matter.  That's why of all the various charges thrown at the Republicans in  Congress, Josh Barro's resonates the most. 

Even knowing how unfit and dangerous Trump is, how unfit and dangerous the cabinet they rubber stamped, even having damaging intel on them and knowing the billionaires had extreme conflicts of interest, Republicans voted to confirm them. They acted as if everything was within normal range.  They created the Trump Titanic.

It wasn't "normal" then and it's not normal now. It is not normal to fire the head of the FBI who is investigating you.  It is not normal to share classified intel with the Russians. It is not normal to fill the White House with relatives. It's not normal to obstruct efforts to appoint a Special Prosecutor in the face of such ongoing outrageous behavior. 

The Republicans are deluded.  They have been so wedded to their own personal issues agendas, salivating to ram them down our throats and undo Obama's legacy, that they have acted like tyrants to obstruct truth and justice. 

McConnell and Ryan are at the top of the rotten heap.  Graham and McCain unfortunately are up there, too, now   aware that they are standing on the grounds of impeachment.  The Republicans have been following their treasonous lead like sheep to the slaughter. They have not listened, heard or cared. Their constituents are angry. The town hall meetings, the dedicated resistance in every state, the marches and protests confirm this. 

So slowly but surely, one by one, Republicans who have done so much to destroy the GOP in their allegiance to non-Republican Trump,  and to destroy our democratic government, have to step up and call a spade a spade. They don't want to do this; they are forced to do this.  These Republican votes were acts of tyranny and treason.  The Republicans created the Trump Titanic and they will go down with it.     

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.