Monday, December 31, 2018

The Best News of 2018? Indivisible and Grassroots Resistance

"This time two years ago, we were lost, angry, and scared (okay, we were pissed. Really pissed). Republicans had taken the House, Senate, and Presidency....We knew the only move we had was to play defense, focus on our own representatives and senators, and never give an inch. In that moment, we wrote the original Indivisible Guide, beginning with these lines:
Donald Trump is the biggest popular vote loser in history to ever call himself President-Elect. In spite of the fact that he has no mandate, he will attempt to use his congressional majority to reshape America in his own racist, authoritarian, and corrupt image. If progressives are going to stop this, we must stand indivisibly opposed to Trump and the members of Congress who would do his bidding. Together, we have the power to resist — and we have the power to win." 
Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg, 

Americans owe a lot to Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg, the co-founders and co-directors of  Indivisible. They, along with other wonderful, smart former Congressional staffers, who knew how to get things done in Washington, wrote and published their 23-page "practical" guide on December 14, 2016. 

Social media exploded. Hungry to do something, anything, to resist, we took their Guide as our Bible. We went to work in communities across America, and made a difference.  

For many of us it started early, at the Women's March in Washington on the first day after the inauguration in January 2017. That's how stunned we were at Hillary Clinton's loss, even though she won by over 3,000,000 votes. We have since learned a lot more about how corrupt that campaign was. 

Millions rose up in outrage and concern, gathered and organized themselves in every town, city, and rural community in every State. A national resistance movement was born.  By February 2017, some 3,800 grassroots groups signed on as part of the Indivisible movement. Intentional community-based organizing. It took off like a rocket. It's working.
We protested a visit from Jeff Sessions in Toledo. 

We made Congress listen. We took on important issues step by step, phone call by phone call, constituent meeting by constituent meeting, social media message by message, note by note. We protested, we marched.
Thanks to Molly Reed and Toledo
Indivisible for all they do. We have a
great group of  Resisters.

We didn't win every battle, but we won a lot. We kept Obamacare afloat and put Republicans on notice that we would fight for our democracy, for equality and justice. We couldn't stop the atrocious Cabinet nominations, the tax cut for billionaires, getting Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on Scotus.  But boy we tried. We raised hell. We like to think we "stiffened Democratic spines and weakened Republic resolve (Indivisble)."

Protest against Sessions' firing at Toledo Court House. Molly Reed
got us together, with signs and speeches, in a flash!
Best of all? We flipped the House, and we flipped 6 state legislatures. "Where Republicans built a seawell, we built a bigger blue wave." Now, Democrats have the House of Representatives and a ton more power at the state level.  We'll take advantage of it. After two years on defense, as Indivisible advises, we are now going on offense.

Whose House? Our House!
We have our work cut out for us. But 2019 looks a whole lot better as a result of the work Indivisible and the resistance movement did in 2018. We're on the offense to restore a humane, progressive democracy in America.

Net Neutrality protest at Verizon on Central.Avenue.  

We marched, carried signs, shouted slogans. Thousands upon thouands of us.  It lifted our spirits, hardened our resolve to fight the Trump/Republican agenda. On our way home, at the airport, we were thrilled to see Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis as he returned from his Georgia home to DC to get back to work. We greeted him with such a rousing cheer we felt like the wind beneath his wings. "We're with you, we're with you!"

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018: The Year of the Family

This is all of us. I sent this photo to Tony for Christmas.
Here we are gathered together at Michelle's at Easter. 
 Josh was working his UPS job, but was with us in spirit, so I added his photo.

At Casa de Mama's on Christmas Eve, enjoying the holidays
at my new home. 
The year 2018 ended on a high note with the most wonderful family Christmas. We shared good food and Michelle's yummy cookies, exchanged gifts, played games, laughed a lot. Best of all is the unconditional love we gave and received, the very best Christmas gift of all.

My girls, Elissa, a graphic designer at the Sylvania Advantage newspaper and a dedicated volunteer at the Humane Society, and Michelle, a nurse at Toledo Hospital, are loving, wise, and  compassionate adults leading busy lives. I feel so blessed to have two wonderful daughters in full bloom. Their kids, my grandchildren Julia, Tony, Alli, Josh, Kyle, Chase, and great-grandchild Philip, are full of youthful energy, optimism, and great spirit. Who could ask for more!

Chase's Karate 6th Birthday
Chase, 6 years old, in first grade, is curious about everything, in those "magic years" when imagination soars. It's the greatest age, isn't it? Chase continues his Karate class, learning the moves with a bow and a kick. He had a Karate birthday, cutting his cake with a large Samurai sword. I think he's a yellow belt, not sure. He also takes soccer lessons, discovering what it means to learn a sport and play on a team. Life's great lessons. He's excelling in reading and math, and is a whiz on the computer. He loves to draw. He is recovering from having his tonsils and adnoids out last week, and tubes put in his ears, but he's a trooper. He's sheer joy!

Kyle, the best trumpet player, with
 his mom & me after a concert.  We're
so proud of him.
A Hakusai print for Kyle for Christmas.
Kyle, 16 years old, now happily driving a red Mini-Cooper, plays trumpet in the Southview High School marching band. He made first chair this year, a great honor and accomplishment. He's also in the school's Jazz band and Symphony.  He says "playing the trumpet is my favorite thing." We chat about it and his plans for the future. He'll keep playing trumpet for sure. "I'm thinking of maybe art administration," he said to me one day. I can see Kyle going in that direction. This year he's taken with Hakusai's "Tsunami," a Japanese woodblock print. His Mom, ever vigilant about nurturing her childrens' talents, gave him a wall hanging for Christmas.
Michelle and her kids at Wildwood, December 2018. 

Allison and Joshua
Alli at 23 and Josh at 21 are young adults learning by experience, growing into wonderful human beings. Alli is thriving in her special events job, breaking records, building up experience to move toward her goal of a satisfying career. She's thinking of moving to North Carolina or somewhere South where it's warmer than Toledo.  Josh works at UPS part time while taking computer classes at Owen's college. We have good talks about the amazing progress made in the world of computers and the internet. He still loves basketball and he is great with kids, especially Chase. Actually he and Alli spend lots of time with Chase, who thinks they, and Kyle too, walk on water! They really are the best role models for their little brother. It's heart-warming to watch them together, such precious moments.

Elissa and Philip on his 11th birthday
Julia, Jamie and Philip at Wildwood
Julia and Jamie are engaged and planning to get married this year. We are happy for them. They are hard workers and caring adults, aiming to buy their own home  and nurturing Julia's bright and funny son Philip, my 11-year-old great-grandson.  Philip delights in reminding us that "I love being an only child," but will this status continue?!

Tony, a kind and caring man who loves to read, is living in Chicago and exploring all the big city has to offer. Visiting him in Chicago was a highlight of 2018. My friend Teddy and I had the best time exploring the city with her son Andrew and my grandson.  Tony took us on a wonderful walk of his historic Rogers Park neighborhood, past several Frank Lloyd houses and right up to the Lake. It was beautiful.

Philip at the Library
Tony and Philip at jessie's
wedding in August
Life's a journey, and my grandkids are each on their own wonderful path. They want to travel, too. We reminisced about it at our holiday gathering. Julia and Tony remember their trips  to San Miguel and London, and to DC and Florida when I lived in those places.  Josh loved San Miguel and Alli loved Amsterdam and Cologne. They have happy memories of St. Petersburg, remembering Tampa Bay Rays baseball games, my Condo by the Bay, climbing an old Banyon tree across from our favorite restaurant, Moon Under Water.  Kyle wants to travel too. He's on vacation in the Bahamas now with his dad. He  looks forward to some trips with his Nana. I told him we'd take a trip when he graduates from high school next year.  Travel is definitely on my grandkids' horizon, and I couldn't be happier for them.  We're all dreaming.

Three generations: Me with my daughter Elissa
and her daughter Julia at Gust farms, October 2018
The Year of the Family. We are sharing traditions, making memories. Four generations. I feel so blessed to have the love and respect of my children and grandchildren, to be able to watch them grow. This is what makes me happy, and it will to the end of my days.
Remembering Elissa's beloved dog, Fluff, who passed on to doggie heaven. Now Elissa is surrounded by
dogs and cats at her volunteer work at the Humane Society, hoping to adopt a dog one day soon.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Do Any Ends Justify "by any means necessary?"

Trump knew about hush-money payments to women, and lots of other sleazy criminal acts, but he chose to do anything necessary not to hurt his campaign. He wanted to win, by any means necessary.

Sen. Mitch McConnell sat on Pres.Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to SCOTUS and willfully, with malice aforethought, refused to allow action on this Constituional nomination. He had another goal: turning SCOTUS to the Right. He got extremists Gorsuch & Kavanaugh on SCOTUS, by any means necessary. It was ugly.

Sen.Rob Portman (R, OH), funded by Kochs, NRA, Devos, Big Pharma, et al, had his eyes on the Republicans' PRIZE: A TAX CUT for billionaires & corporations. He called it a "middle class" tax cut that would help "working Americans." He still lies about it. He dismissed concerns about an exploding deficit, a rising national debt. Although he knew the truth, had the CBO report, experts' analysis, he went after the prize, what his funders literally demanded, by any means necessary.  

When the Russian cyber attacks were exposed in 2015, and Russian connections to trump campaign as well, FBI & Intel agencies briefed Pres.Obama, McConnell, Ryan, top Congressional leaders, & candidate tRUmp. James Comey confirmed they had the intel but chose to ignore it, "refused" to act on it. The cover up continues to this day. These Rs support a criminal con who lies like they do to achieve their own ends, by any means necessary. 

Ebony Magazine. 1965
There was a time I thought this philosophy and approach to achieving an end had merit. There was a time I believed that achieving equality and justice for all Americans was a moral imperative that justified "by any means necessary." 

As cherished as some ends are, I now see how wrong I was. I see how this Machiavellian view, especially when applied in a contentious political arena, is dangerous to democracy, contrary to Rule of Law, unethical. It's how alt-right Republicans, the Tea Party, Evangelical extremists took over State houses, Congress, the White House. They justified outrageous partisan gerrymandering, tampering with the right to vote and voter suppression, power grabs and abuse of power, lying and cheating to high heaven to get there.  

But no end justifies these means in a democracy. They in fact undermine democracy. They are contrary to our moral duty to be good citizens, contrary to the ethics and character of our actions.   

Ted Cruz's father Raphael Cruz heads a ministry called "The Purifying Fire International Ministry."  It's a form of Evangelical extremism (called Dominism) that calls on Christian leaders to take over the State and make the goals and laws of the nation "biblical."  It seeks to reduce government to defense and the protection of property rights.  It fuses the Christian religion with American imperialism and nationalism. It's impervious to reason and fact (wikipedia).They seek to achieve their ends by any means necessary.

So we have the Christian version of extremist Islam "Sharia Law."  So we have Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, the Alt-Right and Evangelicals who support Trump no matter what he does or says, no matter how contrary to traditional norms, values and morals. The end, a Biblical Christian State, justifies the means. 

Does it? Really? We can sure get far off the moral road of life when we abandon our values to achieve a self-serving end. We start playing on the terrain of evil, where  criminality, dishonesty, immorality triumph. Is this what we want? 

As Michelle Obama reminds us, achieving an end, achieving success, "doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square."  You can't take shortcuts or "play by your own set of rules."  We need to remember this as we continue to resist the Trump regime and its Republican enablers, work for change, try to salvage our tattered democracy. It's a long and winding road. But MLK believed that "the arc of history is toward justice."  Hard as it is, I believe it, too.   

Throughout the mid-term elections, Trump and Republicans said they would protect people with pre-existing conditions, all the while pushing a lawsuit to have the ACA declared unconstitutional. Texas Republican judge Reed O'Connor did the deed, waiting until AFTER the elections to declare the ACA "unconstitutional," a goal achieved by any means necessary. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Glaring Contrasts: Trump Rebuked in George H.W. Bush's Eulogies

photo Huff post.
The state funeral of president George H.W. Bush, for a brief moment in time, was orchestrated to restore a sense of dignity to the Office of the President and the democratic republic for which we stand.

DC looked grand and beautiful. The images of President Bush lying in state in the Capitol rotunda, the ceremony and pomp, brought solemnity. The service dog at the coffin brought humanity. The armed services members and honor guards who carried the coffin and stood watch, disciplined, the embodiment of loyalty, touched a chord of patriotism.

Whatever we may feel about politics, whatever our party, it felt good to be united around a sense of common decency.  All those Republicans and Democrats who filled the National Cathedral sat in common purpose, at least for a time, beyond the polarization and politics rending our nation asunder.

Well, maybe with the exception of Trump, who looked miserable.  He looked like he didn't want to be there, like he didn't belong. So did his wife, who wore macrabre eye makeup that totally hid her eyes, dark, ghoulish, inappropriate. I looked at Hillary, looking straight ahead without acknowledging their presence, and I was with her in silent dissent. Trump has been nasty and vicious to Hillary and to just about everyone sitting in that pew. He really does not belong.

We are hungry for the return of respect for our institutions, the three branches of government, now enmeshed in the noxious swamp of the Trump regime and McConnell's abuse-of-power that has enabled it.

We are hungry for honoring our immigrant past and diverse present, a diversity so natural and beautiful in the service at the National Cathedral, evident in the choirs, the honor guards, military bands, the families, the pastors, the audience. It felt like the real America was for the moment, for the occasion, on display.

We are hungry for moral leadership and respect for public service.  For "humanness."  A sense of humor would go a long way, too.

There's no getting around it: Every tribute to President George H.W. Bush, whether understated or overblown, every remembrance, every story, was a rebuke of the current occupant of the Oval Office. It's simply impossible not to make the comparisons. One appears as the antithesis of the other.

It felt like that when presidential historian Jon Meacham said of his friend Bush that his "life code" was "tell the truth, don't blame people, forgive, stay the course."  Trump is just the opposite.  Mean, vindictive, undisciplined, impulsive, petty, a liar and a con.  His hubris, his unwillingness to listen and learn, is bringing him down.

Faithfulness, loyalty, humaneness.
Trump didn't even offer the appearance of participating in the service.  He sat there in the front pew, arms crossed, like a lump on a log, a man without a practicing religious belief, without spirituality, without moral scruples. No doubt he is as ignorant of the Bible as he is of the U.S. Constitution. He doesn't read.

Nor does he have any idea of what it means to lead a life of public service or to believe in a purpose larger than himself. It's just not there.

To put it bluntly, Trump is so unfit, so bad for America, that any president who came before him looks pretty good by comparison. It's how history is revised.

If anyone who came before Trump didn't lie to the American people daily, if they didn't impulsively say mean things (tweets in the time of Trump) about our institutions, our government agencies, our civil servants, the media, they look pretty good. If they didn't hide their tax returns from the public, have outrageous conflicts of interest, befriend enemies and alienate friends, they look okay. If they didn't act in plain view as if they were above the law, they look even better.

I wasn't a fan of George H.W. Bush when he was president. I railed against his domestic and foreign policies, his trickle down economics, his unwillingness to address the AIDs crisis, the Iran-Contra affair.  I was glad that he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Clean Air Act. But much of the politics, apparent in hindsight, actually became, on many levels, prelude to the rise of the Trump wing of the Republican Party. The Republicans went pretty low. That wing has now eclipsed the old East coast elite and taken over the GOP.  They now go lower than ever, traitors to our democratic values, the right to vote, the rule of law. Nothing is sacrosanct.

As an historian, I can see how and why the narrative is shifting and will continue to shift. History will look at the documents and the facts, the complicated evidence, the criminal cases, the Mueller investigation,  the impact of social media and the weponization of information, the flaws and the strengths, the negatives and positives.    

Eulogies at a funeral will not be the defining measure of the nature or success of a presidency.  But in this present case, in the words and stories carefully chosen to remember George H.W. Bush, the eulogies shed a somber light on the current occupant of the Oval Office, and it's not good.

Here's a little history of that train ride that went through small town Texas carrying Bush to his final resting place.  I enjoyed that ride!
The train carrying Bush's coffin from Houston to College Park, TX.
Getty images.
The first President to use a funeral train was President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
"With malice toward none," he said after the Civil War. What a tragedy his murder was. 

Corbia/VCG via Getty Images

Train carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt's coffin across America.
Getty Images. I think that was the last time there was a funeral train ride, until George H.W. Bush. 

This is a good time to remember FDR actually. We need a new New Deal for America. The income and wages gap has gotten worse under the Republicans, who know as well as the Congressional Budget Office, economic gurus, & financial experts that 'trickle down' doesn't work, has NEVER worked. Still McConnell/Ryan/Trump & ignoble Senate Rs rammed through their tax cut for billionaires  and huge corporations knowing it would explode the deficit and our national debt. A recession is coming, hard economic times.  American workers and middle class  will suffer.  The only good thing about the tRump era is the rise of RESISTANCE, the revival of a nationwide REFORM movement, working for change from the bottom up, in town and farms, in our communities. We've also seens a revival of investigative journalism, boding well for our time and the future. 

Some news sources

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Nationalism that Brings Suffering and Death

wikimedia public images
November 11, 2018
My friend Alice reminded me that the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I is also the 80th  anniversary of Kristallnacht.  What a juxtaposition.  As if the ending of that brutally cruel war  in 1918 was not enough to keep us from another devastating war 20 years later.   As if the rise of Nazi nationalism in Germany that led to concentration camps and the deaths of millions upon millions was not enough to halt the rise of Nationalism in the 21st century.

"I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that
having survived I owe something to the dead. and that anyone
 who does not remember betrays them again."  Elie Wiesel
Kristallnacht was Hitler's state-organized pogram  against Jewish communities throughout Germany on November 9 and 10, 1938, it's name taken from the shards of glass littering the streets after the  windows of Jewish-owned stores, homes, buildings and synagogues were smashed. Over 400 synagogues were destroyed, thousands of homes, over 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, forced to march through Baden-Baden, and then sent to concentration camps. The tragic pogram ushered in additional economic and political persecution of Jews and the beginning of the Holocaust. It led to a second World War.

Europe witnessed first hand the worst face of nationalism and its devastating consequences.

On Armistice Day 2018, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, stood before the iconic Arc de Triomphe, in a city that was occupied by the Nazis during World War II,  and reminded us that we are doomed to repeat this history if we don't condemn the kind of nationalism now rearing its ugly head in Europe and in America.

He clearly had in mind the nationalism embodied in Trump's "America First" policies (if anything Trump does can rightly be called a "policy"), and his ignorant rant "I am a Nationalist."

"Nationalism is a betrayal of Patriotism," Macron proclaimed.  Trump, who knows nothing about WWI or WWII, nothing about history, did not take kindly to this public whipping.   He is still fuming, a month later.

In honor of the anniversary of the Armistice, Alice did a program at the Teaneck, NJ library called "Poets look at War."  She chose poetry that covered 100 years of war from WWI to the Iraq War. One of the poems she read was "The Yellow Star that goes With Me," by Jessica Greenbaum.  She said it was "my unconsious motivation to memorialize the impact of the Holocaust," a motivation that became more and more conscious as she read it.  I didn't know the poem so I immediately googled it, and was taken by it.

We're on a New York City subway ride to Chambers Street:  a subway ride to the gas chambers of the Holocaust, and to the extreme deprivation, fear,  starvation, thirst that millions suffered.  Intense, insufferable deprivation.  "I mean really dying of thirst,"  "absolutely freezing," packed together like laundry, on the way to Chambers Street.  Hitler's "final solution," targeting, branding, and killing Jewish people because they were Jewish. "The yellow star that goes with me." Concentration camps, Auschwitz/Birkenau, instant death, painful unmitigated suffering. Men, women, children, even children, gassed without mercy, worked to death. Unbearable images that rise up unbidden, when on a train, taking a shower, slicing an apple.  Warped sense of  time and space, no help, no exit, there are no answers.  Only suffering, loss of the life force, madness.  "The only thing to breathe is everybody's stains." Yes, there's no need to analyze this poem. We feel it.  Horror.  Sadness. Deprivation. Despair. 


Sometimes when I'm thirsty, I mean really dying of thirst
For five minutes
Sometimes when I board a train
Sometimes in December when I'm absolutely freezing

For five minutes
Sometimes when I take a shower
Sometimes in December when I'm absolutely freezing
Sometimes when I reach from steam to towel, when the bed has
soft blue sheets

Sometimes when I take a shower
For twenty minutes, the white tiles dripping with water
Sometimes when I reach from steam to towel, when the bed has
soft blue sheets
Sometimes when I split an apple, or when I'm hungry, painfully

For twenty minutes, the white tiles dripping with water
As the train passes Chambers Street. We’re all crammed in like laundry
Sometimes when I split an apple, or when I'm hungry, painfully
For half an hour, sometimes when I’m on a train

As it passes Chambers Street. We’re all crammed in like laundry
It’s August. The only thing to breathe is everybody’s stains
For half an hour. Sometimes when I’m on a train
Or just stand along the empty platform

It’s August. The only thing to breathe is everybody’s stains
Sometimes when I board a train
Or just stand along the empty platform—
Sometimes when I'm thirsty, I mean really dying of thirst

—From Inventing Difficulty, by Jessica Greenbaum (Silverfish, 2000)




"I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. and anyone who does not remember betrays them again." Elie Wiesel

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Members of Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) in Toledo: Have faith in Ukraine

Members of Ukrainian Rada in Toledo. Oksana Shabas, PC Ukraine.  Elizabeth
Balint and Bill Hicks, (far right).
"Ukraine only achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, so we are a relatively new independent country, and like the early days of the United States, we need time to work out our  future. We are on the right track, and we are making progress, but we have lots of challenges and it will take time." 

So began Ostap Yednak, a member of the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) and Secretary of  its Committee on Environmental Policy and Natural Resources, in giving an interested group of Toledoans some perspective on the history and present status of Ukraine.

His message: Have faith in Ukraine.  He spoke as a current elected legislator and also as someone who had participated in the Orange Revolution, along with his dad he lovingly recalled, and believed in its promise of a free and prosperous Ukraine.

Yednak was joined by two other members of the Ukrainian RADA who are in the U.S. to meet with our Representatives and Senators in Washington, as well as with Ohio local and state elected officials.  Rep. Marcy Kaptur and other Ohio representatives are helping with these meetings.  Five members were originally scheduled to come but the Russian attack on the Ukraine's navy in the Sea of Azov and the declaration of Martial Law prevented them from travelling.

The three Rada members are:
* Yuri Ihorovych Solovei, Petr Poroshenko Bloc, from Ivano-Frankivs'k, Ukraine, the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Economic Policy.  He is actively working on enhancing the governing capacity of local governments and rural areas through decentralization reform, and also in the areas of pension and judicial reform.  He is interested in ways of increasing self-government in rural areas, as well as in anti-corruption efforts.  He is the author and co-author of more than 30 bills aimed at the development and implementation of local self-government bodies.

* Ostap Volodymyrovych Yednak, Power of the People party, from Brody, Ukraine, Secretary of the Committee on Environmental Policy and Natural Resources.  His areas of interest are public administration reform, anti-corruption activities, security and defense, energy, and the peaceful return of the Russian-occupied territories in Donbas and Crimea.

* Oleksandr Valeriiovych Opanasenko, the Samopomich party, from Hlevakha, Ukraine,  Deputy Head of the Committee on Freedom of Speech and Informational Policy. Before being elected to the Rada, he worked as a financial director for several large Ukrainian companies.  He has created, advocated and implemented legislation in the fields of open data, public information, and TV and radio regulation.  His interests include protecting journalistic activity, regulation of intellectual property, and developing an efficient system of tax administration.

The delegation is assisted by facilitator Oksana Shabas, Regional Manager for U.S. Peace Corps in Ukraine. It's lovely to have her in Ohio. Also in the delegation is Sergei Vladov, the interpreter, who did a fantastic job, although the Rada members were impressively fluent enough in English to share and converse.

The Ukrainian legislators are here as part of an Open World Leadership Center international exchange program, organized by Elizabeth Balint, head of the Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (formerly Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development) and the talented teacher Bill Hilt of the World Affairs Council of Northwest Ohio.

Peter Ujvagi, Toledo City Council member, was on hand to join Elizabeth and Bill in giving our visitors a warm Toledo welcome.  It was refreshing to hear Ujvagi talk about Toledo as a "City of Immigrants," like all of America. "We all came from somewhere else," he said. Ujvagi talked about escaping Communist-controlled Budapest in 1966 to come to the US in search of freedom and opportunity. He also stressed how important it is for Americans to learn about Ukraine, it's history, current situation, and its plans for the  future.

Members of an appreciative audience agreed. We were fortunate to be able to hear these Ukrainian leaders share news, information, and insight into what's happening in their country today. We got real live updates. We needed it, because it seems that news of Ukraine is under the media radar. I often wonder why the media doesn't cover what's happening there, and why our present administration doesn't seem to care (another story for another time). It seems unfathomable that the U.S. has hardly reacted to Russia's recent bold aggression in the Sea of Azov.  It's such a serious act of war. News reports indicate that the president has not yet answered calls from Ukraine's president Poroshenko.* Perhaps that's changed.

It is, afterall, Russia's illegal invasion and occupation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine that led to major economic sanctions against Russia. These are, indeed, the very sanctions that Putin desperately wanted lifted, sanctions that led him and his Russian operatives and oligarchs to intervene in the 2016 elections, sanctions that are center stage in the Mueller investigation of collusion and obstruction of justice.  Americans need to know more about Ukraine's history, the role Paul Manafort played on behalf of Russia in Ukraine and in the Trump campaign, and the nature and extent of Russia's war against a sovereign nation.

This image is 2 years old, but the situation has only
 gotten worse because Putin refuses to withdraw  his
troops, weapons, operatives, & cyber warfare.
Yurii Solovei noted that because of Russia's aggression--a relentless hybrid war so costly in economic and human terms-- Ukraine has been forced to expand its military. "Over 10,000 Ukrainans have been killed, over a million people displaced," and there is no end in sight.  Ukraine was no match for the military might of Russia in 2014, when Crimea was invaded.  As a result, Ukraine has increased its military strength probably a hundred fold. Ukraine "now has the largest army in Europe," Solovei informed us, a fact that surprised this audience. The U.S. has helped make this possible, giving Ukraine sophisticated anti-tank missiles called Javelins and other defensive weapons systems.**

Solovei reminded us that in 1994 Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for promises that its sovereignty would be protected (the Budapest Memorandum).***   But that is not what has happened, a painful but important lesson. The question arises: Would Russia have invaded Crimea if Ukraine still had its nuclear arsenal?

"We have learned that we alone are responsible for our future.....We alone have to make the changes our country needs to survive," Solovei emphasized. He saw hope in a rising generation of people "born in an independent Ukraine."  He also thinks that it is in the West's best interest to have a strong Ukraine, as well as strong information sharing policies that cut through propaganda and present the truth. Pravda, truth, must prevail.

Oleksandr Opanasenko, of the Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy, agreed with Solovei on the need for strong information policies. He talked about insuring an independent media that educates and informs public opinion. "We have to be committed to creating and implementing legislation to promote open data, public education, and media literacy," he said.  Ukraine is making progress on these issues even in these most difficult of times.

One of the most important things I learned as a PCV in eastern Ukraine is that the people of this nation are strong, they are survivors, resiliant and resourceful. Their NGOs and civil society organizations are working for change from the ground up.  Ostap Yednak noted that much of the reform in Ukraine "is being driven" by these grassroots efforts. The people themselves are preserving and honoring their own traditions and culture, their music, art, and poetry.  They are keeping a Ukrainian spirit alive, and they are more unified than ever in their patriotism for Ukraine.  They might not always sound optimistic about cutting through the corruption and the economic gaps that make life hard for them, but they know how to survive, they help each other, they make due. And many of them are working every day to bring positive change that helps the people. It's a long and winding road, it takes time, as we know from the history of change in our own country, as Ostap Yednak reminded us.

The saying about "turning lemons into lemonade" applies many times over to the people of Ukraine.  The visit from the members of the Ukrainian Rada affirms the strength of the Ukrainian people.  That is the greatest hope of all for the Ukrainian nation.  We hope that a hundred years from now, Ukraine will be a beacon of hope to the world. "Give us time.  Have faith in Ukraine."
"Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko kept up the pressure from Kiev, saying Putin had refused to take his calls since the crisis started." Poroshenko told France 24 in an interview that Ukraine would try to resolve the standoff diplomatically but insisted Russian forces withdraw from Crimea, and return its ships and sailors "captured illegally in the neutral waters of the Black Sea.""

**  a quid pro quo necessitated by war.

"In 1994, through an accident of fate, the newly independent country of Ukraine found itself in possession of the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal./ At first, Ukraine planned to keep its nuclear weapons. But, at the insistence of the two strongest powers in the world — Russia and the United States — Ukraine agreed to give up their nukes in exchange for perpetual guarantees of sovereignty and territorial integrity. This supposedly ironclad treaty, signed 20 years ago, was the Budapest Memorandum. /  The world was a different place then. The Soviet Union was breaking up, and many of the former Russian satellite states in Eastern Europe were becoming independent countries.

Why not give up their nukes? Russia was their protector and would always be there, and the U.S. lived up to its treaties. Ukraine didn’t need nuclear weapons. The Treaty was signed by Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, John Major (of England) and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma./All of these leaders agreed to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, meaning any Russian support for Crimean independence would be in violation of Russia’s international obligations." That's why we ask: Would Russia have 
invaded Crimea if Ukraine still had nuclear weapons?  And doesn't the US and the West have an obligation to defend Ukraine against outside aggression?  

Friday, November 23, 2018

When death comes

Do not stand at my grave and weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Malcolm and his wife Pamela in a Hillsboro, VA Memorial Day
Parade. Malcolm was a passionate voice for conserving the rural land and farms
of Loudon County, VA. 
An old friend from my high school days just died, and I find myself grieving as if we had never parted upon graduating so long ago.  Malcolm Baldwin, classmate at Harley School, Rochester, NY, brilliant, funny, voracious reader and learner, class leader, and that twinkle in his eye that all who knew him comment on to this day. The sadness hits me, to see the fabric of our lives unraveling.
Harley student council, I think. Memory photo from
classmate Barbara Poole von Schilcher.
I remember Malcolm for his wide-ranging interests and curious intellect. I remember how he passed a news-of-the-day quiz with flying colors in a Harley social studies class, while I struggled because I wasn't paying as much attention to what was going on in the world.  Malcolm paid attention.

After we graduated from Harley, we went our separate ways, all of us in this lively, intelligent class of 16 serious students with bright futures. We scattered into the four winds like seeds floating across a field of wildflowers. We went to colleges and universities across the country. Malcolm went to Haverford and then to the University of Chicago Law School. I took off to Wheaton College in Norton, Mass, and then on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate study in American history. We all went in different directions, on different paths, far apart, finding ourselves as we went along, finding our ways to a sense of purpose, to work and the professions, to family and kids, to farms and cities, to travel and other adventures.

We shared our stories at the 50th Harley Class reunion. I'm glad we did. I got a glimpse of Malcolm in full stride, retired from the U.S. Foreign Service, pioneering environmental lawyer, a farmer he called himself, talking about his beloved WeatherLea Farm, about raising sheep and growing grapes, about his commitment to conserving the land and small farms of Loudon County, Virginia. We caught up as much as we could, learned of hopes and dreams and changes, talked about where we had been and where we were going.

This Wendell Berry saying
reminds me of Malcolm.
I had just been accepted into the Peace Corps, so I knew I was going someplace far away. It was a dream I had had since JKF established it in the early 1960s. That's how Malcolm and I connected again at the 50th reunion. Pamela asked if I knew where I was going. "Somewhere in eastern Europe," I said. "You're probably going to Ukraine," she replied. Malcolm agreed. We talked about it for a while, she and Malcolm sharing their knowledge and experience of working abroad.

They were right. I did go to Ukraine soon after that reunion, living for the next two years (2009-2011) as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the village of Starobelsk, Lugansk oblast, not far from the Russian border. My friends joked I could see Russia from there, and they weren't far off. That part of far-eastern Ukraine, including Crimea, has since been invaded and occupied by Russia. Malcolm and Priscilla understood the terror I felt for my friends, still in harm's way to this day.  They understood as well how different the experience of a PCV was compared to Paul Manafort's, who was there when I served, although I had no idea at the time. I learned when I returned to the US that while we volunteers worked to help Ukrainians strengthen their communities, Manafort worked for Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs on behalf of Russia, against the self-interests of Ukraine.  

Malcolm shared a passion for the land
like poet and farmer Wendell Berry.
When I learned about Malcolm's passing, I turned to some of my favorite poets seeking comfort and assurance. Mary Oliver and Wendall Berry came immediately to mind. Their poetry reminds me of Malcolm. Oliver has a way of making the natural world come alive, and Wendell Berry is a farmer, a conservationist and advocate for small farms like Malcolm. I imagine he liked their poetry. I've put a few poems here. I want to believe Malcolm is now embraced by the awesome wonders of the natural world he loved, the same place I hope one day to find my brother Loren.  It's why I love the poem by Elizabeth Frye that begins this remembrance.

Trees, by Wendell Berry
I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

Messenger By Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

The Best News of 2018? Indivisible and Grassroots Resistance

"This time two years ago, we were lost, angry, and scared (okay, we were pissed. Really pissed). Republicans had taken the House, ...