“. . . I’m here to tell you, that you should still be concerned with our current course, and should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.” ~ President Barack Obama, speech at U. of Illinois (September 7, 2018)

Image result for obama speech at university of illinois


“The antidote to a government controlled by a powerful few, a government that divides, is a government by the organized, energized and inclusive many. That’s what this moment’s about. That has to be the answer.” ~ President Barack Obama, speech at U. of Illinois (September 7, 2018)

Sunday afternoon, sunny and lovely, 69 degrees.

I know that I’m on a political bent as of late, but how can I not be? So much is happening so fast that it’s hard to keep all of it straight. It’s no secret that I’m an ardent liberal, but more than that, I’m a patriot. I believe in this country, and I believe in the Constitution. And the current state of affairs is breaking my heart and making my blood pressure go crazy, so I try to ameliorate the effects a bit by writing about them or by sharing some of the more significant items such as what I’m featuring today.

Former President Barack Obama addressed an audience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in September 2018, and although this speech was delivered over a year ago, I believe that his message is particularly important and relevant in these dark days of our republic. I’m not going to put the entire transcript here because it’s always better to hear Obama’s words as opposed to reading them—he remains a powerful orator, capable of grabbing and holding an audience with his words and cadence. It’s a striking contrast to the bluster and fumble of 45.

I have pulled out just a few of the more relevant snippets:

The point Washington made, the point that is essential to American democracy is that in a government of and by and for the people there should be no permanent ruling class. There are only citizens, who through their elected and temporary representatives determine our course and determine our character.

More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged, who want to keep us divided, and keep us angry and keep us cynical, because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.

It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.

It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories that we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people.

It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say we don’t target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray. We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies — not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.

You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert, this is not Coachella. We don’t need a messiah. All we need are decent, honest, hardworking people who are accountable and who have America’s best interest at heart.

If you are tired of politicians who are all for nothing but “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. You’ve got to do what the Parkland kids are doing. Some of them have not eligible to vote yet. They’re out there working to change minds and registering people. They’re not giving up until we have a Congress that sees your lives more important as a campaign check from the NRA. You’ve got to vote!


“. . . it was one of our most important tasks at the embassy in Kyiv to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves.” ~ Amb. Marie Yovanovitch Opening Statement (October 11, 2019)

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch arriving at Capitol Hill for Congressional testimony

“It was compelling, it was impactful, it was powerful and I just feel grateful for the opportunity to have received that information.” ~ Democratic Rep. Denny Heck commenting after Marie Yovanovitch’s 9 Hours of Testimony to Congress

Saturday afternoon, overcast with drizzle, 54 degrees.

I decided that before I try to clean this house, I would share the entire opening statement that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch made to Congress. It’s an incredible, informative read, and I hope that eventually her entire testimony will be released. I am so impressed by this woman’s courage and fortitude. She is precisely the kind of person this country needs right now to help navigate these very troubled waters. Her statement is both restrained and powerful, a piece of discourse akin to The Federalist Papers, in particular, No. 51.


Opening Statement of Marie L. Yovanovitch to the
House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence, Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Committee on
Oversight and Reform

October 11, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to start with this statement today.

For the last 33 years, it has been my great honor to serve the American people as a Foreign Service Officer, over six Administrations—four Republican, and two Democratic. I have served in seven different countries, five of them hardship posts, and was appointed to serve as an ambassador three times—twice by a Republican President, and once by a Democrat. Throughout my career, I have stayed true to the oath that Foreign Service Officers take and observe every day: “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and “that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Like all foreign service officers with whom I have been privileged to serve, I have understood that oath as a commitment to serve on a strictly nonpartisan basis, to advance the foreign policy determined by the incumbent President, and to work at all times to strengthen our national security and promote our national interests.

My Background
I come by these beliefs honestly and through personal
experience. My parents fled Communist and Nazi regimes. Having seen, first hand, the war, poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the U.S. represents. And they raised me to cherish these values as well. Their sacrifices allowed me to attend Princeton University, where I focused my studies on the Soviet Union. Given my upbringing, it has been the honor of a lifetime to help to foster those principles as a career Foreign Service Officer.

From August 2016 until May 2019, I served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Our policy, fully embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, was to help Ukraine become a stable and independent democratic state, with a market economy integrated into Europe.

Recent Ukrainian History
Ukraine is a sovereign country, whose borders are inviolate and whose people have the right to determine their own destiny. These are the bedrock principles of our policy. Because of Ukraine’s geostrategic position bordering Russia on its east, the warm waters of the oil-rich Black Sea to its south, and four NATO allies to its west, it is critical to the security of the United States that Ukraine remain free and democratic and that it continue to resist Russian expansionism.

Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea, its invasion of Eastern Ukraine, and its de facto control over the Sea of Azov, make clear Russia’s malign intentions towards Ukraine. If we allow Russia’s actions to stand, we will set a precedent that the United States will regret for decades to come.

Supporting Ukraine’s integration into Europe and combating Russia’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine have anchored US policy since the Ukrainian people protested on the Maidan in 2014 and demanded to be a part of Europe and live according to the rule of law. That was US policy when I was appointed Ambassador in August 2016, and it was reaffirmed as the policy of the current administration in early 2017. 

“. . . it is in our national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check . . . a country where rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed, and people are treated equally and according to the law”

The Fight Against Corruption
The Revolution of Dignity, and the Ukrainian people’s demand to end corruption, forced the new Ukrainian government to take measures to fight the rampant corruption that long permeated that country’s political and economic systems. We have long understood that strong anti-corruption efforts must form an essential part of our policy in Ukraine; now there was a window of opportunity to do just that.

Why is this important? Put simply: anti-corruption efforts serve Ukraine’s interests. They serve ours as well. Corrupt leaders are inherently less trustworthy, while an honest and accountable Ukrainian leadership makes a U.S.-Ukraine partnership more reliable and more valuable to the U.S. A level playing field in this strategically located country—one with a European landmass exceeded only by Russia and with one of the largest populations in Europe—creates an environment in which U.S. business can more easily trade, invest and profit. Corruption is a security issue as well, because corrupt officials are vulnerable to Moscow. In short, it is in our national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check. 

Two Wars
But change takes time, and the aspiration to instill rule-of-law values has still not been fulfilled. Since 2014, Ukraine has been at war, not just with Russia, but within itself, as political and economic forces compete to determine what kind of country Ukraine will become: the same old, oligarch-dominated Ukraine where corruption is not just prevalent, but is the system? Or the country that Ukrainians demanded in the Revolution of Dignity—a country where rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed, and people are treated equally and according to the law?

During the 2019 presidential elections, the Ukrainian people answered that question once again. Angered by insufficient progress in the fight against corruption, Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly elected a man who said that ending corruption would be his number one priority. The transition, however, created fear among the political elite, setting the stage for some of the issues I expect we will be discussing today.

Understanding Ukraine’s recent history, including the significant tension between those who seek to transform the country and those who wish to continue profiting from the old ways, is of critical importance to understanding the events you asked me here today to describe. Many of those events—and the false narratives that emerged from them—resulted from an unfortunate alliance between Ukrainians who continue to operate within a corrupt system, and Americans who either did not understand that corrupt system, or who may have chosen, for their own purposes, to ignore it.

It seems obvious, but bears stating, that when dealing with officials from any country—or those claiming connections to officialdom—one must understand their background, their personal interests, and what they hope to get out of a particular interaction before deciding how to evaluate their description of events or acting on their information.

To be clear, Ukraine is filled with many citizens and officials who want the very things we have always said we want for the United States: a government that acts in the interests of its people; “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” The overwhelming support for President Zelenskiy in April’s election proved that. And it was one of our most important tasks at the embassy in Kyiv to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves. Continue reading ““. . . it was one of our most important tasks at the embassy in Kyiv to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves.” ~ Amb. Marie Yovanovitch Opening Statement (October 11, 2019)”

If it’s Friday, it must mean leftovers . . .

The wit and wisdom of Meryl Streep on the insiduousness of sexism in our society:

imageimage

“A heinous act of mass murder — either by terrorists or by some psychotic who should have been locked up long ago — will be the pretext to unleash a tsunami of gun control.” ~ Wayne LaPierre, NRA EVP/CEO, from a 2013 op-ed

The 10,000 square foot mansion the LaPierres wanted the NRA to purchase for them in 2018

“They’re sending out requests for money, saying they might go bankrupt in their legal fight with New York. They’re going through all of this drama of saying they need money, while they are spending money on all these things that can’t even be justified.” ~ ROB PINCUS, Gun Rights Advocate

Saturday evening, sunny, and warm, 83 degrees.

I’ve been working on this post since this morning, and it’s now after 8 p.m., so I’m dog tired and hurt all over. Just thought I’d share that tidbit.

NRA Insignias/Getty Images

So you are a proud member of the NRA. Fine, truly. It’s your right as an American citizen to belong to anything you choose. I may not agree with you, but that’s my right as an American citizen. We get to disagree about things. Again, a free and open society allows for that. Here’s hoping we continue to be a free and open society for many years to come, a society that endorses freedom of the press and your right to be a safe gun owner.

But allow me to elucidate for you a few NRA facts about which you may be unfamiliar, a few facts about exactly how the NRA spends your membership dues. You may be surprised . . . or maybe not. But first, a few background facts about the organization.

“It is imperative that the NRA cleans its own house . . .” ~ Lt. Col. Allen West, Ret., NRA Board Member, in a blog post (May 14, 2019)

NRA Background Information:

  • The NRA was co-founded in 1871 by William Conant Church and Captain George Wood Wingate. Prior to 1970, the organization was primarily non-partisan, but during the 1970s it became increasingly aligned with the Republican party.
  • This nonprofit group (501c4) has an annual revenue of around $400 million and enjoys tax-exempt status as a “social welfare” organization. As such, it is not required to disclose its donors. It is, however, required to file a tax return declaring its revenue sources, which includes membership dues.
  • Wayne LaPierre was appointed executive vice president in 1991 and still serves as CEO. But did you know that LaPierre’s early career included working for Democratic lawmakers in Virginia? Irony, huh?
  • Nine US presidents have been NRA members. In addition to Grant, they are: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush (who resigned in 1995), and Donald Trump. Three US vice presidents, two chief justices of the US Supreme Court, and several US congressmen, as well as legislators and officials of state governments are members.
  • NRA membership dues after 2018 hike: Regular membership fees when not running promotions: annual $45, two-year $75, three-year $100, five-year $150 and lifetime memberships $1500, 60 monthly payments of $25 (Interestingly, these rates differ depending upon which site you are exploring, but I got my information directly from the NRA site.)
  • Since 2013, the NRA has cited is membership as being around 5 million.
  • According to Newsweek and multiple sources, the NRA’s membership typically gets a boost after tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut.
  • The NRA received twice as much money from nearly five times as many donors in the seven days after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting than it did in the seven days before the shooting.
  • Even though a Quinnipiac poll conducted in the days after February’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting showed 97 percent of surveyed gun owners support universal background checks for gun purchases, the NRA still opposes such legislation.
  • According to Rick Newman on Yahoo Finance: The NRA’s political spending takes two forms: money spent on lobbying, and money spent on elections, whether direct donations to candidates or spending on their behalf through a political-action committee. Required disclosure forms show spending of $5.1 million on lobbying and $54 million on elections, or $59.1 million total.
  • According to an article by Mike Spies in The New Yorker, the NRA has “reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, but it has substantially increased its spending on messaging.”
  • The NRA receives most of its income—$164 million in 2016—from dues paid by its  members, and contributions, including money donated to its political-action committees, brought in another $104 million in 2016.
“I can think of no other non-profit organization that compensates their Executive Vice President the kind of salary and benefits that Mr. Lapierre gets relative to how much employees receive. I also cannot understand how a person like Mr. Lapierre treats the people that work for him like his own personal indentured servants . . . ” ~ Andy Lander, former NRA employee of 13 years in an open letter

Facts of which you may be unaware regarding questionable NRA membership totals and expenditures by the upper echelon of the organization:

On NRA membership, real and not-so-real:

  • Banners of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox, and Dana Loesch outside at the organization’s annual convention in Dallas in 2018 (Justin Sullivan/Getty) Does anyone else find these banners slightly frightening? No. Just me?

    A Newsweek review of the tax exempt records, known as 990 filings (full text of 990 from 2015 here, and 2017 here), shows wild fluctuation in membership numbers from year to year, but also an overall decline in membership revenue between 2007 and 2016.

  • According to an article in The Trace, there was a  “22 percent drop in membership revenue—from $163 million in 2016 to $128 million in 2017. Dues from members accounted for just 40 percent of the NRA’s total revenue in 2017 — the lowest percentage in a decade.”
  • Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist, said the group uses a few other tricks to pad its numbers: counting lifetime members who have died, counting annual members whose memberships have lapsed in the 13 month: “one method he and his colleagues used was to continue counting annual members on its rolls even after their membership lapsed, at least for another month, in hopes they would renew.”

On the big, big costs associated with keeping the EVP/CEO:

  • NRA EVP/CEO Wayne LaPierre: I want it all . . . now . . .

    CEO Wayne LaPierre, gets paid very well. In 2015, the last year for which the group’s tax return is available, LaPierre earned $5.1 million in total compensation. That’s more than the CEOs of Alaska Air, CME Group, Church & Dwight, Dish Network or Garmin earned that year.

  • A comprehensive article in Business Insider states that “in 2017, the most recent year available, NRA paid LaPierre a salary of $1,366,688, plus an additional $67,289 in ‘other compensation from the organization and related organizations,'” according to the company’s 2017 990 tax form. That brings his total compensation that year to $1,433,977.
  • In 2015, the NRA paid a one-time $3,767,345 supplemental retirement payment to LaPierre, which will become even more startling later in the post.
  • La Pierre will continue to earn a salary even after leaving the NRA. State records show that LaPierre’s contract “provides for consulting services and personal appearances upon the end of his employment, at an annual rate that starts at his currently contracted final base salary and is later reduced.”
  • An article on the NPR site by Tim Mark states that “of the more than 600 organizations that Charity Watch tracks, LaPierre is the eighth-highest compensated nonprofit leader in the country.
“The litany of red flags is just extraordinary.” ~ Marc Owens, former head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises

A Pro Publica article contends that in July 2018, a half-dozen of the organization’s accountants produced a document detailing the most egregious issues that needed to be addressed by the audit committee tasked with conducting NRA fiscal oversight. The audit committee document was part of an effort by NRA accountants last year to address a broad array of questionable transactions and business arrangements that they believed could threaten the organization’s tax-exempt status.

The “List of Top Concerns for the Audit Committee” details a range of questionable transactions and business arrangements involving several top NRA vendors and executives. Violations of the organizations procedures and policies included hiring staff without HR knowledge, reimbursement of living expenses beyond HR policies.

The transactions involved top NRA executives, favored vendors, and consultants, including Josh Powell, LaPierre’s former chief of staff. The organization’s 2017 tax filings revealed that Powell had racked up more than a hundred thousand dollars in personal expenses—including a housing allowance—paid by the NRA.

That being said, it appears that the biggest infractions came from the very top.

On LaPierre’s Questionable Expenses:

  • A leaked document shows that LaPierre likes his clothes—for purchases dating back to 2004 From the Zegna boutique in Beverly Hills the total for designer suits was $274,695.
  • Fox News reports that the CEO billed the group’s outside ad agency $39,000 for one day of shopping at a Beverly Hills clothing boutique, $18,300 for a car and driver in Europe and had the agency cover $13,800 in rent for a summer intern, according to newly revealed NRA internal documents.

    went on vacation just after the Sandy Hook, CN, massacre of school children
  • Among the travel expenses billed to the NRA’s former ad agency are more than $200,000 in “Air Transportation” costs during a one-month period in late 2012 and early 2013, in part related to a two-week trip over Christmas to the Bahamas.
  • The Fox News article also states that “The documents, posted anonymously on the internet, provide new details of the clothing, travel and other expenses totaling more than $542,000 that Ackerman McQueen Inc. alleges Mr. LaPierre billed to it. (The NRA is now in litigation with its former ad agency)
  • LaPierre charged the NRA’s ad agency $39,947 for a private jet to Eleuthera just three days after the Sandyhook Massacre and then $29,100 for a plane from Nassau, Bahamas, to Dallas, Texas.
  • But it wasn’t all vacations and travel expenses for LaPierre and his spouse: The NRA also spent tens of thousands of dollars in travel and lodging expenses for hair and makeup artists for Susan LaPierre.
“This is like the worst kind of corporate waste because buying the house does nothing to advance the interests of the NRA. How can you explain that? It’s not like he’s been underpaid.” ~ Daniel Kurtz, New York attorney specializing in non-profit law

About that nine-bathroom house on the golf course:

  • The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2019 that in 2018 LaPierre was in talks with the NRA’s former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, to facilitate the purchase of a 10,000 suqare foot house in Dallas that was priced at $6.2 million at the time: “The discussions about the house purchase occurred early last year, shortly after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Mr. LaPierre was concerned about his security and was interested in another residence besides his publicly known address in northern Virginia.” (Oh irony, thy name is LaPierre…….)
  • LaPierre’s wife, Susan, did quibble with one design detail, according to an email The Post reviewed. She thought the men’s closet may not be large enough.
  • According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “The origins of the idea to buy the mansion, its proposed purpose and the reason the deal never went through are now being fiercely disputed by the NRA and Ackerman McQueen, which are locked in a bitter legal fight.”
  • An aside: Before the big falling out and all of the drama, Ackerman and McQueen had a 38-year relationship with the NRA, and in 2017 (the most recent available records), the NRA paid the ad agency and its affiliates over $40 million. This relationship could be a post all by itself, and that’s not even getting into the whole Ollie North aspect.
  • Ackerman says they were setting up an LLC, WBB Investments, for LaPierre so that his home buying would not become public.
  • Even though the NRA claims that not a dime of its money was spent on the proposed purchase, a good faith check for $70,000 was in fact wired to WBB Investments towards the home’s purchase.
Check from NRA to WSB Investments, LLC for $70K

And finally, did you want that coffee with or without the retirement option:

Remember that insignificant sum of $3,767,345 the NRA paid into LaPierre’s retirement fund in 2015?

NRA Annual Meeting
  • According to the NPR article, a copy of 2019 National Rifle Association pension documents obtained from a source showed that the NRA’s pension obligations were approximately $134 million at the beginning of this year, but they had only set aside $93 million to meet those obligations.
  • FYI: There are 786 people in the NRA’s pension plan, of which 223 are currently employed by the organization. The company has underfunded pensions affecting hundreds of former and current employees—even as LaPierre made $1.4 million in 2017, according to the group’s most recent financial disclosures.
  • An article on The Trace states that even though hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed to a number of NRA executives, board members, and vendors through sweetheart deals and opaque financial vehicles, to cut costs, the organization froze contributions to employees’ pension plans and even eliminated free coffee at its headquarters.
  • Perhaps the coffee cutback is only a reflection of the bigger cash problem facing the NRA. In May, they sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, claiming that the state’s zealous regulatory efforts against its Carry Guard insurance program had cost the NRA “tens of millions of dollars” in lost revenue, legal fees, and other damages.

So that’s just a capsule of how the NRA gets and spends some of its money, and granted, this post ended up being much longer than I had anticipated. What I take away from this is perhaps three things: Bloating at the top of organizations seems to be universal, and those in charge tend to forget all of the people they stepped on to get there. Second, the original mission of the NRA has been lost (advancing rifle marksmanship). Gun education and safety falls somewhere in the bottom of priorities.

And finally, and this is good news for those of us who really are against the organization’s upper echelon and the out-of-touch messaging, their belt tightening has affected their political spending:  The group shelled out just under $10 million on House and Senate candidates in 2018—less than half of what it spent on congressional races in 2014 and 2016 (emphasis mine).

(The above information can be found anywhere on the internet, but I’ve tried to use as many sources as possible so as to be thorough and as unbiased as I can be when discussing the NRA. I’ve also sought the original documents that were leaked on the web. All links are included unless a statement is considered common knowledge.
Tomorrow’s companion post will focus on the downfall of NRA TV.

 

“Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!” ~ Latest crowd chant at a Trump rally

Baron Von Fancy Billboard in the Bowery, NYC

“Sleep not in peace:
There are a thousand waters to be spanned;
there are a thousand mountains to be crossed;
there are a thousand crosses to be borne.” ~ Rafael Zulueta da Costa, from “Like the Molave”

Saturday evening, sunny and hot, 93 degrees (feels like 98).

I’ve been pondering this post for a few days. Finally, I decided that the best way to write it was just to write it. I’ve been saving this Camus quote from a 1948 play for a bit, and it seems fitting; the more things and times change, the more they stay the same:

“Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble – yes, gamble – with a whole part of their life and their so called ‘vital interests.” ~ Albert Camus, from State of Siege (L’État de siège)

I was born in Norfolk, Virginia to a Filipino father who became an American citizen by fighting for the U.S. during WWII, and a mother from a small town in North Carolina. At the time in which they were married, there was still a law on the books in Virginia that made their marriage illegal. They got married in Elizabeth City, NC. I have light olive skin, but when I was young, I used to tan like crazy, and could get quite dark.

I tell you all of this for one specific reason: I have been told to go back to where I come from. Truthfully, that’s not the worst racist thing aimed at me or to which I was subjected. In fact, the first time that I heard the N-word was in Norfolk when someone called me one. I went home and asked my mother what it meant.

I have been asked what I am. If I have replied, “an American,” I have been asked what kind? I have been asked if the rumor is true that Oriental women have vaginas that are built differently. I have been told in apparent praise that Filipinos are good workers in the kitchen (as Navy stewards). I once heard someone say that my father was good looking for a Filipino. I was asked by my school mates in grade school why my eyes looked the way that they did. My father, who spoke with an accent, was told to speak English; his vernacular was more eloquent and proper than most people I have known, including many of those born here. People have openly stared at me when I’ve had my three children together as my daughter is fair, and my sons are quite olive, more brown in the summer, and I’ve been asked in front of them if they have different fathers. They don’t.

When I was young, I longed for long blond hair and blue eyes. I did not get them, obviously, and I am oh so grateful. I am made of fairly strong stuff, directly as a result of the kinds of things that I used to routinely hear, face, and experience. To be half-Filipino with a very proper British accent in the south before segregation? Now that’s different. I was the darkest thing in my school. Oh how I hated it then. Now? It makes me laugh.

Ignorance makes me laugh. Dumpf makes me laugh, that is when he’s not making me grab my head in pain from screaming at the television. I don’t write about politics often here as a deliberate decision. I will probably ramp up closer to the election, but right now I’m trying to hold on to my sanity. So I eschew the pontificating. For now, that is.

But I had to write just a few words in response to this past week’s latest Dumpster fire. Go back to where you came from hits at the very heart of anyone who is first or second or even third generation, but seriously, it should hit at anyone who calls themselves American. None of us came from here, not really. Only the Native Americans came from here. The rest of us? Immigrants. Willing and unwilling. Pilgrims. Slaves. Indentured servants. Whatever, whoever, however. We all come from immigrant stock.

I have no plans to go back to where I came from, at least not immediately. I mean, I came from Norfolk, so there’s that . . . But I have to ask you, those of you out there who still think 45 is the guy for you, that he represents real Americans, whatever that means—how is it that you really don’t see him as the sexually perverse, pussy-grabbing, serially-unfaithful, draft-dodging, tax-evading, child-abusing, racist crook that he is? I’m not asking you to vote for a Democrat. That’s not what this is about. I’m just asking you to look within and ask yourselves if this man truly represents your America, land of the free, home of the brave, we “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” . . .

That’s all. Just that.


It was really hard to pick the right song. I finally settled on Chicano Batman’s bilingual version of “This Land is Your Land” (I know that it’s a Johnny Walker commercial; doesn’t matter, it’s the point).



I Was In A Hurry

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn’t notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.
Please, if anyone passes by
and stumbles across it,
perhaps in a suitcase
open to the sky,
or engraved on a rock
like a gaping wound,
or wrapped
in the blankets of emigrants,
or canceled
like a losing lottery ticket,
or helplessly forgotten
in Purgatory,
or rushing forward without a goal
like the questions of children,
or rising with the smoke of war,
or rolling in a helmet on the sand,
or stolen in Ali Baba’s jar,
or disguised in the uniform of a policeman
who stirred up the prisoners
and fled,
or squatting in the mind of a woman
who tries to smile,
or scattered
like the dreams
of new immigrants in America.
If anyone stumbles across it,
return it to me, please.
Please return it, sir.
Please return it, madam.
It is my country. . .
I was in a hurry
when I lost it yesterday.I Was In A Hurry

Yesterday I lost a country.
I was in a hurry,
and didn’t notice when it fell from me
like a broken branch from a forgetful tree.
Please, if anyone passes by
and stumbles across it,
perhaps in a suitcase
open to the sky,
or engraved on a rock
like a gaping wound,
or wrapped
in the blankets of emigrants,
or canceled
like a losing lottery ticket,
or helplessly forgotten
in Purgatory,
or rushing forward without a goal
like the questions of children,
or rising with the smoke of war,
or rolling in a helmet on the sand,
or stolen in Ali Baba’s jar,
or disguised in the uniform of a policeman
who stirred up the prisoners
and fled,
or squatting in the mind of a woman
who tries to smile,
or scattered
like the dreams
of new immigrants in America.
If anyone stumbles across it,
return it to me, please.
Please return it, sir.
Please return it, madam.
It is my country. . .
I was in a hurry
when I lost it yesterday.

~ Dunya Mikhail (Trans, Elizabeth Winslow) (found on Poetry Foundation)

“A nothingness that compounded nothing into being” ~ Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek, from The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems

Rwanda Genocide Aftermath by Larry Towell (Magnum Photos)

Two for Tuesday: The Rwanda Genocide, Twenty Years Later

Tuesday morning, sunny, cooler, 64 degrees.

I had this post planned for last week, but then life intervened. I came upon a link on tumblr that led me to this incredible site, and I knew that I had to write a post about it.

100 Days by Wangechi Mutu

A little back story: In 1994, a world away, I found myself horrified by ongoing reporting of the Rwanda genocide because no one anywhere in the world truly intervened in the madness. The images that I saw made me seriously contemplate what genocide means and how some genocides seem to matter more than others based on exactly where in the world they occurred and what peoples were involved, and I have just never understood that.

Over 800,000 people were slaughtered during the 100 days of this ethnic cleansing. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Rwanda genocide, this article provides a good explanation of what happened and how the rest of the world reacted. When it was all over, we heard that pat phrase “never again” once again. Never. Again. Empty words. Small comfort, hollow placation. We even have a month for it:

You hear this solemn pledge a lot every April, since the month commemorates not only Holocaust Remembrance Day but the official anniversaries of both the Armenian and Rwandan genocides. Leaders at every level seem to love hearing themselves declare “Never Again.” But those who mean it have no power and those with power never mean it. The record speaks for itself.

I won’t apologize for the politics of this post. I’m tired. I’m tired physically and emotionally. I’m tired of myself. I’m tired of things, and I’m so tired of the state of this country and of the world at large and all of hollow promises and untruths that continue to fall from the lips of politicians and world leaders.

As to the following poems I chose for this post, I think that the best way to describe the 100 days project is to use Juliane Okot Bitek’s words

On April 6th, 2014, Wangechi Mutu posted a picture on social media via Facebook and Instagram. It was the photograph of a woman whose somber pose was that of an exhausted spirit. She titled the picture #100Days #Kwibuka20 – and immediately, I knew what I had to do. The photograph provided me an “in” to the conversation that I’ve wanted to be a part of for more than twenty years. I wanted to think about what it means to be a witness, however obliquely, and how to create solidarity with people who have some idea about the experiences of people I know and love. I decided to write and post “100 Days,” a poem for every day from April 6th forward, inspired by Wangechi Mutu’s work . . .

I wrote to Wangechi and suggested that I compose a poetic response to her photos, and she agreed. I have been posting a poem a day, thinking about what it means to engage with such knowledge today, twenty years after. What do commemorations and declarations do for people who are still deeply haunted and scarred by those events that we think of as History? What is it to be in a world that witnessed yet did nothing about your suffering? How do we hold just enough bitterness to keep us focused on what needs our attention? Above all, what does it mean for us to witness the suffering of others? It is so easy to stay hypnotized by the swirl of information that comes at us from the internet, in print and, of course, on television. How much out there does not reflect the reality of our day to day hauntedness?

It was hard to choose just two images and two poems, and if you are at all interested, I suggest you follow the links.

There will be more later. Peace. Please.


Day 78 by Wangechi Mutu

Day 92

We wish for absolution, for a clearing,
for a forgetting, a filling of the heart
& a joyousness once more

We wish for children of innocence
we wish for an instantiation of things
a rationality that resonates with our emotions

We wish for the silence of the moon
the quieting of ghosts
& a peace to rest in

Day 96

What is the essence of beauty?
Why do mists swirl and rise but never completely disappear?
Why should iron gleam through soil?
Why should our dances be graceful, our cloths bright
Our memories long, our language rich and layered?
Why should beauty render us speechless?
What is it to come from a land that swallows its own people?”

~ Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek, from “The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems”


Music by Svrcina, “Who are you?”

 

“Each face, each stone of the venerable monument, is a page not only of the history of the country, but of the history of science and art as well.” ~ Victor Hugo, from Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

The steeple of the Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris collapses on April 15, 2019
(AFP/ Getty Images)

“—all are mingled, combined, amalgamated in Notre-Dame. This central mother church is, among the ancient churches of Paris, a sort of chimera; it has the head of one, the limbs of another, the haunches of another, something of all.” ~ Victor Hugo

Monday night, clear and cold, 39 degrees.

Rather than a regular post, I feel the need to share some key passages from Victor Hugo’s
Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), better known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.* The burning of this historical masterpiece just breaks my soul, and as news images around the world depict, countless individuals are mourning the loss. The world has lost far too many architectural wonders—to time, but more so, to the ravages of war and genocidal myopia—far too many to list here.

Fans of the Disney movie and/or the novel may be unaware that Hugo originally wrote his book because he was so dismayed by the state of disrepair in which the great cathedral sat in the 1800’s. Hugo wanted to preserve the Gothic architecture he believed was tied so directly to France’s history, rather than see it succumb to renovation or destruction in favor of Baroque buildings. Quasimodo, the hunchback, represents all of the deformities bestowed upon such architecture by subsequent generations, and Hugo bestowed in Quasimodo a pure love for the cathedral and all of its many statuary: “the cathedral was not only society for him, but the universe, and all nature beside.”

Hugo and his endearing creation helped to lead to the massive 1844 restoration of Notre-Dame. The following passages are taken from Chapter 1 of the third book:

The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.

On the face of this aged queen of our cathedrals, by the side of a wrinkle, one always finds a scar. Tempus edax, homo edacior; which I should be glad to translate thus: Time is a devourer; man, more so.

If we had leisure to examine with the reader, one by one, the diverse traces of destruction imprinted upon the old church, time’s share would be the least, the share of men the most . . .

. . . the tranquil grandeur of the whole; a vast symphony in stone, so to speak; the colossal work of one man and one people, all together one and complex, like the Iliads and the Romanceros, whose sister it is; prodigious product of the grouping together of all the forces of an epoch, upon each stone, one sees the fancy of the workman disciplined by the genius of the artist start forth in a hundred fashions; a sort of human creation, in a word, powerful and fecund as the divine creation of which it seems to have stolen the double character,—variety, eternity.

. . . these hybrid constructions are not the least interesting for the artist, for the antiquarian, for the historian. They make one feel to what a degree architecture is a primitive thing, by demonstrating (what is also demonstrated by the cyclopean vestiges, the pyramids of Egypt, the gigantic Hindoo pagodas) that the greatest products of architecture are less the works of individuals than of society; rather the offspring of a nation’s effort, than the inspired flash of a man of genius; the deposit left by a whole people; the heaps accumulated by centuries; the residue of successive evaporations of human society,—in a word, species of formations. Each wave of time contributes its alluvium, each race deposits its layer on the monument, each individual brings his stone. Thus do the beavers, thus do the bees, thus do men. The great symbol of architecture, Babel, is a hive.

Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of centuries. Art often undergoes a transformation while they are pending, pendent opera interrupta; they proceed quietly in accordance with the transformed art. The new art takes the monument where it finds it, incrusts itself there, assimilates it to itself, develops it according to its fancy, and finishes it if it can. The thing is accomplished without trouble, without effort, without reaction,—following a natural and tranquil law. It is a graft which shoots up, a sap which circulates, a vegetation which starts forth anew. Certainly there is matter here for many large volumes, and often the universal history of humanity in the successive engrafting of many arts at many levels, upon the same monument. The man, the artist, the individual, is effaced in these great masses, which lack the name of their author; human intelligence is there summed up and totalized. Time is the architect, the nation is the builder.

. . . architecture does what she pleases. Statues, stained glass, rose windows, arabesques, denticulations, capitals, bas-reliefs,—she combines all these imaginings according to the arrangement which best suits her. Hence, the prodigious exterior variety of these edifices, at whose foundation dwells so much order and unity. The trunk of a tree is immovable; the foliage is capricious.

*You can find an online copy of the complete novel here, thanks to Project Gutenberg.


Music by Gabriel Fauré, “Pie Jesu Requiem, Op. 48”