Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist

LIFE IN A BUBBLE

I live in a bubble. It’s a tiny bubble of ten percent of American voters. By the latest New York Times/Sienna College poll, we 10% think the state of American democracy and political division is the gravest problem facing this country. Twenty percent believe the economy and jobs is most important. Another 15% are most disturbed by inflation and the cost of living.

Let’s look at inflation since it’s the headline grabber of late. At 9.1% it’s the highest it’s been since 1982. On CNN the other night, the cause was explained by an economist from the University of Chicago (famed school of supply siders). Three trillion dollars, he said, was pumped into the economy by the federal government to reduce pandemic losses. Then another two trillion. And then another trillion.

All this money went into the pockets of Americans like you and me. It caused demand to increase followed by price increases. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall receiving or spending any significant part of those trillions of dollars. Nor did it allow my partner to quit work and thus contribute to the unfilled demand for workers (I am retired and receive a limited income from Social Security). Our household collected a total of $3,600, which is nothing to sneeze at but would only pay expenses for one to two months.

Other than former workers lazing about eating Cheetos and watching soaps on their new large screen TVs, what might have contributed to inflation and the state of the economy? Have you noticed that the oil industry made huge profits as prices at the pump sky-rocketed? “Almost two-thirds of publicly traded companies had substantially larger profit margins [in 2021] compared with the same period in 2019. . . . Close to 100 of them saw their profit margins go up at least 50 percent relative to 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported.” As Atlantic journalist Annie Lowrey wrote: “In one of the best decades the American economy has ever recorded, families were bled dry by landlords, hospital administrators, university bursars and child-care centers.”

That’s just Capitalism, huh? It’s also monopoly. Corporate consolidation over the last decade has created monopolies in more than one industry.  A June report by three economists for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston noted that “The US economy is at least 50 percent more concentrated today than it was in 2005,” and that such concentration amplifies the degree to which companies pass price hikes onto consumers as businesses overcompensate for rising production costs. In the oil industry, the report notes, as prices have spiked, companies have posted jaw-dropping profits.

Somebody is making money, but I don’t know them. We’re not in the same bubble.

Is inflation Joe Biden’s fault? Princeton Professor and author Meg Jacobs writes that inflation is “largely the result of choices businesses make. And history shows presidents have the power to stem inflation by taking on corporate power—if they choose.” “President Franklin Roosevelt imposed price ceilings on three million businesses and more than eight million goods.” His Office of Price Administration also put caps on rents in 14 million dwellings occupied by 45 million residents and issued ration stamps for goods like meat to manage supply.”

Biden didn’t cause inflation, but he can take steps to lower it by setting price controls.

As Democratic pollster Joel Benenson said, “We’re not having an inflation problem. We‘re having a corporate greed problem.”

TWILIGHT OF IMPUNITY?

In 2010 my book, Twilight of Impunity: The War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, was published. Milosevic was tried by a special court, The International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for his responsibility for actions during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Though his trial lasted more than four years (with many interruptions due to his health), he died in 2006 before it reached a conclusion. Still, a massive record was made and is available at www.archive.sensecentar.org. Before it ended, the ICTY indicted 161 and convicted 90 individuals.

There have been other special tribunals and in 2002 the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by treaty. Called the Rome Statute, neither the United States nor Russia is a signatory.[1] Nor is Ukraine, though it accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction over offenses committed in Ukraine beginning in 2013. After Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea in 2014, the ICC chief prosecutor assessed that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that both alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Ukraine.” The ICC has initiated investigations of Russia’s current invasion of Ukraine.

There is little doubt that Russia has committed war crimes by targeting civilians, civilian objects, and medical facilities. From reports, videos, and photographs, it also appears that Russia has committed crimes against humanity by torturing and executing civilians in Bucha and executing prisoners. Both President Zelensky and President Biden have publicly declared that Russian actions amount to genocide against Ukrainians. The ICC defines genocide as follows:

“For the purpose of this Statute, "genocide" means any of the following acts committed with an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. (a)  Killing members of the group;
  2. (b)  Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. (c)  Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. (d)  Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. (e)  Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Ukrainians constitute a national group. They are not the same as Russians despite what Vladimir Putin believes. The issue is whether Putin’s aggression against Ukraine shows an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Ukrainian people. Experts in international criminal law disagree whether genocide has been committed based on current evidence. Intent is the key and it has to come from the top. In Bosnia, both the head of state and the head of the army were convicted of genocide, as well as other top officials. Aside from the legal definition, lay people often claim genocide has occurred when harm is so egregious there seems no other word serious enough to describe it.

Yet other crimes are monstrous, as well: rape, torture, starvation, forced prostitution, enslavement, willful killing, using chemical or biological weapons. These are Crimes Against Humanity. War crimes can also be charged. They include intentional harm to noncombatants (civilians, medical personnel, soldiers taken prisoner, medical facilities, e.g.). A war of aggression is also considered a war crime, though it cannot be charged for Russia’s acts in Ukraine because it requires initiation by the UN Security Council and Russia, as a member, would veto it.

People throughout the world, citizens and leaders, are horrified by what Putin has unleashed in Ukraine. Many demand accountability. The fact that accountability is seen in terms of an international prosecution instead of revenge killings is progress, though the possibility that will happen is not high. The ICC must have jurisdiction over the person, that is, the suspect must be in a state that can and will arrest him. As long as Putin remains in Russia or a friendly state such as China, arrest is highly unlikely. The ICC cannot try a person in absentia. They have to be present before the Court.

What does that mean about impunity? Is it still dominant? No doubt, but there is still hope. In Serbia, Milosevic lost favor with the public. They voted him out of office (Serbia was a soft dictatorship that maintained a patina of democracy) and arrested him for misappropriation of state funds and abuse of power. Zoran Djindjic, an opposition politician, arranged for his transfer to The Hague to stand trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for war crimes. Milosevic also overplayed his hand by attempting to cleanse Kosovo of its Albanian population. After more than a year of massacres, destroyed villages, nearly a million refugees, and unsuccessful negotiations, NATO had finally had enough. For 78 days, the military alliance pounded Serbia with bombs. Shortly after the ICTY chief prosecutor indicted Milosevic for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, the Serbian leader capitulated.

The situation in Ukraine is different. Serbia did not have nuclear weapons with which to blackmail the West. Nor did it have military forces to rival Russia’s. While the population rallied behind Milosevic, they were also tired of sending their young men off to one more war. The press was censored, but not as completely as in Russia. There was no question about ICTY jurisdiction.

Given Putin’s much stronger position, is there any chance he will be held accountable for the war crimes for which he is responsible even in some distant future? That is a question without an answer, crystal balls and Ouiji boards being out of favor. What concerns me is that the West will grant him immunity in exchange for taking only the Eastern part of Ukraine or it will force Ukraine to relinquish any hope of joining NATO or other Western alliances. Will Putin then forego other aggressions? Give up his dream of Empire? Or will he consider it a win, leaving the door open for future misadventures? Perhaps, I’ll dust off that old Ouiji board to discover whether it’s truly the twilight of impunity or merely twilight.

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

 

[1] President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Treaty at the 11th hour of his presidency. President George W. Bush unsigned it on taking office.

AN EXISTENTIAL DILEMMA

By the time the Kosovo war ended, I’d become more of a hawk than a dove, after years of peace marching and anti-war activism. It wasn’t an easy move. I’d likely never have made it if I hadn’t been living in the former Yugoslavia for several years, watching a slow genocide unfold while the ‘International Community’ played diplomacy with a master manipulator. Slobodan Milosevic, head of the rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro, all that was left after the wars in Croatia and Bosnia), sent his diplomats to the negotiating table with no intention of making concessions. After ten years of repression under his rule, the Kosova Albanians weren’t fooled. They refused to negotiate without an international presence. Milosevic would not have it.

I read the local and international news and talked with Kosovar friends. Every week Serb authorities found some reason to kill a half dozen Kosovars and imprison more. Then the massacres started. Drenica: 83 killed. Racak: 52 killed. Federal forces methodically surrounded and burned villages, creating hundreds of thousands of refugees. Some made it across borders. Others found what shelter they could in the mountains. By war’s end, 10,000 had died.

At the request of Kosovar colleagues, I visited Kosovo, listened to their stories, reviewed photos of mutilated bodies that included women, children, and old folks. I put my colleagues in touch with the International Criminal Tribunal. And I continued my internal debate over supporting NATO intervention. Sanctions were in place, but hadn’t stopped the madness. Nor had the Kosovars’ ten years of nonviolent resistance. At the time, I wrote:

“As with Bosnia, the question for me was what should I, as a responsible U.S. and world citizen, support? There was no easy answer. Perhaps the answer was in the obligation to struggle with the question. My ethics required that, at least. I was coming disturbingly closer to supporting military action—but even as I did, I thought of young men dying and I prayed for a miracle. I considered the claim that, of the 3,500 missions conducted by NATO in Bosnia, including 850 bombing sorties, no international soldiers were killed and only a few Serb fatalities were reported, and I wondered if that was merely a justification and encouragement to violent solutions? I was as tormented by these thoughts as I was by the growing number of deaths in Kosovo.”

One thing Kosova taught me is that you have to stand up to bullies – and that requires, at a minimum, credible threats of force. As I wrote home about my ethical dilemma, a friend who knew Gandhi’s grandson, contacted him and asked, “What would Gandhi say?” The answer was that nonviolence did not preclude self-defense or defense of another. In the end, I reluctantly supported NATO military intervention. After 78 days and an indictment of Milosevic by the International Criminal Court, Milosevic capitulated and withdrew his forces from Kosovo. The Serbian public ultimately overthrew him and sent him to jail. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic sent him to The Hague, where he was tried for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for his actions in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. He died of a heart attack before a verdict was reached.

Two decades later, another autocrat has attacked a civilian population without provocation. Vladimir Putin’s war has forced millions of Ukrainians out of the country he is destroying. Again, I am faced with the ethical dilemma of whether to support the use of force to stop him. This time, however, the bully possesses nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them if NATO steps in to help defend the Ukrainian people. Is he bluffing?

As in Bosnia and Kosovo, we helped create this monster when we did nothing to stop him in Syria or the Crimea. At a recent Capitol Hill event, survivors of the Holocaust and of Syria’s torture chambers “argued that the ongoing war in Ukraine [is] the result of the world’s failure to stop the Syrian atrocities.” President Bashar al Assad committed war crimes in Syria; Milosevic committed war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. Putin is committing them in Ukraine: attacking hospitals, schools, and civilians in general; using banned munitions; wielding starvation as a weapon of war. Though Russia (and the U.S.) has not signed onto the treaty creating the International Criminal Court, Putin could be held liable for war crimes under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction. A state could issue an indictment against him. Of course, he has to be caught first. The ICC is investigating, which hasn’t phased Putin so far, though it did affect Milosevic.

We’re back to the use of force. So far, the West has limited its support to supplying weapons and humanitarian aid, while refusing Zelensky’s plea for a no-fly zone and MiG-29 fighter planes because these could reach Russian territory and lead to WWIII. Another option not yet approved is to encourage Turkey to send Ukraine S-400 antiaircraft missile systems which can shoot down planes from the backs of trucks.

David Leonhardt in the New York Times warned:

“Putin, of course, has an interest in making the West believe that he would be angered by almost any substantive help to Ukraine. Doing so can help maintain Russia’s military advantage. The Biden administration, in turn, would be acting naively – and effectively abandoning Ukraine – by taking Putin at his word.

“On the other hand, confronting him so aggressively that he fears for his political life could set off a larger war. . . .”

Leonhardt concludes: “There are no easy answers. It is a dilemma out of the Cold War, in which both timidity and aggression carry risks.”

Where does that leave me and my ethical dilemma? More worried about timidity than aggressive action, particularly since there are steps we can take short of sending in NATO forces. Putin is a bully. Reasoned arguments will not stop him. As Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the Israeli Parliament: “You can mediate between countries, but not between good and evil.”

We live in an imperfect world. Among the human population are bullies, megalomaniacs, sociopaths, and war mongers. This is not going to change in my lifetime. I am grateful there are also people like Ukrainians and their leader who stand up to the bullies, megalomaniacs, sociopaths, and war mongers – at the risk of their lives. To be true to my ethics, I must support them. We must confront the bully and give Ukrainians what they need to stop him. I say this on behalf of Ukrainians as well as Russian soldiers who are dying for Putin’s dream of Empire.

I have not killed the dove. The bullies of the world have.

 

Child Sex Abuse in the Serbian Orthodox Church

            For centuries after Serbia’s supposed defeat by the Ottomans in 1389, the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) preserved the myth of a divinely ordained Greater Serbia and became the carrier of Serbian identity. Its religious aspect was secondary, if at all, to its political role. That explains the Church’s influence in the wars of the 1990s as Serbia sought to control as much territory as possible from the disintegrating Socialist Yugoslavia. That influence continues today and was evident in the recent Montenegrin parliamentary elections and the Republika Srpska’s ongoing efforts to break away from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The union of religious and state power is called Svetosavlje or Saint-Savaism.

            The merging of church, state, and nation led to covering up decades of child sexual abuse within the SOC, denying the victims any recourse. Predominantly boys who lived at the monasteries while studying for the priesthood found themselves at the mercy of pedophile priests and bishops. In addition to having been schooled in obedience and reverence for the clergy, the seminarians were threatened with harm to themselves and their families if they told anyone about the sexual abuse. Nor were these idle threats. Nineteen-year-old, Milic Blazanovic, who was sexually abused by Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda from the age of 16, was killed by a bomb in 1999 when he threatened to make the abuse public. After the initial conclusion that it was murder, the authorities declared it a suicide despite eyewitness evidence to the contrary.

            Other cases did not go as far as murder, but caused irreparable harm to the young victims who have lived with the trauma for years, leading constricted lives and continuing to suffer from depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses, drug use, and suicide attempts. Several victims tell their stories in an Al Jazeera documentary available on Montenegro International’s website (montnegrointernational.org). The boys lived at the monasteries and so were easy prey. Clergy targeted the vulnerable, such as war orphans, boys from impoverished homes, those whose parents were divorced or had other personal or family problems.

            Though threatened with harm, seven or eight boys told Priest Goran Arsic in Vranje, who reported the crimes to the police. “Many, many” others came forward, Father Arsic said. Attorneys filed a lawsuit on their behalf. One of the accusers received phone calls from “the Black Hand[*],” demanding that he change his statement or they would kill his entire family. He later attempted suicide. Though authorities filed a case against the bishop, they delayed its conclusion until the then-statute of limitations ran out. The few cases that made it to court ended in acquittal. As former Supreme Court Justice Zoran Ivosevic told an interviewer: “They [judges] . . . do what they believe will suit the interests of those in power in order to gain career points. . . . [T]hese people are bad judges. They should not be judges at all.”

            For decades, Bojan Jovanovic, former deacon in the Serbian Orthodox Church, has worked tirelessly to expose the crimes and cover up by the SOC and political authorities and to hold the perpetrators to account. In an interview with Pobjeda (May 21, 2021), Jovanovic said “that he tried to talk about the problem of paedophilia with the late patriarchs Pavle and Irinej, but in vain. He also informed the Police, the prosecutor’s office and addressed politicians, including the then President of Serbia Boris Tadic, but all without success.” So, he wrote a book: “Confession: How We Betrayed God and Children Paid the Price.”[†]

            The book describes his discovery of widespread child sexual abuse by the clergy and its cover up, as well as a sampling of the 3000 documents he’s amassed in support. According to Jovanovic, his investigation has identified 70 victims over several decades, despite reluctance of victims to disclose what they consider shameful. When he was teaching, one of the most well-known offenders, Bishop Vasilije Kacavenda, ordered him to procure children from among his classes, preferably under 10 years of age. Jovanovic declined.

            Kacavenda held orgies in his sumptuous quarters that included other clergy, young men, and underage boys and girls. A video of his sexual encounter with a young man was disclosed by the news magazine Blic, forcing his crimes into the open. He was ultimately defrocked. Kacavenda was also a promoter of ethnic cleansing and an ally of Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic, and Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990 wars to establish a Greater Serbia.[‡]

            While Kacavenda’s case is one of the most notorious, sexual abuse in the Church is not limited to isolated individual cases. It is endemic. Montenegro International reprinted an article from Blic, “All the Sins of Bishops,”[§]that identifies other clergy, as does Jovanovic’s book, such as Bishop Pahomije of Vranje who was tried for sexually assaulting four boys, three under age 14 at the time. The SOC elite aided these crimes by their silence and refusal to respond to complaints.

            In another case, Father Ilarion faced criminal charges for sexually abusing nine boys, aged seven to eleven. “[H]igh ranking members of the clergy permitted him to shelter for years in various Orthodox monasteries in Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia.”[**] Delays by the highest court in the country allowed the statute of limitations to run out. Father Ilarion walked free though the Church forced him to retire.

             Jovanovic’s book has provided the basis for a criminal investigation. Montenegrin Special Prosecutor Milivoje Katnic “formed a case based on the criminal report submitted by the NGO ‘Montenegro International’ against the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and Littoral and its Bishop Joanikije for allegedly covering up cases of paedophilia within the Serbian Orthodox Church and bringing minors to the monasteries of Cetinje and Dajbabe.”[††]

            In an interview with Pobjeda, Jovanovic acknowledges “There are many honourable priests, even among the bishops. They provided me with a lot of data [and] documents. . . .” Father Arsic is just one example of an honorable priest who sought to do the right thing. The Church transferred others, including two nuns, who tried to help victims.

            Regardless of where Katnic’s investigation leads, Jovanovic promises: “I will persevere. I’m not afraid. They are essentially cowards who hide behind the force of tramps. They can harass me, beat me, but I have already gone through all that, and I have no fear . . . .”

 

 

 

           

 

[*] The Black Hand is a secret criminal society formed in 1911 by Serbian Army officers.

[†] NG0 Montenegro International (2021); available in English from Amazon.

[‡] Outrage over the video may have had as much to do with homophobia as with abuse of minors. The SOC and Serbian society in general believe consensual sex between two adults of the same gender is an abomination. The erroneous conflation of pedophilia with homosexuality is evident in Jovanovic’s book in reproduced headlines and a book review by Dr. Ivan Poljakovic. As well, it bears clarifying that someone can be a pedophile, i.e. attracted to children, yet never act on it. It’s the sexual act that makes pedophilia a crime. 

[§] www.montenegrointernational.org, June 10, 2021.

[**] Angelovski, Ivan, “Serbian Church Accused of Sex Abuse Cover-up, Balkan Insight, November 1, 2021.

[††] Krsmanovic, Kacusa, Pobjeda, May 16, 2021.

A Historical Template for Today's Racism

           In 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina was a majority black town. Three of the city’s 10 aldermen and 10 of its policemen were black; there were black postmasters and magistrates, a black county jailer and treasurer, a black federal customs agent, a black state senator and U.S. representative. Two banks were black-owned, as was a newspaper. Blacks owned property and some were quite wealthy. Black professionals included lawyers and doctors. 1898 was about 12  years after Reconstruction had collapsed in other states of the former Confederacy. For a group of influential white men, this was intolerable. They formed a conspiracy to reverse gains achieved by black citizens – through whatever means necessary, including violence.

            They planned and organized for months before the 1898 election. A massive propaganda campaign raised the (false) specter of the black man as the rapist of white women. White-owned newspapers published blatant lies, provoking hatred, anger, and violence against black people. White supremacists organized vigilante groups who armed themselves, while businesses refused to sell firearms to black citizens. Whites intimidated and threatened black people and their allies – if they voted, their property would be burned and they and their families would end up dead.  

            In the event, 60 black men were murdered; 50 blacks and white allies were banished from Wilmington forever; their businesses and homes were burned; a majority black city (56%) became majority white, as people fled to safety elsewhere. The black population eroded to 18.3% in 2018, black voters in North Carolina plummeted from 126,000 in 1896 to 6,100 in 1902. In 1899, only 21 of Wilmington’s black citizens registered to vote; only five went to the polls.

           “The killings and coup in Wilmington inspired white supremacists across the South. No one had ever seen anything like it. Wilmington’s whites had mounted a rare armed overthrow of a legally elected government. They had murdered black men with impunity. They had robbed black citizens of their right to vote and hold public office. They had forcibly removed elected officials from office then banished them forever. They had driven hundreds of black citizens from their jobs and their homes. They had turned a black-majority city into a white citadel.”[*]

          Though the coup organizers were perfectly comfortable calling themselves “white supremacists,” they disguised the nature and cause of the 1898 events, characterizing them as a race riot instigated by blacks. They must have known that what they did would not be well-received by everyone, particularly in the North (though anti-black sentiment was also widespread there, evidenced by how quickly Northerners accepted the white supremacists’ lie). The myth of the Wilmington ‘race riot’ was accepted throughout the country until 2006 when an investigation initiated by two black state legislators published a 480-page report describing what really happened.[†]

          “It concluded that the coup was a ‘documented conspiracy’ by Wilmington’s white elite to overthrow a legitimately elected government ‘Through violence and intimidation.’ White supremacists statewide were incited to violence by Josephus Daniels and his News and Observer [newspaper], the report said. Federal and state authorities failed ‘at all levels’ to respond to the violence or punish the perpetrators. The report concluded that the coup and killings led directly to strict residential segregation in Wilmington, decades of Jim Crow discrimination, and the disenfranchisement of the state’s black citizens.”[‡] 

          This is the history that today’s white supremacists (many would deny the label) don’t want taught in our schools. It wasn’t taught in my elementary or high school, university or law school. It wasn’t even known until 2006! This hidden history and the myths created to disguise it have assured that racism lives on, allowing dominant white society to deny it, arguing that we are a post-racial society and, in fact, white people are the disfavored group whose rights are jeopardized.

          The fear that lies at the heart of MAGA is the same fear that motivated the white citizens of Wilmington in 1898 -- the fear of being a minority, ruled by black people, the fear of losing white privilege, the fear of being treated the way ‘we’ have treated ‘them.’ Today it’s known as “The Replacement Theory.” The one commonality among the January 6, 2021 insurgents was their residence in a county where the white share of the population was in decline.[§]

          Though white rage is more obvious today, it has been a major force since emancipation. While the South was defeated in the Civil War, that defeat was not accepted by a broad swath of citizens of the Confederacy and it has haunted this country ever since. Among the most obvious examples are the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, the Aryan Brotherhood, The Order, and the Posse Comitatus. Militias formed throughout the country. The media presented them as separate, isolated, and aberrant groups, whose leaders were mentally unstable. Just so, Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, was treated as a disturbed individual acting on his own with a couple co-conspirators. In fact, he was a member of the KKK, connected to the “white power movement’s war-on-government leadership . . . .”[**]  According to Kathleen Belew, author and history professor, supposedly disparate groups were all part of the White Power Movement.

          Those who organized the January 6, 2021 insurrection don’t need to reinvent a strategy for a coup. Wilmington provides it. Whether they are even aware of it, their efforts are eerily similar. Widespread propaganda (i.e. lies – Trump won the 2020 election); fear-mongering; stripping power from election officials who can’t be controlled; destroying ballots; stuffing ballot boxes; gerrymandering; passing voting laws and regulations aimed at eliminating black votes; using threats, intimidation, and violence. As Gellman writes, “[T]he chaos wrought on that day was integral to a coherent plan. In retrospect, the insurrection takes on the aspect of a rehearsal.”[††]



 

 

[*] Zucchino, David, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, New York: Grove Press (2020), p. 329.

[†] In 1951, Helen Edmonds, a black scholar, debunked the white myth in a meticulously researched doctoral thesis. White supremacists were still dominant and were able to bury it.

[‡] Zucchino, 341.

[§] Pape, Robert A., “The Jan. 6 Insurrectionists Aren’t Who You Think They Are,” Foreign Policy (January 6, 2022).

[**] Belew, Kathleen, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts (2018), p. 213

[††] Gellman, Barton, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,” The Atlantic, December 6, 2021.

No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service . . . .

Everyone’s familiar with this notice put up by private businesses. It also applies to schools and many public spaces. Are our children allowed to go to school barefoot? Without shirts? Why then is a mask so different, particularly when it’s intended as a public health measure. This is not tyranny. It is not the last step toward totalitarianism. It is not fascist (that overused and misunderstood word). 

 

Given the every person for themselves, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps American culture, I shouldn’t be surprised at the vitriol that this one little piece of cloth has generated. Attempts to stress community responsibility are labeled socialist (now a pejorative for many) or, from people of a certain age, communist. Caring for our neighbor used to be a value. All religions preach it. 

 

Please, just accept the little (temporary) inconvenience of a mask and we’ll get through this together, as a community. For children, masks can be fun, when every day is Halloween!

Montavilla Is Mourning

Montavilla’s heart is broken. Two stalwarts of our community, Mel Hafsos and Errol Carlson, who operated the Taylor Court Grocery for 25 years, are no more. Death took Mel a few days ago, while Dementia overcame Errol, his business and life partner.

The Taylor Court Grocery, over 100 years old (though by different names), is one of a handful of once thriving neighborhood groceries that still remain. In their heyday — before the big chains — Portlanders were served by 800 such stores. Mostly, first and second generation immigrants owned the store before Mel and Errol bought it in 1996. At one historical point, the neighborhood was called Swedeville.

Mel and Errol were truly the heart of our little community. They operated the grocery themselves, often working seven days a week, 12 hours a day. On Halloween, they kept the store open in the evening and gave out candy to small ghosts and goblins. For the Fourth of July, they organized a block party and a parade. I’ve read that they crowned a queen who had to be at least 80 years old (some accounts say 75) and to have lived in the neighborhood for 50 (some say 25) years. We missed those events, having moved into the neighborhood eight years ago, when Mel and Errol were slowing down.

But we were here for the grocery’s last years where a visit to the little store (filled to the rafters with organic and natural foods, as well as Ben & Jerry’s) was welcomed by Errol behind the cash register and Mel managing the inventory. Errol always exchanged a pleasantry and made teasing, light-hearted comments about your purchase, the weather, the neighborhood, or another timely topic. Kids, young and old, looked forward to buying their special treats from the candy aisle or the ice cream freezer. Mel and Errol and the store were truly the heart of the neighborhood.

Walking by one day a couple years back, we found a Closed sign on the door. It wasn’t Sunday or Monday, regular closing days. We worried, then learned that Errol had had a heart attack. Both men were in their seventies. Neighbors posted Get Well wishes on the windows and door: “We appreciate your service to the community;” “We love you and miss you. Your Montavilla neighbors and friends.” When Mel took the notes to the hospital to share with Errol, both men wept. Within a short while, the Closed sign flipped to Open. They were back in business and the neighborhood breathed a sigh of relief.

Perhaps it was another year before they put up a For Sale sign, causing consternation throughout the community. Yet we knew it was time. They both deserved a less harried retirement. Still, the store remained open. It seemed the only people interested in buying it were developers who intended to tear the store down and put in a three-story apartment building or a couple of those modern houses that look like they have garages in their living rooms.

And then the pandemic hit. Somehow, though people were afraid to go into shops and be around others, Mel and Errol kept the store open for a couple months before they regretfully had to shut it down and eventually remove the inventory. Notes went up: “Thank you for many good years of service to our community.” “We love you and will miss you.”

Mel and Errol lived just up the street. We saw them around. Someone invited them to our Sunday evening sing-a-longs in honor of front line workers. They graciously declined. It was too much. We continued to see them in the neighborhood until a few days ago. Then, at last Sunday’s sing, two of the neighbors passed along the sad news. Mel had died. Errol was in a care facility. An era had passed.

Signs went up once more:

We love you, Mel & Errol! For a generation you made dreams possible in our neighborhood. With your Kindness and 4th of July parade, drawing a chalk star at the 4th of July Festival, and Halloween extravagances - you made the heart of this Neighborhood. You made memories — precious memories — possible for us. Walking to Taylor Court Grocery with Rose to get an ice cream, dressing up for Halloween and taking our daughter through the store to get candy, and always . . . always your kindness. You are wrapped in angels’ wings. Bless you forever, Tim, Melinda, and Rose

* * *

We will miss you Mel. You and Errol have touched so many lives in this community! Blessings to you on your next Journey. The Bridger Family

* * *

Dear Errol & Mel, Thank you for all you’ve done for our community.Your store gave us cool treats on summer walks, kept us stocked during snow storms and gave us somewhere fun to trick or treat. We will miss your kindness and hospitality. We appreciate you and wish you all the best. Love, Jennifer, Seth, Light and Aurora (The Bestulic Family)

* * *

As I get older or maybe it’s the incurable disease that I live with or the growing number of friends and family who are no more, I find myself anticipating the next loss, fearing it. Kinda inhibits the “live for today” philosophy. I just don’t like surprises. I like to be prepared emotionally, though I know that’s impossible. Losing Mel and Errol disrupted my sense of community. This little corner of the world will never be the same. The Taylor Court Market slips into history along with two lovely gay men.

URGENT!! MONTENEGRO IS LOSING ITS DEMOCRACY

 

“[W]e are just fighting for this country to be a safe home for all its citizens, regardless of religious, national, ethnic affiliation. That is why every help is precious to us, especially from those people and organizations with whom we share a commitment to freedom, justice and equality.” (Mirna Nikcevic, email to author)

Montenegro is in trouble. A pro-Serb, pro-Russian government took power (by election but with Russia’s inteference) in August 2020, ending the 30 year rule of President Milo Djukanovic’s party. The electorate was reportedly tired of corruption and cronyism and voted for an alternative that turned out much worse. While Djukanovic’s party wasn’t perfect, it was an aspiring multi-ethnic democracy, the only state in the former Yugoslavia to not base citizenship on ethnicity. The new government is changing that. Their aspiration is “Serbia World,” formerly known as “Greater Serbia.” 

[In a half hour interview, Mike Haltzell (Joe Biden’s foreign policy advisor when he was in the Senate) provides a thorough overview of the situation.  https:youtu.be/sM5u1I8tIfI] 

Greater Serbia was the call to arms that set off the Balkan wars of the 1990s. It was the reason for ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is more than a little disturbing to hear it again as a political aspiration 30 years after a hundred thousand people plus were killed and far more lives destroyed. 

Montenegro is currently a multi-ethnic state, made up of Montenegrins, Serbs, Albanians, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. Multi-ethnicity is provided for in the constitution and something they are justifiably proud of. Given the nationalisms sweeping the world, it is a precious example that we need to preserve. 

Montenegro has also been secular, in that no one religion is favored over another. That, too, is changing as the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) is reportedly behind much of the political change. 

After several years in Montenegro and other parts of the Balkans, I left in 2000 and have only been back once. I fell in love with the country of the Black Mountains (Crna Gora/Montenegro) and the passion of its people for democratic change. What a joy they were to work with on law reform! When I left, I left part of my heart with them. The future looked bright and hopeful. I’m terribly saddened and worried over the current situation.

Recently, a Montenegrin colleague and former diplomat, Mirna Nikcevic, contacted me, knowing I will always be a friend of Montenegro. She asked me to expose what is happening and told me that my friend and former co-attorney, Aleksa Ivanovic, who is head of the State Election Commission, is in danger of being fired for his pro-Montenegro stance. Other pro-democracy officials in the bureaucracy have been replaced or demoted. 

Mirna started an NGO called “Montenegro International” to fight for the country’s democracy (montenegrointernational.org). MI has contacted numerous officials and organizations in Europe and the U.S., as well as in the United Nations. MI has also given interviews, produced videos and press statements, taken legal action, among other efforts. (You can read about them on MI’s website.) The European Union is aware of the situation — and is “monitoring” it. Because someone in the new pro-Serb government leaked a confidential NATO document, NATO is also watching. While President Biden is a longtime friend of Montenegro and Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, is knowledgeable on the Balkans, as are others in the administration and several Congresspeople, the U.S. has remained mostly silent.

 It is vital that information about the situation in Montenegro be widely publicized. While local people are doing everything they can, they’re up against not only Serb extremists, but also Russia, which attempted a coup (including the attempted assassination of President Djukanovic) three years ago. Montenegro has joined NATO and is well on its way to become a member of the European Union. The mountainous country (population: 620,000) gained independence in 2006 following a vote of the people. Russia (and Serbia) opposed independence and Russia especially opposes Montenegro’s membership in NATO. While two people involved in the coup attempt were convicted, the new government released them.

Montenegro’s independence and multi-ethnicity are in danger. The pro-Serb forces passed a law that allows the Serb diaspora in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosova to vote in Montenegrin elections, but prohibits Montenegrins working abroad from doing so. Obviously, it is designed to shift power to Serb Montenegrins and Serbia proper.

Janusz Bugojski, Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C., writes: “[T]he Biden administration must become more active to undercut [Serbia’s President Aleksandar] Vucic’s Greater Serbia goals through a three-pronged approach. [emphasis added]

1. “[T]he Serbia-Kosova dialogue has to be given teeth in line with Biden’s recent letter to Vucic calling for mutual state recognition.

2. “[A] multi-national initiative must be launched to implement necessary constitutional changes in Bosnia-Herzegovina and develop a fully functioning state.

3. “Vucic must be warned that political interference in Montenegro’s politics will rebound negatively against a government with destabilizing foreign connections. The tentacles of Kremlin influence in Belgrade and Podgorica need to be unearthed and amputated. [emphasis added]”

Your help is needed. You can contact your congresspeople and the Biden administration, post on Facebook, write a blog. While the U.S. and the world are preoccupied with Covid-19 and the Middle East conflict, Russia has nearly a free hand to undermine Montenegro’s independence, promote a Greater Serbia, and place Montenegro in its orbit, contributing to the extreme right nationalism that is rising up throughout the world, including in the United States. The world looked away when Milosevic initiated his Greater Serbia campaign in the 1990s with wars in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. More than 100,000 people died. His subsequent attempt to establish Serb hegemony in Kosovo caused another 10,000 deaths. The wars of the 90s ended former President Tito’s dream of “Brotherhood and Unity” and a multi-ethnic society, except in Montenegro. Please help save her and keep the dream alive.

Thank you for what you’re able to do. It will be gratefully appreciated here and in the Black Mountain.

 

 

 

 

What Doesn't Kill You . . . .

 Don’t you just love cliches? Particularly when they’re offered in the form of advice, as in, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” Really? Wowee! We should all be Atlases after four years of Trump and nearly a year of the Corona Virus. I’m not feelin’ it. I am relieved that Joe and Kamala won the election (though Donald and 70% of Republicans don’t accept it). Not that the skies opened up and showered these Dems’ path to the White House with stardust. Wasn’t going to happen. Trump is hanging on for dear life or is that pomp, power, and attention? What of the Republicans? With a few exceptions, they’ve fallen in line, “waiting until all votes are counted.” I’m waiting to see if that child arises to tell them that the emperor has no clothes. And whether they’ll believe her. 

I can’t say I feel any stronger after four years of DJT’s lying, blasphemy, and bullying, not to mention the holes he’s ripped in our democracy (ok, it wasn’t perfect, but still). Is it right that the majority of Americans should be ruled by a minority cabal of senators, supreme court justices, federal judges, always Trumpers, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox news? And that one senator from Kentucky of all places can determine who should sit on the nation’s highest court, in essence seizing one of our three branches of government for the Republicans for the rest of my life?

A quarter million Americans aren’t feeling too resilient these days, having succumbed to the Corona Virus. But Trump survived. He’s resilient. He also had special treatment and a team of the finest expert doctors not available to Grandpa Robinson or your next door neighbor or you. 

Like the rest of the country (and the world), Oregon is undergoing a spike in CoVid 19: over a 1500 people were found positive for the virus today. Fourteen died. Not to be outdone by the crowds of worshippers assembled to hear their great MAGA  leader defy the medical experts, Oregon has our own eminence: Tootie (swear to god, that’s her name; also the name of my partner’s childhood stuffed lobster) Smith, chair-elect of the Clackamas County Commission. Chair-elect Smith tooted on facebook: “My friends and family will celebrate Thanksgiving with as many family and friends as I can find. Governor Brown is WRONG to order otherwise.” She says she’ll do the same for Xmas. I wonder how resilient Tootie, her family, and friends will be? And the nurses and doctors who will have to treat them?

 Let’s not take the spotlight off Mr. MAGA for too long. We don’t want a tantrum. Mr. Trump (which he’ll be on January 20, 2021) also believes in his POLITICAL resilience. Facing 79 and a half million people who chose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris over him (6 million more than voted for him), he’s doubled down, aided by his trusty sidekick Rudy let’s-file-another-lawsuit Giuliani, and declared himself the winner. Now that’s resilience!! No matter that his lawsuits are being thrown out of court right and left and five of his attorneys have resigned rather than be laughed or kicked out of court. So, his latest is to take over the Electoral College and have himself declared the winner no matter the people's choice. America's first dictator? 

I wonder if Trump is stronger after his humiliating loss? Perhaps. Most likely, he will persist in giving his opinion as often as the media allows. Given theirs and the public’s penchant for the outrageous, he will continue bullying, pontificating, lying, stirring up trouble, and reinforcing the divisions among us. Resilience isn’t always a virtue. 

And what about my resilience? My “what doesn’t kill you . . .” self?

*     *     *

I’ve always been considered resilient, i.e. having “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties,” according to google dictionary. I made it out of my origin family alive and hopeful despite some serious, if invisible, emotional scarring. There were a few bruising relationships resulting from my disability to choose well and one or two who escaped because they weren’t so disabled. But, alone among catastrophes, partnership failures grew a few muscles, enabling me to find and hold onto my one true love. Yet, like a moth to a flame, I sought career and volunteer opportunities where other injured souls gathered to work out their karma on each other. I wasn’t strong enough for that. I grabbed a life vest and abandoned ship.

But ever resilient, I packed up my papers, books, and supposedly stronger self and headed for a foreign land to help establish a fair and independent judiciary struggling under a “soft” (read “lying” and “manipulative” with a healthy dose of secret police) dictatorship. That didn’t work out so well for me or them. Next stop: a war zone. I should have been mucho strong after that. I crawled home taking thousands of tragic stories with me. 

Self-deceived into believing in my resilience, I took in a disturbed teenager to keep him out of jail. Success? Not so much. He went to prison for 16 months. Continuing my strength training, I defended him, bailed him out of jail, provided a free home and meals. Objects started disappearing: a keyboard, binoculars, prescription drugs, money. Slowly, oh so slowly, I began to realize he might fit into my resilience pattern. I cut him loose. Stronger? I became ill for three months with an undiagnosable mystery disease.  

None of this has killed me. But am I stronger? I don’t feel it. I retreat into the warren of rooms in this old house, and, lacking motivation, obsessively read the national news that substitutes for a life. I feed the birds, squirrels, and the neighborhood cat who’s adopted us at least for meals, though no lap sitting or sleep overs. I feed myself and my partner —with a different menu, of course. I walk and rake leaves in lieu of strength training and cardiovascular exercise at the gym. With atrophied biceps, I now need help to open jars and lift our cast iron pans. Occasionally, I think of the memoir I’ve been writing for three years or more. It rests in pieces somewhere in my new laptop, inexplicably saved in different programs that refuse to recognize one another. The piano has been neglected so long it can’t carry a tune. And seven years of my photos are floating somewhere in the ether.

Resilient? I don’t feel like it at 1 a.m. as I lie in bed obsessively reviewing the things I didn’t do right, the things I didn’t do, the people I’ve lost (dead and alive), searching for positives to replace the negatives, but the negatives have a built-in dominance to keep the bears and snakes away. I take a CBD tablet to fall asleep and silence these insistent voices. Morning draws me from dreams scattered like pieces of a dozen jigsaw puzzles all mixed up. What for, I wonder? My bladder forces me to put on slippers and head downstairs. After the toilet, I turn on the kettle for tea and my computer for the latest news, where I expend half my day. During the other half, I feed all the animals, walk in the neighborhood, and go another round with my computer before collapsing in a chair to read with little comprehension. Is this resilience? Is this a life? Maybe next year.

 

 

 

It's Been Gone A Long Time and I Don't Remember Where I Left It

I’ve been hunting high and low. It’s not on the top of the refrigerator. Nor hiding in a cupboard or crouching in the back of a closet. Underneath the couch conceals only dust bunnies. I thought it could be inside one of my thousands of books. Likely not the ones on Genocide or Racism or Mental Illness. I don’t think I have any Dave Barry, which would be a more likely place. 

I look through the pantry: it’s not among the bags of coffee or cereal; not under the cans of Costco tuna, sardines, or chicken; nor behind the almond milk; the crackers, cookies, pickles, five jars of mustard (it was a mistake), 6 bags of hot cereal (intentional), green tea, gifts of cactus candy which we are hoping to regift, 3 bottles of catsup (another mistake), two gallon bottles of canola oil (They didn’t look so large in the pictures — a problem of online shopping.).

Maybe it’s outside. Not buried in the squirrel food. The bird seed is also a no show. Perhaps the weeds, the weeds, the weeds!!! Could I ever find it there? How many years would it take? Maybe a squirrel or a bird made off with it, enticed by a shiny object. Stashed in the garden bed or a tree? I would look in the basement but I don’t have a hazmat suit and my nephew tore down the fiberglass insulation, leaving it hanging.

OK, it’s unlikely, but there’s still my office. Oh no!! It can’t be stowing away in the broken laptop or the broken printer. No way. The framed photos couldn’t possibly hold it. I just realized they’re all of dead people. Filing cabinets? Not a chance. And if it is, I’ll never find it since I can’t find anything else in them. 

I’ll try the living room. My reading chair offers a slight possibility. I recall laughing out loud over something in the Mitch McConnell book, but I can’t remember what could possibly be funny about Mitch. The stack of newspapers with articles on the Corona Virus, Trump, the 2020 election, the Corona Virus, Trump, the 2020 election, the Corona Virus, Trump .  . . . Why I read more than one edition is a self-defeating mystery and there is not a chance in hell it could be lost among the stories on the Corona Virus, Trump, the 2020 election.

Not much left besides the bedroom, the place that wakes me the instant my head falls on the pillow, unless it’s morning, in which case it takes a loud siren to get me out of bed. Why would I even consider that it might be here? Because I’m running out of possibilities.

Perhaps I lost it during my travels or my sojourn on the East Coast. I didn’t have it during my treatments at Dana Farber. It wasn’t useful when I was writing my book. Just didn’t belong. Nor was our Nation’s Capital a welcoming environment, despite the Obamas living there. I might have to go farther back in time and place to The Netherlands, but I don’t think it was with me when I first went there or throughout living alone monitoring the trial of a war criminal. It was definitely not in Serbia. Maybe Montenegro. Maybe that’s where it still is. But if so, why would it want to leave and join me in the U.S. these days, though it is very much needed and would be highly welcome?

I’m at a loss. Lost in Trumpland in a pandemic. Separated from my once-reliable friend. I don’t know how to win it back. 

So I googled. And, it appears, it’s been with me all the time. Very close at hand, so to speak. The internet tells me that a synonym for “sense of humor” is “funny bone,” which my mother told me was my elbow because it went all pins and needles when I hit it. Somehow, that did not make me laugh. Yet I know I used to have a sense of humor that let me laugh at others’ jokes and witticisms and even let me make some of my own. It seems to have taken leave of me. I don’t know when and I don’t know where to find it. 

So what is a sense of humor and where is mine? Maybe I’ll go listen to old George Carlin records or watch The Daily Show videos.