Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist

THE NEW NORMAL: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SOMETIME WRITER

Because you are a writer, you get out of bed, pee, start the coffee, and head directly to your office computer. No teeth brushing. No getting dressed (writers can stay in their p.j.s all day). This is because you aren’t disciplined enough to eat breakfast and read the paper in less than three hours and you really do want to get that book finished and another dozen queries sent.

Over time, because you are not a disciplined person, your email sneaks into first place, followed by BING, because it has beautiful photographs – and news items. After an hour or more, you get to your writing, but soon it is time for breakfast and the New York Times, which takes up another hour and a half. You do not read it on line. The pop up dancing ads in the middle of an article drive you mad so you cling to your hard copy, i.e. the REAL New York Times, which sometimes lands in the bushes in your yard providing the opportunity for an early morning hunt, followed by drying the paper over the heat vents. By this time it is noon and your writing sits there like a poor neglected cousin. And it is soon time for your regular coffee date with an old friend, your counseling appointment, a board meeting, or your writing group (ha ha ha!).

On another normal day in the technologically dominated 21st Century, you open your computer and begin to print out a contract, but nothing happens. You change ink cartridges. Still nothing. You turn the printer off and back on. Still nothing. You call for technical support. After taking over your computer, the young man with a lovely Indian accent tells you your computer has been hacked by someone in Germany. 98% of your files have been corrupted. He fixes the problem. Several hours have passed. It will cost you $349.99 for protection. You cancel your current anti-virus contract because it failed to protect you against hacking.

You sit down to pay bills and find a charge for $198.48 from “Webnetworksolutions” that you’ve never heard of. When you call them, a woman in Florida asks what your account number is with Frontier. You say “I’ve never heard of Frontier.” She asks what is your phone company. You answer, flustered (it is still early), “I don’t remember but it’s not Frontier.” You tell her there is a charge on your visa bill for $198.48 giving their phone number and you did not agree to any service, whatever that service might be. You can’t understand her answer (you often cannot understand people speaking from your cell phone and long for the old land line—some technology improvements need improvement). You repeat that the charge is wrong and you have no account with Frontier. She tells you to call your Visa –or, at least, that’s what you think she says. When you call Visa to dispute the charge, the woman can’t find your Visa account, but eventually does. You say you don’t know anything about this company. She checks something, then says they are going to remove the charge. They consider it fraud. In one or two days they will send you a new Visa card with an entirely new account number. Then, you will have to notify every organization that automatically charges to your card each month. There are 11 of them. Notifying them will be your task for another morning – before writing.

You responded to a special deal to get DirecTV streaming for $10 a month for the first three months and $35 monthly thereafter. When a better offer appears in your inbox, you contact DirecTV and change contracts. They bill you for both. You call to ask why they have not canceled the first contract. After an hour and a half on the phone, they tell you they have resolved the matter. They haven’t. Next day, you spend another hour and a half on the phone with another person forced to do this work for lack of better options. The problem is not his fault. He sincerely wants to help you – and after 90 minutes he supposedly has corrected the problem. When you try to watch DirecTV, however, the screen flashes a message that you are unsubscribed. You contact DirecTV again. After a 90 minute on-line chat, during which you run numerous times between the TV in the living room and the computer in your office and repeatedly ask him to explain what he is talking about (you are computer-age illiterate), the technician tells you to call Amazon Fire and hangs up. The woman at Amazon Fire fixes the problem in less than 5 minutes.

Now you have time to drive 45 minutes to the doctor’s to figure out why you can’t breath and why you have a pulsing headache (brain tumor? aneurism?). They don’t know. You huff and puff to your chair, pop two Tylenol, and stick an ice pack on your head, while you read about the fall of U.S. civilization and the coming Fascism. Thus, ends a new normal day in the life of a sometime writer in the 21st Century.

 

SLEEPING THE SLEEP OF THE JUST

FROM A WORK IN PROGRESS

[Following revocation of probation for smoking pot and missing a meeting, the judge reminds my grandnephew (who I call Daniel here) that he told him he had to be perfect, something not possible for a 20 year old with mental health issues). After the judge ordered my nephew to prison, his grandmother spoke up, “The system didn’t have to be perfect.” The judge warned her not to talk. When she asked if she could hug her grandson who was in tears before they took him away, the judge told her to shut up or he’d send her to jail!” And so dies faith in justice and the rule of law not only for the convicted, but for family as well.]

Did the judge really think prison would make him better? His attorney had implied as much when she was unable to find a treatment program in the community and naively suggested a stay in prison would provide one. Or was the judge merely punishing Daniel for not being perfect? Sending this young man to the dangers and harsh conditions of prison to live in a milieu of hardened offenders would not make him a better person. He would be lucky just to survive.

*    *     *

Three a.m. Flipping like a hooked fish on a river bank, over and over, from my right side to my left, and onto my back, beginning the sequence again and again. My restless brain refuses to imagine lying on soft meadow grass, watching clouds move among a cathedral of fir branches, listening to the chirps and trills of birdsong. My attempt at meditation rouses images of a small, tight space with glaring light, gray cement walls, a door that can keep out hurricanes and keep a young man in, steel bars, the headache-inducing sound of metal slamming metal, a cacophony of unquiet voices, a hard bed with a meager blanket, a metal toilet with no seat, tough, tattooed prisoners with muscles bulging.

Daniel is in segregation, locked in an 8 by 10 foot cell 23 hours of every 24. He cannot make or receive phone calls. We are dependent on the prison staff to know if he is alright. For a while they answered my phone calls, said they checked on him, reassured me. No longer. I call and leave messages, asking about his meds, his health, his state of mind. I tell them he sent a letter. He is afraid of what will happen when he is released into the general population. He is a sex offender. His victim was a “child.” Nevermind that the sex was consensual and she lied about her age. He is called a “chimo” and a “rapo.” They will beat him up, he writes. Sex offenders get raped in prison.

            I want to have a conversation with the judge who so casually revoked Daniel’s probation, as if he were signing a permission slip to leave school early. The judge (a former prosecutor), a current prosecutor, and the probation officer were of one mind. This kid was uppity and needed to be taught a lesson.

            I want to wake this judge and ask how he can treat people that way. I want him to feel the pain he has caused, not just to my grandnephew but to his grandmother, his mother, his father, his grandfather, his aunts, his sisters, his girlfriend, his son. I now understand “gut wrenching.” I want this judge to see into the future like I do every night. A young man whose life is ruined. He has no prospects. It will be a miracle if he finds even the lowest paid, unskilled job when he gets out. He will not be able to support his son. Will he even find a place to live? Since felons are denied public benefits, he will have to beg or eat in soup kitchens. And how will he get the medication and the treatment he needs? He will not. The prison door will revolve as the judge revokes his parole again and again.

            The judge is elected by the people. Is that what makes him tough on crime? To them, my grandnephew is a criminal, a felon of the worst kind: a sex offender, “one of the most despised groups of people in American society—along with terrorists and perpetrators of genocide.”[i] . . . .

            It’s now nearly 5 a.m. Abby will wake soon. Maybe then I will sleep. I wonder what Daniel is doing now. It’s the middle of the night in Oregon. I hope he is not having a restless night. It can signal a manic episode and then he’ll end up in the hole again. And the judge? Sleeping peacefully? No second thoughts about the young man he so cavalierly sent to prison for a year? Sleeping the sleep of the just.

 

 

[i]Lisa Anne & Laura J. Zilney, Reconsidering Sex Crimes and Offenders: Prosecution or Persecution? Santa Barbara, Denver,  Oxford: Praeger (2009) p.xiii.

 

RATKO MLADIC GUILTY OF GENOCIDE: WHY AREN'T BOSNIAKS OVERJOYED?

“The crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.” ICTY Trial Chamber on sentencing Ratko Mladic to life in prison.

General Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, was convicted of 10 counts of war crimes, crime against humanity, and genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on November 22, 2017, and sentenced to life in prison. Why aren’t all Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) overjoyed?

They aren’t unhappy that he was convicted of those crimes. They’re distressed that he was not convicted of genocide for the Bosnian Serb campaign to drive out non-Serbs from over 40 municipalities at the beginning of the war in 1992 (the prosecution charged him with genocide in six of those municipalities). No one has been. The 22 years from indictment to conviction is also not a cause for rejoicing. Nor is impunity for the 1000s of hands on perpetrators.

The ICTY Trial Chamber found that the VRS had committed mass executions, forcible transfer and deportation, brutal rapes of women and children as young as 12, detention and near starvation in camps. Two of the three judges (Judge Orie dissenting) found that the physical perpetrators in five municipalities “intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslims in those Municipalities as part of the protected group,” a necessary finding for genocide. But they concluded it was not genocide because those murdered were not a “substantial part” of the protected group, another requirement for a finding of genocide.

While agreeing with the prosecution that four “joint criminal enterprises (JCE) existed,”* the Trial Chamber decided that the evidence did not support a finding that the purpose of the “Overarching JCE” included the commission of genocide in the Municipalities. That let Mladic off the hook for genocide in the Municipalities. He was, however, found guilty of genocide for the Srebrenica JCE that resulted in the murder of 8,000 men and boys and the forcible expulsion of all non-Serbs from that region.

Some of the incidents that led two judges to conclude that physical perpetrators intended to commit genocide in the Municipalities were:

• In Sanski Most, Bosnian Serb forces forced 28 Bosnian Muslim men to jump off the Vrhpolj Bridge one by one, then shot them in the water. Only one survived. Four other men were killed on the way to the bridge.

• Twenty-four Bosnian Muslim detainees suffocated while being transported to the Manjaca Camp detention center, after being forced to consume salt and denied water for the nine hour trip.

• At the Keraterm Camp, chemical gas was thrown into a room, causing detainees to panic and try to get out. As they exited, the guards and soldiers executed them with automatic weapons. Between 190 and 220 were killed.

• In detention camps, “[D]etainees were forced to rape and engage in other degrading sexual acts with one another. . . .”

• Many Bosnian women were raped. At “Karaman’s House in Foca Municipality, several groups of women, and girls as young as 12 years old, were routinely and brutally raped.”**

It has been estimated that from 3,000 to 6,000 people were killed or disappeared in the Prijedor region alone (including at the infamous concentration camps at Trnopolje, Omarska, and Keraterm). In 1992, the first year of the war in Bosnia, 45,000 people were killed, nearly half of the total killed (100,000) during the entire war. Bosnian Serb forces raped anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 Bosnian Muslim women throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. Evidence of all those murders and rapes could not be presented in one trial, which lasted four years as it was. Though the Chamber found that the murderers and rapists in each of these municipalities had an intent to destroy a part of the protected group of Bosnian Muslims, they didn’t combine the numbers, thereby creating a silo effect. The killing of 24 men with intent to destroy the Bosnian Muslims as a group was not a substantial part of the entire community of Bosnian Muslims living within territory claimed by the Bosnian Serbs. Therefore, the Trial Chamber held, Mladic, the commander of Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, could not be held responsible for genocide in the municipalities.

Right or wrong, this is a legal argument. It does nothing to assuage the grief of those who lost their families when the Bosnian Serbs forced forty of them into a house, locked the doors, and burned it down. As the screams subsided and the flames died, the killers passed around a bottle of plum brandy. Nor is it a comfort to Fikret Bacic who lost his daughter, son, wife, mother, and 14 other relatives when Serb forces ordered them out of the house where they, with 26 other women and children, had sought safety, killing all but one young boy.

Moreover, tens of thousands of Bosnian Serbs who shot the guns, locked the doors, lit the match, and shared the plum brandy were never held to account. They live ordinary lives in the cafes and streets of Sanski Most, Prijedor, Koto Varos, Foca, Kljuc, Vlasenica, Bratunac, Zvornik. . . . The Bosnian Muslims who returned to those areas see them daily. A woman turns from her table in the café and sees her rapist, casually drinking coffee or rakija. He looks through her or gives a haughty smirk. An elderly man walks slowly through the square, where a group of adolescents are hanging out, laughing, enjoying the sun and free time. Quite possibly, they are children of the men who murdered his children, when they were the same age or younger.

Journalist, Janine di Giovanni, who reported on the war, wrote in a New York Times Op Ed after the Mladic verdict:

“As I saw firsthand, the men who did the truly nefarious acts — those who pulled the triggers on women and children, who dug the mass graves in Srebrenica, who took part in the mass rapes in Foca and other towns in Bosnia — walked free. Those men, to me, were the truly evil ones.

"Many years after the war, in Srebrenica, I met a broken woman who had been held in the notorious Foca gymnasium as a teenager and raped dozens of times. Justice for her was a laughable illusion. She told me that she saw one of her rapists every day in the village that they both came from. She knew he would never go to The Hague and face justice: Very few men were tried there for rape.

“It was she, the victim, who dropped her eyes in shame when they passed each other on the street, and he, the rapist, who walked by triumphantly. This was not a rare occurrence. I interviewed mothers and daughters who were raped side by side and still saw their rapists in the towns they had returned to after the war.” fn. 1

Bosniak Poet, Darko Cvejetic gives voice to this reality:

“I am trying to capture it in a poem, this coexistence of the killer and the victim, this relationship, this situation which is now escaping rational analysis. I have seen things, where people as harmless as bunnies become military commanders, and who after they stop being commanders go back to “normal,” to being bunnies again.” 

For an insightful and beautifully written account of Prijedor then and now, see Refik Hodzic’s ““Flowers in the Square. A Struggle for Justice in a Bosnian Community Whose Significance Resonates Far Beyond the Balkans,” from which this quote was taken. http://www.ictj.org/sites/default/files/subsites/flowers-square-prijedor/

Justice was done in part by convicting Ratko Mladic, the man who commanded the forces who carried out the atrocities and murders. It felt too late for some (22 years after the end of the war in Bosnia and more than six and a half years after Mladic’s arrest). Hasan Nuhanovic, a Bosnian survivor of the Srebrenica massacre, told The New York Times after the verdict: “This should all have been behind us by now. The only thing that is behind us is that war.” Even with Mladic’s life sentence, it can never be enough for those who lost everything, their worlds turned upside down, changed forever. But without a conviction, the Tribunal would have ended in infamy. For all its shortcomings in its near-quarter century existence, it brought a measure of justice to some and provided a beacon for the permanent International Criminal Court to follow.

As the writer Srdjan Garcevic, concluded:

Even if ICTY has not managed to punish all those who contributed (and still contribute) to this shame, at least it brought some solace to those who lost too much, and gave us a touchstone from which we can begin to understand the bloody depths of our common embarrassment.”

Most disturbing, nationalism continues to hold sway in Serbia and Republika Srpska,*** where Mladic is hailed as a hero and martyr and the governments refuse to acknowledge that genocide occurred in Srebrenica, let alone in the Municipalities, let alone that Serb forces were responsible. In Republika Srpska, Bosnian Muslim and Serb children are segregated and taught different versions of history in school. And Vojislav Seselj, commander of paramilitary forces in Bosnia who was acquitted by the Tribunal in an inexplicable and outrageous decision (it is on appeal), is currently a member of Parliament in Serbia. General Vladimir Lazarevic, convicted of crimes against humanity, now teaches at Serbia’s top military academy. As Lydia Gall of Human Rights Watch warns:

“Unless governments in the Western Balkans, and their EU and US partners redouble their efforts to bring those responsible for wartime crimes to justice and make a commitment to establish an independent commission to unravel the truth about the region’s bloody past, there is a danger that history will repeat itself.

“Without these combined efforts, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which resurgent populist nationalism in the region and heightened tensions could spill into violence.”

What Refik Hodzic writes about Prijedor is true for all the former Yugoslavia:

“For Prijedor has a chance to be a community where humanity will be a value above the myths about ethnic superiority, inferiority of “others,” celebration of crimes and discrimination, only if it faces the truth about the crimes that changed it so. . . . But it is important that the reckoning with the past is honest and thorough, and that the outcomes of this reckoning are built into the history of Prijedor in a manner accessible to its present and future inhabitants.”

Leaders and politicians in Serbia and the Republika Srpska provide the nationalist rhetoric that prevents healing, just as they led the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, neighbors and friends, to hate and kill one another. If anything, their disinformation has intensified: "[The] time of shame is over and the time of quiet pride has begun." [Ana Brnabic, Serbian Prime Minister]’; "We were told for too long to be ashamed of our war heroes [convicted of war crimes, but no longer." [Aleksandar Vulin, Minister of Defense].

Srdjan Garcevic provided a hopeful response to the Mladic verdict:

“While too few people still know about the amount of suffering heaped on those from other nations, and still too often wave criticisms away with whataboutism, all around the region an enormous number of people are connected by a strong underlying feeling that the wars in 1990s were a shameful mistake that left us all poorer and more miserable, especially given all the sacrifices we had to make.”

The question for the people is how to hear each other over the duplicity of their leaders. “As long as we keep telling stories to shield ourselves from accepting how deeply embarrassing and futile our wars were, we will still not see the shame nor humanity in each other, and reconciliation will stay on the horizon, as opposed to an achievable goal.” fn. 2

 

*A Joint Criminal Enterprise is, in simplified terms, a method of holding an individual accountable when he/she shares a common criminal purpose with others and at least one of them takes action to carry it out. Each JCE member is held responsible for the crime.

**Rape was used as a weapon of war, intending to force Bosnian Muslim women to birth Serb babies.

***The Dayton Accords that ended the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 divided that country into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (consisting of Bosnian Muslims and Croats) and Republika Srpska (consisting of Bosnian Serbs), thus giving the aggressor Bosnian Serbs the spoils of war in exchange for a cease fire.

fn. 1: Janine di Giovanni, “Flawed Justice for the Butcher of Bosnia,” New York Times Opinion, November 22, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/opinion/mladic-hague-bosnia-butcher.html

fn. 2: “Confronting the Shame of Nationalism After Mladic Verdict,” December 7, 2017. http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/blog/confronting-the-shame-of-nationalism-after-mladic-verdict-12-04-2017

 

OF COURSE, “ME, TOO!”

Well, of course, “me too!” We live in a sexist culture where the males of the species are taught to consider the females sexually available to them. Advertisers sell women’s and girls’ bodies with cars and liquor. Movies show women jumping into bed with practical strangers. Little girls are marketed for their (supposed) sexual allure. Sexual harassment? Sexual assault? Rape? Not a surprising outcome.

What’s more, sexual access is one of the perks of power, privilege, and fame. As The Donald said: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Women and feminist men have been challenging this for decades. But why should those with the power, fame, and perks listen or change their behavior? After all, they’re the ones with the power, perks and privileges.

We need to clarify something. Not all touching is a sexual advance, sexual harassment, or sexual predation. When a man puts his hand on a woman’s bare back or even her (clothed) rear, he is not being a sexual predator. It does women, those who have been or will be sexually assaulted or harassed, a disservice to claim that they are. Just wait for the backlash.

Really? You can’t see any difference between Roy Moore and Al Franken, when Moore takes a 16-year-old into his home, locks the door, kisses and fondles her, takes off her clothes, then removes his, touches her breasts and genitals, and places her hand on his, and Franken makes a sexist, tasteless joke posing for a photo or puts his hand on a woman’s bottom while her husband takes a photo of them at their request?

I am glad that women have had the courage to come forward and that they’ve received public support for doing so. I am disturbed that it’s being used for political gain: Republicans v. Democrats. No one is a saint here. And powerful men of whatever political persuasion have been free to exercise their privilege over less powerful females because they hold the key to professional advancement or any job at all.

Some of this behavior is criminal. Some of it is not, as offensive as it may be. What galls me is that those men who have felt privileged to sexually assault with impunity will never have their names put on the sex offender registry, while prosecutors and judges send young people who have consensual sex to prison and make them register as sex offenders for life. In addition to difficulty finding housing or a job, they are denied basic constitutional rights of association and freedom to travel. Because they have never been convicted, Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, et al. will not have “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor” stamped in their passports (required as of October 31, 2017). Yet who is the predator here: Roy? Harvey? Or a 20-year-old young man who had consensual sex with a teenager? The young man will bear the mark of Cain for the rest of his life. Harvey, Roy, and their pals have already lived long lives with the opportunity for many achievements, and received rewards and accolades.

I think of 15-year-old Christian Adamek in Alabama who was threatened with expulsion from school and arrest for streaking (running nude) at a football game. Facing lifetime designation as a sex offender, he hung himself. Or what about William Elliot, who spent two years in prison for having a sexual relationship with his 15-year-old (three weeks shy of 16) girlfriend when he was 19. After his release, a man found his address on the sex offender registry, went to his residence, knocked on the door, and, when William opened it, shot him point blank in the face?

Something is wrong with this picture.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are real. They are widespread in U.S. society – and have been for ages. Finally, they are being taken seriously in public discourse. If we overreact in the heat of the moment (as the law has done in response to rare cases of child kidnapping, rape, and murder by establishing a separate and draconian legal system), it will cause much harm as well as undermine efforts for real social change. Rather than look at aberrant individuals, we need to look at how our culture promotes and sustains this violence. Unless we are to meet one injustice with another, we also need to distinguish between what is predatory behavior and what is stupidity.

Some quotes from women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment that appeared following notice of Franken’s intent to step down from the Senate:

“As a person who has also a been victim of sexual harassment, I feel I am in a position to say that that I do not feel that anything Al Franken has done is worthy of such a measure. In fact, I am getting tired of hearing 'Oh, he kissed me and I didn't want him to, oh, he touched my breast, oh, he touched my butt' without addressing REAL sexual harassment---the predatory behavior, the creepiness of it, the loss of one's job, the post-traumatic effects of having an entire workplace turn their back on the victim and rally around the predator. Frankly, it is insulting and demeaning to all women who have experienced true sexual harassment.”

“metoo. i was raped and molested repeatedly as a child, experienced unwanted groping as an adult: these are not even in the same ball park.”

“I’ve also been a victim of sexual assault — the violent stranger kind and the blackout drunk kind — as well as full on disgusting, scary groping by a professor plus all the other little indignities, and I do not want Franken to resign. I stand behind his right to a hearing. As a citizen in our constitutional democracy, I stand behind the right of ALL accused to a fair trial, even if it’s my opinion that they’re vile human beings, which Al is decidedly not.”

For more discussion, see comments at: (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/12/7/1721710/-Al-Franken-I-am-announcing-that-in-the-coming-weeks-I-will-be-resigning?detail=emaildkbn):

REMEMBERING A MASSACRE: Ethnic Cleansing Then and Now

An excellent archival project by SENSE-Tribunal of the Kosova War and the war crimes prosecutions that followed * added to my anxiety over the current racism and xenophobia in the U.S., led and fostered by President Donald Trump.

In 1999, ten thousand (10,000) people, mostly Kosovar Albanians, were killed and 800,000 forced to flee across borders solely because of their ethnicity and Slobodan Milosevic’s desire for an ethnically pure Serb republic. More than hatred of Bosnian Muslims, Serbs had been taught to hate Albanians who lived in Kosovo, which they consider the heartland of Serb civilization. Milosevic used historical animosity to gain power. Only after fomenting war in Croatia and Bosnia and failing to achieve a Greater Serbia did he return to Kosova to maintain his shaky hold on power. Some people in Serbia objected, but not enough. Most were raised to see Kosovar Albanians as “other.” Segregation assured prejudices remained firmly in place. Though Serbs were tired of war, few objected to the discrimination and brutality against Kosovars leading up to another one.

I was living in the Balkans during the Kosova War, evacuated from Montenegro to Macedonia, where I headed a War Crimes Documentation Project among refugees that would provide evidence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where I would spend three years monitoring Milosevic’s war crimes trial. I was in Serbia as brutality against Kosovar Albanians increased daily aided by xenophobic rhetoric. Watching the SENSE videos brought back the gut-wrenching fear for this population, some of whom were my friends. And the terrible anguish over the beatings, torture, murders, and destruction of their homes and livelihoods. I was reminded of Shyrete Berisha and her children, who Serbian forces herded into a pizzeria with 40 or 50 others after killing their men in front of them. For 20 or 30 minutes, police and paramilitaries shot automatic weapons into the café, then tossed in grenades to finish the killing. Shyrete Berisha testified at Milosevic’s trial about losing her entire family:

“I cannot remember any explosion but I turned to look at my children. I saw my son Redon was sitting there with blood all over him and he was still holding his bottle of milk. I saw Majlinda and half her head was missing. I saw Sebahate and half her head was missing as well. I only remember hearing Majlinda and Sebahate once say, “Oof.” I slowly touched my youngest son Redon with my feet but he was dead.”

Mrs. Berisha’s was only one of the stories I heard and which the SENSE project unearthed from the deep place in my psyche where they reside, enabling my day-to-day life of grocery shopping, writing, and enjoying coffee with friends. And now, I hear someone close to me repeat Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’ lies about the criminality of immigrants and the threat they present to “our” (read “white”) children. A waking nightmare. Will we ever wake up? Will we wake up in time to prevent a Kosovo in America? If the spread of xenophobia is any indication, it has already begun. *(http://sense-agency.com/icty/interactive-narrative-%E2%80%9Cicty-the-kosovo-case-presented-to-the-public.29.html?news_id=17229&cat_id=1)

ARMAGEDDON!

I’m freaked out. Fires are consuming my state. My air purifier is running bright red, toxic, don’t breathe. Ash covers my desk, the windowsills, clothing, plants, the floors, my lungs. A major highway is closed. Cities evacuated. Hikers rescued from our once green forests. The sky glows an eerie dirty gray and copper. The sun, a red orange ball, is about as spectacular as the eclipse. I breathe ash into my already compromised lungs. I need to wear a mask, but I’m suffocating from the heat. And the South is underwater as category 5 Hurricane Irma assaults the Caribbean and heads toward Florida, with Jose not far behind.

Armed white nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKKers, and other hate groups march in the streets with torches, unmasked, unafraid. A Korean demigod threatens conflagration and his American counterpart wreaks destruction on Obama’s world, my world. Encouraging hatred, division, and violence. Expelling young dreamers to alien lands. Gifting our water, air, and land to those who would profit from their pollution. Promoting violence by and militarization of police, who bully, beat up, terrorize, and kill. Aligning himself with dictators and strong men, disparaging allies. Contemptuous of the constitution and rule of law. Distorting reality for everyone as he lives in the land of lies. Taking from the poor and giving to the rich with smoke and mirrors showing down is up, distorting reality, murdering truth. Encouraging our demons who hate women, immigrants, Muslims, Black people, Latinos, those with disabilities. Granting permission to our dark side.

In his air-conditioned WHITE House, he does not choke on smoke, collapse from heat, wade through chest high water. He lives in a bubble drifting from golf course to golf course. Maralago is not yet underwater, though Hurricane Irma is on the horizon. I am reminded of a movie popular in my growing up years: On the Beach, where only two people remain alive after nuclear war. A gem of a planet and all its vibrant life destroyed. How close are we, I wonder?

Why I Don't Support Medicare for All

I’m not sure what is meant by “Medicare for All.” Is it a more popularly accepted name for Single Payer? Or is it really an expansion of Medicare. If it’s an expansion of Medicare, then let’s be clear. Medicare was partially privatized in 2003 by the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA). As a result, private insurance companies are heavily into the Medicare market.

The MMA created a prescription drug program (Part D) – and handed it to private insurers to offer policies and set premiums and reimbursements. If you don’t want to pay the entire cost of prescriptions out of pocket, you have to buy a Part D plan from a private insurer. Reimbursements and premiums vary from company to company.

In the same legislation, Congress opened the door wider for private insurance companies, allowing them to compete with each other and with “Original Medicare” (Parts A – hospitalization - and B – outpatient services, which are managed by the government for a set premium (currently about $104 a month) by offering “Medicare Advantage” plans. These, too, vary in coverage, deductibles, and premiums, so you will have to shop around, an unpleasant task that faces you each year as premiums and coverage change.

It is also possible to buy a Medicare Supplement Plan (aka Medigap), which, for an additional premium, will cover most copays and deductibles. Again, premiums and benefits vary, so one needs to set aside a couple weeks and forego making the grandchildren Halloween costumes and taking walks in the brilliantly colored fall to compare coverage and try to understand it all, i.e. “Should I stick with Original Medicare Parts A & B or choose a Medicare Advantage Plan?” “If the latter, which one among those offered in the private sector is best for me in coverage and cost?” “Do I need a prescription drug plan, as well, and, if so, which company offers the best deal?” “Does it cover my medications and, if so, how much will it pay?” Are we having fun yet?

Well, you’re not done because even if you have all the coverage discussed above, it won’t cover eye exams and glasses, hearing aids, or dental work. You either have to pay for more policies or pay out of pocket, if you can afford it. For those who haven’t faced the need for hearing aids, you will pay $3,000 to $6,000 -- or less if you’re a Costco member (it’s worth the $55 annual fee). It appears that eyes, ears, and teeth are not part of the human body. Who knew?

It has taken me five years to manage a basic understanding of partially privatized Medicare, law degree notwithstanding. And I am probably wrong.

Does the campaign Medicare for All (that requests my signature daily) mean the Medicare we have now? If it does, I’m not signing any petitions.

Caveat: this is not legal advice. It is cri de coeur and a caution.

An interesting article on the subject is Joshua Holland’s “Medicare-for-All Isn’t the Solution for Universal Health Care.” Holland is a contributor to The Nation, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and hosts “Politics and Reality Radio.” https://www.thenation.com/article/medicare-for-all-isnt-the-solution-for-universal-health-care/

MEETING ELIE WIESEL

In 1999, I found myself in Skopje, Macedonia, an evacuee from the Kosovo war. While there, I headed a war crimes documentation project, interviewing some of the 800,000 Kosovar refugees. In the midst of tragedy and suffering, I had the privilege of meeting the great humanitarian, Elie Wiesel, who left this earth a little over a year ago. Today, more than ever, we need these gentle, heroic souls, and I need to be reminded that they have walked this earth -- and left a lasting legacy. The following is what I wrote at the time, included in my memoir in progress.

The U.S. Embassy called to say President Clinton was sending Elie Wiesel here as a personal emissary to speak with refugees. They would like me to meet with him. Would I be available? I said I might be able to rearrange my dance card. I didn't hear anything more for a week, when the Embassy officer called from Stenkovac 1 camp and asked if I could come there to meet with Mr. Wiesel. I grabbed Sebi, one of my young Albanian-speaking staff and a refugee from Kosovo, and hopped in a taxi for the hot ride out to the camp.

Despite the fact that UNHCR had still not issued us badges to enter the camps, Sebi and I flashed the badge Aferdita (our office manager) had made for us using a stapler, a business card, and a safety pin. We entered with no trouble. An embassy staff person met us and walked us through the camp to the tent where Mr. Wiesel was meeting with refugees and staff of the International Rescue Commission, of which he was a board member.

This was my first visit to a camp. About what I'd expected, given oral reports and television footage. Hundreds of grey, white, and khaki tents of various sizes lined up in rows on a dirt field with no trees or foliage. Laundry hanging on tent lines. Women bending over, washing plastic cups in shallow basins of water, carrying babies, changing diapers, tending toddlers. Men lying inside tents with little to do. Children teasing strangers, saying "hi" in English, but no boisterous play, no running and shouting. International aid organizations and insignias everywhere. A group of Japanese Peace tourists. My impressions were gleaned from stolen side glances, as we walked and talked with our escort.

Eventually, we approached the small IRC tent, where a couple dozen people gathered around a slight, grey haired man. When he saw me, he stopped the discussion and came forward to greet me, hand extended, saying "Hello, Judith!" That was enough to impress me for the rest of the century -- and well into the next millennium! I introduced him to Sebi, he ushered me to a chair beside him, and the conversation resumed.

The speaker had apparently just finished telling of his ordeal at the hands of Serb forces in Kosovo. He was expressing his anger and bitterness. Mr. Wiesel listened intently, without interruption. Another man entered the conversation and told how his Serb neighbor had killed a member of his family. Mr. Wiesel asked respectfully, "Do you hate all Serbs?" "Yes," the man, a staff member of IRC, replied in perfect English, without hesitation. He said they were a bad race. He'd read about it in a book, so there must be a scientific basis for it. Mr. Wiesel did not argue with him, but turned to a young girl of about 16, who was going to Canada, and asked her if she fell in love with a boy, agreed to marry him, and then found out his parents were Serbs, what would she do. "I would not take him," she replied firmly. Later, with tears in her eyes, she told Mr. Wiesel how a Serbian man had tried to rape her. With her permission, he held and comforted her.

A man who was with Mr. Wiesel, perhaps another IRC board member, urged him to tell about his experience in Auschwitz. He gently but firmly declined. It was these people's pain he had come to witness. He would not belittle it by judging their hatred. Later, I asked him if he hated all Germans. Quite simply, he answered, "No, I never did." And he acknowledged, again without judgment, that some others who survived the Holocaust still shun everything German. Sebi told him that she had worked with Serbs, had Serbian friends, but she would not see them now. He understood. For the Albanians, the terror was immediate. In Kosovo, it continued.

Mr. Wiesel told me he still struggled to understand hatred and the evil of which humans are capable. He asked the refugee whose neighbor had killed his relative, "How could he do that? To someone he drank wine with, whose children he knew, who had worked beside him and laughed with him?" The man had no answer -- except that he was Serb.

At one point in the discussion, I said that the international community bears some responsibility for what Milosevic has wrought, in that they chose to negotiate with him to end the war in Bosnia. Mr. Wiesel disagreed. He said the Bosnian war had to end, but the fault of the international community was that they failed to intervene sooner.

Mr. Wiesel clearly had a heavy heart after listening to so many tragic stories. He shook his head and wondered how this could happen at the end of the 20th Century. And he offered his concern as well as his deep appreciation for the work we were trying to do. I tried to convey my gratitude for how he chose to live his life and all he'd given to the world. He answered humbly, "We have such a short time here. We must do what we can."

And then I boldly asked if I could get a photograph. He graciously complied, pulling Sebi and me close to him, then telling the photographer to take her time as he was enjoying himself! The cars arrived and he was bustled off to his next appointment, while Sebi and I walked slowly back through the camp. She was as moved as I -- and she had not known of him before this meeting, nor read any of his books. There is something about greatness of spirit that one recognizes in its presence. It is indefinable, yet a palpable presence. I almost think that alone could conquer all the evil in the world. Perhaps, if it wasn't for that, there would be no world left worth struggling for.

The Good vs. The Bad

I am on the board of two nonprofit organizations. One advocates for adults who survived childhood sexual abuse. The other consists of friends and families of people convicted of sex crimes. You might think that makes no sense. Isn’t one the enemy of the other? Isn’t one bad and one good? I don’t think so. All are human beings. Those convicted of sex offenses have been held accountable. Given the recidivism rate of 5%, they are less to be feared than the rest of society. Some who were convicted and made to register as sex offenders for life* were innocent or guilty of behavior that harmed no one – streaking, taking photos of their nude children, sexting while a minor, brushing dirt off a child’s clothed bottom, exploring bodies through childhood curiosity.

Aren’t those who were victimized scarred for life? Some. Not all. It is a disservice to survivors to tell them they can never recover from abuse they suffered as a child. Everyone is different. Many survivors are able to heal and put it behind them. Some even forgive their abusers. Why can’t we? Forgiveness allows us to rebuild community. It lifts something from our souls – the anger and hatred that act like cancers eating us from within.

Not all those who have committed sex offenses can be redeemed. Not all are alike. Some are pathological serial offenders and need to be separated from the community. These are not the majority. Yet in the last 30 or 40 years we have greatly expanded the types of behavior that are sex crimes, while branding all those convicted with the same indelible mark for life: “sex offender.” Punishment is never ending. It can include placement on a public registry; notification of neighbors, colleagues, and others; restrictions on where one can live; limitations on travel (passport identification as a sex offender) and association, as well as extralegal discrimination such as inability to get a job, find housing, or attend school.

Recently, a young star OSU baseball player, Luke Heimlich, was outed as a convicted sex offender. Luke molested a young relative five years ago. She was four when it began and he was 13. His actions were reprehensible, even considering his brain immaturity. Luke served two years’ probation and completed sex offender treatment. He has expressed remorse for the harm he caused and is trying to become a decent, contributing member of society. But what he did at 13 and 15 continues to follow him. After revelation of his past and a public outcry, he stepped down from the baseball team, which is on its way to the College World Series. Before The Oregonian informed the public about Luke’s past, he was considered a top draft pick by Major League Baseball. After, no team selected him. Some have suggested he be banned from athletics, while others that he be banned from attending university.

This is not a contest of sympathy. ‘If we have sympathy for Luke, we cannot care about the little girl (now 11).’ ‘If we are (justifiably) angry at what happened to her, we must hate Luke and ostracize him from our community.’ Are our hearts so small that they cannot encompass caring for both? Luke is not a monster. He is a young man who did something terribly wrong. He has been held accountable and received treatment. He is highly unlikely to commit another sex crime. We should spend as much energy preventing sexual abuse as we do righteously condemning those who are trying to make amends and contribute to the community. *In Oregon, those convicted of sex crimes may apply to be removed from the registry after specified periods of time following the end of supervision. ORS 181.820

"You Are Not Wanted Here"

Portland, Oregon is the whitest city of its size in the United States. I want to deny living there. It feels shameful even though I did not choose it because of its whiteness. I am third generation Oregonian. My friends and family are here. I love the giant firs, the rivers that bisect the city, the easy access to the ocean and mountains, Powell’s Books. I hate its lack of diversity and the racism that lies at its root: Oregon’s original sin.

When Oregon was on the verge of statehood, granted in 1859, it was divided between those who wanted to allow slavery and those who did not. The compromise was to prohibit slavery (and thus competition from people using free labor), but also to prohibit African Americans from residing in the state. While this was not enforced, it sent a powerful message: “If you are African American, you are not wanted here.”

“Delegates to Oregon's constitutional convention submitted an exclusion clause to voters on November 7, 1857, along with a proposal to legalize slavery. Voters disapproved of slavery by a wide margin, ensuring that Oregon would be a free state, and approved the exclusion clause by a wide margin. Incorporated into the Bill of Rights, the clause prohibited blacks from being in the state, owning property, and making contracts. Oregon thus became the only free state admitted to the Union with an exclusion clause in its constitution. [emphasis added] Gregory Nokes.

The constitutional exclusion remained until 1926. Other racist language in the constitution was not removed until 2002. Oregon originally ratified the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but within a few years rescinded its ratification and did not correct it until 1973. The state resisted ratifying the 15th Amendment (Voting Rights) until 1959.

The reverse side of racial exclusion is that white people were drawn to Oregon because of its whiteness. I don’t know, but I pray that my ancestors weren’t part of this diaspora. It’s quite possible they were. This is our shameful legacy. It is why white supremacists feel more at home here than African Americans. It is why black people make up only 2% of Oregon’s population and 9.3% of its prison population.

“In 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act, a piece of legislation designed to promote White settlement in the Oregon Territory by expropriating Native American land and giving it to Whites for free, causing a population boom of White settlers of 300 percent. The move to Oregon for many White settlers was motivated by a desire to create an all-White society free from the racial tensions brewing before the start of the American Civil War. The first steps taken to create this all-White society involved bloody battles against Native American peoples and their eventual compulsory removal from their land.” [citations omitted]

Oregon in the 1920’s had the highest population of Ku Klux Klan members in the U.S. They can be seen posing for photographs with Portland’s officials. Another photo shows the KKK with members of the Royal Riders of the Red Robe, a Klan auxiliary of foreign born Protestants. The Klan’s philosophy is evident in its motto: “’100 percent Americanism,’ an ideology that developed during World War I as a reaction to the perceived threat to national unity posed by the influx of non-Protestant, non-English-speaking immigrants.” Sound familiar?

In 1988, three men associated with White Aryan Resistance (WAR) beat Mulegeta Seraw, an Ethiopian student, to death on a Portland street. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued Tom Metzger, head of WAR, his son, and WAR for incitement of murder. An Oregon jury returned a $12.5 million verdict in favor of the estate of Mr. Seraw, despite Metzger’s defense that he was merely exercising his First Amendment Rights. The verdict bankrupted WAR.

In more recent years (with the election of a black president, followed by the hate-filled rhetoric of a bigoted president), we’ve seen the rise of white militias (such as the Oath Keepers, active in Oregon), white supremacist, and white separatist groups. The number of anti-Muslim organizations in the U.S. grew from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. A report by the Council for American-Islamic Relations found that hate crimes targeting Muslims surged 584 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Once on the fringe, these hate groups now march in Portland streets and propagandize and proselytize on the internet. Prisons, too, are a breeding ground for white supremacist gangs, and Oregon, like the rest of the country, has grotesquely expanded the number of people we lock up. Jeremy Christian spent eight years in Oregon prisons. According to one person who knew him before he was sent up, it was there he connected with white hate groups and became radicalized. We gave up on prison as rehabilitative long ago.

On May 27, 2017, Jeremy Christian verbally assaulted two young women, one black, the other Muslim on a MAX train. Christian is a self-proclaimed white separatist. He reportedly yelled at the women “Get off the bus and get out of the country.” When three men intervened, he killed two (Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best) and seriously injured the third (Micah David-Cole Fletcher). The three men were white Portlanders, one was Jewish. Will this send a message to white supremacists seeking to move here? They are planning to rally in downtown Portland on June 4. While they are free to speak, we do not welcome those who promote hate.

We honor Taliesin, Rick, and Micah and embrace the two young women who were vilified. This kind of courage is also Oregon’s legacy. We can’t change Oregon’s history or increase Portland’s diversity overnight. But we can make it welcoming to all those who seek a community striving for inclusion and the enrichment it brings. As civil rights attorney Arjun Singh Sethi wrote in The Washington Post: “Attacks like Portland’s will keep happening unless we all fight racism, simply being sorry isn’t enough.”

Portland is also enriched by numerous groups promoting diversity and fighting against hate (links to a few are given below). One of them, the Asian and Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), provides suggestions for how we can grow a better community:

“We continue to affirm our support for those who have been terrorized and traumatized, and seek community-driven solutions to address the root causes of oppression. We uplift local efforts including; 1) ending racial profiling and establishing strong community centered police accountability; 2) ensuring all students have access to quality ethnic studies education; 3) creating safe cultural spaces for communities to gather, and; 4) educating to counter hate ideologies and indoctrinations especially amongst our youth.”

We can also support those who are working against racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia – with our time and/or money. And we can look to them for guidance and information to help us move forward. I will end with another thought from APANO:

"These times of fear and violence require us to reflect deeply on root causes, and is not an excuse to over-police our communities. May more Oregonians take action to interrupt hate and stand for love. In these terrible moments, we are reminded of our fragile humanity and the need to build institutions that function as systems of care and are focused on the inherent worth and dignity of all people.”

Links (not exhaustive by any means): Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes: https://oregoncahc.org/

Unite Oregon: www.uniteoregon.org

Change Lab, Race File: www.racefiles.com

APANO: www.apano.org

Coalition of Communities of Color: www.coalitioncommunitiescolor.org

Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO): https://irco.org

NAACP Portland Chapter: www.portlandnaacp1120.org

Urban League of Portland: https://ulpdx.org

Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA): https://nayapdx.org

Western States Center: www.westernstatescenter.org

Rural Organizing Project: www.rop.org

Partnership for Safety and Justice: www.safetyandjustice.org

Black Lives Matter Portland: https://blackpdx.com

Basic Rights Oregon: www.basicrights.org

Southern Poverty Law Center: www.splcenter.org

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): www.cair.org