Monday, February 13, 2017

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A few notes on the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners meeting

What I witnessed yesterday at the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners meeting was a disgrace and an affront to democracy.

In a packed house, as citizen after citizen rose to voice to their opposition to the city's collaboration with the Trump administration's nakedly racist policies targeting immigrants, Muslims and others - and to express that there are now whole communities in Miami that are living in fear - the speakers were consistently cut off and silenced by Commissioner Esteban L. Bovo, Jr., who presided over the meeting with the glittering arrogance of colonial proconsul addressing his imperial subjects. 

As voter after voter spoke - some removed from the Chamber by Bovo even though they were no way being disruptive, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez ignored the proceedings entirely, standing off to one side laughing and joking with his cronies. The dynamic finally erupted into a walkout and protest by many of those assembled (including me).

For those interested who would like to see video confirmation of my story, I posted three videos of the meeting and the aftermath that I took with my phone here.

The Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners has clearly forgotten who they work, so I suggest from here on out we remind them, not just on voting day but at every meeting henceforth. They work for us, the city of Miami, and we always have been and remain a city and a county of immigrants and a refuge for the persecuted, all the stronger for our diversity. 

This will not pass. Ni un paso atrás.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Havana Nocturne

Havana Nocturne, photo by me.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Some Monday thoughts from a fading democracy

 Protest at Thomas Paine Plaza, Philadelphia, 26 January 2017. Photo credit: Ben Deibert.

I think we are in a very dangerous moment in the United States at present.

There are clearly yawning fissures within and between our institutions - the Executive, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the judiciary - that should worry any clear-eyed observer, especially given the fact that Steven Bannon (who, don't forget, is a former Navy officer) is exercising so much control over Trump.

The fact that CBP (whose union, remember, endorsed Trump and whose more moderate leader was ousted once he took office) brazenly ignored a valid court order for hours and treated attorneys and even elected officials like Cory Booker with scorn when they tried to intervene, even invoking Trump's name in the process, has, to my knowledge, never happened before. 

Also, make no mistake, both the Muslim Ban and the omission of Jews on Holocaust Memorial Day feed into white nationalist narrative that Bannon promotes (which is in no way undercut by the happenstance Jewishness of Trump's son in law). 

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned yesterday if this is where Trump is starting, imagine where the government is heading. And imagine what their response will be when the next terrorist attack happens (and it will). I fully expect unprecedented attacks on the judiciary, the free press, the separation of powers, and I think people need to be prepared for the worst. Looking at all the signs and based on my years of reporting on politics abroad, I fear there is a strong chance this could get violent before it's all over. 

I wish I had better news for you, I'm sorry...

Love to you all,


Saturday, January 28, 2017

To my progressive friends: Common ground with your erstwhile conservative foes

Dear progressive friends: There ARE some conservatives and GOP folks who, to varying degrees, see Trump for what he is and realize the danger he poses. These may be people I don't agree with on a lot of issues, but on this they have (thus far ) been fairly sober when it comes to the unique peril the nation currently finds itself in. Among those I would suggest following (Twitter handles after their names):

-Senator John McCain, @SenJohnMcCain
-Senator Lindsey Graham, @LindseyGrahamSC
-Senator Rob Portman, @senrobportman
-Senator Susan Collins, @SenatorCollins
-Senator Jeff Flake, @JeffFlake  
-Gov. John Kasich, @JohnKasich
-David Frum, @davidfrum
-John Weaver, @JWGOP
-Ana Navarro, @ananavarro
-Jonah Goldberg, @JonahNRO
-David French, @DavidAFrench
-Bill Kristol, @BillKristol
-George F. Will, @GeorgeWill
-David Brooks, @nytdavidbrooks
-Eliot A Cohen, @EliotACohen
-Max Boot, @MaxBoot  
-Evan McMullin, @Evan_McMullin

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I know there are issues (choice, the meaning of the 2nd amendment) on which I and these individuals would strongly disagree. But if there is one thing I have seen about despots in my 20 years as a journalist covering them (and make no mistake, that is where we are heading), it is that it takes a broad based coalition to bring them down, not a sectarian one. It is going to take bridge building on all sides for the country to get through this in one piece, and even then I think it will be a challenge like we haven't faced since the Great Depression or the Civil War. Before liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, we must now act as Americans.

Fight Trump every day.

Never give up.

L'union fait la force.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wishes for 2017

(Please excuse my imperfect translation, but these words echo my thoughts and wishes to all of you in the New Year. The photo is the view from Belot, Haiti, taken by me. xxx M)

I wish you endless dreams and the furious desire to achieve some of them. I wish you to love what you should love and forget what you should forget. I wish you passions, I wish you silences. I wish you the songs of birds on awakening and the laughter of children. I wish you to respect the differences of others, because the merit and value of each of us is often yet to be discovered. I wish you to resist complacency, indifference and the negative virtues of our time. Finally, I wish you never to give up searching for adventure, life or love, for life is a magnificent adventure, and you can't give up without a hard fight. I wish you above all to be yourselves, proud of being who you are and happy, for happiness is our true destiny.

Je vous souhaite des rêves à n’en plus finir et l’envie furieuse d’en réaliser quelques uns. Je vous souhaite d’aimer ce qu’il faut aimer et d’oublier ce qu’il faut oublier. Je vous souhaite des passions, je vous souhaite des silences. Je vous souhaite des chants d’oiseaux au réveil et des rires d’enfants. Je vous souhaite de respecter les différences des autres, parce que le mérite et la valeur de chacun sont souvent à découvrir. Je vous souhaite de résister à l’enlisement, à l’indifférence et aux vertus négatives de notre époque. Je vous souhaite enfin de ne jamais renoncer à la recherche, à l’aventure, à la vie, à l’amour, car la vie est une magnifique aventure et nul de raisonnable ne doit y renoncer sans livrer une rude bataille. Je vous souhaite surtout d’être vous, fier de l’être et heureux, car le bonheur est notre destin véritable.

- Les vœux de Jacques Brel, 1er janvier 1968 (Europe 1)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Books in 2016: A personal selection

A Kurdish YPJ fighter with smoke behind her rising from an ISIS held area near the town of Al Hol, Hasakah, Syria. Photo by Delil Souleiman.

Syrian Dust: Reporting from the Heart of the War by Francesca Borri

This excellent book by Italian journalist Francesca Borri recounts her reporting from the Syrian city of Aleppo between 2012 and 2013, and presents a vital primary source recounting a siege that became one of the 21st century’s great crimes. Syrian Dust’s depiction of the terrified, terrorized lives of the Syrians living under the Assad regime’s relentless barrage - from the 25 year-old mother reduced to living in a drainage pipe with her 3 children who ventures out to buy bread and is shot by a sniper to the citizens of Moadamiya “with those bodies that are all bones” to those trapped in Al-Qusayr, during its siege reduced to sending frantic texts pleading “Where are you? They’re killing us all!” - will afflict the reader's conscience long after the book ends.

Afro-Cuban Tales by Lydia Cabrera

A striking and sometimes surreal collection from the woman who was perhaps Cuba’s greatest anthropologist, this book is a rich and splendid account of how Africa’s tradition of oral history and myth was translated to the Caribbean’s largest island.

Black Rice The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas by Judith A. Carney

This is a revelatory and chilling book that posits the thesis that much of the agricultural might of the southern United States derived from the expertise and labour of the West African slaves that were imported en masse to work there. A highly detailed dissection of the rice growing regions of West Africa where many American slaves hailed from makes a compelling case that they were were specifically plucked from these regions in order to bring their proficiency to the “new” world.

Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War by Michael Gunter

An important work in decoding one aspect of Syria’s tortuously complex civil war, this book examines the murky and volatile relationship between Syria’s Kurds and the Assad family dictatorship in Syria, whose patriarch, Hafez al-Assad, as the author writes, took over the supposedly pan-Arab Baath Party and turned it “into a mere facade for his own Alawite family’s personal property.” Though Syria’s Kurds may not have suffered the genocidal slaughter their counterparts living in Iraq under the rule of Saddam Hussein endured, they were subjected to virtual ethnic cleansing from vast swathes of northern Syria in 1963 and reduced to an official status of less-than-full citizens of the country in which they lived. With particular focus paid to the Democratic Union Party or PYD (affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party or PKK founded in Turkey by imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan) and its military wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), the book examines how the schizophrenic Assad regime could both shelter and protect the PKK for almost two decades (until they were kicked out in 1998) and, only a few years later, provide rearguard support to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which then became both the Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) jihadist rebel groups. Though the narrative hits a slight bump when the author edges perilously close toward recycling  wild conspiracy theories connected to the August 2013 chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, it is nonetheless highly valuable for its clear timeline of factors such as the newly assertive mood for Syria’s Kurds following the assumption of the Iraqi presidency by Jalal Talabani, himself a Kurd, in 2005, and such precursors to rebellion as the Qaishli uprising in March 2004 and the murder of a prominent Syrian Kurdish Sufi leader in June 2005.

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

With its stark, incantatory prose, this brief tale of familial and cultural dislocation describes a Mexican woman’s journey to the United States to try and locate her missing brother and, in doing so, spins a haunting border vignette.

The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret

The Israeli author pens short and at times quite affecting vignettes about his life as a father, son and friend in his often-conflicted land.

In the Time of the Tyrants by R. M. Koster and Guillermo Sanchez

An important document of a now-almost forgotten time when the Central American country of Panama was ruled by garish brutality, this book chronicles the governments of Omar Torrijos, Rubén Darío Paredes and Manuel Noriega and the courage of those who fought against them.

The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain by Paul Preston

The author writes that he penned this book “to convey the suffering unleashed upon their fellow citizens by the arrogance and brutality of the soldiers who rose up on 17 July 1936...(and) provoked a war that was unnecessary and whose consequences still resonate bitterly in Spain today” Though largely given short shrift in the English-speaking world, the story in this book of the terror visited upon Spain by the country’s right wing - rabidly anti-semitic, obsessed with supposed Masonic plots, addicted to benefiting from a rural economic model that seemed little better than slavery and adroit in their demonization/dehumanization of liberals in their discourse - amply proves the author’s thesis that the Spanish right “hated the Republic for being democratic long before it was able to denounce it for being anti-clerical." An all-too-relevant text for today's world.

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

The great Peruvian writer's account of the quixotic and tragic (though successful) plot to kill the Dominican Republic’s cruel dictator Rafael Trujillo, this novel minutely parses the web of flattery, threats, vanity, delusion and complicity that permits a totalitarian regime to thrive and the price that is often paid by those who dare to take it down.