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Updated: 13 hours 52 min ago

Black Water

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:43


“We hear the mourning of the cry of Mother Earth. We hear her echoes. And we answer.” ~

The Cry of Mother Earth: Call to the First Ecosocialist International

It poured rain in Harlem the day and night before my sister-comrades and I prepared to take flight from JFK airport on American Airlines flight 979 departing at 11:11 a.m. for Caracas, Venezuela, to make our way to the First Ecosocialist International.

The tea tree and patchouli oils I dropped into my big straw African hat before I left Harlem kept me calm, alert, and awake. We hardly got any sleep the night before as we packed food and small gifts for the families we would be staying with in the Afro-indigenous maroon villages located in Veroes.

Our plane was late for our Miami layover and we rushed to our plane for Caracas. The whole vibe changed. I heard very little English being spoken anymore. We were getting closer. We spotted a few of our comrades coming from other places on the plane and delightfully greeted them. About 100 delegates from 19 different countries and 12 indigenous nations to gather in the land of the “Knowers, Seed Protectors, and Seed Sowers.”

I’ve never seen such beautiful views from the sky and was moved to fly over the Caribbean islands. Islands that inspire our revolutionary, maroon, self-determined hearts. As I walked to the back of the plane I felt like everybody paid attention to the black and white keffiyeh wrapped around my head. People were really polite, especially the older woman sharing a row with me.

Coffee was on my mind. And a good cigar. I imagined smoking one in the villages where the Knowers would gather. I thought about what it would be like to bathe in the cool and refreshing river water our brother wrote us about in a final email communique before we left. Everyone awaited our arrival. The communities were excited to receive and host us. This was being planned for quite a while. I played beats in my headphones and memorized lyrics. I would be attending/contributing as a revolutionary Hip Hop artist representing the continuation of the legacy created by the original Black Arts Movement of the 60’s founded by Baba Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, and all the freedom fighters, and our many other ancestors from long before and after in the struggle for liberation, like the great revolutionary baritone saxophonist Fred Ho.

We were off the grid for about 7 days. I had lentils, brown rice pasta, and canned tuna one of my sisters gave me to bring to the family that would be hosting me. And, I also brought a pack of Kush incense I bought at the bodega near my apartment in Brooklyn. Gratefulness whirled within me. As one of our revolutionary elders wrote, “We are going to have a memorable time for sure!!! We bring peace, enlightenment, empowerment, and joy to a planet that is so in need.

We stayed in the rural villages of Palmarejo, Agua Negra, and Taria in the Veroes Municipality. We were welcomed in the homes and hearts of our Maroon Teachers, those who make up the network of small farmers of Yaracuy, part of the “Cumbe Adentro” Seed-Saving Council, and those who were part of the network of Afro-Venezuelan organizations.

We arrived at the Simon Bolivar International Airport and from there taken to Cumbe de Veroes as delegates of the First Ecosocialist International. It was proposed that the convocation of the First Ecosocialist International be distributed into five Spirals of Dialog, which correspond to 5 elements: “AETHER – The Spirit of Mother Earth; WATER – The Milk of Mother Earth; FIRE – The Energy of Mother Earth; AIR – The Voice of Mother Earth; and EARTH – The Body of Mother Earth.”

As the plane descended I looked out the window at the land and houses on the mountains. It was beautiful. We were happy to see our brother comrades waiting for us. We all hugged and greeted each other. Our passports and forms were checked. We took group photos in front of a statue of Chavez accompanied by Venezuelan flags and more photos of Bolivar. We were welcomed into a big conference room in a separate part of the airport and waited for others to arrive. Yellow rice with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and cilantro were brought to us. We ate and conversed in anticipation and curiosity. Our next journey was a five-hour bus ride to the villages we would be staying in. We introduced ourselves, took more photos, and after everyone was finished eating it was time for us to take the ride to this unique land where we would fight for Mother Earth as one, from all parts of the world, and all walks of life, where afro indigenous people have always been fighting. Our bus came, we all got in and during a long traffic jam we introduced ourselves, what we represent, and why we were here. After the last person spoke, traffic started moving.


It’s raining. We were told by a revolutionary woman from Caracas, also one of our guides, that the rain was a blessing from Chavez and Simon Bolivar. This woman would later become my roommate and revolutionary mother. She said each raindrop were the children of Bolivar and Chavez who will continue the fight they so graciously and tirelessly strived to win. They carry the legacy and are the freedom fighters of the land and people, have always been, and will always be. She said that, Venezuela is a piece of the body of Mother Earth, that we all represent other pieces of the world, and that we were here to bring them all together. That when miraculous gatherings like this happened, the rain was a sign. A great one. It was dark now. Mother Earth knows. This is a war that needs to be fought. We were traveling with the vanguard of the Venezuelan revolution, right where we belong. Traffic was terrible. We were standing still again, not moving an inch. Patience. We finally started moving, then stopped briefly to pick someone up. Although I found this ride a bit difficult and felt extremely tired, the situation was impressive and I was humbled, blessed, and happy to be where I was. I didn’t come for easy. I came to participate in strategizing change. We found out that a bus caught on fire in front of us and blew up. This was the reason for the traffic jam. I had an intriguing conversation with one of my brother comrades about the culture, the people, the towns we would be residing in, what foods they cooked in the villages, etc. “Lots of plantains,” he said, “Things made of plantains, and yucca.” I thought to myself, “I love plantains and I love yucca.” And of course arepas! These were the beautiful staples, combined with fresh veggies grown on the conucos. There were some things that were just left unknown and it had to be respected and admired. I had no more questions.

The ride to Santa Clara was very difficult, even the people from there said that. We had finally arrived at 3:00 a.m. It was a 5 hour ride that took us triple the time. I was so deliriously tired that I fell asleep and awakened to the singing of a beautiful song welcoming us. Even the mayor was there to sing to us. The feeling was unexplainable when my feet touched the ground. People embraced us and some were being reunited and reacquainted. Some of our comrades have been coming here for years. We stepped onto another bigger bus to take us to the families who would be hosting us. I was the last to get off the bus along with our guide, my revolutionary mother, and translator. I could understand almost everything spoken to me but needed lots of practice speaking Spanish.

Marissa and Andres were our hosts. We would be staying in Agua Negra. Marissa greeted us and showed us to our rooms. We were very lucky to have our own spaces because I found out later that others did not. The home was very humble, cute and clean. There was no running water and the toilet did not flush so we would be bathing with a smaller plastic bucket with water from bigger buckets of collected water, and pouring water in the toilet to make it flush. I found myself being very grateful and humbled by my life experiences to be able to easily adapt. I took my first cleansing and it was marvelous and refreshing. Marissa made us a special tea that eases the nerves and is good for the stomach called Malohijero. It was soothing and comforting. She made this tea for us every night of our stay. I passed out with a slight headache and woke up the next day with it.


It’s 6:00 a.m. and it’s time to prepare for a 6:30 a.m. breakfast and our first day of work and strategy. We had to think of one element, whichever we chose at the gathering the day before. We all waited in a long line to announce what element we had chosen and introduced ourselves and what movements we represented. I chose Aether, the spirit of Mother Earth. I would go to my circle with the others who chose the element of Aether. Aether included the power of Hip Hop. The power of Hip Hop as a force and voice of Mother Earth. Hip Hop raised me, shaped me, and made me the artist I am today so I was moved by this. For our first day of work in our respective elements. We set up in the village of Palmarejo, a 15-minute bus ride from Agua Negra, where I was staying. The bus would come for us early in the morning after breakfast. We would split up in groups but were near each other and could visit other groups if we so desired to listen or contribute. It was intense, deep, and enlightening. Each morning my family would make us coffee and arepas. I fell in love with the coffee and arepas. I didn’t need or miss anything from home. It was the best coffee I had ever had. Sometimes the arepas were filled with freshly picked root vegetables, black beans, white beans and eggplant, or sweet plantains. I would get ready each morning by cleansing myself, and talking to and taking photos of people in the village that came by, while conversing with my revolutionary mother and our family. Sometimes one or two people would come by, and sometimes we had many visitors. Conversations about agriculture, revolution, Chavez, travels, and plans that were being constructed to fight oppression and protect the land and water would take place. Everybody who walked by greeted you with buenos dias or buen provecho if you were eating food. I’ve never experienced such love, community, and revolutionary spirit. This was every day with hugs, kisses, and greetings always ending in mi amor. The souls of these maroon communities were an example of the simplicity that exists in revolution, the love, the effort, and the consistency in self-determination and resistance. Everyone took care of each other and they all took care of us. Every day I was full, not just with food, but with love and appreciation. Every day was another day closer to freedom as I experienced what self-sufficiency was made of.

We would meet in each other’s villages from morning till night to build a plan to save Mother Earth. A plan to reverse the destructive process of capitalism and return to our origins and recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity – to live in peace and end war; take our Native languages back; to protect and free women and children; to define what ecosocialism really is; and put it into action and practice. Creating it together was only the beginning. Translators were needed and that itself took a lot of time. We all had to agree with the words being used, the meanings, and how to include everyone’s proposals. It was exhausting, hard work for the translator and for the person speaking. You had to give the translator time to process the meanings of things and relay it back to everyone. The person speaking had to take this into account and would have to stop in between to give the translator time, which means the speaker could lose their train of thought and couldn’t necessarily flow the way they would normally. It took lots of patience and thought. The translator had to make sense of things, activate their memory, and relay back and forth between languages, in between questions and concerns, whatever had to be explained sometimes again and again in different ways until things were clear. For the first few days, it was hard for our group to agree on any of the proposals. Again and again, we had to remind each other that we were in Aether, which was the Spirit of Mother Earth. We had to bring back our focus and get to the root of how we would implement the Spirit into the plan. What was the Spirit of Mother Earth? Spiritual identity, ancestral knowledge as a mirror of the past, transcultural art, collective construction of knowledge, decolonization, historical memory, inclusive art, rights of Mother Earth, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist struggles, the power of Hip Hop…

We argued, we debated, and finally, we made it to the root. Maps and spirals were drawn into the dirt with a stick to illustrate our ideas. This is how we began to build our proposals. On the 3rd day, we finally began to agree on the proposals, the way they were written, and what it represented for all oppressed peoples around the world. The way it started to flow was amazing and gave us hope and energy. For days we worked from sunrise till sunset, till after the mosquitos would come out. I was warned about the mosquitos. My sisters brought oils for me and I definitely utilized them. I carried them in my bag that I kept draped over my shoulder, along with other supplies that were necessary. My long skirts helped a great deal. I was barely bitten the entire time I was there. Some of my comrades were not so lucky. During the day while we built the plan, it was at just the right times that our hosts would pass around fresh sugarcane, coffee, tea, oranges, and sweets made of plantains. It was so refreshing. Big trucks full of cane would pass by daily. I thought of how much we use cane sugar in the states to sweeten our products.

We would break for lunch and gather at a home nearby. We ate, drank, conversed, and took photos. The food was always so magnificent. There was something spiritual about it. It was always just enough, never too much, never lacking, and always soul fulfilling. Weeks before we arrived, many totuma were collected and hollowed out so that we could eat and drink from them. Many were specially engraved and carved for the gathering before the delegates arrived so that there would be no disposable plastic plates/utensils/etc.

I loved eating and drinking from a totuma. Deep into the night, we enjoyed food, tea, coffee, and conversations, during “cultural nights” where people from the villages performed their native dances and songs. The music and movement was so much fun and had so much history and legacy. The kids taught us their dances and laughed as we tried to learn. It was endearing. Many stories were told. I performed each night, as well as some of my comrades, and was admired, respected, and loved, especially with the kids. Everyone addressed me as Nefertiti. Everyone loved Hip Hop. It was quite a feeling to be received so well. I was told by my family hosting me that I could come back any time. I definitely will. “Cultural night” would go late until the last of us stood outside talking, laughing, and continuing to jam. Every night I would go home with my revolutionary mother and Marissa would be up to greet us and make us tea. We never arrived too late because Marissa wouldn’t sleep until we returned.

Another very relevant thing to mention is the militia we encountered there. The 4th military ward Chavez created before he died. The militia “for the people.” The day after arriving I went to a sancocho, a big gathering with a soup, like a potluck or stone soup. The militia arrived shortly after and I immediately asked my revolutionary mother what was wrong and why they were there. She laughed a little and said, “The military are invited wherever we go. They eat with us and they watch out for us. They are for the people and for Mother Earth and respect what we are here doing. Come let’s talk to them now.” I was really surprised and a little standoffish. I come from “the empire” as they call it, where police and military are on the other side of things. I come from the empire where police shoot you and walk freely. Our dear sister elder and former Black Panther who was with us was also very surprised and we had a conversation about how different this really was. We were still like “hmm,” but as the days and nights passed, we began to communicate with them. My mother introduced me as a revolutionary hip hop artist from the United States. They were so young. They all greeted me one by one, shook my hand, and smiled. They wanted me to flow for them and I did and from then on they gave me huge smiles and waved, talked to me, and walked places with us so we wouldn’t be alone. I would make it my business to walk over to greet them. There was about 1 woman to every 10 men in the military and I met one in the group that would always accompany us. I wondered about how life was for women in the military. Some things I was able to ask but most of the time was spent working on the plan of action.

On the 4th day, we would present and read aloud our plans and proposals from each elemental group. One person would be chosen to read and one person to translate. Later that night, a big Trueke was scheduled to take place, where everyone from the villages and those visiting would bring our goods to be traded with other goods for things we wanted and needed. This must have been the hottest day yet. The readings went on for the entire day. It was on this day that a few of our elders became ill from the heat. We looked out for them and made sure to pay extra attention. The presentation went on much longer than anticipated so the Trueke did not start for hours later than it was supposed to. Some points and proposals were addressed and some were mentioned that we did not include. This plan was living and breathing. Many of us had a lot of similar proposals, which was a great thing, but there was one thing I proposed specifically that wasn’t mentioned by anyone else: the proposal of women’s self-defense and weaponry training for the protection and freedom of all women worldwide. This concept would continue to develop in my life and practice and I would move on to envisioning a movement of women who fight for peace, freedom, and protection for all oppressed women, called The WomXn’s Freedom Collective Party.

Earlier that day, I accompanied my revolutionary mother to the hospital because she wasn’t feeling well. We were picked up in a small truck and drove about 15 minutes. The hospital was extremely clean and it was free. Cleaner than any hospitals I ever visited in the United States. I was told that I could be seen free of charge if ever needed, though I wasn’t from there. That really spoke to me. On the main wall of the hospital, hung the chain of command, which consisted of Jesus, Bolivar, Chavez, Maduro, and Leon, in that order. My revolutionary mother was okay, so we went back to our village.

Awhile after the sun went down, we went to our family’s house to take a bath and refresh before engaging in Trueke. The Trueke and “cultural night” was to be held in our village that night. About halfway there we stopped to gaze at the amazing Venezuelan sky and moon. It was breathtaking and we stood there for a while and took it all in. She was dealing with the death of her own mother, then not too long after, the death of her best friend’s mother, who was also a mother to her. I thought of my own mother. We walked back refreshed and ready to enjoy the night. When we arrived, there were many tables set up where the “cultural night” was happening filled with vegetables, handmade crafts, books, music, and more. It was so amazing to see everyone trading without money and showing others what they got. Everyone was so happy and excited. Performances were held afterward late into the night. It was our last night here before traveling back to Caracas to present our plan to the state, which would be held in a press conference there.


Three of our revolutionary brothers wanted to record a song before we left. We presented the idea to my revolutionary mother and another amazing woman who was one of the matriarchs of Agua Negra. We had a half hour. We walked to where they had their set up and we vibed to an instrumental. The beat played, “Sometimes I feeeeeeeeeeel like a motherless child…” These brothers were kind, sweet, and talented and it was great connecting in person in Venezuela after being Facebook friends with two of them for many years. We completed our vocals and it was magic. I returned to my family’s home and said goodnight to everyone. I was delighted that we got to do that on our last night and so were our brothers. I knew it was the start of more collaborations to come and the beginning of a deeper connection. The song was named, “El Grito De La Madre Tierra.”

We woke up the next morning for breakfast. The buses were outside waiting to take us to Caracas. We ate arepas, drank coffee, and went back and forth to others’ houses saying goodbye. The entire village was outside and everyone that came from the other two villages, and we were all crying saying goodbye to our families. Our families were crying too. We hugged and promised to come again. As the bus drove away our families stood and watched.

Our trip back to Caracas was smooth and took about 5 hours. We were all whirling from all that had transpired. It was sad to leave. We arrived at our living quarters in Caracas. It was very different than the villages we stayed in. We were gated inside a huge building with many rooms that had bunk beds. There was a curfew. The food consisted of cheese sandwiches on white bread, a piece of fruit, and arepas, and it was true that it lacked in the love that the food made by our families in the villages prepared for us had. There was definitely an institutional feel to everything, but we were together and we were safe.

The real food shortages were in the city. When I told people I would be going to Venezuela, there was concern about violence and the shortage of food. In the small villages we stayed in, we ate from our family’s small farms, cultivated with love, like everything given to us by the hands of the beautiful people that prepared and cooked food for us. The city was busy. There was a lot of life going on. Everywhere I looked there was revolutionary art. There were no advertisements here like I was used to at home. Each night we would jam in the main living area or right outside. I finally got that cigar. The brother that gave me one is the same brother that buried my hair next to a tree outside our living quarters after my sister cut it for me. We were all musicians, writers, poets, and artists in some form. I felt really light. We met some really great photographers, revolutionaries, artists, musicians, freedom fighters, and water protectors. We did some exploring in the city, were interviewed, and ate at a really great place that had delicious food. There were dancers and signs of hip hop everywhere. I would never forget this beautiful land and the beautiful people in it.

Several of us began our way back together to Miami to then travel our own ways. I would be landing in Miami in about 20-minutes with a 3-hour layover, and then going back to Harlem with the two sisters I left with. I began to process everything. This experience changed my life and soul forever. The trip created a special bond with my new family and comrades in Venezuela.

As soon as I stepped off the plane the advertisements assaulted me. They were everywhere. It was aggressive. We made it back to Harlem, showered, talked for a bit, then went to sleep. Our sister left to travel back home at around 3:00 a.m. I hung out with my other sister for a while and we laughed, ate, and talked about everything that had just happened. I returned home to Brooklyn later that day to begin my reflections and ground myself.


Since the convocation, the first commitment was made in the “Route of Struggle” of the Plan of Action, and it was carried out in November 2018 in Bolivia: The First International Gathering of Sowers and Guardians of Water.
In April of 2019, I attended The Mesopotamian Water Forum, organized by the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, which took place in Iraq. Waiting to have us back: A national gathering of the Watershed Schools who Sow Water (Escuelas de Cuenca que Siembran Agua), in the east of Venezuela is planned for July 2019. A regional gathering in Niagara Falls for April 2020, and Chile in April 2020, and then later with the maroon communities of Veroes, where the International was founded. Every October 31 – November 3 are dedicated to fulfilling the Plan of Action. These follow up plans speak to the prefigurative power of the Ecosocialist International to “reweave Pangaea.”

“The understanding and practice of this new spirituality will have the power to repel empire and capitalism which are powered by greed, and it will be able to strengthen our peoples and cultures which are conditioned by necessities. Because right now we are not living – we are merely surviving. We confront a contradiction: restore life or lead it to extinction. We must choose.” ~ The Plan of Action


Poor Neighborhoods Need More Than “Investment”

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:43

Where some of us see distressed neighborhoods — where families endure poverty and homes fall into disrepair — others see dollar signs. In fact, the Trump administration now brands them “opportunity zones,” offering tax breaks to investors who invest capital there.

What remains unclear is this: Opportunity for whom? Big investors may stand to cash in, but many communities are saying they’re not getting the benefits they were promised.

This story goes back to the 1980s, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s conservative government introduced 11 “enterprise zones” throughout the United Kingdom. Inspired, conservatives in the U.S. under President Ronald Reagan promoted the creation of these zones in 40 states.

Even many Democrats warmed to these zones as a viable pro-market approach to urban renewal. The idea resurfaced as “empowerment zones” under the Clinton administration in 1994.

Whatever you call them, they’re spaces where businesses can delay, reduce, or even eliminate taxes altogether on the money they invest.

The Trump administration has certified an estimated 8,700 census tracts as opportunity zones; the official list is 186 pages long. There are nearly 900 such zones in California, more than 600 in Texas, 500 in New York, and 300 in Ohio. The designated tracts in Puerto Rico account for nearly the entire island.

Advocates argue that these incentives encourage investors to direct money into distressed communities in ways that will lead to new jobs, better housing, and other businesses being willing to open up shop in the revitalized community.

There are at least two problems with that argument.

First, many distressed communities suffer from economic challenges that investment alone cannot address, including redlining and housing discrimination. These communities need systemic policy changes that get at the root of discrimination to set the stage for lasting economic change.

Second, studies across the country (as well as in the U.K.) offer little evidence that such incentives actually benefit neighborhoods in the long run.

An expansive study of 75 enterprise zones in 13 U.S. states concluded that tax incentives had “little to no impact on economic growth.” One study of a zone in New Jersey even concluded that increased economic activity within its zone came at the expense of non-zones in the nearby area — the kind of zero-sum economics that would discourage investments in the long run.

Amid all of this is the concern that opportunity zones will mean escalating housing costs, accelerating the process by which residents are displaced because they can no longer afford to live there.

There are ways opportunity zones can be made to work so that the people living in the zones benefit as well as investors.

One strategy is for investors to partner with anchor institutions — enterprises such as hospitals and universities that are anchored to the community by both location and mission. These institutions can play special roles in employing people in opportunity zones and supporting local small businesses through purchasing and contracting.

Even better, they should invest in employee-owned businesses.

A prime example for both strategies is the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland, whose Cuyahoga County is home to 64 low-income “opportunity zones.”

Evergreen’s enterprises show the power of employee ownership to turn communities around and create economic opportunity. Employees who own parts of their place-based business have a long-term source of wealth and an incentive to stay and improve their neighborhoods, because doing so improves their businesses.

We also need to make more affordable housing available, especially through community land trusts, limited equity housing cooperatives, and other strategies that offer opportunities for resident equity building.

Under the Trump administration, opportunity zones — the rebranded “enterprise” and “empowerment” zones of the past — will have some new features but the same bottom line: investors stand to win, while residents lose.

Ensuring that people living in these zones are also winners will require us to push for more fundamental change.

Amadi Anene is a fellow at The Democracy Collaborative. He served as a senior adviser in the Small Business Administration during the Obama administration.

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Where is a “Tank Man” for 2019?

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:40

On June 4th, 30 years on, I ruminated to myself about the “tank man” from Tiananmen Square. I often reflect on the sacrifices that are made in pursuit of peace and justice. I have wondered if I could stay committed to the Poor People’s Movement, like Martin Luther King Jr. did, in the face of death threats. King’s words were prophetic, “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land,” before he was killed the next day. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was also undeterred by threats from extremists; ultimately he was assassinated, but he never backed down from his stance for nonviolence and justice. We have many examples of those we know by name who refuse to step aside. “Tank man,” however, remains a mystery.

His courage was likely fueled by grief and anger. It was, after all, the day after a massacre that shocked the world—live ammunition was used on the protestors. The anonymous figure is a symbol for freedom and peace everywhere, courage in the face of injustice and brutal violence. I wonder where is a tank man for 2019?

It is probably a mistake to look for the hero; none of these heroes wanted the recognition, it detracts from the purpose. But heroes are out there.

Malala Yousafzai, was 17 years old when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, for her part in the “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” In 2019 she is not resting on her laurels, she amplifies the voices of refugee girls with her work in “We Are Displaced.” She has refused to quit, and though the Taliban told her not to return to Pakistan, she persists.

Greta Thunberg, age 16, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of her environmental activism. The Norwegian lawmakers who nominated her said, “We have nominated Greta because the climate threat may be one of the most important causes of war and conflict.” Her movement—Friday for Future—is reflected in more than 100 countries now. Her tenacity in speaking truth to power, “We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people,” is a source of hope and inspiration.

Part of the challenge is the scope of our global problems. Too many people are conveniently ignoring the messages of these heroes and so many more because they feel overwhelmed and/or numb. Either Global Warming is fake or hopeless we say from the sidelines. Nothing we can do about displaced persons, human rights violations, or misogyny because… there are too many excuses to count them.

In China some democratic reforms were won and I think we focus on heroes like tank man because he provides us with a vicarious victory. We can imagine being courageous enough to sacrifice ourselves for noble causes, “I would have …” has started many stories in my lifetime. Imagination about what people would do in times of disaster; Donald Trump, after the shooting in Parkland, said: “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.” It’s like my friends who would have stopped the terrorists on 9-11 if they’d been on the plane… But when we lose ourselves in the fantasy of making the difference, I think we tend to overlook the movements, and, ultimately, the sacrifice. Many seem to feel as though they personally are a Marvel comic superhero, and unconsciously discount the real life stars of humankind. Please, let’s not.

When I teach about social justice most of my students know who some of the heroes are. It is rare to find an American University student who does not know who Rosa Parks is, but in 10 years of classes I’ve never had a student who knew that when the Montgomery Bus Boycotts ended on Dec. 20th1956 that they had gone on for 381 days. I bring it up because the sacrifice is crucial and persistence is fully as important as courage. What can you imagine giving up for a year? What would you do to create real durable change?

It is time that people, myself included, really appreciated what young people like these strong women are doing. They’re going to clean up the mess they’ve inherited or die trying—the least we can do is get out of the way and I hope we work to bring in much better leadership who will listen to these real life heroes and back them up.

Might Humboldt Bay Fish Farm Be a Raw Deal?

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:40

Nordic Aquafarms, a Norwegian company, has announced plans to build a land-based fish farm in Humboldt Bay.  The plan was warmly received by local officials, and local media coverage has been generally positive, but is Nordic Aquafarms the green jobs-creator it claims to be?

Nordic Aquafarms was also well received by officials in Belfast, Maine in late 2017, but Nordic’s Belfast project has become increasingly controversial, and critics say Nordic is not as green as it claims.

A year and a half into Belfast, Nordic is well behind schedule and the Belfast project itself is in considerable doubt.  

Nordic must establish right, title and interest (RTI) for its intake and discharge pipes to cross intertidal areas to get from its land-based operation to open marine water.  Nordic claims it has RTI, but opposition group Upstream Watch says Nordic knowingly filed false RTI information with state regulators.  In a move that surprised project opponents and local media, Nordic confessed on Facebook to submitting the faulty information, saying it had done so to protect landowners’ privacy and feelings.  

The RTI application was submitted under penalty of perjury, and Nordic quickly took down the post, but not before Upstream Watch screenshot it and sent it to state regulators.  Without RTI, the Belfast project can’t move forward.  

Opposition to the Maine project broke wide open at an April 17, 2018 Belfast City Council meeting, when the council voted 5-0 for a zoning change needed for Nordic’s plans to proceed.  At the meeting scores of Belfast residents urged the council to slow down, and emails from Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum to Nordic CEO Erik Heim obtained under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) show the city received more than 130 written comments urging a project slowdown – none supported Nordic.  

In the emails, Heim said Nordic didn’t want to go where it wasn’t wanted by the citizenry, but Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum repeatedly assured Heim the overwhelming majority of Belfast would support the company’s project and opposition would be limited to a few people who oppose everything.

Slocum was wrong.  

Nordic was clearly surprised by the increasing opposition.  Nordic started to push back, and eventually the gloves came off, on both sides.  Feeling the heat, Belfast city government commissioned a $14,000 report from the global consulting firm Deloitte on Nordic’s financial viability and environmental record.  But no environmentalist was interviewed for the report, and Deloitte had done work for Nordic and had previously written positively about Nordic on at least two occasions.  Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum told Deloitte he had a favorable impression of Nordic, and he told Nordic in advance what specific areas Deloitte would be looking at.  Evidence indicates Heim suggested Deloitte to Slocum, a charge Slocum denies.  

Nordic held a series of public meetings and the opposition became more vocal at each successive meeting.  Attendees pressed Nordic on the content of its fishmeal, as that would affect Nordic’s discharge into the already environmentally challenged Belfast Bay.  Nordic was clearly surprised, and rattled, by the persistent question.

Nordic was also pressed on its claims that fish farms are the most efficient way to produce protein.  Commercial fishmeal is comprised mostly of soy and forage fish, small fish that are linchpins in the marine food chain, and forage fish lose 80 percent of their protein content in fishmeal production.  At one public meeting, a Nordic panelist said humans don’t eat forage fish, but according to Wikipedia, humans consume all 14 of the most common forage fish found in fishmeal.

Nordic’s jobs claims have also drawn scrutiny.  In the face of mounting Belfast opposition, Nordic has twice increased its jobs estimates – one of its key selling points – from 60, to 60-100, to more than 100.  Nordic has given no explanation for the increased estimates.

While twice increasing its job estimates, Nordic has twice decreased the length of its effluent discharge pipe – from 1.5 miles, to one mile, to one kilometer (.62 miles).  Almost a year after shortening the pipe to one kilometer, Nordic’s website continues to state an offshore length of one mile, a figure that was never accurate, as it doesn’t count the pipe’s .3 miles on land.  In a public meeting last October, Nordic said it would correct the online figure, and the company was reminded at another public meeting in December, but the incorrect figure remains on Nordic’s website.     


For the first 8-9 months of the Nordic fight, I had a column in Belfast’s Republican Journal newspaper, and wrote extensively on Nordic, but late last fall my column terminated, because of my Nordic coverage.  Nordic has admitted it contacted newspaper management about my coverage, but the company has denied threatening a lawsuit.  Earlier in the fall, before the axe fell, I went to Norway and Denmark and looked  into Nordic’s operations there.  As chance would have it, I have lived in Denmark and speak Danish. 

What I found on the trip sent Nordic to the mattresses.  

In Bergen, Norway I spent a day with Kurt Oddekalv, an environmental activist whose colorful description of farm fish gave me the title of the first column from the trip: “The Most Toxic Food in the World?”  Later analysis, commissioned by me, of fish produced by Nordic in Denmark revealed levels of toxins considerably higher than E.U. consumption recommendations.   

Also in Bergen, University of Bergen professor and fish farm expert Are Nyland told me about fish escapes from land-based farms.  In public meetings that were videotaped and are available online Nordic has acknowledged that fish escapes from land-based fish farms are possible, but Nordic executive Marianne Naess told a Maine legislative committee February 28 that such escapes are impossible.

Fish escapes are important because escaped farm fish can wreak havoc with wild fish populations.  They breed with wild fish and produce offspring that are ill equipped for the rigors of open-water life; they compete with and destroy wild-fish spawning grounds; and they decimate wild-fish populations with diseases to which wild fish have never been exposed.

The jocular Professor Nyland guffawed at Nordic’s online-video portrayal of fish in its land-based operations swimming freely with ample room and said the fish would have to be stacked like cordwood to turn a profit.

In Fredrikstad, Norway, home to Nordic Aquafarms headquarters, I asked Nordic CEO Erik Heim whether Nordic had built its Maximus smolt facility in Denmark.  Heim said Nordic had bought the operation from a Danish engineer and entrepreneur named Bent Urup, and Heim seemed to immediately regret having given me Urup’s name.  Heim said it might be hard to find Urup, who might be somewhere in Asia.

With little trouble, I found Urup online and several days later I interviewed him in his Denmark office,. Urup is perhaps the world’s foremost expert in land-based aquaculture – and he painted an unflattering picture of Nordic Aquafarms.  

Urup spoke of fish disease at Nordic’s Denmark smolt facility, Nordic’s overblown or outright false claims of having built its Denmark facilities from scratch, and of Nordic personnel incapable of running a land-based fish farm.  

It got worse.  

Urup said he believed Nordic was going to hijack his patented fish farm design for its Belfast project.  Urup said another company, InterAqua, had tried that in Australia, had been sued by him, and had lost and gone bankrupt.

In Denmark I also interviewed a 14-year-old former Nordic employee who said he cleaned fish tanks with the chemical Virkon S, and did so without protective eyewear.  Under Danish law, working with Virkon S requires protective eyewear, and 14-year-olds aren’t allowed to handle the chemical at all.  In response, Nordic ducked the Virkon S allegation by saying it had never hired underage workers, a charge I never made.

But it was the Urup column that set off Nordic and a week after its publication my column was terminated.  I have continued to write on Nordic Aquafarms, blogging, and posting to Facebook and an opposition email list.  Among other things, I have reported on emails I obtained in which Nordic CEO Erik Heim discusses substantial delays in construction of Nordic’s Fredrikstad, Norway facility – delays that Heim denied to me last fall.

To garner public support for its proposed Humboldt County project, Nordic Aquafarms has begun to hold public meetings like those it has held in Maine, and according to the Eureka Times Standard, Nordic’s Marianne Naess told a May 21 Eureka public meeting that she would drink discharge from Nordic’s proposed Humboldt County fish farm.  

Given the documented high levels of toxins in farm fish in general, and of Nordic Aquafarms fish in particular – not to mention the general inadvisability of ingesting fish feces – I would urge Naess to choose another beverage.  And given Nordic’s track record in Maine, Humboldt County can expect more such doubtful assertions by Nordic Aquafarms. 

This article first appeared on the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Donald Trump in the Role of His Life

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:39

Donald Trump achieved the dream of his life: He became a President’s impersonator. Several excellent comedians have proven to be excellent impersonators of celebrities, among them Tina Fey, Rich Little, Jim Carrey, and Robin Williams. Not one to be topped, Donald Trump decided to impersonate a President.

Impersonating another person is a relatively common phenomenon. In New York City, it is estimated that the police arrests about 100 suspects annually for impersonating a police officer.

By becoming an impersonator, and not believing himself to be the real thing, President Trump can say that he is not responsible for the multitude of inane tweets his impersonator has been writing since he became President, which now seem to be coming out of him at an even faster pace. The latest tweets reveal a feud between actress Bette Midler and him.

The origin of the feud is a quote that she attributed to him and that she shared with her 1.53 million Twitter followers that said, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.”

After Midler shared the quote it was proved to be a fake. When she realized her mistake, Midler tweeted, “I apologize; turns out to be a fake from way back in ’15-16. Don’t know how I missed it, but it sounds SO much like him that I believed it was true!”

Trump responded with characteristic acerbity. He called Midler a “washed-up psycho” who “was forced to apologize for a statement she attributed to me that turned out to be totally fabricated by her in order to make ‘your great president’ look really bad. She got caught, just like the Fake News Media gets caught. A sick scammer!” The reader cannot fail to have read the words in the paragraph before ‘your great president,’ as if Trump was referring to another person, not to himself. Anybody else in a similar situation would have written, “…in order to make me look bad.” Not Donald Trump in his role as an impersonator. The president, in this case, believes he is clearly somebody else, not President Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump’s behavior seems to be taking a turn for the worst. According to The New York Times, there are 598 people, places and things that Mr. Trump has insulted on Twitter alone since declaring his candidacy in June 2015, a list that is current until May 24 and doesn’t include the last two weeks.

The feud with Bette Midler happens shortly after his continuing feud with former Senator John McCain, who died on August 15, 2018. While continuously disparaging him, Donald Trump seems to forget that while McCain was in captivity, he obtained five medical deferments not to go to Vietnam.

According to Trump, they were due to some bone spurs he had in his feet. Those spurs, that a New York Times investigation proved to have been faked, didn’t stop him from practicing three different sports at the time: baseball, tennis, and squash. And while McCain was undergoing torture in Vietnam, Trump was a well-known figure on New York social circles.

It is possible that his impersonating a President comes from a profound feeling of insecurity of not having able to measure up to a real hero. How else to explain his vitriol against a person who has been dead for almost a year?

Never before in recent history has an American President been as questioned about his mental health and his capacity to hold office as Mr. Trump. His erratic behavior has prompted some Democrats to urge their colleagues to get behind an impeachment process that could potentially oust President Trump from office should it be proven that he is mentally or physically unfit. Donald Trump has decided to impersonate a President. And the world is paying for it.

Diary: Neighbors

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:38

Marassa nou nan nwa e (bis)

Marassa Ginen nou nan nwa devan bondye

Dossou Marassa pote chandel pou klere nou”

“Marassa we are in the dark (bis)

Marssa from Guinea we are in the dark in front of God

Dossou Marassa bring the lamp to shine upon us”

The Marassa, descendants of mawu and lisa from west Africa, are invoked after Legba in Haitian Vodou. Legba is asked of from sevite, Haitian creole for servants, to open up the gate to access the loas, or deities. Then come the Marassa, which are especially invoked to weigh in on and intervene in issues pertaining to children. An offering must be made to the Marassa, candies, popcorn, on a banana leaf. They are twin deities, sometimes triplets, eternally playful.

In our case, the child in question is a world a world freshly born with the end of European colonialism and the birth of widespread neo-colonialism in the mid 20th century. This child is oppressed by the system that finances it, international finance and its tool national governments, and this is not breaking news. The “third world” debt crisis that came with loans being forced on nations weakened the countries that make up this child of a new world. Today this child is the “planet of slums” that Mike Davis speaks about; from Port-au-Prince to New Delhi, capitalism is primarily working for classic white patriarchal supremacy, and secondly for local elites who are complicit. Our contemporary global human world is primarily the product of vicious capitalist relations of production wherein the rich dominate everyone else aided and abetted by the departments of states, foreign secretariats and ministries. “This gourd is cracked in 7 places” is how poet Lyonel Trouillot would put it, on a planet that produces enough and has enough space for us all. Most of us can point to the capitals of this genocidal inequity: New York City, London, Beijing, etc, the usual suspects. Furthermore, this oppression, neoliberalism some will call it, violence being my prefered term, is empowering capitalist elites through political capital and capital capital, an empowerment that expresses itself through fascist politics. This fascism, rooted in international finance, is producing a state of affairs that will lead to war and misery. Just look at how we center of international finance affect our neighbor Haiti.

The Haitian Economy

Take Haitian American relations as an example of American internationalism, relations that go back to the late 18th century, began by Toussaint L’ouverture during Haiti’s revolutionary war against the French, through contradictory years of FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy. Is it not absurd that a country that close to the US, geographically and politically, is this poor? How is that the wealthiest economy is a neighbor to a country wherein the majority of the population suffers from malnutrition? As Auguste D’meza, a leading Haitian sociologist and political analyst says, “the white person at the Department of State is much more interested in working with the fair haired Westerner than with the majoritarily black Haiti as equals”. Classically an agricultural society that could always feed itself even when as politics were a brand of Caribbean caudillismo, today over 70% of the population suffers from malnutrition. Today Haitians are nostalgic about Papa Doc’s perversely and criminally paternalistic state because the society after “Operation Restore Democracy” that saw Bill Clinton restore Jean Bertrand Aristide in power as President in Haiti as a trojan horse for economic imperialism, which the US participates in heavy handedly, having the largest embassy on the third of an island, is that bad. As Raoul Peck notes, Haiti went from being a rice basket to a big consumer of Arkansas rice with “Operation Restore Democracy”. This same Haiti was racially and ethnically profiled as an H in the original HHHH name to Aids. Guantanamo prison was created to lock up this same Haiti’s “dangerous” migrants. Perhaps it descends from Thomas Jefferson’s refusing to recognize Haiti, or American Hero William Jennings Bryan’s explaining Haitians as “niggers speaking french”. Why does the US continue invest billions in the largely white power elite (with a vast architectural preservation policy to “protect” whiteness and a Nazi party) Dominican Republic, that partly immigrated from Cuba with their capital during the Cuban revolutionary war for independence, but not in Haiti? Why did this investment began in the middle of the 20th century, when Haiti was a better off country than the Dominican Republic? Perhaps or is because the investing in the DR makes more financial (racial) sense to some.

Cowboy Diplomacy

What’s worse is that American favoritism walks hand in hand with the State Department’s love for facilitating, mediating, and participation in financing and sanctioning the global economy, manifested in American control of global finance institutions such as the World Bank. This has led to Eurocentrism in continued power, NATO’s existence despite the military budgets in Europe, Europe’s continued domination in Africa (Francafrique for example). As Samir Amin notes, the American military complex traditionally provides the arms needed for (xenophobic) Eurocentrism to dominate.

There are much more examples and they are in now way obscure. The tricontinental, third world project, and the non-aligned movement were all formed to combat this racist colonialism that has not missed a beat and continues to this day. How do we stop this? We must finance the world democratically.

Why the Trade War with China is So Dangerous

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:32

The trade war with China that Trump so confidently predicted would result in a great new deal now threatens to become a permanent feature of US-China relations. Why that is likely may have less to do with the specific trade issues in dispute than with the vastly different negotiating styles and operating principles of the two countries’ leaderships.

Let’s recall that this dispute has gone through several stages of escalating US demands and Chinese counterattacks. Trump owns this trade war: He has decried China’s unfair trade practices and consequent huge trade surplus for many years, and his view of China as the main enemy goes back to 2011 (in an interview with CNN). Trump said long ago that if he were president, he would be able to force China to back down because it needs us more than we need it.

Barring some dramatic change in thinking in Washington or Beijing, Trump will carry through on his threat to impose 25-percent tariffs across the board on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports. That move will come on top of blacklisting Huawei, the telecommunications giant, hoping to starve its reliance on US-made components and force European customers to reject Huawei’s 5G network. Sanctioning Hikvision, the dominant maker of video surveillance products, may be next—though not because of legitimate human rights concerns.

What Trump is doing is entirely in keeping with his aggressive business style: threaten one’s adversary, avoid making concessions, don’t back down, and above all win. The substance of the administration’s complaints, which previous administrations negotiated, has been overshadowed by Trump’s ego. The trouble with that style is that his Chinese opponent has a long history of dealing with threats from a more powerful country, typically denouncing them as “bullying” and “humiliation.” Neither Trump nor, it seems, any of his advisers has the slightest notion of the history and power of Chinese nationalism. One of them, Mike Pompeo, thinks the struggle with Huawei is ideological: either “Western values” or communist values will rule the Internet, he says. One wonders what Trump and company think on reading translations from the Chinese press of how Xi Jinping and the party leadership are responding to this latest foreign assault: the references to a “new Long March,” overcoming difficulties, and defending China’s economic development path, which it now calls a “core interest.”

“What is most important,” Xi says, “is still that we do our own things well.” In other words, China will not be moved from its present course, which has served it well and may even have given it the moral advantage with some of America’s best friends, for example the Japanese and the Koreans who have also felt the heavy hand of Trump’s transactional style. He has given the Chinese the gift of being able to play the victim.

Trump evidently is convinced that the Chinese will eventually cave in to US commercial demands. No doubt he’s correct that the trade war will hurt China’s economy more than it will the US economy, but the Chinese leadership is very unlikely to accede to Trump’s demands for that reason. History, face, and public opinion provide considerable backbone for resisting the Americans. Nor will Trump’s “great friendship” with Xi make a difference—no more than his love affair with Kim Jong-un has influenced Kim’s strategy. Trump may think that smiles and glitzy receptions transcend national interests, but that’s certainly not a notion the Chinese share. If anything, Trump has proven to Xi that initial Chinese assessments of compatibility with the new US president were badly mistaken.

Despite the pessimistic outlook of many observers, mutual pain and political realities may eventually lead to a temporary fix on trade, which will be a boon to US and Chinese firms as well as investors in China and Wall Street stockholders. But this trade deal, like others such as NAFTA.2, will not offer enforceable protections to workers. That’s the missing ingredient—missing, as well, in most media accounts that make it seem “trade” is only about shipping and markets, just as the US and Chinese governments would have it.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman said on May 23 that if the US attitude is “sincere” and “serious,” China will welcome a return to the negotiating table. But the spokesman added that “a good agreement must be founded on mutual respect, equality, and equal benefit.” These longstanding Chinese principles can only be understood in an historical context. Does the US side appreciate what lies behind those principles? Does the first-time reference to “core interests,” usually reserved for Taiwan and Tibet, suggest a Chinese red line that the Trump administration should take as an indication that “winning” is not a realistic goal?

The trade war is about a lot more than technological competition, soybeans, and even workers’ rights. It is the tip of the iceberg, just one reflection of a world order that, to the Chinese, is rapidly changing in China’s favor. The US-China relationship is the world’s most important, and one in which “winning” is a loser’s game. The current US crackdown on Chinese student and scholar visas, to which Beijing is retaliating, is the kind of shortsighted action that undermines cooperation and goodwill. If the US and China don’t get their relationship right, the chances of reaching agreement on a wide range of other critical issues—nuclear weapons, the South China Sea, Taiwan, the climate crisis, Korean peninsula security—are virtually nil. A violent outcome in some disputes, whether by design or miscalculation, increases significantly. Sadly, the key ingredients for getting it right are missing: mutual understanding, a search for common ground, and talks on the basis of equality and global as well as social responsibility.

Gay Liberation, Gay Cinema

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:28

Recently I watched four documentaries that are crucial reminders of the historic role of the gay liberation movement that is being celebrated this month both through Gay Pride demonstrations as well as events commemorating the Stonewall rebellion that took place in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969.

Opening on June 21 at the Quad Cinema in New York and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles a week later is “Before Stonewall”, a restored version of Greta Schiller’s classic 1984 film produced by John Scagliotti that I saw when it first came out. It is being distributed by First Run Features that is also making Scagliotti’s prequel 2017 “Before Homosexuals” available as VOD on June 11 (iTunes, Amazon, et al). Since I decided to take in all of the Stonewall documentaries with Scagliotti’s imprint as part of this survey, I also watched his 1999 “After Stonewall” on Amazon (also available on iTunes). As a trilogy, the films are not only key to understanding the movement in its totality but stirring drama with memorable heroes and heroines.

Speaking for myself and probably most leftists, before seeing “Before Stonewall”, I had no knowledge of Frank Kameny, a gay man who can be described as the movement’s Rosa Parks. Kameny is also one of the main subjects of “The Lavender Scare” that opens today at the Cinema Village in New York and at the Laemmle in LA. “The Lavender Scare” tells the story of the thousands of gay people who were fired from government jobs in the 1950s, just as CP members were. Indeed, the film’s title rightfully alludes to the Red Scare of the time that was driven by the same reactionary drive to put all traces of the New Deal into the trash bin of history.

As the film points out, the Roosevelt administration was just as open to gay people as it was to CP’ers. Or perhaps, it was just an example of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. In any case, the rightwing was too weak at the time to be wreaking the kind of havoc it is wreaking today. Just this week, the mayor of a small town in Alabama called for genocide against LGBT people. Given the mass killings of Black people, Jews, and Muslims since Trump took power, such threats are worth taking seriously.

Drawing from an astonishingly frank selection of homoerotic silent films and photographs, “Before Stonewall” makes it clear that the gay liberation movement was gestating long before the 1960s. Ironically, it was WWII that opened the door for same-sex relationships that were the unintended consequence of young men and women sharing close quarters on military bases. We hear from Nell Phelps, a WAC enlistee who states that she convinced Eisenhower not to discharge lesbians unless he wanted to see 95 percent of his critically needed support staff to disappear, as well as herself.

Despite this, Eisenhower was responsible for signing an order that made homosexuality incompatible with serving in a government job just as Truman did with the Communist Party through the 1947 Loyalty Oath. The McCarthy era was an attempt to put a strait-jacket on American society that had become relatively open between the 1920s through the late 40s.

The first attempt to challenge such sexual repression came from Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society he founded in 1950. Hay was well-equipped to fight for civil rights as a Communist Party veteran. Given the fascist-like crackdown of the period, it was almost inevitable that the Mattachine Society would rely on cautious tactics.

In keeping with the gay movement’s tight integration with the ebbs and flows of American history, it was inevitable that the gay liberation movement would emerge out of the 1960s radicalization that to a large extent was cross-fertilized by the counter-culture. “Before Stonewall” makes clear that the sexual openness of young people 50 years ago naturally led to a willingness to come out of the closet—despite the homophobia of SDS and Black Panther leaders. It was common knowledge among early 60s hipsters like me that Jack Kerouac was bisexual and that Allen Ginsberg was gay. Although homosexuality was a taboo when I was in high school, I was not put off by the homoerotic passages in William Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch” or lines like this from “Howl”:

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

“Before Stonewall” has footage of the vice raids that were common in the 1950s, with paddy wagons pulling up in front of gay bars and dragging men off to jail, often resulting in their names being published in a newspaper on the next day.

On June 28, 1969, all that came to an end as gay men and lesbians rioted for several days against a raid on the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street. At that point, young gays were infused with the spirit of defiance that could be seen almost nightly in TV coverage of antiwar protests or Black Panther rallies. America was confronted by a gay liberation movement that continues undaunted to this day. Indeed, you might even consider Chelsea Manning’s courage as a whistle-blower and as a transgender person to be part of the same intertwined challenge to a dying imperialist system.

John Scagliotti was part of the generation that I belonged to. His first political act was joining the antiwar movement as an undergraduate. The next step was a career in radio, TV and film as an advocate of gay liberation. He was the News and Public Affairs Director of WBCN-FM in Boston, a station I used to listen to religiously when I lived there in the 70s. He went on to create “In the Life” for PBS, a show that was devoted to gay and lesbian concerns and a very good one at that. He was also the partner of Andrew Kopkind for 25 years until Kopkind died of cancer in 1994. Like Kopkind and Allen Young, another gay liberation pioneer whose autobiography I reviewed for CounterPunch, Scagliotti’s views were shaped by the 1960s radicalization. Like many of us who never grew accommodated to the brutality and injustice of American society, he continued to speak out.

Such continuing advocacy was expressed in his 1999 “After Stonewall” that covered the ongoing struggles of gay people for acceptance into American society. It is one of the ironies of the gay movement that despite the “outlaw” stance of the 1960s, the right to be married became an important demand. Like the right to serve in the military, this was seen by ultraleftists as selling out. But understood dialectically, this insistence on being accepted into “normal” society is part and parcel of the fight for equal rights just as much as Black soldiers demanding the right to serve in capacities other than servants to the military brass in the .

Scagliotti also covers the AIDS epidemic and government indifference or hostility that triggered the rise of Act Up. Just as the Mattachine Society was a response to McCarthyism, the young activists who raised hell in Catholic churches or in front of the White House were responding to Ronald Reagan who had the same kind of agenda, turning the clock back to Grover Cleveland.

The film puts the assassination of Harvey Milk into this political context. With San Francisco serving as a poster child of all the ultraright hated, Milk’s murder was intended to intimidate gay people running for office. This attempt had little effect on the growing political power of gay people in electoral politics even if the candidacy of Pete Guttigieg is in many ways a retreat from the radicalization that is in its infancy now. Whatever advances his candidacy represents in terms of the social acceptance of gay people, it is offset by far with his Obama-style centrism, especially his finding clemency for Chelsea Manning “troublesome”.

Rounding out the Scagliotti corpus is “Before Homosexuals”, a mind-expanding history of same-sexers that spans continents and millennia to answer why they have been persecuted or accepted historically.

With respect to that part of the world ruled by the Judeo-Christian sky religions, the film argues that despite the ban on same-sexers there is a strong suggestion that the Old Testament’s David and Jonathan were lovers, something that might have inspired Michaelangelo to create his masterpiece sculpture of David, with its unabashed full frontal nudity. After Jonathan dies, David is said to have lamented his passing with “Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women.”

There was little ambiguity in the Christian era with Paul stating in Romans 1: “Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.”

Prior to the Christian era and particularly in Asia, there were no such taboos. Scagliotti, who serves as narrator and wandering researcher in “Before Homosexuals”, refers us to a steady stream of art showing ancient Greeks, Romans, Indians, Chinese, and Japanese men and women having intimate relations that could have landed you in prison or worse elsewhere.

One of the more well-known victims of Christian and capitalist morality was Oscar Wilde whose victimization is reviewed in some detail in the film. Like Alan Turing, he was one of the men who was served up ritually in the British courts to keep same-sexers in line. Hearing Wilde’s bitterly ironic reactions to his ordeal remind me to find time to read Wilde, who like Chelsea Manning defied political as well as sexual repression. Departing from the stale rhetoric of the left, he begins his essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” with this keen observation: “The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely any one at all escapes.” Amen.

Turning to “The Lavender Scare”, we meet some of the same figures who are featured in “Before Stonewall”. Among them is Frank Kameny, who, while probably well-known to gay activists, deserves much greater recognition from the left in general. Like Rosa Parks, he was someone who stood up to the ruling prejudices of the age. In 1955, she refused to move to the back of the bus. Just three years later, when his superiors at the United States Army Map Service grilled him on his sexual orientation, he told them it was none of their damned business.

Kameny had earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in astronomy and was well-qualified for the job. In the purge of thousands of employees from the State Department and other elite agencies, the excuse for their firing was to protect American security as if getting caught in bed with someone of the same sex could lead to Soviet kompromat.

After being fired, he fought tooth and nail to get his job back since his main interest at the outset was in protecting his rights, not leading a movement. Over time, he understood that “an injury to one is an injury to all”, as the IWW put it. He began fighting for the right of all gay people to be employed without respect to what they did in their bedrooms. His first step was to join the Mattachine Society, whose timidity was at odds with his increasing militancy. Despite the temperamental and political disconnect, this was the only way for him to work with a broader movement at the time.

Even with his lofty academic credentials, he never held a regular job for the rest of his life and was supported by friends and family. Among his chief accomplishments was pressuring the American Psychiatric Association to discontinue treating homosexuality as a mental illness.

Among the people who Kameny defended from being fired was an NSA employee named Jamie Shoemaker whose linguistic skills were much in demand. As part of the younger generation of gay men, Shoemaker insisted on his right to employment. Once his fight was won, the NSA no longer got involved in witch-hunting gays. (For ultraleftists, it is worth pointing out that allowing such men and women from a victimizing agency to be victimized increases the odds of others to suffer the same fate—speaking dialectically.)

When I joined the Socialist Workers Party in 1967, I soon learned that gays were banned in this revolutionary organization as well. We were told that if they were arrested, there was the possibility that they might be pressured into becoming FBI snitches. We got the same reason for banning drug usage. To some extent, the ban on drugs made sense since in Texas, for example, activists might face years in prison if they got caught with a small amount of marijuana.

After Stonewall, the party began to respond to reality and dropped the ban on homosexuality (but never on drugs). Soon afterward, it carried out an infelicitously named “gay probe” to ascertain whether it should assign forces to work in the gay liberation movement.

It ultimately decided against this since the gay movement did not have the rock-ribbed proletarian composition of the trade union, Black liberation or Woman’s liberation movement as if window dressers or florists demanding the right not to be beaten up or even killed was “petty bourgeois”. It went so far as to take the position that the slogan “Gay is Good” was unscientific since it could not be established.

While the SWP represented an extreme form of “workerism” that made class composition a litmus test, I cannot help but point out that much of the fretting over “identity” issues on the left today strikes me as having the same sectarian dynamic. If there is any movement today that falls into such a category it is the one featured in the documentaries discussed above. Gay people, especially those who are transgender, do not fit neatly into the “point of production”, plant-gate schemas of the Leninist sects of the 1960s and 70s who defined the struggle over job security and safety as one that could unite the entire working class rather than “particularistic” identity issues.

However, if you look at the most “Leninist” book of them all—V.I. Lenin’s “What is to be Done—you will see some penetrating observations on the plant-gate, point of production mentality. He writes:

Social-Democracy represents the working class, not in its relation to a given group of employers alone, but in its relation to all classes of modern society and to the state as an organised political force. Hence, it follows that not only must Social-Democrats not confine themselves exclusively to the economic struggle, but that they must not allow the organisation of economic exposures to become the predominant part of their activities. We must take up actively the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness.

So what kind of political education does this mean in practice? Lenin follows up:

Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc.

Intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life. That is exactly what is called for today in a struggle against a government that does not make a distinction between cultural issues and economic justice. In fact, the exploitation of cultural issues is intended to divide the working class and make it weaker. Those who trivialize the right of transgender people as peripheral do not understand this, least of all the sect that I belonged to in a previous lifetime. Referring to bathroom usage, the Militant newspaper sounded as if it was making a Tucker Carlson appearance: “The attempt to force schools to follow these guidelines also ignores the right to privacy, especially of women who wish to change clothes or use bathroom facilities without the presence of males.”

Although “Before Homosexuals” was made years before transgender rights became a burning issue, one hopes that John Scagliotti can make another film that will take such research into consideration. Ancient Rome, for example, had multi-seat bathrooms, where people sat side by side on benches, without partitions, to do their business. Maybe someday society will figure out that segregating bathrooms by sex makes about as much sense as segregating them by race. In an interview with The New Yorker, York University professor Sheila Cavanagh, the author of “Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygienic Imagination,” concluded with this fascinating point:

I suspect that bathrooms in the West will always be changing and adapting to our ideas about bodies. I don’t think we’ll ever settle on a “perfect” bathroom. Personally, though, I love bathrooms that play gently and creatively with gender in ways that prompt us to think outside narrow and prescriptive gender dichotomies. In Montreal, there’s a place called the Whisky Café which has, in the “women’s room,” a standing female urinal. On the wall beside the urinal there are instructions for use. The invitation to stand can be liberating.


Our Dying World

Fri, 2019-06-07 15:28

It’s hard to believe that our stupendous human enterprise, with all its blood and bombs, its megacities and spectacular technology, is ending. Yet the scientists – the true scientists, not the shills for oil companies – imply that this is so. We’ve done ourselves in, are destroying ourselves with our own, fatal success. True, we have a bit over a decade to soften the blow, reduce the lethality of the megatons of carbon and methane we’ve pumped into the atmosphere. The question is: will the men with power, the heads of state, even listen? So far, the outlook is poor. World leaders evidently do not care what happens to the next generation – they do not even appear to care what happens in the next fifteen years, just so long as business continues as usual, profits keep rolling in, and capitalism’s thirst for endless, cancerous growth is regularly slaked.

Consider a tiny bit of what has already occurred, as reported in David Wallace-Wells’ recently published The Uninhabitable Earth:

“Half of the Great Barrier Reef has already died, methane is leaking from Arctic permafrost and may never freeze again, and the high-end estimates for what warming will mean for cereal crops suggest that just four degrees of warming could reduce yields by fifty percent.”

Don’t even try to imagine what double that warming will do.

The altered climate will cause multiple catastrophes, listed in Wallace-Wells’ table of contents: heat death, hunger, drowning, wildfires, out-of-control weather – typhoons, tornadoes, floods and droughts – a fresh water drain, dying oceans, unbreathable air, the spread of plagues not seen in millennia and of tropical diseases throughout the world, climate wars and more.

Meanwhile, “twenty-two percent of the earth’s landmass was altered by humans just between 1992 and 2015. Ninety-six percent of the world’s animals, by weight, are now humans and their livestock,” writes Wallace-Wells. He describes “the forces that unleashed climate change – namely ‘the unchecked wisdom of the market'” to conclude that “neoliberalism is the God that failed on climate change.” Indeed those who hope that salvation from the human-induced climate catastrophe will come from our neoliberal leaders are deluding themselves and wasting time.

For those who consider our ravaged climate the work of centuries, this book will be a shock. “More than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in the past three decades,” Wallace-Wells writes. The climate catastrophe is predominately the creation of the World War II generation, the boomers and their children. And if we don’t wean ourselves quickly from oil and gas, from our meat-intensive diet, and if we don’t stop pouring concrete, large parts of the earth will become uninhabitable. In fact, the UN projects “200 million climate refugees by 2050.” At the high end, Wallace-Wells quotes “a billion or more vulnerable people with little choice but to fight or flee.” You think the Syrian war produced a refugee crisis for Europe (a war, by the way, largely fuelled by climate-change induced drought)? Or that Central American drought has propelled unsustainable numbers of migrants to the U. S.? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

If business continues as usual, by century’s end, we humans will have the distinction of having produced eight degrees of warming. (Currently we’ve produced one degree of warming.) People “at the equator and in the tropics would not be able to move around outside without dying…whole regions will become unlivable…as soon as the end of this century.” Train tracks will buckle and roads will melt. Another way of stating matters is “twenty-five Holocausts and the worst case outcome puts us on the brink of extinction.” And this disaster has just started. “Since 1980,” Wallace-Wells writes, “the planet has experienced a fiftyfold increase in the number of dangerous heatwaves…The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002.” Humanity has been playing with fire. “In 2010, 55,000 died in a Russian heatwave…In 2016…temperatures in Iraq broke…120 in July, with temperatures dipping below 100, most days, only at night.” Regarding the Chicago heatwave of 1995, which killed 739 people, “of the many thousands more who visited hospitals during the heatwave, almost half died within the year. Others merely suffered permanent brain damage.” Without curbing emissions, global damages could be “as high as $100 trillion per year by 2100,” which would wipe out world wealth. Meanwhile “nearly two thirds of the world’s cities are on the coast – not to mention its power plants, ports, navy bases, farmlands, fisheries, river deltas, marshlands and rice paddies…Already flooding has quadrupled since 1980…and doubled since 2004.” NOAA has predicted a possible eight feet of sea level rise just in this century, Wallace-Wells reports.

Everything human must change: our meat-based diet and industrial agriculture, our power and transportation, the megatons of concrete we pour; in short we need not just a Green New Deal but, as Wallace-Wells argues, a Green Marshall Plan for the entire world, and since the criminally irresponsible Trump regime would try to block this, the world needs to circumvent the U.S., until a saner administration is in place, by creating an international body far more powerful and effective than the UN. We need a global government. No individual nation state has taken the lead on this, not effectively anyway. And no sovereign country can afford the costs of runaway warming. It will not be a Great Recession or Great Depression, “but, in economic terms, a Great Dying…Should the planet warm 3.7 degrees…climate change damages could total $551 trillion – nearly twice as much wealth as exists in the world today.” Wallace-Wells writes. “We are on track for more warming still.”

A human holocaust looms. We need better leaders. We need an international government that can police fossil burning compliance. And we need it yesterday.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Carbon. She can be reached through her website.

Arab Women at Work: Sculptor/Painter Simone Fattal Retrospective

Fri, 2019-06-07 14:25

Even in New York, it’s not often one has an opportunity to view a sculpture exhibit on the scale of Simone Fattal’s 50-year retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art PS1. It’s a splendid assemblage of work—247 items— from a prolific artist generously distributed over spacious galleries in a grand museum space in Long Island City, New York

As I moved through the eight halls devoted to stages of Fattal’s work—collage, canvas paintings, work on paper, ceramic and glazed terracotta, I found her sculpted pieces particularly compelling. Many are rather whimsical; although they initially appear somber. The overriding impression from these sculptures is of movement and ‘becoming’; while the striking paintings and collages evoke contemplation, for me. Even Fattal’s stark back and white lies on canvas are heavy with deliberation.

This is not a crowded, ponderous mind we are witnessing at work; there’s some playfulness here, along with a reach into history. The range of work is not surprising given that they represent half a century, in Lebanon, California, and France.

Accompanying captions refer to the impact of displacement and geopolitical conflict on the artist. This may apply to mystical terracotta items– mostly standing humanoid figures, their blunt torsos anchored by heavy trunk-like legs. While these pieces evoke something colossal from early times, there is nothing daunting in them. Is Fattal telling us they represent past (or present) experiences which, while they may embody dislocation, are in fact manageable and embraceable?

The headless, armless figures stand unambiguously erect, about to step forward. Speaking with Ms. Fattal at her home in Paris last week, she affirms: “I want to show man on his feet, as witness, still standing.”

She began sculpturing long after she left Syria and then Lebanon in 1980 where she’d worked on canvas. Taking with her the detritus of war with an energy she would never lose, she turned her attention to founding a publishing house. Her Post Apollo Press featured innovative texts, mainly poetry—especially the writing of the powerful poet and painter Etel Adnan.

Settled in California, Fattal returned to the plastic arts in the late 1980s not to resume painting (some striking canvases from that period are exhibited here). She began clay sculpting, a medium she chose, she explains “because, she clay gives the sense of being alive; it retains the quality of fragility and lightness at the same time.”

Too often creations of artists originating in places we associate with conflict are interpreted as cathartic; their images seem baleful or angry, we are told, to expunge or transform painful past experience. I don’t see this in Fattal’s work on exhibit in this grand New York gallery. With the mostly diminutive scale of her massive (in image, not size) ceramic and clay shapes, perhaps the artist is showing us how she prevails as an energetic being celebrating a continuous forward movement.

The reference to ancient antiquity in some sculpted forms may derive from a ‘memory’ of lost civilization. But through their color and their weightlessness, the artist transforms them into celebratory images. Those massive feet under the torsos are not irreconcilably anchored; they seem ready to spring off the platform.

Still, there’s an undisputed historical feel to many sculpted figures, especially the mystic ceramic and stoneware torsos. While possessing a sense of emergence, they simultaneously remind us of recovered, damaged reliquaries. I found myself meditating on them.

Accompanying exhibition notes inform us how Fattal draws from her personal experience in the Middle East and from the epics of Gilgamesh and Dhat al-Himma created in that cradle of civilization millennia earlier. Characters from these tales populate the exhibition and may provoke viewers to search out those classics. The art itself is however strong enough to suggest an intentional reach into the elemental aspect of civilization.

Simone Fattal is a fine example of the many women with roots in the Middle East, Asia and Africa who exist in a global 21st century, bringing powerful messages, with courage and limitless energy that speak to all. Their female voices represent a universal past, a present and a future.

This is an exhibition for anyone, and for any age. But I encourage women to see this display of one woman’s vision. Just as I encourage women to read the poetry and novels of the abundance of contemporary women who seem to be in the forefront of groundbreaking research, of invention, of reinterpretations, and of honest truth-telling. Fattal is in the vanguard of creative women demonstrating our ability to reinterpret history and reality, and to project the power of our gender in completely new terms. To my question to Fattal about women in the arts, she replies—“We can pick up and move on from adversity maybe more easily than men can, perhaps because we fall from a less elevated place.”

The exhibition runs to September 2nd, well worth a trip to New York just to imbibe this display of energy and imagination. Allow extra time too view “Autoportrait 1972-2012”, a 47 minute film by the artist. It’s screening at the same venue. Attached photographs from the MoMA PS1 installation are taken by M. Gurung for this article.


Songs of State

Fri, 2019-06-07 14:05

Other than the basic press blurbs, I could find no detailed reports of the music performed at this week’s state banquet held in the Buckingham Palace ballroom. The largest space in the palace, the ballroom is presided over by a substantial and rather gaudily decorated organ originally built for another even more decadent royal folly, the Brighton Pavilion on England’s south coast. The King of Instruments looked down from his balcony at the Trumps and Windsors and their hangers-on in mute disapproval of the state of the human monarchy and the visitors it claims to be forced to welcome.

In a previous century the organ would have resounded over the convocation. Prince Albert was keen to have the instrument set up in his London residence; it was duly installed in renovated and expanded form in the ballroom in the 1850s. The Royal Consort was himself a talented amateur organist and man of culture.

Just down the west block of Buckingham Palace from the ballroom, Queen Victoria’s Erard piano stretches out grandly in the White Drawing Room. The instrument is lavishly decorated in the French style of an era that was then already bygone: the case is painted with monkeys and cherubs, bouquets and garlands that emit a visual scent of perfumed sensuality. Victoria and Albert loved to play through the orchestral favorites of the day—Beethoven symphonies, Mendelssohn overtures and the like—in versions for piano four-hands. Music was then a necessary accomplishment of royals as it now no longer is. But like her princess forbears in the Hanoverian line, among whose keyboard tutors can be counted no less a figure than Handel, the current Queen had piano lessons as a girl. Elizabeth is rumored to be able to bash out some boogie-woogie, though the vintage Erard is hardly the model of choice for such sport.

One of our piano-playing presidents—Harry Truman or Dick Nixon—might have been pleased to sit down on the piano bench with the Queen during a palace walk-about for a duet on the gilded grand—a bit of Elgarian pomp or Souza circumstance. Not so Donald T, whose main talent is for cheating at golf and taxes, though the first of these skills could have been demonstrated along the Buckingham enfilade with its sumptuous fairways of rich carpeting, and high ceilings perfect for an indoor pitch-and-put round.

Looking at the palace interiors pictured in official photos from the state visit, one isn’t sure that the level of (bad) taste is that different from Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors against architecture and design. The best of the Buckingham P décor must be the Old Masters on the walls, but press shots showed the monarch and tyrant strolling past these paintings without even a turn of the head. The show-and-tell instead focused on the gewgaws, photos, and other collectibles such as a manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Not unlike these easy attractions, the bill of musical fare at the banquet was a smorgasbord at which the high-minded Hanoverians of yore would have turned up their inbred noses. The menu featured a Broadway classic (“Tonight” from Westside Story) and a more recent British pop mega-export, “Thinking Out Loud” by suitably redheaded Ed Sheeran. These were served up alongside Classical favs: highlights from Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music and the Hoedown from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, a bit of artsy, rusticated Americana meant to answer the shock and awe of Handel’s pyrotechnics.

You might think that the American numbers were concessions to the visitors. But it is the Queen who loves American musicals, especially those mythologizing the West, like Oklahoma! and Annie, Get Your Gun, hits of her youth.

As for Trump, he lost a wadge of cash backing a musical when he was in his early twenties. If that show had made money, Trump might now be the scourge not just of the New York cityscape but of Broadway, too. He doesn’t give a fig about music, musicians, or even musicals, as is immediately clear to anyone with enough fortitude to endure footage of him and Melania in the clinch at the main Inaugural Ball in January of 2017, teetering, punch- and power-drunk to Sinatra’s crooning of “I Did It My Way.”

Rodeo fits more easily into royal tastes than the presidential lack of any. Still, the cowboy ballet might have jostled some vague culinary memories in Trump thanks to those beef ads of the 1990s in which Copland’s Hoedown accompanies beauty shots of read-meat recipes—from pasta concoctions, to fajitas, to subs—all narrated by veteran carnivore Robert Mitchum, a former screen actor with many westerns to his credits.

Given these associations, Copland’s music might have set Trump’s paunch to gurgling for something more downhome than the first course served up by the Queen’s chef: steamed fillet of halibut with watercress mousse, asparagus spears and chervil sauce. A teetotaler, Trump also passed on the wines, including the Chateau Lafitte Rothschild 1990 that goes for upwards of a $1,000 a bottle.

So hated by his detractors is Trump that his every move and utterance is a lightning rod for allegory and innuendo. Thus all the musical choices made for the banquet could be heard by his detractors as thinly veiled attacks. Handel’s Fireworks are all about grandstanding. In Rodeo a cowgirl dresses up as a cowboy then puts on a dress and wins over the head wrangler—a kick-up-yours heels rejoinder from gay Copland to Trump’s homophobia. “Tonight” by Copland’s protégé Leonard Bernstein figuratively locked the Queen and the Donald in embrace of the Special Relationship. West Side Story easily refers to the blight of the story Trump has written on West Side in garish stone, steel, and glass. “Thinking Out Loud” is the only way Trump can attempt such mental exertions, whether tweeting or in the fits and starts of his paleolithic speech patterns. Sheeran’s song sent other barbs at the president:

When my hair’s all but gone and my memory fades
And the crowds don’t remember my name …

All this was doubtless lost on Trump, nervously thumbing at the phone tucked into his too-small waistcoat that refused to admit several inches had been added to his midsection since last he donned such formal rig.

Over the dessert of strawberry sable with lemon verbena cream, the president’s fugitive thoughts drifted from Sheeran’s Ballroom ballad. Gazing across at the Queen, Trump’s head was filled with the sound of Frank Sinatra singing “Our love is here to stay.”