Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bannon Unchained Is An Opportunity For The Democrats, But Do They Know It?

The biggest reason why I'm not cheering the implosion of the Republican Party, which seems to have accelerated nicely since Stephen Bannon departed the adult day care center known as the West Wing for his whirlwind Revenge on Mainstream Republicans Tour, is that the Democratic Party is pretty screwed up, too.  Besides which, reports of the GOP's death are a tad premature even if Republicans keep tip toeing around the real problem: That Donald Trump is fundamentally unfit to be president. 
Things were merely out of control in the Republican Temple of Righteous Right-Wing Conservatism when Bannon was Trump's resident Svengali but nothing was getting done on the inside.  So Bannon was cut loose. 
Longtime Republican foreign policy Robert Kagan, whose bona fides as a neoconservative mensch are impeccable, picks up the Bannon odyssey from there in a blistering Washington Post op-ed piece, explaining that Bannon and Trump decided Bannon could do more on the outside while Trump was being Trump:
Meanwhile Bannon would play the gonzo political maestro on the outside, running Trumpists in primaries to knock off establishment types, even hardcore conservative ones.  Trump could pretend to support the [party] establishment's choice, but his voters would know better.  The result would be a rout.  Some establishment Republicans would lose, either in the primary or the general; others would be afraid to run for reelection; others would try to suck up to Bannon in he hopes of persuading him not to unleash the hounds; all would try to mimic Trump.  And it didn't matter which path they took: These would all be victories for Trump. 
While I think Kagan gives Trump too much credit, the larger point is that the right-wing takeover of the party is ongoing because the Mainstream or Establishment or Whatever You Call It wing of the party is too poltroonish to fight back.   
This is a gift that will keep on giving for Bannon, who is variously described as a white nationalist and alt-right apologist. Although thug covers it nicely, witness his gleeful statement last weekend that Trump ended insurer health-care subsidies to "blow up"Obamacare. 
As Kagan notes, the definition of a brave Republican these days is someone who is not running for reelection, and being the party so completely in power with iron grips on all three branches of gubberment really has been a bitch. 
Props to the handful of Republicans who voted against the several iterations of repeal-and-replace Obamacare legislature, and a big hand for little Bob Corker for calling out Trump for his serial craziness and warning that the guy could start World War III if General Kelly were to take too long in the loo.    
But the vast majority of congressional Republicans, starting with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, have taken panicked complacency to a new level in praying into their martinis that they can get a few more judicial nominees approved and enact their holy grail -- tax relief for the rich -- before the Trumpian Anschluss is complete or Robert Mueller finishes his clean-up in Aisle 1600.  Pick one. 
At the heart of the Republican Party's malaise is a simple fact that has had nothing to do with principles or identity: It has played a shell game with voters for years, and is still doing so because McConnell and Ryan still think they can get away with it. 
With mind-numbing regularity, the party establishment assured its middle- and working-class loyalists that it had their best economic and social interests in mind, and then inevitably crapped all over them, which led to the coup that elevated Trump to the party nomination as was preordained by Sarah Palin's 2008 nomination for vice president. 
Says Rich Lowry in Politico:
This is the state of the G.O.P. in a nutshell. It is a party locked in mortal combat between an establishment that is ineffectual and unimaginative and a populist wing that is ineffectual and inflamed.    
But back to Bannon, who may be the best thing to happen to the Democratic Party since Barack Obama, which raises the happy but so far wishful prospect of Democrats riding Bannon's coattails to the 24-seat pickup needed to take back the House in the 2018 midterms. 
Trouble is, the Democrats don't seem to know what to do with this gift because their leadership is hopelessly addicted to and blinded by the power politics of corporate PACs and lobbyists. Liberalism isn't dead, it just has been sold out.  There are Republican voters ripe for the picking among the two-thirds of the party not wearing red MAGA baseball caps, and the right message might move some of them to get off the fainting couch and fall into the Democratic embrace. 
If that message is out there, I'm sure not hearing it.   
And if the tsunami of tin-cup emails I get from the Democratic "leadership" and its proxy groups are a fair barometer of the state of the party, the whole bunch of them are still pretty much in whiney wound-licking mode and more concerned with stopping Trump on this issue or that issue and refighting the election than marching out of the political wilderness with some newly minted Republican converts in tow. 
The demographic tide may yet save the Democrats' asses.  But with Trump and Bannon calling the shots, the toxic effects of Republican gerrymandering, the party's lock on so many statehouses and the lack of centrists among the long list of potential 2020 Democratic nominees (please, God, not Bernie Sanders!), the party needs a core message beyond Obama feel good-isms. 
Trump's campaign rhetoric aside, he has done nothing to unify the country.  Quite the opposite.  A We Can and We Will Unify message as the core of a reinvigorated Democratic message might do the trick.  And perhaps drive a stake through Trump's wingman on the outside -- Steve Bannon. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The 'Vietnam' Series: Heartbreaking & Elucidating, But Mostly Lessons Not Learned

We finally made it through the 10-part, 18-hour Burns-Novick "The Vietnam War" series on PBS on Sunday.  A sprawling but deeply emotional experience.  Heartbreaking.  Elucidating.  And overall, superb 
Some criticism of the series is valid, but most is not.  (People just gotta push their own agendas because they're more important than everyone else's, ya know?) Burns and Novick were evenhanded to a fault, although they could have done a better job of placing the war in the context of a century of American imperialist aggression.  That the U.S. is not always a force for good was something merely hinted at, although the harshest critics shortsightedly say Burns' entire 30-film career is an advertisement for American Exceptionalism.   
Yet if the primary job of public television is to educate, and in this instance educate people who did not understand or even know about the war, the series answered that call well above and beyond the usual mile wide-inch deep TV treatments of watershed historical events.  And for those of us who thought we knew the war, the documentary provides a newfound perspective.  
I passed through Vietnam as a journalist.  It had pretty much been rubbled by the time I arrived in 1970, and there were only hints of Saigon’s past splendor amongs the craters, bombed out buildings and everywhere debris.  I have read extensively about the war since, but until recent years knew little from the Vietnamese perspective.  Burns and Novick determinedly provided many Vietnamese voices — North, South, army regulars, guerillas and civilians — who were deeply moving and much needed counterpoints to the American voices. 
Oh, and the soundtrack of the series -- ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Bob Dylan to The Animals to Marvin Gaye -- is riveting and a reminder that it was music that sometimes got us through the night. 
The war at home -- the marches, moratoriums, escalating civil disobedience and violence, Kent State and Jackson State, the few brave voices of opposition in Washington -- is adeptly woven into the larger narrative, and the inescapable conclusion is that the war ended not because the politicians wised up, but because Americans people did.   
In the end, there was unanimity on all sides that the war was a tragedy for which American politicians -- notably the well meaning, conflicted and overwhelmed LBJ and the malevolent and traitorous Nixon -- must bear the blame.  
And then there is the enduring and perhaps most frightening lesson of Vietnam: 
Succeeding generations of those politicians have learned nothing from the errors in judgment, duplicity and outright criminality of that war and that time.  
The first run of the "The Vietnam War" was in September, but some PBS affiliates will show it through November and it is available for webstreaming.  The series also is on DVD and is being broadcasted in the U.K. on BBC, in France and Germany on Arte, and in many other countries.  

For All The Ambiguities Of Vietnam, There Was A Single Abiding Certainty

From Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried,
 which was narrated by the author in the concluding episode of "The Vietnam War":
They carried USO stationary and pencils and pens. They carried Sterno, safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire, razor blades, chewing tobacco, liberated joss sticks and statuettes of the smiling Buddha, candles, grease pencils, The Stars and Stripes, fingernail clippers, Psy Ops leaflets, bush hats, bolos, and much more. Twice a week when the resupply choppers came in, they carried hot chow in green mermite cans and large canvas bags filled with iced beer and soda pop. They carried plastic water containers, each with a two-gallon capacity. Mitchell Sanders carried a set of starched tiger fatigues for special occasions. Henry Dobbins carried Black Flag insecticide. Dave Jansen carried empty sandbags that could be filled at night for added protection. Lee Strunk carried tanning lotion. Some things they carried in common. Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Conduct. They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself -- Vietnam, the place, the soil -- a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity. They moved like mules. By daylight they took sniper fire, at night they were mortared, but it was not battle, it was just the endless march, village to village, without purpose, nothing won or lost. They marched for the sake of the march. They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone, simple grunts, soldiering with their legs, toiling up the hills and down into the paddies and across the rivers and up and down, just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, because it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility. Their calculations were biological. They had no sense of strategy or mission. They searched the villages without knowing what to look for, not caring, kicking over jars of rice, frisking children and old men, blowing tunnels, sometimes setting fires and sometimes not, then forming up and moving on to the next village, then other villages, where it would always be the same. They carried their own lives. In the heat of early afternoon, they would remove their helmets and flak jackets, walking bare, which was dangerous but which helped ease the strain. They would often discard things along the route of march. Purely for comfort, they would throw away rations, blow their Claymores and grenades, no matter, because by nightfall the resupply choppers would arrive with more of the same, then a day or two later still more, fresh watermelons and crates of ammunition and sunglasses and woolen sweaters -- the resources were stunning -- sparklers for the Fourth of July, colored eggs for Easter -- it was the great American war chest -- the fruits of science, the smokestacks, the canneries, the arsenals at Hartford, the Minnesota forests, the machine shops, the vast fields of corn and wheat -- they carried like freight trains; they carried it on their backs and shoulders -- and for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they never be at a loss for things to carry.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Story Of The Glorious Birth, Long Life & Awful Death Of The John Evans House

The first thing you need to know about the John Evans House is that it was really old, as in 302 years old.  
The second thing you need to know is that I lived in the John Evans House, brought my newborn children home to its welcoming embrace, cherished it in summer heat and winter cold, and worked tirelessly to keep it from the fate that befalls far too many historic structures -- be they grandiose mansions or tarpaper slave quarters -- in a country that neither understands nor values its past. 
The last thing you need to know is that the John Evans House was killed twice over.   
It was first killed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was gifted the house and the verdant lands around it by an act of Congress.  Its response was to willfully neglect a profoundly historic structure that predates the commonwealth itself by nearly 75 years and then list it for demolition.  And then it was killed again by what in all likelihood was an arsonist.  
This then is the story of the glorious birth, long life and awful death of the John Evans House. 
Ca. 1850
John Evans was a Welsh Baptist who, as the story goes, sought a new life in the New World early in the 18th century to escape religious persecution.  He and his brother Thomas sailed to the Pennsylvania colony where they bought land in what would become Chester County in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the northernmost of the three lower Pennsylvania counties that were to become Delaware.  The seller was William Penn.  The nearest neighbors, Lenni Lenapes who had lived in the region for perhaps 2,000 years and had sold much of the valley to Penn in 1683, were not consulted.  
The Evans brothers sailed home, outfitted a ship and returned with their families and servants to the colony in 1715, which as years go, was pretty tumultuous beyond the Evans's tight-knit world and centuries-long legacy of their Welsh Baptist brethren by whomever happened to be in power in the so-called United Kingdom. 
Elsewhere in the U.K. in 1715, Viscount Bolingbroke was secretly negotiating with France, leading to the Treaty of Utrecht, which more or less ended the War of Spanish Succession.  There was a rare total solar eclipse in London, the first in almost 900 years, scaring the bejesus out of Believers and Non-Believers alike.  In the young American colonies, the first black slaves were arriving, while to the south in the Province of Carolina, the Tuscarora gave up their war against encroaching settlers and fled through Lenni Lenape country to upstate New York. 
Meanwhile, John Evans had the Belgian bond brick ballast from the ship transported to his land, some 400 acres in all, in a secluded valley hard by the confluence of the East and Middle Branches of White Clay Creek where he built a two-story gentleman's house of the ballast bricks with touches of what would become known as the Georgian architectural style.  The first floor was an all-purpose room.  There were two small bedrooms on the second floor and servants would have been quartered in the attic. There undoubtedly was a summer kitchen behind the house, while cooking was done in the large fireplace downstairs in cold and inclement weather.   
While the Evanses were fairly well off, that had not shielded them from religious persecution, and the valley must have been heaven on earth for them. 
The White Clay ran high, clear and fast even during the driest summers when its banks were perfumed by wildflowers.  The creek ran deep, as well, as it coursed between boulders that were visitors from the last Ice Age and had stayed put after the big thaw.  The verdant woodlands of oak, chestnut, maple, black walnut and sycamore teemed with wildlife, including deer, bear, turkey, mink, beaver and turtle.  There were trout and eel in the creek, and when it flooded its banks in the spring, its deposits further enriched already fertile soil.   
John Evans understood that he was building on a flood plain and the basement was constructed to allow water to run in and drain back out.  I witnessed this at least once a year during my tenure there, and I became adept at being able to quickly remove the motor on the oil furnace as flood waters rose.  
Underlying the valley is a conglomeration of rock formations, including the black granite that was the primary stone in the fieldstone walls of the first of two expansions to the house.  The first expansion was later in the 18th century with the addition of a dining room with a grand fireplace and three more bedrooms upstairs.  The master bedroom, which had a commanding view of the creek and field behind the house, had a smallish, free-standing fireplace. 
The house grew again around 1800 with a story-and-a-half addition containing a kitchen with a large walk-in fireplace, rendering obsolete the summer kitchen behind the house. There also were various small outbuildings probably built of oak and chestnut. 
In 1725, John Evans had begun construction of what became known as the Landmark Primitive Baptist Church (home of the legendary Ticking Tomb) a few hundred feet to the west of his house in thanksgiving for his good fortune.  The area around the house was farmed, but a mill and millrace soon were built nearby.  Later, grist and lumber mills and other businesses began springing up as the colony became a young republic and the nearby village of Landenberg grew and thrived.   
ca. 1930
In one of history's ironies, the White Clay Creek Valley is an oasis today compared to the fouled waters and air of 150 years ago when industry thrived in and around Landenberg and the John Evans House house passed out of the Evans family. 
A succession of other families lived in the house, including the Yeatman family in the mid-1800s.  (The house is referred to as the Yeatman Mill House by the Bureau of State Parks.)   An emigre family from Canada operated a sod farm for some time in the 20th century on the fertile floodplain behind the house.  I know that because I found a son's Army dogtags under an opening in some attic floorboards and traced his ancestry. 
By the early 1960s, the house was somewhat in decline but still solid.  It was fronted by a white picket fence when I first discovered it while riding my three-speed English bike into the valley from my family home a few miles away on high school-aged explorations.  I imagined what it would be like to live in this brick-and-stone jewel and fantasized about being able to do so some day. 
Out of college and back from a stint in the Far East a few years later, the house was somewhat seedier but still solid.  The picket fence was gone and the valley and environs had been gobbled up by the DuPont Company, which was headquartered in nearby Wilmington, Delaware.  
The chemical giant, which for 200 years had an outsized presence in the region, intended to dam the White Clay and flood several thousand acres of the valley, submerging the Evans House, the church Evans built, and dozens of other structures.  A magnificent habit would be wiped out in the service of supplying water from a massive reservoir to a textile manufacturing plant DuPont intended to build at the Milford Crossroad north of Newark, Delaware. 
But in a twist of fate that help seal the career a young politician who was to rise to national prominence, the John Evans House and valley were saved. 
DuPont had consolidated its grip on the valley by secretly razing houses.  One day there would be a house and the next day a newly landscaped and seeded lawn.  Some were simple bungalows, but a few were historically significant, including the magnificent three-story and balconied Elzey House on Sharpless Road off London Tract Road, which was reminiscent of the Deer Park Tavern in Newark before it was bulldozed and buried in an unspeakable crime against history.  Only the three giant sycamores that shaded the house remain. 
Du Pont's furtive scorched earth policy left the John Evans House as probably the oldest structure still standing in the valley even if George Washington never slept there.  A cabin made of chestnut logs said to have been built in the 1680s sat uphill on the far side of the White Clay, but it was destroyed in an arson fire well before DuPont big footed onto the scene.
DuPont began curbing its less altruistic corporate instincts because of furious opposition to the dam and reservoir from an unlikely coalition of foes: Dorothy Miller, a birding enthusiast and devoted environmentalist, a sportsman's club affiliated with the United Auto Workers Union at the Newark Chrysler Assembly Plant, and Sally Rickerman and Jan Kalb, whom I jokingly referred to as Attack Quakers in my admiration for their outspoken faith-based belief in saving the valley, which they happened to love and was where their own historic homes were located.  
I did my part as a young editor at the Wilmington News Journal, where I assigned a reporter to write a series of stories on the mysteriously disappearing houses, which a DuPont mouthpiece initially denied had disappeared at all. 
With the indefatigable Dot Miller leading the charge, the coalition fought DuPont to a standstill and then in 1970 a slate of Democrats was swept into office in New Castle County, Delaware on a reform platform that included opposition to the dam and reservoir, which had been backed by the deeply entrenched DuPont-friendly Republican incumbents.  (The News Journal was a DuPont shill and pro dam and reservoir, and I caught flak for the stories.)    
Among the newly elected reformers was a 28-year-old county councilman by the name of Joseph R. Biden. 

It was not until 1984 that the future of the John Evans House seemed to be assured.  
That was when Biden, by then a two-term U.S. senator, and colleague Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania sponsored legislation under which DuPont would receive a generous one-time tax break, which no one talked about, by deeding the valley to the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania in perpetuity for a preserve -- as opposed to a park -- that beyond rustic trails and the occasional gravel parking lot would remain undeveloped and largely undisturbed.  
Meanwhile, with DuPont as my landlord, my boyhood dream had come true and I had been living in the house since 1981.  With the deed transfer, my rent checks went to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, custodian of the new White Clay Creek Preserve.
But from the start, the Pennsylvania side of the White Clay Creek Preserve was woefully underfunded. 
We made "sweat equity" repairs to the John Evans House in return for reduced rent. These repairs were, for the most part, fairly minor, although we never did get the skid marks out of a corner of the living room floor, which a neighbor who had lived in the valley for years later told us were from the kickstands of motorcycles parked there when bikers had briefly used the house.  Yet for being 270 years old, the house was in good condition and as structurally sound as the day John Evans had opened the front door to his family for the first time. 
The house remained in that condition, if a little rough around the edges, until after the last tenant moved out about 1998 when the inevitable deterioration commenced that befalls old houses that are not kept up. 

Looking back, the fate of the John Evans House was determined when the state did an inadequate job of closing it up.  
Houses like people need to breathe, and this is especially true of old houses as temperatures and humidity cycle up and down.  This house's doors and windows were sealed with plywood boards instead of boards with louvers, which experienced preservationists use.  Louvers would have allowed the house and its floors, walls, ceilings, attic and roof to breathe and not suffocate, checking its deterioration until the state woke up to the treasure in its midst or an angel with deep pockets came along. 
By 2015, the house sat forlorn and very much neglected.   
There was hideous graffiti on some of the first floor plywood boards and the roof and attic dormer windows were collapsing inward.  The floors on the second floor had collapsed from being exposed to the elements because of the roof collapse.  Vegetation had overtaken and seized the back of the house, covering the windows from which I had watched the sun burn off the mist over the creek on many a morning, slowly but surely assisting in the team effort of time and neglect to ravage an irreplaceably beautiful house. 
In 2006, the state Bureau of Parks first listed the house for demolition.  
"The John Evans House was a topic of conversation on many occasions," said Carla Lucas, president of the Friends of the White Clay Preserve, which was founded in 2012 as a chapter of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.  "Those who visited the Preserve on a regular basis watched the building deteriorate. We'd talk to the park manager, who said the state would do nothing because it would cost at least $600,000 to repair."
More recently, vandals had been breaking into the house although it is only a few hundred feet from the Preserve headquarters.  That has been made easier because the Preserve, which is being slowly starved by the Bureau of Parks, has not had a manager since 2015 and has only a single full-time employee to oversee its 2,072 acres.   
Then on the afternoon of September 20, the house burned, leaving only the exterior walls standing despite the efforts of volunteer firemen summoned from West Grove, Avondale and Hockessin.   
While an investigation by the Chester County fire marshal and state police is ongoing, the cause is almost certainly arson.

Even after the fire -- no, because of what the fire laid bare -- the exterior walls of the John Evans House have an extraordinary story to tell. 
Despite the deterioration of the roof, attic and floors, the walls of the house remain structurally sound and survived the fire pretty much intact, a monument to the built-to-last craftsmanship of the 18th and 19th centuries.  And despite much hankie-wringing in recent years among wannabe preservationists that the house was about to fall down, no such thing was going to happen.
All of the fireplaces are intact, if bare. 
The freestanding fireplace on the second floor wall is largely unscathed although the floor and joists beneath it had given way.  The living room fireplace, on which I did some restoration work during my time in the house, also is substantially intact, as is the kitchen fireplace with its lovely arch.  The magnificent dining room fireplace and hearth are scarred but also intact, as if ready for the next dinner party although it will never come.  
There is a dreary record of historic structures on private land giving way to drug stores, banks and housing developments in history-rich Chester County. But it simply is unheard of that a structure on public land -- your land and mine -- with the three-century lineage of the John Evans House would be allowed to deteriorate to the point where it became easy prey for vandals, giving new meaning to the term willful neglect. 
The trajectory of that neglect becomes shockingly apparent in examining official documents pertaining to the house that I obtained from the Bureau of Parks as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request:
March 1998: A document states that the house is "in need of major repairs [but] due to its historical nature, plans are to keep this structure and improve it as monies allow. There is a project listed in the amount of $100,000 to effect those repairs.  There are no plans to remove this building, nor change its use in the foreseeable future."  
February 22, 2006: The then-director of the Bureau of State Parks states in a letter to a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources administrator that the bureau intends "to dispose of" the house. 
2007~2009: The disposal request wends its way through the state bureaucracy with approvals obtained from the Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau of Engineering and Architecture and Department of General Services, among other agencies.
September 12, 2008: A regional parks manager states without elaboration in a letter that "We have found no documentation that supports the building as historically significant."
2008~2009: The house is stripped of distinctive interior architectural
features, including fireplace surrounds, mantles and molding. 
September 4, 2009: A Historical and Museum Commission review concludes that the White Clay Creek Preserve "has provided no alternative uses for this building at this location and there are no alternative sites within the park to which this building can be moved." 
October 14, 2009: A demolition permit is approved by the Bureau of State Parks, but the house remains standing because of a lack of money to tear it down.    
We can blame the usual whipping boy, the chronic underfunding of state parks for this meant-to-fail strategy, but that rationale has become profoundly disingenuous because it excuses the Bureau of State Parks and the Preserve staff (when it had one) of their responsibilities as stewards of a structure gifted the people of Pennsylvania by Congress. 
"I think it was a failure all around to preserve the John Evans House.  Privately as citizens of the community we could never get organized to find the funding necessary to at least put a decent roof on the building to stop the
deterioration," said Lucas.  "As stewards of the property, the state failed to see the historical value of this house and dedicate funds to preserve it." 
"The state parks system is so underfunded and so understaffed it is hard to blame a specific person but as an organization, they could have done more." 
The office of Governor Tom Wolfe deferred comment on this tragic state of affairs and punted to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the parent department of the Bureau of Parks. 
"There are limited resources to tackle historic structures like this one," said Christina Novak, director of the department's Office of Communications.  "DCNR does maintain one of the largest inventories of historic structures in the commonwealth.  In many cases the department is successful when it finds a partner organization which can find use for the building and generate revenue to facilitate the rehabilitation.  This has not been the case of this structure." 
We live in an era when the Pennsylvania state government opened its lands, including state parks and forests, to rapacious frackers, although Wolfe did ban new drilling on most state lands in 2015. 
Yet only a trickle of the billions of dollars in natural gas that energy companies have extracted since 2005 while polluting streams and rivers ever finds its way back into state coffers and places like the White Clay Creek Preserve, where it could make a difference.   
And might have saved a 302-year-old historic and architectural gem. 

It may be too late to save the John Evans House, but it's not too late to save and restore other historic structures on state parklands, including the historic Sexton's House in the White Clay Creek Preserve.  Make your voice known by joining The Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve and contacting the offices of Governor Tom Wolfe, state Senator Andrew Dinniman and state Representative Eric Roe.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tribalism Run Amok: Trump Did Not Make America What It Is, America Made Trump

Americans always have had an unjustifiably lofty view of their society, which is why they are able to look down their upturned noses as Tutsis beat up on Hutus in Rwanda, Serbs beat up on Croats in the Balkans, Shiites beat up on Sunnis in Iraq and Buddhists beat up on Muslims in Myanmar, to name just a few of the blood-soaked conflicts in recent history.  Americans believe they're beyond such tribalism, and indeed the Founding Fathers were determined to build a democracy where the individual was more important than the tribe.  That failed spectacularly in a little dustup called the Civil War, and the big message underlying the election of Donald Trump is that it is still failing.    
The message within that message is that Trump did not make America what it is.  To the contrary, America made Trump president because of what it has become. 
Those red state-blue state maps are not merely graphic representations of the American body politic of recent years.  They vividly and shockingly illustrate the parlous condition of our 240-year-old democracy.  
A tribe of white voters predominate in red states in the exurban and rural interior.  They are for the most part nationalist in outlook, deeply religious and dominate the Republican Party. 
A tribe of racial minorities predominate in blue states on the coasts.  They are for the most part are urbanized, global in outlook, less religious and dominate the Democratic Party.   
"Tribalism only destabilizes a democracy when it calcifies into something bigger and more intense than our smaller, multiple loyalties; when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole; and when it turns rival tribes into enemies," writes the inimitable Andrew Sullivan in a deeply thoughtful essay in New York magazine on tribalism.  "And the most significant fact about American tribalism today is that all three of these characteristics now apply to our political parties, corrupting and even threatening our system of government." 
It is convenient but inaccurate to suggest that tribalism simply evaporated after the Civil War and re-emerged only in the last several years as politics became so overtly tribal and hence divisive.  
In fact, tribalism never went away.   
Tribalism merely was subsumed by waves of immigrants who were assimilated into society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then the two world wars, which acted as huge unifiers.  In the case of World War II and the years following, blacks were integrated into the military, industry and society at large, and nearly 40 percent of black voters called themselves Republicans, the once proud party of Lincoln. 
But by 1964, tribalism was back with a vengeance. 
Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign drove most blacks away from the GOP and that re-racialization continued apace in the early 1970s with Richard Nixon's so-called Southern Strategy in response to the civil rights movement, Ronald Reagan's unflattering characterizations of poor blacks in the 1980s, and Republican Governor Pete Wilson's unapologetic loathing of the Latino immigrants pouring into California in the 1990s. 
By the time the first red-blue maps appeared in the 2000 presidential race, abortion and gay rights had further split the two parties.   
Behind the national electoral draw that year between Al Gore and George Bush were the two tribes so recognizable today, and the Supreme Court ruling handing the presidency to Bush ended -- probably forever -- the Founders' intention that the high court be nonpartisan, which is to say nontribal.  Then came 2008 and an even deeper tribal fracturing over race with the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president. 
As Sullivan notes, there were other polarizers, as well, including the arrival of Fox News and the Internet, right-wing extremism ascendent, partisan gerrymandering and the end of cross-tribal compromise in Congress.   
While no one was looking, there also was a decline of Christianity as a common denominator for the political parties, an intellectual sorting-out in which non-college educated whites increasingly resented the college education because they got the better paying jobs, and a conservative backlash against universities in general as bastions of liberalism. 
And on top of it all, Democrats and Republicans don't merely disagree with their opponents' political views these days. 
They disagree -- angrily and sometimes in violent terms -- over their opponents' very values, each side claiming to be more loyal to mother, god and country than the other as emotion reliably supplants reason.  This helps explain why there will never be effective gun control despite Sandy Hook and Las Vegas, and why the big takeaway from the superb Burns-Novick History of the Vietnam War series is that the generations of our national leaders since that bloody interregnum learned nothing from it. 
With the three core components of tribalism -- race, religion and geography -- defining the political parties, 2016 was bound to be a watershed election. 
But little did we suspect that a profoundly unqualified narcissist, career crook, pathological liar and misogynist wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap who made vague promises to shake up Washington would face off against an eminently qualified, if flawed, woman who proudly wore a lifetime of public service on her sleeve and promised to build on the Obama legacy while bearing the scars of 30 years of virulent right-wing attacks.
Trump, of course, lost the popular vote but eked out an Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton.  While the pernicious consequences of the Russian effort to sabotage the Clinton campaign cannot be underestimated, Trump built his backdoor victory on opportunism more than tribalism.  His claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose the support of his followers lays bae their deep-rooted animosity  -- a toxic mixture of fear and hate -- toward anyone who is not like them, as well as an addiction to the rhetorical extremism that is Trump's stock in trade.  
"Tribalism is not a static force," writes Sullivan. "It feeds on itself.  It appeals on a gut level and evokes emotions that are not so easily controlled and usually spiral toward real conflict." 
Is it too late to turn back?  Possibly. 
Americans have assumed that their democracy was on autopilot.  That the worst excesses would sort themselves out as the political pendulum swung back and forth.  That constitutional checks and balances would assure that the pendulum would return to center.  That our capacity for moderation, compassion and forgiveness ran deeper than our baser instincts.  That we would stop talking past each other and talk to each other.   
But none of that took into account that beyond halcyon skies, amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties above those enameled plains, we were members of tribes first and Americans second.   
It's in our DNA, and that makes finding a way out of our national nightmare exceedingly difficult because it would require closing the gap between those tribes, as well as changing or at least diluting the mutations of the political parties.  

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Why The Steele Dossier On Russia-Trump Collusion Keeps Growing In Significance

Nearly a year after the existence of a document known as the Steele dossier became public, several of its most explosive claims -- notably that the Kremlin cultivated Donald Trump for years and that his presidential campaign systematically colluded with Moscow to cyber-sabotage Hillary Clinton in order to get him elected -- have become articles of faith, casting an ever darker shadow over a troubled presidency despite Trump's continued efforts to wish away the entire Russia scandal as fake news and a witch hunt. 
The dossier is a series of memos written by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 intelligence agent who was working for Fusion GPS, a Washington strategic intelligence firm hired by an unidentified Democratic client.  It includes some factual inaccuracies, while its most salacious allegation -- that in 2013 Trump hired prostitutes to urinate on each other at a Moscow hotel and the Kremlin has videotaped evidence of the encounter -- has not been corroborated.   
But revelations since Steele assembled the 35-page dossier substantially support many of the allegations his sources made. 
Steele was taken so seriously by then-FBI Director James Comey that he considered putting him on retainer until Steele, spooked by the explosion of news stories about the dossier, went to ground in January 2017. Steele has been interviewed by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigative team, and no credible source within or without the U.S. intelligence community has debunked those core allegations.  
"Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken [the Steele] reports seriously since they were first published," writes John Sipher, a former senior officer in the CIA's National Clandestine Service at the Just Security website.  "This is not because they are not fond of Trump (and many admittedly are not), but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports' overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods and the nature of raw intelligence reporting." 
The big takeaway from the dossier was and remains Steele's conclusion that
The Russians have been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for years and have compromising personal and financial information on him that could be used as blackmail.
A by-now infamous June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in New York has become a lynchpin of sorts in linking the dossier's core allegations to incriminating real-world events. 
On June 3, 2016, as Trump was on the verge of clinching the Republican nomination, his elder son Donald Jr. received an email from a publicist representing Emin Agaralov, the son of a Russian oligarch and former Trump Sr. business partner close to Vladimir Putin, in which the campaign was offered "some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary . . . and would be very useful to your father." 
Donald Jr. responded not by refusing the offer or alerting the FBI, but by replying, "If it's what you say I love it." 
The likelihood that Trump knew of the meeting in advance and by implication approved of it is extremely good. 
On June 6, Trump reportedly spoke by phone with Emin Agalarov.  On June 7, he promised "big news" on Clinton's "crimes" in a forthcoming "major speech," which was scheduled for June 13 but he did not give because of the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub.
The June 9 meeting involved the Trump campaign brain trust -- Trump Jr.; son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had just taken over the campaign's digital operation, which was to be instrumental in helping the Russians pinpoint voters vulnerable to anti-Clinton fake news, and Paul Manafort, who would soon become campaign manager.  Their guests included two Russians, one with close ties to the Putin regime and both with Russian intelligence agency ties. 
What was discussed at the meeting is not publicly known, although Manafort took contemporaneous notes on his smart phone that he may have provided Mueller's team or were seized in a July 2017 raid on his suburban Washington home. 
But on June 20, Steele quoted a source as saying that 
"The Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton."  
Then on July 19, Steele wrote that a source he identified as an ethnic Russian close to the campaign
[A]dmitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them and the Russian leadership. 
Manafort was the key link in such contacts, Steele was told by the source. 
After the meeting was first reported in July 2017, Trump Jr. claimed in a statement that turned out to have been dictated by his father that it had been about the adoption of Russian children by Americans. 
One aspect of the Steele dossier adding to its credibility that has received little attention concerns a tentacle of Kremlin campaign designed to energize disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters against Clinton.   That effort was subsequently confirmed by several news organizations who have reported the effort commenced in June 2016 after the primary season when Russian-Macedonian hackers posing as Americans targeted Sanders supporters with fake news stories stating that, among other things, she had murdered former Bill Clinton aide Vince Foster. 
Manafort told then-Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus that the dossier was "garbage" in a phone call in January, and asserted it was motivated by Democratic activists and donors working with Ukrainian government officials who supported Clinton.  That view has become an article of faith among Trump supporters.   
A widely accepted alternative view among the sycophancy is that the alleged collusion is a "fictional narrative" to explain away Clinton's loss and the dossier was used by the Obama administration as a pretext to spy on Trump's campaign when the FBI applied for secret court applications for wiretap warrants.   
Inconveniently for the sycophancy, that view is unsupportable.  What is supportable is that Christopher Steele's dossier not only won't go away, it is assuming ever greater importance.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.