Earth, Old Diary

The20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions

Another terrific and informative piece from The Guardian.  Why we can’t get reporting like this in the U.S. amuses me — but then our media here are owned by the richest of the rich and they aren’t interested in giving us hard news, they just want to keep us mindlessly doing our own business.

Please note that on Oct 23, President dRump claimed that the U.S. Military he was moving out of Kurdish territory would be going to Saudi Arabia to protect their oil infrastructure.  Aramco, the Saudi state owned oil company is at the top of the list of polluters.  Curious.

oil rigs.jpgThe Guardian today reveals the 20 fossil fuel companies whose relentless exploitation of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves can be directly linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era.

New data from world-renowned researchers reveals how this cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and details how they have continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.

The analysis, by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, the world’s leading authority on big oil’s role in the escalating climate emergency, evaluates what the global corporations have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions these fossil fuels are responsible for since 1965 – the point at which experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians.

The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965.

Those identified range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell – to state-owned companies including Saudi Aramco and Gazprom.

Chevron topped the list of the eight investor-owned corporations, followed closely by Exxon, BP and Shell. Together these four global businesses are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.

Twelve of the top 20 companies are state-owned and together their extractions are responsible for 20% of total emissions in the same period. The leading state-owned polluter is Saudi Aramco, which has produced 4.38% of the global total on its own.

Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, said the findings shone a light on the role of fossil fuel companies and called on politicians at the forthcoming climate talks in Chile in December to take urgent measures to rein in their activities.

The Top 20 Polluters.jpg

“The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price – in the form of a degraded planet – so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It is a great moral failing of our political system that we have allowed this to happen.”

The global polluters list uses company-reported annual production of oil, natural gas, and coal and then calculates how much of the carbon and methane in the produced fuels is emitted to the atmosphere throughout the supply chain, from extraction to end use.

It found that 90% of the emissions attributed to the top 20 climate culprits was from use of their products, such as petrol, jet fuel, natural gas, and thermal coal. One-tenth came from extracting, refining, and delivering the finished fuels.

The Guardian approached the 20 companies named in the polluters list. Eight of them have replied. Some argued that they were not directly responsible for how the oil, gas or coal they extracted were used by consumers. Several disputed claims that the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known as far back as the late 1950s or that the industry collectively had worked to delay action.

Most explicitly said they accepted the climate science and some claimed to support the targets set out in the Paris agreement to reduce emissions and keep global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

All pointed out efforts they were making to invest in renewable or low carbon energy sources and said fossil fuel companies had an important role to play in addressing the climate crisis. PetroChina said it was a separate company from its predecessor, China National Petroleum, so had no influence over, or responsibility for, its historical emissions. The companies’ replies can be read in full here.

35% of all CO and Methane

The latest study builds on previous work by Heede and his team that has looked at the historical role of fossil fuel companies in the escalating climate crisis.

The impact of emissions from coal, oil and gas produced by fossil fuel companies has been huge. According to research published in 2017 by Peter Frumhoff at the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US and colleagues, CO2 and methane emissions from the 90 biggest industrial carbon producers were responsible for almost half the rise in global temperature and close to a third of the sea level rise between 1880 and 2010. The scientists said such work furthered the “consideration of [companies’] historical responsibilities for climate change”.

Heede said: “These companies and their products are substantially responsible for the climate emergency, have collectively delayed national and global action for decades, and can no longer hide behind the smokescreen that consumers are the responsible parties.

“Oil, gas, and coal executives derail progress and offer platitudes when their vast capital, technical expertise, and moral obligation should enable rather than thwart the shift to a low-carbon future.”

Heede said 1965 was chosen as the start point for this new data because recent research had revealed that by that stage the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by industry leaders and politicians, particularly in the US.

In November 1965, the president, Lyndon Johnson, released a report authored by the Environmental Pollution Panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee, which set out the likely impact of continued fossil fuel production on global heating.

In the same year, the president of the American Petroleum Institute told its annual gathering: “One of the most important predictions of the [president’s report] is that carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas at such a rate by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate beyond local or even national efforts.”

Aramco is at the head of the list.jpg

Heede added: “Leading companies and industry associations were aware of, or wilfully ignored, the threat of climate change from continued use of their products since the late 1950s.”

The research aims to hold to account those companies most responsible for carbon emissions, and shift public and political debate away from a focus just on individual responsibility. It follows a warning from the UN in 2018 that the world has just 12 years to avoid the worst consequences of runaway global heating and restrict temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The study shows that many of the worst offenders are investor-owned companies that are household names around the world and spend billions of pounds on lobbying governments and portraying themselves as environmentally responsible.

A study earlier this year found that the largest five stock-market-listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m each year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.

Heede said the companies had a “significant moral, financial, and legal responsibility for the climate crisis, and a commensurate burden to help address the problem”.

He added: “Even though global consumers from individuals to corporations are the ultimate emitters of carbon dioxide, the Climate Accountability Institute focuses its work on the fossil fuel companies that, in our view, have their collective hand on the throttle and the tiller determining the rate of carbon emissions and the shift to non-carbon fuels.”


New data shows how fossil fuel companies have driven climate crisis despite industry knowing dangers
— Read on

Old Diary

Upset About Language

Every once in a while you hear stories about people standing in line in stores who get upset that someone near them is not speaking English.  It’s an irritation that confounds me when you consider that aside from the relatively few indigenous people in our stores, the bulk of us are all immigrants many of whose ancestors spoke zero English — so what they have to be upset about eludes me.  Still, they seem to be genuinely upset about the speed with which new immigrants learn English.


City hall and the Milwaukee River from State and the river.

One of the lessons I learned in school — meaning grade school — came along in our local history class.  Even as a young kid I was surprised to hear that in 1900, three quarters of the business conducted in Milwaukee was conducted in German.


Gimbels Department Store. 

Yup.  You heard me right.  75% of the business conducted in the City of Milwaukee, in the year 1900, was done in GERMAN.

What sort of way is that for immigrants to behave?  How dare they not learn English and converse in the local language?  Why, those people are just lazy.  Or maybe they don’t really want to be here anyway and they just want to take over our country and make it like the place they left behind?  Why don’t they just go home?

Times change.  The language isn’t German today.  The skin color of the people speaking it is not white. And people who think they are superior will always find someone to look down their noses at.


Old Diary

The City Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez Would Have Loved to Live In: Milwaukee

When “sewer socialism” ruled during the first half of the 20th century, Milwaukee flourished.

By Dan Kaufman (NY Times)

Mr. Kaufman is a writer and musician who grew up in Wisconsin.

CreditVCG Wilson/Corbis, via Getty Images

Since the presidential campaign began, the prospect that socialism would seize the Democratic Party has animated Republicans and created anxiety for many Democrats. Last Tuesday, hours before the Democratic debate, President Trump’s campaign flew a 105-foot-long banner reading “Socialism Destroys Ohio Jobs: Vote Trump” over the debate site in Westerville, Ohio.

At the same time, some progressives, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, have rejected any association with the socialist label. Warren has called herself a “capitalist to my bones” and stood up to applaud Mr. Trump’s declaration that “America will never be a socialist country” during this year’s State of the Union address. (Senator Bernie Sanders, the only major presidential candidate who identifies as a democratic socialist, remained seated.)

Mr. Sanders, who just received the endorsement of the country’s second-most prominent democratic socialist, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, has fended off Republican attacks by tying his economic ideology to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Mr. Sanders should also consider another remarkable American legacy: the one provided by the socialists who once ruled Milwaukee, the city that will host the 2020 Democratic National Convention and the only large American city that has ever been governed for a significant period of time by socialists.

Mocked by ideological purists for practicing “sewer socialism,” Milwaukee’s pragmatic socialists focused on winning concrete gains for their working-class constituents. From 1910 to 1960, they held the mayor’s office for nearly 40 years, elected numerous state legislators and aldermen, and won a congressional seat. Sewer socialists — who carried out measures to improve public health and investments in public infrastructure like schools, libraries, parks and, yes, sewers — were known for their integrity, their tactical ingenuity and their relentless organizing. Even today, when third-party politics are more untenable and labor unions are in decline, the sewer socialists’ blend of unwavering idealism and dogged gradualism offers valuable lessons for building and sustaining a progressive working-class movement.

The roots of sewer socialism go back to the mid-19th century, when a wave of German immigrants settled in Milwaukee. Some were refugees from the failed revolution of 1848 and had been members of the Turnverein, or Turners, a physical fitness movement that also encouraged intellectual development and liberal — sometimes radical — politics. German immigration and the Turner movement grew in the 1870s and 1880s, as Milwaukee transformed into “the machine shop of the world” and a central battleground for the American labor movement.

In 1886, workers across the city went on strike to try and win an eight-hour workday. That campaign ended in violent defeat when Wisconsin National Guardsmen fired into a crowd of strikers, killing seven people, including a 13-year-old boy. But workers in Milwaukee soon coalesced around the short-lived People’s Party, which advocated reforms like restrictions on child labor. Later that year, the People’s Party won many State Assembly seats, county offices and a seat in the United States House. Democrats and Republicans colluded to defeat the party in the next election, but its rise inspired an immigrant Milwaukee schoolteacher named Victor Berger to try and fashion a reformist, European-style socialist party for the United States.

CreditGetty Images

In 1895, Berger visited Eugene V. Debs, the president of the American Railway Union, in prison in Illinois. Berger brought Debs, who had been jailed for leading a national railway workers’ strike, a copy of Marx’s “Capital,” a gift that Debs later acknowledged had converted him to socialism. Not long after, Berger and Debs helped found the Social Democratic Party of America, whose name was soon changed to the Socialist Party. (In Milwaukee, the party retained its original name, a reflection, perhaps, of the myriad definitions of “socialism” and of the fact that, as the Milwaukee historian John Gurda told me, Berger’s place “was on the right side of a left-wing movement”; Berger had called it “nonsense to talk of sudden bloody revolutions here.”)

A brilliant tactician, Berger built a cohesive party by employing precinct organizers, requiring membership dues, staging youth concerts, publishing newspapers and unleashing the “bundle brigade,” a volunteer army that could deliver the party’s literature, in any of 12 languages, to every house in Milwaukee within 48 hours. Berger’s strategy, which he called the Milwaukee Idea, was to create a party that was an extension of the labor movement.

In 1898, the first election in which Milwaukee’s socialists ran their own candidates, the party’s mayoral candidate won 5 percent of the vote. But the public’s rising disgust with corruption in the Democratic administration of Mayor David Rose led to steady and significant gains for the socialists, and in 1910 they won 21 of 35 City Council seats, 14 state legislative seats and the mayor’s office. That year, Victor Berger also became the first socialist elected to Congress.

There was no need to go on a “listening tour” to find out what the working class wanted, since so many of the party’s newly elected officials were workers themselves, including the new mayor of Milwaukee, a woodcarver named Emil Seidel. The eldest of 11 children, Seidel had been forced to go to work after grammar school. He and his fellow socialists in city government — including his personal secretary, the poet Carl Sandburg — instituted dozens of measures to improve their constituents’ lives.

They installed hundreds of drinking fountains, prosecuted restaurateurs for serving tainted food and compelled factory owners to put in heating systems and toilets. Most significantly, Seidel appointed an aggressive new health commissioner, whose department oversaw a reduction of more than 40 percent in the number of cases of the six leading contagious diseases, among them scarlet fever, whooping cough and smallpox, within two years.

The most widely admired trait of the sewer socialists was their integrity. “They never were approached by the lobbyists, because the lobbyists knew it was not possible to influence these men,” William Evjue, a Republican assemblyman, said of his socialist colleagues. Chicago, 80 miles to the south, was awash in corruption for decades, while Seidel’s administration had largely cleaned up Milwaukee’s municipal government in its brief run. But Democrats and Republicans joined forces to run a single candidate against Seidel, and he and most of the city’s elected socialists were defeated in 1912. (Later that year, when Debs ran for president, Seidel was his running mate, helping the Socialist Party win 6 percent of the vote, its highest percentage ever.)

One Milwaukee socialist who survived, however, was Daniel Hoan, the city attorney, who was not up for re-election that year. In 1916, Hoan avenged the socialists’ losses by winning the mayor’s office, which he held until 1940. Hoan oversaw further public investment, including the construction of the nation’s first public housing project, Garden Homes.

During Hoan’s tenure, an urban planner named Charles Whitnall designed sewer socialism’s most enduring achievement: the Milwaukee County park system, one of the most extensive and acclaimed in the country. The city added miles of new parkland along Lake Michigan’s waterfront, which had been dominated by private mansions.

Hoan adhered to sewer socialism’s tradition of spending taxpayer money frugally. “The objective is to give the best government possible,” Hoan once said. “But not necessarily at a low tax rate — at the lowest cost that can be paid.” During the Depression, he created a voluntary program in which city employees, including Hoan, took a 10 percent pay cut to fund public works projects that put nearly 15,000 unemployed people to work.

Unlike Berger, who held deplorable views on race and immigration, Hoan forcefully rejected racism. In 1924, with the Ku Klux Klan in Milwaukee boasting more than 4,000 members, Hoan declared that he would make the city “the hottest place this side of hell” if a K.K.K. member attacked one of his constituents, “whether he be black or white, red or yellow, Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant.”

In 1948, after eight years of Democratic rule, Frank Zeidler, a former county supervisor, became the last socialist to win the mayor’s office. Two years later, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin started the Red Scare, but remarkably Zeidler proceeded to win re-election twice during the height of McCarthyism.

Despite hostility from both parties and the press, Zeidler proved to be a highly effective mayor. The business magazine Fortune ran a series on the best-run American cities and ranked Milwaukee second. His appeal lay in his equanimity, and in his empathy, which was forged when Zeidler was a child. “He learned about poverty then,” his daughter, Anita, told me. “He had a job taking leftover newspapers to widowed, single females, who would use them to cover their dirt floors. Sometimes he took food packages, too.” That memory, Ms. Zeidler said, stayed with him throughout his life.

Zeidler’s commitment to his ideals ultimately cost him his political career. In 1955, he was photographed inaugurating an addition to Hillside Terrace, a public housing unit built a few years earlier. He pointedly handed the first sets of keys to two families: one white and one black. That moment contributed to a racist backlash against Zeidler that included violent threats against his family during the 1956 campaign and rumors that Zeidler was using city funds to pay for billboards in the South urging African-Americans to settle in Milwaukee.

“We had a policeman guarding the front and back of the house,” recalled Ms. Zeidler, who died last year. “We went to the F.B.I., but they wouldn’t do anything about it.” Those threats deterred Zeidler from seeking another term in 1960, but he continued battling the real estate industry’s use of blockbusting tactics, which fomented white flight, and never wavered in his commitment to sewer socialism’s egalitarian ideals. “He welcomed any citizen to the city,” Ms. Zeidler said. “He believed every person has equal rights and equal responsibilities.”

Though Zeidler’s decision effectively ended sewer socialism in Milwaukee, Democrats — as they descend on the city next summer to nominate their candidate — should look to sewer socialism’s commitment to economic equality, universalism, organizing, honesty and public investment, regardless of who the nominee is. They might also look, without fear, to the movement’s spirit of idealistic pragmatism, which was captured best by Emil Seidel in his unpublished memoirs.

“Some Eastern smarties called ours a sewer socialism,” Seidel wrote:

Yes, we wanted sewers in the workers’ homes; but we wanted much, oh, so very much more than sewers. We wanted our workers to have pure air; we wanted them to have sunshine; we wanted planned homes; we wanted living wages; we wanted recreation for young and old; we wanted vocational education; we wanted a chance for every human being to be strong and live a life of happiness. And, we wanted everything that was necessary to give them that: playgrounds, parks, lakes, beaches, clean creeks and rivers, swimming and wading pools, social centers, reading rooms, clean fun, music, dance, song and joy for all. That was our Milwaukee Social Democratic movement.

— Read on


Old Diary

Point Comfort: where slavery began


Point Comfort: where slavery in America began 400 years ago

In 1619, a ship with 20 captives landed at Virginia, ushering in the era of slavery in what would become the United States

point comfort
Young girls walk past a sign denoting the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America at Point Comfort in 1619. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/The Guardian

The blue waters of the Chesapeake lap against the shore. Sunbathers lounge in deckchairs as black children and white children run and play on the beach. And close by stands a magnificent oak tree, its trunk stretching three great arms and canopies of leaves high into the tranquil sky.

Over half a millennium, the Algernoune Oak has witnessed war and peace and the fall of empires, but never a day like the one in late August 1619. It was here that the White Lion, a 160-ton English privateer ship, landed at what was then known as Point Comfort. On board were more than 20 captives seized from the Kingdom of Ndongo in Angola and transported across the Atlantic. This dislocated, unwilling, violated group were the first enslaved Africans to set foot in English North America – ushering in the era of slavery in what would become the United States.

This site, now Fort Monroe in Hampton, southern Virginia, will host a weekend of 400th anniversary commemorations on 23-25 August, culminating in a symbolic release of butterflies and nationwide ringing of bells. Americans of all races will reflect on a historical pivot point that illuminates pain and suffering but also resilience and reinvention. Some see an opportunity for a national reckoning and debate on reparations.

For a people robbed of an origins story, it is also an invitation to go in search of roots – the African in African American.

main gate
Terry Brown stands at the gate at Fort Monroe where the first move towards emancipation occurred when enslaved men Frank Baker, James Townsend and Shepard Mallory sought sanctuary during the civil war. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/The Guardian

“Once I learned that I was from there it changed something in me,” said Terry E Brown, 50, who has traced his ancestry to Cameroon and enslaved people in Virginia and North Carolina. “I have a fire in me to just learn about why and who I am. There’s something deep down and spiritual about it and I want to connect to it. I’m American, and I believe in this structure that we have, but I’m emotionally and spiritually tied to Africa now that I know where I came from.”

By the early 17th century the transatlantic slave trade – the biggest forced migration of people in world history – was already well under way in the Caribbean and Latin America. In 1619 it came to the English colony of Virginia. The San Juan Bautista, a Spanish ship transporting enslaved Africans, was bound for Mexico when it was attacked by the White Lion and another privateer, the Treasurer, and forced to surrender its African prisoners.

The White Lion continued on to land at Point Comfort. John Rolfe, a colonist, reported that its cargo was “not anything but 20 and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Merchant bought for victualls”. They were given names by Portuguese missionaries: Antony, Isabela, William, Angela, Anthony, Frances, Margaret, Anthony, John, Edward, Anthony and others, according to research by the Hampton History Museum.

The captain of the White Lion, John Jope, traded the captives to Virginians in return for food and supplies. They were taken into servitude in nearby homes and plantations, their skills as farmers and artisans critical in the daily struggle to survive. Slavery in America was born.

the witness tree
Terry Brown, the first African American superintendent at Fort Monroe national monument, stands by a 500-year-old tree which he calls the Witness Tree. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/The Guardian

Yet it all requires a leap of imagination in the serenity of today’s 565-acre Fort Monroe national monument, run by the National Park Service, or in the low-key city of Hampton, home to Nasa’s Langley Research Center.

Brown, the first black superintendent at Fort Monroe, said: “The early colonists are trying to survive and they’re not doing it. They’re resorting to cannibalism because they just can’t figure this thing out. When the Africans show up, the game changes a little bit because they knew how to cultivate rice, sugar and cotton, all those things were perfect for this environment and for what they were trying to do.”

It would be another century until the formation of the United States. By 1725, some 42,200 enslaved Africans had been transported to the Chesapeake; by 1775, the total was 127,200. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the declaration of independence, which contains the words “all men are created equal”, was a Virginia slave owner and, by 1860, the US was home to about 3.9 million enslaved African Americans.

The events of 1619 are at once both remote and immediate in a state where white nationalists caused deadly violence in Charlottesville two years ago and in a nation where their enabler occupies the White House.

Brown reflected: “African Americans make up about 13% of the population and our young black men account for about 49% of America’s murders. People who look like me, about 41% of them are sitting in a jail cell. Now I can easily blame that on one thing but I can easily tie it to the very beginning of this country. It’s so easy to treat other people like they’re less than human if you don’t know them. So what I’m hoping this 400th will do is raise the awareness level.

“We’re not going to change people’s behaviour overnight but maybe if you sit back and think, ‘man, 400 years’, they were enslaved for 246 years so they lived under the most oppressive conditions imaginable but they managed to reinvent themselves …They created new music and new art forms and new families. It’s one of the greatest stories and it’s amazing that they survived it.”

cemetary statue

Last month, Donald Trump travelled to nearby Jamestown to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first representative legislative assembly. The US president made reference to the first enslaved Africans’ arrival in Virginia, “the beginning of a barbaric trade in human lives”,but there are currently no plans for him to attend the commemoration at Fort Monroe.

Gaylene Kanoyton, the president of the Hampton branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said: “He’s not welcome because of everything that we’re commemorating, the arrival of slavery. He’s for white supremacy, he’s for nationalism, he’s for everything that we are against.”

Built by enslaved labour, the fort has a multilayered history, full of contradiction and paradox, like America itself. It witnessed the beginning of slavery but also the end: early in the civil war, three enslaved men seeking freedom escaped to Fort Monroe and were deemed by the commander as “contraband of war”, spurring thousands to seek sanctuary behind Union lines and ultimately a shift in government policy towards emancipation.

There are other threads from past to present. Among the Africans who arrived on the White Lion were Anthony and Isabela who, in 1624 or 1625, had a son, William, who was baptised. In a census they are identified as “Antoney Negro: Isabell Negro: and William theire Child Baptised.” They were living on the property of Captain William Tucker, so are now known by this surname, and William is often described as the first African child born in English North America.

A local family in Hampton believe they are his direct descendants. Walter Jones, 63, whose mother is the oldest living Tucker, said: “We traced as far as we could and then we had word-of-mouth records. We heard this years and years ago and so a lot of us have been through family history and we just never realized how significant it was. From what we’re able to dig up, everything still points to that.”

Jones and his relatives maintain a two-acre cemetery in the historic African American neighborhood of Aberdeen Gardens in Hampton, where many of their ancestors are buried. A simple grey monument is inscribed with the words: “Tucker’s cemetery. First black family. 1619.” A short distance away, a headstone says, “African American female. Approx age 60. Discovered July 2017.” Dozens of white crosses dot patches of grass and soil representing unmarked graves.

We didn’t come here by choice
but we chose to excel and to
build a country which wasn’t
our own
— Walter Jones

Can Jones, a retired software engineer, forgive the enslavers? “The way we were raised and the way I was raised is that we forgive all for some of the things that were done because it wasn’t just them. It was going on everywhere so it was unfortunate and in some cases Africans were also involved in some of the slave trade.

“There’s more discord to not being recognised as being such a vital part of our history and our nation’s history here and what was contributed. We didn’t come here by choice but we chose to excel and to build a country which wasn’t our own. So sometimes I think not having that type of recognition makes you a little bitter. If it hasn’t come by now, when will it? And now that it’s 400 years coming up, how many people truly will even recognise that?”

The Tuckers are not alone. The anniversary coincides with a boom in online and TV genealogy. Donnie Tuck, the mayor of Hampton, a majority African American city, took a DNA test earlier this year and found lineage in Nigeria and other countries.

“Now we look at progress and, with so many documentaries and programs where you’re exploring what slaves went through and the civil war and the period afterwards, I think there’s a whole new emphasis and we have more resources available to us. There’a a real hunger among African Americans to try and know our roots and our experience, our journey here to America and even that whole journey for the last 400 years.”

Some have taken the curiosity further and travelled to Africa. Last month, the congressman James Clyburn was part of a congressional delegation to Ghana, led by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, that visited Cape Coast and Elmina castles to observe the 400th anniversary. It was his second trip to the “door of no return”. “All I remember the first time I went there was walking through that door and looking out at the ocean and the impact that was,” he said in a phone interview.

Clyburn believes that America has still not fully confronted the issue of slavery. “It’s an issue that’s been avoided in this country as much as possible. If it were an ongoing process I think that we would be much further down the road on that. We continue to treat this whole issue with what I like to call benign neglect. We tend to feel that if we ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen, then it didn’t happen or if we don’t need to do anything with it then we won’t.”

A sign of America’s enduring strength is its ability to be self-aware and self-critical. There has not been a truth and reconciliation commission like that in South Africa after racial apartheid. But in June a House of Representatives subcommittee heard debate over the legacy of slavery and the potential for reparations, a controversial concept now endorsed by many Democratic candidates for president.

Clyburn, who is the House majority whip, commented: “It is impossible to monetise this issue and I think it’s foolhardy to continue having that discussion. We do know that it was illegal to educate slaves and the states made it impossible to educate freed slaves. You make amends for that by providing the education that you never provided and you do same thing with all other entities that people have to navigate through housing, community development.”

The proposal for a commission to study remedies is supported by Katrina Browne, who testified at the congressional hearing that her ancestors, the DeWolfs, were the biggest slave traders in American history. She was “devastated” when she learned the family secret and does not excuse them on grounds that they were people of their time.

“There were always people who were against it so, if during the entire period of enslavement of Africans there were people who saw clearly that it was evil and wrong, that tells me that anyone could have seen that it was evil and wrong and they chose not to,” she said in a phone interview.

Browne, 51, whose Emmy-nominated film, Traces of the Trade, follows her family’s reckoning with this past, now advances race dialogue in the Episcopal church.

fort monroe

“African Americans have been incredibly wise and gracious. The anger is more about the present and the stubbornness of whites in resisting looking at the connection of the past to the present. It’s like they want us to do our homework so we can understand how the past has shaped the present.”

What would America be like
without people of African
descent? What would be the
same? Would even our
definition of freedom be the same?
–Dr Cassandra Newby-Alexander

While the anniversary will put much emphasis on slavery, it is also a moment to honor Africans in America and all their resistance, creativity and ingenuity. Part of the re-excavation of this past is to present a narrative not through the eyes of the English settlers but the eyes of the enslaved – to humanize the dehumanized – and put it at the centre of the American story.

Dr Cassandra Newby-Alexander, a history professor and the director of the Joseph Jenkins Roberts Center for African Diaspora Studies at Norfolk State University in nearby Norfolk, said:

“Back in 1970, Ralph Ellison wrote an article in Time magazine entitled ‘What would America have been without the Negro?’ When I think about 1619, it causes me to reflect on that question. What would America be like without people of African descent? What would be the same? Would even our definition of freedom be the same? Would our understanding of something as simple as music be the same? Would our language should be the same?”

Old Diary

Trump Has More Than 2,500 Conflicts of Interest and Counting: Live Tracker

President Donald Trump has racked up more than 2,500 conflicts of interest in less than half the number of days he has been in office, according to a new live tracker launched by a watchdog.

Trump has 2,551 conflicts in the 1,004 days he has been in the White House as of Monday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported in its tracker published on its website.

“One thing it’s saying is no conflict happens in a vacuum,” CREW research director Robert Maguire told Newsweek. “It’s part of a growing number, thousands of conflicts between the Trump administration and Trump businesses.”

Trump’s conflicts were sorted into five broad categories by CREW. Here is the tally of conflicts by type:

1,493: visits to Trump properties by government officials including the president

533: miscellaneous interactions between government officials and the Trump Organization

286: instances in which the president or administration officials used their platform to promote Trump properties

176: events by political organizations or foreign governments held at Trump’s properties

63: trademark approvals to Trump businesses in foreign countries during while he is in office

CREW’s research team has been keeping track of Trump’s conflicts daily through public records requests, social media accounts and news reports in databases, for its annual and benchmark reports.

“We realized that they’re rising so quickly that we needed to make a resource for people to be able to see them day in and day out go up,” Maguire said.

The data is broken down further to show, for example, that Trump has paid 387 visits to all his properties, including 240 to his golf resorts and 6 to his places abroad.

Among executive branch officials, the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner had the most visits to Trump properties at 29, followed by Vice President Mike Pence at 27, the president’s daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump at 24, and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway at 22.

“It’s not merely the fact that President Trump refused to divest his businesses, it’s that this arrangement has been embraced by administration officials, by members of Congress, by members of foreign governments and Trump himself who continues to go to his properties either to golf or to stay there,” Maguire said.

trump at his golf course

Donald Trump attends opening of Red Tiger Golf Course at Trump National Doral Miami on January 12, 2015, in Doral, Florida. The watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) began a live tracker of President Trump’s conflicts of interest. (Johnny Louis/FilmMagic)

The watchdog’s research director added that Donald Trump’s visits to his properties “give his paid customers a perk that no other luxury location can provide, which is access to the president of the United States and the more than 200 administration officials who have made appearances at his properties.”

Maguire noted that though the president canceled having the G7 summit at Trump National Doral Miami two days after announcing that would be the case, it “absolutely” still counts as a conflict.

“Even when he walked it back, he turned it into, as he often does, a promotion for the property,” Maguire said. “So even in saying he would have it there, he talked about what a tremendous place Doral is. It’s sort of again signaling that this place is owned by the president of the United States and maybe you run into me.”

CREW’s report poses a question in relation to every action and policy decision by the administration: “Are President Trump’s actions driven by his duty to represent the best interests of the American people or by a self-serving pursuit of his own personal financial interests?”

Old Diary

Autumn in Wisconsin

On a sunny day in October about the best thing in the world to do is take a ride through the countryside.  After about three years of WET and WINDY autumns this has been the return of colorful autumn I’ve been waiting for.

This fall color season is going to be relatively short.  Not as short as when we have a lot of wind and rain to knock the leaves off the trees, but a lot of trees are past prime already and the colors are rapidly spreading southward.  Still, just a glimpse of this awesome coloration is enough to make your heart glad and put a smile on your face.

You can tell me all the scientific details about why Nature is so glorious but my simple mind is quite happy thanking God for creating such a fantastic world to live in.  There is a great lot that I don’t understand, my timeframe is quite limited, but at this time of year it’s hard for me to believe that anyone who can both see  the progression of colors and who can appreciate what they are seeing doesn’t believe in God — because the idea that we an conceive and appreciate the beauty (in my mind) is not something that ends up in your brain purely by the process of evolution.  That we are able to think beyond ourselves seems a pretty significant trait.

It’s common for us to revisit particularly lovely places from our past life, so that was what we did.  A couple day drives to places that have been special for us.  Not an “exciting” way to spend a day or two but certainly a rewarding one.

As we were driving around I realized one thing that’s changed.  In previous years I’d develop this urge to see the colors but what I was really thinking in my head was how nice it would be to have my cameras along to capture the views.  This year, I realize, that I have stopped thinking about capturing things.  It’s hard to remember a time when cameras weren’t a big part of my life, from a little child on, but something in my has changed and it’s worthy a note, but not a regret.  Life changes us.  That is to be expected.


Old Diary

We are All the Story

I enjoy writing. In the end we'll all become storiesFor me, it’s not something I do because I want to do it, it’s more a matter of I can’t help myself.  Even when I’m just sitting in the living room, letting the world go by, I’m still writing in my head.

The thing is, we rarely think of ourselves as stories — yet, Margaret Atwood is right.  In the end, we all become stories.

I guess this came to mind because of my recent phone call — which I blogged about a few days ago.  Someone from the distant past, ringing me up about long past events.  At the time those events weren’t a “story” to be told.  They were life.  The next logical step after the preceding logical step.

But life isn’t always logic.  Sometimes it’s tragedy. Sometimes it’s heroic. Sometimes it’s grueling.  No matter the situation, our lives are a chain of events that begin at point A and end at point Z and take a variety of routes and detours along the way.

Where I am today is not all I have ever been.  Nor is it all I shall ever be.  I have power to change my life from this point forward.  If I’m writing a tragedy, I can change it to an adventure.  My love story can be sweeter as the days go by, or it can be a train wreck — it’s all up to me and the other parties in my life.  Life is not stagnant. Life is not set in stone.

One thing about social media I have noticed is that there seem to be a lot more people who are depressed about the state of their lives than there are people who are happy with where they are in their personal story.  I don’t get that.

Oh, I get that people may not be happy with their life.  I’ve been there too.  But what I don’t get is not doing something to change it.  It’s like writing a novel, or writing a blog. You sit down and start telling this story. Sometimes you get a few chapters in and realize that for some reason the “story” isn’t working, so you start all over again. It’s discouraging, I suppose.  But only if you dwell on it.  Working out the kinks in your written story is just part of the process, like working out the kinks in your life.  Just because we set out a plan for the story, or for our life, doesn’t mean that the Cosmos will smile upon our plan and let it come to fruition.  Time and circumstance happen alike to all people and The World may just have a different idea for where your life is going.  There might be a fire, or a flood.  A loved one may leave your life, or a loved one may appear unexpectedly.  Whatever it is that happens unexpectedly, it’s up to us to write our own story.  The story isn’t written until we write it. 

There will be snags, there will be challenges.  Failures will abound.  No one promised us an easy life.  But still, the story is yours to write.  You can make it heroic.  Or you can make it tragic.  You can even ignore your story completely.

But in the end…

We’ll all become stories.