Since 1977, George Howland Jr. has lived in Seattle and written reportage, opinion pieces, memoirs, fiction and book and music reviews. He has worked at Real Change, Seattle Weekly and The Stranger. Email: georgehowlandjr(at)gmail(dot)com
If President Donald J. Trump is convicted by the U.S. Senate or if he loses the 2020 election, many liberals and lefties worry he won’t leave office voluntarily. I am not overly concerned. In order to carry out a coup, Trump will need the active cooperation of the military. And the leadership of the armed services regard the president as a harmful buffoon.
Over the weekend, Trump fired Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer. The termination resulted from the parties disagreeing over Trump’s pardon of Navy SEAL and Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who had been convicted of a war crime violating military law. First, Trump pardoned Gallagher, 1st Lieutenant Clint Lorance, a soldier convicted of war crimes and Major Mathew Golsteyn, who was awaiting trial for a war crime. The military brass made no secret of its unhappiness.
CBS News reported former Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey tweeting, “Absent evidence of innocence or injustice the wholesale pardon of US servicemembers accused of war crimes signals our troops and allies that we don’t take the Law of Armed Conflict seriously. Bad message. Bad precedent. Abdication of moral responsibility. Risk to us. #Leadership.”
Link light rail stations and garages would use new surveillance equipment
By George Howland Jr.
In the first quarter of the next year, Sound Transit security staff will ask the Sound Transit Board of Directors to take the first step in installing artificial intelligence (AI) cameras throughout its Link light rail system of stations and garages. The Sound Transit Board of Directors will be asked to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) from private vendors for the initial $979,200 purchase of the AI technology. There are no public meetings or public outreach planned in connection with this decision, according to John Gallagher, Sound Transit spokesperson. Branden Porter, Sound Transit’s System Security Manager, states the objective of the AI cameras is to save over $1 million per year in security costs. Sound Transit’s Gallagher stresses, “We’re not using these [cameras] in any way for facial recognition.”
Critics are not mollified by the promise. Shankar Narayan, Technology and Liberty Project Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU-WA), says, the use of AI cameras would force “people to choose between privacy and transit.” This controversy comes on the heels of Sound Transit, last month, releasing data that shows its fare enforcement results in disproportionate citations for African Americans (first reported by Erica C. Barnett and then The Seattle Times).
Voters in a tri-county region (roughly approximating King, Snohomish and Pierce counties) have approved an ambitious expansion plan of Sound Transit’s light-rail, express-bus and heavy-rail transit services. Sound Transit’s current light rail is 22 miles long and runs from the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium to Angle Lake, just south of Sea-Tac Airport. By 2041, Sound Transit plans to expand light raid north to Everett, south to the Tacoma Dome and east to Issaquah. There are also two planned expansions in the city of Seattle itself: one to West Seattle and the other to Ballard. Recently, statewide voter approval of Initiative 976 put Sound Transit’s funding into doubt. Currently, I-976 is facing a court challenge.
J. B. Bosworth’s excellent “Mussolini’s Italy” illustrates the vast differences between the two right-wing populists
Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship 1915-1945, R. J. B. Bosworth, Penguin Press, 736 pages, 2006, $25.00 paperback
By George Howland Jr.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump should not be compared to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Commentators ranging from The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey have compared the president to the Duce, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1945. While Trump is a very dangerous chief executive, Mussolini was a fascist who cleverly combined violence against the Italian population itself with deft manipulation of the existing political elites. Whatever his desires, Trump has not practiced the former and seems incapable of the latter.
A good jumping off point for examining the Duce in detail is Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship, 1915-1945, by R. J. B. Bosworth, the renowned Australian scholar.
Fascism: from decentralization to dictatorship
After World War I, when the fascist movement began, its organization was highly decentralized. There was no single leader and no nationwide or regional coordination of activity. Instead, local strongmen attacked their enemies as they saw fit. Communists and socialists were the common enemies of these little Duces. The fascists used squads of thugs and former soldiers to beat, maim and kill their enemies. The squads also destroyed the leftists’ infrastructure: burning their offices and smashing their printing presses. During the rise of fascism, 3000 Italians were killed (425 were fascists).
While Trump has used the government to commit acts of horrible cruelty against immigrants and refugees—separation of families and detention in inhumane facilities—populist violence has not been in his toolbox. Gangs of Republicans are not physically attacking Democrats and setting fire to their offices. I do not see any signs of such “squadrism” emerging in our current political environment.
District elections have brought change, but it’s unclear what kind
By George Howland Jr.
On Nov. 5, there were seven Seattle City Council district seats up for election. Election night returns indicate that the labor/lefty coalition won four seats and the Chamber of Commerce slate won two seats. In District 5 (North Seattle), incumbent councilmember Deborah Juarez was endorsed by both the Chamber and the labor/lefty coalition.
If these results hold, it will be a major repudiation of the business community’s $4 million (with Amazon contributing $1.4 million) effort to make the city council more conservative.
Yet given the political positions taken by the apparent winners, it is unclear what the new city council’s direction will be on key issues such as homelessness, displacement, growth and tax and wealth inequality.
Let’s look at the districts one by one.
District No. 1 (West Seattle, South Park)
Incumbent Lisa Herbold held a small lead on election night 51-48 percent over a weak challenger Phil Tavel. In the August primary, C is for Crank’s Erica C. Barnett reports that Herbold increased her lead by 4.2 percent from election night to final results. Herbold looks safe.
Herbold is a neighborhood progressive, very much in the mold of former Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, her mentor. Earlier this year, Herbold introduced the most important anti-displacement legislation in decades: a one-for-one replacement requirement that any low-income housing that is destroyed by redevelopment must be replaced by the builder. The future of the proposal is, however, gloomy because of legal issues and a lack of support from other councilmembers.
Barbara Pym’s funniest novel follows relations between two unlikely couples
By George Howland Jr.
In 1940, the English-novelist Barbara Pym intended to publish Crampton Hodnet, a comedy of manners set in North Oxford, England. Unfortunately, World War Two intervened and the novel had to wait to find its public. First, after the war, Pym experienced literary success with the publication of six novels between 1950-61, none of them “Crampton Hodnet.” For the next 16 years, no one would publish her new novels and she became a forgotten literary figure. Finally, in 1977, The Times Literary Supplement, an august London weekly, asked notables to name “the most underrated writer of the [20th] century”; Poet Philip Larkin and biographer Lord David Cecil both chose Pym. Pym’s work experienced a wonderful renaissance and she published four more novels. In 1981, she died. Four years later, after Hazel Holt, Pym’s literary executor, prepared the manuscript for publication, Crampton Hodnet was finally able to enter our lives.
Of Pym’s thirteen published novels, Crampton Hodnet is the funniest. It has the hallmark of Pym’s work: the close observation of ordinary lives of middle-class Englishmen and women. Some of her characters are confined by the cruelty of genteel poverty while others are swollen with arrogance by failing to appreciate their own good fortune. Crampton Hodnet, however, contains none of the heartbreak of The Sweet Dove Died or any of the pathos of Quartet in Autumn.
On Marc Maron’s WTF, Maddow says she prays every day
On Monday, October 14, while appearing on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said that she is a practicing Roman Catholic. “I pray every day,” she said. “I doubt the Catholic Church is happy with me but too bad, they’re stuck with me.” [The discussion of religion begins at the one-hour, six-minute mark.]
The Rachel Maddow Show, which debuted in September 2008, is one of the top-rated cable-programs in the United States, attracting millions of viewers five nights a week on MSNBC. Maddow, 46, is an unabashed liberal who features in-depth news analysis on her program. She is a lesbian who, is partnered with Susan Mikula, an artist and photographer.
Maddow was raised in the Catholic Church. Despite the Church’s homophobia, she told Maron, she never experienced a crisis of faith or abandoned her religion. As a young woman, Catholicism was relegated to the background while she focused on her self-development.
The president’s totalitarianism has been constrained by U.S. institutions
By George Howland Jr.
There’s been some loose talk lately comparing President Donald J. Trump to Adolf Hitler.
First, Christine Todd Whitman, who previously served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Republican governor of New Jersey, tweeted that Hitler “has nothing” on Trump. “Hitler took a long time to get where he was and he had to do a lot of other things. Trump is going much faster,” Whitman told New York NBC affiliate Channel 4, on Oct. 16.
Yesterday, Oct. 20, on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” Beto O’Rourke, a former Democratic U.S. Representative and a presidential candidate, talked about Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. O’Rourke said, “Outside of Nazi Germany, it is hard for me to find another modern democracy that had the audacity to say something like this and then this idea from Goebbels and Hitler that the bigger the lie and the more often you repeat it, the more likely people are to believe it. That is Donald Trump to a T.”
If we are going to be able to defeat Trump, we need to be clear about what is going on in our country. Much to my surprise, Trump’s efforts to subvert democracy and civil society have been defeated on many fronts. By contrast, Hitler quickly dismantled Germany’s constitution and destroyed the nation’s democratic institutions.
In the election for Seattle City Council District Two, the favorite prioritizes stopping displacement
By George Howland Jr.
Tammy Morales is Mexican American by birth, Jewish by choice and an organizer by vocation.
The Seattle City Council candidate for District Two (Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, Chinatown International District) grew up poor in San Antonio, Texas. For the last 20 years, Morales, 50, has organized for economic justice in Seattle’s south end. Now she hopes to bring her perspective to city hall.
She won August’s seven-candidate primary with a whopping 50 percent of the vote—the kind of numbers that are usually reserved for incumbents. In Nov. 5th’s general election, she is facing off against Mark Solomon, 59, a crime-prevention coordinator for the Seattle Police Department. Solomon only won 25 percent of the primary vote, despite conservative and corporate groups spending over $100,000 to support him.
It’s very likely Morales will be celebrating on election night. If so, Morales would become the third Latinx woman on the nine-member city council in a city with a Latinx population of only 6.6 percent. Morales would be serving with sitting city council members Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda.
Morales says, “I do identify as Mexican American, not as Latinx.” She explains that it is probably her age that makes her prefer the former term. “It is part of who I am,” she says. Both of her parents are Mexican American, but she grew up living with her mother in a single-parent household. “I did not grow up speaking Spanish. I grew up hearing it. It was what the old folks spoke when they didn’t want us kids to understand.” She remembers sitting under her grandmother’s dining-room table, listening to the adults talking Spanish and trying to make out some juicy tidbits of gossip.
One summer night in Wallingford, near Dick’s drive-in
By George Howland Jr.
My boyfriend, Tommy, and I walked with arms around one another to the bus stop. It was the summer of 1979 and he was working graveyard at a print shop. We both had long hair and beards. My hair was blonde, and my beard was black; all his hair was brown. Both of us were way skinny. He wore jeans, a t-shirt and boots. I had on draw-string pants, a t-shirt and Birkenstock sandals with no back strap.
We were on North 45th Street, a main drag through Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, at the time a neighborhood of overwhelmingly white middle-class and working-class people.
I was living right up the street at Camp Blossom for Boys, an intentional community for gay, bi-sexual and straight men. I had spent 18 months putting Camp Blossom together as part of my effort to “fight the patriarchy” by changing men. Seven of us had rented a suburban looking house next to a gas station on First Avenue Northeast. Four gay men, two straight guys and me—the lone bisexual. Three of us were anarchists, one was an activist skeptic and the other three were gay guys who were curious about living with other men.
At the time, you didn’t see many gay couples in Wallingford. We didn’t care. We were proudly, militantly out.
I wore dangling earrings and androgynous clothing. The more stares I drew, the better. I wanted to confront people’s homophobia. I told everyone—my school district employer, my alternative public high school students, people that I met—that I was bisexual. The confrontations took their toll—my stomach was often convulsed with cramps.
Smith shows her familiar punk contempt and lays bare her sweetness at her Seattle performance
For the first time in my experience, Patti Smith was sweet to an audience member at Sunday’s October 6th’s performance in Seattle.
Usually Smith delights in grousing at her fans. In Q&A sessions, Smith cuts off questioners, calls them out for asking about stupid things or mocks them for their interest in her personal life. She delights in insulting her admirers and making them the butt of her jokes. Since it’s in keeping with Smith’s punk persona, the audience loves it.
Last night, standing center stage at a packed Benaroya Hall, with her long white hair, black jacket, pants and boots and a white shirt, Smith alternated readings Year of the Monkey, her new book, and performing acoustic versions of songs from throughout her career. When Smith reads, the lenses of her reading glasses magnify her eyes so much that she looks like Emma Thompson playing Sybill Trelawney in a Harry Potter movie. Tony Shanahan, her band’s bassist and keyboard player, accompanied Smith on acoustic guitar and piano. Smith also played acoustic guitar on two songs.
Year of the Monkey, Smith said, swirls around the illnesses of two dear friends: Blue Oyster Cult’s Sandy Pearlman and playwright Sam Shepard.
She remembered Pearlman’s odd gifts. “Once he sent me the whole [Richard Wagner’s] Ring cycle on vinyl. It was like 11 pounds. I never really liked the Ring. I still have it. It’s under my bed. I like The Hobbit better.”
About halfway through the show, she said wryly, “Now we’re going to have a mandatory question-and-answer session.”