Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 1: The history-based account of the "First Thanksgiving"

The "First Thanksgiving" story based on historical evidence

This show is on the week approaching Thanksgiving, so it seemed the right time to engage in what has become for me sort of a yearly tradition, where I say gather 'round, kiddies, I'm going to tell you the real story, the based-on-actual-historical-sources story, of the first thanksgiving.

By which, of course, I mean the event that occurred in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621 which is the basis of our now-traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

One of the reasons I do this almost every year is that it is truly amazing just how much misinformation, mythology, and general muddle-headedness there is out there on this topic. In fact, it seems that what can fairly be called revisionist history about the events have become almost as traditional as turkey and pumpkin pie.

I like to try to bring some hard historical reality to the discussion.

So to start our Thanksgiving tale, consider this:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And though it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
That comes from a letter dated December 11, 1621. It was written to an otherwise-unidentified "loving and old friend" in England by, it's believed, Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger and a leader in the early years of the colony. It was contained in a book published in England in 1622 under the rather ponderous title of A Relation or Journal of the beginning and proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in New England, by certain English Adventurers both Merchants and others.

The book is popularly known today by the less cumbersome name of Mourt's Relation and consists of eyewitness accounts of various events during the first year of the settlement.

Here's why that letter is important here: It is the only contemporaneous account of what we know as the "First Thanksgiving" which is known to exist.

The only other even near-contemporaneous account comes from William Bradford, long-time governor of the settlement, who wrote about it in his journal at least 10 to 12 years later. Even there he just sort of brushes by it, endorsing Winslow by referring to "not feigned but true reports."
They now began to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses against the winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took in good store, of which every family had its portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so large of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
That's it. That's all of it. That's what the entire "First Thanksgiving" story is built on. Everything else is speculation, interpretation, some questionable third- and fourth-hand accounts, and guesswork, some of it informed, all too much of it not.

Some things we can tell from the accounts: For one thing, based on other references in those same sources, we know that the event took place after September 18 and before November 9. Mostly likely, it was in late September or the beginning of October, as that would have been shortly after harvest.

In considering the event, the first thing to realize is that this was not a "thanksgiving." To someone of the period, a thanksgiving was a religious occasion, a day set aside for prayer to give thanks to God for some special and unexpected blessing.

The first public day of thanksgiving in the town actually came in the summer of 1623: A crop-threatening drought had lead to a day of "humiliation," a day of fasting and prayer to beg forgiveness for whatever they had done to cause God to bring this on them. Literally immediately after, the same day, there came a soaking rain which saved the crops and so a day of thanksgiving seemed appropriate.

So no, this was not a thanksgiving. Such days would occur occasionally as the cause arose; to plan for one in advance, much less to plan for one every year as we do now, would be regarded as a gross presumption on God's will and intentions.

What this was instead was a very traditional English harvest feast, a celebration of a good harvest to which it was customary to invite those who had been helpful to you over the course of the year  - which is very likely why the natives were there: They had indeed been helpful, so they were invited. True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest - note that Bradford describes it as "small" - but they had a harvest. That surely raised everyone's spirits: It indicated they were going to make it. Reason enough for a celebration, especially considering what they had been through to get to that point.

I want to make a quick aside to explain a rather subtle point more clearly: Europeans of the 17th century - especially the more religiously-conservative sorts, such as those that lead the Plimoth (as it was often spelled at the time) settlement - did not make the sort of clear distinctions between what is "religious" and what is "secular" that we do today. The sense of, a feeling of, an awareness of, the "hand of God" or the "will of God" was much more central to their lives than it is to the vast majority of us now.

What that means here is that the 1621 harvest feast would surely have included prayers of thanks to God and perhaps a sermon from their religious leader, Elder William Brewster, as significant features of the event, just as prayer would have been a frequent feature of their everyday lives, from meals to musket drills to mucking about in their fields, tending the crops.

However, they would not have regarded this as "a day of thanksgiving" as they understood the term: While the prayers would have been significant features of the event, they would not have been the central features; not the purpose, not the point, not the driver behind it. Celebration was, feasting was.

Put another way, had we been able to witness the 1621 feast, to our modern eyes there would very likely have been more than enough praying, giving thanks, and singing of psalms and hymns to make it look like a religious or at least religiously-inspired event, but to a person of the 17th century it would have looked about as (for lack of a better term) secular as such a thing got.

Anyway, back to our story. As for the eternal question of what they ate, we can confident they had fowl such as duck or goose (as the governor "sent four men on fowling" in preparation) and yes, quite possibly turkey ("of which they took many," Bradford said). They very likely also had fish, specifically cod and bass, which are mentioned in the sources, and quite possibly deer.

Another aside: I say "quite possibly" to raise the issue of using historical sources without running too far ahead of them, a sin of which too many of the revisionist accounts are guilty: Even though Winslow says the natives "went out and killed five deer," he also says "which they bestowed on our governor" - the being William Bradford - "and upon the captain" - that being Miles Standish - "and others." In other words, they were given to various leaders of the community, not to the community as a whole. More to the point, we can't tell if those deer were brought soon enough to be butchered, dressed, cooked, and presented as part of the feast or if they were brought afterward as a sort of thank you, a reciprocal gift in return for having been "feasted" for three days.

Bradford's mention of venison doesn't resolve things because in the period, "venison" meant "hunted meat," which obviously includes deer but isn't limited to it. So while they quite probably had deer, either from the natives or their own hunting or both, we can't say it definitively.

Edward Winslow
One more aside: The portrait of Edward Winslow posted here was done in 1651, 30 years later, after he had returned to England. It is the only verified picture of a Mayflower passenger known to exist.

As for the rest of them, we have no idea what they looked like beyond the traditional description of Myles Standish as short with red hair, a description given some backing by the fact that in a book called The New English Canaan, a nasty satire of the Plimoth settlement written in 1637 by Thomas Morton, Standish is identified by the name "Captain Shrimpe."

Getting back to the menu, lobster and other shellfish is another real possibility; elsewhere in the letter that I quoted Winslow mentions that they are abundant in the area - as are eels, of which, he claims, they could take "a hogshead in a night." If you think "eels, eew," know that an English person of the period would have responded "They're just another sort of fish." (A hogshead is a cask holding about 63 gallons of liquid. Yeah, Winslow was likely exaggerating; he was like that.)

Beyond that, we can reasonably argue for some others foods such as a sort of pie made from squash from their gardens, sweetened with dried fruit which they would have brought with them from England, salad from other stuff from their gardens, and a sort of coarse corn bread.

Water would have been the major and perhaps the only beverage: Their supply of barley would be limited (Winslow says the "English grains," which would mean such as wheat, rye, and oats as well as barley, "grew indifferent good") and there is no mention of hops. No hops, no beer; no much barley, not much ale. Even if they did have some barley, there may well would not have been enough time for brewing since harvest. And while they did bring beer with them on the voyage, it is highly unlikely that there was any significant amount of that left nearly a year later. So they might have had a little ale or even maybe a little wine brought from England and reserved for a special occasion, but again is was likely mostly, and possibly only, water.

So that is pretty much it, pretty much everything we know or can reasonably assume about the event itself. Not much to build a whole mythology on, is it?

Even so, it drove the pap we got fed as children, marked by images of picnic tables laden with turkey, mashed potatoes, and apple pies surrounded by natives dressed like they just came from the great plains and smiling "Pilgrims" dressed in the fashions of the 1690s.

And that same sparseness of detail - and one of the reasons I go through this almost every year - is probably a good part of the reason the event provides so much latitude to those who want to replace the childhood (and childish) image of noble settlers and savage natives with one of noble natives and savage settlers, who every year, regular as clockwork, treat us to the historical revisionism that has, again, become as traditional as turkey and cranberry sauce.

In place of the happy talk mythologies of peace, love, and harmony we were spoon-fed as children we find people snarling out dark tales of drunken, murderous, bloodthirsty settlers facing off with natives "crashing the party" at the feast and doing it in such numbers because Massasoit feared he'd be kidnapped or killed otherwise. It is a vision that, as much as the earlier one, is an attempt to overwrite history with ideology. It is, in other words, pure bunk.

In point of historical fact, relations between Plymouth and the neighboring natives were reasonably good for several decades. There were stresses and strains and disruptions, yes, but for the most part they managed to keep intact the peace agreement-mutual defense pact they made in the spring of 1621.

Things gradually got worse and I won't go into all the reasons why but the biggest two were population pressure and disputes over land that were rooted in vast cultural differences between the natives and the English.

For one specific, the native culture had no concept of land ownership. Not just they didn't own the land, or that everyone owned the land, or the Great Spirit owned the land; no, the idea of land as something you could possess just didn't exist. To own something, for the natives, meant you could pick it up and carry it away with you. How could you own something if you have to leave it behind anytime you go anywhere? Which makes real sense, especially for a semi-nomadic people who live in one area for part of the year and another area the rest of the year.

But for the settlers, for any European, land ownership, which by its nature includes the concept of exclusive use, was an everyday concept. That cultural chasm was a source of repeated conflict.

The peace finally, irrevocably, completely broke down - but that was in 1675, more than 50 years after the so-called "First Thanksgiving." The point here is that at that time, in the fall of 1621, native-settler relations were good.

In fact, the very next sentences of the Winslow letter I quoted above are these:
We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them.
Winslow also says that all the other native leaders in the vicinity have made peace with Plymouth on the same terms as Massasoit, as a result of which, he asserts, "there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly." He goes on to say that:
We for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just.
(Just to be certain you know, "trusty" means trustworthy, not trusting, and "quick of apprehension" does not mean quick to be apprehensive. It means quick to understand, quick to grasp the meaning of something. As for "religion," in his later book Good News from New England Winslow says "therein I erred" and goes on the describe the native religion, as least as he understands it.)

That does not sound either like bloodthirsty settlers eager to kill natives or like natives who feared contact with those same settlers or felt they had to display mass force to avoid being kidnapped or killed.

If you're still not convinced, consider that in June 1621, three or four months earlier, the town felt it necessary to send a message to Massasoit requesting that he restrain his people from coming to the settlement in such numbers. This is from Mourt's Relation, this is the message they sent to Massasoit.
But whereas his people came very often, and very many together unto us, bringing for the most part their wives and children with them, they were welcome; yet we being but strangers as yet at Patuxet, alias New Plymouth, and not knowing how our corn might prosper, we could no longer give them such entertainment as we had done, and as we desired still to do.
That's how "afraid" the natives were of the settlers, so "afraid" the town had to ask them not to come around so much.

Assigning the role of angel or demon to either side is trash: Neither of these peoples were either. Neither were saints, neither were devils.

So I reject the revisionist history, indeed I resent the revisionist history. I resent it first because it’s lousy history. It's based on ideology, not information; it looks to satisfy demands of politics, not of scholarship, and it is every bit as full of false tales and mythology as the nonsense and pap that we got fed as schoolchildren.

Plymouth in the fall of 1621 genuinely was a scene of peaceful and friendly relations, of good feeling, between English settlers and their nearest native neighbors. The "First Thanksgiving" was a moment of celebration when everyone on both sides, even if they were still wary each of the other, believed that yes, this was going to work out.

That wasn’t going to happen; it was a false hope, even a foolish hope. It was brief enough moment, lasting by even a generous understanding no more than a few decades, and a rare enough moment in our nation's history of cruelty toward and genocide of the native peoples of this continent such that while "the First Thanksgiving" shouldn't be a source of happily-ever-after "why can't we all just get along" fairy stories, neither is there any need to co-opt it into the service of ideology-driven revisionism.

Because that moment of hope did exist. And frankly, I resent the attempts to strip away that one moment of hope in pursuit of a modern political agenda.

I remember a friend of mine some years ago talking about “the urge to find angelic forces in the world,” that is, the seeming need many of us have to fix on some group, some movement, some something that we can convince ourselves is utterly pure in its motives and behavior. In our attempts to find some better balance in our understanding of what was done to the natives of North America, the cruelties inflicted on them, the racism and bigotry which targeted them, too many of us in considering the “Pilgrims” of Plymouth have chosen to simply swap one mythology for a perhaps more satisfying but equally false one.

Balance, it seems, is still a long way off.

I'm going to wrap this up with few quick sidebars to round this out, a few details surrounding that first year you might think worth noting.

You often hear the Mayflower referred to as a "small" ship. To our eyes it is, but at 180 tun, it was somewhat larger than an average merchant ship of the period, which went around 140-160 tun, a tun being a large cask that became used as a standard measure of the capacity of a ship's hold.

You also often hear it said the passengers came for "religious freedom." They did not. Not only did they not believe in religious freedom as we understand the term, "freedom" being equated with anarchy, to the degree they wanted what they would call "liberty of conscience" for themselves, those who had been to Holland - which was actually a minority of those on the Mayflower - had it there. In fact, that's why they went to Holland in the first place. Unfortunately for them, they not only found such liberty there, they also found poverty of a degree that threatened to fracture their community. That's why they came to this continent.

It has also been asserted that the first winter was marked by starvation; I've even heard it  claimed that they all would have starved to death but for the corn they stole from a cache while exploring Cape Cod. Again, not true - or, more exactly, half true. The deaths came from disease, likely pneumonia, spread by the necessity of living in close quarters until housing could be built and the ship's stores provided food for the winter. What is true is that they stole some corn, but that was for seed corn for the following spring, which makes it rather silly to imagine it was a quantity sufficient to feed the entire group for some the winter. And in fairness it must be noted that they made good for what they took when they were able to contact those natives after the winter was over.

Finally, they were not "greeted by the indigenous people." In fact, they didn't speak to a native until March and that was to Samoset, an Abenaki from what's now Maine. It wasn't until a couple of weeks after that when they first spoke to a local (Squanto, aka Tisquantum).

So anyway, I hope you enjoyed your Turkey Day, I hope you had time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both and I hope you can understand why I celebrate the day as an expression less of thankfulness for the past (or even the present) than as an expression of hope for the future. That hope, too, may prove as foolish as that of 1621, indeed these days I often think it is - but the blunt fact is, hope is also the one absolute, indispensable requirement for any effort to make that future a better one.

The Erickson Report for November 27 to December 10

The Erickson Report for November 27 to December 10

The historically-based story of the "First Thanksgiving"

Quick notes on
- Israel



-Scott Warren

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 9: India

The Erickson Report, Page 9: India

I'll end with this, because I swear if I were doing a Clown Award this week I would have a runaway winner.

New Delhi, the capital city of India, has been experiencing record levels of air pollution.

How bad? Consider that on the Air Quality Index, an international metric used by public health officials, any reading above 100 is considered unhealthy. In some areas of Delhi, that being the province in which the city of New Delhi is located, during the first week of November that index was well over 900.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the city had been "turned into a gas chamber."

Not just there, either: In the industrial hub of Kanpur, home to 3 million people, air quality readings have been consistently above 500 for several days.

a street in New Delhi
There have been steps taken to deal with this: Construction activities that could add to the dust in the air were halted temporarily. Schools were shut, government advisories were issued, asking people to stay indoors. Factories that hadn't shifted to piped natural gas were temporarily shut down. Odd-even driving days were instituted.

But even in the middle of this  mess, some people just had to prove what clowns they are. India's Minister for Health and Family Welfare tweeted that eating carrots would help and the Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change tweeted an encouragement for affected citizens to "start your day with music."

Not to be outdone by mere bureaucrats, Vineet Agarwal Sharda, a leader of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said that the pollution should not be blamed on stubble burning or industrial emissions, the most commonly cited caused, but on Pakistan and China, either of which, he said could have released poisonous gases into India because, he said, "they are afraid of us."

Yeah, well, you are pretty scary.

The Erickson Report, Page 8: Iraq

The Erickson Report, Page 8: Iraq

In early October, protests erupted in Iraq, including in Baghdad and several Shiite provinces in the south over unemployment, government corruption, and the lack of basic services such as electricity and clean water.

The initial six-day wave of protests was met with brutal repression that left at least 157 dead, most of them protesters shot dead by security forces in Baghdad.

After a lull, protests resumed on October 24 with even greater energy. Again, they have been met with lethal violence. The deaths have doubled to over 300; the number of injured has neared 15,000.

On October 31, in the face of protesters' demands for new elections, Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi agreed to resign - but only on the condition that a successor is agreed to replace him. There still hasn't been; instead, at the end of the first week of November, competing political blocs rallied around him, as populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who initially sided with the protesters, has turned to supporting Mahdi.

The result has been an agreement to end the protests by "any means necessary," according to a high government official quoted by AFP, leading to a brutal crackdown beginning on November 9 as security forces cleared protest sites in Baghdad, Basra, and Karbala using live ammunition, tear gas - including firing tear gas canisters directly at protesters and encampment tents - and sound bombs, aka stun grenades. Among those targeted: medics volunteering to help with the wounded.

Officials are now promising to move on a series of reforms, including hiring drives, welfare plans, a revamp of the electoral law, and constitutional amendments, but it remains to be seen if they have crushed the protests and, perhaps more importantly, if these new promises prove to be any less empty than the string of promises which preceded them.

Oil-rich Iraq is OPEC's second biggest producer, but according to the World Bank, 20% of its people live in poverty and youth unemployment is 25 percent. It is ranked the 12th most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International.

The Erickson Report, Page 7: Germany

The Erickson Report, Page 7: Germany

Germany is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall - a celebration tempered by a bout of self-reflection driven by a resurgence of right-wing extremism in the country over the past few years, including a 71% rise in violent anti-Semitic crimes in 2018 as compared to 2017.

Perhaps the clearest political example of that resurgence is the electoral rise of the far-right extremist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party. In October’s regional elections in the eastern state of Thuringia, AfD gained 23% of the vote, including a majority of voters under age 30, and finished ahead of Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union.

location of Thuringia
AfD is stridently anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, and Euro-skeptic, riding a tide of nationalist isolationism and xenophobia that embraces the "Great Replacement" mythology, the paranoid notion also seen in the US right that the government is trying to replace native-born citizens with refugees and foreigners.

It's likely significant that AfD has seen its greatest success in the eastern part of Germany, exploiting the lingering divisions between East Germans and West Germans. Thirty years after the wall fell, 29 years after reunification, there are still significant gaps in wages, pensions, and levels of accumulated wealth between East and West Germany - and voting patterns are considerably different.

That's why a poll by the Dimap institute found 52% of East Germans believe they have been unfairly treated, 64% believe the two Germanys have not fully grown back together, and another 15% say they haven’t grown back together at all. A significant number of people in East Germany feel they have been left behind, with economic stress leading to a sense of social disruption which, unhappily, is too-easily turned into consuming fear of "the other."

Some cities in Germany and some federal agencies are facing up to this resurgence, insisting it must be opposed. The question is, with they as part of that realization also face up to their own failures which helped create it.

The Erickson Report, Page 6: New Zealand

The Erickson Report, Page 6: New Zealand

On November 7, New Zealand lawmakers approved a bill that commits the country to being carbon neutral by the year 2050. The measure, which passed 119 votes to 1, demonstrates the cross-party support that climate protection has in the Pacific island nation.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was grateful that in the past 10 years, Parliament had progressed from debating whether global warming is real to discussing what to do about it.

The Zero Carbon bill aims to provide a framework to implement climate change policies. It's in line with an international effort under the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius above preindustrial levels.

New Zealand's bill sets an ambitious target: to reduce all greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050.

The country is well-positioned to do it. It already generates 80% of its electricity from renewables, and that portion will be higher by 2035 as offshore oil and gas are phased out. The government is shifting its fleet to electric vehicles and is working to transition other vehicles to electric, too. The government also has restarted a program to subsidize home insulation and is putting $14.5 billion over the next 10 years into transit, biking and walking infrastructure. In addition, New Zealand has already committed to planting 1 billion trees by 2028.

All of which is to the good - but when officials say "all greenhouse gases," they don't actually mean "all." The bill creates an exemption for biogenic methane, which is emitted by plant and animal sources. That loophole is actually a big deal.

Methane does not persist in the atmosphere as long as CO2 - decades as opposed to centuries - but it's far more potent, trapping about 30 times as much heat as CO2 does.

Ruminant animals such as sheep and cattle release methane as they digest grass and other leaves. Such animals made up 34% of New Zealand's total emissions of greenhouse gases. Overall, agriculture is the largest single source of greenhouse emissions in New Zealand, accounting for a whopping 48% of the total.

So in the case of biogenic methane, New Zealand isn't aiming for net zero but just to reduce emissions by 24-47% over the next 30 years. Which means that if those targets are met, in 2050 New Zealand overall still will be emitting about a quarter to over a third of what it does today. Which would be a dramatic achievement - but it ain't net zero. And it's legitimate to ask how far short of net zero we can go before it's simply not good enough.

Dozens of countries have declared a goal of net zero. Costa Rica, Denmark, Fiji, France, Germany and the UK have all said they intend to achieve net zero emissions by 2050; Sweden has gone them one better by aiming to do it by 2045.

Meanwhile, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters - China, the United States and India - have not made any zero-carbon national commitments, although a number of US states, including California, Washington, and New Mexico, along with a large number of US cities, have pledged net zero on their own.

The New Zealand nature advocacy organization Forest and Bird called the bill's passage an important first step but says the work is far from over, which is particularly true since the main conservative opposition party, despite supporting the bill, nevertheless promised changes if it wins the next election.

The left giveth and the right taketh away.

The Erickson Report, Page 5: Brazil

The Erickson Report, Page 5: Brazil

Brazil's radical right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro is facing mounting opposition less than a year into his term. Among other causes are Brazil's teetering on the edge of recession, serious accusations of mounting violence against the indigenous population, a bungled speech opening the UN General Assembly, and international condemnation of his lackadaisical attitude towards fires burning the Amazon rainforest.

Now he has a new problem. 

On November 7, Brazil's Supreme Court overturned a three-year old law requiring convicted criminals to go to jail after losing their first appeal even as appeals continue, finding that the law violated the country's constitutional provision that no one can be imprisoned without due process.

Jair Bolsonaro
Among those benefiting from the decision was former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, often known as "Lula." He had been serving an almost nine-year sentence on corruption charges seen by supporters as purely political.

That was a claim given credence in June by documents provided to The Intercept, which revealed that just days before filing the indictment, the chief prosecutor expressed what were described as "increasing doubts" over the central elements of the prosecution's case and then worked with the chief judge in the case, Sérgio Moro, on the best way to frame the case against Lula. Moro became Justice Minister in Bolsonaro's cabinet.

Those documents also showed that just 10 days before the 2018 presidential election, a Supreme Court justice granted a petition from the country’s largest newspaper to interview Lula in prison - prompting the prosecutors who handled Lula’s case to spend hours discussing how to block or undermine that decision based on an explicitly stated concern that such an interview could help Lula's party win the election. It seems hard to deny that political bias has a real impact on Lula's prosecution.

In the wake of the November 7 Supreme Court decision, Lula appealed for release from prison and was set free the next day. He is still convicted and could potentially wind up back in prison after his appeals are exhausted, but that could take a couple of years.

Lula da Silva
In the meantime, while he can't run for political office before 2025, he can participate in politics. As someone who left office in 2010 with what has been described as "sky high" approval ratings because of having, among other things, pursued policies that lifted millions out of poverty, he proposes to be a real thorn in Boloanaro's side.

The day after his release, Lula, the first-ever working class president of Brazil, spoke to a rally of supporters, focusing on defeating Bolsonaro and improving the economic conditions of the working class, who he accused Bolsonaro of impoverishing. As one analyst put it, Lula does not have to run for office to take center stage, making him a rallying point for a re-energized left.

Bolsonaro responded by telling reporters to "not give space to compromise with a convict" and calling on his own supporters to rally around his government's agenda, which has included exactly the severe tightening of public spending of which Lula accused him.

Watch this space.

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Burkina Faso

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country, a little larger than Colorado, in west Africa. It is also a country facing multiple challenges, not all of its own making.

For one thing, it is one of the world's poorest countries according to the UN's World Food Programme, with 45% of its roughly 20 million people living on the equivalent of less than $1.25 a day. Food insecurity and undernutrition are chronic problems, with over 10% of children acutely malnourished.

That threatens to get worse as climate change accelerates land degradation: Rising temperatures and increasing drought mean that in just five to 10 years of cultivation, soil is no longer able to ensure the mineral and water supply for food crops, leading to yields collapse. One-third of Burkina Faso's total territory is degraded. Half of the farmland has essentially turned to sand.

That in turn has lead to persistent conflicts over land use and massive, climate-driven migrations. Nearly half a million people were forced from their homes.

But fleeing not just food insecurity, but physical insecurity. Over the past few years there has been an increase in armed conflict and terrorism in the country, including an attack on a mosque in the northern town of Salmossi on October 11 that killed at least 15 and a November 6 attack on workers at a gold mine near Boungou that killed at least 47. Nearly 600 civilians have been killed, and scores more wounded, in recent years.

As climate change increases droughts increases land degradation increases hunger increases migration increases fanaticism increases conflict it is to be hoped that Burkina Faso can find a way out - because we could be looking at a hint of the future.

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Kenya and Somalia

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Kenya and Somalia

An on-going dispute over maritime territory between Kenya and Somalia has sent diplomatic relations between the two countries on a steep decline since early 2019.

The disputed territory is 100,000 square kilometrers, or about 40,000 square miles, in the Indian Ocean, an area which offers prospects of vast oil and natural gas deposits - in other words, lots and lots of bucks.

The predictable result has been major western countries lining up behind one or the other of the two countries, depending on which of the two best serves their oil interests.

The dispute dates back some years, but became sharper in 2014, when Somalia sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice, asking the court to order a redrawing of the sea boundary in Somalia’s favor. The hearings were scheduled to start on September 3, but Kenya successfully petitioned the court to adjourn the case until this next June.

Things got even tenser in February, when Kenya accused Somalia of putting Kenya’s blocks up for auction during the February Somalia Oil and Gas conference in London.

Somalia half-rebutted Kenya’s claims: It hadn't put the blocks up for auction, but it had submitted bidding rules and procedures and displayed a map of oil and gas blocks it intended to auction in future.

Following the London oil conference, Kenya recalled its ambassador to Somalia and asked the Somali ambassador in Kenya to “depart for consultations.” In other words, "Get out."

Different western nations are supporting different sides in the dispute.

The UK, for example, has shown support for Somalia, both because UK-Kenya relations have been sour for several years and because Britain has a longer relationship with Somalia in terms of onshore and offshore oil explorations.

Norway is also backing Somalia, perhaps partly because Somalia’s Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre is a Norwegian citizen and partly because Kenya expelled a Norwegian oil company.

The US, on the other hand, is siding with Kenya because the two are supposedly partners in the “war on terror” and the fact that the Kenyan government has recently gravitated towards America and China as relations with the UK declined.

And France is on Kenya’s side because the French oil company Total Oil has already contracted with Kenya over an area in the disputed maritime zone.

Writing at The Conversation, Patrick Muthengi Maluki of the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi said that Kenya and Somalia need to cooperate for their mutual benefit.

Unfortunately, what Kenya and Somalia want may not have a lot to do with what ultimately happens.

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Israel

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Israel

In what has to be seen as a last-ditch attempt to keep himself in power - and, potentially, out of prison - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed Naftali Bennett, leader of a small right-wing party, as defense minister.

It comes as the prime minister's Likud Party announced on November 8 that Bennett's party, Hayamin Hehadash, is joining Likud's coalition. Hayamin Hehadash is headed by Bennett and Ayelet Shaked.

The move comes as a surprise because for the last five years Bennett, a former education minister Netanyoyo fired from his post has been one of the PM's main political rivals and a sharp critic on national security issues - and Shaked was Justice Minister until Netanyoyo fired her in the wake of parliamentary elections in April.

This is a purely political move arising out of Netanyoyo's inability to form a government after parliamentary elections in October, the second elections this year.

Benjamin Netanyahu
That meant the task fell to Benny Gantz, leader of the Kahol Lavan party, who has until November 18 to form a government.

By taking in Bennett, who had also been negotiating with Gantz, looking to extract the maximum benefit from the three Knesset seats held by his party, Netanyoyo still can't form a government - but he has made it significantly harder for Gantz to. And that is the point.

In response, Gantz has talked about a "unity" government of Kahol Lavan and Likud - but without Netanyoyo and with a break-up of Likud's parliamentary coalition with a number of small, right-wing, and religious fundamentalist parties. Failing that, he has also talked about forming a minority government, which would mean that the coalition he formed didn't have a majority of seats in the Knesset but would be sworn in for the sake of having a government, but one that would have to rely on support for legislation from parties not part of the government.

Benny Gantz
If Gantz fails to form a government, the would mean yet another parliamentary election, the third in less than a year, with Netanyoyo likely again remaining in office as interim PM.

Which raises the real reason Netanyoyo is pulling these maneuvers, and it's one that goes beyond simply staying in power. As long as he keeps others from forming a government, he can hope to stay on through round after round of parliamentary elections until Likud can form a ruling majority.

Consider that following Likud's announcement about Bennett, Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid accused Netanyoyo of trying to "strengthen his immunity base." He was referring to right-wing parties such as Bennett's, many of whose leaders have declared in the past that they would endorse a law giving Netanyoyo immunity from prosecution in the multiple corruption cases against him. A decision on whether to indict Netanyoyo on any of those charges is due by mid-November. He's not just looking to stay in office, he's looking to stay out of prison.

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Panama

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Panama

I talked about this last time. We Americans are rather parochial in our view of the world: We tend to ignore events outside our borders unless they affect us directly. We need to realize we are not alone on this planet. So this show will be all international news. Because, again, we are not alone.

I'm starting with this one because it helps illustrate the point I wanted to make this time out. I learned about this from a report from Human Rights Watch. I then looked for other sources and could find for all practical purposes nothing about it in the English-language press. There was some in the Spanish-language press, but my Spanish is not nearly good enough to take advantage of that.

I don't have a lot of subscriptions to various newspapers, but I do use a couple of news scrapers, there are a couple of news sites I can check out, and I am rather adept at internet searches. And pretty much the only thing I came up with was a link in one scraper to the Human Right Watch report that started it all.

So bear that in mind as you consider if it might have been nice to have heard about this.

Nearly two years ago, in January 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a landmark advisory ruling that recognized same-sex marriage and transgender rights and called on the nations in its jurisdiction to take steps towards marriage equality.

At that time, the government of Panama signaled it would comply with the ruling. But in 2019, that same government has been looking to institute constitutional changes that run directly contrary to that same ruling.

There are actually a number of proposals on various constitutional issues being considered in Panama which have received preliminary support by the legislature. Some of those involve modifying the national budget and even appointing a special prosecutor who could pursue charges against state attorneys that investigate legislators - meaning the only person who could pursue charges against legislators without fear of reprisals is the person they control. Can you say "corruption?"

There were already street protests against those proposals as well as one to restrict LGBTQ rights. Those rights became front and center when on October 29 legislator Jairo “Bolota” Salazar barred a group of protesters from entering the National Assembly building, saying “They are gay and they cannot enter.”

Salazar's rant drew extra attention to the fact that one of the proposals would amend the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Panama already excludes same-sex couples from marriage under Article 26 of its Family Code, but this would write that discriminatory law into the nation's constitution, effectively barring LGBTQ folks from being equal members of Panamanian society.

This comes in the face of a wave of regional progress on marriage equality. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and many Mexican states already perform same-sex marriages, with Costa Rica slated to start in 2020. But not Panama if the legislature has its way.

Salazar tried to walk back his homophobic remarks, but he and fellow members of his Democratic Revolutionary Party said they had no intention of scrapping the bigoted proposal.

What followed was a week of street protests. Police responded with arbitrary detentions and excessive force - but ultimately to no avail as despite the police, despite Salazar, despite the legislature, the protests were too strong and the government had to stand down.

On November 8, President Laurentino Cortizo recommended that many of the controversial constitutional amendments be scrapped, including the one banning marriage equality, putting off any further discussion of constitutional reforms until the next legislative session in 2020.

So while this still can come again, I call this a win for our side.

A PS just to give you an idea of what kind of guy Salazar is.

Police were called to break up a rowdy party in Colon in the early hours of November 10. Police were reportedly assaulted with bottles while they attempted to restore order.

Salazar came out in defense of one of the accused attackers and went to the local police headquarters where he threatened to break the head of one of the cops and invited him to take off his uniform and fight.

Can't say I'm surprised.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Erickson Report for November 13-26

The Erickson Report for November 13-26

This episode:



Kenya - Somalia

Burkina Faso


New Zealand



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