The Benign Face of the Moral Abyss

Matthew Kroenig

Something I wrote in 2014:

The most insidious evil is that which believes itself to be fundamentally good, wrapping itself in the trappings of authority and benign intentions: the person who will tell you with a straight face why it is a good idea to pre-emptively drop a bomb on someone.

“I’m afraid a couple of you probably are evil,” Mindy Kaling told graduates of Harvard Law School earlier this month. “That’s just the odds.”

On Wednesday night, I met such a person in Seattle.

Continue reading “The Benign Face of the Moral Abyss”

Four End of 2015 Thoughts

1. Shouldn’t reparations be one of the next big progressive causes?

Everywhere I look, people are singing the praises of Ta-Nehisi Coates, including many white liberals. Perhaps they are having “tough conversations” about the “difficult” issue of racism. But not many of these people – ostensibly, allies of African-Americans – are loudly demanding that their political representatives take one simple action to advance the cause of racial justice: co-sponsor the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. It’s a simple bill. Coates wrote “The Case for Reparations.” He says this bill is “the vehicle” [emphasis added] for moving toward reparations. If every person who read Coates’ books or attended his talks or fell all over his or herself to celebrate his writing – or, for that matter, every person who attended a Black Lives Matter protest this past year – e-mailed, petitioned, or protested to get the Obama administration, Congress, and presidential candidates to support it, we might get somewhere. Progressives have made causes out of gay marriage, pot legalization, and gun control in recent years. Reparations – if the bill were to pass, a mere study of how to reparations should work to begin with – should join this roster. Enacting them would certainly set the bar for taking further national action on the scale needed to deal with racism and brutality in policing.

Continue reading “Four End of 2015 Thoughts”

The Bank Was Coming

Phyllis Walsh, courtesy of the Walsh family

Published by The Stranger:

The last time neighbors saw her alive, 65-year-old Phyllis Walsh was walking her dog, Arnie, as she did nearly every day. But Walsh’s life was in turmoil. Her husband, a factory worker named Jerry, died in 2009, and Walsh had struggled to pay the mortgage on the small white bungalow in South Seattle that she was now solely responsible for.

“When he passed, it was very hard on Phyllis,” says Joell Rhyner, who lives across the street. “But she was active, trying to go out and do things.”

Walsh, who was retired, had been trying to refinance her mortgage so she could keep the home. Still, Walsh had not been able to stave off US Bank, which, according to King County property records, was trying to collect more than $15,000 in past-due payments and had sold her home at auction.

On the evening of Tuesday, July 30, Rhyner saw a police car in front of Walsh’s home. Walsh had fired a single pistol shot into her head, killing herself, in the front yard. A note pinned to her shirt mentioned the “foreclosure vultures” were coming.

Read the rest here.


See also: No Charges for Protesters – In Sudden Reversal, City Drops Charges Against Anti-Foreclosure Activists

The Stranger, contd.

After traveling back to Haiti in August to produce this film, I began an apprenticeship at The Stranger last month.

Today my news feature on striking berry pickers in Burlington, Washington is out. Sakuma Brothers Berry Boycott – Workers at a Farm Outside Seattle Demand Better Conditions and Wages. Plus this video:

Update: Sakuma Brothers Farms Responds to My Reporting in The Stranger | Slog

A few other highlights from Slog, including past reporting on the farmworker strike:

Reporting for The Stranger in Seattle

Partway through my internship at Seattle’s only newspaper, here’s a sample of what I’ve written so far:

I’m having a shit ton of fun. I’ve made editor Paul Constant’s Best of Slog round-up the past three weeks in a row.

Only downside is someone stole my camera. Kind readers donated $280 to help me purchase a new one. If you’d like to chip in, here’s a PayPal link! 😉

Q&A with Hamda Yusuf for the Seattle Globalist

Talking with Hamda at UWPublished by the Seattle Globalist:

Meet Hamda Yusuf: She’s 19, she’s a local slam poetry champion, and she wants to be the US ambassador to Somalia.

At the Youth Speaks! Poetry Grand Slam last month, most of the poems performed on stage were punctuated by supportive hoots and shouts of, “Youth speaks!” from the packed crowd, culminating in rowdy choruses of applause. But only a few poets earned multiple sets of straight 10s from the judges.

One of them was Hamda Yusuf.

Incredibly, only ten years ago she didn’t speak English. Her family had just migrated from Somalia.

Today she’s a 19-year-old UW freshman pursuing a degree in international studies. But she already has a wealth of global experience under her belt, having lived on three continents.

After advancing through the preliminaries, Yusuf took the opportunity at the Grand Slam final to evoke ancient Somali traditions and stoke the crowd’s indignation at Islamophobia. What set her apart, though, was the earnest humor and moments of mundane Americaness mixed into her poetry—all delivered with a sublime confidence.

Read the rest here.

Haiti Moves to Tighten Laws on Sexual Violence

Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011.
Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011.

Published the day before International Women’s Day last week by Inter-Press Service:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 7 2013 (IPS) – Haiti is poised to enact major reforms to its penal code to make it easier for victims of rape to prosecute their attackers.

The amendments to the penal code would precisely define sexual assault in accordance with international law, legalise certain types of post-rape abortions, and criminalise marital rape.

The changes also mandate state-funded legal aid to victims who cannot pay for counsel. Discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” would be banned in limited circumstances, in a first for Haitian law.

“I think it’s an exciting time,” Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, said in February at a conference on the reforms. “It’s a small start with the penal code, but it’s a good start.”

Lawyers and activists at the conference pored over a three-page draft of the reforms. They’re optimistic that Haiti’s parliament will approve them within the year. Haiti’s prime minister and the ministry of justice have indicated they support the amendments. Continue reading “Haiti Moves to Tighten Laws on Sexual Violence”

Audio: Haitians describe harsh lives, failures of resettlement

Here’s a feature story that ran in yesterday’s Free Speech Radio News newscast:

President Martelly and officials commemorate the third anniversary of the quake on January 12, 2013.
President Martelly and officials commemorate the third anniversary of the quake on January 12, 2013.

Script:

Saturday marked the third anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake. UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton flew in for a brief, somber ceremony held with Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly, at a mass grave outside the capital city…

AMBIENT SOUND TENT CAMPS

Walking through the Carradeux camp in Port-au-Prince, it’s easy to get lost. 10,000 families live here. At the entrance, there are neat rows of transitional shelters – wooden one-room shacks. Continue reading “Audio: Haitians describe harsh lives, failures of resettlement”

The Uses of Paul Farmer: The Doctor and the Haitian Machine

Published by CounterPunch:

Photo credit: Reuters
Photo credit: Reuters

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
– Martin Luther King Jr.

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Dr. Paul Farmer stood alone in a corner of Hotel Karibe conference room, watching the spectacle.

Reporters buzzed around Bill Clinton, jostling with one another and yelling out questions. The former president was the newly-minted United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti.

It was September 2009, just a few months before the earthquake.

Farmer had been appointed as the Deputy Envoy. But it seemed perverse that the reporters would ignore him.

“Dokte Paul,” as his patients here call him, has been a true friend to Haiti.

A Harvard-educated doctor and public health expert, Farmer co-founded Partners In Health. As a tiny clinic in rural Haiti has grown into a medical complex and now a hospital, he’s innovated and delivered top-class healthcare to the poorest Haitians for three decades.

His accomplishments are profiled in Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is taught in classrooms across the country. I was reading it at the time.

As a recent college graduate and a newcomer to Haiti, I wasn’t going to miss this chance to interview a personal hero of mine. So I ran over.

We talked about Haiti’s challenges. He folded his arms and leaned in, peering through round wire-rimmed glasses. His answers were thoughtful. Farmer had always been a sharp critic of the international community’s treatment of Haiti.

Eventually I asked him a blunt question: “Do you think the administration here was under pressure from international forces to fight the increase in the minimum wage?”

I’d seen graffiti calling for bump in wages in Port-au-Prince earlier that day. In the preceding months, as the government stalled on enacting the wage hike from $3 to a mere $5 per day, protests had engulfed the downtown area.

Farmer stammered a little bit, said he didn’t know, and subtly changed the subject.

One reader left an ominous comment on the interview. “No disrespect to Dr. Farmer, as I believe he is sincere,” he wrote, “but he is now a part of the ‘machine’ that essentially drives Haiti.” Continue reading “The Uses of Paul Farmer: The Doctor and the Haitian Machine”