When Philadelphia Inquirer syndicated columnist Trudy Rubin called on a young man to pose his question after her talk, "7 years, 4 months and counting: the Syrian Civil War" at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Philadelphia on Saturday evening, she addressed him by name. In an interview afterward, M. Eisa, a Syrian refugee, who had been living with church Reverend Jarrett Kerbel, echoed what Rubin had concluded- that the presence of foreign forces from Russian, Turkey and Iran fighting in pursuit of their individual agendas bode very poorly for the civilian population remaining after millions of Syrians have fled. As Rubin put it, they are fighting over Syria's dying body. Rubin believes the United States missed an opportunity to militarily back non-Islamist rebel forces many years ago and a United Nations powerless against Russia's security council veto, has sealed Syria's fate. M Issai says he tempted fate in 2013 when he stayed amidst regular bombing by the Russian supported Assad regime of his Homs neighborhood in order to finish 9th grade exams. He then fled with his mother to Turkey via Lebanon, received a scholarship to attend Friends Select High School in Philadelphia in 2016 and now is bound for Bard College in upstate New York where he intends to study philosophy. Of friends and family, he has lost a lot. "I don't think there's a single household in Syria that hasn't suffered losses." Grandparents and aunts who remain are facing economic hardship and food shortages. Watch video interview of young Syrian refugee describing escaping bombings by his own government and taking refuge in Turkey and U.S. and the plight of his remaining countrymen and women and kin.
Your correspondent, a reliably strident protester of former candidate – now President Donald Trump, signed an online petition earlier this year calling for Trump's impeachment. This past week I received an email invitation from Tom Steyer at "Need to Impeach" inviting me to "and [sic] impeachment party", space permitting. The invite didn’t explain at all what would happen at the party but I sniffed free food. Sure, I would "stand with Tom" as other emails asked me to do. Steyer turns out to be a billionaire former hedge fund manager turned born-again environmental activist and Democratic Party candidate funder and fundraiser. I adhere to the credo that “behind every great fortune is a crime,” so it didn’t take long to find an academic critique of hedge funds that concludes they provide no social value and while they provide returns on investments no better than average they do make some managers extraordinarily wealthy.
In a subsequent email we were instructed to arrive at the Liberty View Ballroom at the Independence Visitor Center in downtown Philadelphia with photo ID. We arrived. The other partygoers were mostly middle aged and white like us but much better dressed. We were ushered into a room with waiters walking about offering hors d'oeuvres and an open bar! I schmoozed and conducted some interviews
I engaged Paul Shrader, a tall man with an “impeach trump” t-shirt, the only one I spotted sporting political attire. He was an ATF-Explosives certified military man who felt it wasn’t appropriate to continue service in an administration where 130 people in leadership positions do not, according to him, have security clearances. Working with the enemy? he asked disbelievingly. That’s the number one thing you don’t do and that the administration has been doing.
I also interviewed Lindy Li and Rich Lazer, both young idealistic Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District. The map was redrawn just today by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to correct court found Republican Party gerrymandering. Li, who came to the US from China when she was 5 years old, was propelled into politics when a shooter killed children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut on December 14, 2012. The date happened to coincide with her birthday and, in her words, damaged her “eternally.” She is vehement about diminishing the influence of the NRA in gun control matters and big oil on environment, climate change matters. Lazer had just resigned his position as labor liaison for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and opposes Trump‘s measures clamping down on sanctuary cities and calls for Trump’s impeachment for obstruction of justice in the FBI’s investigation of Russian state operatives’ interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. I also saw candidate Nina Ahmad who smartly drew attention to herself with a sign with her name on it.
Steyer eventually took a high seat at the front of the room alongside Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Bullock who spoke about how her constituents were being damaged by both Trumps policies and his manner. Seated at her right was Baltimore psychologist John Gartner who has been making the case that Donald Trump suffers from deteriorating pre-dementia and malignant narcissistic personality disorder. He speculated Trump might find relief, vindication and perverse pleasure in starting a nuclear war.
Steyer followed with remarks abut the need to energize college students to participate in the midterm elections. When he couched the situation as one of "absolute" right versus wrong, your correspondent impolitely rose before the third and final question that had been chosen from ones earlier submitted by attendees, to question Steyer about his extraordinary wealth. Steyer promised to be transparent. Considering how unrevealing he was in the party invitation, that’s a good thing.
After heavy weekend rains, Mohammad Bepary was on site at the Luk Oil gas station he operates through lease at Bethlehem Pike and Montgomery Avenue where a newly installed 10,000 gallon diesel tank had nosed upwards out of the soggy ground. The tank needs to be hoisted out and the ground re-excavated before it goes back in. Bepary expects the renovation of the mini-convenience store, which is being enlarged by conversion of two former garage bays, and addition of a diesel pump will be welcome by the community when he reopens, if all goes according to plan, in early March. Watch video interview about diesel tank excavation problem after heavy rain.
On New Year’s eve day, four young women newly arrived from South Korea for government-sponsored internships in Washington, DC browsed the "America" store in Alexandria Virginia with bemusement Your correspondent asked if they were interested in purchasing any of the merchandise - a jolly mix of seriously patriotic and comically political clothing, accessories and knickknacks. People don't buy or wear such things in South Korea they explained. When one jokingly vamped with a patriotic T-shirt emblazoned with Donald Trump's face against an American flag background, I asked what she thought of our dear leader. "If I say frankly, Trump will shoot me." To be honest? "I think he’s crazy.“ Watch video of young Korean women browsing "America" patriotic and parody store.
Aron Goldschneider and his fine artist step-father designed a circular racial unity logo to counter the hateful and divisive rhetoric of the times. According to his website, www.standforracialunity.com, racial harmony is a personal matter; he grew up on a block as a minority white kid and his wife is a Japanese national. Their daughter, Bronwyn (shown in lower photo panel above) and her friends Ameer Johnson and Claire Gunawan were out at the Mt Airy Village Fair on Sunday September 17 selling t-shirts and car magnets bearing the design. For a small donation fairgoers got 5 turns to toss a bean bag through the empty center of the logo mounted on a large board for the chance of winning a t-shirt or magnet. Proceeds benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center to support its legal fights for racial, economic and LGBTQ justice. The students have been successfully bringing their racial unity t-shirt campaign to their diverse Philadelphia high schools. Watch bean bag toss for racial harmony video and interview here
Shirley Washington, Florrie Flood and Jocelyn Powell, volunteers for AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, were outside Bredenbeck's Bakery and Ice Cream Parlor in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia to rally support against changes to Medicare. Backed by a large sign featuring the diverse faces of its constituency (50 plus demographic), one volunteer explained their presence as a way to acquaint the community with AARP while another spoke earnestly about how prescription drug costs, higher premiums and higher deductibles negatively affect Social Security pensioners. "Health care is just outrageous." They invited your correspondent inside to sign a petition to my Congressmen and enjoy a free ice cream cone! I obliged. Watch video interview here.
A mother and son and another member of a Christian community in Center City Philadelphia were outside a neighborhood food store raising money for a one week trip to Haiti where infrastructure repair remains a high need after the 2010 earthquake. The young man and 11 other youths will help conduct bible study for children in an orphanage and the 4 adults on the mission will do electrical and construction repair at a school.
Watch video interview of Iraq war vet on long solo Memorial Day walk with PTSD dog. On Memorial Day, Iraq war vet Bobby Caroselli, gears up and takes a trek to commemorate his 28 fallen battalion comrades until he can walk no further. One arm and shoulder cradle the pole upon which a large American flag is hoisted while the other hand firmly holds the harness of his PTSD German Shepherd, "Corporal." He is outfitted in a camouflage flak vest, as is his dog, and his backpack bears the names of his fallen mates. He served in the army infantry during the 2007 surge and, only 19 at the time, he says he grew up fast. When asked about his combat experience he relates only that he had "seen enough." He remembers his buddies fondly and, recalling their humor and imaginative pranks, a smile comes over his face. Your correspondent struck up a conversation with Caroselli after he had paused near the war memorial atop the Water Tower Recreation Center fields. He and Corporal then resumed their solitary Memorial day march under gray, drizzly skies, the red and white striped flag flapping and snapping smartly behind.
Clockwise from top left. Teens from Wordsworth Academy, a special needs school assist children in making recycled bottle planters. An activist with Sea Shepherd talks about the group's efforts to save endangered porpoises and whales. From the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ, a horseshoe crab. FEMA is ready to assist in disasters, this representative from the flood mitigation unit assures. Evergreen Lane farm sets up aquaponics systems. Photo on web here.