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Impeachable Offense?

Last night I learned that a Federal Judge in San Francisco had declared unconstitutional Trump’s Executive Order withholding federal funds from “Sanctuary Cities.” The Judge declared that once Congress appropriates funds it is unconstitutional for the Chief Executive to sit on the money. In other words, the Executive Branch was encroaching upon Legislative Branch prerogatives in violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers. (Trump’s excoriation of the Judge’s decision was an attempt to bully the Judiciary, the third branch of government, into acquiescence. Apparently, if Trump had his way there would only be one branch - his own).

The Judge’s decision sparked a memory. At the height of the Watergate scandal in the spring of 1974 Congress drew up Articles of Impeachment against then President Richard Nixon. Many remember the Watergate burglary and the subsequent coverup that generated the impeachable offenses the media reported, but few recall that there were also several, more esoteric, Articles of Impeachment. One of these was Nixon’s refusal to spend money appropriated by Congress for programs he did not approve of.

Few care about this historical footnote, but I remember it because it touched me. At the time, I was teaching undergraduate anthropology courses at a local college while awaiting funding from The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) for a pre-doctoral dissertation grant to fund urban anthropology field work. I had joined the Chamber of Commerce and was studying businessmen’s decision making networks and how they effected public policy in a small New England City. I discontinued this work when I received notice that my application had been denied.

That ended my academic career. Within months my brother and I started a public campaign to reopen our parents’ case, and I never turned back. In the meantime, Nixon resigned to avoid inevitable impeachment. President Ford, who succeeded him, dispersed the funds.

I received a letter in the spring of 1976, that funding was now available and my grant had been approved. They hadn't told me that my paltry request for $11,000 (we lived cheaply in those days) was among $500,000 in NIMH funds that Nixon had refused to spend.

It wasn’t easy to turn down $11,000 at that stage of my life, but as I put it “my cover had been blown.” How could I pose as an apolitical, business-oriented person when the local news media had let everyone in the area know I was the son of notorious communist spies who was trying to clear their names. I may be one of the only pre-doctoral students to ever turn down a NIMH PhD grant, and as a result, that obscure article of impeachment is etched in my brain.

Trump’s Executive Order attempted to do what Nixon had done. Congress, in 1974, felt what Nixon had done was an impeachable offense. I doubt this Congress will reach the same conclusion.

PS We are moving at the end of June to a neighboring community. It is a big job and I will post blogs infrequently during this period.  Read More 
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Kinship of Clover

My wife’s third novel was published on April 4th. As bestselling author Ann Hood wrote, Elli “has an uncanny knack for examining the big topics of our contemporary world and putting a human face of them.” A knack and an unfailing desire to look at that powerful intersection of politics and characters.

As in her first two novels, Elli weaves together an intriguing cast of characters whose lives, as they entwine, engage the world and traverse life-altering personal moments. There’s the college botany major anguishing over mass plant extinctions, the wheelchair-bound teenager who makes him her first boyfriend, her outspoken old-left grandmother confronting Alzheimer’s, the radical Greens trying to draw the mourning botanist into their circle, and more.

This book is also very different from her last one, On Hurricane Island. Here, no one is whisked away to a secret detention center and subjected to “enhanced interrogation” while a major hurricane storms the prison. The crises in Kinship of Clover won’t make national headlines or give you nightmares, but the events as they unfold have a potent impact upon its very real characters and consume the reader.

Early response has been terrific. The Necessary Fiction review said the book showed “how a political novel in the right hands, can achieve high artistry.” In the Portland Press Herald, the reviewer concluded that Kinship of Clover “is heartbreaking and haunting, with a cast of finely drawn and deeply memorable characters.” (links to left)

In her publication day guest blog for Powell’s City of Books, “Fiction and the Costs of Activism,” Elli described her novels as a “kind of meditation on what can happen in families when adults take action based on strong beliefs, on how the consequences can be catastrophic. Each novel sent me in a different direction spiraling back to similar questions: What lessons do children learn from their parents’ activism? What messages of responsibility and moral obligation are passed down, and at what cost?”

This new book is published at a time of increased resistance to the racism, misogyny and war mongering rampant in our world. So many of us have become hungrier for literature and art and music which help us grapple with the parade of daily assaults on our beliefs and inspire us to fight back.

I should mention that there is nothing didactic about this book. As renowned author Charlie Baxter commented, “Midway through this wonderful novel, you will find a woman dancing in her wheelchair. That scene is one of the many memorable moments in a story about young people organizing for a sustainable future, even as their once-radical elders try to hold on to a gradually disappearing past. This is a book about time and love, politics and family, and it is sharply observant and deeply compassionate.”

I couldn’t have said it better. But that’s not surprising, since only in my dreams could I write like Charlie Baxter.  Read More 
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