Elections 2020

Cluster In The White House

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Americans are set to vote in just three weeks’. I don’t vote in this country, and I don’t pray, but I will pray on election day, and I will anxiously await results. What do you care? Someone might ask. I care because the experience with this president has been very personal and painful. It started a few days before the 2016 election when the disgraceful candidate was caught on tape talking about pussy and power. I would not straightforwardly support Hillary Clinton for president, but it could be interesting, I thought. Besides, what kind of country would vote for a person as vulgar as Trump?

As we know, Trump won. Hillary indeed contributed to his success as she is famous for running bad campaigns, and for being honest, she was the wrong candidate. Not because she is a woman, of course. Trump’s victory did not arrive because of his charisma, talent, or anything else that could count as merit. He got lucky because Hillary Clinton so rudely eliminated Bernie Sanders. If Trump had had to face Sanders, he would probably never be the president of the United States. By saying this, I do not mean that this country has just one Trump. There are more waiting to come. In these last four years, Trump has managed to destroy the values and reasons that give human existence worth. This is why I will be nervous on November 3. Go vote, please. 

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New York

Has The Covid Worm Eaten The Big Apple?

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Back in March, just before the pandemic, I walked down Broadway to Soho in New York City. It was an unusually hot, sunny day and the streets were packed with people. Something told me I did not want to be there. Suddenly, beyond the usual city noises, I heard the voice of a young man calling out to people, asking them if they might be interested in getting a tattoo. I felt that there was something strange in this call. Was this how to advertise a tattoo? Isn’t redesigning your body a profoundly intimate decision? I thought. Getting a tattoo is not the same as getting a coffee. But perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I ascribed too much importance to something I do not wear and am not familiar with. However, that voice told me one thing: that the business must be short of customers. Since we already knew about coronavirus at the beginning of March, I associated the advertising voice with the pandemic knocking on the door of the most vital city in the nation. I looked around again, realizing that this city that I knew so well and that I was no longer in love with was the perfect place to spread the virus at the speed of light. What if it really happens? I wondered. Appalled by the possibility of a human catastrophe of massive proportions, I became worried about the people I know and love. New York, with its dense population, was the perfect setting for a virus outbreak.

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Geopolitics

Cold War’s (Climate) Change

By Andrej Mrevlje |

The number of people infected by COVID-19 in the U.S. increases daily by 50,000. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has reached more than five million, and 1000 Americans die every day (the death toll is now over 175,000). We, the survivors, continue to live behind closed doors, limiting our contacts to a minimum, shopping once a week, sitting in a little garden (if you are privileged enough to have one), and repeating conversations with our loved ones. We continue to exist without any outside stimulus, with no impulses. We no longer use our instincts because everything has become so routine and predictable. Not completely, since we still have our brains. We can read, write, and think. And when it comes to thinking, it becomes really hard. Locked in, with institutions locked down, with public spaces gone and therefore urban life equivalent to zero, we are left — more than ever — in the hands of the people in power who command our lives. And when the people that dispose of your life are Donald Trump, or Xi Jinping on the other side of the globe, (we could add a long list of names of the leaders in the countries between the U.S. and China, Slovenia included), then perhaps you are at the point of having serious apathy. There is a constant echo in our heads: when did this all happen? What happened to the times when lunatics were kept in safe places and the people could walk freely? When you realize this, you understand that something terrible is going on. 

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Healthcare

Bebee Hospital Prison

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Waiting for the doctor, Bebee Hospital E.R. Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

“Anyone want a blanket?” an E.R. staffer from Beebe hospital on the outskirts of Lewes, Delaware asked. It was a late afternoon during high summer. But almost everyone among the dozens sitting in the waiting room waived for a cover. How come no one bothered to lower the air conditioning? I thought. Was it because AC is an important part of American exceptionalism? The blankets were white and heated. In mere seconds, the uneventful waiting room had been transformed into a temple, with patients looking like druids. Covered in white, we were ready to contemplate our pain for a protracted period of time. The blankets — they felt more like towels offered in a spa — gave us some comfort but also made us aware that the waiting might drag on. Each of us already had a registration number with a name and a signature on the wristband they gave us. It was like a boarding pass for a long flight or a religious meditation depending on which way you looked at it. There was a deep silence in the room despite the presence of people with serious health issues. I found this bizarre situation amusing. 

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White House

Melania’s Life In A Golden Cage

By Andrej Mrevlje |

As I finished reading The Art of Her Deal, a biography on Melania Trump by Mary Jordan, it struck me that I could not remember anything relevant that the First lady has ever said that would be worth publishing. Nothing I have heard from Melania has ever been uplifting or even depressing. In Jordan’s book, there was nothing new in what Melania was saying, nothing inspiring, nothing we haven’t heard before. It was as if Melania had kept repeating the same mantra again and again, like this phrase, largely used in Slovenian language: “The sun always shines after the rain!” In the book, Melania’s expressions are packaged in small blurbs and read like haikus on survivalism that contain common-sense wisdom, rooted deeply in a rural mindset. Melania’s words have an overtone of fatalism, restraining even the tiniest glimmer of hope. Most of the time, when she says something it is just a dull expression of an obsolete weltanschauung. Choosing words can be either an art or just the plain repetition of common sense expressions that we Slovenians inherited from our rural ancestors and the Habsburgs. Is it possible that Melania uses them to cover-up her misanthropic nature? She may also sound dull and reluctant for many reasons we do not know about: perhaps because of her looks, which to her mind might not be good enough for public appearance; or maybe she is simply not interested or is unsure about what to say. Maybe it’s because a nondisclosure contract with her husband bans it. Or could she be putting the president of the U.S. on ice, ignoring him because he offended her? Perhaps she carries herself the way she does because her mother taught her how to survive in a world governed by men; how to defend herself and be desirable at the same time, a technique Melania applied to Donald Trump from their first encounter on.

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White House

President’s Prison

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Last week, the U.S. went through many dramatic events as the president tested some repressive apparatuses of the state that could be used during the insurgency. A week later, we are back enjoying high summer, with the coronavirus once again becoming the main adversary. The protests and the Black Lives Matter movements are still marching in the hopes of bringing about more change. Let’s hope they can keep this country alert till November, as the vote for a new president will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the trajectory of this vulnerable country.

My apologies to our subscribers. We ran into some technical issues with the newsletter distribution last week, and we apologize for the delay.

Now that the protective fence around the White House has been built, one might ask what the intent to build one in the first place was. The most obvious interpretation is that the President cannot stop himself from building walls. Then there are easier conclusions: as the fence around the White House has pushed people away from what was once the heart of the nation, the impression is that the whole perimeter has been transformed into a construction site. Does this mean that the President will build another of his towers, or change the lawns around the residence into a mini-golf course? All these scenarios could be a part of the chatter, the talk of the town, or even the President’s wet dream. But these are not normal times, and there is no time for jokes anymore. 

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America

America In Flames

By Andrej Mrevlje |

While working on the longer piece, I, as many of you, I presume, got caught up watching the cruel murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests and riots that have been happening across the United States. As I write this, I can hear shouting and screaming coming from the White House. Helicopters are hovering over the city, and a curfew has been announced for 7.p.m., an hour before sunset. Somebody must be afraid of the darkness.

This last week has featured police cars driving into crowds of protestors, police officers sweeping an empty residential street, and shooting rubber bullets at a woman who simply wanted to know what was going on and naively opened the door to her house. The scenes evoked Tiananmen in 1989 on the night before the massacre. Police cars have been burning; rioters have been throwing stones and bottles of urine at the cops. An older man with a stick couldn’t walk fast enough was brutally shoved to the ground by policemen. Another police officer saw the scene and helped the older man to his feet. Other younger and beaten-up protesters did not get up at all. There was a man on a horse, galloping among the crowds. Another protester was dressed up as Batman, walking through the dense fog of tear gas. A policeman passing young girls pepper-sprayed them for having done nothing, just like one swat away mosquitos. Masked people smashed the windows of shops and banks with hammers, sticks, and kicking. Cars, police precincts, and banks were set on fire. There was looting, and tear gas bombs thrown into the crowds, as protestors caught them and kicked them back towards the police.

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Washington D.C.

Siege Of The White House

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Below is a sort of photo-reportage of the events as they evolved during the protests at the White House. As of the time of writing, we are still under a curfew that begins at 7.p.m. and ends at 6.a.m. The intention is to lock down the city in an extended Coronavirus quarantine. The difference is that now the city restaurants, hotels, and shops are sealed off and blocked with wooden panels that are supposed to protect the properties. But while the police are running after innocent and peaceful protesters, the rioters are looting and destroying. We have not heard of police arresting any of these people. On the bright side, today, Tuesday was an important day. The army or better, the National Guard, has retreated within the perimeter of the White House, which is now fenced with metal protection nine feet tall. This is the first time that the White House has been so far away from the people. These new demarcation lines demonstrate that Trump now has his playground, while outside on the streets, five thousand plus people are chanting, facing the guards, and trying to talk to them. It appears to have become a kind of speaker’s corner, or better, a place for debate and dialog that is starting. Vote.

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North Korea

Kim Jong Un, Are You There?

By Andrej Mrevlje |

This is part two of my reflections on the recent rumors coming out of North Korea, a nation that can no longer be called the hermit country. Ten years ago, before Kim Jong Un was in power, North Korea could still be described as a dark and isolated place. However, its citizens today are skillful hackers. Once obedient and under-nourished, people are now smuggling in movies, news, and software on USB flash drives. Educated in Switzerland, the young despot has turned Pyongyang into an urban city, and the North Korean middle class is growing, but only 0.1 percent of the population is running the country. Thanks to the increased number of defectors and dissidents, and the growing more significant number of foreigners and better satellites, we now know much more about the country. We know enough to be able to say that if there were a change in leadership if Kim Jong Un has died, it would be a disaster for North Korea.

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North Korea

North Korea Revisited

By Andrej Mrevlje |

On April 15, the 36-year-old dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, disappeared from public life. Rumors spread, hypothesizing that he was either dead, brain-dead, or otherwise incapacitated. My own theory was that he was self-isolating, fearing the infection, or perhaps doing some heavy drinking. On May 1th, Kim returned to the public eye, but now new rumors are growing, speculating that who we saw was not the real Kim Jong Un but a body double. When I started to prepare this piece, I stumbled upon my old notes and writing from when I visited North Korea in 1999. I thought my notes, which have never been published in English, are worth reading and serve as a good introduction to the second part of this story, which will focus on the real (or fake) Kim Jong Un and his dynasty. Here is the first part

As the old Ilyushin plane began approaching the Pyongyang airport, I noticed pathways leading towards the landing runway. Built for the defense of the airport in case of an enemy attack, they were ready to transport the heavy, concrete barriers and move in tanks, hidden somewhere behind the gentle slopes around the airport. Yet, from the approaching airplane, the nearing landscape looked friendly and soft, the red, fertile terra rossa offering a contrast of colors to the intense greenery. Many Russian-made cargo and passenger planes stood by on the runway, motionless under thick covers, waiting for better times. Our plane stopped in front of a small airport building from which a large portrait of Kim Il Sung stared down upon us. But there was no time to take a closer look at the huge oil painting. Guards quickly pushed us into a small reception area. We first had to go through a metal detector which led us to an even smaller space facing a wooden counter, the kind general stores would have before the era of supermarkets. And what was I buying? 

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