Why I Believe the Steele Dossier About Russian Interference in the 2016 Election Is Credible.
One would have to be living far off the grid indeed not to be aware of the political and media uproar over Russian interference in the 1916 presidential election. By this time, all but the ideologically blind accept as fact that the Russians interfered in the election campaign process through manipulation of social and other media, and through in-person interactions. Perhaps the most damning set of allegations were contained in a report compiled by Christopher Steele, a former Russia expert of the British Intelligence Service who was acting as a contractor for Fusion-GPS, a business research company led by Glenn Simpson. Among descriptions of specific contacts between members of Trumps campaign and Russian functionaries was a report that during a trip to Moscow, Donald Trump participated in a sex party(s) in including one in which prostitutes at his direction urinated on a hotel bed in which President and Mrs. Obama slept during an official trip to Moscow. Mr. Steele found the information from his sources to be reliable enough, and which raised concerns that the Russians might have compromising material with which to blackmail Donald Trump, that Mr. Steele referred his findings to the FBI. The “Steele Dossier” later became public. To White House Republicans and their supporters, this was all “fake news.” What should we believe? Since the matter is paralyzing the American governmental process and poisoning public discourse, one would think that knowing the truth (if there is such a thing anymore) to be important. A variety of legislative and law-enforcement entities have been addressing the matter in their own ways and for different motivations.
Earlier this month, one of an unknown number of documents prepared by one of the Senate or House committee investigations of Russian interference was made public: an interview before the Senate Judiciary Committee of Mr. Glenn Simpson on August 22, 2017. As a lover of original documents, I downloaded and read all 312 pages of the 9 1/2-hour session and also the famous Dossier that was its ultimate subject matter.
In the printed edition of the Courier-Journal on January 25, a letter-writer contributed the following:
‘Dignity of Labor’ to get healthcare is wrong. According to your report of Jan/ 13, Gov. Bevin wants to change Medicaid requirements to enable the “able bodied” poor to learn the “dignity of labor.” It was a teaching of the Nazis that “Arbeit macht frei.” The similarity between these two simplistic positions is too dangerous to ignore. Stephen Schuster, Louisville.
Based on reflection over the past two years, I do not deem Mr. Schuster’s reaction to be overblown. I submitted my own letter in response, but it appears that it was not accepted. Having my own “barrel of ink,” I publish it below.
Dear Courier Journal.
A recent correspondent to these letters drew uncomfortable attention to a similarity of phrasing used by Gov. Matthew Bevin and the German Nazis. To obscure an ultimate goal of decreasing Medicaid enrollment, he and other governors would require “able-bodied” beneficiaries to either work or provide compulsory volunteerism [an oxymoron?] under the dissembling cover of gifting the poor with the ability to learn “the dignity of labor.” Mr. Schuster and I were both reminded of the phrase Arbeit macht frei (Work sets you free) posted by the Nazis at the entrances to their Arbeitslager (labor camps) which evolved into the death camps of Europe.
A much older German phrase entered my mind as President Trump and his acolytes scold and sue cities like Louisville for protecting their inhabitants born under other suns. Stadtluft macht frei (City air makes you free.) expresses a centuries-old common law concept of medieval Europe whereby slaves, serfs, or peasants who entered a self-governing city were protected against involuntary repatriation to the rural countryside or servitude by their owners or landlords. Remaining in such a city for a defined period ruptured the physical and economic bondage of structural rural poverty. Those so sheltered could become Bürger, or citizens. Cities were places of opportunity! The concept of a path to citizenship in a sanctuary city has a long and honorable history.
In the late 19th century, the abstraction of Stadtluft was still being used to summarize the motivation of rural Germans wishing to escape the tyranny of their birthplace, their legitimacy, their institutionalized poverty, or limits imposed on their occupations and ability to make a living. I am proud of the leadership in Louisville and similar cities which protects those living in their jurisdiction against the unleashing of the most ignoble of nationalistic urges. Louisville should not reopen its workhouse of the early 20th century.
29 January 2018
I come from a family of immigrants. My father and his parents came over from (you guessed it!) Germany in 1924. Most of my mother’s ancestors immigrated in the later 19th century. Their sanctuary city was Newark, NJ. Tracing out my family history has been an enjoyable avocation for me as it is for so many others. We learn so much more than who lived where and when.
All four of my paternal Great-Grandparents entered the ancient city of Nürnberg in the early 1890s from small villages elsewhere in Franconia. I asked a German cousin who actually knew these people what forces led them to the big city from what appeared to me in the 21st Century to be idyllic rural villages. That is when I first heard the phrase Stadtluft macht frei, which incorporates the motivations I describe above. The answer I remember best was that “there was no ability to accumulate wealth” in those small villages. The City was where opportunity lay.
[The following is the text in full of an open letter that I sent to the relevant officers of the of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC), the regional accrediting body that placed the University of Louisville on probation for issues of political interference and other reasons. I raise the same concerns that I did in a recent opinion piece in the Courier-Journal.]
Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, Ph.D.
President Accrediting Commission
Dr. Patricia L. Donat, Ph.D.
Commission Vice President
Dear Drs. Wheelan and Donat.
At the risk of being characterized as a faculty crank, I write again to urge caution in releasing the University of Louisville from its probationary status. The University itself is advising the public of imminent meetings with you in advance of your own internal Board meeting and in anticipation of relief from probation. In my opinion, granting such relief under the current conditions is to engrave in stone the unique political invasion of one of Kentucky’s flagship universities, and to give your permission for Gov. Matthew Bevin’s illegitimately handpicked Board of Trustees to continue to ignore the shared governance promised by longstanding formal University of Louisville’s Redbook policy.
There is no question that Gov. Bevin ignored Kentucky statutory requirements for nominating and choosing not only the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees, but those of our other state universities. The nominally independent Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee admitted giving him the candidates the Governor requested. These are not bad people, but a farce was made of the process. Gov. Bevin chose members of his fundamentalist church and those who agreed with his far-right anti-abortion and business agendas. A few of his appointments during this process had to resign shortly afterwards over issues related to their appropriateness to serve, or in my opinion, conflict of interests. When confronted with the fact that the appointments were made contrary to state law, Gov. Bevin simply had a rubber-stamp legislature make it nominally legal. It appears this was enough for SACS-COC to drop its concern that undue political influence was occurring. I would argue, that what happened here in Louisville was an example of political interference in its most extreme manifestation. The Governor’s ongoing actions in interfering with clinical activities at the University of Louisville hospital, and an unwillingness to allow his officers to testify under oath in that regard are in my opinion another example of political bullying. I can elaborate if you wish.
Your concerns about an overabundance of interim leadership at the University reinforced your application of probation. This additional element has led to what some believe to be an overly hasty search for a new University President. Hasty or not, a Board which many in the community consider to be acting in continuing undue secrecy is objectively ignoring the formal University policy requirement for defined faculty participation in a search for a new President. This policy is written in the University Redbook which specifies that: “the Board shall consult with a faculty committee to be composed of one representative elected for that specific purpose from each of the  units listed in section 3.1.1 .” There is no requirement that the search be conducted secretly. No such election has been made, or for that matter, allowed. In response to faculty outcry, the Board plans to stage a limited number of “listening” sessions before a subset of Board members. None of these will be held before the cutoff date this week for potential applicants. The Board itself characterizes its search as a “closed” one. Louisville media have accurately reported ongoing faculty protests. The Board has dug in its heels and shows no sign of relenting.
Louisville’s Courier-Journal recently published my opinion piece related to this closed search. In it I conclude, “The Board of Trustees of the University of Louisville is on the wrong path here. Autocracy is as inappropriate a management style for a Board as it is for a President [or a Governor]. The Board should conduct an open and therefore an accountable search for our new President.”
I urge your organization not to legitimize what is happening at the University of Louisville.
Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine
November 29, 2017
Last Sunday was an absolutely gorgeous day, warm at 85 degrees, and with a relatively clear sky (for Louisville) with puffy white clouds to decorate it. It was a perfect day for a walk across the Big Four Bridge to Jeffersonville. By early afternoon when I arrived by car, the parking lots were full and people were parking along River Road as far at the University of Louisville Boathouse with more cars arriving every minute.
I fully expected the bridge to be packed with walkers like me, but I suspect the majority of people were there to enjoy the “Battle of the Food Trucks” being held at the foot of the former railroad bridge. Nonetheless, the bridge was modestly busy with walkers, runners, and bikers. They crossed as singles, couples, families and groups.
As I have always observed, my companions of the day were as diverse as could possibly be with respect to age, sex, shape, or color. Both as individuals; or within the pairs, families, and groups; the apparent mix of races, genders, ethnic origins, or socio-economic status was so great as to seem random. All were unselfconsciously enjoying the day as much as I did. When city leaders claim that our Waterfront Park hosts the most diverse groups of people in Louisville, there is no reason to doubt them. I love it! This is my dream of what America should look like and how it should function. Surely, any barriers placed that would bar general access to this public resource are ill-advised at best, or otherwise unconstitutionally discriminatory.
I have previously opined that the charging of a de facto admission to a Waterfront Park in the shape of a rolling 3 hour parking fee represents an example of the cloud of structural racism that still hovers over our communities. Like the magnificent Parklands in Eastern Jefferson County, the Big Four Bridge and much of the Waterfront Park is not conveniently serviced by public transportation. Like a poll tax, a parking fee keeps the same people away.
As occurs with so many other commercial events held within Waterfront Park,the general public is denied both access and thoroughfare to what I have assumed is public land. In the instance of the Battle of the Food-trucks, a large area of the park at the base of the Big Four was partitioned off with barriers, including the magnificent concrete river overlook and adjacent wooded picnic areas. The fee to even approach the trucks was $10 per person. When I attempted to walk along the riverside sidewalk, the I was blocked by manned barriers and I was told to walk around back to River Road.
The lines at the trucks were long, and there were many people picnicking among the shade of the trees or on the esplanade. While the paying customers enjoying their food still displayed some diversity, these were people whose appearances suggested that $10 per person and the cost of food was not a issue for them.
Waterfront Park is not a country club. It is on public property is it not? If not, how come? Is there a good reason why the string of parks along our riverside is administered by an independent, quasi-public authority and not by Louisville’s Division of Parks? If there was once a good reason for the waterfront to remain outside of city government jurisdiction, is it still valid? [I do agree that if the Commonwealth does not contribute funding, that a Governor should have no control over the Park’s administration.] If the Park were the responsibility of and administered by the City, would not responsibility for its funding be spread over an appropriately broader base? Is political or government oversight with the accountability that follows such a bad thing? What would the elected representatives of South and West Louisville say about charging parking fees to access Waterfront Park? Indeed, I think I am already hearing their voices– they don’t like it.
[p.s. By the time I left at 4:00 pm, cars were parked on both sides of River Road nearly a half mile up-river and past the luxury marina condos. Waterfront Authority take notice! Is this an opportunity to put in parking meters? Can only the City do that? Would you if you could?]
Let me finish this with a few questions that I hope my readers will help me answer.
Why should not full control of the Louisville Waterfront Park be turned over to the Louisville Metro Parks Department?
When is it appropriate to charge users a fee to enter the Park properties or use its facilities?
Under what conditions is it appropriate to exclude the general public from Park properties to accommodate commercial interests? What happens to the money?
How is it that I can be blocked from a public sidewalk so someone else can have a private party there?
Perhaps there are good reasons the Waterfront Park Authority can use to justify their policies. Let’s hear them. I do not wish to hear that the Authority wants to use funds designated for expanding the park in the direction of West Louisville to preserve the status quo.
September 21, 2017
Question: Why is a $3 parking fee like a poll tax?
Answer: Both keep the same people away!
Much is being said and written about the decision of the Board of the Waterfront Development Corp. to establish a $3 parking fee for access to its parking lots for 5 days a week. The authority reaps an automatic “got-cha” bonus of an additional $3 for people who overstay their welcome. I have no access to a detailed budget of the Waterfront Park to allow comment on how dire any need is for new revenue, or if there are other operational or budgeting mechanisms to support the Waterfront Park. It may well be that the Board is playing chicken with local and state governments to contribute new money or restore previous financial support to keep this wonderful community asset open. What I do have an opinion on is that the least able to pay for access to this public property must not be used as pawns in any such gamesmanship. If the Park Board actually means to enact this regressive budget maneuver, I suggest that the easy reflex to do so is an example of the under-acknowledged structural racism underlying much of our public policy. Although the impact of even $3 on distressed family budgets is color- or ethnically blind, in metropolitan Louisville, it is such families that will be disproportionally kept away.
There can be no one who does not recognize what a treasure this park has been for our community. When I came to Louisville in 1984, I had to risk predictable flat tires on my Jeep getting from River Road across the tracks of the railroad-car recycling operation to University Hospital. Today the Park is truly the combined living room and backyard of Louisville. The opening of the Big Four walking bridge to Southern Indiana only made things better. I love to ride my bike across the bridge to the coffee shops and bakeries of Jeffersonville to read the news, think, and write. The diversity of people crossing with me never fails to make me smile. Even within families and groups, the permutations of ages, colors, ethnicities, apparent genders and socio-economic status seem infinite.
I wish the same could be said of the equally magnificent Parklands system in Eastern Jefferson County for which travel time and lack of public transportation serve as disincentives to visit for many Louisvillians. It is not like public transportation to the Big Four Bridge is that great. I was told by TARC people that the nearest bus line access to the Bridge is from Market Street. There are no busses on River Road, allegedly because of difficulties railroad track crossings would have on schedules. I do not know how people get to the Waterfront Parks at present. Apparently enough come by car that taxing them would be profitable.
Such a public asset deserves to be funded publically. The financial structure underlying the Waterfront Park may always have been less than predictably secure. I was told that its initial construction was funded by Federal Medicaid money gleaned from the now more-tightly controlled Inter-Governmental Transfer scams of the 80’s and 90’s. The Commonwealth of Kentucky kicked in additional annual funding until it was recently withdrawn, apparently triggering the current claimed funding crisis. The state and city are obviously challenged by any number of poorly funded infrastructure needs, not the least of which is a decrepit drainage system that pours raw sewage in our rivers requiring the parks on our riversides to post off-putting signs warning that contact with the waters is hazardous to public health. The sewer-related sinkhole that opened up on Main Street this week will hinder access not only to the Park, but for eastern-city residents, to downtown Louisville as well. The politically driven agenda to avoid raising taxes, indeed to reduce them is taking a predictable toll on our state. Repairing bad public policy for parks, pensions, healthcare, sewers, and more will be difficult and expensive. Doing so regressively on the backs of those who– for whatever reason– are least able to afford to pay is in my opinion patently unfair. To disproportionally target those who have been systematically disadvantaged by earlier baked-in, government-sanctioned racial discrimination of the kind that sorts people by Zip code would be unpardonable.
I like going to Heine Brothers’ Coffee houses. There are several located around my house at varying distances that accommodate my energy to ride a bike on a given day. I like the fact that they are local. I like the fact that I can buy Heine Brothers’ gift cards at a 20% discount at Costco. The coffee is stronger than I make at home, but I suppose that’s the way most serious drinkers like it and I am learning. I like to go there, not just for the exercise and coffee, but because the cafés offer a get-a-way place with good internet connection that allow me to think and write without the innumerable distractions of things undone at home. (I am writing this in a Heine Brothers’ shop!) The staffs are friendly and responsive with but a single disappointment to me that is not of their doing. I am referring to failure to enforce the company’s own no-smoking policy– a directive to staff that side-steps Henie Brother’s own management policy!
This has never been an issue for me indoors, nor in winter. However, in fair weather the outdoor patios are as welcoming to smokers as they are to non-smokers (or former smokers like me). Often the outside air is filled with unpleasant amounts of smoke. I have come to recognize tables filled by regulars who smoke constantly and chat loudly as they spend morning or afternoon hours at their meeting places of choice. (If I still smoked, I might too!) Unlike what is typical of addictions to opioids or alcohol, the smell of smoke does not entice me to re-do the break-in period it took for me to get used to tobacco. It does however spoil my experience at Heine’s. I confess to not knowing what Kentucky law requires concerning smoking in public spaces. I appreciate that the extent of governmental or public health power to restrict smoking in public is continuously under debate, fueled by industry interests. I do accept that exposure of second-hand smoke is hazardous to physical health. I offer that it is not the responsibility of any patron to advise smokers of restaurant policy– indeed that leads to unpleasant encounters that are in no one’s interests.
I brought up this concern at least four Heines’ shops. I was told early on that the outdoor areas are already posted as non-smoking areas. Indeed, some are, with signs so small I did not notice them, or not at all in public areas appropriated by Heine Brothers’. I was also informed that staff were directed to enforce the prohibition “gently” which in this case seems to translate into not at all. I thank Heine Brothers’ for at least appearing to support good public health policy, but their unwillingness to back up their words with any apparent meaningful action turns their business policy-position into a sham. I asked staff at my favorite Heines’ to pass my concerns up to management. I do not know if they felt comfortable doing so. Nothing has seemingly changed in the last four months. I therefor offer this personal advice to Heine’s. Please be consistent. Either remove the no-smoking signs, or enforce them. Taking away ashtrays is an insufficient response.
There are other coffee shops I can use. I have begun to explore them. I still have some money left on my Heine’s gift cards and have not yet given up on them. I feel a little bad about targeting this to Heine Brothers’ specifically. I suspect that a similar business dilemma exists at other coffee or public houses which must address the risk of losing some customers against an unknown gain in others who might wish to smoke on the premises (or not). I do not know how other establishments handle what in my opinion is a health issue. I encourage my readers to voice their opinions one way or the other at their favorite coffee houses or other public facilities where no-smoking signs appear to be ignored with impunity. There are many alternatives out there and we drinkers or smokers deserve to feel comfortable. We can and should vote with our feet.
All rational Kentuckians want the Commonwealth to emerge under your leadership into “a better place.” I am one of them. You promised to seek out common ground to make the state “the best version of itself.” Such an approach honors our state motto: ”United we stand, Divided we fall.” Given the current highly polarized nature of our current political and civil life, we face a monumental challenge together. As did many of us, I looked to your first major address as Governor last week for signals of how you would proceed – the example you would set for the executive and legislative branches of our government. To be truthful, I felt that even your very opening words were at odds with your promises. Let me explain. Continue reading Governor Bevin – you lost me at Jesus.
Former UofL Archivist William Morrison has offered in the pages of Lousiville’s Courier-Journal a sober, reasoned and convincing argument why, for the sake of his University and its community, President James Ramsey should step down. I could not agree more. The question currently being asked at the national higher-education level is, “How much more has to go wrong at an institution before its top leaders are held accountable.” We need to answer this question here in Louisville.
In the current issue of The Atlantic, Jerry Useem quotes a prominent former corporate executive: “Culture starts at the top… but it doesn’t start at the top with pretty statements. Employees will see through empty rhetoric and will emulate the nature of top-management decision making … A robust ‘code of conduct’ can be emasculated by one action of the CEO or CFO.” These are the words of Andrew Fastow, former CFO of Enron following his release from a 5-year term in prison for corporate fraud. He would know what he was talking about.
Mr. Useem concludes: “Decisions may be the product of culture. But culture is the product of decisions.” Are we to conclude that the string of bad decisions made at the University of Louisville is independent of University culture – or in fact is it representative of University culture? Should President Ramsey be held harmless for things done out of his control, or has he set a standard which is being emulated to the University’s detriment?
At the time of his sombrero affair, President Ramsey was reported to have stated that he would not resign, at least until the scandal of providing sexual favors for potential basketball recruits was seen through. I don’t think that is the biggest problem facing the University of Louisville, nor that President Ramsey is the best or only person to represent the University before the NCAA. President Ramsey’s recent efforts to rid himself of pesky Trustees who ask too many questions or dare to disagree with him are patently self-serving, and are an example of the kind of decision-making that has taken UofL down this embarrassing path. I respectfully suggest that President Ramsey follow the lead of former President Tim Wolfe of the University of Missouri and step down – and for the same reasons. He is an embattled president who can no longer lead and there is no one else left to take the fall for him.
Peter Hasselbacher, MD Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL