Monday, October 10, 2016

On Hillary Clinton, the email releases, and journalism

First, I think it's important to recognize that Wikileaks in general, and Julian Assange in particular, does not "hate" Hillary Clinton, just as they did not "hate" Barack Obama when they published Chelsea Manning's revelations--that the US had engaged in war crimes and fired on civilians--for example.

I dislike the emotional demonizing of people and organizations who say or do things someone might find disagreeable to their position (or candidates) by using the word "hate", i.e. You just hate Hillary. I've been accused of "hating" Hillary Clinton, as have numerous friends--Bernie supporters, Independents, Greens, and Democrats alike--some of whom even plan to vote for her in November but nonetheless are clear-eyed about her record and what the various documents (i.e. emails) have shown. We were accused of this, by friends (and sadly, occasionally, former friends), simply because of our personal politics, ethics, priorities--and, most importantly, our refusal to buy into spin when the facts are pretty damned obvious--and because those things are regarded as pesky, inconvenient, an obstacle to what should have been a slam-dunk: Clinton beats Trump.

So in describing Wikileaks, I won't use that word--"hate". Rather, I'll say, they stand in opposition to one thing only: the hiding of facts from citizens who deserve to know what our government is doing in our name, with our tax dollars.

It's no different from Ed Snowden's revelations that the NSA had been illegally, unconstitutionally spying on innocent American citizens, vacuuming up our communications for analysis and storage, without a warrant. Snowden does not "hate" the president or the United States. (I would argue he is a finer and more courageous patriot than many if not most Americans).

Moreover, Wikileaks didn't just come into being to reveal Hillary Clinton's emails and transcripts and try to throw the election; before that, they revealed war crimes. And the strong-arming of foreign governments to not prosecute George W. Bush and company for torture and other war crimes lest they lose MFN trading status with the US. (NB: I have not even touched on all the WL revelations germane to other countries that the organization have made public over the years. Things that have little-to-nothing to do with the United States, or US elections. Not enough time or space.)

In fact, it was April 2007 when I first wrote about Wikileaks, both here at Litbrit and at Ezra Klein's eponymous blog. No-one had heard of them back then; most commenters thought it was an interesting idea but expressed doubt that it could work or that the organization could last, much less flourish (!)

Wikileaks' purpose is simply to make information available to citizens. If it had wanted to influence US elections, surely the damning Clinton emails and Goldman Sachs speech transcripts would have been made public during the primaries, when Bernie Sanders was within whispering-distance of capturing the lead. It has a 100% record of accuracy, thus far, meaning they take a very long time to authenticate and vet every single thing they release.

Second, the Intercept has an excellent post up, by Glenn Greenwald and Lee Fang, about a recent Guccifer 2.0 release. It discusses something I'd been arguing about with a friend recently--he thinks it's perfectly ethical and okay for the press to agree to only ask certain questions, to only cover "preferred and positive" topics, in order to make the "get". I maintain that this is a gross violation of journalistic ethics, which couldn't be clearer about the need for the press to be utterly impartial, to be skeptical of all supplied information, and to actually assume an adversarial position when the subject wields great power. Greenwald and Fang's piece reveals a press engaging in the polar opposite of this (emphasis mine):

EXCLUSIVE: New Email Leak Reveals Clinton Campaign’s Cozy Press Relationship

As The Intercept previously reportedpundits regularly featured on cable news programs were paid by the Clinton campaign without any disclosure when they appeared; several of them are included on this “surrogates” list, including Stephanie Cutter and Maria Cardona:

Finally, regarding the authenticity of the emails themselves. Glenn Greenwald (@GGreenwald) was livetweeting the debate. I consider him to be one of the very few actual journalists we have left. A few salient comments pertaining to the leak, starting with the earliest:
 Clinton confirming that the speech excepts released by WikiLeaks are accurate. Someone please tell the MSNBC host who claimed otherwise. 
 What else could she do? Her surrogates have been claiming they don't know. She obviously couldn't say that. So she had to admit it.
David Sirota @davidsirota
So Clinton just effectively verified that the Wikileaks excerpts are authentic. That's something...
224 retweets322 likes 
 Her campaign & her most devoted media pundits spent all day strongly implying the docs were fake, even though they knew it was false.
Christopher Hayes @chrislhayes
This is interesting: Clinton not denying the documents' authenticity. Kind of makes her campaign look ridiculous.
1,141 retweets1,679 likes

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Hillary Clinton-Honduras fiasco, brilliantly and quickly explained

(click to embiggen, as the kids say)

There are more (many more) (many, many more) absolutely superb explainer-mêmes where this came from:

Thank you, Nina Illingworth.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Murdered environmental activist Berta Cáceres' name was on Honduran military hitlist

The brutal ramifications of the Hillary Clinton-assisted Honduran coup that took place in 2009 are coming into sharper focus.

Today, the Guardian reports that Berta Cáceres, the environmental activist, Lenca leader, and Goldman Environmental Prize winner who was found shot dead in her home in March 2016, was on a hitlist given to US-trained special forces.

Berta Cáceres, the murdered environmental campaigner, appeared on a hitlist distributed to US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military months before her death, a former soldier has claimed. 
Lists featuring the names and photographs of dozens of social and environmental activists were given to two elite units, with orders to eliminate each target, according to First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, 20. 
Cruz’s unit commander, a 24-year-old lieutenant, deserted rather than comply with the order. Cruz – who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for fear of reprisal – followed suit, and fled to a neighbouring country. Several other members of the unit have disappeared and are feared dead. 
“If I went home, they’d kill me. Ten of my former colleagues are missing. I’m 100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army,” Cruz told the Guardian. 
Cáceres is regarded as a hero by many Hondurans, most saliently the poor and indigenous peoples whose land and resources she fought to protect. And before his ouster in the illegal 2009 Coup, when he was dragged from his bed at gunpoint and flown out of the country, then-president Manuel Zelaya had been a strong supporter of movements, by Cáceres and others, that recognized the rights of rural and peasant peoples and peacefully resisted the multinational corporations attempting to seize said land and resources for mining and biofuels.

Here's Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at NYU, on the aftermath of the Coup (bolds mine):
Since Zelaya’s ouster, there’s been an all-out assault on these decent people—torture, murder, militarization of the countryside, repressive laws, such as the absolute ban on the morning-after pill, the rise of paramilitary security forces, and the wholesale deliverance of the country’s land and resources to transnational pillagers. That’s not to mention libertarian fantasies, promoted by billionaires such as PayPal’s Peter Thiel and Milton Friedman’s grandson (can’t make this shit up), of turning the country into some kind of Year-Zero stateless utopia. (Watch this excellent documentary by Jesse Freeston on La Resistencia: The Fight for the Aguán Valley.)  
Such is the nature of the “unity government” Clinton helped institutionalize. In her book, Hard Choices, Clinton holds up her Honduran settlement as a proud example of her trademark clear-eyed, “pragmatic” foreign policy approach. 
Berta Cáceres gave her life to fight that government.

Here's what Berta herself had to say about Secretary Clinton:

[translated] We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after, there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community—officials, the government, the grand majority—accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.
Grandin explains how Clinton is implicated in the Coup and points to the actual scandal surrounding her having used a private email system (bolds mine):
Every other country in the world or in Latin America was demanding the restitution of democracy and the return of Manuel Zelaya. It was Clinton who basically relegated that to a secondary concern and insisted on elections, which had the effect of legitimizing and routinizing the coup regime and creating the nightmare scenario that exists today. I mean—and it’s also in her emails. The real scandal about the emails isn’t the question about process—you know, she wanted to create an off-the-books communication thing that couldn’t be FOIAed. The real scandal about those emails are the content of the emails. She talks—the process by which she works to delegitimate Zelaya and legitimate the elections, which Cáceres, in that interview, talks about were taking place under extreme militarized conditions, fraudulent, a fig leaf of democracy, are all in the emails.

The young (and understandably terrified) sergeant, Cruz (his pseudonym), says he and his troop, including the lieutenant, did not want to kill the Hondurans on the hitlist; they have since fled the country.

In mid-December, Cruz’s commander gathered his subordinates after a Tuesday evening football match and showed them several sheets of paper with names, photographs, addresses and phone numbers of each target. One list was assigned to their unit; the second to a similar unit in Fusina. 
“The lieutenant said he wasn’t willing to go through with the order as the targets were decent people, fighting for their communities. He said the order came from the joint chiefs of staff [and] he was under pressure from the Xatruch commander to comply,” Cruz said.  
A few days later, the lieutenant left the base and has not been seen since.Human rights groups have condemned US support for Honduran security forces amid mounting evidence implicating police and military in systematic abuses. In April, activists warned Congress that death squads were targeting opposition activists, much like they did during the “dirty war” in the 1980s. 
A reminder: American taxpayers are footing the bill for most of this unutterable brutality.

The US has given Honduras an estimated $200m in police and military aid since 2010 as part of its efforts to stem organised crime and undocumented migration, according to defence and state department figures. In addition, Honduras shares the $750m Alliance for Prosperity fund approved by Congress last year for Central America’s violent Northern Triangle. 
Both aid packages include human rights conditions, but neither has been restricted, even though the state department’s most recent human rights report says that “unlawful and arbitrary killings and other criminal activities by members of the security forces” remain one of the country’s most serious problems.

I doubt that much, if any, of the Berta Cáceres story will warrant as much as a brief mention on American cable news, especially not at the "Place for Politics" ("News, video, and progressive community. Lean forward!").
Certainly I won't expect to see much from the gatekeepers who've apparently already chosen the next president of our so-called "democracy", so sit down and shut up, Bernie Bros (even middle-aged, not-male Bernie Bros like Yours Truly).  But I wanted to get this important, disturbing story out there as best I can.

As I have said before, my feminism extends beyond US borders.

And I will say now, to those partisans who, because you're so invested in identity politics you can't see that which exists in front of your own noses, and thus can't bring yourselves to care about women and girls who aren't American:

You're not feminists. You're #FemiNOTS.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thoughts on #Guccifer (so far)

Image via Bernie2016

#‎Guccifer‬! Or else, That which MSNBC et. al. would seem to be ignoring.

As soon as Debbie Wasserman Schultz said no "documents of interest or donor information" had been hacked--all the while telegraphing her whopping lie with her risibly obvious body language--I knew we would soon have access to countless documents of interest and detailed donor information. And oh boy, was I right. My observations thus far:
  1. The ‪#‎DNC‬ absolutely, and shamelessly, colluded with media to anoint Hillary Clinton--they refer to her, and her exclusively, as the nominee as early as June 2015. O'Malley and Sanders do not appear, at least not in the first two batches of documents I've had the opportunity to skim through. (There are many more coming, including a big one yesterday, referred to as ‪#‎Guccifer3‬.) (Some of the more incendiary ones, I'm told, were given to Wikileaks. Stay tuned.)
  2. The DNC's hired media consultants had plans in place early on to deal with questions surrounding Clinton's various...let's call them "sticky issues". Their strategy was referred to as "muddying the waters", which generally means deflect, disarm, discredit.
  3. The DNC-Clinton individual donor list is jaw-dropping. If a candidate asked for it, would you be able to stroke a check for a cool million USD$ ? These people could, and did. Mostly people you and I have never heard of. People living not far from you, I bet (I saw plenty of Florida addresses. Yes, addresses. So much for donor information not being accessed.)
  4. The DNC had lots of tips for squeezing money out of people and getting around campaign finance law, including suggested ways to turn a potential donor's expressed interest in donating soft money (money to the Democratic party in general) into HARD money (money specifically directed to one candidate, guess who). This is obviously where the Hillary Victory Fund scam came in: I read actual suggested scripts for people to use, in which they were encouraged to say to a donor wanting to give $1,000,000 to the Democratic Party something like "Rather than a general donation, we would like you to give [the maximum] to HRC; then [another amount] to [Hillary-Victory-Fund-approved Candidate X]; then [another amount] to [Hillary-Victory-Fund-approved Candidate Y]; then [another amount] to [Hillary-Victory-Fund-approved Candidate Z]", with the exhortation that they should aim to convert any potential soft-money donations to hard-money ones.

I'm sure I'll have more to say on this in the days ahead. And I'm looking forward to seeing what Wikileaks has got hold of, too. In the interim, if you have the interest and time, you can read more here:

Guccifer2 (a Wordpress site on which numerous DNC docs and spreadsheets are posted, with promises of more)

The Observer weighs in. Money quote is the title: 

Guccifer 2.0 Leak Reveals How DNC Rigged Primaries for Clinton 
Hillary Clinton didn’t win the Democratic primaries through democratic means

Sunday, March 06, 2016

My feminism extends beyond US borders, and it informs my first-ever vote as a new American citizen

Police in Honduras repress women protesting violence against women. Photo via Telesur.

In the days and years before January 22, 2016, when I became a US citizen, the question of whom to vote for was always a hypothetical one for me.

Oh, that doesn't mean I didn't think about, write about, and discuss endlessly at our dinner table all the good, bad, and ugly features of every candidate vying for the votes of my husband and two of my three sons, US citizens by birth. The Huz is our main breadwinner, without a doubt, and we live where his business lives--as opposed to where I would prefer to live--making him the de facto head of the family. But as the saying goes (certainly as it goes in the so-called traditionally "patriarchal" countries I've lived in), the man may be the head, but the woman is the neck that turns the head.

So it would be dishonest of me to say that my interest in presidential politics was just academic. It would be disingenuous of me to say that in researching, analyzing, and discussing the candidates' records and policy proposals; their personal histories and present-day characters; and their values (insofar as it is ever possible to assess those with 100% accuracy when the person one is evaluating only exists in the electronic boxes in one's home), that I was merely indulging a hobby. A rather masochistic hobby.

I was amassing the data, evaluating it, and applying it to the progressive values we've taught our kids, the values that my family and I strive to uphold in all areas of life, not just politics. I was doing my job as "the neck".

In 2008, I was genuinely torn. To my mind, there was not that much difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. All things being equal, I told myself, my feminist self, I would have to support the woman candidate because she would bring to the nation's highest office a range of experiential qualities that a man never could. In the same way that, prior to giving birth to my first child, I always thought I knew what agonizing physical pain was (I had, after all, broken long bones while riding horses, and I'd suffered through a few tropical viruses) but in reality could not possibly know what it was really like until I'd gone through it myself. Likewise, then, a man--even a man who was the most empathetic creature on the planet--could nonetheless never truly understand what it was like to go through life as a woman in our culture.

That mattered a great deal to me. (It still does.) I connected with Hillary Clinton on a number of levels, just as the data tells us that women in my demographic tend to. We've experienced sexism and harassment; we've been underestimated and underpaid; we've seen our perceived worth reduced to our fuckability and outward appearance, even as we are simultaneously told to cover up those attributes lest we cause a helpless male superior at work (or else some rando dude in the parking lot) to accidentally rape us. (Ah yes, rape. That vile and violent power-display thing.)

Only a woman could truly know, at the experiential level, what all that shit feels like. How it talks to us, deep inside our brains, telling us we are not as good, not as smart, not pretty enough, not thin enough, too thin, too pretty, too loud, too quiet, and now, for me anyway, too old. Even as we manage to do well in the face of all of that because (if we were lucky) we had a role model or two in our family or circle of friends who insisted that we could, or else, we found in the literature or art or cinema some small gem of wisdom and affirmation that made us realize we could--indeed, look at what we've been through, we already have.

At the same time, though, and despite the powerful impetus to link arms with Hillary Clinton and support her in her quest to become the country's first woman president, I could not ignore her Iraq vote. The two candidates were so similar, in so many ways, but that one difference meant a lot to me. I believed 2008 Barack Obama when he said he would end the wars and bring everyone home. More than that, I believed him when he said he did not go along with the herd--he did not cave to pressure from war hawks, and this, in turn, indicated that even as a young senator, he had his own mind and he had the right ethics--the kind of ethics that had him standing up to the murderous George W. Bush and his colleagues.

Our dinner conversations began to center around Barack Obama. We read his book, Dreams From My Father. (Well, I did--I can't say for sure if the boys did.) I still longed for a really left-leaning candidate, one who broke free from the neoliberals in the Democratic party, the way that terrific, outspoken Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders did in the Senate. "If BERNIE ever runs for president," I declared, "I'm becoming a citizen so I can go with you guys to the poll and vote for him myself."

Fast-forward to last year. Bernie announced his run and I filed for citizenship, something I know well I should have done years ago--I've been eligible since 1979!--but didn't, because a big part of my heart still lived in England, where other Socialists like me were living (and living in the sunlight, unashamed and unassailed), and I felt it would be unethical to become an American when that English part of me still had blood flowing through it. Bernie, a Democratic Socialist, possibly becoming president? Well, then!

And here we are. We're looking at the increasing inevitability that, despite a heroic run by Senator Sanders, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But I can't vote for her, even though I am now a citizen as well as a feminist.

It's the war/foreign policy thing again. The foreign policy history that Secretary Clinton forged between 2008 and now. It's about Libya. And, especially for me, Honduras. The latter received such scant coverage in this country, it broke (and continues to break) my heart. But it matters a great deal. You see, I lived in Honduras as a young teen--lived through the 1974 Coup--and another part of my heart is with the people of that country, too. Last week, an activist for the indigenous people and campesinos (small farmers) and women of Honduras, a brave and beloved woman activist named Berta Cáceres, was shot dead in her home. What does this have to do with Hillary Clinton? In 2009, as Secretary of State, Clinton shepherded in the new, hard-right, School-of-the-Americas trained military junta who ousted a democratically-elected president, Manuel Zelaya. "Ousted" is not quite the right word: after a contentious back-and-forth between Zelaya and the (far) more rightwing factions of the government, soldiers broke into the president's house, beat him up, held him at gunpoint, and dragged him onto a plane--still in his pajamas--and flew him out of the country.

A bit of background: Mel Zelaya was himself a member of oligarchic society in Honduras. As you are probably aware, Honduras is practically a case study in what goes wrong when income equality gets too out-of-hand. You have a tiny few owning everything, and you have multinational corporations joining forces with them to seize every resource there is, and you have a vast many who have virtually nothing. "Nothing" often means: no electricity, no running water, no shelter, no food. You have fifteen-year-olds with AKs strapped to them stopping you in the street at gunpoint to ask for your ID, and when you hand them your passport, they look at it upside down because they don't know how to read. (True story.) You have indigenous people being abused at every turn, having their waterways seized for dam projects, their land and mountains destroyed by mining interests, their fields taken over by corporate fruit industries. You have a population kept in line by all the traditional fascistic means: sexism, hard-line religion (in the case of Honduras, the Catholic church), and militarized police forces who beat and kill. Who make people disappear.

But Zelaya, despite his upbringing, had the heart of a leftist. Once elected, he set about making birth control available to poor women. Even Plan B. He stood up and apologized for the country's history of persecuting LGBT individuals, and told them they were okay, they would be safe now. He constantly advocated for the poor, for the indigenous communities, for the campesinos. He worked alongside Berta Cáceres, and other activists like her. He was in the process of pushing for a significant raise in the country's minimum wage when he was "ousted".

When the coup happened, in 2009, President Obama at first condemned it. As did the UN, as did the OAS. Many Latin American leaders were calling for the US to do something--to demand that Zelaya be allowed to return to his country, where tens of thousands of people were marching in the street, peacefully protesting and calling for their president's safe return (and getting beaten and shot for their trouble). In a few days, the press moved on. Suddenly, our US president was saying nothing. 

Hillary Clinton's emails, released last summer, tell us why. She was very actively involved in supporting the installation of the new, right-wing government. This has been covered by Democracy Now, TeleSur, and other "alternative" media. This piece in The Nation, written by noted Latin American scholar Greg Grandin, is a good one to start with.

Why is this important to me, and why should it be important to every feminist who is voting in the presidential election? Because of what happened in the aftermath of Zelaya's violent removal from office in 2009--in the years between then, and 2016.

Draconian abortion laws were put into place. Birth control became unaffordable once again and Plan B was banned.

LGBT individuals were beaten and killed, after they had just begun to feel as though this was their country too, they were free. Now it was, Oh, sorry, you're actually NOT safe. You will be beaten if you're lucky; murdered and mutilated if you're not.

Multinationals got their footholds strengthened as militarized police forces beat and killed protestors.

And, well-documented at this point, the ensuing chaos and mind-bending levels of violence that beset the largest cities, particularly San Pedro Sula, led families who feared for their children's lives (many families had already lost loved ones to drug gang violence) to send them on a long and frightening journey to the US border, where they hoped their kids would somehow find asylum and safety.  Meaning these children would have to travel through Honduras, through Guatemala and the entirety of Mexico (parents reading this, please imagine how desperate you would have to be, how dire your circumstances would have to be, for you to kiss your small kids goodbye and put them on a rickety bus and hope against hope they would make it to safety).

Secretary Clinton said they should be sent back, these kids. Said this would "send a message". I actually watched the debate during which she said this, and shouted at my television: Send a message to WHOM?

I know I've rambled on (to put it mildly), but I was finally moved to speak, and I had a lot to say. I have been reading the discussions, everywhere, about people's support for Secretary Clinton based on feminist principles, and always the discussion turns to the same questions: Why are you denying my experience as a woman? Why can't you see how important it is to me, as a woman, to have a woman be able to rise above all the things we have all faced and be elected to the country's highest office? Why aren't you listening to me?

Meanwhile, I--a feminist, a mother, a target of sexual harassment and sexism--am asking, Why aren't you listening to ME?

The world does not begin and end at the US borders. Back-channeling deals to install rightwing military juntas that impose and enforce draconian reproductive laws is NOT FEMINIST. Back-channeling deals to install rightwing military juntas that silence--by bullet--more than a few women activists, is NOT FEMINIST. When LGBT people are beaten and killed; when women who are raped can't get abortions; when women who live in a highly patriarchal culture cannot even access ways to plan their families, which in turn seals their fate as permanent members of the underclass so favored among multinationals who need cheap, motivated labor...these results are NOT FEMINIST GOALS.

Thanks for reading. Now you know why, when I say I "feel the Bern", I really mean it.

This post also appears at: RadioOrNot

Thursday, August 06, 2015

On this day (how could we, how could we?)

I am sharing this email with the permission of its author, the venerable civil rights attorney Guy Saperstein, whom I am privileged to call my friend and correspondent.

(Photos via Wikipedia and CommonDreams, added by me, DNT.)

Exactly 70 years ago, on the morning of August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, flew over Hiroshima and dropped the first atomic bomb on humans. The bomb exploded 2,000' above the ground and five square miles of Hiroshima was completely destroyed, incinerating and killing 90,000 people; 70,000 more people would die soon after from burns and radiation. Nearly all the killed people were civilians.

Three days later, on August 9, 1945, the United States would drop a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing 70,000 civilians.

President Truman justified the use of nuclear weapons on "military necessity"---the need to avoid an invasion of Japan which would have cost American military lives, but, in fact, every one of Truman's military advisors and his Commander of the U.S. Army in the Far East, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, advised Truman that using nuclear weapons was not necessary to defeat the Japanese, who had a delegation in Washington D.C. negotiating for peace, and expressly advised Truman against using the bombs.

Historic records of Truman's administration later would reveal that use of nuclear weapons was never directed at Japan:  Truman's Secretary of State, James Byrnes, had convinced Truman that the Soviet Union would emerge from WWII as America's only rival and we needed to show them we had nuclear weapons and were willing to use them. Dropping the bombs on Japan was an attempt to dictate post-war terms to the USSR, not defeat Japan.  It was the beginning of the Cold War and the greatest single act of terrorism in the history of the world.

All of this has been documented by historians, most notably Gar Alperovitz in two books: Atomic Diplomacy and The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb.  Alperovitz' scholarship has stood up for 40 years.

Of course, this is not the version taught in schools and not the version popular in public conversation in America.  America doesn't do introspection.  America doesn't do contrition.  America fights terrorism, but never looks at its own acts of terrorism.

But maybe we could look at it today.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mama Deborah's vegetable soup (stew, really)

As is my wont, usually when it's cold or rainy--obviously, it was the latter this week--I get in the mood to make soup.

Soup is a wonderful, forgiving foodstuff. Unlike baking, where you have to pay close attention to the precisely-measured amounts (of most ingredients, anyway), soup-making allows you to customize like mad. If you adore thyme, go ahead and throw in some more; if you're trying to cut back on sodium, eliminate most of the salt; if you've got a surplus of carrots lying around in the fridge, well, no-one is going to argue with the sweet, carroty flavor and extra dose of vitamin A this week's soup is offering. You can be totally creative and health-conscious while thriftily using up leftover vegetables from your last supermarket run or CSA delivery. There really aren't too many rules.

I made the soup in the photograph above this week, and a few people asked me for the recipe. I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that I don't really have a recipe, per se, but I hope they'll like what I'm offering instead: a general guideline for making one's own fabulous vegetable soup. Do it once, and you'll love the results (and process!) so much, it will become a habit, especially as fall draws near.

This was an enormous amount, as I have a big and hungry family. You should feel free to divide the quantities and add or eliminate ingredients as you see fit.

Start with a big stock pot. My beloved All-Clad pot, above, which is going on 10 years old, is actually part of gigantic shellfish steaming set. Any good, heavy-bottomed stock pot will do--you want to be able to simmer your soup without scorching it, something that can happen if you use potatoes and/or fava beans (I used both this week).

Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil. Add a pinch of sea salt and a dash (or two or five, depending) of crushed red pepper.

Turn on the flame to low/medium and add your "mirepoix". A classic mirepoix is a mix of diced onions, celery, and carrot slices. I prefer minced garlic to onions, and there were tons of fat fennel bulbs at the market this week, so instead of celery, I cut the fennel into 1" dice (don't worry if you get a few of the leafy fronds in there, they're edible and tasty) and used those. If you can get your hands on fresh fennel, I wholeheartedly recommend using it--it imparts a delicious, sweet, faintly licorice-y flavor to the soup, and I adore that. It's also fun to nibble on raw while you're doing prep.

So, to recap, for this big batch (so far) I've used:

  • Olive oil to coat the pan
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Dash(es) of crushed red pepper to taste
  • 3 bulbs of fennel, woody stems and hearts removed, cut into 1" pieces
  • About 20 medium-ish organic carrots, sliced (however you like to slice carrots--fat, thin, French...your choice).

Sauté those until they're beginning to get soft, then turn down the heat to low and add:

  • 1 head of garlic, peeled, with the woody ends nipped off, then minced

Stir well, put the lid on the pot and let it all cook for a bit, checking on it and stirring every so often. The moisture from the carrots and fennel (or celery, if you're using that) will steam up and help soften everything, and it will also keep things from sticking. (But you still need a little oil to start with.)

While this is going on, you can prep your other vegetables. Meaning, it's serious wash-and-chop time.

The only real rule here is that you're going to add the harder, crisper vegetables first; softer, leafier stuff (like spinach) can wait until the end.

You'll need to have handy, at this point:

  • 3 cartons of organic vegetable broth (if you've got your own homemade stuff, use that--lucky you!)
  • 1/2 bottle of inexpensive semi-sweet white wine (like Reisling)
  • Some boiling water in the kettle, standing by alongside the soup pot: if your creation seems too thick at any point, you can splash a little in

Once the mirepoix is softening up nicely, pour in the wine. Turn up the heat a bit to bring things to a boil. Then pour in the vegetable broth. Get it all nice and bubbly.

Now add to the pot, more-or-less in this order, waiting until the bubbling resumes between each addition:

  • 2-3 tablespoons of dried sage or fistful or two of fresh sage that you've chopped
  • 1 pound, give-or-take, of new (baby) potatoes, preferably Yukon gold or other firm-fleshed potatoes, cut in half or even quarters if necessary (not red potatoes though, because they are best for mashing and you'll find they disintegrate rather quickly in soup)
  • 1  15-oz. can of organic Marzano plum tomatoes, which you've squashed in the can with your bare hands (or cut up into smallish chunks if you're squeamish), juice included
  • 1 large can of fava beans, rinsed a few times and drained (or a cup or two of fresh favas, if you can find them, again, lucky you)
  • 1-2 heads of organic broccoli, cut into reasonable-sized chunks
  • 3 large zucchini, sliced
  • 3 large yellow squash, sliced
  • 1-2 cans of organic baby peas, or a bag or two of frozen, or a pound or so of fresh petit pois if they're available (sigh)

And get all that boiling nicely. After about 20-30 minutes, once the potatoes are softening, you can add:

  • 1-2 bags (or more) of washed baby spinach.

And when that is cooking down and swirling around the other vegetables, take a big fistful of:

  • fresh thyme

...wash it well, and stir it into your soup.

(I'm trying to remember if I left anything out....)

You'll want to simmer your soup on low for a good hour or so after this; put the lid on it, but askew, so some steam escapes and it can continue to cook down. Me, I love the way this tastes the next day, when flavors have blended together nicely and the potatoes have thickened everything up. Given that your kitchen will be smelling mighty fine, though, you'll probably have to serve this soup tonight, and it will be raved about. When you're ready to do that, taste a bit and see if it needs more salt; bear in mind, you'll want to use little-to-no additional salt if you're serving your soup with an Italian hard cheese.

Yes, you can shave some pecorino Romano (or Parmesan) on top. Certain family members of mine insist on it.

And yes, you can cook some tiny soup pasta (like acini di pepe) in a separate pot, spoon some in bowls, and then ladle your wonderful vegetable soup over it--and then top with cheese (or not), too. Totally up to you and/or your crowd.

Having a hot, crusty loaf of bread and a full bottle of wine on the table though? That's pretty much mandatory.