Seeking Dialogue to Inform, Enlighten, and/or Amuse You and Me
I've been a nonfiction writer for many years, exploring diverse topics that pique my curiosity, as noted in my first blog posting (Greetings!). I'm seeking dialogue with others committed to joining me in this exploration, sharing my conviction that different views can be exchanged in a respectful, civil discourse where we can learn from one another and be agreeable, even when we disagree. These postings depend for their enrichment on your participation: your ideas, insights, knowledge, opinions, and personal stories.
I noted in my previous post that the title I used above was a response from my friend, an African American woman, to my efforts last year to encourage dialogue on race in America.
She sent me her reactions to the events described in Wednesday’s post via email, and I feel her words are yet another important message for us white folks to hear. We hear them, but do we reallyhear them?
Can we feel them? Can we picture ourselves in the situations she describes? And how will–or will–any of this affect our actions going forward?
Can we transform the outrage we feel now to effect changes, staying the course, because it won’t be quick or easy?
Here’s my friend’s response:
I would say what’s happening now is no more an awful time in America than it has ever been.
It’s awful for a huge percentage of black people and people of colour ALL OF THE TIME because of poverty, institutional racism, disparities in healthcare, lack of basic clean drinking water, healthy affordable food in our own communities, disproportionately high incarceration rates…I could go on.
It’s only when something so heinous happens to us (as though that laundry list wasn’t already enough) and we take to the streets in protest, that people really talk about what must change in America.
I worked with Christian Cooper for 5 1/2 years. [Note: She describes what happened to Cooper below.]
He’s a Harvard graduate and worked in the Editorial Department of a medical education company. Chris is one of the sweetest human beings on the planet. The trauma (and yes–it’s a trauma) that he sustained grieves me more than I can express.
This one hit home and saddens me as much as it terrifies me. It saddens me because that woman injured my friend and altered his life. Will he ever be able to quietly go about bird watching–something he loves?
It also terrifies me because it makes me realize just how lucky I am every day that my family members and I have managed to survive in racist America.
I’m lucky that my son–who was pulled over twice in one night for speeding on his way back to college–wasn’t shot by those police officers.
I will not excuse him driving well beyond the speed limit both times. He was wrong; however, as a young black man, being pulled over for something as minor as speeding can get you killed. HAS gotten them killed.
I’m fortunate that I wasn’t dragged from my car and thrown onto the ground with a knee placed on the back of my neck, when I raced up the turnpike in my BMW M2 trying to make it to Hermès in Short Hills to drop off a watch for repair before the store closed.
I’m lucky that when my husband and I pulled into the service area behind a restaurant just outside of Barton Springs, Texas, and a cop raced in right behind us, that we weren’t shot and killed.
We were returning from my husband’s tennis tournament in January. It was after 10 pm and dark. We didn’t know the area well but were simply trying to coordinate where to grab a late dinner.
The cop thought we were about to conduct a drug deal. What saved us was our age (50+) so we “didn’t fit the typical profile,” he said before driving away.
It’s THIS. Every. Day. Of. Our. Lives. It’s exhausting. It’s exasperating. It’s maddening. We always have to look over our shoulders.
We always have to be prepared to justify our presence in spaces that white people still believe are theirs alone: luxury stores, exclusive neighbourhoods, first-class lounges in the airport, and apparently, Central Park.
We continue to be vilified. We are labeled as thugs when armed white men with assault rifles are called patriots for protesting being quarantined during a global pandemic.
Police (and without riot gear, I might add) simply stand while angry white people, armed to the teeth, scream in their faces on the steps of State Courthouses.
The white college student, accused of double murder, was taken into custody “without incident” this week.
What if that suspect had been black? Just being suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bank note was apparently enough to get a black man killed.
The image of that police THUG with his knee on George Floyd’s neck harkened back to segregation and slavery. It was an everyday occurrence to have white men violently putting us “in our place.” The glee they had knowing they had power over our very lives and deaths.
The white woman who threatened to call the police on my friend Christian had the same glee in her voice. “I’m going to call the police and tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
This was a potential Emmett Till scénario, and it’s 2020 and this was in New York City, not Mississippi.
What does that say?
I’ve stopped watching the news or even reading it online. I’m not on much social media either because it’s all, more of the same information about the hatefulness in this country and the spreading cancer of nationalism and racism that is infecting as many people as the coronavirus pandemic.
I simply don’t want to expose myself to that because I don’t want to be infected by the level of hatred–which is easy when you are angry.
Believe me, I AM angry. I just am too tired to keep fighting a problem that will never change.
I wanted to give my friend a real hug–not a virtual hug–and to tell her please don’t despair; things will get better. But how could I do that?
Months ago, I had an encounter with a police officer when I didn’t realize I was passing a stopped truck by crossing into a “no passing zone.” I apologized profusely and handed over my license. The officer took it, went to his car, and returned.
He said, “This license is expired. Do you have a new one?” I searched frantically through my bag and said, “I know I have it; I must have left it at home.”
He smiled pleasantly, told me to make sure I use my new license, and to drive carefully. I smiled sweetly, thanked him, and drove off.
He might have just been a nice police officer; there are surely plenty of them. But I can’t help wondering how he would have reacted if he’d stopped my friend…
When I ran a series of posts on my blog last year in the hope of encouraging dialogue about how we talk about race in America, the comment above was made by a woman I worked with years ago who became a friend.
She’s an African American who has risen high in her chosen field—despite not having a college degree—by virtue of her extraordinary intelligence and diligence.
Her view was that she was tired of having to explain stuff to white people; it was our turn now.
I saw an identical comment on Twitter yesterday from another African American woman.
And yet the people demonstrating on the streets of Minneapolis and other communities throughout the United States—justifiably infuriated by the murder of yet another unarmed black man by a police officer who was arrested only Friday—are predominantly people of color.
Yes, there are a goodly number of white people demonstrating as well, but there should be more of us.
(Though during this pandemic, everyone demonstrating has to know the health risk of those crowds.)
It’s time we white people acknowledged that this problem is ours to fix—all of ours, as a country, but it will never happen if white people don’t recognize our role and responsibility.
First some facts. The video made it clear that Derek Chauvin is guilty of a serious crime. The Minneapolis police officer held his knee on the neck of George Floyd, who was not only unarmed but handcuffed, for nearly nine minutes.
Chauvin ignored Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe—and his cry for his “mama.”
Chauvin and the three fellow officers who stood by and did nothing to stop him were quickly fired.
That was good because otherwise actions against them would have taken even longer due to union processes.
Floyd’s family wants a charge of first-degree murder, and one can hardly blame them.
The charges against Chauvin don’t require an “intent to kill,” though Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than two minutes after he’d become unresponsive.
As the increasingly angry crowds called for their arrests, the Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman, said the investigation will take time because “We have to do this right.”
(The fact that there was violence by some protesters, which I’d never condone, is too lengthy to discuss here, but may be related to the increasing militarization of police departments, now equipped with the weapons of war for use against civilians. This does not look like America to me.)
Although Freeman agreed that the video is “graphic, and horrific and terrible and no person should do that,” he insisted that “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.”
Freeman’s office later explained he was simply saying they wanted to uncover all the evidence that might come up in trial so that they’d be prepared because they faced a heavy burden to convict the officer.
Why is the burden so heavy? There are several reasons, but a major one is that in a 1967 ruling, the Supreme Court—in response to police violence against Mississippi civil rights demonstrators—specified that the officers had “qualified immunity”: protection against legal liability for law enforcement conducted “in good faith and with probable cause.”
A New York Times editorial, well worth reading, called that a “high standard to meet” and said each case had to clearly establish the violation of rights by relating it to another case with the same circumstances in which an officer hadn’t been found immune.
In practice, the editorial states, “it has meant that police officers prevail virtually every time” and there’s a “Catch-22” because plaintiffs have to find precedents—but there aren’t any because the plaintiffs always lose.
Do you find this situation bizarre and wrong? So do Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas. If those two justices agree, one can hope that there’s some way to redress this judicial wrong.
And so, we repeatedly see these gross injustices, which seem to be increasing. (There’s no official data on the numbers, which is itself surprising and concerning).
Our country has been awash with innocent blood from unpunished crimes like these for years.
And Minnesota has had more than its share. It was only four years ago that Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop while his horrified girlfriend videotaped the encounter. The officer who killed him was acquitted.
That officer’s attorney is now representing Chauvin, who had received at least 12 complaints over his career but no disciplinary actions apart from a “letter of reprimand.” He had, in fact, been praised for his valor.
In what I think may be unprecedented, police elsewhere in the country weighed in with condemnations. David Roddy, the Police Chief in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, said this:
“There is no need to see more video. There is no need to wait to see how ‘it plays out.’ There is no need to put a knee on someone’s neck for NINE minutes. There IS a need to DO something. If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with this…turn it in.”
Sheriff Jonny Moats of Polk County, Georgia was similarly unequivocal.
“I am deeply disturbed by the video of Mr. Floyd being murdered in the street with other officers there letting it go on…This kind of brutality is terrible and it needs to stop. All Officers involved need to be arrested and charged immediately. Praying for the family.”
But some civil rights advocates immediately pointed out that these words alone aren’t enough; what’s needed are substantial reforms to prevent such fatal use of force by police.
Though this outrage against black men—and some black women—has been going on for years—and gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, which I believe is in the finest tradition of nonviolent protest—it should be noted that under our current President, both the law and the bully pulpit have made things worse.
Just before former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired in 2018, he “drastically limited the ability of federal law enforcement officials to use court-enforced agreements to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations,”according to the Justice Department.
Under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department and certain local governments had entered into “consent decrees” to facilitate law enforcement changes when police abuses were observed.
But as soon as Sessions took office, he said he’d review agreements that had been reached with Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson (Missouri) police departments following the deaths of black men by police officers.
Sessions’ changes “imposed three stringent requirements” reported The New York Times.
First, in place of the career lawyers who had previously signed off on these decrees, high-level political appointees would do so. (No surprise there; this is the Trump administration’s modus operandi.)
Second, evidence had to go beyond violations of unconstitutional behavior. (I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds pretty wacky to me).
Third, the deals had to have a “sunset” or ending date—instead of continuing until real improvements in police or other law enforcement agencies had been documented.
And now, with the tinderbox already ignited in Minneapolis, Trump called the protesters THUGS, suggested military intervention, and warned “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
That phrase was directed against civil rights activists in the darkest days of the 20th century fight for racial equality. Trump later denied his tweet harkened back to that era.
Interestingly, his til-this-week beloved Twitter, which is now watching the President’s tweets, flagged that one for “glorifying violence.”
It is clear that we need systemic change in this country that will not come quickly but must emphatically receive a commitment from the public, law enforcement, and elected officials alike.
We know what to do; it’s all been laid out before. We simply must do it.
Congresswoman Val Demings, a former police chief, wrote an excellent article in The Washington Post titled: “My fellow brothers and sisters in blue, what the hell are you doing?”
She specified what’s needed quite succinctly.
“As a nation, we must conduct a serious review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, use-of-force policies, pay and benefits (remember, you get what you pay for), early warning programs, and recruit training programs.
“Remember, officers who train police recruits are setting the standard for what is acceptable and unacceptable on the street…
And she observed:
“Law enforcement officers are granted remarkable power and authority. They are placed in complicated and dangerous situations. They respond to calls from people with their own biases and motives.
“In New York, we’ve recently seen past pains of the Central Park Five dredged up in a new attempt to misuse law enforcement against an African American man. When you see people differently, you treat them differently. And when power is in the mix, tragedy can result.
“As law enforcement officers, we took an oath to protect and serve. And those who forgot — or who never understood that oath in the first place — must go. That includes those who would stand by as they witness misconduct by a fellow officer.”
Even if George Floyd had been forging a check, his act did not warrant force at all—and certainly not the death penalty he received.
Importantly, in addition to proper screening and training, those police officers who violate the law and use excessive force must be swiftly, consistently brought to justice.
We’ve got to address the nearly impossible legal hurdles that have protected too many officers who were obviously guilty.
And no black parents should ever, ever have to feel they must give their young sons “the talk” to protect them from unintentionally provoking police who are too ready to reach for their guns.
We white folks must make it clear that these black men (and women) who have been senselessly murdered over the years are as important to us as are our own families.
Until we start seeing each other beyond color lines, we’ll never escape the cruelty of our checkered history:
Slavery—Reconstruction…Jim Crow—Civil rights acts…Voter suppression—Police violence—White supremacy.
The arc of justice may be moving in the right direction, but it sure doesn’t feel that way to me now. So I can’t imagine how it must feel to my brothers and sisters of color.
Some police incidents occur when white people, irrationally frightened of a black person for no clear reason, call the police. Once again, this is on all us white folks. Please spend the few minutes to watch the video below. I think it’s important.
And we’re not even talking at the moment about how we must address inequality in the job market, health care, and other major issues. Or all the deliberate or careless remarks or acts that sap the souls of people of color, who must endure them day after day.
We’re talking about life and death…sudden, senseless, irreversible.
These outrages simply must stop. We must, collectively, stop them. No more of these. Not…one…more.
Nobody would ever accuse me of being a math whiz, though I do feel I have skills some of my younger acquaintances lack: I eschew a calculator on occasion to make sure the various cortices of my brain responsible for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division get a little workout.
You just never know when your battery may run down while you’re stranded on a desert island and have an immediate need to balance your checkbook.
Oh, and there’s another mathematical task that I’ve mastered.
An older friend told me not long ago that physicians who are concerned that a patient may be in the early stages of dementia will test mental agility by asking said patient to subtract backwards from 100—by 8s.
I’ve gotten quite facile at that effort—and have moved on to 7s with similar success.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m inviting you to join me in exploring a story that involves number theory—a deep dive that I have no business whatsoever attempting.
But my friend Allan, who excels in math, knows I like quirky stories and thoughtfully sent me this one, which appeared in Popular Mechanics.
So once again, Annie plunges ahead—undeterred by her total lack of experience. I promise, though, that I won’t go beyond what I understand, which means there won’t be a whole lot of number theory here.
I hope not too many of you will be disappointed by this limitation…
Christopher Havens (Chris) is the name of the guy in the title. He’d made quite a mess of his life: a high school dropout, he had become a homeless drug addict.
And then in 2010, he committed murder, killing a 25-year-old man with whom he’d been feuding; there was apparently a methamphetamine connection.
He was convicted and sentenced to serve 25 years in the Washington Department of Corrections.
He didn’t immediately transform himself into a model prisoner—far from it. Soon after being incarcerated in 2011, his behavior earned him a place in solitary confinement.
That’s where and when he “got math”—recognized his love for mathematics.
He’d spend as many as 10 hours a day studying, and then entered the Intensive Transition Program, ITP, which he described (with a vulgarity) as
“a one-year program which helps people get their minds right. It’s designed to effectively aid you into ‘taking your head from your backside.’
“This was my schedule. Eat, math, remove my head from my backside, brush, rinse, repeat. It was an important time in my life.”
After that, he sought information to help him with his studies by writing the following letter:
“To Whom It May Concern:
I’m interested in finding more information on a subscription to Annals of Mathematics for personal use.
I’m currently serving 25 years in the Washington Department of Corrections and I’ve decided to use this time for self-betterment. I’m studying calculus and number theory.
As numbers have become my passion, can you please send me any information on your mathematic journal. Thank you…Chris Havens.
P.S.: I am self-teaching myself (sic) and often get hung on problems for long periods of time.
Is there anyone I could correspond with, provided I send self-addressed stamped envelopes?
There are no teachers here who can help me so I often spend hundreds on books that may or may not contain the help I need. Thank you.”
(It isn’t clear where he gets the “hundreds” he spends on books, but that’s not central to our story.)
The letter circuitously reached a man named Matthew Cargo in January, 2013. Cargo, then production editor for Mathematical Sciences Publications, forwarded it to two mathematicians: the parents of his partner, Marta Cerrruti.
Cerruti wrote about the results of that connection in phys.Org.
“Initially, my father, Umberto Cerruti, a number theorist who was a professor of mathematics at the University of Torino, Italy, agreed to help Havens simply because we asked him.
“My father thought that Havens was likely one of the many cranks that fall in love with numbers and come up with a flawed theory. To test him, he gave Havens a problem to solve.
“In return, my father received a 120-centimetre-long piece of paper in the mail, and on it was a long and complicated formula. My father entered the formula into his computer and to his surprise, the results were correct!
“After this, my father invited Havens to work on a problem involving continued fractions he was working on.”
OK, here’s where I have to stretch a bit. Continued fractions, which Euclid discovered in 300 BC, enable the expression of all numbers through sequences of integer numbers, which are positive and negative numbers expressed without fractions.
Cerruti gives pi as an example: the ratio of a circle’s diameter and circumference is written as 3.14159…
“The sequence of numbers after the initial digit continues forever and is totally chaotic. But written as a continued fraction its expression is simple and beautiful.”
Although this particular aesthetic is beyond my ken, Cerruti’s point is that continued fractions show the power of number theory.
Much of this is theoretical, pure math, but number theory plays an important role in cryptography today.
Even I understand that its many uses are applicable in both financial institutions and the military, among other areas. It’s the reason you can buy something online or pay your bills in what are for the most part secure transactions.
Havens was so motivated that he started a Prison Mathematics Project in which he explained math to other inmates.
The group met biweekly and used books sent by Cerruti’s father. That change from the man who’d been in solitary confinement struck me as extremely impressive.
And the story gets dramatically better:
From his prison cell, Havens made a significant contribution to the field of continued fractions—so significant that he is named the first author in an article published in the January, 2020, issue of the journal Research in Number Theory.
(If you want to read the article, you’ll have to plunk down $99 for it.)
He reached this lofty spot using the highly sophisticated tools of pen and paper, “exchanging ideas with his co-authors in Italy though hard-copy letters mailed across the ocean,” Cerruti writes.
Cerruti describes Havens’ pathbreaking work: He “showed for the first time some regularities in the approximation of a vast class of numbers.”
In essence, he provided number theorists with an important new tool whose applications may be vast. According to Cerruti,
“finding new ways for writing numbers is one of the most important problems for a number theorist, although the results may not have an immediate application.”
She points out that some supercomputers are employed solely for computing pi digits into the trillions.
Havens’ achievement has also had a huge impact on his own outlook and future plans.
He’s studying for an associate degree through the mail and is determined to complete bachelors and graduate degrees in math and to pursue a career once he’s released from prison.
And he hopes to turn the Prison Mathematics Project he founded into a nonprofit organization to help inmates with a talent for math.
He told Cerruti:
“I definitely have plotted out a long term life plan to accommodate paying a debt that has no price. I know this path is permanent…and there never is a day that it’s finally paid off.
“But this longevity in debt is not bad. It’s inspiration. Maybe this will sound stupid, but I serve my time in the company of the soul of my victim. I dedicate a lot of my biggest accomplishments to him.”
She is an international icon, yet she talks with strangers as if they are her very best friends. She revels in her status, yet openly discusses her vulnerabilities. She moves deftly from riotous humor to wrenching soul-searching with an apparent spontaneity that’s surely grounded in practice. She’s a marvel.
If you’re fortunate enough to have Netflix access, you can watch the new documentary, Becoming, now. If you don’t have Netflix, I’m sure it will be more widely distributed in the near future.
I don’t think my description of the film will detract from your experience: Michelle Obama’s magnetism—and the poignancy of the recent trajectory of her life and that of President Obama—must be witnessed to be fully appreciated.
(The amazing orator, President Charisma, plays a relatively small part in this documentary.)
But if you’d rather watch it without a sense of deja vu, I excuse you from reading this post—with absolutely no hard feelings.
I viewed the documentary as a welcome antidote to the present. It combines snippets from Michelle’s 34-city 2018 book tour following the publication of her book Becoming, with shots from those often happy White House years filled with hope, and remembrances of her childhood and early years with Barack.
It reminds us that our national reality not so many years ago says much about who we are as a people—the good and the bad—but in better perspective than many of us can currently manage.
When asked what those last hours in the White House were like, she says they were very busy. Apparently, daughters Malia and Sasha often had sleepovers there with their friends, and the friends pleaded for one last visit the night before.
So the 44th First Lady of the United States ran around calling out to sleepy young girls,
“Wake up; the Trumps are coming and you got to get out!”
While we’re on the subject of the White House, I note two actions Michelle took early on.
She and Barack were dismayed they were being served by aging African American or Latino men dressed in tuxedos. These men could have been her uncles, she said.
“I didn’t want them [her daughters] seeing grown men serving them in tuxedos.”
So they changed the dress code.
Additionally, she begged the housekeepers not to make Malia and Sasha’s beds. As she explained:
“They won’t be living here forever. I am not raising girls who don’t know how to make a bed!”
The last day in the White House was highly emotional, but she knew she had to keep her feelings hidden for fear her tears would be misunderstood. But once on the plane, she says:
“I sobbed for thirty minutes—eight years of trying to do everything perfectly.”
Elsewhere she notes that
“It was hard to wake up every day and maintain the level of perfection absolutely required of Barack and me as President and First Lady.”
She recalls the first campaign, in 2008. She had become an effective campaigner, and the opposition knew it. She was depicted as “the angry black woman,” and Fox News commentators asked: “Does Michelle Obama hate America?”
The fun “fist bump” the Obamas shared became a nefarious sign of their alleged radicalism, their “otherness.”
This barrage had an impact: she began to talk less freely and became “more scripted than ever before.”
Being so falsely portrayed wasn’t easy. She is candid about the impact.
“That does hurt. That changes the shape of a person’s soul.”
If anyone wonders whether Michelle Obama will ever run for office, which is an oft-heard liberal dream, I believe she has definitively provided her answer.
With Obama’s election, she recalled:
“Life changes instantly—we were shot out of a cannon and didn’t have time to adjust. Every blink of eye is analyzed. Your life isn’t yours anymore.”
There’s surely a measure of irony in the fact that she chose this very public book tour as a time to reflect on what she’d just been through, to be “unplugged for the first time in a long time.”
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that it was also a thoroughly justified means of reminding the public of Barack and Michelle Obama’s many solid accomplishments in those eight years—at a time when they have—in public, at least—silently watched the White House’s current occupant systematically seek to destroy every one of them.
There’s no mention in the film of Michelle’s famous “kitchen” garden, that tangible evidence of her successfully launching a campaign to improve the health of Americans, especially school children, which included improvements in the quality of school lunches.
To me, the destruction of that garden and all its bounty was an early and potent symbol of the senseless cruelty and disregard for the public’s health that Donald Trump has demonstrated (an attitude writ large in our present disastrous situation).
But back to our heroine. On the book tour, she greets each admirer with warmth and humor. They love her, and she basks in that affection. She challenges young people, urging them to ask themselves these questions: Who are you? What are you about? And what gives you joy?
They tell her how profoundly she’s affected them. One young woman says that Michelle’s discussing her postpartum depression helped her get through her own. Michelle describes the benefits she derives:
“Sharing somebody’s story gives me what I don’t have because all my actions are so sanitized. It helps me stay connected.”
Watching her connect with each book buyer on those interminably long lines was one of my favorite parts of the film.
Notably, in one gathering she met with the members of two book clubs who had read Becoming: one comprised of all African American women; the other all white women. The book “creates bridges.”
One of the white women describes her family’s being part of the “white flight” from Chicago neighborhoods as the racial composition changed. Michelle observes that it was her family from whom they were fleeing.
She points to her class photos: the kindergarten class has many white faces; the 8th grade class is entirely African American.
When an African American teenage girl asks her how she’s able to avoid feeling invisible, she pays tribute to her parents: at the dinner table on the South Side of Chicago, she and her brother were always encouraged to speak up, ask questions.
“My parents always made me feel visible,” she says. “We can’t afford to wait for the world to regard us as equal. I have high expectations of young people.”
She describes in detail a searing occasion on which—without the confidence her parents’ instilled—she might have been invisible. Her brother had gone to Princeton, but the high school guidance counselor told Michelle she was not Princeton material.
She did go to Princeton, where she learned on arrival that one of her intended roommates had moved out after hearing she was African-American, believing she was dangerous.
Still, she excelled there, graduated from Harvard Law, and learned that not everyone in these hallowed institutions is as special as one might think.
She makes a similar observation based on world travels and being in some of the most rarefied meetings among leading, exalted individuals.
“I’ve been at the most powerful tables in the world. I’m coming down from the mountaintop. Don’t listen [to the naysayers who may question these young people’s worth]; they don’t know how they got there.”
Of the guidance counselor’s misguidance, she says she’s “still a little salty about that one.”
In the course of the book tour, she fills large venues—with people exuding happiness and good feeling.
“What I experience in those big arenas is the power of gathering: we’re sharing a set of experiences.”
The image of those diverse, highly civilized audiences is in stark relief to the Presidential rallies marked by hatred and divisiveness that we’ve been witnessing in the past several years.
Michelle provides a stunning insight into her thoughts, feelings, and White House life in detailing the day that marriage equality became the law of the land.
It happened to be the same tragic day as the funeral services for the African Americans gunned down in church by a white supremacist in Charleston.
When the Obamas returned from Charleston to the White House, now illuminated with the appropriate equality colors, they saw joyous people congregating in front. “I need to be a part of this,” she said, dragging Malia as her partner in crime to get outside.
After pulling on the locked front doors, she persuaded the Secret Service to let them slip out the back, where they saw some of the celebration from the steps.
“I had to have some indicator that all this is worth it,” she says—“we’re moving the country forward.”
She expresses sadness about the voters in 2016.
“A lot of our folks didn’t vote. It was almost like a slap in the face. I understand those who voted for Trump. But people who didn’t vote at all—young people, women—thought this was a game. They just couldn’t be bothered at all. That’s my trauma.”
I sure hope that sentiment resonates broadly this November.
Does she still feel that “when they go low, we go high?” she was asked. “I try,” she says, with a wry smile. But she does still feel there’s a desire to overcome “the racialism and tribalism that are tearing this country apart.”
“If we’re gonna get anywhere with each other, we have to say who were are…I am the former First Lady, and the descendant of slaves…
“The energy that is out there is much better than what we see. This country is good; the people are good.”
When Stephen Colbert interviews her about filling arenas with people from all different backgrounds, she says,
“I’m not alone. I like this not being divided. Share stories; be vulnerable. I remain hopeful that people want better…”
She has been doing just that. And now,
”My life is starting to be mine again. There is another chapter waiting for me out there.”
I haven’t yet read her book Becoming. But I look forward to reading every chapter. And then watching her evolve into her next chapter…and the next…
After The New York Times published an Op-Ed by a woman who said she believed Tara Reade’s assertion that Joe Biden had sexually assaulted her—but she would vote for him anyway, Biden was asked in an interview what he thought about that. He responded:
“If she believes Tara Reade, she shouldn’t vote for me. If I believed Tara Reade, I wouldn’t vote for me.”
Here’s Why I Feel Compelled to Return to the Issue Now
This may well be a very close election, in which every vote counts. Thinking of Biden’s words cited above, I decided that if I can help anyone who has doubts about whether Biden committed such a crime—and those doubts might lead them either to waver or stay home—I want to offer what is to me some more convincing evidence in his favor.
I’m further motivated because The New York Times just reported on the extensive planned Republican efforts to keep as many likely Democratic voters from successfully casting their ballots as they can (using the largely discredited excuse of voter fraud).
Thus, no vote should be lost when the individual voter’s participation is so urgently important.
The disinformation campaign waged by the Trump organization is well under way. Lest you think they’ll shy away from this topic simply because of the 25 women who have charged Trump with sexual misconduct, his own videotaped bragging about having done so, and the fact that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, remains in jail in part for paying women to silence them about those charges, think again.
Remember when Trump debated Hillary, and he invited a number of Bill Clinton’s female accusers to accompany him? The words “distraction” and “deflection” are now frequently applied to trumpian behavior.
Could be, but I was so convinced by what I’d read, and so concerned that this issue would unfairly dominate the campaign—despite Trump’s abysmal record—that I felt it was worth taking an early stand, expressing my hope that the press wouldn’t go down every rabbit hole.
For now, I believe there’s been enough follow-through that most of the media recognizes this story doesn’t have the “legs” that appeared early on.
Perhaps some wariness set in when the second woman to come forth was quickly dismissed as a phony whose story was demonstrably untrue.
Now There Are These Investigation Results
PBS Newshourpublished a lengthy, detailed article after interviewing 74 former Biden staff members, 62 of them women, about Tara Reade’s charge.
The NewsHour writers say they sought to get these individuals’ sense of how he acted toward women over all those decades, what they thought of Reade’s allegations, and whether there had been a pattern of the behavior she alleged.
Of the interviewees, more than 20 had worked in Biden’s office during the less than one year Reade was there. Many of them didn’t remember her.
According to the NewsHour reporters:
“None said they had experienced sexual harassment, assault, or misconduct by Biden. All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct” until Reade’s recent charge.
“Overall, the people who spoke to the NewsHour described largely positive and gratifying experiences working for Biden, painting a portrait of someone who was ahead of his time in empowering women in the workplace.”
Some Salient Points:
*Ben Savage worked directly with Reade, who had served as a junior aide in Biden’s office for about nine months. Savage said Reade had been fired for poor performance, which he had seen directly, and not in retaliation against her alleged claim of sexual harassment (which she upped to sexual assault only recently).
*Former staff members cast doubt about Reade’s assertion that Biden had asked her to serve drinks at a fundraiser (which she’d at one point implied was related to her firing) for two reasons.
—First, there was an office policy banning most of his Senate staff from doing campaign work. “Never would have happened. We all knew there was a very hard line there,” said a staff assistant, Melissa Lefko, who served when Reade was there.
—Second, two male junior staff members said Biden specifically didn’t want women to serve beverages or do similarly stereotypical tasks, and had asked the young men to do them instead.
*Those interviewed also pointed out that the area in which Reade claimed the assault took place was a heavily trafficked locale in which there would have been “a high risk of being seen.”
*Female staff members who frequently worked alone with Biden in his small office “said he never made passes at them or behaved in other ways that suggested sexual impropriety.”
Elizabeth Alexander, a former aide in both the Senate and White House, said she’d accompanied Biden all over this country and the world, traveling alone with him. ”Never, ever, ever did I feel uncomfortable.”
It was a time when some members of the Senate were known to sexually harass young women. One staffer said:
“You got to know which senators you didn’t want to be on an elevator alone with. No one ever said Joe Biden was one of them.”
Of his habit of touching women, many said they gravitated to him as a kind of “comforter-in-chief,” and wanted an arm on their shoulder or a kiss on the cheek.
“Most saw it as an endearing quality that wasn’t sexual in nature…as an expression of empathy, as opposed to flirtation.”
But some expressed regret that they probably should have said something because such actions may have made others uncomfortable.
And since Biden has apologized for that behavior, saying he now understands it was inappropriate, it’s reasonable to assume he would have learned that lesson years earlier.
Concerning His Accuser…
Politicointerviewed more than 12 people who had interactions with Reade. The picture they drew is disturbingly similar: manipulation, lying, turning against people who had helped her, including financially, as she was often in financial trouble.
According to the writer:
“Over the past decade, Reade has left a trail of aggrieved acquaintances in California’s Central Coast region who say they remember two things about her—she spoke favorably about her time working for Biden, and she left them feeling duped.”
One of the “aggrieved acquaintances” said:
“We are actually starting to find each other and put the pieces together because we saw her face on CNN. I thought to myself, ‘hey, I have a support group now. I think we are Alexandra/Tara survivors.’” (Reade has used several names atvarious times.)
She gave them all the impression that she’d spent years in Biden’s office, it was a high point in her life, and she’d helped write landmark legislation—not that she’d served for about nine months as a junior aide and had been fired for incompetence.
In my May 2 post, I referred to Lynn Summers, who was forthright in interviews that Reade had manipulated, lied, and stolen money from her. Reade’s attorney has since sent Hummer a “cease and desist” letter.
“We’ll be more than happy to provide actual physical evidence that backs up Ms. Hummer’s story. All Reade has is a lawyer trying to bully my client.”
In view of the above, I don’t expect the mainstream media to spend much more time on the Tara Reade accusation.
But that doesn’t mean the shameless Trump organization won’t keep trying to bring it up.
Trump’s younger son Eric is, right now, peddling a video of Biden with the family of a member of Congress he’s just sworn in. Biden leans over to kiss the head of the man’s young daughter, in full view of the family and cameras.
This is purportedly all the evidence you need to confirm that Joe Biden is a pedophile. Ridiculous? Of course. But we are living in surreal times.
I won’t be surprised if one or more women emerge in October with all kinds of unprovable charges. I just hope the press will do its due diligence thoroughly before even considering whether such charges merit public disclosure.
For example, automatically assuming that an old friend whom Reade called to refresh her memory years after she reportedly first told her of the event may not be worthy confirmation of her veracity.
As former prosecutor Michael Stern has observed, the corroborating friend must always rely on the accuser’s telling the truth.
Based on what we’ve learned to date, I believe a perversion of the much-needed #me-too movement has been made by a pathetic woman against an honorable man—at a time of enormous importance to our democracy.
I’m not about to write of food
Or remembrance of repasts
My blog is clogging up right now
And I need your help real fast.
I used to have a sub-menu
That offered all my oeuvre
But a WP Engineer warned
Its growth was a SNAFUer.
S/he led me to the solution
That’s inspired this short chat
To see if what works for WP
Isn’t a bothersome gnat.
I’ve passed my one-hundredth post,
To me, that’s really cookin’
Computerwise, it’s not too bad
A widget* helps those lookin’
So to the right of the full texts
Linked titles are there to see.
I like to keep them all in view
And many seem to agree.
My stats tell me that lots of folks
Read posts going quite far back
But on your phone to reach that list,
You must scroll, scroll, scroll—alack!
Our Happy WP Engineers
Have told me what to do:
You must change your design, they say–
Or else we just can’t help you.
But I like the look I have now
I really hope to keep it.
So I turn to you, dear readers
It’s time you interceded.
Must I choose between my fond wish
You see all posts, come what may—
And my perhaps stronger hope this
Menu won’t drive you away?
Ok—enough with the rhyme. I know I should be archiving older posts, but if I do, I’m not at all sure that as many people would read them.
Often after five or six older posts have each received a single view, the next day I’m pleased to welcome a new subscriber. The ease of perusing those lists is clearly helpful in exploring my work.
And I realize that most of you are probably reading my most recent one or two posts as they appear, so this may not be an issue for you at all. I would still welcome your observations.
Is a tradeoff necessary? Please let me know your thoughts about my current setup and any possible ideas for helping me accomplish my dual goals.
If scrolling through all those posts on your phone to get to the linked titles is a drag, please tell me. All suggestions are welcome, as long as you’re kind.
*Explanatory note for my email subscribers: “In WordPress, widgets are blocks of content that you can add to your site’s sidebars, footers, and other areas…”
If you’re viewing this on your computer, the sidebar widget facilitates the index. But since on the side of the phone there’s no room for it, the linked list appears at the very bottom of those now many posts.
Here’s how I would reallyreallyreally like to feel when I think about Donald Trump, his Senate Republican enablers, and the thugs who are using the pandemic to terrorize and strut around with their AR-15s and shotguns:
“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your neighbors.”
“Do not allow your anger to control your reason, but rather your reason to control your anger.”
“As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind me, I would still be in prison.”
In other words, I would like to have the heart and patience and wisdom of Nelson Mandela.
I am—or have been—a conciliator by nature. I’ve never tried to paper over people’s differences of opinion—and how those differences play out in their actions. But I’ve always sought to search for the commonalities among us.
(This blog began with the goal of finding common ground, and I wrote a post early on explaining why I wouldn’t deal with the Elephant in our national living room. But when babies were put into cages and other offenses defying human decency became evident, I found that orientation unsustainable. I’d love to get back to it at some point.)
Through practicing the lovingkindness aspect of meditation, I still try to wish us all well—everyone and every living thing. Even…this President and his enablers. But I repeatedly fall short. Extremely short. Earth to Saturn kind of short.
What to make of all this? I just listened to another tenpercenthappier.com meditation (I’d written about these helpful sessions previously) in which Sebene Selassie, a meditation teacher, explored the various ramifications of anger in our current bizarre environment.
“Anger can be an intelligent emotion,” she said. “It shows us what’s wrong with the world and is a motivation for action.”
I like that assessment. I’d just finished hand-writing a bunch of postcards to Democrats living in a state that will be important to the November election outcome.
These are folks who have spotty voting records, and our purpose is to urge them to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots so they can vote safely and comfortably from their homes.
It was an annoying task that left me with a neck ache and cramped fingers, but I’ll be doing it every week because—as I wrote repeatedly on those cards—“the stakes are very high; protect our democracy.”
That concrete action, multiplied by all the volunteers doing it, could have an impact. So perhaps when I’m so engaged, my reason controls my anger.
Some months ago, I printed on this blog the contact info for all the Class of 2018 Democratic members of Congress who had won in swing districts and then bravely voted for impeachment, knowing they could be jeopardizing their reelection.
These courageous souls are now being targeted for defeat by the Republican National Committee. I was encouraging people to send them donations and/or volunteer with their campaigns. (If you’re interested, you can find the list here.)
.One of my friends from across the aisle let me know he thinks there’s something underhanded about dabbling in politics beyond one’s own district.
But since the voters in the targeted state will play a significant role in a decision that will ultimately affect my family and me directly, I have zero qualms about such efforts.
Selassie also talks about “taking action without taking sides.” That brought me up short. How do we do that? A viewer at the end of her session asked that very question:
How can we not take sides when our politics are so polarizing?
Selassie’s answer was that this is a perfect time for us to recognize our interconnection. “One thread over here can unravel on the other side of the world,” she said.
Pondering our interconnection, which I do from time to time, provides a welcome respite from ranting. It happens when I disagree with my friend from across the aisle. I get angry, but I know he’s a good person with strong values who just happens to view the world differently.
When I get angry–furious, really–at the terrible toll this pandemic is taking because of our dreadful national leadership, I also think about all the generosity and kindness shown by individuals helping others—solid evidence of our interconnections.
I just read an article that I think exemplifies Selassie’s point about interconnections. A 13-year-old Israeli Jewish boy was gravely wounded in 2002 when he stepped on a land mine. Until last year, he was in agony, his foot constantly feeling as though it was on fire.
Then, at age 31, after years of harboring hatred for the Arabs for what they’d done to him, he was operated on by a Palestinian Arab surgeon, an expert in the intricate nerve pathways involved in his injury.
The surgery was a complete success, and a bond has formed between surgeon and patient. (This story is considerably more complicated; if you want to read the details, click here.)
Selassie points out that if we look beneath our anger, we see the fear, anxiety, and grief that’s there. And I know that’s true too.
But we needn’t banish our anger, she says; we can accept it, checking in with our bodies to make sure we’re not permitting the anger to turn into the constant stress that we know can be so damaging.
(A quick inventory would involve relaxing tense shoulders, clenched jaws, tight stomach, and the like.)
So I realize I can hold two concepts simultaneously. One is that it’s important to focus on all the people who have chosen to demonstrate their better selves at this critical time for all humanity.
The other is that I am channeling my anger into actions that I hope will ultimately result in the removal of the forces I find so terribly destructive. Anger leading to action: that feels just right.
Donald Trump and his enablers won’t be with us forever. I remain hopeful that in the near future, the lessons of this pandemic will lead to competent government delivering a much stronger safety net.
We’ll always have our differences, but they’ll be less raw if people are less fearful and anxious about their economic insecurity and lack of healthcare. I believe we can reduce the tensions that have been worsening our political polarity.
It seems appropriate to end with another nod to Nelson Mandela:
“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”
I altered the first line of an old song (“Let’s Fall in Love”) to shamelessly draw you in to a discussion of an important topic.
As an intro, here’s a little Haiku for These Times
Ants isolate selves when ill
Healthy queen makes room.
Why are ants so much smarter than a growing number of humans? I’m speaking now of the American variety (of humans, not ants), but surely there are others.
There is near unanimity in the scientific community that social distancing is essential if we are ever to gain control over the coronavirus.
Most people in the US are pretty cranky about the isolation and feel/recognize the terrible economic burden it imposes. We want out as soon as possible, but we understand that social distancing is for our safety and that of others.
And it doesn’t take a college degree to understand—just common sense, a willingness to listen to reason, and a bit of compassion.
Yet the President has swung both ways on the issue, now firmly enunciating what he regards as essential: reopening the economy—come what may.
And he’s encouraging defiance of the standards his administration developed–even as the coronavirus has sneaked its way past the Secret Service and into the White House.
He’s a very confused person who declared himself a success when deaths passed 64,000 and told us we can expect twice that many. As I write, they’re about to pass 78,000.
Is there a magic number that will maybe move him to consider the role he might play in reducing this catastrophe?
Meanwhile the Senate Republicans see no need to beef up the successful food stamp program when millions more need it—for fear that people will become accustomed to such “handouts.”
Bulletin just in from Politico: Republicans all in to focus on touting Trump’s success in handling pandemic.
But let’s get back to the animals. Unlike the heavily armed Michigan “protesters” whining that their liberties are being infringed upon, animals know when it’s not safe to go get a haircut.
I’ll state at the outset that I’m not endorsing all these animal behaviors—merely pointing out their existence and the reasons for them.
Take mandrill monkeys, for example. They spend a lot of time grooming each other, keeping one another’s fur clean and free of parasites.
But if one member of their group shows signs of a contagious disease, that poor soul is involuntarily isolated. They do, however, make exceptions for ailing family members.
Chimpanzees take matters even further, aggressively ousting an ailing member. Jane Goodall reported observing a chimp with polio in Tanzania in 1966. At one point, the chimp, partially paralyzed, reached out to greet his fellows, but they moved away from him.
Goodall did note that eventually, chimps would allow some of their stricken fellows to return.
Honeybees do more than move away. Older bees, capable of smelling serious bacterial diseases like American foulbrood, which destroys the larvae, will throw the bees out of the hive.
As this seemingly heartless act (forgive me; I tend to anthropomorphize) actually protects the colony as a whole, leading to healthier bees, beekeepers and researchers have been selectively breeding for this behavior for many years.
American Bullfrog tadpoles also react to chemical signals to prevent them from catching a lethal yeast infection, according to Joe Kiesecker, a research scientist.
In the late 1990s, models of the spread of disease were based on the prediction that animals got sick by random contact with infected beings.
“But it’s clear animals are smarter,” Kiesecker said. Healthy tadpoles he studied avoided those that were sick.
I think you get the picture. The concept of social distancing, practiced in varying ways, isn’t some wild-eyed idea from scientists that Trump would prefer not to listen to. It is an evolutionary survival mechanism.
According to Dana Hawley, professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech:
“Anytime we see a behavior that has evolved again and again in lots of different animals, that tells us that this has to be a very beneficial behavior.”
Hawley and Julia Buck, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, have said:
“The evidence from nature is clear: Social distancing is an effective tool for reducing disease spread. It is also a tool that can be implemented more rapidly and more universally than almost any other. Unlike vaccination and medication, behavioral changes don’t require development and testing.”
We humans presumably have the intelligence and compassion to use this concept effectively and wisely. But we dare not pretend it isn’t necessary for our survival.
Yet that seems to be what some “magical thinkers” are doing.
The Texas Lieutenant Governor has said “there are more important things than living.” (I wish he’d been asked to name one.) Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie concluded that “there are going to be deaths no matter what,” so we should forge ahead in opening the economy.
The President appears to have simply picked up his golf ball and gone home: telling us what a great job he’s doing while acknowledging the death tolls will be far higher than anticipated.
Without adequate testing—which both the President and Vice President get every day, by the way—as well as tracing, we’ll never know how many of us this pandemic has truly sickened and killed. And we won’t be able to contain it better than we’re doing.
A powerful New York Times editorial by Charlie Wurzel expressed concern that as the death toll rises, we will become inured to it—just as we have to the unfathomable toll from gun violence.
Wurzel quotes Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and professor at Brown University devoted to gun violence prevention, who sees similarities between individuals protesting gun control and those protesting pandemic lockdowns.
You will recall that the President encouraged the armed people who terrorized those in the Michigan State House.
According to Ranney:
“This group has moved the reopening debate from a conversation about health and science to a conversation about liberty…It’s no longer about weighing risks and benefits and instead it’s this politicized narrative…
“Most gun owners are smart and responsible and safety-conscious—just like most Americans want to do what’s right for public health. But the small minority dominates the conversation.”
“As in the gun control debate, public opinion, public health and the public good seem poised to lose out to a select set of personal freedoms…where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others become the chains of tyranny.”
The animals who practice social distancing are following their instincts. But we are seeing a deliberate rejection of social distancing now by the President, Senate Republicans, and a small but noisy group of malcontents.
They base their objections on a distorted view of economics and individual liberties that not only presents a false dichotomy between the economy and human life, but also cruelly casts our most vulnerable people as the sacrificial “warriors” in this dreadfully unnecessary war.
As we have seen, people of color are among the most heavily affected. In addition to the disproportionate deaths and poverty, they are even being subjected to heavier policing in the areas of social distancing and wearing masks.
(Is there reason to wonder why African American men may be reluctant to don masks when the most recent senseless killing of an unarmed, innocent young man out jogging is so painfully fresh?)
The term Social Darwinism comes to mind. Briefly, this long discredited theory reshaped Darwin’s theory of evolution to create a negative societal ideology. To Social Darwinists:
“Survival of the fittest”—the idea that certain people become powerful in society because they are innately better. Social Darwinism has been used to justify imperialism, racism, eugenics and social inequality at various times over the past century and a half.”
In my previous post, I expressed my belief in Joe Biden’s innocence of charges of sexual assault made by former staffer Tara Reade, as well as my great concern that the press will keep the story alive, thereby damaging an innocent man and threatening his candidacy for President against Donald Trump.
I stated my concern that the story would be covered with a fervor I do not feel is justified by the facts as we know them.
I didn’t discuss the now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in that post (except in the comments section) because I think comparisons with the charge against Biden are totally off base.
So does New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. She remains skeptical about Biden but dismisses criticisms that the Democrats, in defending Biden, show hypocrisy when compared with their defense of Kavanaugh’s accuser.
The Democrats, she writes, “would never have the audacity to demand that their political opponents act on a story with as many ambiguities as Reade’s.”
But I must say the two men’s reactions tell me much about temperament and character.
You may recall that when Christine Blasey Ford claimed that Kavanaugh had assaulted her, he yelled and cried at his hearings about the terrible injustices being done to him.
In contrast, Biden quietly but emphatically said, “It never happened,” and he declined to attribute motives to his accuser, Tara Reade, or to say anything about her character.
At a fundraiser among Obama alumni last week, Biden said the following, which I find extraordinary (he’s more tolerant than I am):
“My knowledge that it isn’t true does nothing to shake my belief that women have to be able to be heard and that all the claims be taken seriously. It isn’t enough just to simply take my word for it and to dismiss it out of hand.
“Frankly, that shouldn’t be enough for anyone, because we know that this sort of approach is exactly how the culture of abuse has been allowed to fester for so long.
“I’m heartened to see it, although it’s painful sometimes, that by and large journalists are doing what they’re supposed to do.
“They’re going out there listening to the allegations. They’re taking it seriously and they’re investigating it. And they’re talking with folks who were there at the time, scrutinizing personnel records, examining the evolution of the claims, looking into the culture of our office.
“And I’m not concerned about what they might find, because I know the truth of the matter. I know that this claim has no merit.”
I fear Biden’s confidence may be misplaced. The press is honing in.
And despite the fact that he was the overwhelming favorite among primary voters, some people who didn’t vote for Biden seem to be eager to push this story to justify a do-over. Bernie Sanders’s supporters are evident in this campaign.
The Washington Post just published an Op-Ed by Lyz Lenz, a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and a victim of sexual abuse.
She insists Biden must withdraw, dismissing all the contradictions in his accuser’s stories as part of the inevitable cycle of questioning that victims of sexual assault must endure.
She does compare the Biden and Kavanaugh episodes and says the Republicans should have withdrawn Kavanaugh (which was never a consideration), thereby equating the two.
Having determined that Reade’s charges are “credible,” she writes:
“I do not want to be forced to balance the accusations against Biden and Trump—playing the ‘Which is worse?’ game. But that is what I’m being told to do.”
I don’t know who is telling her she has to do that, but I trust I’m not the only one who sees the nonsense in that comparison.
And here are her ideas about how the Democrats should handle this issue:
Bernie Sanders could jump back in, or other candidates might (she caucused for Elizabeth Warren), or the party leaders might pick a governor who’s handled the pandemic well.
As I’ve said, Biden wasn’t my first choice, but I do think his experience and compassion make him right for our time.
And can you imagine anything more anti-democratic than nullifying all those voters’ wishes because of a single and highly questionable allegation by one woman?
I have seen any number of Twitter tweets from African American voters responding to the Bernie devotees’ campaign for his reentry. They expressed what I believe is justifiable outrage that their votes would be summarily dismissed.
And if party leaders acted on Lenz’s idea and suddenly came up with a nominee whom not a single Democrat had voted for, the Bernie folks’ charges that the party, not the people, were determining the outcome (charges that were put to rest by the primary vote in the eyes of most observers) would surely be an issue.
One can see the mischief lying ahead by considering another woman who has just come forth. A niece of Christine O’Donnell, a former Tea Party Republican Senatorial candidate, claims that Biden commented on her breasts when both attended the 2008 Gridiron dinner—and she was just 14!
Sounds extremely offensive (as well as similar to complaints against Trump).But as it happens, Biden wasn’t there; one of his aides had substituted for him because Biden was having surgery that week.
So the woman said it must have been 2007. But Biden wasn’t there then either.
As former prosecutor Michael Stern observed in his USA Today piece asserting Biden’s innocence, which I quoted from in my previous post, the fact that Reade can’t remember date, time, or location makes it impossible for Biden to disprove the allegation by providing evidence to the contrary.
I believe the same is true with the missing complaint—in which Reade now says she’s not sure exactly what she’d actually charged—something about his making her feel “uncomfortable,” she thinks.
She had all her personnel records, but she just didn’t keep, or misplaced, the one document that she says was the most important aspect of her interactions with Biden. The New York Times investigation couldn’t find it.
And yet, the burden is on Biden to open up his entire political life. The Times Editorial Board, in what a friend deemed “a statement of breathtaking naivete,” not only called upon Biden to give access to his papers; it said that honorable Republicans should call on Trump to do the same.
As I concluded in my previous post:
There were mea culpas after the damage was done from members of the media for obsessing over Hillary’s emails in 2016 while letting Donald Trump off the hook. That must not happen again.
Professor Heather Cox Richardson, a political historian at Boston College, has reached a similar conclusion about Trump and the media with regard to the accusation against Biden.
“…Please follow me here: I am not speaking of the claims of Ms. Reade, which are a separate conversation. I am talking about the use of her story to control our political narrative.
“The attempt to get Biden to jump through hoops Trump ignores is classic gaslighting. It keeps Biden on the defensive and makes sure he is reinforcing Trump’s narrative, thus strengthening Trump even as Biden tries to carve out his own campaign. It is precisely what the Trump campaign, abetted by the media, did in 2016.”
As the friend I quoted earlier observed:
“This will be a rough and tumble campaign, and we cannot shrink from the fight. Biden has stepped up to the challenge and met it head-on. We must demand the same of Trump, knowing that he will never comply.
“In the ‘what are you hiding?’ contest, Trump loses badly. Steel yourself for more difficult moments but take heart from the fact that the electorate is turning on Trump…
“It will be a close election and will be hard-fought, but we are up to the task. Put doubts aside and move forward with all deliberate speed!”
And if you feel as I do that the press–in its admirable zeal to be fair–may be falling into the same damaging role that it played in 2016, please consider writing letters to the editor or otherwise making your opinions known.
This post began as an exploration of presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s positions on the issues. I imagined myself chatting with him while he was endeavoring to campaign from his basement.
But the charges of sexual assault against him by a former staffer, Tara Reade, are getting a good deal of media attention.
Biden was slow to respond, allowing former staffers to speak on his behalf. But Friday morning, he issued a statement, which you can read here.
He speaks of his pride in the role he played in developing the Violence Against Women Act, and then he says:
“In the 26 years since the law passed, the culture and perceptions have changed but we’re not done yet. It’s on us, and it’s on me as someone who wants to lead this country.
“I recognize my responsibility to be a voice, an advocate, and a leader for the change in culture that has begun but is nowhere near finished. So I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago.
“They aren’t true. This never happened.
“While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, two things are not complicated.
“One is that women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silenced.
“The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny.
“Responsible news organizations should examine and evaluate the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story, which has changed repeatedly in both small and big ways.”
He goes into detail about inconsistencies that I’ll cover shortly, and then he concludes:
“We have a lot of work to do. From confronting online harassment, abuse, and stalking, to ending the rape kit backlog, to addressing the deadly combination of guns and domestic violence.
“We need to protect and empower the most marginalized communities, including immigrant and indigenous women, trans women, and women of color.
“We need to make putting an end to gender-based violence in both the United States and around the world a top priority.
“I started my work over 25 years ago with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. As president, I’m committed to finishing the job.”
I emphatically agree that all women who claim to have been sexually assaulted deserve a fair and respectful hearing and the presumption that they are telling the truth.
And then their stories must be fully vetted by impartial observers. I am questioning whether that is happening in this case.
Former Vice President Biden wasn’t my first choice as the Democratic nominee. I do worry about his age and health—but not about his mental acuity. I’ve watched him any number of times lately, and he seems totally with it and highly informed and sensible.
At a CNN Town Hall shortly before this abrupt end to the primaries, he was actually terrific on substance, performance, and connection with questioners.
Nor do I worry that he’s a sexual predator. I hadn’t thought I’d have to address the sexual assault charge against him in this post, but it seems to be gathering steam, and I see it as a dangerous, misguided attempt by the press to pursue a story without due diligence.
Keep in mind that Joe Biden was fully vetted by President Obama’s team before he was chosen to be Obama’s Vice President. He served as Vice President for 8 years without a whiff of scandal.
It seems inconceivable to me that the Republicans would not have found any “dirt” on Biden if such an issue had existed.
We do know that eight women, including Reade, complained last year that Biden had inappropriately kissed, hugged, or touched them.
According to The New York Times,he “acknowledged the women’s complaints about his conduct, saying his intentions were benign and promising to be “more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”
Biden is widely regarded for his warmth, toward both men and women. He has been a hugger, a touchy-feely kind of guy. At one time, that behavior was fully acceptable. It no longer is, and he understands that.
In his current statement, he says he will “continue to learn from women, to listen to women, to support women, and yes, to make sure women’s voices are heard.”
It’s worth noting that Tara Reade’s original 1993 complaint did not include sexual assault: she made that charge in March of this year and filed a police report in April.
I have seen Ari Melber and Chris Hayes of MSNBC, and New York Magazine writer Rebecca Traister all say the fact that an old friend (who says she’s voting for Biden) validated that Reade told her the story contemporaneously makes them take it very seriously.
In fact, it wasn’t contemporaneously, which means close enough in time so that memories are fresh. It was several years later. And Reade called the friend to apparently refresh her memory.
In addition, none of those I heard seems to have considered that a friend could be repeating a lie without realizing it.
But former prosecutor Michael J. Stern does explore this possibility in his compelling article in USA Today.
“The problem with statements from friends is that the information they recount is only as good as the information given to them.”
I am linking to Stern’s article and other sources that have persuaded me that Tara Reade is not telling the truth.
For those who don’t have the time to read through them, I’m quoting what I think are the most significant points.
First, Stern’s orientation: as a former sex crimes prosecutor, he writes:
“When women make allegations of sexual assault, my default response is to believe them. But as the news media have investigated Reade’s allegations, I’ve become increasingly skeptical.”
His reasons include the following:
—She has changed any number of details in her story a number of times, with “implausible explanations.”
Aside from the highly questionable one about changing what she says Biden did to her, she lied about losing her job.
She originally told The Union, a California newspaper, in 2019 that she refused Biden’s request to serve drinks at an event, and then “felt pushed out and left Biden’s employ,” according to The Union.
But she told The New York Times last month that she faced retaliation after filing a sexual harassment complaint with the Senate’s personnel office, and Biden’s chief of staff fired her.
To Stern, the disparity between those two assertions “raises questions about Reade’s credibility and account of events.”
—The three former Biden staffers whom she claimed to have told about the assault emphatically denied she did so.
“And they did not offer the standard, noncommittal ‘I don’t remember any such complaints,”‘ Stern writes. “The denials were firm.” One said: “‘She did not come to me. If she had, I would have remembered.'” Another’s comment was similar.
The third said:
“‘I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received any reports of inappropriate conduct (by Biden), period.’ If Reade had made such a complaint to her, she added, it ‘would have left a searing impression on me as a woman professional, and as a manager.'”
—Although Reade provided a copy of her 1993 Senate employment records, she has no copy of the complaint she claims she filed against Biden when she left, or was fired, from her job in Biden’s office.
Nor could The New York Times find such a document. Biden has said he’ll ask The National Archives, where such documents reside, to do a search.
—She couldn’t recall the date, time, or location of the alleged assault.
“Reade’s amnesia about specifics makes it impossible for Biden to go through records and prove he could not have committed the assault, because he was somewhere else at the time.”
–She says she told her mother (now deceased) and her brother.
But when her brother was interviewed by The Washington Post, he didn’t mention the sexual assault–the most important part of her charge–but texted that detail to The Post several days later.
Stern finds that time gap questionable.
Similarly, her mother was, according to her, the anonymous caller to The Larry King Live show in 1993. That call was reported as new evidence last week.
The caller said her daughter had been working for a prominent Senator, “could not get through with her problems at all,” and chose not to go to the press “out of respect for him.”
“Given that the call was anonymous, Reade’s mother should have felt comfortable relaying the worst version of events. When trying to obtain someone’s assistance, people typically do not downplay the seriousness of an incident. They exaggerate it.
“That Reade’s mother said nothing about her daughter being sexually assaulted would lead many reasonable people to conclude that sexual assault was not the problem that prompted the call to King.”
–Multiple times, in 2017, she praised Biden for his work combating sexual assault. She also tweeted: “My old boss speaks truth. Listen.”
“It is bizarre that Reade would publicly laud Biden for combatting the very thing she would later accuse him of doing to her.”
–Also in 2017, Reade was condemning Vladimir Putin’s efforts to harm American democracy by interfering in the 2016 election.
But in 2018, she referred to Putin as a “genius” whose athleticism is “intoxicating to American women.”
“President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity.”
By 2019 she had expressed the belief that Russian interference in the 2016 election was hype.
More recently, she has claimed that her expressions of admiration for Putin, made in opinion pieces, were taken out of context for a novel she’s writing, and she doesn’t support Putin.
Stern provides other compelling examples as well. His examination is well worth reading.
–Also illuminating is the information provided by Lynn Hummer, founder of a California horse sanctuary where Reade was a volunteer from 2014-2016.
According to an article in Medium, Hummer claims that Reade “stole from her nonprofit, lied, and created stories to obtain sympathy and money.”
“Look, this isn’t about protecting women. This isn’t about the #metoo movement. This isn’t about Joe Biden. This is about truth. Tara Reade stole from me. She lied to me. She stole from my organization. She manipulated me and she duped me…And I have documentation, images and emails to prove it.”
Biden, to his credit, has said he’s not going to question Reade’s motives, though he doesn’t understand why she’s making the charge.
I think one of the reasons it’s so problematic for Biden and his supporters to speak openly about this issue is that to respond honestly, they would be casting aspersions on Tara Reade’s integrity and mental stability.
In this #metoo era, that is difficult to do. We are not talking here about all the women who succeeded, at last, in getting justice from Harvey Weinstein.
As Stern concludes:
“We can support the #MeToo movement and not support allegations of sexual assault that do not ring true. If these two positions cannot coexist, the movement is no more than a hit squad. That’s not how I see the #MeToo movement. It’s too important, for too many victims of sexual assault and their allies, to be no more than that.”
Chris Hayes, whose original reportage was so roundly condemned on Twitter that it morphed into a #FireChrisHayes movement (which I condemn), discussed the three groups of attacks he received.
The first and second groups he could accept: people who supported Biden and people who said “I don’t care; I’m voting for him anyway.”
But the third group–people who attacked Reade and cited other things about her, such as her strange fascination with Putin–he claimed, was doing just what the #metoo movement was designed to counter.
Hayes’s comments gave me pause because in citing Stern and Hummer, I am falling into that third group.
But how can we arrive at the truth if we simply focus on a single incident that inevitably comes down to a “he said; she said” dispute?
To me, hearing independent complaints from Hummer, the horse rescue woman, that Reade had manipulated and stolen money from her, is relevant to character.
Her comments about Putin, I feel, are an indication of instability. Can an unstable person still be a victim of abuse? No doubt, but all these are pieces in a puzzle.
When that puzzle threatens the integrity of a man whose otherwise worst charge was that he inappropriately hugged women who didn’t want to be hugged, I think all the pieces should be considered.
Experts in sexual abuse nearly uniformly say there is always a pattern–not a single instance.
I greatly worry that the press will make this into a “Hillary’s email” issue–though the topic is much more visceral, especially for women, who will be the deciding voters in the November election.
There are already calls for the University of Delaware to release his papers–despite his saying they have no personnel information and contain private conversations with President Obama and foreign leaders.
There are valid reasons that politicians uniformly keep their papers closed to the public until after they’ve left the political scene.
Nevertheless, this demand is made on today’s New York Times editorial page, which offers the following:
“Any inventory should be strictly limited to information about Ms. Reade and conducted by an unbiased, apolitical panel, put together by the D.N.C. [Democratic National Committee] and chose to foster as much trust in its findings as possible.”
All such demands seem to me ludicrous in these hyper-partisan times, and particularly unfair because the existing President has gotten away with hiding his income tax returns and a slew of other documents.
Why on earth should Biden do what to my knowledge no other candidate has done–and certainly not this most duplicitous and evasive opponent?
So I am deeply concerned that this drumbeat may seriously weaken the candidacy of a good man, and lead to Donald Trump’s reelection–he who has been charged by at least 12 women of sexual assault, including one who states that he raped her, and was elected despite having been shown on tape describing his modus operandi for sexual assault.
Press sources are saying this story of Biden’s alleged sexual assault of Reade now has “legs”–it’s not going away.
Of course the press has to follow this story to its conclusion. But they must look more closely at Reade’s contradictions, as Michael Stern has. And anyone who interviews Reade must ask her, politely, to explain her changed stories.
Many prosecutors and sexual assault victims on Twitter have agreed with Stern’s conclusions.
In important ways, I feel that Joe Biden is the ideal person to lead us now: his recent experience in the White House involved combating epidemics, resolving serious economic crises, and expanding health care—all critical to our near-term societal needs.
In addition, his obvious compassion is critically important for our hurt nation. And his willingness to work across the aisle suggests that if any bipartisan efforts are possible, he’ll be in a good position to take advantage of them.
I’ll leave my chat with him on the issues for another time–when I hope this story will fold its legs and–at the very least–give a closer look at all the charges against President Trump, whose behavior actually deserves scrutiny.
There were mea culpas after the damage was done from members of the media for obsessing over Hillary’s emails in 2016 while letting Donald Trump off the hook. That must not happen again.