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My Presidential Nominee Wish List

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Thursday night was the third debate among the Democratic candidates for President. The field has tightened: due to the rigid qualification rules, a mere ten candidates made the cut this time.

Barring changes, the same ten will take the stage in October, plus Tom Steyer, the veryvery wealthy man who launched his “Need to Impeach” campaign way back in October, 2017.

I found the debate a bit more revelatory than the two previous ones, and I thought the ABC moderators did a decent job. But I’m still not getting the sense of the candidates that I’m seeking. I’m wondering how many of you feel the same.

Despite the over-trodden, unilluminating, and needlessly divisive discussions about extending Obamacare vs Medicare for All, I don’t think the candidates are so far apart on any of the issues.

They all support ensuring universal healthcare; countering our nation’s growing economic inequality; implementing sensible gun safety legislation; beginning immediately to vigorously address climate change; reversing the anti-immigration policies that are damaging our values and threatening our economy; and seeking ways to heal the terrible divisive racial and other wounds that currently exist in our country.

But we still need more discussions centering on their foreign policy views.

Perceptions differ, and I do worry about the electability of the three current front runners.

I wonder whether/to what extent they can both energize the base and build the diverse coalition to drive vast numbers of voters to the polls, thereby resoundingly putting us on a new path and bringing Senate and House candidates along with them. I welcome your views on this matter in the comments section below.

What am I looking for in the Democrat’s eventual nominee—and, if you’re interested in a change from the current administration–what are you looking for?

As I watch and listen to these candidates, I try to picture each one in the Oval Office, in the Situation Room, and in meetings with allies and adversaries. I am trying to gauge their judgment and temperament.

Will they surround themselves with the best people they can find? Then will they listen, truly listen, to the advice they’re given, ask well-informed questions about that advice, and insist upon factual backup before making important decisions? Will they keep their cool in scary and potentially dangerous situations?

Do they demonstrate some innate wisdom in dealing with other people? Will they be careful and measured in their stewardship of the still most powerful nation in the world—and be able to undo the damage to our standing that’s been done over the past few years?

Do they possess the empathy that will enable them to understand the diverse problems that Americans are grappling with right now—so they can seek solutions that help people feel that the government is working—and is on their side?

Will they explain to us what their overall vision is on where they want to take this country, and how they’ll forge common ground on the often divisive issues we face so that they can work with Congress to move us forward?

Can they inspire us to be our best selves and advance us toward the national ideals we’ve long expounded?

I hope the debates that are held between now and the Iowa caucuses reveal more about these important aspects of the Democratic candidates. I’ve seen glimmers of what I’m seeking here and there, but I’d like to see a lot more.

Please let me know your reactions—to the candidates, the debate, my “wish list,” what you’re looking for, and anything else that comes to mind.

Annie

Beyond Music to Ritual: The Impact of Four Songs on America’s Psyche

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The Star-Spangled Banner Courtesy of Commons.wikimedia.org

When Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL football quarterback, took a knee (knelt) during The Star-Spangled Banner at the start of the games, he created quite the uproar.

I have written that I felt his using his visibility to call attention to the injustices against African-Americans and other minorities was in the best tradition of nonviolent protest. He paid a heavy price for his actions: though he reached a settlement with the National Football League and is now a free agent, to date no team has been willing to sign him.

Anna Celenza, Professor of Music at Georgetown University, discusses Kaepernick’s protest in her introduction to a One Day University lecture titled: “Four Musical Masterpieces That Changed America.”

I found her talk, which I watched on video, so enlightening that I’d like to provide you with some highlights. I’ve also added a bit of research from other sources.

Celenza first explained that Georgetown, known for politics, social justice, public policy, and law, had designed a major in American Musical Culture to explore “how music functions in culture.”

She also teaches American Studies, so it was natural for her to design and lead a freshman class on “Music and Politics.” To determine which songs to cover, she visited the Library of Congress and found a number of musical pieces that had evoked Congressional debate. The four songs highlighted in this lecture were culled from that syllabus.

 

“The Flag Was Still There”

She began with our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. In defying the customary stance when the song is played—that is, the ritual, an important aspect of music—Kaepernick, she observed, was calling attention to the fact that the song is saying we’re all unified and free.

In essence, he was asking what the ritual means—and how can we make it true? A worthy question, I believe, now being raised in many aspects of American life.

The Star-Spangled Banner, that symbol of American culture, actually got its start as something called a “parody song.” The melody originated previously in a different context: the words to that melody had described “the pleasures of women and wine.”

But writer Francis Scott Key was a more serious type. He first used the words “Star-Spangled” to refer to the American flag in 1805 when he wrote a song for his friend Stephen Decatur, Jr., which described the “olive branch of peace and the laurel wreath of honor.”

What eventually became the national anthem appeared in 1814. The War of 1812 was still raging, and the British had just bombed Washington, DC. They were on their way to Baltimore, where a defeat, many feared, would mean the end of American independence. To prevent the Brits from reaching Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Americans had sunk ships so that the masts would block access.

Enter Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and sometime poet who had, I read elsewhere, been opposed to the war from the beginning. But now he’d been asked to try to stop the onslaught and negotiate a prisoner exchange.

When he met with the British, they wouldn’t let him leave: he was coerced to stay with them to watch the bombing.

From that vantage point, however, instead of witnessing defeat, he saw “the bombs bursting in air,” and, at the end of the battle, “the flag was still there.” The rest you know, right? He originally titled the song “In Defense of Fort McHenry.”

The song’s ascent to anthem status was a bit circuitous. While it was gaining popularity, some faulted it because it just doesn’t work as a marching song. (Try it; you’ll see.)

My Country ’Tis of Thee” was considered a possible anthem, but ruled out because of its origins: this wasn’t the time for a song based on “God Save the King.” And “America the Beautiful” (O Beautiful for Spacious Skies…) didn’t make the cut because after the first stanza, it actually critiques America for not living up to its ideals. Hmmmm.

The Star-Spangled Banner finally became the National Anthem in 1931—two years after Congress proposed it as a way to bring together opposing factions who were blaming each other for the Great Depression. The feeling was that everyone singing together would be a unifying ritual.

And why the hand over heart? Initially, the song was sung accompanied by a straight-arm salute, ostensibly pointing to the American flag. But with images of Hitler and Mussolini in mind, people said, essentially, “No way!” We should, I think, be grateful for that!

 

Confronting Our National Horror

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Billie Holiday Courtesy of flickr.com

Abel Meeropol was a Jewish schoolteacher-turned-poet and songwriter, and a member of the American Communist Party in the 1930s. As Celenza pointed out, in those days, the Communist Party was not viewed as it was subsequently: its supporters were idealists who were attracted by its emphasis on peace, freedom, progress, and gender and racial equality. (Meeropol subsequently quit.)

Meeropol happened to see a postcard that shocked him to his core: it was a photograph of a lynching, showing two bodies hanging from trees while a group festively gathers below. In 1937, using a pseudonym, he wrote a poem about it called “Strange Fruit,” which was printed in a teachers union publication. He set it to music, and he and his wife would perform it at Communist Party rallies.

But Meeropol wanted more people to hear it. The following year, he connected with a man named Barney Josephson, who had started the first social club whose patrons were racially integrated. The house singer there just happened to be a woman named Billie Holiday. Meeropol told her: “You should sing this.”

She agreed, but only under certain conditions: no drinks were to be served before her performance; the only light in the room would be a spotlight on her; and it had to be the final song of the night. This was not an ego trip: Holiday knew how to elicit the greatest power from a very important song.

The song, and Holiday’s rendition of it, became famous. People said they “witnessed” her singing it because they were so moved. She recorded it, though her usual record label wouldn’t touch it due to its sensitive subject, so she went to a startup label in 1939. And it awakened people’s consciences: they signed petitions to their members of Congress to make lynching a federal crime. Celenza believes it actually marked the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

During the McCarthy era, Meeropol was attacked, and Strange Fruit wasn’t sung for a while. Nina Simone brought it back.

In 1999, Time Magazine called it “the song of the century.” It is listed in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

But a law still wasn’t passed, although there were 200 separate attempts to enact such legislation over the decades. In 2005, Senators Mary Landrieu (D) and George Allen (R) apologized for the failure to pass anti-lynching legislation.

Finally, in December, 2018, Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker asked for—and received—unanimous consent of the Senate to pass the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018, which would, at long last, criminalize lynching, attempts to lynch, and conspiracy to lynch.

Booker said at the time that the legislation is intended to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and leave a legacy for future generations that Congress finally did the right thing. Senator Tim Scott was also a sponsor. The bill passed the Senate in February, 2019.

In March, 2019, the Senate bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. As far as I could tell, it’s still there.

I saw Audra McDonald portray Billie Holiday several years ago, and the last song she sang was Strange Fruit. I believe that once you hear it, you never forget it. It was/is emotionally wrenching to imagine such gross inhumanity from seemingly ordinary looking people.

Here is the opening verse:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

If you’d like to hear Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit, google Billie Holiday–Strange fruit-HD-YouTube.

 

Paul Simon Defies a Boycott

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Paul Simon, Graceland Courtesy of flickr.com

When South Africa was ruled by apartheid from 1948 to 1993, the US remained neutral. The African National Congress (ANC) supported 1930s communism, and the Soviet Union was a prime supporter of the ANC. With the Cold War in effect, the US would not side with the anti-apartheid group.

Then, in the 1980s, the United Nations forced the issue by passing a resolution that called for a cultural boycott of South Africa. American performers, such as Steve Van Zandt, said they wouldn’t play in South Africa. Van Zandt wrote a protest song, Sun City, which was recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid. (Sun City was a resort where the South African government had forcibly removed black people.)

But Paul Simon disagreed. He’d been given a tape of music by black South Africans, and—ignoring the boycott—he traveled to South Africa to record an album with the musicians who lived there, including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the group whose harmonies among tenor, alto, and bass are so distinctive. That album became Graceland, which Rolling Stone has said “remains one of the most beloved albums in pop history.”

In 1987, Simon and his group staged a huge concert in neighboring Zimbabwe featuring the renowned singer Miriam Makeba, who had left South Africa in exile. They sang “Under African Skies.” Says Celenza: “The lyrics tell the story of how a song changes points of view.” And she quotes “the roots of rhythm remain…This is the story of how we begin to remember…”

There was a furor over Simon’s actions, and some still question his judgment—and even his motives. Simon brought all the musicians to the US; to him this issue wasn’t about politics; it was about the music.

The musicians he played with said he opened up opportunities for them that they would never otherwise have had. One year after Graceland, Simon produced Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Shaka Zulu, which received a Grammy Award in 1988 for best folk recording, the first of four Grammys they’ve received.

But Dali Tambo, who founded Artists Against Apartheid, was deeply critical of Simon. “We were fighting for our land, for our identity,” he told a New York Times reporter. “And we saw Paul Simon coming as a threat because it was not sanctioned…by the liberation movement.”

Yet it had such an impact that the US government stopped doing cultural boycotts. Celenza spoke of an Irish Times headline not long ago that asked: “Who wins when artists stage a cultural boycott?” And she gave her answer: “No one. Music brings us together.”

 

And Then There’s Hamilton…

In July, 2008, Lin-Manuel Miranda was reading a book he’d bought at an airport bookstore prior to a vacation in Puerto Rico. In Alexander Hamilton, the biography by Ron Chernow, Miranda has said he recognized himself and the ideals of his friends and family.

Miranda gave a surprise early introduction to one of the songs as a work-in-progress to the Obamas at a White House Poetry Jam in 2009. If you haven’t seen the tape of that performance, you can do so here, complete with subtitles beneath the rap words. The play Hamilton: An American Musical premiered in August, 2015.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton Courtesy of Commons.wikimedia.org

Hamilton is, of course, a huge sensation, and the touring companies seem to be everywhere. In a combination of rap, rhythm and blues, show tunes, and other styles, the music sets forth the ideas the founding fathers had that are still important, while also capturing what America looks like now, Celenza observes. (The founding fathers and other historical figures are primarily played by people of color.)

She recalls the evening when Vice President Mike Pence attended a performance. At the curtain call, the actors acknowledged him but, very politely, suggested that they hoped he wasn’t simply entertained–that he’ll remember the ideas and ideals he’d just heard.

What they did with that speech was a break in ritual, Celenza notes, “and people got upset. When you break ritual, it makes people think…about what our ideals are.”

She concluded with the hope that we all try to capture the best ideas we can from musical experiences such as the ones she’d presented.

What do you think?

UPDATE: My virtual friend and fellow blogger Joseph Urban (aka: The Old Liberal) noted in his comment the song that speaks to him personally the most strongly, and he asked me what song was mine. (You can see both our selections in his response below.)  I thought this was a terrific question, and as I always enjoy your stories, I am posing it to you: When you think of songs that have had a lasting impact on you, which one(s) come to mind–and why?

Annie

Quarks ‘n’ Genes (Some Subatomic, Electronic, and Molecular Musings)

 

 

[Note: As this is Labor Day Weekend, my brain is taking a holiday from blogging, and I am reaching back into my personal archives for a poem I wrote nearly two decades ago.]

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I’m trying to fathom this wondrous new world
Of black holes revealed and of wormholes uncurled,
Of hyperspace, cyberspace, space here and there,
Of DNA fingerprints gleaned from a hair.

The pace of discovery moves with such speed,
I’m filled with uncertainty how to proceed;
My questions hang low in the particled air:
In the tenth dimension, just what shall I wear?

If the Internet takes me to places abroad,
Can I get past Ohio on 1200 baud?
Will stop bit and bytes move me well on my way…
Or maybe a megahertz, rented by day?

If matter’s reduced to equations quite neat,
Will philosophers fold up their tents in defeat?
If life is explained by the genetic code,
Are love and free will merely bumps on the road?

I’d rather a vision with chaos and clutter,
A messier cosmos would not make me shudder,
The magic of randomness governed by chance
Leaves more room for wonder…and awe…and romance.

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Do you find this a fun backward look—or merely dated doggerel? Actually, I think if we’ve learned anything in the past couple of decades, it’s that everything is more complicated than was initially proposed. No worries about putting philosophers out of business any time soon.

And in truth, I’m having a harder time celebrating chaos and clutter and a messier cosmos in 2019, when we seem to be surrounded by an overabundance thereof.

But perhaps (mindfully speaking), that’s even more reason for us to seek out wonder…and awe…and romance!

Enjoy the long weekend. And if you’re reading this in a non-Labor Day country, just enjoy!

Annie

A Very Different Tumble Into the Weeds…

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Here I go again! Only this time, I’m eager to join the action…I think.

As you may know, in two previous posts, I’ve written about my ambivalence concerning the legalization of marijuana. Each time, I got new subscribers among the happy pot community, who somehow overlooked my ambivalence (or seized on my description of my single, and singular, pot experience) and adopted me as a kindred spirit.

That’s fine; I welcome anyone who’s interested in what I have to say—and I would be happy to have them join our dialogue, though so far they’ve merely silently “liked” my posts.

For the record, in researching a response to a comment after my second post on the topic, I came across an LA Times Op-Ed that stressed we know much less about the impact of marijuana than we might because the federal government has for so long forbidden its use—even for research.

I found that editorial persuasive, so I’ve moved from ambivalence to being cautiously OK with legalization. I am also bowing to the inevitable, and hoping legalization does all the good things proponents claim (like diminishing the racial injustice in prosecutions and reducing the power of drug lords).

But I still worry about young brains because that’s where the most deleterious effects of use occur. In fact, though many states have passed legislation legalizing marijuana for individuals age 21 or older, some experts say it should be 25 because the developing brain is still deeply affected until then.

That’s not my purpose here, however.

Today we’re talking CBD (cannabidiol), derived from the part of the marijuana/hemp plant that, unlike THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), doesn’t create a high.

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Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Interestingly, though the federal government continues to consider marijuana illegal, it holds a patent for CBD; National Institutes of Health scientists found several decades ago that in test tubes, an in-depth Sunday New York Times Magazine article reported,

“…the molecule shielded neurons from oxidative stress, a damaging process common in many neurological disorders, including epilepsy.”

That finding has been validated, as described below.

And now there’s a federal law legalizing CBD products made from hemp, provided they contain 0.3 percent or less of THC.

Unless you’ve adopted a net-free existence on some desert isle, the chances are you’ve heard about CBD. It’s available everywhere, purportedly for everything that ails you, from back pain to anxiety to alleged cancer cures (the FDA cracked down on that one), to social phobia (that’s in the testing stage). My dentist is now selling it in his office, for goodness sake!

While CBD seems to have taken the country by storm, thus far its efficacy has been documented only in treating epilepsy in children; it’s FDA-approved for that indication.

But according to a Consumer Reports survey, 64 million Americans have tried CBD in the past year, and most said it was effective, particularly for anxiety. Almost three-fourths reported no side effects,

Based on anecdotal evidence and what I’ve read to date, I’ve been intrigued by the prospect that it might be helpful to me by a) reducing the frequency of my migraines; b) relieving my stomach issues that I know—as one of a long line of “gut” people—have an anxiety component; and c) alleviating my arthritic knee pain, thereby forestalling my need for a second knee replacement, which I most emphatically don’t want to have.

I discussed the possibility of my using CBD with my neurologist, a superb physician/researcher and compassionate soul.

He said he had no objection to my trying it, and it had, in fact, helped some of his migraine patients. However, he hasn’t sought a license to prescribe it because it isn’t evidence-based for migraines at this point. He referred me to a neurologist who does prescribe it.

I made an appointment. For a mere $750 initial visit (this doctor doesn’t accept Medicare), he would take my migraine history, give me a thorough exam, and hand me a prescription to a dispensary he deals with.

But when I looked over the forms I was to complete before seeing this new physician, I realized that none of the questions were relevant to me. I do get more migraines per month than my neurologist and I would like, but I don’t suffer from them. That’s due to the wonders of the pharmaceutical industry.

Yeah, they’re doing lots of awful things with pricing, and regulation is clearly needed. But I must acknowledge that the appearance of sumatriptan decades ago transformed my life.

Before it, I lost full days to intractable pain and nausea that made me think: If only the nausea would go away, I could tolerate the pain. Now, I feel a twinge, take a pill, and I’m good to go ten minutes later. So I didn’t need this new doctor’s extensive questioning, to which I would repeatedly respond with NA (not applicable).

I also didn’t need a thorough exam, as I’d just had one in the very capable hands of my neurologist’s fellow—under his guidance.

So the second thoughts arose, and not solely from my wallet, which was sending clear question marks to my prefrontal cortex, something along the lines of “Are you nuts? Paying $750 for a prescription to take to a pharmacy?”

I cancelled the appointment and sought my neurologist’s advice about how to proceed. He hadn’t known his colleague didn’t accept Medicare. When I explained why I cancelled, he said: “For you to spend $750 to get handed a prescription to take to a pharmacy is nuts!”

Most people buy CBD independently—without a doctor’s involvement. I felt concerns about that approach because this is an unregulated market. It’s caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware!

With the gold rush out there, the unsuspecting consumer may be buying a product that has too much or too little CBD, and/or it may be adulterated.

For example, The New York Times described a graduate student in Virginia who complained of a “heart-pounding, hallucinogenic high he had neither expected nor wanted to have.”

Testing revealed he had vaped a liquid containing CBD, but it also contained a synthetic compound, 5F-ADB, that the Drug Enforcement Administration has associated with anxiety, concussions, psychosis, and even death.

So I was concerned about quality and dosage. Actually, I was more concerned about dosage because I had located a few sources that seemed reasonable, including my dentist, who assured me he’d fully investigated the purity of the products he planned to sell.

I’m also considering two other possible sources: one is owned by a Florida pharmacist who developed the product and seemed very cautious when I heard her on an NPR discussion; another is being frequented by many parents of children with epilepsy, who spoke highly of it in that lengthy Sunday New York Times Magazine article.

That left the question of dosage, and my neurologist said he’d do some research and advise me about what would be appropriate.

So stay tuned for the next installment of “Annie Goes for the Gummies.” I’m not sure why, but one of the companies under consideration offers many of their products (for adults) in the form of Gummies. Should that send me a warning signal? I’m fine with a tincture under my tongue, as some friends have described, or a capsule, or a cream for my knee. But Gummies? (And yet, I occasionally indulge a strong desire for Swedish Fish, suspecting that my body sometimes has a weird need for red dye #whatever, so maybe the Gummies hold some promise…)

If you or someone you know has had experiences with CBD that you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear about them.

Annie

The Democrats’ Debates Were Disappointing, and Yet…

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Candidates in Second Democratic Presidential Debates 2020

My Oh My! So much drama—even attacks on No Drama Obama!

Let me state at the outset that I had never intended to become so overtly partisan in this blog. I even wrote a post a while back explaining why I wouldn’t discuss the elephant in the room (President Trump) because so much stuff was appearing elsewhere, and I wanted to focus on finding our common ground.

My overarching goal remains, and in my own way, I’m still trying to do that.

When the President is an incumbent, it’s assumed the election is a referendum on him. But now that this President has made blatantly racist attacks on people of color a feature of his daily rants, I believe the 2020 election is a referendum on us.

Who are we as Americans? What kind of country do we look forward to, and how devoted are we to working toward a more perfect union?

Will we give our seal of approval to this man for another four years? I know some of you reading this post are Republicans with varying degrees of support for Trump. I’m not attacking you personally or trying to change your minds. 

Rather, I’m assuming that most American voters—Democrats, Independents, and growing numbers of “Never Trump” Republicans—are seeking a reasonable alternative to Trump and want to see Washington functioning again to pass common-sense legislation in their behalf.

I believe/hope that people are eager to denounce him at the ballot box, proving that he doesn’t represent the vast majority, and that we are seeking leadership that unites us in hope and common purpose, rather than divides us in hatred and fear.

In that spirit, I offer you my thoughts after viewing the second round of debates—and I’ll explain why I found them sorely lacking.

It’s still early, but I saw little inspiration among the 20 candidates on the stage in Detroit. Part of the problem, I believe, was CNN’s approach.

It was clear that CNN wanted a food fight: the questions were designed to encourage candidates to attack one another. I didn’t think that was good TV. I also thought it was poor broadcast journalism and unhelpful for educating the public.

Admittedly, it’s tough to stage interesting debates among 10 candidates, and I felt bad about how little time each person had to make her/his points. 

But the questions were also unrevealing in eliciting what kind of Presidents they would be. 

Healthcare is a critical issue; it was largely responsible for the Democrats’ winning the House in 2018. Americans want to know they will have decent health care that covers preexisting conditions, is within their means, and is dependable, regardless of their circumstances. 

The discussions were sometimes too wonky and confusing for viewers and at the same time often inadequate, leaving out important issues, such as cost to taxpayers.

I wish each candidate had given this answer: “We’ll bring the best minds together to come up with the most realistic affordable plan that covers the most people possible.” 

In other words, we’ll progress beyond Obamacare without gutting it, adding the public option that was originally intended, and regulating both the insurance companies and Big Pharma.

Many other countries have private insurance companies as part of their healthcare mix; they simply regulate them more aggressively than we do.

Medicare for all vs “Anything less lets insurance companies ruin America” is to me an unnecessarily divisive issue.

I think improving Obamacare would satisfy most Americans—without frightening them.

And how quickly people have forgotten how hard that battle was—that passing the legislation was a “big f—–g deal,” in former VP Joe Biden’s memorable words. More about all-important processes appears below. 

If the public option works as intended, we’ll get to Medicare for all but won’t immediately send our economy into a tailspin.

Healthcare is now about 18% of our GDP. We need a smooth transition to the next stage. I haven’t heard any Medicare for all candidate discuss this point.

But most importantly, the emphasis should be on the fact that every Democratic candidate believes that healthcare is a right and supports expanded coverage, while Trump and the Republicans have been decimating Obamacare and, in all the years they claimed to find an alternative, have not done so.

It is simply not an article of faith in the Republican Party as it is among Democrats. Quite the contrary. 

As the terrible mass shootings mount up, I can’t write this post today without including sensible gun legislation. This is another issue where the majority of the public agrees, and so do all the Democratic candidates.

Not so the Republicans in Congress and the President. And despite his palliative words after the most recent shootings, since Trump took office, we’ve had a substantial uptick in domestic terrorism. We know white nationalists claim him as one of their own. If he cared to change that image (and possibly reduce the carnage), he would change his rhetoric.

With gun safety legislation, again, process is critical, as we’ll discuss below.

Foreign policy, which is probably the most important aspect of a President’s efforts, and is currently fraught with dangers that Trump both inherited and has created, took up a mere five minutes of the 2-1/2 hour debate.

I am puzzled why, just shortly after the Mueller testimony, CNN felt that discussing the role of Russia was barely worth mentioning. And there were no discussions of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and other potential hot spots.

Since a number of the candidates have had little or no direct involvement in this essential component of being President, it behooves the next debate organizers to build in adequate time and questions that reveal the candidates’ world views and thought processes. 

I was impressed, for example, with Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s stating that he voted against entering the war in Iraq when he was a member of Congress. (He took Vice President Biden to task for voting for it.) 

Inslee said the arguments for war were unconvincing. In an interview after the debate, when he was asked why so many Democrats voted to go to war, he explained that in the post-9/11 environment, the drumbeats for war were very difficult to withstand. But he did withstand them—a fact that to me says a lot about the man.

Speaking of Inslee brings us to climate change, which he has made the focus of his campaign —though not as a single issue: he has tied it to economics, undue burdens on poor and minority communities, and other important topics.

He has thought and studied the issue extensively and is clearly the candidate most deeply committed to quick concrete actions to confront climate change.

And while it’s good that every Democratic candidate accepts the scientists’ warnings and promises to act, I find his commitment especially comforting. 

One extremely critical issue hasn’t come up in either debate: the judiciary. 

I am quoting extensively here from two articles. One, by Dahlia Lithwick, is titled “Democrats Still Haven’t Learned Their Lesson About the Courts.”

The other, which she cites, written by Ezra Klein, is “Pete Buttigieg had the most important answer at the Democratic debate.”

I find them both important in terms of those critical process matters I referred to earlier, and I hope you’ll read them in their entirety.

Let’s start with Klein’s article in Vox. Here’s where reality lies—beyond fine policy ideas and whether they’re progressive enough.

“South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg gave the single most important answer at Tuesday’s Democratic debate.

“It came after a lengthy section in which the assembled candidates debated different health care plans that have no chance of passing given the composition of the US Senate and then debated decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings, which they also don’t have the votes to do, and then debated a series of gun control ideas that would swiftly fall to a filibuster and, even if they didn’t, would plausibly be overturned by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.

“That’s when Buttigieg spoke up:

‘[This is] the conversation that we have been having for the last 20 years. Of course, we need to get money out of politics, but when I propose the actual structural democratic reforms that might make a difference — end the Electoral College, amend the Constitution if necessary to clear up Citizens United, have DC actually be a state, and depoliticize the Supreme Court with structural reform — people look at me funny, as if this country was incapable of structural reform.

‘This is a country that once changed its Constitution so you couldn’t drink and changed it back because we changed our minds, and you’re telling me we can’t reform our democracy in our time. We have to or we will be having the same argument 20 years from now.’”

Klein continued:

“So far, I’ve found Buttigieg’s campaign underwhelming on policy. But where he’s clearly leading the field is his emphasis on structural reform. Buttigieg isn’t the only candidate with good ideas on this score — Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee have been strong on this too — but he’s the only candidate who consistently prioritizes the issue.

“The reality is Democrats are debating ever more ambitious policy in a political system ever less capable of passing ambitious policy — and ever more stacked against their policies, in particular.

Their geographic disadvantage in Congress is only getting worse, Republicans control the White House and the Senate despite receiving fewer votes for either, and an activist conservative Supreme Court just gutted public sector unions and green-lit partisan gerrymandering.

“Policy isn’t Democrats’ problem. They’ve got plenty of plans. Some of them are even popular. What they don’t have is a political system in which they can pass and implement those plans.

“Buttigieg, to his credit, has a clear theory on this. When I interviewed him in April, he argued that ‘any decisions that are based on an assumption of good faith by Republicans in the Senate will be defeated.’

“The hope that you can pass laws through bipartisan compromise is dead. And that means governance is consistently, reliably failing to solve people’s problems, which is in turn radicalizing them against government itself.”

Now let’s briefly look at Lithwick’s article in Slate:

“We now know that a single Trump judge can gut the Affordable Care Act, or permit a wall to be built on the Southern border, or try to end Roe v. Wade.

This isn’t a thing to contemplate after a Democrat wins the presidential election. It is, with every passing day, the reason to doubt whether any Democrat can win the presidential election ever again. And the same is true for the Senate, and for the House. Which is why it has to be a first-order discussion, not last. 

“As Klein wrote: ‘This is what Buttigieg gets: To make policy, you have to fix the policymaking process. Some of the other candidates pay that idea lip service, when they get pushed on it. But he’s the one who places that project at the center of his candidacy.’

Lithwick concluded:

“The Democrats on the debate stage are embarrassed to be caught out without answers to questions about battles that their constituents cannot afford for them to continue to lose. Democratic voters showed up in 2018 in part because of their horror at losing the Supreme Court.

Sure, it’s embarrassing that Democrats have been badly outplayed by Mitch McConnell, who follows no norm or judicial ideal beyond ruthless pursuit of power.

“But it should be more embarrassing that reforming the courts has been deemed too hard to warrant a single debate question. By all means let’s talk about Trump and impeachment and ‘kitchen table issues’ and the environment; they all matter.

But the fact that the machinery of justice has been captured by a monied minority means that democracy itself is on the ballot. That should matter enough to warrant a question.”

All this is why I found the debates so disappointing. While the candidates were attacking each other—and President Obama, through Joe Biden—and discussing their plans for what they’ll accomplish once they become the President, for the most part they didn’t talk about these huge, powerful forces at all. 

And this is where their energy—and ours—is essential.

I intend to vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination, hoping that person is sufficiently inspiring to energize a broad swath of diverse constituents.

I think the divisions between moderates and progressives figure less in most voters’ minds than does their sense of the decency, competence, integrity, and leadership skills of the individual they’d like to see in the White House—especially now. 

Thus, I believe it is essential that we try to defeat Trump with the largest possible mandate, demonstrating total rejection of his racism—as well as his corruption, incompetence, divisiveness, and unwillingness to protect the US from those who have directly threatened our elections and are continuing to do so. 

But clearly that’s not enough. It is so important that we educate ourselves and make our voices heard about these structural issues that are making it difficult, if not impossible, to get anything substantive done in Washington.

Democrats need to take the Presidency, House, and Senate, and then focus on the critical changes needed—before a minority party eliminates any chance of the majority’s will being enacted. 

These are large challenges,  but while some of the candidates talk about the need for “Big Ideas,” we need to let them all know what those big ideas must include. We made it to the moon 50 years ago, you’ll recall. We can do this.

And we must.

Annie

It’s Here, It’s Real, and We’ve Got to Talk About It Together

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Our Problem

I know, I know. It’s the “Hysterical Doomsaying Scientists” vs the “What’s Wrong With These People? Don’t They Care About Their Grandkids?” folks. How can we ever find common ground? I’ve just discovered someone who’s devoting her life to that effort, and I’ll introduce her to you shortly.

Here’s what we don’t need in this discussion. A recent video surfaced that showed kangaroos hopping in the snow in Australia. Conservative author/filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza tweeted about it: “Global warming comes to Australia. Unless you want to believe your lying eyes.”

D’Souza, an ardent climate change denier, was playing “gotcha” with the climate scientists. The problem was that he was oblivious to the fact that when it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter in Australia. As in now.

Nevertheless, Australia is experiencing serious impact from climate change, report its government websites. It’s having less snowfall, but it’s still having some.

So we can strike D’Souza off our list of reliable sources. Agreed? I certainly hope so.

One big change among climate scientists fairly recently is that they have better tools than previously, enabling them to speak more definitively about the association between some dramatic, never-before-seen events and climate change.

They can run giant simulations in their labs to determine the amounts of moisture in the air and energy in the ocean associated with today’s climatic events and compare them with those in the past.

Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons today, they find, are bigger, wetter, and faster-moving than they used to be. Climate change isn’t hovering somewhere in the not-too-distant future. We’re living with it now.

An Important Report

The Washington Post recently published a lengthy report: “2 degrees C BEYOND THE LIMIT: Extreme climate change has arrived in America.” It provides an in-depth look at the two states in the Lower 48 that are warming the fastest of all: New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Scientists have been using an increase in temperature of 2-degrees Celsius as the danger cutoff for some time. But this report cites New Jersey as having already reached that point in some places—twice the average for the Lower 48 states—and Rhode Island having exceeded it. (Alaska is the US state that’s warming the fastest.)

In fact, the Northeast in general is warming faster than some other parts of the country. That may seem surprising, as we’re accustomed to hearing about the forest fires in California and flooding in the South and Midwest. I always thought of the folks in Miami, who watch water burbling up through their sidewalks on sunny days, as the harbinger of things to come.

The reason for this Northeast warming, scientists conjecture, seems to be a cycle involving warmer winters and very warm water offshore, which leads to less ice and snow cover. The latter reflect solar radiation into space, cooling the planet. “But as the ice and snow retreat,” the reporters note, “the ground absorbs the solar radiation and warms.”

During the winter months (December-February), New Jersey’s average temperature is higher than 0-degrees Celsius, the freezing point for water. Not surprisingly, that freezing point, according to New Jersey state climatologist David A. Robinson,”is the most critical threshold among all temperatures.”

It’s happened over three decades, and the result, the Post reports, is that

“lakes don’t freeze as often, snow melts more quickly, and insects and pests don’t die as they once did in the harsher cold.” 

The Changes Around Us

What does this change look like? Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, used to be the site of winter carnivals, with 15,000 ice skaters, cars driving onto the lake’s thick icy surface, and hockey clubs competing. No more. According to the Post:

“That’s because a century of climbing temperatures has changed the character of the Garden State. The massive ice industry and skate sailing association are but black-and-white photographs at the local museum. And even the hardy souls who still try to take part in ice fishing contests here have had to cancel 11 of the past dozen competitions for fear of straying onto perilously thin ice and tumbling into the frigid water.”

This thinning ice allows aquatic weeds, nourished by fertilizer runoff that colder water would kill, to thrive. This year, after one of the warmest springs yet, blue-green algae took over the lake, shutting it down to swimming and fishing “for weeks, if not longer.”

The algae, cyanobacteria, is the same substance that killed 3 dogs swimming in a North Carolina pond and another 3 dogs swimming in a lake in Austin, Texas. Imagine taking your dog for a swim in a lake you’ve always frequented, not knowing it’s become toxic.

Among the changes cited in the Post’s report: rainfall in New Jersey last year was 40% above average, and that means the famous Jersey mosquitoes are in their element, enjoying longer seasons and importing such gifts as the West Nile virus.

The warmer temperatures have attracted the southern pine beetle to travel north, damaging 20,000 acres of the Pine Barrens, a national reserve. A Dartmouth researcher, Matthew Ayres, says:

“It may not be too long before people are driving through the Pinelands saying ‘Why do they call it the Pinelands?’”

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Southern pine beetle devastation. Photo courtesy of flickr.com

When Climate Change Suddenly Becomes Visible

“Climate change plays havoc differently in different places,” the reporters observe.

Beach erosion is the key problem in Rhode Island, where people with homes close to the ocean scramble to move them back farther and farther. Three feet of beach are lost each year. Whole communities are relocating as the water encroaches. A summer resident of one community said the residents wanted the owners to build a wall to hold back the sea. “Last year, they spent a lot of money on sand,” he said. “Guess what? It’s all gone.”

The Post reporters note:

“That’s what people who live in 2-degree Celsius zones are discovering: that climate change seems remote or invisible, until all of a sudden it is inescapable.”

Narragansett Bay has warmed 1.6 degrees Celsius over the last 50 years, and in the past 20 years, Rhode Island’s lobster industry has dropped 75%.

“With 420 miles of coastline, Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of the Gulf Stream, a massive warm current that travels up the East Coast from the Gulf of Mexico before making a right turn toward Greenland and Europe.”

Scientists believe that the melting of Arctic ice has slowed the currents, moving the Gulf Stream closer to the East Coast. That, in turn, has warmed the water by 2-degrees Celsius or more in places and is apparently responsible for the hotter air temperatures as well.

Lest the skeptics point to severe winters as evidence to the contrary, the reporters note:

“This doesn’t mean the states can’t have extreme winters anymore. Polar vortex events, in which frigid Arctic air descends into the heart of the country, can still bring biting cold. But the overall trend remains the same and is set to continue. One recent study found that by the time the entire globe crosses 2 degrees Celsius, the Northeast can expect to have risen by about 3 degrees Celsius, with winter temperatures higher still.”

These trends are, of course, worldwide. Though much of the Earth has warmed 1-degree Celsius over the century, areas in Romania and Mongolia have also registered the 2-degree change seen in parts of the US.

“…for huge swaths of the planet, climate change is a present-tense reality, not one looming ominously in the distant future.”

The Post quotes Daniel Pauly, a marine scientist at the University of British Columbia:

“…the 2-degree Celsius hot spots are early warning sirens of a climate shift. ‘Basically, these hot spots are chunks of the future in the present.’”

All this sounds quite scary, and those on the “denier” side point to the alleged hysteria as a reason not to pay attention. But there is still time for meaningful action to slow and even reverse these trends—if we work together with common purpose.

A Key Question

So how do we get the skeptics to buy into our shared concern in order to move us toward meaningful action?

Enter Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University, where she is director of the Climate Science Center. Hayhoe spends a great deal of her time talking to people about climate science and how we can both adapt to and improve our changing environments.

I watched her 2018 TEDWomen Talk and listened to Alan Alda interview her on his podcast, Clear and Vivid. She’s funny, knowledgeable, and wise, and I recommend both her TEDWomen Talk (also available in transcript, with references) and the Alda podcast. I’ve intermingled her comments below.

“So when we turn on the TV these days, it seems like pundit X is saying, ‘It’s cold outside. Where is global warming now?’ And politician Y is saying, ‘For every scientist who says this thing is real, I can find one who says it isn’t.’ So it’s no surprise that sometimes we feel like everybody is saying these myths. 

“But when we look at the data — and the Yale Program on Climate [Change] Communication has done public opinion polling across the country now for a number of years — the data shows that actually 70 percent of people in the United States agree that the climate is changing. And 70 percent also agree that it will harm plants and animals, and it will harm future generations.”

And yet…only about 60 percent of people think it will affect people in the United States, and only 40 percent think it will affect them personally. (I doubt whether the couple who lost their 3 dogs in a toxic North Carolina lake think that.)

What’s more, two-thirds of people in the US say they never talk about it, and more than three-fourths say they don’t hear the media talk about it either. 

“So it’s a vicious cycle. The planet warms. Heat waves get stronger. Heavy precipitation gets more frequent. Hurricanes get more intense. Scientists release yet another doom-filled report. Politicians push back even more strongly, repeating the same sciencey-sounding myths.”

“What can we do to break this vicious cycle? The number one thing we can do is the exact thing that we’re not doing: talk about it. But you might say, ‘I’m not a scientist. How am I supposed to talk about radiative forcing or cloud parametrization in climate models?’ We don’t need to be talking about more science; we’ve been talking about the science for over 150 years.” 

Hayhoe says it was more than 150 years ago that climate scientists first discovered that burning coal, gas, and oil resulted in “heat-trapping gases…wrapping an extra blanket around the planet.”

And, she notes, the first formal warning from scientists that changing climate presented a danger was given to President Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago. What’s holding some of us back from accepting this reality?

“…the social science has taught us that if people have built their identity on rejecting a certain set of facts, then arguing over those facts is a personal attack. It causes them to dig in deeper, and it digs a trench, rather than building a bridge.”

And while climate change is also regarded as a danger to our outdated infrastructure, this is one bridge we really need to build—and soon. But how do we do it?

Building That Bridge…

Hayhoe suggests finding something you have in common with a person. In her interview with Alan Alda, she speaks of a mutual interest in gardens.

“I ask them ‘What do you grow? Are there challenges?’ They’ll say ‘no rain, everything died,’ or ‘torrential rains.’

“I ask, ‘Have you noticed…? Most people say “Yeah, we’ve always had droughts, but more in the past few years,’ or ‘Spring comes earlier…’”

She stresses that we can bypass the question of whether or not these problems are manmade. We are seeking commonality in finding solutions. The farmer whose crop insurance consists of devoting some of his acreage to wind and solar is a case in point. Look for local solutions to local concerns. How we got to this point is less important than how we get out.

“All we have to do is connect the dots between the values they already have and why they would care about a changing climate. I truly believe, after thousands of conversations that I’ve had over the past decade and more, that just about every single person in the world already has the values they need to care about a changing climate. They just haven’t connected the dots. And that’s what we can do through our conversation with them.

“The bottom line is, we don’t have to be a liberal tree hugger to care about a changing climate. All we have to be is a human living on this planet. Because no matter where we live, climate change is already affecting us today…” 

“What we need to fix this thing is rational hope. Yes, we absolutely do need to recognize what’s at stake…But we need a vision of a better future — a future with abundant energy, with a stable economy, with resources available to all, where our lives are not worse but better than they are today. 

“There are solutions. And that’s why the second important thing that we have to talk about is solutions — practical, viable, accessible, attractive solutions. Like what? Well, there’s no silver bullet, as they say, but there’s plenty of silver buckshot.” 

Some “Silver Buckshot”

Here are a few pieces of silver buckshot that Hayhoe points out both save money and reduce our carbon footprints:

*light bulbs
*solar shingles
*plug-in cars
*eating local
*eating lower down the food chain
*reducing food waste

This last one fascinates me. We throw away about one-third of our food, and methane from rotting foods in landfills is an even worse source of warming than carbon dioxide. After China and the US, food waste is the third leading contributor to climate change, Hayhoe says. So I guess it’s time for me to compare our shopping lists with our actual eating habits and what we toss away.

There’s also hope in the corporate world. Apple has decarbonized its entire operations. Walmart and Berkshire Hathaway are making changes. So are various agricultural and oil and gas companies (but not BP, which obstructs climate improvement actions behind the scenes, Hayhoe reports.)

And guess who Hayhoe finds the most effective sector of the population in driving awareness and working toward solutions? Kids!

“Children are speaking up—so genuine and real: ‘We need to preserve the planet.’”

Hayhoe cites a North Carolina study that found educating children about climate change had a positive and noticeable impact: when a young daughter spoke to her conservative father, she moved his position.

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A child helping us connect the dots! Photo courtesy of flickr.com

“The world is changing. But it just isn’t changing fast enough. Too often, we picture this problem as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of a hill, with only a few hands on it, trying to roll it up the hill. 

“But in reality, that boulder is already at the top of the hill. And it’s got hundreds of millions of hands, maybe even billions on it, pushing it down. It just isn’t going fast enough. So how do we speed up that giant boulder so we can fix climate change in time? You guessed it. The number one way is by talking about it. 

“The bottom line is this: climate change is affecting you and me right here, right now, in the places where we live. But by working together, we can fix it. Sure, it’s a daunting problem. Nobody knows that more than us climate scientists. But we can’t give in to despair. We have to go out and actively look for the hope that we need, that will inspire us to act. And that hope begins with a conversation today.” 

So are you encouraged to have a conversation? Do you think it’s realistic to find common ground on this vital issue that affects us all—including those who don’t think it’s even an issue? And are you letting your representatives at all levels know how important you think this topic is?

And if you’re a skeptic, how would you react if your child, grandchild, or other young person close to you made a rational appeal—for the sake of their future?

Annie

The Limitations of Limits

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Dare I dabble in Drabble? the prolix writer asks.
What’ve ya got to lose? his friend patiently responds.
Not much…maybe 2400 words.
Were they all worth including?
Nah. Just my inner thoughts, deep regrets, and lessons learned about that kid–
You know the one.
Can’t say I do.
The lost kid…the one I tried to save.
What happened to him?
It’s a long story…

****

This is my second attempt at “flash fiction.” I have described the history of The Drabble (a specific type of flash fiction restricted to stories told in no more than 100 words) here. In essence, the story is supposed to have a traditional narrative arc (beginning, middle, and end), “a telling pivot, an emotional velocity,” and leave the reader feeling that you have a sense of where the story is going even without my giving you more details.

So, my dear reader/critics: It’s your turn. Am I on to something here? Do you enjoy these little interludes from my muchmuchmuch longer pieces? I really appreciate hearing your views.

Annie

“They’re Doing It As We Sit Here…”

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Senator Mark Warner(left), Vice Chair and Senator Richard Burr, Chair, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

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It was a gorgeous sunny day, and we were visiting friends. But all four of us spent last Wednesday indoors, in front of the TV. We were watching Special Counselor Robert Mueller testify, first before the House Judiciary Committee, and then before the House Intelligence Committee.

We knew our vigil wasn’t accomplishing anything in the larger scheme of things, but we are all political junkies with deep concerns about the fate of American democracy, so we felt compelled to watch and listen.

And while many have faulted Mueller for his halting, weary performance and his insistence on sticking to the “four corners of his report,” much emerged from those hearings.

Most important, Mueller was quite emphatic that our democracy is under attack. When asked by Republican Congressman Will Hurd if he thought the Russian involvement was a single episode, he did not equivocate.

“No. It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” 

What’s more, Mueller said:

“Many more countries have developed the capabilities the Russians have done.”

We’ll get back to the implications of that statement shortly.

Here are what I felt were the most significant of Mueller’s responses:

*His report DID NOT exonerate the President.

*The finding of lack of complicity with the Russians by the President and his associates was based on insufficient evidence to reach that conclusion (and not the absence of evidence)

*The investigation into that matter was impeded—not only by those who were convicted of lying, but also by others who told “outright lies” or were “not telling the full truth.”

*Those individuals included President Trump.

When Florida Rep. Val Demings asked if the President’s written responses to Mueller’s questions about, among other matters, the Trump Tower Moscow plans, given under oath, were “inadequate and incomplete and weren’t always being truthful,” Mueller responded: “Generally.”

Many questions Trump did not answer, and when Demings asked if some of his other responses conflicted with other information the investigation had revealed, Mueller said, “Yes.”

*Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois read public comments that Trump had made about WikiLeaks— including “I love WikiLeaks” and “This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove”—and asked Mueller if any of these quotes disturbed him.

Mueller answered:
“Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.”

*In a significant exchange that seemed to go beyond the “four corners of the report,” House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff questioned the Special Prosecutor:

Schiff: You believe knowingly accepting foreign assistance in a campaign to be unethical?
Mueller: And a crime…under certain circumstances.

Schiff: And it undermines our democratic institutions and is unpatriotic?
Mueller: True.

Schiff: And wrong?
Mueller: True.

Schiff: And we should hold our elected officials to a higher standard than the mere avoidance of criminality?
Mueller: Absolutely.

Schiff then asked if the need to act in an ethical manner is not only a moral one but also necessary so that it doesn’t expose the individual to compromise—which can be of a foreign nature.
Mueller: Yes.

Schiff: Blackmail?
Mueller: Also true.

Then Schiff noted the President’s denials. He’d said he hadn’t done business with the Russians. He also said if he had been doing business with Russia, “That’s not a crime. Why should I miss out on all those opportunities?”

Schiff concluded:

“We are all left to wonder whether the President is representing us or his own interests.”

I won’t go through the morning session with the House Judiciary Committee concerning potential obstruction of justice, other than to note that it yielded Mueller’s important statement that Trump could, indeed, be indicted after leaving office. 

(As I mentioned in my previous post, more than 1000 former prosecutors, who worked for both Democratic and Republican presidents, signed a statement that anyone other than the President [who couldn’t be charged due to a Justice Department precedent] would certainly have been indicted based on the findings in the Mueller Report.)

Somehow, all that possible criminality—and it seems fairly evident there was a good deal of it—does not get to me on the same visceral level as the President’s apparent indifference to/encouragement of the Russians’ disruptions of our elections.

Further evidence of the Russians’ impact came the next day, when the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan report, the first of several, stating that the Russians targeted the election systems in all 50 states in 2016 and actually probed the election systems of 21 states.

The report noted the Russians’ “unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure.” Though they found no evidence that any votes were changed, they observed that “Russian cyber actors were in a position to delete or change voter data” in Illinois’ voter registration database.

The report recommends that US intelligence agencies place a high priority in quickly identifying cyberattacks, and the Department of Homeland Security should develop clear channels of communication between the federal government and the states. Old outdated machines must be replaced, and paper ballots are important for backup of every vote cast.

In a statement, Committee Chair Richard Burr of North Carolina spoke of improvements that have been made “to bridge gaps in information sharing and shore up vulnerabilities” but said “There is still much work that remains to be done, however.”

Vice Chair Mark Warner of Virginia said,

“I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that the threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it.”

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to refuse to bring bipartisan legislation that has already passed the House to the Senate floor for a vote.

I’d like to return for a moment to Mueller’s comment that many other countries are now also pursuing ways to disrupt our elections.

One commenter noted that McConnell’s plans to keep the Republicans in control of the White House and Senate by stonewalling election system improvement funding may backfire. Iran and China, he suggested, may have other ideas about the best ways to disrupt our elections.

And I am deeply concerned that Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, who emphatically warned about the Russian involvement in testimony before Congress, and has been a target of Trump’s wrath for some time, has now “resigned.”

Trump has appointed John Ratcliffe, a Republican Congressman who strongly supports him, to replace Coats. (Senator Burr, the Intelligence Committee Chair and a Republican, has already said this nominee is unqualified.)

We know the President recently jokingly castigated Putin for his interference when they met. There is no reason to believe he will change his attitude and acknowledge and act upon this threat to our national security.

We Americans all have many important issues on our minds—pocketbook and healthcare matters, climate change and a host of others. We each have our priorities. But this is a huge issue for our democracy that I believe we must find time to act upon.

Our involvement in these matters—contacting our elected officials to urge them to fund cybersecurity measures on the state and county levels—is critically important.

Tomorrow begins the next round of debates among the Democratic candidates for President in 2020. I will be looking for those who are concerned and knowledgeable about these issues and are thinking about ways to protect our elections.

These candidates have a difficult balancing act—to show they’re tough enough to take on Trump in the general election—while not destroying one another in the primaries.

But true leadership requires strength, knowledge, character, and the ability to effectively communicate one’s vision for America.

Surely thoughtful approaches to preserving our democracy in the election in which each of them seeks to be the Democrats’ standard bearer should be a major aspect of the leadership they demonstrate to us now–when we sorely need it.

Do you agree with me about the importance of protecting our elections from cyberattacks? Polls generally say that most Americans don’t really care about this issue that much.  I hope those polls are wrong.

Annie

I’ll Be Watching Mueller’s Congressional Testimony…I Hope You Will Be Too

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This Wednesday, July 24, beginning at 8:30 am ET, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify—reluctantly—before two committees of the House of Representatives. I believe it is extremely important that as many people as possible watch his testimony and listen to his responses to questions.

I am deeply saddened for our country that The Mueller Report, its findings, and the man himself have become such partisan issues. According to every reputable intelligence source we have, it is indisputable that the Russians interfered with our 2016 elections.

This is cyberwarfare–and more–and it is as serious an attack as any that could have occurred. Its intentions were to disrupt our democracy and make us distrust our government and its institutions. I believe the Russians were successful beyond Vladimir Putin’s wildest dreams.

An easily digestible exploration of The Mueller Report is available in a multi-issue podcast from Lawfare, a national security blog produced in cooperation with the Brookings Institution.

Lawfare calls The Mueller Report “one of the most important and consequential documents of our time,” but adds: “most people aren’t reading it.” That’s why they’ve put together the podcast, which they hope will be widely shared.

I have just listened to the first episode, “Active Measures,” and it is a fascinating examination of the report, with added interviews and just a sufficient amount of drama to hold the listener’s interest. I strongly recommend it to you all.

I will not spend much time now mentioning my dismay that Republican officials—elected and unelected—and the Republican party, which has long been deeply concerned about national security, have sought to distort the findings, malign Mueller—a lifelong Republican with an impeccable career of service—and repeat President Trump’s oft-stated meme that this is “fake news” and there was no collusion, no obstruction of justice.

The fact that Attorney General Bill Barr misrepresented the findings at the outset, thereby planting seeds of doubt in the minds of many, is another huge disappointment. But at least we will finally hear what Mueller himself has concluded—in his own words.

My intention had been to read every one of the 448 pages of The Mueller Report. However, like most Americans and—more importantly and regrettably—most members of Congress, I didn’t get around to it.

But my husband did—every page, every reference—and though he’s not an attorney, he’s a careful reader and a thoughtful and skeptical individual. So I am grateful to him for providing me with his findings and insights.

I hope you’ll find the information that follows a helpful “primer” for viewing Mueller’s testimony. And if you don’t watch or listen, I hope you’ll think very carefully about the implications of the findings for our democracy.

VOLUME 1: THE RUSSIAN ATTACK.

The primary question: Were there willing accomplices, and if so, is that provable?

What follows is background information to give context to those of you who may not have followed these developments as closely as we have.

The “Internet Research Agency”

The Russian attempts to “mess with” our democracy began with the work of the Russian-based “Internet Research Agency” (IRA) in 2014.

At that point, the intent was to gain a toehold in the US, learn about what Americans were thinking and where our divisions lay, and begin gaining online followers through social media–specifically Facebook and Twitter, with seemingly innocuous efforts appealing to cat lovers and the like.

In 2015, even before Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy, the efforts began to discredit her with phony stories, including with regard to her role as Secretary of State, delivered through bots whose origins, unknown to observers, were in Russia.

It wasn’t until 2016, when Donald Trump declared his candidacy and demonstrated strong sympathy for Russia, that the IRA’s campaign focused its considerable Internet presence of fake sites on building him up and continuing to tear Clinton down.

Based on their reconnaissance, the IRA sought to sow dissension in the US by, for example, creating fake pro-Muslim and anti-Muslim groups and staging competing rallies, in the hope of fomenting violence.

(And as we are clearly seeing today, they had rich raw material to work with: they didn’t have to create dissensions–they simply had to exacerbate already existing ones.)

When Facebook began taking down the fake sites in 2017, they had reached hundreds of millions of people and amassed hundreds of thousands of followers.

Triggers for the 2017 FBI Investigation

A series of events and media reports led to the FBI’s 2017 investigation of the Republican Party’s presidential campaign because they generated speculation about a possible conspiracy to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy to become President of the United States. They included:

*US, European Union, and Canadian sanctions against Russia for its military annexation of Crimea and an attempt to move eastern Ukraine closer to the Russian Federation.

*Multiple contacts with Russia by individuals close to then-candidate Trump.

*The deteriorating relationship between the US and Russia.

*Putin’s animus toward former Secretary of State Clinton, including his belief that she sought to undermine the Russian regime.

*Trump’s past financial history [which he often denied] with Russian financial people to maintain credit for the Trump Organization (theory: that this would make him vulnerable to blackmail)

*Wikileaks’ pseudo-journalistic public exposure of the Democratic National Committee’s internal communications.

*The FBI’s receipt of information of Russian involvement in US politics sufficiently serious to generate a counter-intelligence investigation into what role—if any—the Trump campaign played with Russia’s interference into the 2016 election.

Then, after the election, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation due to his own contacts with members of the Russian government.

President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, expressing anger that Comey refused to publicly say that Trump was not a subject of the investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as Special Counsel, an outside party who would carry on the investigation.

After the 2-1/2 year investigation, Mueller reported he could not find a conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

He noted, however, that people lied or claimed executive privilege to avoid questioning, making it difficult to get all the relevant facts.

Our questions: If Trump, et al, had nothing to hide (‘no collusion!”), why did they feel the need to lie repeatedly, attempt to interfere with the Special Counsel, and refuse to cooperate (while claiming that they were cooperating)?

And why are they still trying to prevent Congress from performing its Constitutionally guaranteed oversight function?

A major stumbling block was the refusal of the President to sit down for a face-to-face deposition with the Special Counsel. The President was allowed a “take-home exam,” making a comprehensive testimony with follow-up questions impossible.

As noted above, it now seems evident that by 2016, Putin thought that Trump could be nominated for US President. Putin saw Trump as sympathetic to Russia’s interests and able to blunt US interference with Russia’s plans for Eastern Europe. (Why Trump was, and continues to be, so sympathetic has been the subject of much speculation.)

In contrast, Putin viewed Clinton as a major disrupter who probably wouldn’t accede to Russia’s desire to have the US lift sanctions levied because of Crimea. The Russians began their campaign of disruption by hacking into the DNC computers and establishing a vast presence of Internet trolls planting phony stories about Clinton and the Democrats.

It may be that certain persons who were investigated for possible unlawful Russian contact were, in fact, either willing or unwitting conduits of Russian messaging (eg, Flynn, Stone, Manafort, Papadapoulos, Assange), but this information has not been proven.

It does seem that most of the activity and efforts to communicate flowed from Russia to the US.

It is difficult to say how successful Russia was in tipping the election in Trump’s favor. Polls were within the margin of error for Clinton. Without Russian involvement, Trump may have lost any advantage he received from Comey’s last-minute reopening of the investigation into Clinton’s emails (an investigation that was again closed before the election, but in the words of Trump’s campaign aide Kellyanne Conway, “The damage is done.”)

Mueller’s reference to the difficulty in nailing down  information due to lying and claims of executive privilege is significant.

There were also unanswered avenues for inquiry, such as Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s meeting with Russian ambassador Kislyak and Sergei Gorkov (VEB Bank, a major Russian-owned bank). Were these diplomatic or business—or diplomatic for business?

VOLUME TWO: INTERFERENCE WITH RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

Mueller did, indeed, specify areas involving the President that could be within the legal framework of “obstructive act,” ”nexus [connection] to a pending or contemplated official proceeding,” and “intent.”

If the House of Representatives decides to open an impeachment inquiry, some or all of the following will probably become the basis for that action.

*Pressuring FBI Director Comey to end the probe of Michael Flynn.

*Firing Comey, deemed obstruction because Trump understood that the continuing investigation would give rise to personal and political concerns, ie, Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen pursuing the Trump Tower deal until June 16, 2016, after Trump had stated that he’d had no business with Russia after he’d been sworn in.

*Attempting to fire Special Counsel Mueller for alleged conflicts. Trump asked White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller through Rosenstein. McGahn, fearing a Saturday night massacre akin to Watergate, refused.

*Seeking to curtail the Special Counsel investigation. The President asked Corey Lewandowski to call upon Jeff Sessions to end the investigation to prevent scrutiny of the president. Lewandowski didn’t do it.

*Seeking to keep emails about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting from the public. (Since he didn’t attempt to keep the emails from the Special Counsel, this point didn’t fit all the criteria for obstruction)

*Asking Sessions repeatedly to “unrecuse” himself so that he could shield the President from the investigation.

*Ordering McGahn to deny that the President tried to fire the Special Counsel. McGahn refused.

*Acting toward Manafort in a manner suggesting he was dangling a pardon to keep Manafort from cooperating with the Special Counsel.

*Reacting to Michael Cohen in a way that would discourage Cohen from cooperating with the government.

*Expressing skepticism publicly about Russian involvement with the emails while he and his staff were actually trying to get more information about Wikileaks’ releases.

MUELLER’S CONCLUSION:

(The Special Counsel was operating under “longstanding” Department of Justice [DOJ] policy that prevents charging a sitting President with a federal crime.)

“BECAUSE WE DETERMINED NOT TO MAKE A TRADITIONAL PROSECUTORIAL JUDGMENT, WE DID NOT DRAW ULTIMATE CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE PRESIDENT’S CONDUCT. THE EVIDENCE WE OBTAINED ABOUT THE PRESIDENT’S ACTIONS AND INTENT PRESENTS DIFFICULT ISSUES THAT WOULD NEED TO BE RESOLVED IF WE WERE MAKING A TRADITIONAL PROSECUTORIAL JUDGMENT.

AT THE SAME TIME, IF WE HAD CONFIDENCE AFTER A THOROUGH INVESTIGATION OF THE FACTS THAT THE PRESIDENT CLEARLY DID NOT COMMIT OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, WE WOULD SO STATE.

BASED ON THE FACTS AND THE APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS, WE ARE UNABLE TO REACH THAT JUDGMENT. ACCORDINGLY, WHILE THIS REPORT DOES NOT CONCLUDE THAT THE PRESIDENT COMMITTED A CRIME, IT ALSO DOES NOT EXONERATE HIM.”

On May 6, 2019, more than 400 former federal prosecutors who had served under both Democratic and Republican administrations [updated: now more than 1000] made a public statement saying the following:

“Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting president, result in multiple felony changes for obstruction of justice. “

You can read the entire statement here.

A few additional thoughts:

The President was saved from putting himself into even greater jeopardy by aides (McGahn, Lewandowski, and probably Hope Hicks) who advised him against certain actions and/or did not follow through on his requests that they implement illegal acts.

We think—as do others—that separating the two parts of the report weakened the Special Counsel’s effort. The items of obstruction were proof to us that the President felt that the investigation could lead to something so damaging that it was worth the effort to interfere and discredit and/or fire Mueller.

These actions strongly suggest that he either knew or at least recognized that Putin was doing plenty to tilt the election in his favor.

As far as we know, the impetus for the Russian contacts came from Russian sources. However, by soft-pedaling Russia’s activities—most recently laughing with Putin about the findings at their last meeting—he certainly seems complicit in Russia’s efforts.

At best, he appears to be responsible for serious dereliction of duty in denying the implications of Russia’s cyberattack, refusing to denounce Putin, and failing to marshal all efforts to prevent a repeat in 2020.

One final, related note:

Richard Clarke, a White House counterterrorism advisor to four presidents, who tried to warn the Bush administration about the imminence of an attack just before 9/11, has written a new book about cyber threats. He points out that there are more than 4000 counties in the US running their own elections. They need help. But, he said in an NPR interview:

:...Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican majority leader, is standing in the way of a bill that has passed the House to give hundreds of millions of dollars’ assistance to the counties and to the states so that we can improve their cybersecurity. Right now, it’s impossible to have all of these counties and all these state governments even know when they’re under attack. Many of them say they’ve never been attacked. Well, they have no capability of knowing.” 

Why is McConnell refusing to allow this bill to come to a vote in the Senate?

The public and the media must press McConnell to give us an answer.

Where are the patriots? Who is protecting us from foreign cyberattacks and other interventions in our elections? How will we know if the results of the 2020 election are valid? And what would the lack of certainty mean for our democracy?

Annie

Where Are the Lights of Liberty? We Are Better Than This!

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I stood with nearly 300 members of my community Friday night at a “Lights for Liberty” candlelight vigil in protest of the horrific treatment of immigrants on the US southern border.

This was one of 800 such vigils worldwide, all designed to persuade the government of this nation, a nation of immigrants, to stop using cruelty and dehumanization against children and families.

Think about that: people throughout the world gathered to register their horror at the policies and actions of the US government.

Two aspects of the presentations moved me the most. The first was a speech by a councilwoman from a neighboring community. She introduced herself as a “proud American” and an immigrant and described her journey from India when she was 11 years old.

Her mother was traveling with her and her two brothers to reunite with her father, who had arrived in the US two years earlier to make enough money so that he could bring his family to this great country for a happier, more financially secure life.

The councilwoman said she was apprehensive, but she was with her mother, so she knew everything would be OK. “I can’t imagine,” she said, “what it would have been like to have been taken away from my mother and brothers, and not know whether I’d ever see them again. I can’t imagine having to live under the conditions we’re hearing about—to have no food, no toothbrushes, no bedding, no clean clothes…”

The other presentation that brought me to tears was made by a series of teenagers, who took to the podium to read from the actual statements made by young people in our nation’s care.

These statements were recorded by attorneys who visited the Customs and Border Protection facilities in late June. You can find them at newsweek.com. Here’s a sampling:

“At 3 a.m. the next day the officers told us that our grandmother would be taken away. My grandmother tried to show the officers a paper signed by my parents saying that my grandmother had been entrusted to take care of us. The officers rejected the paperwork saying that it had to be signed by a judge. Then the officers took my dear grandmother away. We have not seen her since that moment.” -From a 12-year-old girl

“At Ursula, we have not been able to shower. The toilet is out in the open in the cage, there is no door for any privacy. There is water but no soap to wash our hands. There are no paper towels to dry our hands. We have not been given a toothbrush or toothpaste to brush our teeth.” -From a 17-year-old boy

“The day after we arrived here, my baby began vomiting and having diarrhea. I asked to see a doctor and they did not take us. I asked again the next day and the guard said: ‘She doesn’t have the face of a sick baby. She doesn’t need to see a doctor.’ My baby daughter has not had medicine since we first arrived. She has a very bad cough, fever and continues to vomit and have diarrhea.” -From a 16-year-old girl

The Trump Administration has made deliberate decisions to deter immigration by separating families and forcing children—from babies to adolescents—as well as adults to live in inhumane conditions. Threatened surprise raids on immigrants are part of this cruelty. American citizens are among those who have been rounded up and deported.

And we, the taxpayers, are footing the bill for all this: $200 daily in government-run cages; $700-plus daily in private facilities through which people such as former Chief of Staff John Kelly profit financially.

Who among us can turn a blind eye to the horrors that are being perpetrated by our government right now?

Border security is a legitimate issue—one that Congress should have resolved years ago. In fact, they came close: a comprehensive immigration reform bill, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed the Senate in 2013 by a vote of 68-32. But the House failed to act.

Is it now possible, with Democratic control of the House, that if such a bill were proposed, Senator Mitch McConnell, who delights in calling himself The Grim Reaper, would even bring it to a vote?

He has already refused to consider more than 100 House-passed bills on healthcare, infrastructure, voting machine protection, and other issues on which large majorities of Americans agree.

But this is now an even more complex issue. Immigration had been down for several years. The increases lately are due to the grievous conditions in Central America (immigration from Mexico is actually down): poverty, homicides, gangs trying to recruit young teenagers, drug lords, and climate change.

Climate change is part of the worldwide impetus for migration that many countries in Europe are grappling with.

The situation on our southern border should send an alarm bell concerning what we have to look forward to if we continue to deny the existence of climate change and don’t act promptly.

Erik Kobayashi-Solomon, a contributor to Forbes, pointed out that the three countries from which most immigrants seeking asylum at our southern border are now fleeing—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—are part of an “ecologically fragile ‘dry corridor’ that has been hit in the last few years by alternating droughts and drenching precipitation which climate sciences have shown is related to warming global temperatures.”

Since about 1/3 of the people there depend on subsistence farming, it doesn’t take huge variations in climate to wreak havoc on their crops. They are then compelled to leave their homes and set out for cities—cities rife with corruption and run by criminal gangs. The author observes:

“So they make the rational choice to head north for economic security and rule of law.”

“Recent reporting from Jonathan Blitzer at the New Yorker and John Carlos Frey at the Marshall Project makes a convincing case that climate change is a major underlying cause of the recent pick-up in northward migration from Central America.”

Poverty isn’t currently considered by our government a legitimate reason for asylum, but it’s realistic to believe that many of these people requesting asylum also fear for their lives. Why else would they make the obviously dangerous trek from their homes, their children in tow?

Instead, they are caged and deprived of basic necessities. And even though family members in the US are often available to take them in, the government doesn’t contact these people, deliberately worsening the overcrowded facilities situation.

President Trump did inherit an unresolved immigration problem. The New York Times has editorialized that “All Presidents Are Deporters in Chief.”

That dubious honorific was given by immigrants rights groups to President Obama, though his administration sought to deport primarily criminals and created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a pathway to citizenship for the young people who were brought here as babies and have known only the US as their home.

Though we may wish to embrace every last soul seeking refuge here, that isn’t possible.

But the question The Times raises is what kind of Deporter in Chief a President is—or will be.

In faulting this President, the editors state:

“For Mr. Trump, deterrence of illegal immigration has been a guiding principle — if not by means of a wall, then by means of cruelty toward migrants, from the squalid conditions in detainee facilities to separating children from their parents.”

“It’s the complete, 100 percent focus on harsher options that will deter the influx, with a disregard for managing what’s happening,” a Department of Homeland Security official told The Times earlier this year. “We have a lot more families, a lot more unaccompanied children, and the focus has just been on how can we deter, rather than how can we handle.”

But, writes The Times:

“…deterrence alone can’t explain a slew of other moves — scaling back a program that protects the families of members of the military and veterans from being deported, for instance. It doesn’t explain the frantic — yet unsuccessful — effort to put a question about citizenship on the census, which experts agree would lead to an undercount of people in immigrant-heavy communities. Nor does deterrence explain removing deportation protections from nearly one million people who live in the country under the auspices of humanitarian programs or because they were brought to the country as children.”

As one of the signs at the “Lights for Liberty” vigil I attended said: “We are better than this.”

We must insist on a rapid end to the cruelty, the family separations, the conditions that are leading to epidemics of scabies, lice, and chicken pox in the overcrowded facilities—even to several deaths.

In addition to comprehensive immigration reform, we need adherence to legal processes and humane care for those who seek asylum—and a Marshall Plan to improve life in their countries of origin so that many of them can return there safely.

One more thing isn’t getting enough attention. The dirty big secret is that illegal immigrants are an important part of our nation’s economy.

Undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $11.6 billion a year in taxes,  and since they tend to live in the shadows, they use fewer governmental services.

If Trump succeeds in substantially lowering the numbers of undocumented immigrants, our economy will suffer. The jobs he claims the immigrants are taking? They are jobs most Americans refuse to accept. Hotels are already worrying about who will clean the rooms; farmers are wondering who will harvest the lettuce.

What’s more, Trump’s policies have also been directed at reducing legal immigration. That, too, will have a negative impact on our economy. Here, verbatim, are some myths and facts about the issue from PBS NewsHour:

Myth #1: Immigrants take more from the U.S. government than they contribute.
Fact: Immigrants contribute more in tax revenue than they take in government benefits.

Myth #2: Immigrants take American jobs.
Fact: Immigrant workers often take jobs that boost other parts of the economy.

Myth #3: The U.S. economy does not need immigrants.
Fact: Immigrants are key to offsetting a falling birth rate.

Myth #4: It would be better for the economy if immigrants’ children were not citizens.
Fact: Children with citizenship are more productive workers.

And an AP fact check on this issue, also from PBS NewsHour, notes the following:

“The fact is that 75 percent of immigrants arrived legally, according to the Pew Research Center. In general, the entire immigrant population is increasingly better educated than native-born Americans.

They’re more likely to have jobs. They’re less likely to commit violent crimes. They help fuel economic growth. And as a group over time, they’re no more a drain on taxpayers than native-born citizens.

Moreover, for all the attention to the southern border, in recent years immigrants to the U.S. have been more likely to come from Asia than from Mexico.”

So I return to the sign I saw at the “Lights for Liberty” Vigil that said: “We Are Better Than This.” I emphatically agree.

And I hope that sometime very soon, most Americans in this, our nation of immigrants, will dismiss the lies and distortions and appreciate the value of welcoming new immigrants (who often become our friends and neighbors), knowing that when it comes to understanding their role in our country—and in our economy— We Are Also Smarter Than This.

Annie