A Tale of Two Calamities

Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
COVID-19; image courtesy of state.gov.

Oh, the irony! This is the week that my husband and I were scheduled to be in Alaska. The purpose of the cruise on a small ship was to learn from expert lecturers and see firsthand the devastation of climate change on the animals and environment. We felt a sense of urgency to make this trip while the locale was still viable. Obviously, the trip was cancelled due to COVID-19.

We were supposed to meet the tour guide and group in Seattle, where the air quality a few days ago was rated the third worst in the world.

In the scheme of things, I’m certainly not complaining about our lost vacation. We are safe in our home.

But in the larger sense…

The Washington Post headlined that the western wildfires destroying large swaths of California, Oregon, and Washington are “An ‘unprecedented’ climate change-ruled event, experts say.”

There are, of course, varying contributory factors. Wildfires are to some extent routine in these areas, a natural revitalization process. And in some cases, human carelessness has been the impetus.

But nothing like this has ever been seen before. Surely those who hold on to the belief that climate change is part of a natural cycle must at least pause and consider when the word “unprecedented” is repeatedly used.

According to the Post,

“These wildfires are what is known as a compound disaster, in which more than one extreme event takes place at the same time, across a varied geography. 

“While climate scientists have been warning that compound disasters are an inevitable result of human-caused climate change, a spate of simultaneously burning, rapidly expanding fires spanning the entire West Coast was not expected for several more decades if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.”

I have read any number of newspaper letters and tweets from people caught in the disasters consuming the West Coast who seem to feel abandoned by the rest of the country. As far as I’m concerned, they couldn’t be more wrong.

My heart is filled with grief at the destruction, death, and ongoing misery wrought by these fires. It is tough enough being confined due to the pandemic; now there are many thousands of people who, if they’re fortunate enough to still have their homes–or lives–are forced to stay inside, unable to open the windows.

And I am angry, very angry—though the only action that’s within my control is to send donations to charities helping those who’ve lost everything. 

And these fires—a horrific blend of drought, then harsh storms in which the lightning transforms the dried trees into accelerants—and winds that morph the flames into huge torches rapidly leveling everything in their paths, are just one vast manifestation of what we’ve seen taking its toll throughout our country.  

There have been so many hurricanes already this season, one forecaster reported, that after “Sally,” there’s only one name left in the hurricane alphabet list. And we’re only halfway through the season. 

My Weather Channel just told me “Condos have been ripped to shreds in Sally’s wake.”

Flooding has followed these hurricanes, wreaking its own havoc.

Tornadoes are appearing in areas that have never seen them before.

I’m angry because it didn’t have to be this way! Do those words sound familiar?

The New York Times reports:

“It’s interesting to draw the parallels between Covid and climate change,” said Philip B. Duffy, the president of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the National Climate Assessment. “In both of those cases, Trump personally has refused to recognize the threat. In both cases, there is no plan to deal with crisis,” he added.

In fact, in both cases, the Trump administration has made things worse.

Just as he publicly denied that COVID-19 existed—though we now know from his own recorded words to Bob Woodward that he understood the danger of the virus early on—so has he denied the existence of climate change.

Most of the California fires are on federally owned land that is technically Trump’s responsibility. But  at a meeting with California officials seeking federal help, his response was: “It’ll get colder.” When he was told that’s not what the science says, he was emphatic. “Science doesn’t know.”

Just as he is in court trying to lessen people’s health care coverage in the midst of the pandemic, so has he withdrawn the US from the Paris Accords—the international effort to combat climate change. 

Just as he has touted unproven and even dangerous therapies for combatting COVID-19 (hydroxychloroquine, household bleach!)—and thrust all responsibility on the governors—so is he pushing the responsibility onto California for failing to “clean your floors” of leaves, and threatening to “make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”

And just as he has politicized the FDA, CDC, and NIH—hiring incompetent people who will do his bidding despite what the science and the scientists say—he has just appointed a climate change denier for a leading position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

In fact, in his anti-regulation zeal, Trump has even rolled back regulations against the wishes of the big oil companies and car manufacturers. 

Reports The Times:

“The president’s record is also more consequential, experts say, because the amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere has now passed the point at which scientists say it would be possible to avert many of the worst effects of global warming—even if tough emissions policies are later enacted.”

It’s been clear to many of us for some time that if this man gets another four years in the White House, it could very well mean the end of our democracy. And the COVID-19 death toll will continue to climb.

I hope it’s now clear even to those who have been climate change skeptics that if this man gets another four years in the White House, it could very well mean the end of sustainable life on our planet.

But it doesn’t have to be this way!

One piece of evidence concerning how dire that potential with Trump is viewed comes from the prestigious publication Scientific American, which will endorse Joe Biden in its October issue. This is the first presidential endorsement it has made in 175 years.

The editorial is direct and specific about both the President’s failures and Biden’s plans on a range of issues, including the pandemic and climate change. Here’s the opening:

“Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

“The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September.

“He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges.

“That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.”

I urge you to read the editorial in its entirety here.

I’m looking forward to a Biden-Harris administration beginning the long, hard work of collaborating with the other forward-looking world leaders to begin to reverse the damage done. This effort will take years, I know, but the important thing is that a serious, meaningful, coordinated campaign begins—yesterday!

And in two years, with COVID-19 well under control, I hope my husband and I can make that journey to Alaska—and return to tell you about some early, albeit extremely small, reports of progress.

Annie

Continue reading “A Tale of Two Calamities”

The Sun Shines on the Railways–and Thoughts About My Carbon BigFootprint

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Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my carbon footprint. This internal exploration began after I’d written a quick little poem about a portion of President Trump’s beloved wall being blown down by a heavy wind, which you can read here.

One of the comments I received was from blogger Willedare, whose lovely posts at amusicallifeonplanetearth invariably bolster my spirits. Will combines recordings of his songs, research and anecdotal history about the composers, beautiful photos, and interesting insights. His blog is well worth visiting—and revisiting.

Here’s how Will raised my consciousness:

“…And due to our own desires to continue consuming fossil fuels (almost all of my friends continue to fly here and there as they have always done, taking vacations as they have always done, heating their homes and their hot water as they have always done, driving their cars — instead of walking or riding a bike or taking the bus or a train — as they have always done using FOSSIL FUELS) combined with the climate-change-denying leadership which we have elected to serve/lead us, we will all be receiving more and more ‘unmistakable jolts/From Mother Nature herself.’ Deep breath in. Deep breath out.”

And here’s my response:

“Ah, yes: we know a lot of the changes we really must make, but it’s so hard, isn’t it?

“I’m getting better at the little stuff: turning off lights, taking shorter, cooler showers, watching food purchases to try to reduce what gets thrown out and fuels methane in the landfills…

“But then I realized that the trip we just signed up for—to go to Alaska to see and hear about the impact of climate change on the glaciers and wildlife—will, in the plane trips back and forth and the small ship that hugs the land, give me a carbon footprint that’s larger than BigFoot’s, when I’m striving for one more Thumbelina-sized. Oh, the irony!

“Breathe in, breathe out—for sure! Thanks very much for your valuable reminder.”

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BigFoot, courtesy of Pixabay.com

This past week, as I exercised on a stationary bike at my gym, the delightful woman seated next to me and I began to talk. A former kindergarten/first grade teacher, now retired, she’s a full-time environmental activist.

As she described her group’s work, which is actually leading to legislative accomplishments, I told her that I’d written about climate change on my blog, but had had a rude self-awakening about my carbon BigFootprint.

The first wonderful thing she did was alleviate my guilt with some common sense real-world talk—giving me credit for the climate change discussions I’ve included on my blog as a contribution that had some meaning.

The second was to tell me about one of her organization’s efforts, which is gaining attention from powerful decision-makers and has a real chance to succeed: retrofitting the trains in our area to become solar-powered. “It’s happening in other countries, it’s feasible, economical, and it can happen here.”

Some Good News About Trains

This struck me as really big, good news. Since there’s so little of that on climate change these days, I hasten to share it with you.

It may not be happening as quickly as it should, but solar is being incorporated in trains in a number of countries—though not yet in the US, I must note. Some examples follow.

——“World’s First 100% Solar Powered Train”: The Byron Bay Train near Brisbane, Australia, 2017;

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Byron Solar Train, Australia.

——The first solar-powered diesel electrical multiple unit (DEMU) train, with six coaches and sixteen solar panels, launched by Indian Railways from a Delhi railway station; plus fully solar powered train stations in the city of Guwahati;

—— The world’s first solar-powered railway track in the cloudy UK, with a “solar farm” in the South of England powering the network, 2019 (article by Adele Berti, Railway Technology, as are the next several references);

——A planned Argentinian connection with Machu Picchu for tourists;

——A planned effort by Bankset Group, a British renewables financial investor, that may expand the potential significantly: with partners from Europe, China, and the US, Bankset has trials to attach solar panels to railway sleepers in many European and international locales;

—An Italian company, Greenrail, already has a range of solar-powered sleepers with photovoltaic panels “and also contribute to a circular economy—being made up of some recycled materials.”

But with the exception of Australia, I believe, the trains aren’t near-totally solar: they have solar panels on their roofs and are backed up by batteries charged in stations.

Still, a spokesman for Bankset Group said:

“We believe that solar panels on rails are able to provide 30% of national grids’ 24/7 energy load requirements, and that this is now the most cost-effective solution.”

But he added,

It is a political issue as most of the rail network belongs to regions and respective states; many rail lines are privatized.”

Some Muddling of the Issue

So there’s much to be hopeful about. But when we look at the carbon footprint facts concerning today’s modes of transportation—aren’t trains better than planes? Pretty simple question, yes?

No. That task took me down a dusty path that made my head hurt. It’s not so straightforward, and there are many qualifiers. “Flight-shame,” a new phenomenon among environmentally conscious folks, isn’t totally justified.

Let’s quickly pass over the wag who said the best carbon footprint comes from staying home and looking at postcards.

And we don’t need anyone to tell us that walking, hiking, canoeing, and biking are less damaging to the environment than other modes.

But after that, it’s hard to give a simple answer. Often, it depends…

This is important because around 1/5 of total greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, with the number closer to 30% in most industrialized countries, according to two researchers at University of California, Davis, reports Salon.

“Train virtually always comes out better than plane, often by a lot,” according to a BBC Science and Environment report. But the type of train and other variables factor in. The carbon emissions from diesel trains can be double those of electric trains.

The electricity source is also important. In France, for example, about 75% of electricity comes from nuclear power, compared with Poland, which is 80% powered by coal.

(I recognize how bad coal is, but nuclear power has scared the hell out of me since I read “We Almost Lost Detroit,” a book that describes a partial nuclear meltdown of the first commercial breeder reactor in 1966. Still, nuclear power is considered an important transitional fuel to get to a greener future.)

A 2009 study found that passenger travel on the Boston light rail, an electric commuter train in the US, produces as much as or more emissions per passenger than does a jetliner for the same reason: the electricity was generated by fossil fuels such as coal, while commercial aircraft burn kerosene, which is cleaner. I hope it’s improved since then.

The Most and Least Harmful Ways to Travel

A group called Indigo Park Services UK compared the ways to travel based on how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere per person, per kilometer (0.6 miles), reports Salon.

The single most harmful way to travel? Number 1 in this study are large ferries that carry freight vehicles and passengers—exactly the type onto which we shall drive our car this summer for our yearly island visit with dear friends (!).

They emit 0.85 lb of CO2 per kilometer, per person, compared to only 0.04 lb if the ferry just carries passengers on foot.

Oh no! My Carbon BigFootprint just grew exponentially. (Or maybe the ferry we take isn’t considered quite so massive…)

2. Long-haul flight, first class
3. Large gas/petrol car
4. Large Diesel Van
5. Large autogas car

A bicycle has the same amount of emissions as an electric car with solar panels—none.
So those are are 1. and 2. on the “least harmful” list, followed by
3. Electric car (no solar panels)
4. International rail (Eurostar)
5. Foot passenger ferry.

Cruise ship emissions appear to be similar to those from airplanes, though cruise lines have been pressured for years to reduce not only high emissions, but also the impact of waste disposal and air pollution, reports the BBC.

Some Interesting Data

*Traveling the same distance on a short haul flight, economy class, is environmentally better than traveling in a small car powered by gasoline.

*If you choose to go first or business class, the additional space between passengers throws off that calculation.

*Try for direct flights, as take-offs and landings use the most fuel.

*Pack lightly: “if all passengers packed one less pair of shoes, or roughly 2 lb/1kg, the aircraft’s fuel savings would be the same as taking 10,500 cars off the road for an entire year.”

*If you can’t avoid having your lap in luxury, you can check Atmosfair’s airline ranking for the most efficient airline.

*And you can actually purchase carbon offsets, which cancel emissions somewhere else in the world and are offered by most domestic and many international airlines. This New York Times article tells you how to do it.

*Though we’d all love to stretch out in a less-than-full plane, all those bodies smushed together is environmentally good, so peak-time flights are better than late-night ones.

When driving your car, you can increase your mileage by 33% on the highway and 5% locally by avoiding hard acceleration and braking.

Similarly, increased mileage occurs when you drive below 60 mph, reduce idling, and do regular maintenance on your car (oil filters, tires, etc.)

What Should Our Carbon Footprint Be?

According to the Nature Conservancy, which has a non-working calculator that I thought would help me find out my actual Carbon Footprint, the average for a person in the US is 16 tons, whereas the global average is closer to 4 tons.

If we’re to avoid a 2 degree Celsius rise, the average global carbon footprint must shrink to less than 2 tons by 2050.

“By making small changes to our actions, like eating less meat, taking less connecting flights, and line-drying our clothes, we can start making a big difference.”

(That last one about clothes drying is tough for me; I well remember the cardboard-stiff bath towels my mother would remove from the backyard clothesline. I’d happily pay carbon offsets to avoid those…)

As my new friend at the gym advised me, we don’t have to make ourselves crazy over all this, but if each of us makes some effort, we can collectively make a difference. I shall certainly pack fewer pairs of shoes next time I fly!

Any thoughts you’d care to share?

Annie

Continue reading “The Sun Shines on the Railways–and Thoughts About My Carbon BigFootprint”

Something There Is…

...That Doesn’t Love a Wall.
—-Robert Frost

Screen Shot 2020-01-30 at 3.58.13 PM
Photo taken by KYMA.

The President’s beloved wall

Designed to keep our borders “pure”

Of those who seek refuge from harm

Or starvation

Could not withstand a high wind

That mercilessly forced it from its moorings

And onto the trees of Mexico,

Where it tottered, not a sentinel of boldness,

But an homage to failure.

The President who denies climate change

And the humanity of brown-skinned people from

Not so far away

Received an unmistakable jolt

From Mother Nature herself.

She is not happy.

Continue reading “Something There Is…”

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