My Friend Responds to “You Broke It; You Fix It!”

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Lady Justice statue. Image courtesy of pickpix.com

I noted in my previous post that the title I used above was a response from my friend, an African American woman, to my efforts last year to encourage dialogue on race in America.

She sent me her reactions to the events described in Wednesday’s post via email, and I feel her words are yet another important message for us white folks to hear. We hear them, but do we really hear them?

Can we feel them? Can we picture ourselves in the situations she describes? And how will–or will–any of this affect our actions going forward?

Can we transform the outrage we feel now to effect changes, staying the course, because it won’t be quick or easy?

 

Here’s my friend’s response:

I would say what’s happening now is no more an awful time in America than it has ever been.

It’s awful for a huge percentage of black people and people of colour ALL OF THE TIME because of poverty, institutional racism, disparities in healthcare, lack of basic clean drinking water, healthy affordable food in our own communities, disproportionately high incarceration rates…I could go on.

It’s only when something so heinous happens to us (as though that laundry list wasn’t already enough) and we take to the streets in protest, that people really talk about what must change in America.

I worked with Christian Cooper for 5 1/2 years. [Note: She describes what happened to Cooper below.]

He’s a Harvard graduate and worked in the Editorial Department of a medical education company. Chris is one of the sweetest human beings on the planet. The trauma (and yes–it’s a trauma) that he sustained grieves me more than I can express.

This one hit home and saddens me as much as it terrifies me. It saddens me because that woman injured my friend and altered his life. Will he ever be able to quietly go about bird watching–something he loves?

It also terrifies me because it makes me realize just how lucky I am every day that my family members and I have managed to survive in racist America.

I’m lucky that my son–who was pulled over twice in one night for speeding on his way back to college–wasn’t shot by those police officers.

I will not excuse him driving well beyond the speed limit both times. He was wrong; however, as a young black man, being pulled over for something as minor as speeding can get you killed. HAS gotten them killed.

I’m fortunate that I wasn’t dragged from my car and thrown onto the ground with a knee placed on the back of my neck, when I raced up the turnpike in my BMW M2 trying to make it to Hermès in Short Hills to drop off a watch for repair before the store closed.

I’m lucky that when my husband and I pulled into the service area behind a restaurant just outside of Barton Springs, Texas, and a cop raced in right behind us, that we weren’t shot and killed.

We were returning from my husband’s tennis tournament in January. It was after 10 pm and dark. We didn’t know the area well but were simply trying to coordinate where to grab a late dinner.

The cop thought we were about to conduct a drug deal. What saved us was our age (50+) so we “didn’t fit the typical profile,” he said before driving away.

It’s THIS. Every. Day. Of. Our. Lives. It’s exhausting. It’s exasperating. It’s maddening. We always have to look over our shoulders.

We always have to be prepared to justify our presence in spaces that white people still believe are theirs alone: luxury stores, exclusive neighbourhoods, first-class lounges in the airport, and apparently, Central Park.

We continue to be vilified. We are labeled as thugs when armed white men with assault rifles are called patriots for protesting being quarantined during a global pandemic.

Police (and without riot gear, I might add) simply stand while angry white people, armed to the teeth, scream in their faces on the steps of State Courthouses.

The white college student, accused of double murder, was taken into custody “without incident” this week.

What if that suspect had been black? Just being suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bank note was apparently enough to get a black man killed.

The image of that police THUG with his knee on George Floyd’s neck harkened back to segregation and slavery. It was an everyday occurrence to have white men violently putting us “in our place.” The glee they had knowing they had power over our very lives and deaths.

The white woman who threatened to call the police on my friend Christian had the same glee in her voice. “I’m going to call the police and tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

This was a potential Emmett Till scénario, and it’s 2020 and this was in New York City, not Mississippi.

What does that say?

I’ve stopped watching the news or even reading it online. I’m not on much social media either because it’s all, more of the same information about the hatefulness in this country and the spreading cancer of nationalism and racism that is infecting as many people as the coronavirus pandemic.

I simply don’t want to expose myself to that because I don’t want to be infected by the level of hatred–which is easy when you are angry.

Believe me, I AM angry. I just am too tired to keep fighting a problem that will never change.


 

I wanted to give my friend a real hug–not a virtual hug–and to tell her please don’t despair; things will get better. But how could I do that?

Months ago, I had an encounter with a police officer when I didn’t realize I was passing a stopped truck by crossing into a “no passing zone.” I apologized profusely and handed over my license. The officer took it, went to his car, and returned.

He said, “This license is expired. Do you have a new one?” I searched frantically through my bag and said, “I know I have it; I must have left it at home.”

He smiled pleasantly, told me to make sure I use my new license, and to drive carefully. I smiled sweetly, thanked him, and drove off.

He might have just been a nice police officer; there are surely plenty of them. But I can’t help wondering how he would have reacted if he’d stopped my friend…

Annie

Continue reading “My Friend Responds to “You Broke It; You Fix It!””

“You Broke It; You Fix It!”

Image courtesy of The Guardian

When I ran a series of posts on my blog last year in the hope of encouraging dialogue about how we talk about race in America, the comment above was made by a woman I worked with years ago who became a friend.

She’s an African American who has risen high in her chosen field—despite not having a college degree—by virtue of her extraordinary intelligence and diligence.

Her view was that she was tired of having to explain stuff to white people; it was our turn now.

I saw an identical comment on Twitter yesterday from another African American woman.

And yet the people demonstrating on the streets of Minneapolis and other communities throughout the United States—justifiably infuriated by the murder of yet another unarmed black man by a police officer who was arrested only Friday—are predominantly people of color.

Yes, there are a goodly number of white people demonstrating as well, but there should be more of us.

(Though during this pandemic, everyone demonstrating has to know the health risk of those crowds.)

It’s time we white people acknowledged that this problem is ours to fix—all of ours, as a country, but it will never happen if white people don’t recognize our role and responsibility.

First some facts. The video made it clear that Derek Chauvin is guilty of a serious crime. The Minneapolis police officer held his knee on the neck of George Floyd, who was not only unarmed but handcuffed, for nearly nine minutes.

Chauvin ignored Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe—and his cry for his “mama.”

Chauvin and the three fellow officers who stood by and did nothing to stop him were quickly fired.

That was good because otherwise actions against them would have taken even longer due to union processes.

Yet it still took days of protests before Chauvin was charged with third degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Floyd’s family wants a charge of first-degree murder, and one can hardly blame them.

The charges against Chauvin don’t require an “intent to kill,” though Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than two minutes after he’d become unresponsive.

As the increasingly angry crowds called for their arrests, the Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman, said the investigation will take time because “We have to do this right.”

(The fact that there was violence by some protesters, which I’d never condone, is too lengthy to discuss here, but may be related to the increasing militarization of police departments, now equipped with the weapons of war for use against civilians. This does not look like America to me.)

Although Freeman agreed that the video is “graphic, and horrific and terrible and no person should do that,” he insisted that “there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge.”

Freeman’s office later explained he was simply saying they wanted to uncover all the evidence that might come up in trial so that they’d be prepared because they faced a heavy burden to convict the officer.

Why is the burden so heavy? There are several reasons, but a major one is that in a 1967 ruling, the Supreme Court—in response to police violence against Mississippi civil rights demonstrators—specified that the officers had “qualified immunity”: protection against legal liability for law enforcement conducted “in good faith and with probable cause.”

A New York Times editorial, well worth reading, called that a “high standard to meet” and said each case had to clearly establish the violation of rights by relating it to another case with the same circumstances in which an officer hadn’t been found immune.

In practice, the editorial states, “it has meant that police officers prevail virtually every time” and there’s a “Catch-22” because plaintiffs have to find precedents—but there aren’t any because the plaintiffs always lose.

Do you find this situation bizarre and wrong? So do Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas. If those two justices agree, one can hope that there’s some way to redress this judicial wrong.

And so, we repeatedly see these gross injustices, which seem to be increasing. (There’s no official data on the numbers, which is itself surprising and concerning).

Our country has been awash with innocent blood from unpunished crimes like these for years.

And Minnesota has had more than its share. It was only four years ago that Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop while his horrified girlfriend videotaped the encounter. The officer who killed him was acquitted.

That officer’s attorney is now representing Chauvin, who had received at least 12 complaints over his career but no disciplinary actions apart from a “letter of reprimand.” He had, in fact, been praised for his valor.

In what I think may be unprecedented, police elsewhere in the country weighed in with condemnations. David Roddy, the Police Chief in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, said this:

“There is no need to see more video. There is no need to wait to see how ‘it plays out.’ There is no need to put a knee on someone’s neck for NINE minutes. There IS a need to DO something. If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with this…turn it in.”

Sheriff Jonny Moats of Polk County, Georgia was similarly unequivocal.

“I am deeply disturbed by the video of Mr. Floyd being murdered in the street with other officers there letting it go on…This kind of brutality is terrible and it needs to stop. All Officers involved need to be arrested and charged immediately. Praying for the family.”

But some civil rights advocates immediately pointed out that these words alone aren’t enough; what’s needed are substantial reforms to prevent such fatal use of force by police.

Though this outrage against black men—and some black women—has been going on for years—and gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, which I believe is in the finest tradition of nonviolent protest—it should be noted that under our current President, both the law and the bully pulpit have made things worse.

Just before former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired in 2018, he “drastically limited the ability of federal law enforcement officials to use court-enforced agreements to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations,” according to the Justice Department.

Under the Obama Administration, the Justice Department and certain local governments had entered into “consent decrees” to facilitate law enforcement changes when police abuses were observed.

But as soon as Sessions took office, he said he’d review agreements that had been reached with Baltimore, Chicago, and Ferguson (Missouri) police departments following the deaths of black men by police officers.

Sessions’ changes “imposed three stringent requirements” reported The New York Times.

First, in place of the career lawyers who had previously signed off on these decrees, high-level political appointees would do so. (No surprise there; this is the Trump administration’s modus operandi.)

Second, evidence had to go beyond violations of unconstitutional behavior. (I’m not a lawyer, but that sounds pretty wacky to me).

Third, the deals had to have a “sunset” or ending date—instead of continuing until real improvements in police or other law enforcement agencies had been documented.

The other issue is, of course, the President, who struck a match a while back by telling an assemblage of police officers in a jocular tone: “Please don’t be too nice’ to suspects.”

And now, with the tinderbox already ignited in Minneapolis, Trump called the protesters THUGS, suggested military intervention, and warned “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

That phrase was directed against civil rights activists in the darkest days of the 20th century fight for racial equality. Trump later denied his tweet harkened back to that era.

Interestingly, his til-this-week beloved Twitter, which is now watching the President’s tweets, flagged that one for “glorifying violence.”

It is clear that we need systemic change in this country that will not come quickly but must emphatically receive a commitment from the public, law enforcement, and elected officials alike.

We know what to do; it’s all been laid out before. We simply must do it.

Congresswoman Val Demings, a former police chief, wrote an excellent article in The Washington Post titled: “My fellow brothers and sisters in blue, what the hell are you doing?”

She specified what’s needed quite succinctly.

“As a nation, we must conduct a serious review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, use-of-force policies, pay and benefits (remember, you get what you pay for), early warning programs, and recruit training programs.

“Remember, officers who train police recruits are setting the standard for what is acceptable and unacceptable on the street…

And she observed:

“Law enforcement officers are granted remarkable power and authority. They are placed in complicated and dangerous situations. They respond to calls from people with their own biases and motives.

“In New York, we’ve recently seen past pains of the Central Park Five dredged up in a new attempt to misuse law enforcement against an African American man. When you see people differently, you treat them differently. And when power is in the mix, tragedy can result.

“As law enforcement officers, we took an oath to protect and serve. And those who forgot — or who never understood that oath in the first place — must go. That includes those who would stand by as they witness misconduct by a fellow officer.”

Even if George Floyd had been forging a check, his act did not warrant force at all—and certainly not the death penalty he received.

Importantly, in addition to proper screening and training, those police officers who violate the law and use excessive force must be swiftly, consistently brought to justice.

We’ve got to address the nearly impossible legal hurdles that have protected too many officers who were obviously guilty.

And no black parents should ever, ever have to feel they must give their young sons “the talk” to protect them from unintentionally provoking police who are too ready to reach for their guns.

We white folks must make it clear that these black men (and women) who have been senselessly murdered over the years are as important to us as are our own families.

Until we start seeing each other beyond color lines, we’ll never escape the cruelty of our checkered history:

Slavery—Reconstruction…Jim Crow—Civil rights acts…Voter suppression—Police violence—White supremacy.

The arc of justice may be moving in the right direction, but it sure doesn’t feel that way to me now. So I can’t imagine how it must feel to my brothers and sisters of color.

Some police incidents occur when white people, irrationally frightened of a black person for no clear reason, call the police. Once again, this is on all us white folks. Please spend the few minutes to watch the video below. I think it’s important.

 

And we’re not even talking at the moment about how we must address inequality in the job market, health care, and other major issues. Or all the deliberate or careless remarks or acts that sap the souls of people of color, who must endure them day after day.

We’re talking about life and death…sudden, senseless, irreversible.

These outrages simply must stop. We must, collectively, stop them. No more of these. Not…one…more.

Annie

Continue reading ““You Broke It; You Fix It!””

Frogs Do It, Bees Do It–Even Educated “We’s” Do It…

 

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Honeybee image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

I altered the first line of an old song (“Let’s Fall in Love”) to shamelessly draw you in to a discussion of an important topic.

As an intro, here’s a little Haiku for These Times

Social distancing—
Ants isolate selves when ill
Healthy queen makes room.

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Ant image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Why are ants so much smarter than a growing number of humans? I’m speaking now of the American variety (of humans, not ants), but surely there are others.

There is near unanimity in the scientific community that social distancing is essential if we are ever to gain control over the coronavirus.

Most people in the US are pretty cranky about the isolation and feel/recognize the terrible economic burden it imposes. We want out as soon as possible, but we understand that social distancing is for our safety and that of others.

And it doesn’t take a college degree to understand—just common sense, a willingness to listen to reason, and a bit of compassion.

Yet the President has swung both ways on the issue, now firmly enunciating what he regards as essential: reopening the economy—come what may.

And he’s encouraging defiance of the standards his administration developed–even as the coronavirus has sneaked its way past the Secret Service and into the White House.

He’s a very confused person who declared himself a success when deaths passed 64,000 and told us we can expect twice that many. As I write, they’re about to pass 78,000.

Is there a magic number that will maybe move him to consider the role he might play in reducing this catastrophe?

Meanwhile the Senate Republicans see no need to beef up the successful food stamp program when millions more need it—for fear that people will become accustomed to such “handouts.”

Bulletin just in from Politico: Republicans all in to focus on touting Trump’s success in handling pandemic.

But let’s get back to the animals. Unlike the heavily armed Michigan “protesters” whining that their liberties are being infringed upon, animals know when it’s not safe to go get a haircut.

I’ll state at the outset that I’m not endorsing all these animal behaviors—merely pointing out their existence and the reasons for them.

Take mandrill monkeys, for example. They spend a lot of time grooming each other, keeping one another’s fur clean and free of parasites.

But if one member of their group shows signs of a contagious disease, that poor soul is involuntarily isolated. They do, however, make exceptions for ailing family members.

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Mandrill monkey image courtesy of pxfuel.com

Chimpanzees take matters even further, aggressively ousting an ailing member. Jane Goodall reported observing a chimp with polio in Tanzania in 1966. At one point, the chimp, partially paralyzed, reached out to greet his fellows, but they moved away from him.

Goodall did note that eventually, chimps would allow some of their stricken fellows to return.

Honeybees do more than move away. Older bees, capable of smelling serious bacterial diseases like American foulbrood, which destroys the larvae, will throw the bees out of the hive.

As this seemingly heartless act (forgive me; I tend to anthropomorphize) actually protects the colony as a whole, leading to healthier bees, beekeepers and researchers have been selectively breeding for this behavior for many years.

American Bullfrog tadpoles also react to chemical signals to prevent them from catching a lethal yeast infection, according to Joe Kiesecker, a research scientist.

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American Bullfrog tadpole image courtesy of flickr.com

In the late 1990s, models of the spread of disease were based on the prediction that animals got sick by random contact with infected beings.

“But it’s clear animals are smarter,” Kiesecker said. Healthy tadpoles he studied avoided those that were sick.

I think you get the picture. The concept of social distancing, practiced in varying ways, isn’t some wild-eyed idea from scientists that Trump would prefer not to listen to. It is an evolutionary survival mechanism.

According to Dana Hawley, professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech:

“Anytime we see a behavior that has evolved again and again in lots of different animals, that tells us that this has to be a very beneficial behavior.”

Hawley and Julia Buck, an assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, have said:

“The evidence from nature is clear: Social distancing is an effective tool for reducing disease spread. It is also a tool that can be implemented more rapidly and more universally than almost any other. Unlike vaccination and medication, behavioral changes don’t require development and testing.”

We humans presumably have the intelligence and compassion to use this concept effectively and wisely. But we dare not pretend it isn’t necessary for our survival.

Yet that seems to be what some “magical thinkers” are doing.

The Texas Lieutenant Governor has said “there are more important things than living.” (I wish he’d been asked to name one.) Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie concluded that “there are going to be deaths no matter what,” so we should forge ahead in opening the economy.

The President appears to have simply picked up his golf ball and gone home: telling us what a great job he’s doing while acknowledging the death tolls will be far higher than anticipated.

Without adequate testing—which both the President and Vice President get every day, by the way—as well as tracing, we’ll never know how many of us this pandemic has truly sickened and killed. And we won’t be able to contain it better than we’re doing.

A powerful New York Times editorial by Charlie Wurzel expressed concern that as the death toll rises, we will become inured to it—just as we have to the unfathomable toll from gun violence.

Wurzel quotes Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and professor at Brown University devoted to gun violence prevention, who sees similarities between individuals protesting gun control and those protesting pandemic lockdowns.

You will recall that the President encouraged the armed people who terrorized those in the Michigan State House.

According to Ranney:

“This group has moved the reopening debate from a conversation about health and science to a conversation about liberty…It’s no longer about weighing risks and benefits and instead it’s this politicized narrative…

“Most gun owners are smart and responsible and safety-conscious—just like most Americans want to do what’s right for public health. But the small minority dominates the conversation.”

Wurzel writes:

“As in the gun control debate, public opinion, public health and the public good seem poised to lose out to a select set of personal freedoms…where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others become the chains of tyranny.”

The animals who practice social distancing are following their instincts. But we are seeing a deliberate rejection of social distancing now by the President, Senate Republicans, and a small but noisy group of malcontents.

They base their objections on a distorted view of economics and individual liberties that not only presents a false dichotomy between the economy and human life, but also cruelly casts our most vulnerable people as the sacrificial “warriors” in this dreadfully unnecessary war.

As we have seen, people of color are among the most heavily affected. In addition to the disproportionate deaths and poverty, they are even being subjected to heavier policing in the areas of social distancing and wearing masks.

(Is there reason to wonder why African American men may be reluctant to don masks when the most recent senseless killing of an unarmed, innocent young man out jogging is so painfully fresh?)

The term Social Darwinism comes to mind. Briefly, this long discredited theory reshaped Darwin’s theory of evolution to create a negative societal ideology. To Social Darwinists:

“Survival of the fittest”—the idea that certain people become powerful in society because they are innately better. Social Darwinism has been used to justify imperialism, racism, eugenics and social inequality at various times over the past century and a half.”

Is this where we are in America now?

Annie

Continue reading “Frogs Do It, Bees Do It–Even Educated “We’s” Do It…”

The Allegations Against Biden: The Press Presses On…

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Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

In my previous post, I expressed my belief in Joe Biden’s innocence of charges of sexual assault made by former staffer Tara Reade, as well as my great concern that the press will keep the story alive, thereby damaging an innocent man and threatening his candidacy for President against Donald Trump.

I stated my concern that the story would be covered with a fervor I do not feel is justified by the facts as we know them.

I didn’t discuss the now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in that post (except in the comments section) because I think comparisons with the charge against Biden are totally off base. 

So does New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg. She remains skeptical about Biden but dismisses criticisms that the Democrats, in defending Biden, show hypocrisy when compared with their defense of Kavanaugh’s accuser.  

The Democrats, she writes, “would never have the audacity to demand that their political opponents act on a story with as many ambiguities as Reade’s.” 

But I must say the two men’s reactions tell me much about temperament and character.

You may recall that when Christine Blasey Ford claimed that Kavanaugh had assaulted her, he yelled and cried at his hearings about the terrible injustices being done to him.

In contrast, Biden quietly but emphatically said, “It never happened,” and he declined to attribute motives to his accuser, Tara Reade, or to say anything about her character. 

At a fundraiser among Obama alumni last week, Biden said the following, which I find extraordinary (he’s more tolerant than I am):

“My knowledge that it isn’t true does nothing to shake my belief that women have to be able to be heard and that all the claims be taken seriously. It isn’t enough just to simply take my word for it and to dismiss it out of hand.

“Frankly, that shouldn’t be enough for anyone, because we know that this sort of approach is exactly how the culture of abuse has been allowed to fester for so long.

“I’m heartened to see it, although it’s painful sometimes, that by and large journalists are doing what they’re supposed to do. 

“They’re going out there listening to the allegations. They’re taking it seriously and they’re investigating it. And they’re talking with folks who were there at the time, scrutinizing personnel records, examining the evolution of the claims, looking into the culture of our office.

“And I’m not concerned about what they might find, because I know the truth of the matter. I know that this claim has no merit.”

I fear Biden’s confidence may be misplaced. The press is honing in.

And despite the fact that he was the overwhelming favorite among primary voters, some people who didn’t vote for Biden seem to be eager to push this story to justify a do-over. Bernie Sanders’s supporters are evident in this campaign.

The Washington Post just published an Op-Ed by Lyz Lenz, a columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and a victim of sexual abuse.

She insists Biden must withdraw, dismissing all the contradictions in his accuser’s stories as part of the inevitable cycle of questioning that victims of sexual assault must endure. 

She does compare the Biden and Kavanaugh episodes and says the Republicans should have withdrawn Kavanaugh (which was never a consideration), thereby equating the two.

Having determined that Reade’s charges are “credible,” she writes:

“I do not want to be forced to balance the accusations against Biden and Trump—playing the ‘Which is worse?’ game. But that is what I’m being told to do.” 

I don’t know who is telling her she has to do that, but I trust I’m not the only one who sees the nonsense in that comparison.

And here are her ideas about how the Democrats should handle this issue:

Bernie Sanders could jump back in, or other candidates might (she caucused for Elizabeth Warren), or the party leaders might pick a governor who’s handled the pandemic well. 

As I’ve said, Biden wasn’t my first choice, but I do think his experience and compassion make him right for our time.

And can you imagine anything more anti-democratic than nullifying all those voters’ wishes because of a single and highly questionable allegation by one woman? 

I have seen any number of Twitter tweets from African American voters responding to the Bernie devotees’ campaign for his reentry. They expressed what I believe is justifiable outrage that their votes would be summarily dismissed. 

And if party leaders acted on Lenz’s idea and suddenly came up with a nominee whom not a single Democrat had voted for, the Bernie folks’ charges that the party, not the people, were determining the outcome (charges that were put to rest by the primary vote in the eyes of most observers) would surely be an issue.

One can see the mischief lying ahead by considering another woman who has just come forth.  A niece of Christine O’Donnell, a former Tea Party Republican Senatorial candidate, claims that Biden commented on her breasts when both attended the 2008 Gridiron dinner—and she was just 14! 

Sounds extremely offensive (as well as similar to complaints against Trump).  But as it happens, Biden wasn’t there; one of his aides had substituted for him because Biden was having surgery that week.

So the woman said it must have been 2007. But Biden wasn’t there then either.

As former prosecutor Michael Stern observed in his USA Today  piece asserting Biden’s innocence, which I quoted from in my previous post, the fact that Reade can’t remember date, time, or location makes it impossible for Biden to disprove the allegation by providing evidence to the contrary. 

I believe the same is true with the missing complaint—in which Reade now says she’s not sure exactly what she’d actually charged—something about his making her feel “uncomfortable,” she thinks.

She had all her personnel records, but she just didn’t keep, or misplaced, the one document that she says was the most important aspect of her interactions with Biden. The New York Times investigation couldn’t find it.

And yet, the burden is on Biden to open up his entire political life. The Times Editorial Board, in what a friend deemed “a statement of breathtaking naivete,” not only called upon Biden to give access to his papers; it said that honorable Republicans should call on Trump to do the same.

As I concluded in my previous post: 

There were mea culpas after the damage was done from members of the media for obsessing over Hillary’s emails in 2016 while letting Donald Trump off the hook. That must not happen again.

Professor Heather Cox Richardson, a political historian at Boston College, has reached a similar conclusion about Trump and the media with regard to the accusation against Biden.

“…Please follow me here: I am not speaking of the claims of Ms. Reade, which are a separate conversation. I am talking about the use of her story to control our political narrative. 

“The attempt to get Biden to jump through hoops Trump ignores is classic gaslighting. It keeps Biden on the defensive and makes sure he is reinforcing Trump’s narrative, thus strengthening Trump even as Biden tries to carve out his own campaign. It is precisely what the Trump campaign, abetted by the media, did in 2016.”

As the friend I quoted earlier observed: 

“This will be a rough and tumble campaign, and we cannot shrink from the fight. Biden has stepped up to the challenge and met it head-on. We must demand the same of Trump, knowing that he will never comply. 

“In the ‘what are you hiding?’ contest, Trump loses badly. Steel yourself for more difficult moments but take heart from the fact that the electorate is turning on Trump…

“It will be a close election and will be hard-fought, but we are up to the task. Put doubts aside and move forward with all deliberate speed!

And if you feel as I do that the press–in its admirable zeal to be fair–may be falling into the same damaging role that it played in 2016, please consider writing letters to the editor or otherwise making your opinions known.

Annie

Continue reading “The Allegations Against Biden: The Press Presses On…”

Why I Believe Joe Biden Did Not Commit Sexual Assault

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Image courtesy of hsb wikimedia.org.

This post began as an exploration of presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden’s positions on the issues. I imagined myself chatting with him while he was  endeavoring to campaign from his basement.

But the charges of sexual assault against him by a former staffer, Tara Reade, are getting a good deal of media attention.

Biden was slow to respond, allowing former staffers to speak on his behalf. But Friday morning, he issued a statement, which you can read here.

He speaks of his pride in the role he played in developing the Violence Against Women Act, and then he says:

“In the 26 years since the law passed, the culture and perceptions have changed but we’re not done yet. It’s on us, and it’s on me as someone who wants to lead this country.

“I recognize my responsibility to be a voice, an advocate, and a leader for the change in culture that has begun but is nowhere near finished. So I want to address allegations by a former staffer that I engaged in misconduct 27 years ago.

“They aren’t true. This never happened.

“While the details of these allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault are complicated, two things are not complicated.

“One is that women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silenced.

“The second is that their stories should be subject to appropriate inquiry and scrutiny.

“Responsible news organizations should examine and evaluate the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story, which has changed repeatedly in both small and big ways.”

He goes into detail about inconsistencies that I’ll cover shortly, and then he concludes:

“We have a lot of work to do. From confronting online harassment, abuse, and stalking, to ending the rape kit backlog, to addressing the deadly combination of guns and domestic violence.

“We need to protect and empower the most marginalized communities, including immigrant and indigenous women, trans women, and women of color.

“We need to make putting an end to gender-based violence in both the United States and around the world a top priority.

“I started my work over 25 years ago with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. As president, I’m committed to finishing the job.”

I emphatically agree that all women who claim to have been sexually assaulted deserve a fair and respectful hearing and the presumption that they are telling the truth.

And then their stories must be fully vetted by impartial observers. I am questioning whether that is happening in this case.

Former Vice President Biden wasn’t my first choice as the Democratic nominee. I do worry about his age and health—but not about his mental acuity. I’ve watched him any number of times lately, and he seems totally with it and highly informed and sensible.

At a CNN Town Hall shortly before this abrupt end to the primaries, he was actually terrific on substance, performance, and connection with questioners.

Nor do I worry that he’s a sexual predator. I hadn’t thought I’d have to address the sexual assault charge against him in this post, but it seems to be gathering steam, and I see it as a dangerous, misguided attempt by the press to pursue a story without due diligence.

Keep in mind that Joe Biden was fully vetted by President Obama’s team before he was chosen to be Obama’s Vice President. He served as Vice President for 8 years without a whiff of scandal.

It seems inconceivable to me that the Republicans would not have found any “dirt” on Biden if such an issue had existed.

We do know that eight women, including Reade, complained last year that Biden had inappropriately kissed, hugged, or touched them.

According to The New York Times, he “acknowledged the women’s complaints about his conduct, saying his intentions were benign and promising to be “more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”

Biden is widely regarded for his warmth, toward both men and women. He has been a hugger, a touchy-feely kind of guy. At one time, that behavior was fully acceptable. It no longer is, and he understands that.

In his current statement, he says he will “continue to learn from women, to listen to women, to support women, and yes, to make sure women’s voices are heard.”

It’s worth noting that Tara Reade’s original 1993 complaint did not include sexual assault: she made that charge in March of this year and filed a police report in April.

I have seen Ari Melber and Chris Hayes of MSNBC, and New York Magazine writer Rebecca Traister all say the fact that an old friend (who says she’s voting for Biden) validated that Reade told her the story contemporaneously makes them take it very seriously.

In fact, it wasn’t contemporaneously, which means close enough in time so that memories are fresh. It was several years later. And Reade called the friend to apparently refresh her memory.

In addition, none of those I heard seems to have considered that a friend could be repeating a lie without realizing it.

But former prosecutor Michael J. Stern does explore this possibility in his compelling article in USA Today.

“The problem with statements from friends is that the information they recount is only as good as the information given to them.”

I am linking to Stern’s article and other sources that have persuaded me that Tara Reade is not telling the truth.

For those who don’t have the time to read through them, I’m quoting what I think are the most significant points.

First, Stern’s orientation: as a former sex crimes prosecutor, he writes:

“When women make allegations of sexual assault, my default response is to believe them. But as the news media have investigated Reade’s allegations, I’ve become increasingly skeptical.”

His reasons include the following:

She has changed any number of details in her story a number of times, with “implausible explanations.”

Aside from the highly questionable one about changing what she says Biden did to her,  she lied about losing her job.

She originally told The Union, a California newspaper, in 2019 that she refused Biden’s request to serve drinks at an event, and then “felt pushed out and left Biden’s employ,” according to The Union.

But she told The New York Times last month that she faced retaliation after filing a sexual harassment complaint with the Senate’s personnel office, and Biden’s chief of staff fired her.

To Stern, the disparity between those two assertions “raises questions about Reade’s credibility and account of events.”

The three former Biden staffers whom she claimed to have told about the assault emphatically denied she did so.

“And they did not offer the standard, noncommittal ‘I don’t remember any such complaints,”‘ Stern writes. “The denials were firm.” One said: “‘She did not come to me. If she had, I would have remembered.'” Another’s comment was similar.

The third said:

“‘I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received any reports of inappropriate conduct (by Biden),  period.’ If Reade had made such a complaint to her, she added, it ‘would have left a searing impression on me as a woman professional, and as a manager.'”

Although Reade provided a copy of her 1993 Senate employment records, she has no copy of the complaint she claims she filed against Biden when she left, or was fired, from her job in Biden’s office.

Nor could The New York Times  find such a document. Biden has said he’ll ask The National Archives, where such documents reside, to do a search.

She couldn’t recall the date, time, or location of the alleged assault.

To Stern,

“Reade’s amnesia about specifics makes it impossible for Biden to go through records and prove he could not have committed the assault, because he was somewhere else at the time.”

–She says she told her mother (now deceased) and her brother.

But when her brother was interviewed by The Washington Post, he didn’t mention the sexual assault–the most important part of her charge–but texted that detail to The Post several days later.

Stern finds that time gap questionable.

Similarly, her mother was, according to her, the anonymous caller to The Larry King Live show in 1993. That call was reported as new evidence last week.

The caller said her daughter had been working for a prominent Senator, “could not get through with her problems at all,” and chose not to go to the press “out of respect for him.”

Writes Stern:

“Given that the call was anonymous, Reade’s mother should have felt comfortable relaying the worst version of events. When trying to obtain someone’s assistance, people typically do not downplay the seriousness of an incident. They exaggerate it.

“That Reade’s mother said nothing about her daughter being sexually assaulted would lead many reasonable people to conclude that sexual assault was not the problem that prompted the call to King.”

–Multiple times, in 2017, she praised Biden for his work combating sexual assault. She also tweeted: “My old boss speaks truth. Listen.”

Stern writes:

“It is bizarre that Reade would publicly laud Biden for combatting the very thing she would later accuse him of doing to her.”

–Also in 2017, Reade was condemning Vladimir Putin’s efforts to harm American democracy by interfering in the 2016 election.

But in 2018, she referred to Putin as a “genius” whose athleticism is “intoxicating to American women.”

She wrote:

President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity.”

By 2019 she had expressed the belief that Russian interference in the 2016 election was hype.

More recently, she has claimed that her expressions of admiration for Putin, made in opinion pieces, were taken out of context for a novel she’s writing, and she doesn’t support Putin.

Stern provides other compelling examples as well. His examination is well worth reading.

–Also illuminating is the information provided by Lynn Hummer, founder of a California horse sanctuary where Reade was a volunteer from 2014-2016.

According to an article in Medium, Hummer claims that Reade “stole from her nonprofit, lied, and created stories to obtain sympathy and money.”

Hummer said:

“Look, this isn’t about protecting women. This isn’t about the #metoo movement. This isn’t about Joe Biden. This is about truth. Tara Reade stole from me. She lied to me. She stole from my organization. She manipulated me and she duped me…And I have documentation, images and emails to prove it.”

Biden, to his credit, has said he’s not going to question Reade’s motives, though he doesn’t understand why she’s making the charge.

I think one of the reasons it’s so problematic for Biden and his supporters to speak openly about this issue is that to respond honestly, they would be casting aspersions on Tara Reade’s integrity and mental stability.

In this #metoo era, that is difficult to do. We are not talking here about all the women who succeeded, at last, in getting justice from Harvey Weinstein.

As Stern concludes:

“We can support the #MeToo movement and not support allegations of sexual assault that do not ring true. If these two positions cannot coexist, the movement is no more than a hit squad. That’s not how I see the #MeToo movement. It’s too important, for too many victims of sexual assault and their allies, to be no more than that.”

Chris Hayes, whose original reportage was so roundly condemned on Twitter that it morphed into a #FireChrisHayes movement (which I condemn), discussed the three groups of attacks he received.

The first and second groups he could accept:  people who supported Biden and people who said “I don’t care; I’m voting for him anyway.”

But the third group–people who attacked Reade and cited other things about her, such as her strange fascination with Putin–he claimed, was doing just what the #metoo movement was designed to counter.

Hayes’s comments gave me pause because in citing Stern and Hummer, I am falling into that third group.

But how can we arrive at the truth if we simply focus on a single incident that inevitably comes down to a “he said; she said” dispute?

To me, hearing independent complaints from Hummer, the horse rescue woman, that Reade had manipulated and stolen money from her, is relevant to character.

Her comments about Putin, I feel, are an indication of instability. Can an unstable person still be a victim of abuse? No doubt, but all these are pieces in a puzzle.

When that puzzle threatens the integrity of a man whose otherwise worst charge was that he inappropriately hugged women who didn’t want to be hugged, I think all the pieces should be considered.

Experts in sexual abuse nearly uniformly say there is always a pattern–not a single instance.

I greatly worry that the press will make this into a “Hillary’s email” issue–though the topic is much more visceral, especially for women, who will be the deciding voters in the November election.

There are already calls for the University of Delaware to release his papers–despite his saying they have no personnel information and contain private conversations with President Obama and foreign leaders.

There are valid reasons that politicians uniformly keep their papers closed to the public until after they’ve left the political scene.

Nevertheless, this demand is made on today’s New York Times editorial page, which offers the following:

“Any inventory should be strictly limited to information about Ms. Reade and conducted by an unbiased, apolitical panel, put together by the D.N.C. [Democratic National Committee] and chose to foster as much trust in its findings as possible.”

All such demands seem to me ludicrous in these hyper-partisan times, and particularly unfair because the existing President has gotten away with hiding his income tax returns and a slew of other documents.

Why on earth should Biden do what to my knowledge no other candidate has done–and certainly not this most duplicitous and evasive opponent?

So I am deeply concerned that this drumbeat may seriously weaken the candidacy of a good man, and lead to Donald Trump’s reelection–he who has been charged by at least 12 women of sexual assault, including one who states that he raped her, and was elected despite having been shown on tape describing his modus operandi for sexual assault.

Press sources are saying this story of Biden’s alleged sexual assault of Reade now has “legs”–it’s not going away.

Of course the press has to follow this story to its conclusion. But they must look more closely at Reade’s contradictions, as Michael Stern has. And anyone who interviews Reade must ask her, politely, to explain her changed stories.

Many prosecutors and sexual assault victims on Twitter have agreed with Stern’s conclusions.

In important ways, I feel that Joe Biden is the ideal person to lead us now: his recent experience in the White House involved combating epidemics, resolving serious economic crises, and expanding health care—all critical to our near-term societal needs.

In addition, his obvious compassion is critically important for our hurt nation. And his willingness to work across the aisle suggests that if any bipartisan efforts are possible, he’ll be in a good position to take advantage of them.

I’ll leave my chat with him on the issues for another time–when I hope this story will fold its legs and–at the very least–give a closer look at all the charges against President Trump, whose behavior actually deserves scrutiny.

There were mea culpas after the damage was done from members of the media for obsessing over Hillary’s emails in 2016 while letting Donald Trump off the hook. That must not happen again. 

Annie

Continue reading “Why I Believe Joe Biden Did Not Commit Sexual Assault”

The President’s Daily Coronavirus Briefings–What Do You Think the Press Should Do? My Reassessment

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Image courtesy of flickr.com

I am hoping that recent events will make the reason for this post irrelevant. But I have my doubts. Despite efforts by his staff to persuade him to limit his appearances at daily press briefings, this President does not seem capable of surrendering the limelight.

In my April 8 post on this topic, I expressed some ambivalence about the idea that the press should no longer cover these briefings live at all.

It was never my belief that they needed to show the two-plus hour nightly events in their soul-sapping entirety, but I also wondered whether disbanding live coverage completely might be a bad precedent.

The approach that some were following seemed to be a good compromise: airing a portion and then cutting away, rather than dropping long-held norms just because he was slashing and burning them.

On Friday, I heard Eli Stokols, a White House reporter for the Los Angeles Times, say that covering this President raises profound problems for the press and is in fact, the central issue for them at this point.

I can imagine that most, if not all, members of the Fourth Estate are struggling to determine how to do their jobs when faced with the double whammy of a pandemic that requires them to deliver timely information to the public—and a President who lies, contradicts himself, insults them, and seems to care not one whit about anyone or anything but himself.

And then, as you know, this President offhandedly suggested that the scientists should look into the question of whether drinking or injecting disinfectants could be a possible treatment for the coronavirus.

For me, that was a moment of clarity.

He faced others on the podium as he raised what he apparently thought was a clever idea, and his scientific adviser, Dr. Deborah Birx, to her discredit, remained silent, eventually mumbling “not a treatment.” She wilted.

Stokols and his colleagues at the LA Times reacted with some thoughtful reporting and observations:

“A slew of federal and state agencies — and the makers of laundry bleach — issued an implicit rebuke to President Trump on Friday, warning the public that his off-the-cuff medical advice and off-the-wall musings in nightly White House briefings could endanger even more lives as the country’s coronavirus death toll passed 50,000…

“Trump’s inclination to view his rhetoric as fungible — his comments are often intentionally open-ended and then open to ex post facto dismissals — reflects a lifelong effort by a highly public figure to blur context and avoid consequences for his comments and actions.”

“Trump’s shifting and often self-contradictory comments are not a bug but a feature of his nightly briefings, where, even amid a profound national crisis and widespread anxiety, questions and specifics typically drown in a sea of self-lavished superlatives.

“Last week, he managed to flip-flop three times on how quickly to lift stay-at-home orders, first insisting that he had “total” authority to order states to reopen, then telling governors that they, not he, had that authority, and then urging citizens to protest decisions by the governors and “liberate” their states.

“When pressed Thursday as to why he continued to float untested and potentially dangerous remedies from the presidential podium, Trump lashed out at the reporter who questioned him.
“I’m the president and you’re fake news,” he said. “I’m just here to present talent. I’m here to present ideas, because we want ideas to get rid of this thing. And if heat is good and if sunlight is good, that’s a great thing as far as I’m concerned.”

The next day, the President falsely claimed that he was sarcastically responding to a hostile press query.

In the meantime, while all responsible parties have been trying to contain the pandemic, protect the public, and find scientifically sound ways to consider when it’s safe to lift the quarantine,  Trump’s suggestion that internal disinfectants were worth considering caused consternation and warnings from many quarters.

So many people spent so much valuable time that should have been devoted to more worthy efforts as this gargantuan threat persists.

Those who raced to address this obvious danger ranged from the Consumer Product Safety Commission to the US Surgeon General to the American Chemistry Council to the makers of Chlorox and Lysol, among others.

And former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, exerting leadership from his basement, tweeted:

“I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t drink bleach.”

Lest you think that Americans wouldn’t be foolish enough to consider such a ridiculous idea, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency reported that its emergency hotline received more than 100 inquiries about whether the injection or ingestion of disinfectants could be a cure for COVID-19.

Reading that, the noted Constitutional scholar Lawrence Tribe tweeted:

“What worries me is how many DIDN’T call but just tried Trump’s insane experiment on themselves or their kids.”

On April 24, Congressman Adam Schiff tweeted:

“A week ago I asked whether it was responsible to carry Trump’s nightly stream of consciousness on live TV.

Today, he suggested drinking or injecting disinfectants or ‘sunlight’ to kill the virus.

So I will ask again: What value is there to this spectacle?”

There’s no longer any doubt in my mind. I fully agree with Adam Schiff. We have a President who is hazardous to our health. He needs to be quarantined—his every word fact-checked and accurately reported.

And it’s just as important that the press and cable TV programs stop allowing him to control the narrative. The public needs information.

That’s why they listen so intently when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks—or Maryland Governor Larry Hogan—or the mayors who have been thrown in disarray when the governors of their states have precipitously decided to disregard scientific caution and remove the quarantines.

We’re not getting information from these press conferences. We’re getting bad theater, farce-turned-deadly.

As many have pointed out, his wacky schemes often serve as a distraction: reporters must follow the story and not ask their questions about the climbing and undoubtedly underreported incidence of infection and death and—his protestations notwithstanding—the lack of adequate testing, largely because he refuses to exert power when he really must.

Here’s a possible example of what might have been reported immediately after Trump made his bizarre recommendation.

“President Trump suggested today that ingesting or injecting disinfectants might be a treatment for coronavirus. This is a dangerous suggestion that could prove lethal, as the makers of Chlorox and Lysol rushed to emphasize. We regret to report that you will endanger your health and possibly lose your life if you listen to the President.

“And now, here’s a report on the impact of the lifting of regulations to prevent water pollution in neighboring communities…” or “Here’s the latest on President Trump’s pressuring the United Kingdom to bail out his failing golf course in Scotland….” or “What will the implications be from the President’s recent temporary Executive Order halting the issuance of many new green cards?”

With his poll numbers plummeting, his staff is reportedly engaged in an effort to persuade him to shorten these dreadful marathons. That is, at least, a start. But we’ll see if they’re successful, and if so, for how long.

He’s not suitable for prime time.

Annie

Continue reading “The President’s Daily Coronavirus Briefings–What Do You Think the Press Should Do? My Reassessment”

Why Are Women World Leaders Combating the Coronavirus Pandemic So Well–and What Does This Tell Us About Leadership?

With the world caught in the vortex of the pandemic, it’s clear that some of the best results to date have occurred in countries that have elected women as their leaders. Indeed, an article in The Guardian bore this headline:

“The Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Coronavirus: Women.”

I find this phenomenon intriguing and have been wondering what lessons might emerge to help us going forward. There seem to be several commonalities among these women.

First, Let’s Look at Some of the Notable Success Stories.

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Tsai Ind-Wen, President, Taiwan

There’s Tsai Ing-Wen, who was elected President of Taiwan in 2016. Although Taiwan is close to mainland China, where the virus first surfaced and rampaged, her rapid actions resulted in fewer than 400 confirmed cases and six deaths out of a population of about 24 million people. 

Working with her vice president, an epidemiologist, she ordered all planes from Wuhan inspected when she first heard about the virus in December. She then restricted flights from Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, created an epidemic command center, and increased production of personal protective equipment (PPE).

These efforts were so successful that Taiwan has actually been donating masks to the US and 11 European countries.

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Katrin Jakobsdottir, PM, Iceland

Katrin Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland, has overseen testing of nearly 12% of her country’s population, a much greater percentage than any other country. She’s done so by collaborating with a biotech company that offers free tests to anyone who wants one—regardless of whether they have symptoms or believe they’ve been exposed to the virus. Iceland also does in-depth contact tracing to locate and isolate people who may have been exposed.

Although there hasn’t been a countrywide lockdown, they’ve banned gatherings of more than 20 people. I’m assuming that with a population of just over 364,000, that degree of testing and tracing inspires some confidence that greater restrictions aren’t needed.

In fact they’ve screened five times the number of people as South Korea. As of April 17, Iceland had 1,739 known cases, with eight deaths.

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Sanna Marin, PM, Finland

Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, is the youngest female leader in the world, at age 34, and has a largely female cabinet. Finland recently increased its testing capacity by 50% and began nationwide antibody testing.

With a population of about 5.5 million, Finland has seen 3,489 cases and 75 deaths. According to The Christian Science Monitor, a Finnish Broadcast reporter said:

“Her performance at press conferences and in parliament has been just what works best for Finns–clear, concise, unemotional; but with an undertone of warmth.”  

A recent poll showed that 85% of Finns approve of Marin’s handling of the pandemic.

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Erna Solberg, PM, Norway

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, announced recently that the contagion curve has been sufficiently leveled so that her country “has managed to gain control of the virus.” She began lifting the strict controls by reopening some businesses and kindergartens. The known incidence in Norway, with a population of nearly 5.4 million, is 6,905 cases and 157 deaths.

Solberg has followed the scientists’ advice in her actions and comforted her people: she said in a news conference that “It’s okay to be scared,” and that she missed hugging her friends, words she felt were especially important for young people to hear.

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Jacinda Ardern, PM, New Zealand

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, closed the borders immediately, prepared people for self-quarantine, and implemented widespread testing; to date, there have been 1300 cases and just one death in a population of 4.8 million people. The fact that New Zealand is an island has been a factor in her success, but Ardern has also received high marks for the clarity of her leadership and her compassion.

She’s appeared in streaming videos at home, reassured kids that she counts the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny as “essential workers,” and announced that she and her cabinet would take 20 percent pay cuts for six months. She’s been said to demonstrate that a head of state can actually lead with both resolve and kindness.” 

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Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany

And then there’s Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. There have been more than 148,000 infections among its 83 million people, but very low deaths per million (fewer than 5000 as of April 17)—considerably lower than other European countries. Germany has the most large-scale testing program in Europe and the most intensive care beds.

Merkel’s popularity has skyrocketed because she’s handled the crisis so well. She told the public:

“I’m absolutely sure we will overcome this crisis. But how many casualties will there be? How many loved ones will we lose?…We are a community in which every life and every person counts.” 

A Guardian account reported:

“As one wag on Twitter joked: if you’re asking why death rates are so low in Germany and so high in America, it’s ‘because their president used to be a quantum chemist and your president used to be a reality television host.”

Merkel, whose title is chancellor, has a doctorate in quantum chemistry.

Why Have These Women Been So Successful?

According to The Guardian reporter,

“Correlation is obviously not causation. Being a woman doesn’t automatically make you better at handling a global pandemic. Nor does it automatically make you a better leader; suggesting it does reinforces sexist and unhelpful ideas that women are innately more compassionate and cooperative.

“What is true, however, is that women generally have to be better in order to become leaders…held to far higher standards than men…you have to be twice as good as a man in order to be taken half as seriously. You have to work twice as hard.”

It seems fairly obvious that what makes a successful leader is a combination of strength, effective decision-making, and compassion. That doesn’t necessarily describe a woman.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s reputation has soared, despite the delay in aggressively confronting the threat, because his tough guy persona has been substantially softened by what appears to be genuine compassion. 

But the effective women leaders are the result of a specific environment, says Kathleen Gersen, a sociology professor at New York University.

“Female leaders are also likely to be nourished and supported within societies that themselves have a certain culture.”

For Gersen,

“If you have a political culture in which there’s a relative support and trust in the government, and it’s a culture that doesn’t make stark distinctions between women and men, you’ve already got a head start.” 

She also thinks that women who reach such lofty positions feel less tied to traditional methods of leading.

“There are so many ways that men are expected to behave when they’re leaders that I think it sometimes makes it difficult for them to step over those boundaries and act in a different way from the norm.” 

Though Gersen offers Governor Cuomo as an example of this breakthrough, we’ve seen one terrible—and several poor—examples of male leadership, or lack thereof, that involved differing from the norm. 

These bad examples show us in the negative why the ways the women have acted have been successful. 

In fact, the pandemic forces leaders to face the vastness of unknowns, so they must rely on their inner strengths and creativity more than on existing norms. They have acted promptly and forcefully.

They have also sought expert advice and relied upon the science. And, importantly, they have brought along the people they serve by communicating with them with honesty, clarity, and compassion.

Looking Forward…

If, Gersen says, women leaders can demonstrate that strength and compassion are not conflicting traits—that they actually complement one another and are both essential for good leadership,

“I think not only will society benefit. but so will men. Maybe then we can begin to open up the scripts for roles that leaders play”—regardless of gender. 

What do you think? Women presently make up only 25% of the world’s leaders, but they’ve been the shining lights in this darkest of times.

Do you agree with Kathleen Gersen’s belief that women succeed where there’s relative support and trust in government and not the stark distinctions between men and women?

If so, what does that assessment say about our future in the US—or wherever else you, my thoughtful readers, reside?

Annie

Continue reading “Why Are Women World Leaders Combating the Coronavirus Pandemic So Well–and What Does This Tell Us About Leadership?”

CORONAVIRUS STIMULUS RELIEF PACKAGE(S): A Questioning Acrostic

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Image courtesy of health.mil.

Catastrophic delays
Of equipment for patients and carers
Reveal huge flaws in America’s design.
One thing I do
Not hear discussed
Applies to the “have nots’”
Vying for their tiny share of
Income from the supposed stimulus:
Registering their presence without
Use of computers and Internet?
Shadowy reminders of those we forget.

Small businesses
Tethered lightly to viability
In line for loans
Must wait months to see $$
Urgently needed, as
Life savings go out padlocked doors
Unless some Cuomo-esque souls
Snip through the bureaucracy…

Relying on small amounts,
Each home health aide, waiter,
Likely most in gig economy, live
In fear of dislocation,
Eviction, illness, as the
Fat big business cats purr in delight.

Phase 4 bill? The Dems want more $$ to
Aid states/locals still fighting virus,
Care via family/medical leave,
Keep first responders safe,
Add to Fed food aid,
Gird pensions for stability,
Extend more checks to meet great need.
(See below…)

_________________

The three bills were bipartisan, a remarkable accomplishment at this time that meant both sides compromised. To date, the Republicans say no more stimulus is needed–except Lisa Murkowski, who wisely notes that serious mental health needs arising from the pandemic will have to be addressed.

The Democrats improved the Republicans’ bill, but said they’d be back for more. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the first two bills were for emergency relief; the third for mitigation. The fourth will be for recovery.

In this fourth bill, the Democrats will plead for all in Phase 4 above, plus virus-revealed issues: money for Internet services, now a necessity; money for states and the Post Office for vote-by-mail to ensure our democratic processes can continue despite the pandemic.

(Will the President sign this bill? Speaking of the previous bill’s funding request for vote-by-mail, which is expected to enable more Americans to vote, he stated:
“The things they had in there were crazy…that if you ever agreed to, you would never have a Republican elected in this country again.”)

Two parties; two different wish lists.

For Phase 4 to pass, We, the People, must loudly say we agree. Do you? Will you?

Annie

Continue reading “CORONAVIRUS STIMULUS RELIEF PACKAGE(S): A Questioning Acrostic”

More Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Fighting This Thing Alone–Together

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COVID-19; image courtesy of state.gov.

Events are moving very rapidly. Less than a week after I published my post about life in self-quarantine in an epicenter of the pandemic, far more Americans are in similar situations—some in mandatory lockdown, which I suspect will arrive in my community soon. (Update: we’re now in mandatory lockdown.)

In my previous post, I described being in a hard-hit area with a local hospital whose CEO was profoundly worried about running out of ventilators for patients and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hospital staff. When staff members become ill, obviously, there’s no one to treat patients.

Our community arranged a teleconference for residents to hear from all the relevant local, county, and state officials, as well as our member of Congress. Both my husband and I felt good about what we’d heard. These people knew what they were doing. They were competent and dedicated, and would do whatever was humanly possible to keep us safe.

One person who wasn’t on the call was the hospital CEO.

Today we learned that he has tested positive for COVID-19. Just days before, he’d been at another meeting with all the folks above. So possibly, the entire entourage whom we’re depending upon may now be harboring the disease. This concept takes a little getting used to— and much deep breathing.

Now our governor has taken over these local operations. The governors have been the unsung heroes of this pandemic—from Jay Inslee in Washington state to Mario Cuomo in New York.

They’ve struggled to gain the attention of a President who just weeks ago was declaring the pandemic a “hoax” perpetrated by the Democrats to oust him from office. We lost valuable time while he lived in denial/conspiracy land, bolstered by his friends on Fox TV.

But faced with a free fall in the only indicator he seems to care about, the stock market, Trump has finally awakened and declared himself a “Wartime President.” And then he went missing in action before our eyes. “Mr President,” the exhausted governors pleaded “we desperately need federal help.” His response: “Find your own ventilators. We’re not a shipping clerk.”

It’s so ironic that the President many of us have worried has shown dictatorial tendencies—who has, in fact, declared that as president he has the right to do whatever he wants—is now being so reluctant to use the power he has for the greater good.

The New York Times observed “Mixed Signals From President Sow Confusion.” First he said he would invoke the Defense Production Act, which dates to the Korean War and “grants the president extraordinary powers to force American industries to ensure the availability of critical equipment.”

The very next day, he made his “We’re not a shipping clerk” comment. Apparently, some business leaders who didn’t like the idea of being “forced” to do anything got his ear. But will they do enough, quickly enough, to provide the vital protective equipment to ensure that our health care workers aren’t decimated, and that enough  life-saving respirators are on hand so that those working won’t have to perform triage to determine who gets one and who’s left to die–as is currently the case in Italy?

Meanwhile, in Italy, the total death rate reached 3405 on Thursday, exceeding that of China at its highest, according to an article in Bloomberg. The next day, Bloomberg reported 627 deaths, “the highest daily toll since outbreak hit.”

The Prime Minister is weighing even greater restrictions than those covered by the current “near-total lockdown,” Bloomberg reports. “The decision depends on factors including the spread of infections and the fact that many Italians aren’t respecting the rules, the official said.”

And this is happening in northern Italy, which has more and better hospitals than the southern part of the country—and has been overwhelmed. If the virus spreads south, it could be disastrous. The second article cited provides information about Spain, the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands.

I am also getting reports about India from my fellow blogger, the Controversial Indian, who provides her thoughts daily from what she calls “house arrest.” She observed on Day 19 that she is suspicious of the low number of cases reported to date—236—and says “the government still refuses to acknowledge that there is any community transmission of the disease in the country.” There’s also very little testing.

You’ve seen the curve of increased cases in Italy? Our curve bears an eerie resemblance to that one, and experts report that at the speed at which the cases are multiplying, we have about two weeks before we’ll be facing comparable conditions.

That’s why it’s so important to try to “flatten the curve” of the incidence of infection by having us remain in our homes. At this point, the number of confirmed cases in the US has climbed to more than 17,000. The lack of adequate testing suggests that number is considerably higher.

Dear Readers:

It appears that more of you have begun to take these events seriously. But if you are still tempted to disregard this threat, please reconsider. I get that the pandemic is affecting various parts of the country differently, but this nasty virus knows how to cross state lines—big time.

And as a country, we have varying degrees of quality and quantity in the health care services and facilities we can access. If New York City, one of the nation’s foremost medical meccas, can be approaching the breaking point, I fear the Italian analogy will be appropriate. Other areas will be hard hit and won’t have the resources and expertise they’ll need.

So I am speaking to you, the Spring Break Invulnerables yukking it up on Florida beaches, oblivious to the threat.

And to you, those who didn’t think twice about going to a large wedding in Brooklyn, NY, that had to be broken up by the police.

And to you, the Self-Styled Immortal Boomer Parents who are in the “most vulnerable” category, but refuse to adapt while their 30-something children scream at them and weep at their heedlessness: “Don’t take that cruise!” Why are you going out to dinner again?” (See The Atlantic article, Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously.)

And to you, bloggers who have expressed disdain at the “stupidity” of people who are going like sheep into their homes as requested—or ordered.

As I and many others have pointed out, we are all interconnected and interdependent. We are in for a rough period unlike anything we’ve seen in the US in our lifetimes.

We will get through this, but we’ll do it more quickly and with fewer casualties if we’re willing to put up with the dramatic changes to our daily lives that the experts insist are essential.

One more thing. A friend forwarded to me a video of a lecture on the coronavirus for health professionals, which was given by Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious diseases specialist at the Santa Barbara (CA) Cottage Hospital.

I found the 1-hour lecture fascinating. One tidbit that I felt important to convey here is Dr. Fitzgibbons’ suggestion, based on findings, that the distance the virus can travel through sneezes or coughs is closer to 13 feet, rather than the 6 feet we’re currently told to observe in social distancing.

For now, social distancing must be our mantra.

There’s a cute little public service announcement made by Max Brooks and his father, the comedian Mel Brooks, age 93. Max is visiting his dad while standing outside his home, talking through the closed window. “If I get the coronavirus, I’ll probably be ok,” he tells us. “But if I give it to him, he can give it to Carl Reiner, who can give it to Dick Van Dyke…and before I know it, I could wipe out a whole generation of comedic legends.”

The PSA concludes with Mel nodding his head in agreement, knocking on the window, and telling his son: “Now go home.”

Very good advice for us all.

And in accord with my ongoing belief that we must keep laughing, I bring you the wise words on social distancing from Pluto, a four-legged. (Also courtesy of my friend Fran Kaufman; thank you, Fran!)

Note: Pluto doesn’t mean to offend with his straight talk; I hope you’ll keep that in mind.

Annie

Continue reading “More Notes From a COVID-19 Epicenter: Fighting This Thing Alone–Together”

How Bernie Sanders Can Rise From Politician to Statesman

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Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org.

Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio defied a state Supreme Court decision and cancelled his state’s primary election on March 17, citing “health concerns.” Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, whom I greatly respect, said he’s been working with DeWine, knows him well, and is confident that his decision was based on the right reason: the desire to protect the health and safety of the people of his state.

So although there’s plenty of political shenanigans around, the Ohio primary cancellation doesn’t seem to have been one of them. That’s the good part.

The bad part is that DeWine’s decision sets a dangerous precedent—as historian Michael Beschloss confirmed on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. When we get into the business of cancelling elections, we’re entering new territory fraught with negative implications for our democracy, which has been suffering mightily in the past several years.

The coronavirus has demonstrated that we are all interconnected and interdependent: We’ll have to work together to get through this pandemic that is threatening us now—and to deal with the unprecedented dilemmas it is posing.

Based on nearly all sources, who now include a recalcitrant President Trump (!), the pandemic will surely worsen over the next several months. Louisiana and Georgia have already postponed their primaries. It seems to be time to consider how important the remaining primaries are to our democratic process.

There is only one person who should make that decision: Bernie Sanders. 

As of March 18, he faces a nearly insurmountable delegate deficit. Former Vice President Joe Biden has won 1165 delegates; Sanders’ tally is 880. The odds of his success are slim to none. After losing the primaries in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona by large percentages, Bernie is now “reassessing his campaign,” according to current reports. 

If he decides that it is irresponsible to continue seeking delegates through the primaries because people’s lives will be at risk going to vote in primaries that won’t change the outcome—and suspends his campaign—he will be demonstrating a degree of reality-based unselfishness that will earn him a solid place in history. 

In contrast, if he continues to campaign in whatever way he can, he will divert Biden from focusing his sole attention on President Trump’s massive failures, delay whatever reconciliation is possible between his supporters and Biden, and increase the chances that the most inept and harmful president ever may somehow win another four years. 

Bernie’s place in history may then be as the spoiler who increased the possibilities of our democracy failing. I’m sure that is not the legacy he wishes. He has committed to voting for and campaigning for Biden, stating that defeating President Trump is the most important issue.

He can still play an active role in pursuing his ideas and ideals; he has already moved Biden to the left on education. But I hope he realizes that the primaries—and Biden’s increasingly large victories—have demonstrated that this is a center-left country.

Based on all the votes cast in the primaries to date, it’s now time for the battle of ideas among Democrats to cease in order to form a cohesive strategy to defeat Trump, hold the House, and retake the Senate.

Biden recognizes where he must be to forge what has so far been a winning coalition. If Bernie pushes too far, he risks validating those among his supporters who will refuse to vote for Biden because they view him as too much a part of the “corrupt establishment.”

I hope, therefore, that Bernie will soon announce the suspension of his campaign and devote his energies to ensuring that the Senate passes substantive legislation that will provide immediate and ongoing assistance to Americans in need due to the impact of the coronavirus. 

And I hope that along the way, he will be able to convince many (most?) of his supporters that their vote for the man he calls “my friend Joe” is right and necessary. 

We have Republicans in the Senate today sounding like Socialists (shhhhhh!), saying they’re ready to send dollars to the public. 

We have a public that, after decades of accepting the Republicans’ fraying of the safety net, finally realizes due to the absence of good management and wise decision-making how very important the federal government is. 

(With regard to the above point, I urge you to read this extremely important article in the Washington Post by Stuart Stevens, a now contrite Republican consultant, on the damage his party has wreaked on this nation, leading inevitably to our current crisis.) 

In the midst of the horror we’re experiencing, if Bernie now declares he’ll no longer participate in the primaries, he can take pride in the role he’s played in changing people’s views. He just hasn’t succeeded to the point that they’re ready for his revolution.

Annie