Dealing With My Anger In The Age of Trump And The Pandemic

Here’s how I would reallyreallyreally like to feel when I think about Donald Trump, his Senate Republican enablers, and the thugs who are using the pandemic to terrorize and strut around with their AR-15s and shotguns:

“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your neighbors.”

“Do not allow your anger to control your reason, but rather your reason to control your anger.”

“As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind me, I would still be in prison.”

In other words, I would like to have the heart and patience and wisdom of Nelson Mandela.

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Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

I am—or have been—a conciliator by nature. I’ve never tried to paper over people’s differences of opinion—and how those differences play out in their actions. But I’ve always sought to search for the commonalities among us. 

(This blog began with the goal of finding common ground, and I wrote a post early on explaining why I wouldn’t deal with the Elephant in our national living room. But when babies were put into cages and other offenses defying human decency became evident, I found that orientation unsustainable. I’d love to get back to it at some point.)

Through practicing the lovingkindness aspect of meditation, I still try to wish us all well—everyone and every living thing. Even…this President and his enablers. But I repeatedly fall short. Extremely short. Earth to Saturn kind of short.

What to make of all this? I just listened to another tenpercenthappier.com meditation (I’d written about these helpful sessions previously) in which Sebene Selassie, a meditation teacher, explored the various ramifications of anger in our current bizarre environment. 

“Anger can be an intelligent emotion,” she said. “It shows us what’s wrong with the world and is a motivation for action.” 

I like that assessment. I’d just finished hand-writing a bunch of postcards to Democrats living in a state that will be important to the November election outcome.

These are folks who have spotty voting records, and our purpose is to urge them to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots so they can vote safely and comfortably from their homes. 

It was an annoying task that left me with a neck ache and cramped fingers, but I’ll be doing it every week because—as I wrote repeatedly on those cards—“the stakes are very high; protect our democracy.” 

That concrete action, multiplied by all the volunteers doing it, could have an impact. So perhaps when I’m so engaged, my reason controls my anger.

Some months ago, I printed on this blog the contact info for all the Class of 2018 Democratic members of Congress who had won in swing districts and then bravely voted for impeachment, knowing they could be jeopardizing their reelection. 

These courageous souls are now being targeted for defeat by the Republican National Committee. I was encouraging people to send them donations and/or volunteer with their campaigns. (If you’re interested, you can find the list here.)

.One of my friends from across the aisle let me know he thinks there’s something underhanded about dabbling in politics beyond one’s own district.

But since the voters in the targeted state will play a significant role in a decision that will ultimately affect my family and me directly, I have zero qualms about such efforts. 

Selassie also talks about “taking action without taking sides.”  That brought me up short. How do we do that? A viewer at the end of her session asked that very question:

How can we not take sides when our politics are so polarizing?

Selassie’s answer was that this is a perfect time for us to recognize our interconnection. “One thread over here can unravel on the other side of the world,” she said. 

Pondering our interconnection, which I do from time to time, provides a welcome respite from ranting. It happens when I disagree with my friend from across the aisle. I get angry, but I know he’s a good person with strong values who just happens to view the world differently.

When I get angry–furious, really–at the terrible toll this pandemic is taking because of our dreadful national leadership, I also think about all the generosity and kindness shown by individuals helping others—solid evidence of our interconnections.

I just read an article that I think exemplifies Selassie’s point about interconnections. A 13-year-old Israeli Jewish boy was gravely wounded in 2002 when he stepped on a land mine. Until last year, he was in agony, his foot constantly feeling as though it was on fire. 

Then, at age 31, after years of harboring hatred for the Arabs for what they’d done to him, he was operated on by a Palestinian Arab surgeon, an expert in the intricate nerve pathways involved in his injury. 

The surgery was a complete success, and a bond has formed between surgeon and patient. (This story is considerably more complicated; if you want to read the details, click here.)

Selassie points out that if we look beneath our anger, we see the fear, anxiety, and grief that’s there. And I know that’s true too.

But we needn’t banish our anger, she says; we can accept it, checking in with our bodies to make sure we’re not permitting the anger to turn into the constant stress that we know can be so damaging.

(A quick inventory would involve relaxing tense shoulders, clenched jaws, tight stomach, and the like.)

So I realize I can hold two concepts simultaneously. One is that it’s important to focus on all the people who have chosen to demonstrate their better selves at this critical time for all humanity. 

The other is that I am channeling my anger into actions that I hope will ultimately result in the removal of the forces I find so terribly destructive. Anger leading to action: that feels just right.

Donald Trump and his enablers won’t be with us forever. I remain hopeful that in the near future, the lessons of this pandemic will lead to competent government delivering a much stronger safety net. 

We’ll always have our differences, but they’ll be less raw if people are less fearful and anxious about their economic insecurity and lack of healthcare. I believe we can reduce the tensions that have been worsening our political polarity.

It seems appropriate to end with another nod to Nelson Mandela:

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”

Annie

Continue reading “Dealing With My Anger In The Age of Trump And The Pandemic”

Some Positive Thoughts…and Actions to Save the House of Representatives

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Image courtesy of pikrepo.com

After watching the pre-Nevada caucus Democratic debate, I began writing this post with feelings of frustration approaching despair. There were many things to criticize, and I was emptying my angst onto this page, and thus preparing to send it on to you. 

With the latest evidence—which we already knew—from the Intelligence briefing to the House that reiterated Russian meddling in the 2020 election, which was followed by the President’s replacement of the acting intelligence chief with someone with less than zero qualifications for the job, I cannot and will not deny that we are living in increasingly perilous times. See The New York Times article here.

The question I’ve been pondering is this: as we search for someone who is best able to defeat Donald Trump, how do we handle ourselves? And that question makes me feel more closely attuned to my more optimistic, better self—the one that really believes we can find common ground. 

What brought me to this more positive place? Meditation helps, but my “recovery” was nurtured by a very calming, cogent newsletter that a friend who had just subscribed to forwarded to me. Its author, RB Hubbell, is based in California. The daily newsletter is free and can be obtained by sending your email address to rbhubbell@gmail.com.

A Voice of Reason

I don’t know how large Hubbell’s subscriber list is, but he began his discussion of the aftermath of the debate by saying his inbox had “exploded” with emails that “exhibited a level of angst, anger, and disgust I have not seen before.” 

He then said he wanted to share readers’ reactions, because he’s been told that hearing from others helps his readers “ground their feelings and test their own reactions to this crazy mess in which we find ourselves.”

There’s nothing wildly original about Hubbell’s message or his readers’ reactions. Maybe I was just ready to hear his words, but they hit me exactly right. Here’s a sampling:

“Before we get to the details, let’s say the important things first: We must stick together. We are on the same side. If we do not stand together, we will fall together. Whatever passion or disappointment or anger you feel, it cannot cause you to withdraw from the process or give in to feelings of hopelessness or lash out in anger at fellow Democrats. We are facing a grave threat to democracy. Our personal preferences for president are subordinate to the need to ensure the election of the Democratic nominee—whoever he or she is.

“A secondary point is the need to focus on the long-term. Yesterday’s debate was freighted with expectations and led to disappointment. Accept that fact and move on. We can’t freak out every time something bad happens; otherwise, we won’t make it to the Democratic convention in July, much less the general election in November. If ever there was a time in our history when we needed to toughen-up, hunker-down, and keep our eyes on the horizon, now is that moment.”

It’s Okay to Withdraw, But Not for Long

Hubbell’s readers include many people who told him they’d withdrawn from the fray for the sake of their mental health. I can relate to that feeling. My last three posts were about goldfinches and squirrels; solar railways and my carbon BigFootprint, and guidance on comforting the sick and dying. 

But I knew I had to return to politics because this is an “all hands on deck” moment. 

Interestingly, although Hubbell probably wouldn’t reveal his preferred candidate under any circumstances, he notes that he’s mostly filled out his own ballot for the California primary but has not yet determined which candidate he’ll support.

He concludes in a way that ties in with my primary objective with this post, referencing a Twitter thread by Walter Shaub, the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics (when there was such a working institution in our government!). A “snippet”: 

“ Take Action. Any action. It’s not big things that will save us. It’s persistent small actions carried out by one individual, and another, and another and another across the nation…Make a very small donation, even just a dollar, to something, sign up to volunteer for one hour, go learn how to register voters.”

I wish I could include the entire thread because there’s lots of wisdom there. If you’re on Twitter, go to @waltshaub and you can read through it.

A Valuable Way to Make a Difference

Many of us have been repeatedly sending money to the Presidential candidate(s) of our choice. That’s important. But my action at the moment is to focus our attention on the House of Representatives. We must, must, must maintain the Democratic majority in the House. 

All the members of the Class of 2018, those moderates in either swing districts or districts that Trump won, have been targeted for extinction—in good measure because they flipped formerly Republican seats AND had the courage to vote for impeachment. Many won by a single vote.

They are among the more than 50 House members being targeted for defeat by the National Republican Campaign Committee. According to Roll Call, the NRCC Chairman, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, enunciated the slogan the Congressional Republicans plan to run on:

“Freedom or socialism—that’s the choice in 2020.”

These targeted Democrats need our help, as their opposition is often flooded with cash and a revved up base. I’m listing their names, districts, and web sites in the hope that if you feel strongly that it is imperative to retain a Democratic-controlled House, you’ll be able to support their reelections in whatever way you can, including volunteering and importantly by contributing, no matter how small the amount.

In addition to donating to them directly, in most cases you can also go through ActBlue. I’m planning to work my way down the list, eventually giving modest donations to all of them.

Remember: each one of these individuals did what he or she believed was right for this country and upheld that oath—knowing that vote might well end their careers.

Let’s begin with the seven brave souls—all with national security backgrounds—whose OpEd in the Washington Post was instrumental in changing Nancy Pelosi’s mind about the need for an impeachment inquiry. They are:

*Gil Cisneros (CA-39): cisnerosforcongress.com

*Jason Crow (CO-06): jasoncrowforcongress.com

*Chrissy Houlahan (PA-06): chrissyhoulahanforcongress.com

*Elaine Luria (VA-02): elaineforcongress.com

*Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11): mikiesherrill.com

*Elissa Slotkin (MI-08): elissaforcongress.com

*Abigail Spanberger (VA-02): abigailspanberger.com

Here are the others:

*Cheri Bustos (IL-17): cheribustos.com [NOTE: the current Democratic Congressional Committee Chair]

*Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01): tomohalleran.com

*Anne Kirkpatrick (AZ-02): kirkpatrickforcongress.com

*Josh Harder (CA-10): harderforcongress.com

*TJ Cox (CA-21): tjcoxforcongress.com

*Katie Porter (CA-45): KatiePorter.com (I’ll explain my bolding below.)

*Harley Rouda (CA-48): harleyforcongress.com

*Mike Levin (CA-49): mikelevin.org

*Stephanie Murphy (FL-07): stephaniemurphyforcongress.com

*Charlie Crist (FL-13): charliecrist.com

*Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26): debbiemucarselpowell.com

*Donna E. Shalala (Fl-27): donnashalala.com

*Lucy McBath (GA-06): lucyforcongress.com 

*Lauren Underwood (IL-14): underwoodforcongress.com

*Sean Casten (IL-06): castenforcongress.com

*Dave Loebsack (IA-02): loebsackforcongress.com

*Cindy Axne (IA-03): cindyaxneforcongress.com

*Abby Finkenauer (IA-01): abbyfinkenauer.com

*Sharice Davids (KS-03): shariceforcongress.com

*Haley Stevens (MI-11): HaleyStevensForCongress.com

*Angie Craig (MN-02): angiecraig.com

*Dean Phillips (MN-03): phillipsforcongress.org

*Susie Lee (NV-03): susieleeforcongress.com

*Steven Horsford (NV-04): stevenhorsford.com

*Chris Pappas (NH-01): chrispappas.org

*Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05): josh4congress.com

*Andy Kim (NJ-03): andykimforcongress.com

*Tom Malinowski (NJ-07): malinowskifornj.com

*Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02): xochforcongress.com

*Anthony Brindisi (NY-09): brindisiforcongress.com

*Max Rose (NY-11): maxroseforcongress.com

*Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18): seanmaloney.com

*Antonio Delgado (NY-19): delgadoforcongress.com

*Kendra Horn (OK-05): kendrahornforcongress.com

*Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04): defazioforcongress.org 

*Susan Wild (PA-07): wildforcongress.com

*Matt Cartwright (PA-08): cartwrightforcongress.com

*Conor Lamb (PA-17): conorlamb.com

*Joe Cunningham: (SC): joecunninghamforcongress.com

*Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07): lizziefletcher.com

*Ben McAdams (UT): benmcadams.com

*Jennifer Wexton (VA-10): jenniferwexton.com

*Kim Schrier (WA-08): drkimschrier.com

*Ron Kind (WI): ronkind.org

*Christy Smith (CA-25): christyforcongress.org

[update: Christy Smith is running for the seat vacated by Katie Hill. Though she wasn’t in Congress for the impeachment vote, she is being targeted–hard. This is a hard-fought effort to retain a Democratic seat that needs money and votes immediately–before May 14th!] 

__________________

Note: Jared Golden (ME-02): jaredgoldenforcongress.com has also been targeted by the Republicans, but the Democrats aren’t happy with him either: He voted to impeach the President on Article 1, but not for obstruction of Congress.

Missing from my version of the list is Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), who switched his party affiliation and is now a Republican.

On this list of valuable legislators, one who has impressed me deeply is Katie Porter of California, who asks the tough questions and seems fearless in speaking truth to power. She is under particularly strong attack. I believe it is extremely important that her voice continues to be heard in Congress; thus, I’ve highlighted her information.

I’ll conclude with RB Hubbell’s closing remarks in the newsletter issue I referred to above:

We are in the fight of our lives, but we are in it together. That should give us all comfort.”

That fight demands that we act positively and don’t despair. And make sure you’re  registered to vote!

Annie

Continue reading “Some Positive Thoughts…and Actions to Save the House of Representatives”

A Thanksgiving-ish Story

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City Landscape in the Night Courtesy of Publicdomainvectors.org

Three women, strangers, seats 23D (aisle), 23E (center), 23F (window).
One soybean farmer, one blogger, one psychotherapist.
Flight delayed by weather at destination.
10,000 feet above ground, swiftly nearing landing.

23D and E heading for home.
23F preparing for romantic rendezvous with second husband.
Twenty years married, only one previous holiday sans kids—hers/his.
He’d joined his kids for one lap of their year sailing ‘round the world.

I have to pass through Portugal on my way home, he’d said.
Why don’t you meet me there? She was thrilled.
Meet in Lisbon, tour the countryside.

But…

Time was 7:40 PM. Connecting flight gates to close at 8:15.
Why don’t we change seats now? suggested 23D.
The change was made. Traveler-in-motion now seated on the aisle. Precious minutes saved.
Maybe tell the flight staff to call ahead? offered 23E.
The call was made. Anxiety easing.

I can’t find my boarding pass, lamented the traveler-in-motion.
Here it is, her companion said, picking it up from the floor.
A spontaneous warm hug from the traveler-in-motion.

Shared moments, caring among strangers. Empathy in action.
A week before Thanksgiving, but appropriate for the season.
Any season…

Annie

 

Can “Love Thy Enemy” Be a Winning Political Strategy–as Well as a Healing Balm for a Divided People?

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We know that the US is riven by deep divisions—and that other countries are going through similar struggles. We also know that most people are unhappy with the anger and hostilities—and anxiety about politics and world events is high.

Against this backdrop, I found the final question in the fourth Democratic Presidential debate, held in Ohio on October 15, instructive. Moderator Anderson Cooper asked each of the 12 candidates (the largest group of debaters ever) this question, involving Ellen Degeneres, a popular US talk show host who gained praise in 1997 when she publicly announced she is gay:

“Last week, Ellen Degeneres was criticized after she and former President George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship, saying, we’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different.”

“So in that spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impact it’s had on you and your beliefs.”

I’m touching on the responses that I found most relevant (regardless of my opinion of the candidates who voiced them). I’ve shortened them from their verbatim rendering in The Washington Post’s transcript.

Julian Castro: “Some of the most interesting friendships that I’ve had have been with people…who thought different from me…and I think that that should be reflected more in our public life. I believe that we should be more kind to other folks. And there are people, whether it’s our former president, George W. Bush, or others…just as we should be kind, we shouldn’t be made to feel shameful about holding people accountable for what they’ve done.”

Amy Klobuchar: “For me, it’s John McCain, and I miss him every day…I remember being at his ranch when he was dying. He pointed to some words in his book because he could hardly talk. And the words say this: ‘There is nothing more liberating in life than fighting for a cause larger than yourself.’”

Cory Booker: “The next leader is going to have to be one amongst us Democrats that can unite us all,…teach us a more courageous empathy, and remind Americans that patriotism is love of country, and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.

“And love is not sentimentality. It’s not anemic. Love is struggle. Love is sacrifice. Love is the words of our founders…the end of the Declaration of Independence that if we’re ever going to make it as a nation, we must mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Pete Buttigieg: “I think about the friendships that I formed in the military, people who were radically different from me, different generation, different race, definitely different politics. And we learned to trust each other with our lives…It’s also about building a sense of belonging in this country, because I think that’s what friendship and service can create.

“I think we have a crisis of belonging in this country that is helping to explain so many of our problems, from our politics being what it is to the fact that people are self-medicating and we’re seeing a rise in the deaths from despair…The purpose of the presidency is not the glorification of the president. It is the unification of the American people [to] pick up the pieces and guide us toward a better future.”

 

I’m focused on these responses because they capture what I believe is the most important and difficult task our next president will have: uniting us as a people. And that effort is needed in many other areas throughout the world.

Cory Booker’s exhortations to love reminded me of an exchange I had with one of my fellow bloggers: Gary Gautier, who blogs as Daedalus Lex and calls his blog “Shake My Head Hollow.” Gary is a very thoughtful guy who often examines philosophical and ethical concerns on his blog. (He also writes wonderful poetry).

Gary’s recent post–which stimulated this inquiry–was titled:

“The political thing no one wants to hear”

The post itself consisted solely of a quotation from Ram Dass, a revered spiritual leader (and former Harvard psychologist, then known as Richard Alpert) who has pursued numerous spiritual approaches, including Hindu, Zen Buddhism, Sufi, and Jewish mystical studies, according to his biography. His most influential work is the book Be Here Now, which has been called “the Western articulation of Eastern philosophy and how to live joyously a hundred percent of the time in the present, luminous or mundane.”

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Ram Dass

Here’s the Ram Dass quotation, followed by my discussion with Gary, who has graciously agreed to my including our exchange as well:

“You can only protest effectively when you love the person whose ideas you are protesting against as much as you love yourself.”

My Query to Gary:

I saw Ram Dass interviewed a while back. His stroke seriously impaired him, but as I recall, he reflected that he has been happier since then because now he really has time to observe and reflect.

I am having difficulty envisioning the kind of protest he describes. Did Martin Luther King and John Lewis love their oppressors? Forgive? Probably. Understand? Very possibly. But love? And Mandela? Same question.

Can anyone protesting the people who put babies in cages and open the gates to genocidal acts feel love for those they’re protesting against?

What am I missing here, Gary?

Gary’s Response (with citations):

When Mandela entered the prison on Robben Island, his white guards were predictably brutal, and yet he never gave up on them; he engaged them, believing that “our occupation of the moral high ground could make it possible for us to turn some of the warders round,” and as years passed he won many of them over into “appreciating our cause,” and several of those guards became allies and attended his first inauguration. (Anthony Simpson’s biography, 214, 275, Part II).

And how, Gandhi asked, could he be angry with his colonial oppressors when “I know that they sincerely believe that what they are doing today is right” (Autobiog, 166). Gandhi’s bottom line is that “it is quite proper to resist and attack a system” but one should never “attack its author” (242).

I think both had found Ram Dass’s truth – that beneath vicious action is generally a confused or mangled soul. Fight for what you know is right, fight against those who wreak havoc on humanity, lock them up if you have to, but don’t give up on the spiritual imperative to help those who are most morally fallen – from people on death row to the politicians whose actions you find vicious.

I believe Martin Luther King had reached the same transcendental space of love. In contrast to today’s woke crowd, who all-too-enthusiastically reduce people to “enemies” and “racists,” King saw white people as much more than just racists and was ultimately much more optimistic about America’s founding principles and about the American people — including white people.

This is all hard to see as we duke it out at street level, but these spiritual masters were able to view it from a million miles above, from the perspective of unlimited compassion, viewing themselves below fighting the good fight in the trenches, and viewing their opponents and all others in the same light.

I’m sticking with Baba Ram Dass on this one.

And My Response…

I thank you, Gary. I practice mindfulness meditation, and an important aspect of that is lovingkindness: “May you/I/we be filled with lovingkindness.” I have often sought common ground in my blog posts. I do try very hard to walk in the other person’s shoes, so I don’t rail against the folks at the hate-filled rallies with the vehemence of many people I know.

But I am a long way from loving those in power whose cruelty and/or indifference is damaging so many individuals and our society/world.

I shall try to dig deeper—without faulting myself if I fail. The Ram Dass bar is exceedingly high for us mere mortals.

My Questions for You, Dear Readers…

We are all tearing ourselves apart with our political hatreds now. It’s no good for us as a country, as members of the world community, and certainly as individuals: think of the levels of stress-induced cortisol coursing through our bodies. We need a better approach.

Can we get beyond this point via the Ram Dass message? Regardless of which side of the political divide we’re on, can we “hate the sin but love the sinner”?

If you share my strong feelings about this president and those complicit in his actions, can you and I, personally, look beyond all the devastation that we feel President Trump is wreaking on people and nations and try to find compassion for the clearly damaged, wretched soul that resides within him—and the frightened, worried people working with him or supporting him? (That doesn’t mean we don’t hold him/them responsible for their actions!)

If you’re on the other side of the political divide, can you find it in your heart to feel that those of us who differ with you politically are not your enemies? That our wants and needs as human beings are, on the most basic levels, quite similar to yours?

(I realize I’m leaving out the vast middle here, those who are just unhappy that things in their personal lives aren’t going as well as they’d like—and are simply trying to make do from one day to the next.)

Can we all shift our focus from people to problems, and work together for the greater good?

Just days ago, we lost an invaluable American statesman: Congressman Elijah Cummings from Maryland, who died at age 68. “A Pillar of Baltimore Who Was ‘Loved by All,’” wrote The New York Times. In his years in Congress, he worked assiduously across the aisle to get things done for the people he represented and the country he loved.

Apparently, when President Trump attacked him on Twitter this summer, calling his district a “rodent-infested mess,” some of Cummings’ constituents wanted a full-throated response. Instead, Cummings calmly observed: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors.”

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Congressman Elijah Cummings

Being “nice” to the President was an example of the spirit that made him unique, according to his friends. His church pastor said Cummings was…

“…so much larger than what he was…He was something so different. He was not the angry protester. He was not the passive peacemaker. He was the deliberate man who stood for right and wrestled wrong until right became the natural winner.”

I have a strong sense that Congressman Elijah Cummings was the embodiment of the Ram Dass credo that Gary Gautier has brought to our attention.

Tell me, please: What do you think of all this—as political strategy and/or guidance for life? Can you accept the concept of loving the person whose ideas you are protesting against as much as you love yourself? Even embrace the idea and consider/try putting it into practice? Feel it’s a fine idea, but…?

Or does this concept strike you as naive and unworkable? Do you think I’m nuts to even raise the issue in today’s political climate?

If the latter, do you have any other ideas concerning how we as individuals move ourselves out of our current angry divisiveness?

Annie

My Presidential Nominee Wish List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annie

The Democrats’ Debates Were Disappointing, and Yet…

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Candidates in Second Democratic Presidential Debates 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s when Buttigieg spoke up:

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

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

Klein continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lithwick concluded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we must.

Annie

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

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Our Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Important Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Changes Around Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Southern pine beetle devastation. Photo courtesy of flickr.com

When Climate Change Suddenly Becomes Visible

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

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

The Post reporters note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Key Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building That Bridge…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some “Silver Buckshot”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annie

23&WE: The Democrats Debate (With apologies to Chaucer for imperfectly borrowing his rhyme scheme)

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From The New York Times:

“Two nights, four hours, so, so many candidates: the first Democratic presidential debates will be like nothing we’ve ever seen. A former vice president on stage with a self-help author. Three female candidates on one night, three female candidates the next — more than have ever been on the debate stage at once. A 37-year-old squaring off against two septuagenarians.”

******

Now listen, friends, as I unveil the chorus
Of those I’m calling 23&WE.
We’re not discussing folks who came before us;
It’s those who say what this country should be
And how they’ll make enough of us agree.
They’re poised to set out from the starting gate,
And one of them may well decide our fate.

How do they call attention to their vision
And talents that will make them best to lead?
So many voters now voice skepticism
Re: turning those fine words to solid deeds
To build a worthwhile new American creed
That knits together vastly different types
Of folks who harbor vastly different gripes.

The polls agree the leader’s now Joe Biden,
A man well known who was a fine VP.
Experienced in world affairs, he’s ridin’
On hopes he’ll bring us back to normalcy
And thus is safe to take down Covfeve.
But some say Uncle Joe is just too dated,
And can’t forget Anita Hill deflated.

There’s Bernie S., who never seems to waver;
In 40 years he hasn’t turned the page.
He’s moved the Dems on issues gaining favor:
Medicare for all; a $15 wage.
But others now are acting on that stage.
A Democratic Socialist with pride,
If he falters, would he just step aside?

Someone to watch, the pundits say, is Warren,
On each issue she has a plan, for sure.
An ultra-millionaire’s tax could be transformin’
With free child care for all and so much more.
For inequality she has a cure.
But will pro-banker, moneyed folks resist,
Despite her self-description: “capitalist”?

One candidate whose fame has come quite quickly
Is South Bend, Indiana’s Mayor Pete
(Trying to rhyme his last name is quite tricky)
His scholar/military resume is neat,
But politically he fits into a tweet.
Still, he has generational appeal
And messaging that sounds both wise and real.

Kamala Harris, tough in prosecuting
Won plaudits for her querying Bill Barr.
She says in office she’d be executing
Punishments for employers who’re sub-par
In the male/female equity pay bar.
A woman of color, bona fides deep,
She’s on a lot of short lists for the Veep.

Amid the current tones of acrimony,
Cory Booker’s words sound so very nice.
He talks of love, civic grace, and harmony
And exhorts men to protect women’s rights.
And cares a lot to end our urban blights.
This Rhodes Scholar who’s certainly no fool
Has Wall Street ties and supports charter schools.

Amy Klobuchar is praised quite highly
Across the aisles in a once true blue state
She’s also known to view events quite wryly,
And humor’s in too short supply of late.
Some feel her plans don’t carry enough weight.
But one’s important, not just symbolically:
Her push for statehood for Washington, DC.

Beto leapt to fame by losing narrowly;
In Texas that was seen as quite a feat.
His campaign started off quite powerfully
And then began to lose a bit of heat,
Though he engages each voter he’ll meet.
His message is important as can be:
Immigration: with “respect and dignity.”

I’ve long thought that the job of governor
Makes President a ready move to make.
There’s Hickenlooper, Inslee, and another:
Steve Bullock, who will miss next week’s debate.
Each has records touted as first-rate.
And each has worked to combat climate change
With Inslee’s speech most often in this range.

It’s time, say many Dems, to crack that ceiling
Re: healthcare, equity, diversity,
To all these goals the party is appealing
And I believe that voters sensibly
Will weigh their thoughts while seeking to agree
And try to find which candidate’s around
Who’s most likely to find that common ground.

I see I’m in trouble here numerically,
And fear my rhyme is starting to grow weak.
I’ve gone through less than half the twenty-three.
There’s still a dozen more of whom to speak,
And showtime’s coming middle of next week.
But since to verses’ end you’ve still held tight,
You’ll find all contenders’ pitches through this site.

******

I clearly gave only the briefest attention to the candidates I covered, and none at all to the rest. Here is how they present themselves to voters:

  1. Joe Biden: JoeBiden.com
  2. Bernie Sanders: BernieSanders.com
  3. Elizabeth Warren: ElizabethWarren.com
  4. Kamala Harris: KamalaHarris.org
  5. Pete Buttigieg: PeteForAmerica.com
  6. Cory Booker: CoryBooker.com
  7. Beto O’Rourke: BetoOrourke.com
  8. Amy Klobuchar: Amy-Klobuchar.com
  9. Andrew Yang: yang2020.com
  10. Jay Inslee: JayInslee.com
  11. Julian Castro: JulianForTheFuture.com
  12. Tulsi Gabbard: tulsi2020.com
  13. Kirsten Gillibrand: 2020.KirstenGillibrand.com
  14. Marianne Williamson: marianne2020.com
  15. John Delaney: JohnKDelaney.com
  16. Tim Ryan: TimRyanForAmerica.com
  17. John Hickenlooper: hickenlooper.com
  18. Bill de Blasio: BilldeBlasio.com
  19. Steve Bullock: SteveBullock.com
  20. Michael Bennet: MichaelBennet.com
  21. Eric Smalwell: EricSwalwell.com
  22. Seth Moulton: SethMoulton.com
  23. Wayne Messan: WayneForAmerica.com

I know it’s early, but if you’re committed to the idea that we need new leadership in 2020, these debates are important in winnowing the field, and you may find yourself wanting to support someone who hasn’t yet gained much public attention.

So I hope you’ll watch the debates, review the candidates’ positions as they state them on their web sites, and support the candidate(s) of your choice. Small donations will be vital for qualifying for subsequent debates, so please consider even minimal financial support of candidates as well.

FIRST DEBATES: JUNE 26, JUNE 27 ON NBC, MSNBC, AND TELEMUNDO

Annie

Music to “Stretch Our Ears”: Beethoven, Beatles, Blues…

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I can’t carry a tune, and no one would ever accuse me of having perfect pitch. But I love music—so many different kinds of music, preferably live. At some point in my life, I’m determined to see Bruce Springsteen in concert—even though I hate crowds.

But one type of music really transports me: the fully realized magnificence of a fine symphony orchestra. Fortunately,  there is such an orchestra that performs fairly close to my home, and my husband and I have had a series subscription with friends for the past few years. 

Thursday night was the season finale—and it was a whopper, appropriately titled the “Blockbuster All-Orchestral Season Finale.” For those of you who don’t love classical music, imagine attending a concert given by your very favorite band, and I think you’ll get the mood.

First of all, the conductor is a wonder: a tiny slip of a woman who exudes energy, power,  and artistry with her every move and gesture—sort of a woods sprite with a baton.

This was the only time she’d appeared this season, as there were guest conductors, and when I told my husband I wished I could have seen her more often, he said, “Just put her in your pocket and take her home.” She’s really really tiny.

I’ve been told that the orchestra loves her, and it’s clear she returns the favor. So from the time she reaches center stage, everyone is happy and optimistic.

The program featured Mendelssohn, Selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21, which begins very softly and ends with The Wedding March, which you’d recognize immediately.

According to the program notes, the young Mendelssohn had been sitting with his family as they entertained an astronomer, their guest describing the contents of the sky far above.  When Felix went out for a walk, he headed for the garden 

“to gaze at the stars that had been the primary topic of conversation at the dinner table. His attention was diverted by the gossamer activity of the summer night.” 

Four evening breezes were purportedly the inspiration for the four woodwind chords that open and close the overture. The delicate violin string segments were his “musical impression of fireflies flickering about the nocturnal atmosphere.”

Years later, Mendelssohn said, “That night I encountered Shakespeare in the garden!”

That lovely piece was followed by a Rachmaninoff symphony: No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27. Absolutely breathtaking. Apparently, it took the composer years to complete, as he was filled with self-doubt. 

The program notes state: “The music is lush and relaxed. This is an expansive symphony in the late Romantic vein: heartfelt, emotional and long.” (Not long enough for me!)

As is often the case with classical music, one of this symphony’s themes has made its way into popular music: it appears in the song “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again,” which was a hit in 1976.

I find that one of the delights of listening to a beautiful symphony, in addition to the aural pleasure, is being in such a civilized environment. As those of you who are familiar with my blog know by now, I’m always seeking common ground. Sitting in a large group of people enjoying a common experience—away from all politics and divisiveness—is a joy in itself.

But here’s the rub. Entering and leaving the concert, I see a vast number of people with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. It’s inspiring to see folks who don’t let their infirmities stop them from participating in these events, but I wonder how viable this orchestra, and others, are when I’ve read that the average age of symphony orchestra attendees is 60. (I suspect in our locale, that average may well be considerably higher.)

I’m not the only one to express such concerns, of course, and it’s not a new one. I did find one optimistic note from a 2004 article titled: ”Probing Question: Is classical music still relevant in today’s world?” According to George Trudeau, Director of the Center for Performing Arts at Penn State, 

“Classical music is alive and well. What has changed is there are more avenues than ever before for classical performance and public education, including public radio, the internet, and other digital technologies.”

Penn State’s Center was actively seeking to stimulate appreciation of classical music in students, faculty, and community members through a diverse program involving artists in residence and such efforts as “experiencing the music in alternative venues and informal settings such as our Classical Coffeehouses.”

Trudeau said then that attendance at the various classical music performances by Penn State students had risen from 26% of total sales to 40% in three years, and that students told him “exposure to classical music was enriching their lives.”

So perhaps there’s hope that coming generations will still find their way to the symphony. I have noticed that when a very young guest performer appears at the programs we attend, many very young people show up in the audience. 

Similarly, several months ago, my husband and I attended a One Day University lecture on “How to Listen to (and Appreciate) Great Music,” given by Orin Grossman of Fairfield University and featuring several incredibly talented young musicians from a local arts public high school. 

There the emphasis was on chamber music, and Grossman discussed melody, recurring themes, the dominance of the piano, the way the composer would get himself far out on a limb and then musically work his way back, and other elements.

He demonstrated his points by asking these gifted musicians to pick up the relevant pieces of the classics and play them—and they did, flawlessly. It was a joyous occasion—and wonderful to see these young symphony performers in the making.

Yesterday, I found that One Day University had a revised version of Grossman’s lecture available online. The title was the same, and the purpose was once again to encourage active listening “in order to ‘stretch our ears’ and get more pleasure from the musical experience.”

While I’d been worrying about the diminishing presence of symphony orchestras, Grossman was underscoring how much luckier we are than people long ago, who had little or no access to great music.

“We have the opposite problem,” he said. “It’s so accessible we try to tune it out and become very passive.” It’s fine to use music as background and simply to relax, but he was stressing how much more gratification we get when we “stretch our ears.”

In contrast to the live lecture with Grossman that we’d attended, the selections of great music this time were more varied–and he was the sole performer. The focus was on melody and how the composer treats it. Yes, there was Bach, who’d either combine two melodies or, more commonly, create a “dialogue” of melodic fragments, as in the Concerto for Oboe and Violin.

Grossman easily segued from Bach to the Beatles, whom he considers the best musicians in decades and whose music he believes “holds up very well.”

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The Beatles, holding up very well!

Using John Lennon’s song “Girl,” he illustrated how Lennon pushed the boundaries by introducing second melodies, returning to the melody with a guitar backup.

Next, he spent time on Duke Ellington, saying he had been misunderstood as merely a bandleader when he was “one of our greatest composers. From the 20s to the 70s, he gave a name to the Swing Era: ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.’” Grossman played and stopped a recording of the song several times so we could hear the call and response as the brass swings.

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Duke Ellington: Composer, musician, bandleader

“The harder you listen to where it’s going—you’ll be tricked,” he said impishly.

For no reason I could discern, he returned to the classics and Beethoven at this point, which was fine with me once I got accustomed to the temporal whiplash. He pointed out that in the movie “The King’s Speech,” Colin Firth as King George VI must address the nation despite his stuttering. As he gets to the microphone, in the background we hear the chords from the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in a repeating rhythm. 

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Ludwig van Beethoven

The intensity and power of Beethoven’s music are often built through fragmentation of the melodies, which finally explode into heroic sounds, as “metaphors of victory through struggle,” Grossman said. Perfect reinforcement for the King’s message to his people.

He ended with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which combined elements of life in New York–and by extension, America–the Blues, Latin rhythms, ragtime, and Broadway band ballads, to illustrate the “clashing and blending” of the various cultures.

“The imagery interlocking the piece is trying to show one version of the United States,” he said. “At heart, it’s a good mystery: you wouldn’t want everything explainable.”

No, we wouldn’t. And if you have an extra 17 minutes and would like to test your active listening skills for discerning the various elements Gershwin intertwined, go to YouTube’s video of Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic playing “Rhapsody in Blue.” (You can skip the ads.)

I return to the sense of civilization and common ground that I feel when I listen to the soaring music of a symphony in concert with fellow music lovers (a little pun here). Regardless of your taste in music, at any live venue, there’s always a sense of community, of sharing your enjoyment with others. And music is so often tied to memories that such a sharing can be a part of your pleasure even when you’re listening alone. I felt that way watching the video of “Rhapsody in Blue,” in which Bernstein both conducted and played the piano.

Do you like to “stretch your ears” with active listening to music? If this is a new idea to you, is it appealing? What type of music do you prefer, and what role does music play in your life? Do you/did you play an instrument? How often do you hear live music? Would you go more often if it were more convenient? Less financially burdensome?

I look forward to your comments. In fact, I’m all ears.

Annie

How Do We Talk About Race in America? An Unfortunate Update…

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In these highly partisan and polarized times, there’s been a fair amount of talk denigrating what’s referred to as identity politics. Why should we be talking about the needs of individual groups when we really should be finding ways to unite us as a country?

Many well-meaning people stake out this position, and as my blog is devoted to finding common ground, I understand that sentiment—and feel we must pursue both goals simultaneously. I long for the time when we are all so comfortable with one another that we embrace our differences, while those differences recede in importance in the ways we respond to each other. But we sure aren’t there yet.

In Part 2 of my exploration, “How Do We Talk About Race in America?,” I spoke with Doug Glanville, a friend of my daughter’s whom I’ve known since they were children. After graduating as an engineering student from the University of Pennsylvania, Glanville has gone on to do great things in his life: his rich and varied career, which included nine years of playing major league baseball (twice with the Chicago Cubs), now involves being a sports commentator, writer, podcast co-star, and lecturer at Yale University, teaching a course titled “Athletes, Activism, Public Policy, and the Media.” He is a uniter and optimist by nature—confronting racial injustice when needed but always trying to put it into perspective and not overreact.

In my previous post, we discussed his being profiled by a police officer from a neighboring town while shoveling the snow off the driveway of his Connecticut home. His response was to work toward what eventually led to a change in state law governing police jurisdictions. He received an apology from the governor, who appointed him to the Connecticut Police Officers Standards and Training Council.

Somehow, due to his largeness of spirit, he retained no animus toward the police officer who confronted him, viewing the episode instead as an opportunity to work with the police to improve their procedures. He told me when we spoke that he likes to “take lemons and make lemonade.”

Well, life just handed him another big lemon, which he described in The New York Times Sunday Review. (He’s also a contributing opinion writer for the Times.) I hope everyone will read his entire Op-Ed: it’s a powerful, nuanced, sophisticated view from a very thoughtful person about issues we should all be aware of and thinking about. Here’s the beginning:

“Ambiguity has always been a friend to racism.

On May 7, during a television broadcast of a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field, I was on camera doing in-game commentary for NBC Sports Chicago when, unbeknown to me, a fan behind me wearing a Cubs sweatshirt made an upside-down ‘O.K.’ sign with his hand.
The meaning of this hand gesture can be ambiguous. It has long been used to simply say, ‘O.K.’ Some people also use it to play the ‘circle game,’ where you hold your hand below your waist and try to get others to look at it. And most recently it has been co-opted to express support for white supremacy. The man accused of committing the New Zealand mosque massacres flashed this sign during his first court appearance.

Because I am a person of color, the fan’s gesture suggested its sinister meaning.”

He wasn’t aware of what had happened until after the game, when he noticed his Twitter feed “overrun by strange avatars, unrecognizable handles, aggressive trolls and a heated debate about racist imagery.” There was considerable discussion about whether the man’s actions were or were not sinister.

And that ambiguity is precisely the point, Glanville writes.

“According to the Anti-Defamation League, users of the online message board 4chan originally introduced the idea that the ‘O.K.’ sign was a white supremacist prank to get the media to overreact to innocuous gestures—but the sign soon morphed into a genuine expression of white supremacy as well.”

In other words, we are all being gaslighted by the most racially extreme elements among us. But for people of color, including those like Glanville who still manage to be optimistic about race in America, this gaslighting is particularly odious and exhausting—the degree of fatigue varying with the extent of racism they’ve experienced in their lives.

Glanville seeks to explain what it’s like by depicting a coordinate graph in which people of color might plot the various episodes that could be racist that have either happened to them or they’ve heard about.

“The x-axis represents the passage of time and the y-axis represents the degree of racism of an episode—from someone’s assumption that you’re a valet when you’re parking your own car to the burning of a cross on your lawn. For each experience, you mark a dot.”

The pattern that emerges when those dots are connected, Glanville says “allows you to notice correlations, to make predictions. You are learning from evidence, in part for your self-preservation.”

Then comes the tricky part, when someone who has learned from such evidence meets with an individual who hasn’t had similar exposure.

“He sees evidence of racism only from time to time, and when he does, it tends to be stark and unambiguous—the use of racial slurs, an explicit avowal of hate.”

To this person, “racism seems to be a rarity, maybe even invented.”

Glanville, who teaches courses focused on communication, wonders how he can convince such a person of the pattern he sees, when the listener is inclined, based on his own experiences, to depict subtle racism as an “isolated incident” and even accuse Glanville of “playing the race card.”

How often have we heard that phrase in our political rhetoric?

Equally troubling, the person may say all this talk about racism is just making things worse.

Glanville stresses that he, and most people of color, continually look for the innocuous explanation, trying not to think the worst of people. He recognizes that despite the overwhelming evidence from the data he’s experienced, he can be wrong in a particular instance.

“An ‘O.K.’ sign means nothing on its own. But racism thrives in ambiguity, in shadows. In this form, it is cowardly with double meanings.”

Despite his instincts, he didn’t immediately condemn the Cubs fan who made the gesture. He waited until the facts were in. Indeed, the Cubs quickly did an investigation, found that the fan’s intent was malicious, and banned him from Wrigley Field.

The Washington Post (May 8) quoted the Cubs’ president, Theo Epstein: “We’ve made clear how egregious and unacceptable that behavior is, and there’s no place for it in our society, in baseball, and certainly no place in Wrigley Field.”

Said Tim Elfrink, the Post writer:

“The case marks the latest high-profile emergence of the hand symbol and suggests yet again how thoroughly troubling language and memes pushed by the alt-right and adopted by hate groups have infiltrated American culture. But such gestures, which can run the gamut from ironic jokes to long-running games to outright symbols of intolerance, are also notoriously difficult to interpret.”

It bears repeating that ambiguity is precisely the point. The Post quotes Salon writer Amanda Marcotte, who observed that the O.K. sign was to serve as both white supremacist symbol “and also one that is just ordinary enough looking that when liberals expressed outrage, the white supremacist could play the victim of liberal hysteria.”

And as Glanville points out, the impact of ambiguity on people of color can be profound, making them feel…

“That their sanity hinges on a single verdict. If the Cubs fan was flashing a white nationalist sign, we are in danger; if he was not, we are ‘politicizing’ things or ‘race-baiting.’ This is an incapacitating position to find yourself in, especially when you are just an innocent bystander. You are thrust into the public eye and forced to relitigate the existence of racism. Before you know what has happened, you find yourself on the defensive.”

And Glanville draws the very straight line from such soul-bashing episodes of racism as symbol to racism as system:

“…institutional power that can crush neighborhoods, generations of children, stripping people of validation, self-worth and opportunity. Those who have been on the losing end of this power are never certain that they will be O.K.”

Still, he holds out hope that we as a society will “choose the path of empathy and hope.” pointing out that baseball “is played by teams of people from all walks of life, following universal rules, competing on a level playing field.” Acknowledging that this image may be part mythology, he still sees it as an “aspirational ideal, a goal for us as a society.”Doug Glanville 56ff1f7494371.image

But only if we are willing to acknowledge

“that racism operates not only with fire hoses and police dogs but also in whispers, in fine print, in invisible ink, in coded language. Until we are fully against it, we are letting it fester, and while we try to sort out the ambiguities, people are suffering.”

His closing sentence: “They will still suffer once we have our answers, no matter what we find out.”

Though that is more hard truth than optimistic conclusion, I know Doug Glanville will continue his work of building bridges, teaching and writing about social justice, guiding his own children to focus on the good around them and rise above the rest.

Of course we’ve made progress since the Jim Crow era, but with the current trends, including deliberate attempts to deny or make it nearly impossible for people of color to vote, and the far too numerous killings of unarmed black people by police officers—many of whom are not held accountable—how can we possibly expect people of color to ignore racial slights or “put them in perspective” when, regardless of their accomplishments, they know how close they are to the next indignity—or worse?

How does it feel to hear TV commentators focus on how important it is for Democratic candidates to appeal to the white voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, etc., when the water situation in Flint, Michigan, has still not been fully resolved five years later, and we don’t even know how many other predominantly black cities are similarly affected? What will it take for us to care—as if they are our own—about the children being poorly educated and poisoned by environmental pollutants that are getting worse as the EPA standards are lessened or removed?

And why does the shocking data that African-American women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women—regardless of their income and education levels—not cry out for national attention?

With so many hate crimes and “anti-isms” against various groups on the rise in this country, some may be tempted to belittle the kind of assault Doug Glanville recently experienced. After all, he wasn’t physically injured.

I don’t use the word “assault” lightly: when someone so accomplished—a good-hearted, caring individual with a long history of trying to ease tensions among groups—lets us in on how devastating the accretion of these insults can become, we dare not ignore his words.

Yes, we must strive to overcome our differences and reduce the terrible polarization that threatens us now. We must always seek those things that unite us, rather than divide us.

But we’ll never do so until we realize that the original sin of slavery still hovers over us, and in 2019, we have much more work to do. I am grateful to Doug Glanville for so eloquently sharing his pain with us. He’s still ready to do the hard work to make our country better for us all. Are those of us whose lives aren’t disrupted by the types of incidents Glanville and so many others continually experience ready to do the same?

I welcome your thoughts, opinions, and stories.

Annie

NOTE: You can hear an audio interview in which Glanville describes the episode and its aftermath on WBUR’s Here and Now (May 29).  Notice that he ends with a positive observation, as he always tries to do.