Dual Citizenship (essay-1)

November 27, 2014 commentary

Thursday, November 27, 2014
Word Count – 1,083

My family left Calabria in 1957 for the wonders and promise of America. But, we ended up in northern Ontario, in Sault Ste Marie. Back in Calabria, we had no idea that Canada was a separate country. Everyone used the term america generically. Even today, many of my cousins in Aprigliano who are of my parents’ generation still use the all-inclusive term. And it annoys my Canadians relatives to no end. I laugh and secretly think – get over it, we all know Canada is the 51st state.

What I didn’t realize for a long time was that the War and its aftermath were the determining factors in my family leaving Calabria. And even though my parents never fooled themselves into believing that the streets in American were paved with gold, they also never connected, for their children, their experience with the post-War devastation and resulting poverty, to their leaving.

The immigrant identity has been with me since I was 8 years old. My time in northern Ontario was about being different, but pushing away from those foreign roots and towards assimilation. The successful families divested themselves of their mother tongue, their strange foods, their old-world ways and quickly transitioned to the manners of the white-bread majority. The modern 1950′s Canadian immigrant family wanted their children to marry English.

As a teenager in Sault Ste Marie, I remember being embarrassed whenever my mom packed a sandwich of fried eggplant. I loved fried eggplant on my mom’s home-made, but eating it at a cafeteria table full of English boys was difficult. I’d sit in the corner closest to the railing, away from prying eyes and take a bite, quickly returning the sandwich to the wax paper wrapping. I also remember asking my friend and neighbor Giselle C. out on a date, but she was not allowed to go, because her family believed I had gone over to the other side; I was no longer Italian enough. I had no accent, knew all the foreign words and I hung out with both Italian and English kids.

On the flight to Rome, I read Joseph Luzzi’s new book My Two Italies. In the first part of the book he writes of his difficulty reconciling the Italy of the Renaissance and the Italy of his Calabrian parents. There were two Italies separate and not equal; northern Italy was the real and southern Italy the faux. And Calabrians were not allowed to claim Michelangelo or Da Vinci as their own. That confusion is easy to see given that our parents never told us that the reason they left their homeland was because of the aftermath of the War. Nowhere in Luzzi’s book is there a connection between the wave of immigrants leaving Calabria and the devastation left by Mussolini, Hitler and the Allies. Without that connection it was easy to fill the vacuum with a sense of less-than, with a feeling of outsider, with an inferiority and a reluctance to claim or take pride in our heritage.

In Sicily we explored the Baroque cities of La Val di Noto; in Naples we explored Ercolano, the Museo Archeologico and the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte. What I didn’t expect in either place was the dialect everyone spoke. For years, I’ve thought that my Calabrian dialect was an inferior version of Italian and that it was restricted to the contadini of the hill-towns around Cosenza. (I’ve always prided myself on being able to speak both the dialect and modern Italian even if I spent much energy and mental gymnastics figuring out when and where to use which.) But, in Sicily and in Naples everyone talked using what I thought was a Calabrian dialect. Now I know that it’s the dialect of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and still widely and proudly used. Whoa! The dialect my parents and their contemporaries brought with them wasn’t a mountain twang, but a legitimate version of the vernacular spoken in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It was great fun speaking dialect again with its ending u-sounds replacing the soft o‘s of modern Italian. Zio Michele became the zu Michele of my childhood, of my first language. I could talk without mentally translating from English to Calabrese to Italian.

The last item to challenge is the food snobbery of the expats. I read several blogs by Americans who have landed in Italy and chosen to live there. It’s not unusual for this group to whine about modern Italy and the Italian-Americans that travel back. (The expats remind me of converts who in their new faith become orthodox proselytizers who take their Paul-of-Tarsus role very seriously.) Their disdain is hurled at those travelers who look for American-Italian dishes in Italy, especially anyone crude enough to ask for spaghetti-and-meatballs. The expats’ reaction, with its adolescent superiority and wish for banishment, is worthy of a 9th grader. There seems to be no understanding or genuine pride in the work the immigrants did to introduce Italian food into the New World. All they see is a bastardization of their Italian ideal and react. And yes in that introduction the Calabrese and Neapolitans made changes, adaptions and modifications that expanded the markets; that made Italian style food the norm in a vast new country. Yes, no one in Italy eats meatballs with their pasta, so what that they do in America. That doesn’t mean that the immigrants that introduced these foods into their adopted homeland didn’t know that in Italy pasta and meat aren’t mixed. In my family we never eat spaghetti-and-meatballs. My parents would never think of mixing these two items. So what that American restaurants serve this ubiquitous dish; it’s called knowing your audience; making good economic decisions; being a smart businessman. Those immigrant families that left the destitute Mezzogiorno have been wildly successful in their adopted land and because of them y’all can go back to live in Italy and post blogs about those embarrassing American tourists.

It’s time for a new lens. We immigrants are citizens of two worlds. Let’s celebrate the fact that we know how to live in both the US and modern Italy. Let’s focus on the fact that Michelangelo and Da Vinci were from regular hard-working families; we come from a courageous stock of Italians who trusted in their skills and ingenuity and transformed the new world making it hospitable for the next generation. We are the children those immigrants dreamed of when they left their homeland with tear in their eyes.

A Real Revolution (essay-2)

February 4, 2016 commentary

Thursday, February 4, 2016
Word Count – 773

You say you want a revolution …

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the political primary process and the subsequent presidential election. And a question from Ruth Marcus’ January 29 Column in the Washington Post both stirs and summarizes my ramblings.

Why would voters, after watching Obama’s excruciating experience with congressional Republicans,
believe that Sanders could deliver his promised “political revolution”?

There are many things I like about Senator Sanders – his message of fairness, his outrage over inequality and corporate abuses. But the naiveté, the ideology and the purity-of-conviction that he and his supporters insist on make me apprehensive. What I want to say to his college supporters is, “Get real kiddies, you gotta stop thinking like children, you gotta stop speaking like children. The country needs adults who can let go of childish ways.” (Guess even an old curmudgeon, for whom English was not his first language, can reference Scripture.) “Kiddies, that stuffy, ivory-tower air is going to your heads and making you as rigid as the Iowa Evangelicals. Why, for example, do you revile Hillary Clinton? Just because she came to marriage equality and to the Trans-Pacific Partnership later than the Senator? What are we to understand, that in your world-view there is no evolving, no wisdom with reflection? The purity stance is so condescending. (Sorry the correct term, as far as the millennials go, is authentic. OK, The authenticity stance is so condescending. Is that more hipsterish?) And the naiveté about campaign financing is unbelievably naive. “You want candidates to run a national campaign and finance it how? Sorry, you want it financed by small individual donations because those are more pure than the donations of millionaires and billionaires. What, you’re not gonna insist that a President Sanders do what you want? I forgot, your insistence is right, everyone else’s is corrupt and wrong.” What’s needed, in this transition between 1950’s America and the 21st century, is someone who can govern within the structure and make changes. Someone who knows that the system is rigged, but can still undo the prejudices and shortcomings inherent in our modern democracy. Not someone who wants to stand outside and yell, “Vote for me, I’m a democratic socialist.”

If Senator Sanders really wanted a revolution, he would advocate for a Constitutional Convention suggest that states could opt out of the union, push for electronic voting, demand that voter registration happens at birth. (What is so revolutionary about taxing the wealthy? In the 1950’s wealth was taxed at the 70% level.) But he pretends that his ideas are radical and that he can make a revolution if everyone turns out to vote. Because of course everyone will turn out to vote and the vested interests will just lie down and let him walk all over them, just like they did for Barack Obama. OMG what have we become? Is this what the Woodstock generation has created – a bunch of naive pampered children who have no understanding of what a revolution really is; who have no idea what a true revolution looks like?

To me, Bernie Sanders’ claim to break up the big banks and to increase taxes and Donald Trump’s claim to deport 11 million and to build a great, great wall on the southern border are pipe-dreams without a strategy for making them happen. And the strategies are vague – tax increases and getting Mexico to pay for the wall – yeah that’s gonna happen. And why would the House or Senate allow Sanders or Trump their agendas? Does Bernie or Donald have a magic wand? Did the House and Senate lose their millionaires’ shackles when Bernie and Donald announced their candidacies? Oh, let me ask a more cynical question – why are Trump’s claims dismissed as unreal, but Sanders’ are given credence. Is it because we look down our noses at Trump and his white, non-educated supporters, but affiliate with Sanders’ young, white, college-educated kiddies? To me, Trump and Sanders are two sides of the same coin. The coin is anger and resentment at a government hijacked by the rich and famous. But Bernie and Donald, the outsiders, will perpetuate the non-function, the fighting, the atrophy. LBJ was able to do the things he did, because he knew the system and he knew how to make it work to pass his legislation. He didn’t spend his time grandstanding, credentialing about not-being-of-the-system.

Come on Bernie, if you really want a revolution, call for a Constitutional Convention, give the states the option to opt out of the union, let people vote online, let voter registration be automatic with birth and let voter registration be irrevocable. Bernie, at this point, your tilting at windmills.

A Beached Whale (essay-3)

March 20, 2016 commentary

What a piece of work is man
How noble in reason
How infinite in faculties
In form and moving
How express and admirable
In action how like an angel
In apprehension how like a god
The beauty of the world
The paragon of animals

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark – Act II, Scene II

Sunday, March 20, 2016
Word Count – 689

After spending a week in Kaua’i, there are many images in my head, but the most jarring ones are of very overweight, white males in their 40’s and 50’s. The image above was taken at Ke’e Beach and he was one of many men with huge bellies or with rolls and rolls of fat. The skin is so tight over a massive protuberance that made the seeing a bug-eyed experience. When did this happen? When did American males of a certain age become blimps? When did it become OK to lie on the sands like a beached-whale? When did it become sexually OK to appear half-naked with a whale-like body?

There was a time in America when hard work defined who we were; when sacrifice and delayed gratification were the hallmarks of empire builders; when the ideal male was lean and sinewy; when we didn’t have time to lie on a beach and bake in the tropical sun. But that time is gone and today we work in air-conditioned offices, sit on plush chairs and push keys; we feel good when we order diet instead of regular Coke; we have Amazon deliver next-day; and fat people are no longer socially unacceptable. As a matter of fact, people aren’t fat, they’re horizontally challenged; girls with big butts are chic. Welcome to 21st century America.

I want to believe that the march to obesity started back in the late 70’s/early 80’s when the American food giants gifted us with that amazing convenience called fast-food. (I was living in Brooklyn and we all wanted to get out to the suburbs to eat at the golden arches.) I remember friends taking their children to McDonald’s, Roy Rogers, Burger King on a regular basis. Happy Meals, roast-beef burgers and crown were all desirable configurations, options and toys. I remember when Chicken McNuggets were introduced and we would run up to the shopping center for a lunch of mcnuggets and fries. (Wendy’s was considered the healthy fast-food and it had a girl’s name. The high-brows could go there and not feel bad.) And back then, no one talked about nutritional bankruptcy, trans-fats or artery clogging.

The new foods were the latest fad for a generation raised on fads. But the children became guinea-pigs for the industrial-food giants. The children on the late 70’s/early 80’s had no say on what their parents fed them. And the parents had no idea what the new foods would do to their children’s metabolisms, to their children’s bodies. And now, we ring our hands, run news-clips, design cars for the new American body and argue and argue.

There’s the argument the holier-than-thous make that it’s all about will power and there’s the argument that the Republicans make that corporations should have no restrictions on what they produce, because the consumer is free to choose. Neither group wants to talk about the addictive nature of the ingredients in fast-foods; neither group wants to talk about the power of advertisements, of social media; neither group wants to talk about the heath cost of the obesity epidemic, of the diabetes epidemic, the spiking mortality rate among the poor who now eat processed-foods for the majority of their meals. And the noise is the perfect distraction for the food giants.

There’s also a political dimension to the obesity argument. In America, consumption is our GOD. American is about buying and consuming as much as possible. (Why do we pay no attention to old people? They have lost their consumer power.) In Kaua’i consumption takes the form of time-shares, million-dollar homes on golf-courses, gated-communities, condos and condos and condos. All these accommodations have ensuites and vast networks of pools and saunas for their clients. The economy of the island is catering to the hordes of mainlanders that fly in to spend a week or two at the time-shares, the million-dollar homes, the condos, the fancy hotels. And the target audience for these amenities is the over-indulged middle-class. And is it any wonder that one demonstrates his/her membership in the over-indulged middle-class with his/her distended body? Fat rolls and whale-like dimensions are credentials of membership.

Listening for the New-told Lies (essay-4)

April 12, 2016 commentary


come writers and critics
who prophesize with your pen

and keep your eyes wide
the chance won’t come again

the line it is drawn
the curse it is cast

as the present now
will later be past

the order is
rapidly fadin’

Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Word Count – 878

Throughout Italy, every town has a World-War-One memorial. (650,000 Italian soldiers died in WWI.) The term Ai Caduti – to the fallen – is how these monuments are referred to. The image above is the WWI monument in the town of Montegranaro in Le Marche.

The monument and the Great War it commemorates, conjure up two remembrances – one from Season Three of Upstairs Downstairs and one from Robert Graves’ I Claudius.

The son of the upstairs, Edwardian family is talking about enlisting, because the war on the continent is for a noble cause. Also, England is on the cusp of modernity, on the cusp of world domination and her sons and daughters are needed on the fields of France; are needed to vanquish the Beastly Hun. James and his contemporaries run, heads high, naiveté fluttering, to the fields of Flanders.
Claudius is dying so he’s trying to put safeguards in place to protect his young son from assassination and from the coming chaos. But Britannicus rejects his father’s precautions. He and his contemporaries see assassins as phantoms of the old generation. Modern, Imperial Rome is free of boggy-men; the Pax Romana governs the world. And Britannicus believes Nero an honorable man.

But war and revolution destroyed early-twentieth century Europe; and the chaos that followed destroyed the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Europe was plunged into thirty years of war and Rome was choked by internal conflicts, conspiracies and civil wars. The revolutions decimated the societies the previous generation had built; the revolutions unleashed the fires that destroyed the privileged, the poor, the innocent.

I don’t believe in revolutions. History tells me they tear apart rather societies not rebuild them.

I think American is again on the cusp of radical change and again its young believe that they, and only they, understand the modern world. And these Millennials, like their hippie predecessors, believe that a new-world order can only augment their current freedoms, their prodigious privileges. In this rarefied climate, revolution is a noble endeavor, a heart-string longing, a clarion call.

On the right, Trump preaches a society free of privilege, free of minorities, free of women bosses. A white-only, Protestant America ruled by old white men. And his followers insist that if their prophet is denied the nomination in Cleveland, they will bring down the Republican Convention. On the left, the kids and the Hollywood elites have enlisted, by the thousands, in Sander’s revolutionary army. And if their prophet isn’t nominated by the Democratic Convention in the City of Brotherly Love, they will walk away hurling Mercutio’s curse, “A plague o’ both your houses!

The America their parents built is flawed – a shadow of its former self. The new heralds – the pure Bernie, the virginal Donald – will lead the country out of darkness, out of servitude and into the promised land.

The 1960’s revolution gave us great wealth and civil rights. We live surrounded by flat-screens, tablets, smart-phones, air conditioning, social-media. But the tolls were paid by Vietnam War veterans, AIDS patients, young men in the urban ghettos, rural families and poor women.

I’m sympathetic to Sanders’ ideas, but their prophet spells out only the positives. The problems – the hard work ahead, the set-backs, Congressional Republicans, an electorate against new taxes, a minority that wants to deport 11 million people – are presented as trifles to be easily overcome. Senator Sanders what about the vulnerable, the displaced that a revolution will produce? Senator Sanders how will you control the chaos we are hurling towards?

The media shows me a Donald Trump, one campaign-stop away from creating his own storm-troopers; a Susan Sarandon proclaims that a Trump win will accelerate the coming revolution. Mr. Trump and Ms. Sarandon will not be touched by the ravages of civil war. They will sit in their towers and watch as the country burns, as women are disenfranchised, as innocents are massacred, as minorities are shoved into transports and driven to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.

A Sanders presidency will have to address the chaos, the rage he and Donald Trump have unleashed. I don’t believe Senator Sanders is capable of doing that. Bernie reminds me of the amiable school principal whom the parents all love, but whom staff hates. He cannot manage the teachers who work for him and the work environment is rife with ruinous factions and petty squabbles.

The soldier in the monument is releasing a dove. This is the only Italian WWI monument I’ve seen that suggests peace. Most call forth sadness; many itemize the fallen.

Twenty-first century America is at a crossroads. We are rich; we are fat; we are bored; we are angry. We don’t really care about our children, the poor, minorities, women. We just want to continue sitting in our Lazy-boys, eating chips, watching porn, betting on fantasy football. We just want to buy and buy. In the stock-market, we celebrate the heights our corporations have scaled; in Congress, we celebrate their power; at the mall we covet their products. The new iPhone is only $500. I need it.  Who cares that the corporations, the American worker built, moved their manufacturing to China and their service-centers to India? My new iPhone has a gold back.

No presidential candidate is offering the country a path to moderation, a path to reconciliation.

i wanted magic shows and miracles
mirages to touch

i wanted such a little thing from life
i wanted so much

Hypocrisy (essay-5)

April 20, 2016 commentary


Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Word Count – 828

Last Friday, Bernie Sanders ran off to the Vatican.

Yes, he was invited to speak about moral economics at a conference hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. But this is the Senator from Vermont who styles himself as the honest, anti-corruption, pure candidate. This is the candidate for the Democratic nomination who rants against Wall Street, against the one-percenters, against those who have raped and pillage the American middle-class and against Hillary Clinton and her ties to these American plutocrats. Then Bernie, what are you doing traveling to Rome and hanging out with the most corrupt of human institutions; a group of one-percenters so exclusive, it even reject half of the human population? Bernie what are you doing hanging out with the group that has sheltered pedophile for years; that has subjugated women for millennium; that has preached the words of Jesus Christ, but has lived in splendor, in the Renaissance palaces?

In 1944, the Allies bombed the monastery of Monte Cassino, in six months Holy Mother Church had rebuilt it. Meanwhile southern Italy was starving. My parents and their contemporaries never talked about the Church coming to their assistance. No, they still talk about the parish-priest who had a cook and house-cleaner all through the war. The one-percenters were too busy to worry about Italy’s starving people. They were busy fluffing up their gold-embroidered capes so that they could attend the re-opening of the refurbished monastery south-east of Rome. (The gold-leaf in the chapel alone, could have fed hundreds of thousands.)

Senator Sanders has warned against the evils of a corrupt campaign-financing system; he has criticized Bibi Netanyahu for his war-mongering, his treatment of the Palestinians; he has energized young Americans and pulled them into the Democratic primary; he has proposed a social-welfare state that comes to the assistance of average Americans; he has identified the fault-lines in the American economic distribution system. All good and honorable ideas. But he is unwilling to consider any good the American economic systems have created. And for me, it’s this unwillingness, this blinders approach that is at the center of my anger with the Senator and his trip to the Vatican. He can’t overlook Wall Street’s evils, but he can easily overlook the evils of the Roman Church. Evils that include a Pope who put the interest of his institution over those of millions of Jews. While Germans soldiers filled rail-cars the Roman Pope negotiated the safety of the Vatican with the Führer.

But then, I don’t understand American Jews’ and American Non-Catholics’ swooning over Pope Francis. Yeah, he is pushing the monarchy, known as the Roman Catholic Church, towards the poor, but he’s one man. Cardinals and Bishops still live in palaces; are still attended by servants; still ride in limousines. Their life-style is closer to the life-style of Jamie Dimon, president and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, than to the life-style of ordinary Catholics. And yet Senator Sanders pinpointed one dot in this vast canvas, a dot that is consistent with his political message. The Washington Post’s Katrina vanden Heuvel  in her piece, gave Sanders’ narrow vision legitimacy. She placed the Sanders’ visit within the Church’s nineteen century pro-workers’ context. That’s very nice. But Mother Church has come a long way from that stance. Ask the teachers at America’s Catholic schools. They are paid well below the national average, health-care is scrutinized for contraceptives and other pregnancy related options and their retirement benefits are dismal. Senator Sanders, how can you accept the invitation of an organization that promotes these types of worker exploitations? (In modern America, the Church has given middle-class families, who don’t want to send their children to public schools, the option of going to a Catholic school. According to the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the average cost of Catholic elementary school tuition is $3,673 per pupil. In 1970, by contrast, a Catholic elementary education cost just $100. This 3,573 percent increase. A gigantic increase attributed to a dramatic decrease in nuns, monks and priests. All these Religious men and women had to be replaced with lay teachers who needed paid.)

And what are we supposed to do about the American children who were raped by the pedophile priests; the poor Irish women who were exploited by the holy nuns in charge of their care; the Australian boys who were sodomized by the Catholic priests in charge of the orphanages; the Native Americans and Native Canadians who were locked up in Catholic reform schools; the Conversos who were horribly tortured by the papal legates of Sixtus IV; and the Muslims and Jews who were slaughtered by the armies of Innocent II and Eugenius III? Do we hold all those questions, because the topic is workers’ rights and degradation of the environment? Senator Sanders, Ms. vanden Heuvel why is Wall Street’s reign of terror any different than Holy Mother Church’s reign of terror? And Senator, why didn’t you just say, “No”?

Expectations and Dreams (essay-6)

May 29, 2016 commentary


Sunday, May 29, 2016
Word Count – 813

In the early sixties when my parents moved to the west-end, it was full of young families and new homes. The Italian immigrants rebuilt the old frame-houses giving them a new skin of brick and mortar. Rainer, Ron, Frank and I were in our early teens and we spent our off-time playing softball in the empty fields and street-hockey on the newly paved roads.

Left Image
The image on the left is the path between St. Veronica School on Balfour and McFadden Avenue. Back-then, the alley wasn’t paved, but it didn’t matter, it was a short-cut. (We all walked home at noon and were back in the school-yard for 1:30.) It’s still an east-west short-cut for a number of dead-end streets north of Douglas.

Today, all those kids are in their sixties and many don’t live in Sault Ste Marie. Rainer and Ron are in the Windsor area, Frank is in Toronto and I’m in Pittsburgh. As my mother says, the neighborhood is now mostly old people – many not in good health, many without family to turn to. (My mom is 89; my dad is 90.)

St. Veronica is all boarded up and covered in graffiti. The other grammar schools in the neighborhood are closed or torn down.

Middle Image
The middle image is Franco Middonno’s photograph titled colazione, mattina delle palme – breakfast, Palm Sunday morning. And that could be my dad sitting in his basement kitchen having an old-world breakfast.

The immigrants that left Calabria in the 1940s/1950s rarely went back. There was little family left and little money to go visit. Also, if we wanted to see our relatives, all we had to do was drive down to Toronto or St. Catherines.

Almost 3 million people left Calabria between 1945 and 1985. And close to 70% of Canada’s postwar immigrants were Italians. They were from Calabria, Abruzzi and the agrarian parts of the north-east – Veneto, Friuli. In Ontario, they mainly settled in Toronto. The Northern Ontario cities of Sault Ste. Marie and Fort William were quite heavily populated by Italian immigrants.1

My family and the other immigrants began creating a Calabrian culture in Ontario. But the culture they build was based on their remembrances. Their Italian dialect became fixed. No new words were added and new ideas were described with English words. The immigrants began to speak a blended Italian-English dialect. And the new culture also became a blend of Calabrian family values and Canadian efficiencies.

My relatives in Aprigliano love to hear me speak the old Calabrese dialect. There, it’s a treasured artifact. On FB, the Apriglianesi are writing in the old tongue. It’s no longer an embarrassment rather it stands side-by-side with standard Italian. Also, there’s pride in their regionalism.

In present-day Sault Ste Marie, young families have made the west-end hip again. But none of these hipsters grow gardens or speak Italian. Manicured lawns and flower-beds surround their homes. The old Calabrese dialect, the blended Italian-English are avoided. This generation identifies as Canadian and this generation is less interested in the extended family.

Right Image
The image on the right is the steel mill that defined our young lives in Northern Ontario and the rooftops the Italian built when they moved into the west-end. The bungalow was the design of the times. And what the immigrants added to this simple plan was a basement with an eat-in kitchen, a cantina, and a cold-cellar. The kitchen mirrored the cucina rustica of old Calabria. The cantina was for their wine barrels and demijohns; and the cold-cellar was for the salami, the tomato sauce and the preserves. The salaries at the steel mill made it all possible.

But what the immigrants didn’t know was that back in post-war Calabria their fellow countrymen were abandoning the old ways, the old hilltop towns and moving into cities with supermarkets and super-highways. The immigrants’ remembered-world belonged to the past.

The steel mill also gave us children the option of a university education. And my generation ran to Windsor, London, Waterloo, Toronto, the United States. We ran from the isolation; from the immigrant community.

My mother believed that immigrating to Canada would offer opportunities to maintain the extended family, the close-knit community she grew up with. We went to Northern Ontario because her parents were there; we went to Northern Ontario because others from Aprigliano were there. But the economic flush of the 1960’s changed all that. Her son went off to school in New York City and her youngest daughter settled in Toronto. She didn’t understand the moving away and when she’d ask me, I would say that my leaving Canada was like her leaving Calabria. She explained that it wasn’t supposed to happen that way; that it wasn’t what she had expected.

But as I walk the streets of the west-end with my cameras and attitude, I’m OK that it happened this way.

1  Wikipedia, Canadian Government website

Don’t Let the Door Hit You In the Ass (essay-7)

June 18, 2016 commentary

Saturday, June 18, 2016
Word Count – 807

In the late Fifties and Sixties, the English1 in Northern Ontario looked down their very white, very superior noses on us dark-skinned Eyetalians and those good-for-nothing Canuks2. We were in their country; their mighty empire had beaten the Axis powers in Normandy and French on the Plains of Abraham. Everyone is surprised that Brexit is an anti-immigrant push clothed in sovereignty. I know all about English anti-immigrant prejudices. I lived under them for ten years. Fast forward to June 2016 and now we all get to see the infamous English xenophobia.

Yes, please leave; please BREXIT. Let’s see you all make it on your own. And when Scotland asks for independence and leaves the UK, then you will have truly made England great again. Just like Trump will make America great again by keeping everyone out. Never mind that London is the banking center for the continent; never mind that over 40% of British trade is with the EU. Why let facts get in the way. The poorly educated are out in force in both England and American.

We were in the Tower of London, in the room with the Crown Jewels and the attendant basked in their glow. She talked as if, by virtue of being English, the Jewels were hers too. OMG! Also, I found London to be the least interesting European capital. (I’m using the geographical meaning here.) It has none of the grandeur of Rome, the elegance of Paris, the energy of Madrid, the vision of Berlin. Its Lego-block proportions and its horrible climate make it undesirable. And the London Eye and 30 St Mary Axe – The Gherkin – are ugly silhouettes in the London sky. (This is the best hoity-toity, English architects can do? But I forget, by virtue of being English these designs are naturally superior.)

Many Americans think Churchill was a great man. I think he was a narrow-minded, aristocratic bigot. He and his people gave us the British Mandate for Palestine; a proclamation we are still reeling from. He bankrupted Britain and sealed its post-war standing. And in 2016, the left-overs believe that in exiting the EU, they can reclaim their Churchillian legacy. Please, I want to watch good-old-England retreat; I want to watch good-old-England go it alone. I wonder who is going to change the soiled diapers of all them hoity-toidies in their very English, very proper nursing homes? Oh wait, the better people don’t soil their diapers. What am I thinking? Well what can you expect from an Eyetalian?

Many Americans, especially the Anglophiles, are wringing their hands at Brexit. How can they participate in English snobbery if England gets reduced to an insignificant footnote? How will they get their better-than fix if Downton Abbey is left in the dustbin? How will they know how to lord it over the rest of us if they can’t imitate the English? What will happen to Sunday night if Masterpiece Theater is cancelled? And will The-Bard-of-Avon be shunned in favor of them plebeian, American writers?

In Italy, all questions around Americans purchasing property lead to London. And where that sounds good, it adds bureaucratic layers and exorbitant fees. For most Americans looking to buy in Italy, dealing with the hoity-toidy English is reassuring; but for an American with an Italian passport, the option made buying in Italy prohibitive. (The London bankers and agents want only American millionaires.) Leaving the EU would restructure this relationship and put it back into the hands of the banks and real-estate agents on the continent.

And why does Brussels want to keep Britain in, when the formerly-great refuses to adopt the Euro? Cut them and their Pound-sterling adrift and let’s see how little-old-England does in a global economy.

My last invective is for George Will, a Washington Post political commentator. I used to like reading his column; he could generally be relied on to present a well-thought-out, Conservative view-point. In recent years he’s become a pedantic ideologue. Mr. Will has naturally taken sides on Brexit and he’s for it. How dare Brussels impose its will on the formerly-great. And England should resist such incursions on its sovereignty. Isn’t it great when privileged, white men advocate for no government regulation; isn’t it great when wanna-be aristocrats advocate for the one-percenters; isn’t it great when the bow-tied class hides English-bigotry in Oxford-syntax. Mr. Will has been the mouth-piece of the establishment, the Protestant ruling-class his whole career and finally one of its own, Donald Trump, has exposed the word-wizard. I can no longer read his column without seeing the loathing for anyone who doesn’t belong to his social class.

The image is from the Brexit campaign. I chose it, because it feeds my prejudices that English men are wimps and susceptible to sub behaviors. And I love the fact that the dom is female and European.

1  generic term to refer to all non-European, non-Native whites
2  derogatory term for French-Canadians

Note: The killing of British politician Jo Cox, by an alleged white-supremacist-sympathizer, will probably tip the vote against Brexit.
The poorly-educated angry-whites can’t seem to keep their rage under control long enough to win a match.

A List of Grievances (essay-8)

August 7, 2016 commentary

Sunday, August 7, 2016
Word Count – 955

I am collecting other stories and sayings that fit this theme.
If you have a story, please email it to:

a list of grievances . . . 1
I just need a door to nail them onto

It’s 240 years since the founding of the Republic, and a major political party has nominated a woman for President.


  1. The worst insult to hurl at a man is to call him a pussy, a bitch or a cunt.
  2. One of the worst things to say about a married-man is that he’s pussy-whipped.
  3. Effeminate men are despised, but butch women get a pass.
  4. Nun, witch and playmate – three categories for women.
  5. Women are the fairer sex; women are the weaker sex.
  6. A woman who has multiple sex-partners is a whore; a man who has multiple sex-partners is a stud.
  7. Women on Fox News are young and sit on couches in short-short skits with their legs strategically crossed. Men on CNN sit behind desks and can work well into their sixties; some are even openly gay.
  8. At the Rio Olympics, twenty year old Gabby Douglas, who failed to put her hand on her heart during the national anthem, and did not style her hair or face to everyone’s liking was widely criticized for being disrespectful, unpatriotic and un-American. But when Ryan Lochte and friends trashed a gas station restroom, fought with a security officer, filed a false police report and then announced to every news sources that they had been robbed at gunpoint, the boys got described in the mainstream press as talented kids having a night of fun. Kids having fun!!! Isn’t Lochte, the dude with the Blade Runner hair, in his early thirties? (Can you say “White male privilege?”)
  9. Rachel Maddow, in a speech at Rockefeller University, told of how male-interns think nothing of walking into her office and asking for career advice; female-interns have to be guided into career discussions. And even when Ms. Maddow engages a female-intern in a conversation about career options the young-woman tends to hang-back.
  10. We all know women go to college to find a husband and men go to college to find a career.
  11. When a woman marries, she gives up her last-name and takes her husband’s.
  12. Women are home-makers; men are bread-winners.
  13. Pregnancy and abortion are strictly women’s issue. Men are deemed absent from the moment of conception. Men are also deemed absent from the decision to abort.
  14. State and federal governments pass legislation ad nauseam restricting access to contraception and abortion. Pregnancies are heavily regulated and get a lot of pulpit time. But no one passes legislation to support family-leave, child-care or financial support for kids and teenagers. And American Catholics, with their history of social activism, have moved away from struggling urban families and into the suburbs. They also started to vote Republican.
  15. Viagra is covered by most health-care programs. But companies go to court to block legislation that requires them to provide contraception options. Texas has closed almost all its Planned Parenthood offices leaving poor women stranded for health-care. But no Texan lost his prescription access to Viagra.


  1. It took 144 years, after the founding of the Republic, for women to be given the right to vote for President.
  2. In the 2016 Presidential election, women are being told, “Don’t vote with your vagina.” Hillary is repeatedly accused of playing the woman-card.2
  3. I don’t understand why women aren’t unanimously lining up behind the first woman running for President. African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama; Catholics voted overwhelmingly for JFK; Bernie Sanders had a huge Jewish following. And yet younger women aren’t automatically supporting someone from their own gender-group.
  4. The second surprising anti-Clinton group works at the PBS NewsHour. David Brooks, Mark Shields and Ruth Marcus love to scold Clinton. (Are all three from paternalistic ethnic groups where women are first subject to their fathers and then subject to their husbands?) I bet the parents of these three pundits voted Democratic, but they’ve decided that a woman candidate must be beyond reproach; that a woman candidate must meet a higher standard than her male counterpart. I’m sure all three would reject the idea that they are holding Clinton to a different set of rules. And yet they don’t explain the complexities of the modern political campaign; they don’t generalize from their own experiences with technology; and they don’t try to put the email red-herring into context. (It was 3 out of 30,000 emails that had a small (C) notation.) No, they just scold. Imagine what they would say if Clinton refused to release her tax-returns. (Aren’t old Liberals great. Yeah women are important, but not important enough to be in the White House. Honey, know your place.)
  5. We associate scolding with women and holding-someone-responsible with men.
  6. At Trump rallies, you can see tee-shirts with slogans like Hillary sucks but not like Monica, Trump that bitch, Hillary for prison. And all the TV pundits pass on that form of anti-women rhetoric. The New York Times put together a video of the nasty slurs and extreme behaviors at Trump rallies. The behavior is violent and misogynistic. But it took Trump encouraging gun-owners to do something if Clinton wins, for mainstream TV to focus on the violence that Trump surrounds himself with.
  7. Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted – .@realDonaldTrump makes death threats because he’s a pathetic coward who can’t handle the fact that he’s losing to a girl.
  8. In our obsession to sound neutral, modern and politically-correct, Americans suppress the fact that they dislike women. No commentator, no pundit, except for the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, has gone near the idea that the reaction to Hillary Clinton is really about our dislike of women. It’s no accident that Republicans nominated a hyper, fake man. Any woman who spent as much time as Trump does on hair and make-up would be dismissed as an airhead; any women who acted out-of-control like Trump would be immediately medicated and removed from public-view. Not Trump. He can peacock around all day spouting horrors and no one suggests that he’s crazy. The TV elite use words like unfit. He’s not unfit, he’s crazy in the clinical sense of the word. But let’s not forget, TV loves crazy. After all, Crazy = Ratings.
  9. Americans hate women bosses.
  10. People who have worked for Clinton say, “She’s warm. She’s bright. She’s charming. She has a great sense of humor.” And yet, the dislike of Clinton is so palpable that it has become akin to a prejudice.3

It’s within this context that Hillary Clinton must make the case that she is the best qualified candidate to be President; and that it’s OK to vote for a woman, for President.

1 – Martin Luther nailed a list of grievances against the Catholic Church onto the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany;
his Ninety-five Theses became the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

2 – Voting like a woman – Creators Syndicate columnist Connie Schultz
3 – If Hillary Clinton were a man – Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen

Even Losing is Victory (essay-9)

August 20, 2016 commentary


Saturday, August 20, 2016
Word Count – 374

All the quotes are from Neal Gabler’s OP-ED piece in today’s New York Times.
Click to read the entire article.

    • – Donald J. Trump may be the first to run because he sees a presidential campaign as the best way to attract attention to himself. There seems to be no other driving passion in him, certainly not the passion to govern.
    • – For Mr. Trump, attention is the whole shebang.
    • – The shift is from politics to grabbing attention, and, quite possibly, from winning the election to winning the defeat, which is how he has spent practically his entire career.
    • – Mr. Trump, the real estate magnate, is after all, the master of taking a property, squeezing out the profit and leaving it for dead, then miraculously turning the loss to his advantage.
    • – A failing building or a failing Republican Party: To Mr. Trump, it may be the same thing.
    • – Basically, he sells his name: Trump steaks, Trump water, Trump University.
    • – He discovered that, in a celebrity society like ours, where so many people are competing for attention, running for president puts you a leg up even on the Kardashians.
    • – Mr. Trump’s was never a political campaign, either in the sense that it was operating under traditional political rules or in the sense that winning the election was its real objective.
    • – It was a decision designed to make sure he continues to be an attention monger rather than another pol. Mr. Bannon, a provocateur at Breitbart, has never run a campaign, but he knows a lot about how to get media attention.
    • – Winning means different things to different candidates. It doesn’t always mean winning the vote.
    • – … has taken a huge edifice, plastered his name all over it without investing much in it, and is very likely to abandon it as a troubled asset once the election is over and its value is diminished, … Only, in this case, the edifice is the Republican Party.
    • – One can well imagine a post-election Citizen Trump crowing that while Hillary Clinton is saddled with four years of headaches and a measly $400,000 salary, he is using the attention he got to make billions more as a media mogul.
    • – Now who’s the loser?

Stereotypes (essay-10)

August 28, 2016 commentary

Sunday, August 28, 2016
Word Count – 679


who is today’s lexus driver
I’ve been trying to figure out how to develop a set of essays and post based on the idea of stereotypes. It’s taken me a while, because the term is wrought with danger. Also, because in America, the word is so closely associated with and referenced when talking about Blacks, it’s been easy to forget that stereotypes exists across the entire culture; that all groups are susceptible to the stereotype short-hand that has become part of the American English language. I want to avoid the shoals of prejudice and see if I can stay in the humor stream of the term.

So, to begin, I went looking for research on stereotypes.

the research
Researchers from Scotland suggest that stereotypes form and evolve over time through social transmission of information, similar to the way in which languages evolve.
The research team led by Dr. Doug Martin of the Person Perception Lab at the University of Aberdeen used a technique they have used previously to study the evolution of language.
Dr. Martin said the process seen in the research reflects the oversimplified nature of stereotypes, with social groups (and ourselves) categorized and assigned attributes, and he suggested that stereotypes form to help us make sense of the world around us and to give us some basic information as a starting point.

Dr. Martin also pointed out that stereotypes are not fixed and do change over time. For example, a hundred years ago boys were traditionally dressed in pink, while blue was regarded as a “dainty” color more suitable for girls. Both genders wore dresses and played with dolls.

the research abstract
Stereotypes are template-like cognitive representations whereby membership in a social group is associated with the possession of certain attributes (e.g., scientists are geeky, Scottish people are miserly, women like the color pink). Examining stereotypes from an evolutionary perspective, we present evidence that they are a functional, cognitive, and social adaptation, without which we would be substantially disadvantaged. We suggest that stereotypes have the capacity to influence how cultural information evolves and how changes in the cultural environment have, in turn, influenced the content of stereotypes. Finally, we explore the possibility that the theories and methods of cultural evolution can provide an insight into the origins and evolution of stereotypes.

Read more at: Study demonstrates evolution of stereotypes


The pins that hold my Lexus-drivers stereotypes are:

  1. My cousin Joe, insists that only old, suburban, somewhat rich, white men drive Lexus. (He drives a Mercedes.)
  2. My brother-in-law is an older, suburban, somewhat rich, white man and both he and his wife drive the high-end cars.
  3. Here in Pittsburgh, I know several older, suburban, white men who are avid Fox News enthusiast and love their Lexus luxuries.
  4. Consumer research says that the Lexus sedan is the desirable car of older, single parents. And that, in general, Lexus drivers are in their 60s, family-oriented and value politeness.

This morning, I’m driving home and got stuck behind a Lexus. The man was driving with fear: he was crawling up Highland Avenue constantly looking to his right and his left; when we got to the intersection with Bryant, he practically pulled onto the right curb rather than go near the cars, with Black drivers, making the turn onto Highland; when we got to the twisty-turny Zoo Road, he was on his break the entire run.

It was only once we got on the bridge and the city limits that he found his gas petal and then he pulled into the right lane and sped to the 28-North exit.

Why was this man even anywhere near the city? Why didn’t he just stay put in his lily-white, suburban cul-de-sac? Bet he was visiting his mom who still lives in the old neighborhood. The neighborhood that now represents everything urban, dangerous and Black.

Telling this story, I feel like the old Calabrese women in Sault Ste Marie who would make up their own narrative when watching the Soaps, because after all they didn’t speak or understand English.

Consumerism and Capitalism (essay-11)

November 1, 2016 commentary

Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Word Count – 722

consumerism and capitalism

I just finished listening to J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. And just as Studs Terkel’s interviews take on an added dimension when listened to; and just as a production of Romeo and Juliet makes the young lovers real; J.D. Vance’s voice adds an element to the narrative that no written-page can elicit. The oral telling, just like Terkel’s tapes and Shakespeare’s stage, makes the characters, the misery, the deliverance human. Personal accounts and Shakespearean plays need the voices of the narrators and actors to give us access to their meaning, their wonder, their power.

Mr. Vance’s story is familiar and his retelling makes it both personal and universal. But what I walked away with was the role of American consumerism and capitalism and their destructive impact on the lives of a family and culture in crisis.

In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, the media proclaimed the end of Communism and the triumph of Capitalism. The ills and decadence of the Russian ideology were examined and found lacking compared to the gifts and meritocracy of American capitalism. And for the next 30 years, we never questioned this hypothesis, we never saw the ills and decadence of a consumer society. And where Mr. Vance goes nowhere near the idea that American consumerism is a puppet-master force-feeding its people, I wanna go there and write about capitalism and consumerism as the two viruses changing modern America to a land of buyers.

In America, everything is for sale. And in the last 30 years, the American corporations and the American government have married consumerism to the American Dream. We now equate success with stuff especially brand-name stuff and the more you have the more successful you are.

drugs – just another sales item

I know many people who are dealing with addiction and I know all the hand-wringing about underfunded treatment facilities, poorly paid staff and limited access. But there is little discussion about the economy of drugs. Take the opiate epidemic that is currently front and center in most states, does anyone talk about the billions that the drug companies are making off these prescriptions; does anyone talk about reining in the pharmaceuticals who are buying off state and federal legislatures; does anyone talk about the fact that to control the epidemic is to control the free-market?

No, we talk about the devastating effects of the epidemic. And those are real and they are destroying individuals, families and communities. (J.D. Vance talks about all the people in his family, in his community for whom addition was and is a way of life.) But nothing will change, because to make honest, real change is to control the process that begins in some off-shore factory and ends in the dispensation of the drugs, by a certified doctor, to a people that have been convinced, through extreme marketing, that drug consumption is our right, that drug consumption will make us happy. (The widespread marketing of drugs began in 1995 when the FDA changed the rules. There’s even an official name for this marketing of drugs – Direct-to-Consumer Advertising (DTCA).)

And in our consumer driven economy, it’s hard to figure out where the balance is between life-saving drugs therapy and addiction. When we as constantly told to buy it’s hard to distinguish a harmful drug from a miracle drug when the commercials show happy, happy consumers.

tis the season to buy and buy and buy

There is a very depressing anecdote in the J.D. Vance book about the horrors that Christmas gift-giving wrecked on his family. The narrator is under 3 years-old, and his addict mother spends money she doesn’t have and good-will she desperately needs just so she can buy the latest “hot” toy for a child who has no idea about “hot” toy. And In a world where all Christmas purchases are good, there is no permission to ask, do I need that item?

For me the story wasn’t unique to Mr. Vance’s family. At Christmas, insincere, extravagant, extreme buying is the rule. And the campaign to get everyone to buy begins at the end of September. 30% of a retail store annual sales happen during the Christmas shopping season. And In a world where all purchases are good, there is no permission to ask, do I need that?

Twilight of the Gods (essay-12)

November 11, 2016 commentary

Friday, November 11, 2016
Word Count – 869

gotterdammerung – twilight


Before I could write about the 2016 election, I needed a word to wrap my thoughts around. And by Thursday, I had the word and it was götterdämmerung. It’s the title of the final opera of Richard Wagner’s four part cycle The Ring of the Nibelung. And this title translates as Twilight of the Gods.

The plot of the four-part opera revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world. In the final installment – Gotterdammerung – the god Wotan, who has coveted the ring, and who was temporarily thwarted by a woman, is destroyed.

And it’s with Gotterdammerung in mind that I want to write about the election.

So, what did we learn on Tuesday?

  • Hillary, in her last political action, kicked the goddamn door open to the 21st century. No one will ever question whether a woman can head a national ticket for president again.
  • The women’s movement has moved on. Modern women do not come with the gender baggage that women of Hillary’s generation carry. Modern women would have cheered and cheered loudly if Hillary had told the Donald that she had a bigger dick than he had. 2
  • Because of Hillary, the misogyny that permeated American culture has been fully exposed. And even though a serial misogynist won the election, but not the popular vote, the label he carries and the issues around gender and violence against women are now front and center.
    Had Hillary won, the destructive forces aligned against women would have stayed hidden behind the dismissive phrase – but a woman won. Just as the destructive forces aligned against African-Americans have been silenced by the phrase – but you have African-American president.
  • Those of us on the east and west coasts, those of us who live in gentrified neighborhoods, those of us who own mcmansions and Teslas can no longer pretend that we didn’t grow up in the McKeesports, the Sault Ste Maries, the Fitchburgs, the Toledos of 20th century America. Because when we do, we get the results we saw Tuesday,
    And we can’t pretend that those who stayed back in the industrial centers of our parents’ generation are all stupid bigots who get their information from Fox News. No, they are also human beings trying to earn a living, trying to do what is best for their children.
  • That Richard Florida’s term, creative class, is a hoax – a smoke screen for greed and self aggrandizement. It’s a term that many of those who left behind the manual labor of their parents have clothed themselves in. And the election showed that the creative class has calcified in its exclusivity. It no longer thinks outside the box, it no longer challenges the status-quo, it shops. And alternative, third-party presidential candidates are just another commodity on the shelf.
    And with the corruption of the educated finally exposed, the election made clear that it’s those who live outside the iPhone-worlds of the hoity-toity creatives that are now the agents of change.
  • As the group that brought about the cultural revolution exits the public arena, we leave behind not a young Martin, not a young Bobby, but an old, seedy parody of JFK with a comb-over and a former mayor who believes that because he’s confessed to his very Roman Catholic priest he is free of the stain of adultery.
    Our group also leave behind the city that nurtured and elevated these two men. New York City’s value as the east-coast center of diversity as the city that gave us the Stonewall rebellion will be forever diminished.
  • We’ve also learned that the Christian Right is anything but Christian; that it’s really the modern Klan in religious robes. And that its political influence and its adherence to Christian beliefs are for sale to any white man. Can you say money-changers?
  • And lastly, we’ve learned that the Grand Old Party is fooling itself if it thinks the president-elect has any loyalty to its message or to its ideology. He ran just as much against them as he did his Democratic opponent.

The essay title is also about the second part of the election – the myth that we can go back and make American great again. Only a 70-year-old, white man and a political party hell-bent on protecting the corporate rich can spew such a fallacy. Only the minions of a corporate oligarchy can stand tall and without hesitation peddle lies to struggling blue-collar workers and not care about the duplicity they propagate. Wotan didn’t care who suffered or who died as long as he got the ring. And the king of the gods had no idea that the ring would lead him to a throne that would also serve as his funeral pyre.

It is my belief that the new president and the Republican majority will finally put 20th century America to rest; that at the end of their tenure we will see ashes and smoke. What I don’t know is who and what else will be consumed in the immolation.

1  The iconic image from Woodstock, 1969.
2  Thanks Mim, it was a great comment.

the numbers

  • 47% of eligible voters did not vote
  • 53% of white-women voted for the Republican candidate
  • the Republican candidate receiver fewer votes than Romney did in 2012
  • Hillary received 5 million fewer votes than Obama did in 2012

Golden Showers (essay-13A)

January 11, 2017 commentary

essay – 13 (part one)
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Word Count – 709

golden showers and end of empire

3. However, there were other aspects to TRUMP’s engagement with the Russian authorities. One which had borne fruit for them was to exploit TRUMP’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him. According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s (perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew President and Mrs OBAMA (whom he hates) had stayed on one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him. The hotel was known to be under FSB control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to. 1

one – liberals as scolds

One of the reason I am willing to put up an image of a page, of the unverified salacious report, is because after reading The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan’s column – How BuzzFeed crossed the line in publishing salacious ‘dossier’ on Trump – all I could think of is the Trumpettes who during the campaign would get all indignant and self-righteous when anyone repeated the word pussy, and yet these same women championed the man who used the slur and they helped elect him president. Now, Margaret Sullivan seems to be offended by the latest dip into the cesspool. Guess pussy has seeped into the vernacular and is no longer banned in DC salons, but golden showers is too perverted for sensitive ladies taking tea in their solariums.

Sullivan argues that BuzzFeed, by publishing the unverified report, is playing into the hands of the president-elect’s insistence that the media is spreading fake-news, that the media is biased. (Did Breitbart News worry about inflaming Democrats when it published all the lies about Clinton? Did Matt Lauer feel bad when he went after Clinton about her emails, but let Trump off without even a challenge?) Journalists, understand that sitting in your well-appointed DC offices, sporting hipster-glasses, silk neck-wear, blue-suede Hubbards and writing liberal treaties also feeds the cesspool. Your shit just seeps in through a different hole.

The Right has learned how to use digital warfare and installed one of its own in the Oval Office. (Did The Right know that Liberals wouldn’t know what to do in an election that trafficked in shit. Did The Right suspected that the liberal-fringe wouldn’t turn out or if they did, they would vote for him? Did The Right suspected that the suburban-housewives would stay home on election day?) The Left wants to rise above the muck, the sewage; the Left wants to continue playing with tea-sets and niceties and huff-and-puff at a Congress and Senate controlled by Republicans. LIBERALS, you’re assholes; civility, ideas, right and wrong went out the window on November 8. Confrontation, lies, conspiracy-theories and Russian-hacks won on November 8. Greed and rapacity are the new norms.

BTW, isn’t that what the British did during the colonial skirmishes – denounce the primitive, savage settlers for not knowing the proper way to fight? Can you image sneaking up on a well-healed Redcoat? Who are these peasants, these farmers, don’t they recognize their betters? Are Liberals the new Redcoats?

Liberals … they still believe that scolding and pointing out the wrongs of the incoming administration will result in change. But then scolding has been associated with Liberals for a while now. Obama scolds and wrings his hands each time some crazy pulls a gun and kills innocents. And much of Clinton’s campaign was a scolding of the ultimate brat – the comb-over man-child of 721 Fifth Avenue.

There has also been scolding around food and weight. What’s more recognizable than skinny Liberals drinking San Pellegrino while eating kale in tony suburban bistros? The man-child was photographed eating deep-fried chicken and slurping a giant sugar-drink. There has been scolding around language. How many news-stories have there been about people losing their livelihood because they used a politically inappropriate word? The man-child swore from him podium for all the world to hear – “Get him the fuck out of here.” And after eight years of inflicting their superiority across the cultural landscape, a group of Americans revolted and elected a brat to blunt this mindset. He may have exposed the elitists’ attitudes – the us versus them; the duplicity – talking about fair housing, but hiding in rich suburbs; talking about public education, but segregating their kids in private schools; but it was his defiance of the holier-than-thou, of the scolds that got him elected.

I believe that America is at the same point that England was at the beginning of the 20th century. England was ruled by a corrupt, degenerate upper-class – England’s one-percenters – that owned all the wealth and lived off the exploitation of its people. American government is totally controlled by the party that represents the interest of its corporate oligarchy and it was voted into office and power by the least financially secure voters.

And it took World War One (1914-1918) to shift that imbalance.

click to read part two – end of empire

1  BuzzFeed

End of Empire (essay-13B)

January 12, 2017 commentary

essay – 13 (part two)
Wednesday, January 12, 2017
Word Count – 603

I believe that America is at the same point that England was at the beginning of the 20th century. England was ruled by a corrupt, degenerate upper-class – England’s one-percenters – that owned all the wealth and lived off the exploitation of its people. American government is totally controlled by the party that represents the interest of its corporate oligarchy and it was voted into office and power by the least financially secure.

The War-To-End-All-Wars (1914-1918) was the beginning of the end of the British Empire. And the last nail was hammered into the coffin in 1945.

Empires don’t have a one event on/off switch. It took 31 years for England to go from the empire on which the sun never sets to an island nation. How long will it take for the American Empire to officially be done?

The following is an examination of 4 indicators that I believe point to the beginning of the end.

political – 47% of eligible voters did not vote on November 8

  • Gerrymandering, as practiced by the modern Republican Party, has atrophied government and made it the pawn of corporate America – the one-percenters.
  • A man, who for many years, has paid no taxes, and who boasts about it and claims it’s an indicator of his intelligence, has been elected president.
  • His election is tarred by evidence that a foreign power skewed the vote in his favor.
  • Nine days before inauguration, and the president-elect has to defend himself against reports of sexual perversion. Today’s news-conference was the stage-set of a politician accused of using hookers. You know the look – all the family shows up, especially the wife who says she trusts her husband. (In today’s version, Pence played the wife role.)

technology – American ingenuity is asleep or dead

  • In 2011, NASA closed the 30-year space program. A program that pioneered many of the advances we now take for granted.
  • We’re all using technology invented 20 years ago, but paying through the nose for the latest updates. Updates that add no value to already bloated, cumbersome and underused systems.
  • All our beloved devices are made overseas. China and India being the biggest exporters of digital gadgets.
  • In a country that manages its consumption, its information, its stock market through bits and bytes, electronic voting is not an option.
  • On the Internet, false news, conspiracy theories and outright lies live on equal footing with facts and intelligence reports.
  • The president-elect communicates in 140-character tweets.

health care – the true coin-of-the-realm

  • In a society where workers move from job-to-job with alarming frequency, attaching health care to payroll is the only way to stop worker mobility. Therefore is it any surprise that corporate-government wants to control who gets health car? Control health care and you control the work-force.
  • Health care has been dubbed Obama Care and therefore easier to vilify and repeal.
  • Health care is also tied up with women’s heath issues and contraception and therefore suspect.
  • The group that voted on November 8 is also the group most at risk of losing its health care coverage.
  • Healthy eating and healthy practices have been dubbed elitist preoccupations. It’s time for sugar, salt, fast-foods and over-eating to regain their primacy in the American cuisine. Salads, vegetables OMG! This is America! We don’t eat that crap.

education – a political flashpoint

  • Forget skills, forget science, forget Math, forget reading, and certainly forget writing.
  • What’s important is that your daughter is in class with her friends; that your son gets A’s and no C’s; that creationism is taught; that the football team has the best playing-field.
  • And let’s make sure that black and poor children stay in inner-city schools; and that only white and middle-class kids attend suburban schools.
  • Remember that parents and politicians dictate the curriculum; teachers need to realize that they are mere servants.
  • In early 20th century England schooling was only for the upper-classes; girls were taught the niceties and prepared to be married off; and boys … Please! They’re going to inherit the title, the house, the stables, and the servants. Learning … Please! The tutor just needed to keep them busy until they could be shipped off to boarding school.
  • And let’s not forget that admission to Oxford and Cambridge was based on social-class not intelligence. (I love the fact that public-schools in England are tuition heavy private schools. Tell me that isn’t a great abuse of language.)
  • In 21st American, at the elite universities, legacy preference is an admission priority. Remember, proud C-student George W. Bush was accepted at Yale and know-it-all Trump is a graduate of Wharton.

click to read part one – golden showers

Savage Capitalism (essay-14)

March 28, 2017 commentary

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Word Count – 769

politics is returning to the streets

What follows are excerpts from Enzo Traverso’s essay – Trump’s Savage Capitalism: The Nightmare Is Real – World Policy Journal. The essay was referenced in Ishaan Tharoor’s, March 28 article – Today’s WorldView – in the Washington Post.

    •      When the final results came in, the triumph of an indecent, semi-fascist monster over a former secretary of state produced a vast and prolonged trauma.
    •     But what the media failed to foresee was not a Trump landslide, which did not take place, but the decline of the democratic vote.
    •     We are not facing the transformation of the United States into a fascist community embodied by a charismatic leader; what occurred is the rejection of the political establishment through mass abstention and a protest vote captured by a populist demagogue in a few key states.
    •     In other words, Trump signifies an upheaval at the political level, not a sudden, dramatic change in American society (as the Nazi party did in Germany, shifting from 2.6 percent to 37.27 percent of the popular vote between the elections of 1928 and 1932).
    •     Trump is as far from classical fascism as Occupy Wall Street, … are from 20th-century communism. Nevertheless, Trumpism and the Occupy movement represent a social, political, and even class polarity as deep as the conflict between fascism and communism nearly a century ago.
    •     He pretends to defend the popular classes that have been deeply affected by the economic crises of 2008 and the deindustrialization of the country — not by denouncing the main culprit, financial capitalism, but by offering them a scapegoat. His campaign reproduced features of old anti-Semitism, which defined a mythical, ethnically homogeneous national community against its enemies: the Jews. Trump took this model and enlarged the spectrum to include African Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and nonwhite immigrants.

  •     It seems to me that, in Trump’s rhetoric, his condemnations of “the establishment” reproduce the anti-Semitic cliché of a virtuous agrarian community rooted in land and tradition opposed to an anonymous, corrupted, intellectual, and cosmopolitan metropolis. … he portrays the cities as realms of an abstract and ungraspable power generated by media, finance, and culture, which anti-Semitism codified during the past century.
  •     His speeches and meetings recall fascist aesthetics: One could not view the images of his aircraft landing at a rally, surrounded by a cheering crowd, without remembering the opening sequence of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, with Hitler flying over Nuremberg to join his waiting disciples at the Nazi congress.
  •     The European dictators relied on the electrical, exciting atmosphere of mass rallies, in which their mystical union with the people resulted from the physical presence of the crowd; Trump’s charisma runs through TV screens.
  •     The fact is there is no fascist organization behind Trump. He does not lead a mass movement; he is a TV star. From this point of view, he is much more reminiscent of Berlusconi than Mussolini. … like Berlusconi, he is a billionaire (or at least claims to be) whose political activities will permanently collide with his private business. … He was able to channel the dissatisfaction and anger of ordinary people against Washington and Wall Street,
  •     The Republican Party he now leads is precisely the opposite of a radical, subversive movement.
  •     Classical fascisms worshipped the state, defended imperialism, and promoted military expansionism. … Trump, by contrast, seems more oriented toward isolationism … In the field of foreign policy, his vision does not transcend his own business interests.
  •     He won the votes of only a quarter of eligible American voters, and his success gives a voice to the fear and frustrations of a minority, like WASP nationalism did a century ago, when its targets were the Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.
  •     Trump emerges in an age of financial capitalism, competitive individualism, and social precariousness. He does not organize and mobilize the masses; he attracts an audience in an atomized society of consumers. He does not wear a uniform, like Hitler and Mussolini, but instead exhibits his luxurious lifestyle like a stereotype of a Hollywood star.
  •     Trump’s rise is not a sudden return to barbarism, nor is it a meteor crashing down onto a peaceful country. Rather he is the product of the transformations of capitalism in recent decades. With his nationalist, populist, racist, and authoritarian tendencies, he personifies a form of savage capitalism—a capitalism without a human face. It is not a resurgence of fascism, but something new and not yet realized.
  •     Since Trump does not respect the rule of law, traditional politics risks becoming obsolete or, at the very least, largely inadequate. Politics, therefore, is returning to the streets.

Madness (essay-15)

April 1, 2017 commentary

Saturday, April 1, 2017
Word Count – 941

I suspect that Russia’s actions in the 2016 presidential elections had two goals:
– to elect someone that the American media and the American people would obsess over to the detriment of everything else and
– to elect the most disqualified candidate, someone who would discredit American creativity, American ingenuity and America’s place in the world.
And Russia succeeded, beyond its wildest dreams.

The Trump Family: I believe that there is a financial connection between the Trump empire and the Russian oligarchs; and I believe that the Trump empire is built on laundered Russian money. The Trump family company and the Trump narrative seem like the saga of the mythical Corleone family. (Is Ivanka the latest iteration of the godfather daughter?)

The Trump story may be a snap-shot of America at the beginning of the 21st century, but the value of this image, is to point to the clash of empires that we are living through. By interfering in the 2016 presidential election, the Russian empire, led by Vladimir Putin, declared war with the American empire. And the first salvo of this digital war began a year ago.

Since January of 2016, Americans have been drowned by a tidal wave of orange-haired media vomit. Leslie Moonves, the CBS executive chairman and CEO, said about candidate Trump – “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Fortunes are being made in the wake of this monsoon. CNN, MSNBC have seen their audience-share skyrocket. Rachel Maddow is winning her time-slot against FOX-News. The media circus is so pervasive that TV is now exclusively Trumpland. As a country, we seem perfectly willing to forget about everything and to watch Donald J. Trump’s every move. How long will it be before we get news reports on of The Donald’s bathroom schedule? Let’s not forget Versailles and The King’s Lever. (Louis XIV, 18th century – left image)

We are living in a time when Washington politics have become reality-TV. Forget Dancing with the Stars, forget Survivor, forget The Kardashians, we now have Trump-TV 24/7.

And what is most disturbing about this digital rot, are the stories of Trump voters who are asked if they have buyer’s remorse. In the elite newspapers and cable channels, these reports have an underlying tone of glee that Trump voters are getting screwed; an almost serves-you-right for voting for the buffoon attitude. When did we stop thinking of the voter, who didn’t vote like me, as other; as someone worthy of my scorn, as someone worthy of my vengeance? These are fellow Americans who saw in the Democratic candidate a disdain for working people; who saw in the Democratic candidate someone more interested in transgenders than the struggling working-class. The pox that will befall the poor, the working-classes is one of the tragedies of Trump America. The Great Famine of 1845 happened in a land owned by the greatest empire of the time. Thirty miles east, the British empire was drowning in wealth and yet its Irish subjects were starving to death. Our country is rich beyond compare, the Trump administration is made up of one-percenters, and yet it endorsed a health-care plan that would have devastated 24 million poor and low-income Americans.

In its obsession with extremes and extravaganzas, the media has obliterated all sense of dialogue, all sense of understanding. By giving fake-news more time than real-news, the media has obliterated our ability to understand and solve complex problems. And in its wake, the media leaves behind a country greatly undermined, greatly reduced; a country that is finding it difficult to lead. But while we are glued to Trump’s latest madness, the rest of the world is aghast at our impotence; the rest of the world is anxious about a crippled America. Mad King George (George III, 18th century – right image) lost the colonies; under the madness of Donald Trump the Pax Americana is lost. And the Russian oligarchs are waiting in the wings to feed on the carrion.

Public Education: There’s a parallel to Trump America in another government agency – public education. After the tumultuous upheaval of the 1960s, school boards rushed to desegregate and while administrations were going through this radical shift, individual schools were being destroyed by two fake hippie mantras – all are equally talented and all should have an equal say. Teachers who spent their time with their feet up and reading the sport-pages while their students did one more work-sheet were given the same credence as the hard-working, talented educators. Knowledge, skills and dedication were devalued; they were put on par with ignorance, incompetence and apathy.

The result of this fake openness was to paralyze the individual school; when everyone’s voice was of equal import, no consensus could be reached and all problem-solving and quality education came to a stand still. And in the wake of the paralysis all decision-making moved from the local school to central-office. The very movement that preached love and harmony was also used to atrophy a public institution that had created a workforce and a populace that brought about the American century.

I believe the Federal Government and local governments are going through their own devaluation, their own shift and Trump is the poster-child for this movement. (Donald Trump, 21st century – middle image) Imagine, winning on the backs of poor and low-income Americans and then turning around and making your first legislative act a law that would have further devastated the very people who voted for you. I’m sure that the teachers who helped destroy the system believed they were standing up against all them hoity-toity educators with masters and PHDs; all them data-driven administrators with their newfangled ideas.
What do you mean, gym teachers shouldn’t be principals!

War Will Take Care of the Issue (essay-16)

May 18, 2017 commentary

Thursday, May 18, 2017
Word Count – 853

either a species learns to control its own population or
disease, famine, war will take care of the issue
– draft –
American, at this instance, is often referred to as decadent, greedy, tapped-out, self-indulgent, old, fat; and I think all those descriptors hit an element of 21st America. But the characteristic that captures our attitude and our motivation best is meanness. We began with a Republican presidential primary that traded in meanness and continued this approach into the general election. Democrats and Liberals participated in the nastiness as much as did Republicans and the Far-Right. Democrats and Liberals are more passive about their meanness and they tend to cover it in self-righteousness. If they were not being passive nasty, then (a) they would have turned out and voted for Clinton instead of letting a man who bragged about not paying taxes take control of the government and; (b) they would be offering alternatives to what is being offered by the Republican Party.

Because meanness is our defining attitude, I want to explore the purpose/value of meanness in human society? (The following eight examples allow me to generalize this current attitude to an operating condition present in many modern societies.)

  1. the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom
  2. the ascendancy of the National Front in France
  3. the election of Donald Trump in the United States
  4. the economic collapse of Venezuela
  5. the rule of Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs in Russia
  6. the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un in North Korea
  7. the war-crimes of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and
  8. the take-over of Israel by Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party.

I am going to consider 2 reasons that could explain why we find ourselves in this current predicament.

Have we as a species over-extended ourselves; are there too many of us on the planet? If we look at the congested highways, the teeming cities and the massive waves of refugees, we can certainly answer yes. If we look at climate change and the devastation fossil fuel consumption has wrought, the answer to over-population and over-extension is again yes.

What is nature’s response to over-population? Can I suggest that the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s are examples of nature’s reaction of over-population? And what is the human response to over-population? I suggest that World War I, World War II and the Middle East Wars of the last 20 years are how humans control for over-population.

I believe that we are genetically programmed to destroy other humans when there are too many mouths to feed, too many children to support, too many old people still alive? Over-population triggers inhibitors that suppress empathy and compassion making us more tolerant of war, because it culls the human race of its access?

Brutal Capitalism
In 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved, Communism and Socialism also came crashing down. And rather than use that opportunity to examine the other post-war economic construct, western societies, specifically America, proclaimed the supremacy and rightness of Capitalism. All of capitalism’s inherent problems were put aside, because by virtue of the fact that it was still standing meant it was the right model.

However, the forced-sharing that Communism and Socialism forced onto Capitalism, in order to make it appeal to the masses, could now be dropped and a more pure form worshiped. The One-Percenters began their ascendancy; they and their hangers-on grabbed all the wealth and power they could get away with. The two most blatant examples of this pure capitalism are America and the United Kingdom.

Capitalist Britain made London the world banking center. Screw all those living in the provinces. Capitalist America transformed its society into a insatiable consumer ordering volumes of unnecessary clap-trap from the comfort of his/her over-stuffed sofa. American capitalism has changed the country from a manufacturing power-house to a fat passive consumer. The anathema of American capitalism is government supplied social security or any program that still uses a socialistic citizen support model. Capitalism is survival of the fittest.

The latest debate on health-care captures this battle between socialized support of health-care and capitalism’s demand that all services and products carry a price-tag and that all transactions result in profit for its share-holders. In a capitalistic economy, health-care is a commodity and if you can’t afford it, you can’t have it. (You’re probably not a good consumer if your main focus is your failing health.)

“Stop whining and stop buying the latest iPhone because if you put that discretionary spending towards your health-care, there would be no need for and affordable care act.”
“Let’s remember, nobody dies because they don’t have access health care.”

With the party of the rich in charge of both houses of Congress and a rich-man as president, Capitalism’s stars have aligned. The ascendancy of the Republican Party and Donald Trump into a single-party government is the apex of American Capitalism. The safety-net, an example of the forced-sharing, and a contract between the government and its people can finally be destroyed.

The human race is being culled. Only the economically fit are wanted; the rest can die off.

Maddow’s Opening Monologue (essay-17)

June 30, 2017 commentary

Friday, June 30, 2017
Word Count – 1,355

The following is a partial transcript of Rachel Maddow’s opening monologue on her Friday, June 30, 2017 show.

All politicians, all public figures to a certain extend have to manage the art of diverting people’s attention at times, changing the subject, creating deliberate distractions …

Our current president is very, very, very good at this. He just doesn’t have that skill like a normal politician, he has a peculiar, nuclear version of it. Let me explain what I mean.

A normal political way, a normal politician’s way to change the subject … is to stop talking about whatever that person finds inconvenient, unfavorable or uncomfortable … and instead start talking about something else and hope that you bring people along to this new topic. … Normal politicians have an array of choices when it comes to distracting and changing the subject …

What our new president does is different. What our new president does is really a special twist on that tradition. There is a special ingredient that he is willing to cook with that no one else is. And that is that he deliberately tries not just to distract, but to offend. He doesn’t merely distract people, he disgusts people. He breaks the bounds of decency, he breaks the bounds of what people generally agree are the moral rules for engagement in public discourse and he breaks those rules in a way that just doesn’t start a new narrative, it stops all normal politics and all normal media coverage of current events,

His specialty, what marks him out as really a different kind of cat, is that he is very willing, happy even, deliberately trying to go past the merely controversial; he goes past provocative; he goes right to language, right to public discourse and behavior that … is considered abusive or even repulsive.

The reason I’m talking about this is that I think it’s actually important in terms of understanding his variety of political power and therefore our political time as a country right now. Because the way he generates distraction, the way he changes the subject away from things he doesn’t want to talk about, it’s more than just a quantitative difference from what other politicians do. What he does is really qualitatively different … Because the way he does it, what he does draws other people in to participate in his distraction, almost whether they want to or not …

There is among all sorts of people a natural inclination, a decent inclination, to get involved in what he is doing … to not just witness it, but to feel called to respond by virtue of the fact that you have witnessed it.

When someone does something that is repugnant and abusive, there is something that is good and decent and understandable in all of us … that makes us want to express our opposition … to weigh in against this vile behavior we have seen from someone in that kind of position.

This guy’s strategy really is different. It’s to sort of tap on the glass of your moral compass … to try and make you feel implicated by your silence …

This guy’s strategy really is to be so upsetting, so reprehensible, so disruptive and insulting to the norms of what we agree to as Americans in public life, that he draws everyone in to the response to what he’s done. Everyone feels like you just can’t see it, you have to say something about it in order to stand up for your own dignity and that then provides another round of attention.

What he has perfected is a nuclear version of a conventional political tactic. It is conventional politics to distract; it is not conventional politics to disgust. And the reason he does it; the reason he’s mastered this as a tactic and he uses this tactic over and over again in a way that we’ve really, honestly never seen before at this level of American politics, the reason he can do it; the reason it makes sense for him to do it is because the thing he harms by behaving this way, the thing he harms by sneering at the boundaries of decency and then breaking those boundaries with glee, what he hurts by doing that is something that doesn’t belong to him. The thing he damages is something he neither owns nor particularly values … The thing he hurts is the presidency and by extension the standing of the United States of America. And if you’re a person who doesn’t really care about those things, someone who doesn’t think those things are all that valuable, someone who certainly doesn’t feel any responsibility for not only recognizing their value, but upholding their value with your behavior, then why not let those things take the hit? Why not let those things absorb the costs?

The presidency, the standing of the United States among nations, if those costs are external to you, if those things aren’t yours then those costs, when you hurt them, are external and the rewards of your behavior that hurts them is internal. The rewards all accrue to you, right? The ability to create infinite distractions at will; the ability to lead the media and to lead much of the nation basically on a choke-chain at will, because you are willing to go beyond provocative and controversial, to the point of disgust. All benefits of that accrue to him; the harm of it is to the country. And if you don’t care, it’s a win-win, right?

This president is a different kind of political animal, because he doesn’t mind getting negative press; he doesn’t mind bad press; he also doesn’t mind any harm he does to the presidency by his behavior, but I think there’s been a fundamental misunderstanding that you saw in the frustration of his opponents last year. His opponents in the presidential primaries … and in the general election were so frustrated and angry by his ability to command media attention.

Everyone else was trying to get media attention; but everyone else, other than him, was trying to get good media attention. They were trying to get positive media attention for themselves and their ideas. He was not that picky.

Think of the incentives here. Think how this works as political science. … Think about what this means for us as a country and how the political science of this works; how the incentives stack up? When the ability to shock and offend and, now that he’s president to harm the presidency and harm the country in the process, is something he takes as a cost-free to him. We should expect him to do more of it.

Over the past two days, the president has been roundly, roundly condemned … There is nothing to suggest that that bothers him in the least. I think that the way this goes down in his White House political playbook as a resoundingly effective stunt, Whoa, look how I’ve turned the narrative around to this. This is a tactic that worked very well for him. As a distraction, this was a home-run. And given the incentives at work here, given the values of this person and the administration that we are dealing with now, I don’t know what the cure to this is. I don’t know what the defense to this is for us as a country.

And as a country, we have to decide exactly how much we’re gonna play requests from him; exactly how much we’re gonna talk about what he wants us to talk about; how much we’re gonna behave the way he wants us to behave; how much we’re gonna snap to attention, snap our attention to him when he commands it.

All politicians learn distraction, this metastasized version of distraction that he plays though is deliberately and I think we’ll recognize in the end is harmful to the country and to the presidency specifically. That is the magical ingredient that he is willing to cook with that no other politician will.

Click to go to the video of the show.

Inside the Mind (essay-18)

July 18, 2017 commentary

Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Word Count – 689

Inside the minds of Trump’s “true believers”

Trump’s rhetoric has inspired millions of disaffected voters to become “true believers” of his presidency

When Donald Trump gave the commencement address at Liberty University this spring, he told the graduates that “America has always been the land of dreams because America is a nation of true believers.” Trump argued that, in America, “we don’t worship government; we worship God.”

I suspect the president was unaware that the term “true believer” was made famous more than 65 years ago in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 book, “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.” Hoffer had no academic training, having worked mainly as a longshoreman. He wrote “The True Believer” in reaction to the rise of fascism, Nazism and communism. Against all odds, the book became a best-seller.

Hoffer shrewdly analyzed the forces that spark nationalist and totalitarian movements. The irony of Trump’s “true believers” remark probably escaped both the president and his audience.
As a psychiatrist, I’m interested in how vulnerable groups can be manipulated by misleading rhetoric. I believe there are striking parallels between Trump’s rhetoric and the factors Hoffer explored.

Hoffer wrote, “For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute.” They must also have “an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future” and “be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap.”
Much of Trump’s campaign was based on promises of vast change, such as the immediate repeal of Obamacare. These promises never took into account the great difficulties of radical change. Indeed, in late February 2017, Trump acknowledged, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” And, of course, Trump had no political or public-sector experience to inform his most controversial decisions. Yet he masterfully parlayed this shortcoming into the virtue of being an “outsider” battling an entrenched Washington establishment.

Hoffer viewed “true believers” as craving “a new life — a rebirth — or, failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause.” Trump’s repeated promise to “make America great again” spoke to such a longing among disaffected voters. This message was often fused with appeals to evangelical Christians. Indeed, writing in The New Republic, Sarah Posner observed that “Trump effectively played to the religious right’s own roots in white supremacy.”
Hoffer understood that the true believer is rarely concerned with facts. He wrote, “It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises.”

Trump’s rhetoric was based on what Senior Adviser Kellyanne Conway famously called “alternative facts.” And Trump repeatedly made promises that most experts considered anything but feasible. He proclaimed, for example, “I will build a great wall … on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Hoffer recognized that “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” Furthermore, “the ideal devil is a foreigner . . . [and] a domestic enemy must be given a foreign ancestry.”

True to form, Trump’s campaign rhetoric repeatedly invoked anti-immigrant themes, often disparaging Muslims and Mexicans. Trump famously characterized Judge Gonzalo Curiel as a “hater” and a “Mexican” when Curiel was presiding over lawsuits against Trump University — despite the fact that Curiel was born in Indiana.

Finally, Hoffer described the “true believer” as someone willing to die for “the cause.” It’s not clear how many of Trump’s supporters would fit that description. But Trump himself may have characterized his most fervid followers when he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Eric Hoffer might well have called those voters Trump’s “true believers.”

Ronald W. Pies, Professor of Psychiatry, Lecturer on Bioethics & Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University; and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry,
Tufts University School of Medicine, Tufts University
This article was originally published on The Conversation.

The image is a David Horsey cartoon in the LA Times.
I read the article on the Salon’s website.

Love’s Illusions (essay-19)

October 6, 2017 commentary

Friday, October 10, 2017
Word Count – 491

    •     sundown, yellow moon
    •     i replay the past
    •     i know every scene by heart
    •     they all went by so fast 1
  •     The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. 2

First-love is an amazing experience. For the first time in our lives we can name the feelings, the emotions, the attractions. For the first time in our conscious mind we can wallow in lust, in obsession, in euphoria. Its breath warms synapses newly formed; its kiss whispers across dry lips; its words echo forevers. What an intoxicating time. No wonder we all want it back; no wonder we all believed nirvana was possible. But the exploding emotions were already in us, first-love just pulled them together and focused them onto the newly discovered beloved.

And when that amazing experience ends, its tendrils migrate into memory. And in memory, first-love becomes ephemeral, it becomes phantasm. It shimmers; its edges blend into sunset, into yellow moonlight, into shadow.

First-love belongs to another time, to another place, to another person. It happened in the past in a confined space to a lithe young man. It happened when we were bereft of baggage; when we were without guile, without jealousy, without fear. First-love was the spark that lit the emotional darkness.

But first-love will always be out-of-focus, because it’s swimming in the archives of memory.

There is a cultural definition of first-love that tells us it was the best, that it was the ultimate, and that all others will fall shot. There’s a strong suggestion that if first-love could be kept, we would have our heart’s desires; we would be forever happy; we would champion monogamy; we would celebrate faithfulness.

In the opera Nabucco, in the famous chorus – Va Pensiero – Verdi warns that memory is both dear and fatal – O, membranza, sì cara e fatal. And yet many of us have driven back into that foreign country of first love, into that land of raging lust and youthful obsession. Many of us tried to negotiate the space between the then and the now only to find an unbreachable chasm. Many of us tried to integrate that first-love into our present and found there was no fire to solder the joint. Many of us who’ve chased after the memory of first-love have come away bruised.

Because none of us realized that in our thirties, forties or fifties we were not the same people we were at the time of first-love. In our thirties, we had a crappy car and no bank account; in our forties, we had mortgages and children; and in our fifties, we have aches and pains and disappointments.


Is it any wonder that in the great love stories – Romeo and Juliet, Paolo and Francesca, Ana Karenina, Brokeback Mountain – one or both protagonists die? The great writers knew first-love was temporal, but memory wouldn’t let it go, wouldn’t let it stay in its historical space. They therefore killed off one or both lovers sealing the beloved in a funeral vault and forever closing the road back except through untrustworthy memory.

1  Bob Dylan, If You See Her Say Hello Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3, 1961-1989.
2  L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between Hamish Hamilton, 1953.
3  Joni Mitchell, Woodstock Ladies of the Canyon, 1970.
4 Ary Scheffer. “Dante and Virgil Encountering the Shades of Francesca de Rimini and Paolo in the Underworld.” Wallace Collection, 1835.

What Will Happen Next (essay-20)

February 16, 2018 commentary

Friday, February 16, 2018
Word Count – 378





Parkland. Las Vegas. Sutherland Springs. Newtown.
On and on: In America, mass shootings have become so familiar that they seem to follow the same sad script.

Nestor Ramos, Globe Staff
February 16, 2018

He will be a man, or maybe still a boy.

He will have a semiautomatic rifle — an AR-15, or something like it — and several high-capacity magazines filled with ammunition.

The weapon will have been purchased legally, the background check no obstacle.

He will walk into a school, or a concert, or an office building.

And he will open fire into a crowd of innocents.

Even as he’s still firing — crack crack crack — word will begin to spread. Survivors huddled in closets or behind bandstands will send pictures, text messages, and videos into a world that is again aghast.

Televisions will play the videos recorded amid the carnage, the sound somehow worse than the images. The fear in the victims’ voices will be familiar, yet too potent — a sound outside the boundaries of our own empathy.

We will hear about the heroes: Teachers who barricaded their classrooms or threw themselves between their students and the gunfire; concertgoers who shielded strangers as bullets plowed into their backs.

And we will hear about him: He was strange and troubled and cruel to animals; he’d shown signs of mental illness; he lost his job;
he beat his wife.

A chorus will rise to ask why anybody should own such a weapon, much less someone so obviously troubled; another chorus will accuse the first of politicizing tragedy. Some will point to the Second Amendment, and blame a lack of treatment for the mentally ill.

Politicians, and then the president, will emerge. Some will plead for new laws. More will ask only for thoughts and prayers.
Some will not mention guns at all.

Any promises will be broken. Beyond the shattered orbit of the school or church or concert that became a shooting gallery,
the whole thing will recede too soon into memory.

And then it will all happen again.

Whoever he is, he may already have the rifle. And he will follow the script.

So will we.

There are only three things we don’t know about the next time:


Cartoon: Rob Rogers – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Friday, February 16, 2018
Commentary: Nestor Ramos – The Boston Globe – Friday, February 16, 2018

The Dying of the Light (essay-21)

May 4, 2018 commentary

Friday, May 4, 2018
Word Count – 378

When does the generational shift happen and the dominant group loses its place on center stage?

For me, the American political arena and its operatives are the players in a generational shift that is happening in prime-time. But the bright lights hide the real shift happening throughout the US and Canada.

At the local level, the shift is my parents’ age-group leaving the main stage. Old age and infirmities are forcing them into the wings into their living-rooms. And yet, this is the group that built modern Canada, post-war America. This is the group acculturated on the television and the telephone. (The television is on 24/7 and is the main focus of their living-room. My parents’ house has 8 land-line phones scattered throughout their house. There’s even a phone in their garage.)

What I haven’t understood before was that the age-group leaving center stage has a huge supporting cast. At the national level, these supporting players are represented by Trump and his supporters. And at the local level, they are the children, relatives and friends of the age-group leaving center stage. Making America Great Again is a call to another time, the time when our parents were the dominant adults; when our parents commanded all the attention; when they took up all the oxygen in the room. And in that long ago time, we were young and we loved our parents.

A Lover’s Quarrel With the World (essay-22)

October 26, 2018 commentary

Friday, October 26, 2018
Word Count – 910

On Saturday, October 26, 1963
President John F. Kennedy
delivered the following speech at Amherst College.

This day, devoted to the memory of Robert Frost, offers an opportunity for reflection which is prized by politicians as well as by others and even by poets. For Robert Frost was one of the granite figures of our time in America. He was supremely two things: an artist and an American. A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.

In America our heroes have customarily run to men of large accomplishments. But today this college and country honor a man whose contribution was not to our size but to our spirit; not to our political beliefs but to our insight; not to our self-esteem but to our self-comprehension. In honoring Robert Frost we therefore can pay honor to the deepest sources of our national strength. That strength takes many forms, and the most obvious forms are not always the most significant. The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.

Our national strength matters; but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost. He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. “I have been,” he wrote, “one acquainted with the night.” And because he knew the midnight as well as the high noon, because he understood the ordeal as well as the triumph of the human spirit, he gave his age strength with which to overcome despair. At bottom he held a deep faith in the spirit of man. And it is hardly an accident that Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgement.

The artists, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored during his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet, in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fiber of our national life.

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential. I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeigh once remarked of poets, “There is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style.”

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man—the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope.”

I look forward to a great future for America—a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral strength, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our national environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world, not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe, not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction

Ramblings (essay-23)

January 29, 2019 commentary

Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Word Count – 937

•  In the winter chill, making soup is comforting. Outside it’s dark and cloudy and the polar vortex promises to lock us all in, so I decided to take all the vegetables I had and make soup.

The chicken thighs were $4.99; the squash is from last year; the Savoy cabbage was slowly wilting in the crisper; the fresh fennel and leeks were recent purchases, but they’ll add a sweet side-flavor.

Drizzling olive oil on top of all the mingled flavors added a new taste. (The only ingredient that got lost in the mix was the garlic.) A crusty baguette, a savory soup – a seasonal dinner on a deep and dark mid-winter.

The pic was shot with the Nikon Ƶ 7 and no flash. What I like best is the light-source moving from left to right – the blue fading from light to dark.

•  Yesterday, I walked Walter Road from the parking lot at Ingram to the dog-park at Lakeshore Drive. It’s a 2.7 miles trek and the hill-road climbs almost 80 feet from the parking lot.

There are signs insisting that pedestrians are not welcomed on Walter Road, but I climb it regularly. It’s a better workout than the flats around the lake; also, it’s not isolated like Ridge Road, the other hill-road in the Park. The valley, the road climbs through, is open and its slopes silence the traffic.

Because there are no walking-lanes, I walk against traffic. I kept noticing that the men, shifted onto the incoming lane well before they got anywhere near me, but the women-drivers were almost on top of me before they switched lanes. What!!! Were they pissed I was walking a vehicle-only road? Were they pissed I was forcing them onto the incoming lane? Bet they were pissed I was making them complicit in my breaking of rules.

•  Another asshole billionaire is toying with running for president in 2020. And unlike the current Orange-Pcock (Pcock), this one talks anything but populist. He’s opposed to government-run, universal health-care, because it would put the health-care industry out of business and that it’s just Un-American. He also goes on about how expensive it would be to provide health-care for everyone. And still, he wraps himself in the cloak of I’m for ordinary Americans.

Cable news is all over this story, because nothing is coming out of the White House that warrants their flailing, sputtering reactions. And this self-delusional corporate Jack-in-the-box thinks that because he ran a coffee company, he can run the country. But in 21st century America, a red hat replaces the KKK hood, a wall becomes a holy symbol and billionaires believe their wealth is proof of talent.


•  The longest-running government shutdown, cost the economy $11 billion, with $3 billion that will never be recovered. All because the Orange-Pcock wanted to show that his dick was bigger than Nancy Pelosi’s. An executive that has had a Republican Congress for two years, decided to test the new Democratic majority in the House by closing down the government until he got $5.7 billion for his wall. Never mind that 800,000 Federal employees and hundreds of thousands of sub-contractors would go without pay.

And after going 35 days and two missed paychecks, many federal-government workers were left lining up at food banks or filing for unemployment. It could take some households months to fully recover, especially families with government contractors, who won’t receive any back pay.

And yet, the Commerce Secretary couldn’t understand why Federal workers needed their paychecks. “You’re talking about 800,000 workers. . . . you’re talking about a third of a percent on our GDP.”

But the Marie Antoinette award goes to Pcock’s daughter-in-law. “Listen, it’s not fair to you, and we all get this, but this is so much bigger than any one person. It’s a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country.”

•  Back in November, I was visiting with Frank and we went to the newly opened Canada Goose store at the Yorkdale Mall. The place is chuck-full of luxury outlets and top-shelf shoppers.

After trudging to the opposite end of the mall, we found that we couldn’t walk into the store, instead we had to get in line. Neither of us could believe it. My first time ever standing in line to give away my money. Whoever came up with the idea of having customers stand in line, outside the store, is a marketing genius.

The line was full of Asians and Frank tried to strike up a conversation with the couple in front of us. The young woman was thoroughly disgusted with these two old men wanting to talk about standing in line. The boyfriend seemed to know to keep his mouth shut and look pretty.

Nineteen century Toronto had its pasty-white, snobby Brits. In the New Gilded Age, the old robber barons have been replaced by very rich Asians.

The flight home was also full of young Asians; I politely asked the person next to me if he was visiting Pittsburgh. He explained that there was a large number of Asians from Toronto who attend the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. Both schools have great reputations and are a 45 minutes plane-ride from home.

Well, since the mall-line and the Asian-Canadian (A-C) invasion, I’ve started paying attention to winter coats. Every time I’m in Oakland and I see an Asian student, I look to see if they’re wearing Canada Goose. And the red-white-and blue logo is everywhere. (My Pittsburgh friends don’t understand my A-C watch; they don’t know the Goose brand and don’t know its value, its status for hip, rich Canadians.)

1 Joyce Werwie Perry. “Mining in America – painted in memory of coal miners, Imperial Pennsylvania.” Westmoreland Museum of American Art, 2010.

Shame (essay-24)

February 18, 2019 commentary

Monday, February 18, 2019
Word Count – 885


Finding Parents’ MAGA Hats
Will One Day Be Equivalent of
Discovering Their Ku Klux Klan Hood

The “Make America Great Again Hats” synonymous with supporters of President Donald Trump will one day carry the same shame as the uniforms worn by the Ku Klux Klan, according to scholar and Washington Post columnist Matt Sears.

In a conversation with Salon published Sunday, the long-time Trump critic said the caps would be a shameful secret for Trump supporters in future that relatives would look down upon.

Sears was responding to a question posed by Salon reporter Chauncey DeVega, who asked whether Trump merchandise would in future be thought of in the same way as Nazi paraphernalia now.

“I think it’s similar. But I think a better analogy would be like finding a Ku Klux Klan hood or robe,” Sears replied. “I’ve made the comparison before. Every time I watch a documentary about the civil rights movement and all the hateful violence they faced I wonder what the white people who were doing those horrible things were thinking. What was going through their minds?”

“We are living in an era with Donald Trump and the Republican Party and the right-wing movement in America where things of similar gravity are happening,” he added. “It’s our job to not be the people who stand by idly and let mobs harass black kids who in an earlier era not too long ago were trying to go to newly desegregated schools.”

“In a few generations from now, finding a MAGA hat in your grandparents’ closet would be like seeing your grandfather’s or grandmother’s face in one of those lunch counter photos, harassing the black people who are trying to fight Jim Crow and win their equal human rights.”

Sears is not the first to have made comparisons between Trump merchandise and Ku Klux Klan uniforms. Actor Alyssa Milano drew the fury of conservatives last month when she declared the MAGA hat to be “the new white hood.”

Milano was reacting to the emergence of a video showing a group of MAGA cap-wearing students from Covington Catholic High School apparently harassing a Native American man at a rally in Washington, D.C. More footage later emerged casting doubt on the media’s initial interpretation of events.

Speaking with Salon, Sears repeated his past criticism of MAGA hats and their users, stressing that the merchandise denotes a very specific set of intolerant ideas, of which Trump supporters are well aware.

This is a lesson we need to consider when looking at the Washington incident. That the boys were wearing MAGA hats and other Trump apparel — and allowed (if not encouraged) by their chaperones to do so while at the March for Life — constitutes a deliberate political act and a deliberate provocation. In our current context, it is impossible to separate the MAGA symbol from anti-immigrant and anti-minority views and policies. After all, what could “make America great again” mean other than returning America to its “ancestral constitution,” in which those like Phillips didn’t have a voice?

Will we ever agree on what exactly happened on the Mall last week? Probably not. But by proudly displaying their MAGA hats, the boys of Covington Catholic presented themselves as embracing a set of exclusionary ideas. It is absolutely fair and rational to take their own self-presentation seriously. 2

“The entire sentiment of ‘Make America Great Again’ implies that there was a time when America was great and it’s not any longer,” he said. “If you look at the reasons that Trump and his movement actually believe (and often explicitly say) that American is not great any longer, it’s because there’s now too many non-white immigrants.”

“America for Trump and his supporters is no longer great because black people have too many rights or there are too many women in the workplace.”

“Trump and his MAGA hats and slogans and policies are also connected to things like the Muslim ban, building the wall, calling Mexicans rapists and saying the terrorists are crossing into the border among these caravans from Guatemala,” Sears continued. “The obvious conclusion is hard to escape. It takes a certain kind of willful denial and willful ignorance to wear a MAGA hat and assume that you’re not conveying all those values and beliefs.”

“I hope there is a future in which the MAGA hat is looked down upon and that political and social matters in this country do not worsen and escalate,” Sears concluded.

Some conservative commentators have defended the MAGA hats against suggestions they have become a symbol of hatred. In January, Fox News host Laura Ingraham said the association has been conjured up by the Democratic Party and the media “to brand an entire belief system as immoral, evil, toxic, and of course it’s racist.”

Ingraham called on Trump supporters to keep wearing their hats, and while doing so to “be sure to show everyone around you what true tolerance, kindness, and inclusiveness looks like.”

1 David Brennan, “Finding Parents’ MAGA Hats Will One Day Be Equivalent of Discovering Their “Ku Klux Klan Hood,” Says Professor,” Newsweek Magazine, 2/18/19.
2 Matthew A. Sears, “Why the decision to wear MAGA hats matters Political symbols signal political beliefs — and their usage can shape the course of history,”
Washington Post, January 25, 2019.

He Caught On With Voters, However They Say His Name (essay-25)

March 29, 2019 commentary

Friday, March 29, 2019
Word Count – 1,379


By Trip Gabriel
• March 28, 2019
ROCK HILL, S.C. — Somewhere between Pete Buttigieg being mistaken for a teenager making a promposal, and answering a question in Norwegian, and proclaiming that it was millennials’ turn to lead “at the highest level,” South Carolina got a crash course in a new Democratic celebrity.

Mr. Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., drew large, enthusiastic crowds in his first campaign visit to the early-voting state over the weekend. That followed a series of well-received appearances on national TV, which have helped fuel his new popularity: An Iowa poll on Monday showed him jumping to third place in the 2020 caucus race, and a Quinnipiac national poll on Thursday showed him rising to fifth and tied with Senator Elizabeth Warren.

“This was supposed to be a little meet-and-greet Q. and A.,” he told hundreds of people in a college gym in Rock Hill, after his event was bumped from the library to accommodate a wave of RSVPs.

Many Democrats have drawn impressive crowds early this presidential cycle, a reflection of Democrats’ pent-up desire to defeat President Trump. But Mr. Buttigieg, a Rhodes scholar and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was largely an afterthought in a field of much better-known hopefuls. His national TV appearances built on an online following he developed with detailed, earnest and sometimes personal answers at events in Iowa and New Hampshire this winter, and his outside-the-box progressive stands on some policies.

After a 40-minute CNN town hall on March 10, a surge of donations led him to crack the threshold of 65,000 donors to qualify for the first Democratic debates in June. The Emerson Poll in Iowa showed Mr. Buttigieg hurtling to third place, behind former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders — up from a January poll that showed him at zero. (The poll’s margin of error for the Democratic caucus was plus or minus 6.2 percentage points.)

At a check-in table in South Carolina, a sign clarified a question still hovering over the candidate: “It’s Boot-edge-edge,” it read.

Ideologically, Mr. Buttigieg is a progressive — sometimes an adventurous one, calling to expand the Supreme Court and abolish the Electoral College. But his main themes are generational change and winning back Rust Belt voters who supported Mr. Trump.

“I think there’s still an attitude in some parts of the party that what we have to do is find the final proof that Trump’s a bad guy and show it to everybody,” Mr. Buttigieg said in an interview. “What it misses is there’s a lot of people where I live who were under no illusions about his character. They already get that he’s a bad guy, but they made a decision with their eyes open to vote to burn the house down.”

Mr. Buttigieg’s prescription for winning back the white working class is hardly revolutionary: He emphasizes traditional Democratic priorities like health care and education, while assuring voters without a college degree that they can thrive in a changing economy, rather than promising a restoration of the past.

In South Bend, a city that was in long decline after Studebaker shut its auto plant in the 1960s, Mr. Buttigieg bulldozed vacant buildings and invested in infrastructure, which led to a revived downtown and a stabilizing population after decades of flight.

Mr. Buttigieg, who is openly gay and married, is the first to admit his candidacy is a long shot.

His friend David Axelrod, the former political strategist to President Barack Obama, called it a “way, way uphill battle,’’ adding: “One of the realities is that he is a new-generation candidate and now Beto O’Rourke is in the race, and Beto fills a lot of space. They’re fishing in the same pond, and Beto has a larger fishing pole.”

In the interview, Mr. Buttigieg declined to contrast himself with Mr. O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, who is a decade older. The closest he came was a possible backhand dig when asked how the mayor of a city that ranks 299th in size is qualified to step into the Oval Office.

“If I were the 299th most important member of Congress, I’m not sure I’d be getting that question,” he said.

Aaron Olson, 40, a voter who heard Mr. O’Rourke the day before attending a Buttigieg appearance in Columbia, said Mr. Buttigieg was more policy-grounded than Mr. O’Rourke, who admits to working things out in real time.

“I think Pete Buttigieg is more down to brass tacks,” Mr. Olson said. “He’s more calm and reasoned. I think Beto has a dance track going in his head when he’s speaking.”

Mr. Buttigieg likes to say that as a two-term mayor, he has more executive government experience than either Mr. Trump or Vice President Mike Pence had on taking office. The contrast with socially conservative Mr. Pence, a former Indiana governor, comes easily to Mr. Buttigieg; on CNN, he wondered how Mr. Pence became “the cheerleader of the porn-star presidency.”

In 2015, Mr. Pence championed a “religious freedom” law that critics said let businesses discriminate against gays and lesbians, in the same year that Mr. Buttigieg came out as gay as he was seeking re-election. The fact that he won with 80 percent of the vote encourages Mr. Buttigieg about his prospects in the primary.

Still, if he becomes his party’s nominee, he would test whether Americans are ready for a president holding hands with his husband in the White House Rose Garden.

“Well there’s one way to find out for sure,” said Mr. Buttigieg, who married the former Chasten Glezman, a schoolteacher, last year.

At rallies Mr. Buttigieg’s framing of his sexual orientation plays to Americans’ embrace of strong families and equality, and it is one of his biggest applause lines.

He recalls how his husband was at the bedside of Mr. Buttigieg’s mother when she needed triple bypass surgery. “He could be there in the hospital because in the eyes of the law, just as in my heart, he is a member of my family,” Mr. Buttigieg said in Rock Hill.

Voters at his rallies said his sexual orientation was either a nonissue or perhaps an asset that helps him empathize with other groups that have faced discrimination.

“There isn’t anybody in the United States that doesn’t have a relative or a friend who is of that persuasion,” said Mary Darr, 86, who had driven from Georgia to hear him. “It doesn’t make any difference.”

Mr. Buttigieg, whose father emigrated from Malta, is the son of two former Notre Dame professors. His resume is comically overstuffed. In high school he won a national essay contest (about Senator Bernie Sanders, no less) that led to an internship with Senator Ted Kennedy.

After notching degrees from Harvard and Oxford, and a stint as a McKinsey consultant, he returned to his economically battered hometown to be elected, at 29, the youngest mayor of a midsize American city. He took a seven-month leave for active duty as a Navy Reserves lieutenant in Afghanistan.

Somewhere along the way he taught himself to read a favorite author in Norwegian, which is how journalists from Norwegian media turned up in South Carolina to ask him questions in their own tongue.

The crowds at his South Carolina events featured as many voters with gray hair as millennials. The impression that he might be in need of a prom date came Saturday morning when he was door knocking with a young female statehouse candidate and passing teenagers asked if they were making a “promposal video.”

In a state where 60 percent of Democratic primary voters are black, there were not many African-Americans in Mr. Buttitgieg’s crowds, even at historically black Clinton College, where he packed the gym in Rock Hill.

“I like Mayor Pete, I think he has tremendous potential,” said Anita Nelam, a black Democratic activist in Columbia. She said Mr. Biden was her favorite, an endorsement pinned on her Twitter feed. “But I don’t know what Joe Biden is doing,” she said. “I think having somebody from the Midwest is going to make a big difference for the Democrats.”

“What Joe and Mayor Pete bring to the party is someone who could speak to those folks in a way they can be heard.”

1 Trip Gabriel, “Pete Buttigieg (It’s ‘Boot-Edge-Edge’) Is Making Waves in the 2020 Race,” New York Times, March 29, 2019

Trump, Taxes and Terrorism (essay-26)

August 5, 2019 commentary

Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Word Count – 828

Why do Republicans enable right-wing extremism? 1

By Paul Krugman

Why has the Republican Party become a systematic enabler of terrorism?

Don’t pretend to be shocked. Just look at G.O.P. responses to the massacre in El Paso. They have ranged from the ludicrous (blame video games!) to the almost honest (who would have expected Ted Cruz, of all people, to speak out against white supremacy?). But as far as I can tell, not one prominent Republican has even hinted at the obvious link between Donald Trump’s repeated incitements to violence and the upsurge in hate crimes.

So the party remains in lock step behind a man who has arguably done more to promote racial violence than any American since Nathan Bedford Forrest, who helped found the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization if there ever was one — and who was recently honored by the Republican governor of Tennessee.

Anyway, the party’s complicity started long before Trump came on the scene. More than a decade ago, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning about a surge of right-wing extremism. The report was prescient, to say the least. But when congressional Republicans learned about it, they went on a rampage, demanding the resignation of Janet Napolitano, who headed the agency, and insisted that even using the term “right-wing extremism” was unacceptable.

This backlash was effective: Homeland Security drastically scaled back its efforts to monitor and head off what was already becoming a major threat. In effect, Republicans bullied law enforcement into creating a safe space for potential terrorists, as long as their violent impulses were motivated by the right kind of hatred.

But why did they do that? Is the G.O.P. now a party of white nationalists?

No, not exactly. No doubt some members of Congress, and a significant number of Trump administration officials, very much including the tweeter in chief, really are white supremacists. And a much larger fraction — almost surely bigger than anyone wants to admit — are racists. (Recently released tapes of conversations between Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon reveal that the modern G.O.P.’s patron saint was, in fact, a crude racist who called Africans “monkeys.”)

But racism isn’t what drives the Republican establishment, and my guess is that a majority of the party’s elected officials find it a little bit repugnant — just not repugnant enough to induce them to repudiate its political exploitation. And their exploitation of racism has led them inexorably to where they are today: de facto enablers of a wave of white supremacist terrorism.

The central story of U.S. politics since the 1970s is the takeover of the Republican Party by economic radicals, determined to slash taxes for the wealthy while undermining the social safety net.

With the arguable exception of George H.W. Bush, every Republican president since 1980 has pushed through tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the 1 percent while trying to defund and/or privatize key social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.

This agenda is, however, unpopular. Most voters believe that the rich should pay more, not less, in taxes, and want spending on social programs to rise, not fall.

So how do Republicans win elections? By appealing to racial animus. This is such an obvious fact of American political life that you have to be willfully blind not to see it.

For a long time, the G.O.P. establishment was able to keep this game under control. It would campaign using implicit appeals to racial hostility (welfare queens! Willie Horton!) but turn postelection to privatization and tax cuts.

But for some reason this bait-and-switch started getting less effective in the 2000s. Maybe it was the reality of America’s growing racial diversity; maybe it was the fact that American society as a whole was becoming less racist, leaving the hard-core racists feeling isolated and frustrated. And the election of our first black president really kicked hatred into overdrive.

The result is that there are more and more angry white people out there willing to commit mayhem — and able to do so because those same Republicans have blocked any effective control over sales of assault weapons.

A different, better G.O.P. might have been willing to acknowledge the growing threat and supported a crackdown on violent right-wing extremism, comparable to the F.B.I.’s successful campaign against the modern K.K.K. in the 1960s. A lot of innocent victims would be alive today if Republicans had done so.

But they didn’t, because admitting that right-wing extremism was a threat, or even a phrase law enforcement should be allowed to use, might have threatened the party’s exploitation of racial hostility to achieve its economic goals.

In effect, then, the Republican Party decided that a few massacres were an acceptable price to pay in return for tax cuts. I wish that were hyperbole, but the continuing refusal of G.O.P. figures to criticize Trump even after El Paso shows that it’s the literal truth.

So as I said at the beginning, the G.O.P. has become a systematic enabler of terrorism. Why? Follow the money.

1 Trump, Taxes and Terrorism Paul Krugman – Opinion Columnist

2 Cartoon by Nate Beeler for Counterpoint, Edition No. 9, August 6, 2019

Why People Hate Religion (essay-27)

August 30, 2019 commentary

Friday, August 30, 2019
Word Count – 898

The charlatans and phonies preen and punish, while those of real faith do Christ’s work among refugees.

By Timothy Egan
Contributing Opinion Writer

You don’t hear much about Sister Norma Pimentel in the secular press. She’s not a wacko, a hypocrite, a sexual predator or a political operative. Her life’s work, she says, is guided by seeing “the presence of God” in migrant children in the shelter she oversees in the Rio Grande Valley — vulnerable souls that her president would otherwise put in cages.

What you hear about is the phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious, and they are legion. Vice President Mike Pence wears his faith like a fluorescent orange vest. But when he visited the border this summer and saw human beings crammed like cordwood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible.

“Trump Orders Pence to Find Passage in Bible Where Jesus Tells People to Get the Hell Out.” Though a satirical headline, from the comic writer Andy Borowitz, the above could pass for any day in Trump world.

Pence is the chief bootlicker to a president who now sees himself in messianic terms, a president who tweets a description of himself as “the second coming of God.” As hard as it is to see God Part II boasting about grabbing a woman’s genitals, paying hush money to a porn actress, or calling neo-Nazis “very fine people,” millions of overtly religious Americans believe in some version of Jesus Trump, Superstar.

What you hear about are the modern Savonarolas. In Indiana this summer, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson stripped a Jesuit prep school of its Catholic identity for refusing to fire a gay, married teacher. The same threat loomed over another Indianapolis school, until it ousted a beloved teacher with 13 years of service. He was fired for getting married to another man — a legal, civil action.

The archbishop claimed he was upholding Catholic teaching, an example of the kind of selective moral policing that infuriates good people of faith.

Catholic teaching also frowns on divorce. But when a divorced teacher, at the same school where the gay teacher was fired, remarried without a church-sanctioned annulment and posted her status on Facebook as a dare, the archbishop did nothing. For this is a road that leads to thrice-married, politically connected Catholics like Newt Gingrich, whose wife Callista (with whom Gingrich carried on an adulterous affair before getting married) is now Donald Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.

Archbishop Thompson says he tries to be “Christ-centered” in his decisions. If so, he should cite words from Christ condemning homosexuality, any words; there are none. That may be one reason a healthy majority of Catholics are in favor of same-sex marriage, despite what their spiritual sentries tell them.

Religious hypocrites are an easy and eternal mark. The French Revolution was driven in part by the revulsion of starving peasants toward the overfed clerics who had taken vows of poverty. The Protestant Reformation took flight on disgust at a church in Rome that sold passages to heaven, enriching men who had multiple mistresses after taking vows of chastity.

White evangelical Christians, the rotting core of Trump’s base, profess to be guided by biblical imperatives. They’re not. Their religion is Play-Doh. They have become more like Trump, not the other way around. It’s a devil’s pact, to use words they would understand.

In one of the most explicit passages of the New Testament, Christ says people will be judged by how they treat the hungry, the poor, the least among us. And yet, only 25 percent of white evangelicals say their country has some responsibility to take in refugees.

Evangelicals give cover to an amoral president because they believe God is using him to advance their causes. “There has never been anyone who has defended us and who has fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump,” said Ralph Reed at a meeting of professed Christian activists earlier this summer.

But what really thrills them is when Trump bullies and belittles their opponents, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Evangelicals “love the meanest parts” of Trump, the Christian writer Ben Howe argues in his new book, “The Immoral Majority.” Older white Christians rouse to Trump’s toxicity because he’s taking their side. It’s tribal, primal and vindictive.

So, yes, people hate religion when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches. And yes, young people are leaving the pews in droves because too often the person facing them in those pews is a fraud.

They hate religion because, at a moment to stand up and be counted on the right side of history, religion is used as moral cover for despicable behavior. This is not new to our age. Hitler got a pass from the Vatican until very late in the war.

Still, we are “prisoners of hope,” as Archbishop Desmond Tutu loves to say. And if you’re looking for hope in the midnight of the American soul, look no further than Sister Pimentel’s shelter for hundreds of desperate children in McAllen, Texas.

Growing up, Sister Pimentel was going to be an artist, she says, until she felt a strong tug on her soul; it compelled her to a lifetime of selfless service. Faith is not that complicated. Religion always is

1 Why People Hate Religion  Timothy Egan – Contributing Opinion Writer –   New York Times, August 30, 2019

Trump’s Election May Have Benn the Shock We Needed (essay-28)

November 25, 2019 commentary

Monday, November 25, 2019
Word Count – 1632

American political history suggests that an age of renewal lies ahead.

By Lee Drutman
Mr. Drutman is the author of the forthcoming “Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America.”

As impeachment mania grips Washington, it is easy to descend into an ever-deepening political pessimism. But as odd as it may seem, for the first time in years, I’m optimistic about the future of American democracy. It might be because I’ve been reading more history and less news. And from the long arc of American political history, I see the bright flashing arrows of a new age of reform and renewal ahead.

Eras of reform follow a general pattern. First, a mood of impending crisis prevails. Unfairness and inequality feel overwhelming, and national politics feels stuck and unresponsive to growing demands. But beneath the shattered yet still stubborn national stasis, new social movements organize. Politics becomes exciting and full of moral energy. New writers, empowered by new forms of media, invent new narratives. And future-oriented politicians emerge to channel that energy and challenge the old establishment.

America has gone through periodic eras of political reform, every 60 years or so. The Revolutionary War; the Age of Jackson; the Progressive Era; the civil rights movement. In each era, the old rules of politics changed, the old centers of politics collapsed, and American democracy became a little more participatory and inclusive.

Of the reform periods, the Progressive Era holds the clearest parallels to ours. In the 1890s, inequality, partisanship and discontent were all sky-high. The depression of 1893-97 shattered faith that a growing industrial economy would lift all boats. New leviathan railroad and public-utility corporations seemed imposingly powerful, and partisan politics seemed thoroughly corrupted by them. Mass immigration was changing the face of the nation.

As public dissatisfaction built, and pressure grew from multiple directions, the political system eventually responded, led by a new generation of reform-oriented activists and politicians. New forms of participatory democracy — the primary, direct elections for the Senate, the initiative and the referendum — reshaped a political system that seemed to privilege the few over the many.

Women achieved the right to vote, first in cities and states, then finally nationwide in 1920. New regulatory agencies wrestled with the size and scope of giant corporate enterprises, cutting some down to size, putting stricter boundaries on others. But even as late as 1902, it was far from obvious that the years ahead would bring so much change.

A crucial Progressive Era lesson for today is that reform had no obvious order, and there was no one unified progressive movement — only a long list of social movements that sometimes made common causes and sometimes bitterly disagreed and often worked separately. Populist farmers caught in debt mobilized against the railroads. Liberal professional-class cosmopolitans grew disgusted with urban graft and devoted themselves to good-government municipal reforms. Many efforts suffered repeated setbacks before making progress. For example, women’s suffrage faced many battles before it eventually passed. In short: don’t plan too much, build coalitions opportunistically, and don’t give up.

Nor was there one leader, or even one political party, that drove change. A menagerie of ambitious politicians fused together different platforms and programs, and fought over fundamental issues: How much should rest on direct as opposed to representative democracy? Was it better to break up big companies, or just strengthen the ability of government to regulate them? Theodore Roosevelt, Robert La Follette, Woodrow Wilson and the coalitions backing them all had different ideas. Reform was incoherent and chaotic. It is inherently experimental — new problems demand new solutions. In short: Don’t expect one politician or one reform to hold all the answers.

The Progressive Era left a mixed record, largely because progressives were too hostile to political parties as crucial engines of political engagement and overly optimistic about the power of independent, rational judgment. But the era’s reforms solved a particular problem of corrupt, top-down power at a particular moment. Each reformist movement can be expected only to resolve its most pressing problems in a way that keeps democracy going for a future era of reform

When future historians look back on the 2010s, they will observe three larger trends that paved the way for a new era of reform by clearing away the old consensus: a loss of faith in “neoliberal” economics, the breakdown of white male-dominated social and cultural hierarchies, and the collapse of the “normal” political process.

The financial crisis of 2008-09 and the decades-long stagnation of middle-class wages shattered the neoliberal faith that loosely regulated markets naturally bring widespread prosperity. In the last decade, leaders in both parties have turned (rhetorically, at least) against the global trade and financial system, mouthing the frustrations of voters.

The new tech giants now wield a kind of power as the central nodes of commerce and information that we haven’t seen since the railroads of the Gilded Age. For most Americans, the economy feels unfair. Capitalism has lost its luster, particularly for younger Americans. As in the Progressive Era, corporate domination and corruption are widely agreed to be a problem.

On the changing social and cultural order, both Me Too and Black Lives Matter represent profound and emblematic new social movements not just because they spotlighted and remedied longstanding injustices. They are also profound because they show how new technology and new forms of media have upended traditional power relationships by amplifying previously marginalized stories. For instance, the number of women, and particularly women of color, running for (and winning) public office has increased significantly over the last few years.

These cultural changes have provoked a backlash that contributed to Donald Trump’s rise and the associated growth of alt-right movements. Fights over identity now define national partisan competition because they echo and reinforce fundamental divides in the ethnic and geographical coalitions of the two major parties and amplify the zero-sum stakes of two-party electoral conflict. The unceasing culture war is a battle over two very different and diverging visions.

On the political system itself: The conflicts over economics and culture are intimately tied to declining faith in politics as usual and the growing distrust of government. But in a politics oriented around zero-sum questions of national identity, and with razor’s edge control of Congress constantly at stake, compromise equates to surrender.

Close two-party politics is a recipe for nasty two-party politics. Our government is not working under this strain because it was designed to prevent narrow majoritarian politics and instead demand broad compromise. But the good news is that dysfunction is the precursor to reform. The breakdown of norms has an upside — it’s possible to put new, fairer norms in place of old, broken ones. Presidential candidates now talk about structural reform, like the abolishing the Electoral College and adding judges to the Supreme Court and even adding states to change the balance of power in the Senate.

In short, in each area — economic, cultural, political — whatever once passed for an old consensus is gone. The range of the possible has expanded greatly in the past decade, and in many directions.

The history of American democratic reform has been on balance progressive. In each era, reformers achieved at least some of their goals, and new political and economic rules tamed the most striking injustices, at least for a while.

But history never repeats itself perfectly. And we’ve never quite had a president as defiant and hostile as Donald Trump before. The hyperpolarization that powered and sustains Mr. Trump is the first and essential challenge a coming era of reform must solve. Left to escalate further, the current partisan ratchet of constitutional hardball will break our democracy.

But here’s why I’m ultimately optimistic: I see how much the election of Mr. Trump acted as an impetus for people who care about democracy to get involved. The 2018 election registered the highest turnout midterm election in 104 years, and the smart money is on a similarly high turnout election in 2020. It may sound strange to say, but Mr. Trump’s election may yet turn out to be the shock and near-death experience that American political system needed to right itself.

I’m also optimistic because the one reform with the most potential to break our zero-sum partisanship, ranked-choice voting, is gaining tremendous momentum at the state and local level. In 2018, Maine became the first state to use ranked-choice voting for federal elections (after Mainers approved it in two statewide referendums). This month, New York City voters adopted it. Also in 2020, expect voters in Alaska and Massachusetts to decide whether they want in on ranked-choice voting.

By removing the spoiler effect of third parties, ranked-choice voting can break the us-versus-them force driving our partisan warfare, and create space for a political realignment that creates new coalitions to shape economic reforms and negotiate social change.

When political conditions become intolerable, people eventually stop tolerating them. And when old rules and power structures crumble, new ones emerge. Now is the time to participate. Get involved in a cause you believe in, and join a campaign to enact reform in your city or your state (national reform always starts at the state and local level).

As with each era of reform, we’ll get some things right and some things wrong. We’ll overcorrect for some past mistakes, and make some new ones. But democracy isn’t something to perfect or solve. It’s a continuing, improbable experiment in self-governance, of devilish scale and complexity. We’re still learning.

The above appeared in the New York Times on Monday, November 25, 2019.

Requiem for a Dream (essay-29)

February 7, 2020 commentary

Friday, January 31, 2020
Word Count – 1184

Britain exits Europe. It will be poorer, above all in its shriveled heart.

By Roger Cohen
Opinion Columnist

I have covered many stories that marked me over the past 40 years, in war zones and outside them, but none that has affected me as personally as Britain’s exit from the European Union. Brexit Day, now upon us, feels like the end of hope, a moral collapse, a self-amputation that will make the country where I grew up poorer in every sense.

Poorer materially, of course, but above all poorer in its shriveled soul, divorced from its neighborhood, internally fractured, smaller, meaner, more insular, more alone, no longer a protagonist in the great miracle of the postwar years — Europe’s journey toward borderless peace and union. Britain, in a fit of deluded jingoism, has opted for littleness.

The fiasco was captured this week when that pompous and pitiful British nationalist, Nigel Farage, waved a miniature Union Jack in the European Parliament as he bid farewell and was cut off by the vice-president of the Parliament, Mairead McGuinness. “Put your flags away, you’re leaving, and take them with you,” she said.

Farage looked like a sheepish schoolboy caught breaking rules. He blushed. An Irish woman from a country uplifted by European Union membership reprimanding the new breed of little-England male as he exits history in pursuit of an illusion: the symbolism was perfect. “Hip, hip hooray!” Farage’s flag-waving Brexit Party cohorts chanted. Save me, please, for I shall weep.

Speaking of symbolism, the fact that President Trump has been a fulsome supporter of this folly is apt. An ahistorical, amoral American leader cheering on a British abdication sums up the end of an era. The world was rebuilt after 1945 on something of more substance than British-American lies and bloviation; it took resolve. The torch has passed. To whom exactly is unclear, perhaps to a country slow to contain a plague. That is a problem.

Brexit belongs to this era in one quintessential way. It is an act of the imagination, inspired by an imaginary past, carried along by misdirected grievances, borne aloft by an imaginary future. The age of impunity is also the age of illusion turbocharged by social media.

Inequality, poor infrastructure, low investment, inadequate schools are real British problems but the take-back-your-country transference of blame for them onto “Brussels bureaucrats” proved that the imagination now overwhelms reality. Truth withers. The mob roars. This, too, is a problem.

Yes, Britain was undefeated in World War II and helped liberate Europe. But it could do so only with its allies; and it was precisely to secure what it is now turning its back on: a free Europe offering its people the “simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.” Those are Churchill’s words in 1946 in a speech that also contained this phrase: “We must build a kind of United States of Europe.” Unbowed Britain was once consequential Britain; no longer.

I used the word “abdication” advisedly. Europe needs the great tradition of British liberalism at a moment when Hungary and Poland have veered toward nationalism and, across the Continent, xenophobic hatred is resurgent. It is perverse for Britain to try to look away. Europe is part of Britain. Visit the great Norman monasteries in England and tell me this is not so. The British dead who lie in the Continent’s soil having given their lives for its liberty tell the same story of interlaced fate from a different perspective.

To be so orphaned is painful. The 47 years of British membership cover the entire arc of my adult life. Europa was our dream. I covered Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, speaking to the European Parliament about hope and peace in 1981, eight months before his assassination. So much for dreams.

Yet they persist, for otherwise life is unlivable. I wandered from Brussels to Rome to Paris to Berlin to London and everywhere I lived I experienced some iteration of Europe’s beauty, as a physical thing, as a cultural bond and as a transformative idea.

The sensation was most acute in Germany, where the idea of the union was the most effective escape from postwar shame and the rubble of 1945, a form of atonement. But it was ubiquitous, the guarantor of our deliverance and the symbol of our capacity to reinvent the world and even make it better.

Every European country, through the goal of ever closer union, changed itself. They grew richer, no small thing. But they also reframed their self-image.

Italy and Spain left Mussolini and Franco behind to become stable, prosperous democracies. France found its tortuous way to truth after the humiliations and predations of Vichy and discovered a European avenue to express once more its universal message of human rights founded on human dignity.

Central European countries stabilized their escape from the deadening Soviet imperium to which Yalta had confined them. Britain ceased equating Europe with scourges like intellectuals, rabies and garlic, as it had in my childhood. Hyde Park became a babble of European tongues. The British economy surged. Britain had given up its colonies and found a new identity in association with Europe, or so it seemed, flickeringly.

Then I lived in Sarajevo covering the Bosnian war and I saw, in inert bodies torn by shrapnel, and in history revived as galvanizing myth of might and conquest, the horror from which the European Union had saved my generation. It had laid bad history to rest. That was enough to be forever a European patriot.

But not enough for the British a quarter-century later. In the words of my friend Ed Vulliamy, who also covered that war, Britain has become a country “that boards cheap flights for stag outings to piss all over Krakow.”

Hip, hip hooray!

When I lived in Berlin, I would cross the nearby Polish border and never failed to marvel that where millions had perished decades earlier a nonexistent frontier traced its invisible line across fields of wheat. I would pass from the German world to the lands of the Slavs and nobody asked me who I was, what papers I bore or what was my intent.

If German-Polish reconciliation has been possible, anything is possible, my only solace at this moment. A bunch of flag-waving fantasists, at the wrong end of actuarial tables, have robbed British youth of the Europe they embrace. They will be looking on as 450 million Europeans across the way forge their fate. Their automatic right to live and work anywhere from Lisbon to Stockholm will be lost.

I’ve lost a limb; more than a limb, my heart. Europe helped Britain grow bigger and more open and more prosperous. Now it will shrink. Another suffering friend, Patrick Wintour, the diplomatic editor of The Guardian, sent me these lines of Auden:

In the nightmare of the dark

All the dogs of Europe bark,

And the living nations wait,

Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace

Stares from every human face,

And the seas of pity lie

Locked and frozen in each eye.

A better epitaph for the aborted story of Britain in Europe and the tragedy of a disoriented nation’s willful infliction of enduring self-harm is impossible to imagine.

Link to New York Times article – Requiem for a Dream

Mike Bloomberg is Hacking Your Attention (essay-30)

February 20, 2020 commentary

Today, after the Las Vegas Democratic debate, the media stupids are tripping over themselves to tell us how badly Bloomberg did at last night’s debate. FOOLS every single one of them – they’ve leaned nothing in the last three years.

Shamelessness and conflict equal attention. Attention equals power.

By Charlie Warzel
Mr. Warzel is an Opinion writer at large
February 13, 2020

Mike Bloomberg and his presidential campaign respect the fundamental equation governing the modern internet: Shamelessness and conflict equal attention. And attention equals power.

Since declaring his campaign late last fall, the former New York City mayor has used his billions to outspend his competition in an attempt to hack the country’s attention. It seems to be working — this column is yet more proof.

There are his ubiquitous television, YouTube and Facebook ads. There are his tweets, many of which are weird enough to generate the right amount of viral confusion or are pugnacious enough toward Donald Trump to provoke the ire of the presidential Twitter feed. Then there are the influencers. Starting this week the Bloomberg campaign enlisted the help of a number of popular meme-makers to create sponsored Instagram content for the candidate. The rollout was extremely effective, generating substantial praise and disdain. The ratio doesn’t really matter — what matters is that people were talking about Mr. Bloomberg, a candidate who skipped Iowa and New Hampshire and is nonetheless a top-tier contender for the Democratic nomination.

These Extremely Online tactics fit the larger ethos of the Bloomberg campaign, which feels like a control group experiment for a study positing, “What if you ran a presidential campaign so optimized for efficiency and reach that you cut the human element of campaigning altogether?” As my newsroom colleague Matt Flegenheimer wrote in January, Mr. Bloomberg is not really playing chess, “he is more accurately working to bury the board with a gusher of cash so overpowering that everyone forgets how the game was always played in the first place.”This is certainly true from a media buying standpoint. Mr. Bloomberg has blanketed the airwaves with television and radio ads, spending over $250 million since beginning his campaign in November. Online, his campaign is even more prolific — NBC News calculated that he’s spent more than $1 million a day on average during the past two weeks on Facebook. He’s spent so much that marketers suggest the flood of ads might be driving up prices for the Trump campaign and taking eyeballs away from the president’s own buckshot campaign to own voters’ news feeds.

At the heart of these tactics is a genuine shamelessness that fits perfectly not just with politics but also the internet at large. Mr. Bloomberg is unapologetic about — and unafraid to hide — the money he’s spending. That transactional approach is an excellent match for online influencer culture, where young internet celebrities aren’t often overly particular about accepting good money to endorse suspect products. In the Instagram meme influencers, the former mayor seems to have found a kindred spirit of attention economy capitalists. “I would be down — bread is bread,” a teenager who runs the meme page @BigDadWhip, told the Time’s Taylor Lorenz when asked about posting sponsored content on behalf of the candidate.

On Twitter, where some Democratic hopefuls have adopted a “they go low, we go high” mentality, Bloombergians have instead opted to wade into the mud and wrestle with Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed. The strategy plays up controversy at every available opportunity to generate attention.

After news broke that the president mocked Mr. Bloomberg’s height in a Super Bowl interview with Sean Hannity, the Bloomberg campaign spokeswoman Julie Wood fired back with a Trumpian line of her own: “The president is lying. He is a pathological liar who lies about everything: his fake hair, his obesity, and his spray-on tan.”

The back and forth generated a medium-size controversy and news cycle of its own, the subtext of which was Mr. Bloomberg as a worthy sparring partner for Mr. Trump. Tweets and cable chyrons flashed with the former mayor’s name. Earned media. Mission accomplished.

What the Bloomberg campaign seems to have bought into is that, when you lean into the potent combination of content creation and shamelessness, any reaction it provokes is a good reaction. This strategy provides a certain amount of freedom to a candidate when you don’t care what people think of you — as long as they’re thinking of you.

Take Mr. Bloomberg’s brazen spending, which has prompted claims that he’s an oligarch trying to bypass democracy by buying the presidency. Plenty of candidates would get defensive at such speculation. Mr. Bloomberg is unfazed. Who cares?! At least he’s in the conversation. More than that, the conversation is now centered around the idea that he could very well win.

The whole thing sounds Trumpian because it is. The Trump campaign was unabashed in 2016 and beyond about its plan to “flood the zone” with garbage or ragebait. The strategy worked in part because it engaged and energized his base. And, as Sean Illing detailed recently at Vox, it exploited a media ecosystem that is built to give attention to lies (in order to debunk them) and outlandishness (because it’s entertaining or newsworthy).

What remains to be seen is how Mr. Bloomberg will handle criticism in the fight for attention. The president could punch back at critics — high or low — since he’s unencumbered by either shame or decency. Trump supporters love him because cruelty is the point. But Mr. Bloomberg won’t be able to mock critics of his beloved stop-and-frisk policies (for which he recently apologized), for instance. Unlike Mr. Trump, there are lines Mr. Bloomberg will most likely not cross.

Other Democratic candidates have tried to apply Mr. Trump’s media hacking lessons — “I would be lying if I said I hadn’t studied some of his approach with the media and what worked, what didn’t work,” Lis Smith, a top adviser to Pete Buttigieg, recently admitted. But few are able to replicate the tactics. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez runs a similar playbook online, but hers is far more genuine — the product of being a millennial who is innately very good at social media and who also happens to be a congresswoman.

The Bloomberg campaign is far less organic. This week’s Instagram meme campaign is a great example. Though it was a shameless attempt on behalf of the 77-year-old billionaire to buy off teenage influencers, the campaign perfectly exploited attention by being inscrutable. “It’s the most successful ad that I’ve ever posted,” one of the influencers told the Times. “I think a lot of it came from people being confused whether or not it was real.”Release some memes. Sow some light chaos in the timeline. Send reporters on a wild-goose chase. Meanwhile, this happens:

Who cares about inorganic motives if the attention they generate is very organic?

The strategy is, as we’re seeing, politically effective. Just ask Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor. Mr. Patrick and Mr. Bloomberg announced their campaigns around the same time. They have fairly comparable records of governing. One struggled to raise money, chose not to engage and faded into the depths of obscurity. The other, the one with the war chest and shamelessness, is still in the race.

Attention is like television airtime in a battleground state: There’s a finite amount of it. For Democrats whose prime interest is defeating Donald Trump at all costs, this is exciting. But the strategy is also deeply cynical, exhausting and potentially damaging for those of us left to consume it. For citizens looking for a movement or big, structural change or even just a genuine vision for the future of the country, the strategy is disheartening — just another brazen attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator instincts of the internet that leaves a sinking feeling that shameless memes, Twitter dunks and toxic screaming into the algorithmic void have become politics as usual.

Or maybe it’s always been this way. After all, what is politics if not a long, well-funded attempt at hacking people’s attention?

Click to see and read Mr. Warzel’s New York Times – Opinion article.

Forgiveness (essay-31)

February 29, 2020 commentary
Saturday, February 29, 2020
Word-count – 569

Forgiveness is about living in the present.

The idea of forgiveness has been in my head for a while – guess age will do that to you.
I’ve always wanted to know how marriages survive infidelity or betrayal and it’s taken my getting to my 70th decade to glimpse at how that process may work.

1. – I claim that one of the many reasons Hillary Clinton lost was because she couldn’t or wouldn’t teach us anything about the process she went through after her husband’s spectacularly public and cringingly sordid infidelity. Hillary never explained how a partner gets to the other side of betrayal.
If our leaders are supposed to help us unravel the complexities of life, then Hillary failed us; she refused to share the information; she was silent about a very human experience.

Infidelity as betrayal is a theme in all literature. The novel of adultery is one of the leading literary tradition in Europe and in the United States – Anna Karenina, Ulysses, Madame Bovary, Othello, Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Great Gatsby, The World According to Garp, What Is Remembered, The Days of Abandonment.

2. – In the summaries of many e-books, the writer points out that there is no cheating in the story – an amazing strategy to lure readers. And that heads-up is something I appreciate, because I’m tired of the old trope as plot device or character study. It’s as if there’s not enough drama in everyday human life; it’s as if infidelity happen to everyone; it’s as if modern writers have to default to sexual infidelity the sell books.
Sorry, I forget we’re in the ‘priapic-period’ in America and everything is about the phallus. It began with Bill Clinton and continued on with Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and the current occupant of the White House.

Now, I come from a culture where infidelity as betrayal is seen as abhorrent. Southern Italians despise the unfaithful spouse especially the unfaithful wife – she’s a putana. The Italian curse-word for women isn’t bitch – a derogatory that designates attitude – no the Italian curse-word is whore and it comments on behavior that betrays the marriage vow.

So, it’s betrayal, not sexual adventurism, that is the ultimate sin.

Let’s not forget that Dante puts the adulterer in the second circle of hell, just past the vestibule, but the betrayers – Judas Iscariot, Marcus Brutus, Gaius Cassius – he places in the depths of the inferno, at its epicenter – in Satan’s jaws.

And secondly, nowhere in the New Testament is Judas forgiven for his betrayal. As a matter of fact, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “it would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Can’t think of a much more condemning verdict. And this is coming from the god-human and he is refusing to forgive his betrayer. What does that tell us about the gravity of the act? And what do Christ’s words tell us about our own response to betrayal? They seem to suggest, that when it comes to this transgression, we don’t have to forgive.

3. – The image is a sketch of El beso de Judas by Antoni Gaudí – Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

If betrayal is such an extreme infraction that even The Messiah couldn’t forgive it (let’s remember that Christ asks his Father to forgive those who put him to death); and if this biblical protagonist is supposed to be our role-model, then how do we, mere humans, break the pattern and forgive the betrayer?

I Don’t Hate Women Candidates … (essay-32)

March 6, 2020 commentary
Rob Rogers Cartoon
Word-count – 749



When you hated Hillary Clinton, you didn’t really have to explain yourself. Everyone understood why someone would hate Hillary Clinton, the worst Pizzagate warmonger in human history who was so evil that she spent her First Lady years trying to get Americans universal healthcare. Ugh.

But it was hard to reach the same conclusion with Elizabeth Warren. At least, it was hard at first. When we were introduced to her, she was fiercely taking on the big banks and lobbyists to create the CFPB, which returned $12 billion to consumers and students who had been defrauded.

After that, we got to know Warren better as an advocate for requiring banks to admit wrongdoing and pay fines, as an opponent to big pharma and health-industry corruption, and as a champion of the progressive agenda. If anti-corruption took human form, it would definitely look like a 70-year-old professor in a Nina McLemore tailored jacket.

But then something changed. It’s hard to pin down just when, but if pressed, I’d have to say the turning point was when Elizabeth Warren gained momentum in the presidential race, and then made a mistake. That’s when I knew she wasn’t an ideal candidate, but instead was a demonic creature who must be stopped before she destroyed our country.

For some, Warren’s ruinous mistake was her Medicare for All plan, which would have brought Americans universal healthcare. That would have been amazing, but when Chris Matthews made it sound so inconvenient because of an increased tax rate, we all understood that Warren was unfit to serve. In contrast, any vagaries surrounding Bernie’e Medicare for All plan were just details to be hammered out at a later date.

For others, her big error was the DNA test. When she apologized for it, Warren proved that she’s irredeemable and untrustworthy. Every time the most lying President in American history called her “Pocahontas,” we were reminded anew of how terrible she was.

But for those who are more forgiving, Elizabeth Warren became unsupportable only once we found out how she didn’t vote the exact right way in the Senate. Did you know that she voted for a bill to increase military spending, which means she actually KILLED INNOCENT PEOPLE? That’s a real thing people and bots wrote on Twitter, so it must be logical. Her moral purity was forever tarnished, whereas the stain of any questionable vote or actions taken by the other candidates could be easily washed away by Pete’s intelligence, Joe’s likeability, Mike’s money, and Bernie’s Bernieness.

Still, none of Elizabeth Warren’s blunders were as bad as the worst crime of all, which is that she stayed in the presidential race. This was unforgivable. Once Warren’s poll numbers started to go down, the writing was on the wall, but she was too much of a crazed megalomaniacal she-devil to read it. If other candidates slumped in the polls, it was a sign that they should shift tactics, but for Warren, that absolutely meant she should step aside. Her optimism and hope, and the way she inspired her supporters, wasn’t important at all. It was just coronavirus poison in disguise.

A few months ago, when I was hating Kamala Harris, I couldn’t have imagined a candidate eliciting the same kind of strong negative emotion, but man I was wrong. And because Warren stayed in the race through Super Tuesday, the consequences will be catastrophic. Thanks to her, other candidates didn’t get the votes they should have received, and now we’ll never have universal healthcare and climate change will destroy the planet. If only she had dropped out sooner, or never ran in the first place, none of these misfortunes would have happened. But now we are doomed. When Donald Trump is reelected, we can lay all the blame on Elizabeth Warren, and that will feel so good.

I don’t hate women candidates — those snake emojis were symbols of love and respect for them — I just hated Hillary Clinton, and now I hate Elizabeth Warren. As I decide between the spry, fresh faces of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, I will tell my daughter that girls can do anything, that the sky’s the limit, and that she can even be president of the United States one day — just as long as she doesn’t make any mistakes or get in any man’s way.

Trump Meets Nemesis, Punisher of Hubris (essay-33)

March 14, 2020 commentary
Nemesis, 1501–2, by Albrecht Dürer
Word-count – 861

A virus exposes the folly of what the president’s base believes.

By Bret Stephens
Opinion Columnist

The word “nemesis” is too often misused. We tend to think of it as meaning a powerful, nefarious, but ultimately conquerable enemy: Vader; Voldemort; the Wicked Witch of the West. But the original Nemesis was not a villain. She was a goddess — an implacable agent of justice who gives the arrogant, insolent and wicked what they deserve.

As a matter of public health, nobody should ever suggest that the novel coronavirus represents any form of justice, divine or otherwise. It’s a virus that must be stopped.

As a matter of politics, however, it’s hard to think of a mechanism so uniquely well-suited for exposing the hubris, ignorance, prejudice, mendacity and catastrophic self-regard of the president who is supposed to lead us through this crisis.

A few points to mention.

Alternative facts. In recent days, conservative pundits appear to have been scandalized by the suggestion that the coronavirus is Donald Trump’s Chernobyl. They miss the point, which is not that the virus is a nuclear furnace. It’s that the same absence of trust that pervaded the relationship between the Soviet regime and its people also pervades the relationship between much of America and its president.

A leader who cannot be believed will not be followed, even, or especially, in periods of emergency. If Trump’s supporters now wonder why Americans won’t rally around the president as they did around George W. Bush after 9/11, there’s the answer.

America First. Trump didn’t fail to insert his favorite catchphrase into his speech on Wednesday. As usual, it managed to combine jingoism with bad policy. Instead of boasting, he could have learned from South Korea how to test better. Instead of trying to talk down the threat, he could have learned from Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to speak about it far more honestly. Instead of offering rosy guesses of what the ultimate case fatality rate might be, he could have learned from Germany’s Angela Merkel to teach Americans some sobering math.

Putting America First — a slogan — first, means putting Americans — real ones — last.

Build the wall. “The virus remains low-risk domestically because of the containment actions taken by this administration since the first of the year.” So said a White House spokesman late last month, following the president’s monomaniacal belief that there’s hardly a problem in America that can’t be fixed by building a wall, shutting a port, booting a migrant, imposing a tariff, or blaming a foreigner — right down to a “foreign virus.”

Except that containment turned out to have dwindling returns once the virus moved beyond China, squandering time and resources while creating a false sense of geographic immunity. Had the White House abandoned its ideological obsession a month ago and instead urged or mandated social distancing from the start, we’d be in a better place now.

Drain the swamp. The administration’s other core belief is that America is in the evil grip of the “administrative state.” But while it’s one thing to pare federal bloat and curb bureaucratic overreach, what we have now is a White House that can’t distinguish between muscle and fat, essential government and excess.

Hence the disconnect between the president’s airy promise that the coronavirus test is available to all who need it, and the sobering reality that kits are in critically low supply. Hence also the astonishing congressional testimony this week by the White House’s acting budget director that he’s sticking to his proposal to slash the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of broader cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Very stable genius. Millions of Trump’s supporters aren’t blind to the president’s clownishness and ignorance. But they’ve been relatively indifferent to both, because they find the first entertaining and the second irrelevant to his overall performance. Who cares what a president knows about epidemiology, so long as the markets are up?

They care now. The coronavirus has exposed the falsehood of so many notions Trump’s base holds about the presidency: that experts are unnecessary; that hunches are a substitute for knowledge; that competence in administration is overrated; that every criticism is a hoax; and that everything that happens in Washington is B.S. Above all, it has devastated the conceit that having an epic narcissist in the White House is a riskless proposition at a time of extreme risk.

Will Trump’s declaration of a national emergency change this?

Maybe, and the president has a belated opportunity to demonstrate seriousness he has lacked so far. But nobody should forget that such seriousness would only be a function of political expediency. Should coronavirus recede in warmer weather, you can depend on Trump to declare his premature victory — not warn that winter is coming.

It should not have had to take a deadly virus to expose this presidency for what it is. But it’s fitting that it has. A man who thinks he can twist every truth to suit his needs has at last discovered that he cannot twist the truths of nature and of one of nature’s gods. Her name remains Nemesis.

Eating Olives at the End of the World (essay-34)

April 12, 2020 commentary

A story by Etgar Keret

Image from article in The New York Review of Books
Word-count – 371

The world is about to end and I’m eating olives. The original plan was pizza, but when I walked into the grocery store and saw all the empty shelves, I realized I could forget about pizza dough and tomato sauce. I tried talking to the cashier at the express line, an older lady who was Skyping with someone in Spanish on her cell phone, but she answered me without even glancing up. She looked devastated.

“They bought everything,” she murmured, “all that’s left is menstrual pads and pickles.”

The only thing on the pickle shelf was a single jar of pimento-stuffed olives, my favorite kind.

By the time I got back to the checkout, the cashier was in tears. “He’s like a warm loaf of bread,” she said, “my sweet little grandson. I’ll never see him again, I’ll never smell him, I’ll never get to hug my baby again.”

Instead of answering, I put the jar down on the conveyor belt and pulled a fifty out of my pocket. “It’s okay,” I said when I realized she wasn’t going to take the bill, “I don’t need change.”

“Money?” she said with a snort, “the world is about to end and you’re offering me money? What exactly am I supposed to do with it?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I really want these olives. If fifty isn’t enough I’ll pay more, whatever it costs…”

“A hug,” the tearful cashier interrupted me and spread her arms out, “it’ll cost you a hug.”

I’m sitting on my balcony at home now, watching TV and eating cheese and olives. It was difficult to get the TV out here, but if this is it, then there’s no better way to end it than with a starry sky and a lousy Argentinian soap. It’s episode 436 and I don’t know any of the characters. They’re beautiful, they’re emotional, they’re yelling at each other in Spanish. There are no subtitles, so it’s hard to understand exactly what they’re shouting about. I close my eyes and think back to the cashier at the grocery store. When we hugged I tried to be small, to be warmer than I really am. I tried to smell like I’d only just been born.

Translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.
April 12, 2020, 7:00 am

John R. Lewis (1940 – 2020)

July 30, 2020 commentary

this is a space-holder
between the title and image

John R. Lewis Lying in State, US Capital

President Barack Obama’s Eulogy for John R. Lewis
Thursday, July 30, 2020 – Ebenezer Baptist Church – Atlanta, Georgia

James wrote to the believers, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”

It is a great honor to be back in Ebenezer Baptist Church, in the pulpit of its greatest pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to pay my respects to perhaps his finest disciple – an American whose faith was tested again and again to produce a man of pure joy and unbreakable perseverance – John Robert Lewis.

To those who have spoken to Presidents Bush and Clinton, Madam Speaker, Reverend Warnock, Reverend King, John’s family, friends, his beloved staff, Mayor Bottoms – I’ve come here today because I, like so many Americans, owe a great debt to John Lewis and his forceful vision of freedom.

Now, this country is a constant work in progress. We were born with instructions: to form a more perfect union. Explicit in those words is the idea that we are imperfect; that what gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further than anyone might have thought possible.

John Lewis – the first of the Freedom Riders, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of this state and this district for 33 years, mentor to young people, including me at the time, until his final day on this Earth – he not only embraced that responsibility, but he made it his life’s work.

Which isn’t bad for a boy from Troy. John was born into modest means – that means he was poor – in the heart of the Jim Crow South to parents who picked somebody else’s cotton. Apparently, he didn’t take to farm work – on days when he was supposed to help his brothers and sisters with their labor, he’d hide under the porch and make a break for the school bus when it showed up. His mother, Willie Mae Lewis, nurtured that curiosity in this shy, serious child. “Once you learn something,” she told her son, “once you get something inside your head, no one can take it away from you.”

As a boy, John listened through the door after bedtime as his father’s friends complained about the Klan. One Sunday as a teenager, he heard Dr. King preach on the radio. As a college student in Tennessee, he signed up for Jim Lawson’s workshops on the tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience. John Lewis was getting something inside his head, an idea he couldn’t shake that took hold of him – that nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience were the means to change laws, but also change hearts, and change minds, and change nations, and change the world.

So he helped organize the Nashville campaign in 1960. He and other young men and women sat at a segregated lunch counter, well-dressed, straight-backed, refusing to let a milkshake poured on their heads, or a cigarette extinguished on their backs, or a foot aimed at their ribs, refused to let that dent their dignity and their sense of purpose. And after a few months, the Nashville campaign achieved the first successful desegregation of public facilities in any major city in the South.

John got a taste of jail for the first, second, third…well, several times. But he also got a taste of victory. And it consumed him with righteous purpose. And he took the battle deeper into the South.

That same year, just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of interstate bus facilities was unconstitutional, John and Bernard Lafayette bought two tickets, climbed aboard a Greyhound, sat up front, and refused to move. This was months before the first official Freedom Rides. He was doing a test. The trip was unsanctioned. Few knew what they were up to. And at every stop, through the night, apparently the angry driver stormed out of the bus and into the bus station. And John and Bernard had no idea what he might come back with or who he might come back with. Nobody was there to protect them. There were no camera crews to record events. You know, sometimes, we read about this and kind of take it for granted. Or at least we act as if it was inevitable. Imagine the courage of two people Malia’s age, younger than my oldest daughter, on their own, to challenge an entire infrastructure of oppression.

John was only twenty years old. But he pushed all twenty of those years to the center of the table, betting everything, all of it, that his example could challenge centuries of convention, and generations of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities suffered by African Americans.

Like John the Baptist preparing the way, like those Old Testament prophets speaking truth to kings, John Lewis did not hesitate – he kept on getting on board buses and sitting at lunch counters, got his mugshot taken again and again, marched again and again on a mission to change America.

Spoke to a quarter million people at the March on Washington when he was just 23.

Helped organize the Freedom Summer in Mississippi when he was just 24.

At the ripe old age of 25, John was asked to lead the march from Selma to Montgomery. He was warned that Governor Wallace had ordered troopers to use violence. But he and Hosea Williams and others led them across that bridge anyway. And we’ve all seen the film and the footage and the photographs, and President Clinton mentioned the trench coat, the knapsack, the book to read, the apple to eat, the toothbrush – apparently jails weren’t big on such creature comforts. And you look at those pictures and John looks so young and he’s small in stature. Looking every bit that shy, serious child that his mother had raised and yet, he is full of purpose. God’s put perseverance in him.

And we know what happened to the marchers that day. Their bones were cracked by billy clubs, their eyes and lungs choked with tear gas. As they knelt to pray, which made their heads even easier targets, and John was struck in the skull. And he thought he was going to die, surrounded by the sight of young Americans gagging, and bleeding, and trampled, victims in their own country of state-sponsored violence.

And the thing is, I imagine initially that day, the troopers thought that they had won the battle. You can imagine the conversations they had afterwards. You can imagine them saying, “yeah, we showed them.” They figured they’d turned the protesters back over the bridge; that they’d kept, that they’d preserved a system that denied the basic humanity of their fellow citizens. Except this time, there were some cameras there. This time, the world saw what happened, bore witness to Black Americans who were asking for nothing more than to be treated like other Americans. Who were not asking for special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them a century before, and almost another century before that.

When John woke up, and checked himself out of the hospital, he would make sure the world saw a movement that was, in the words of Scripture, “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” They returned to Brown Chapel, a battered prophet, bandages around his head, and he said more marchers will come now. And the people came. And the troopers parted. And the marchers reached Montgomery. And their words reached the White House – and Lyndon Johnson, son of the South, said “We shall overcome,” and the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.

The life of John Lewis was, in so many ways, exceptional. It vindicated the faith in our founding, redeemed that faith; that most American of ideas; that idea that any of us ordinary people without rank or wealth or title or fame can somehow point out the imperfections of this nation, and come together, and challenge the status quo, and decide that it is in our power to remake this country that we love until it more closely aligns with our highest ideals. What a radical ideal. What a revolutionary notion. This idea that any of us, ordinary people, a young kid from Troy can stand up to the powers and principalities and say no this isn’t right, this isn’t true, this isn’t just. We can do better. On the battlefield of justice, Americans like John, Americans like the Reverends Lowery and C.T. Vivian, two other patriots that we lost this year, liberated all of us that many Americans came to take for granted.

America was built by people like them. America was built by John Lewises. He as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals. And someday, when we do finish that long journey toward freedom; when we do form a more perfect union – whether it’s years from now, or decades, or even if it takes another two centuries – John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.

And yet, as exceptional as John was, here’s the thing: John never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country can do. I mentioned in the statement the day John passed, the thing about John was just how gentle and humble he was. And despite this storied, remarkable career, he treated everyone with kindness and respect because it was innate to him – this idea that any of us can do what he did if we are willing to persevere.

He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, that in all of us there is a  longing to do what’s right, that in all of us there is a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. So many of us lose that sense. It’s taught out of us. We start feeling as if, in fact, that we can’t afford to extend kindness or decency to other people. That we’re better off if we are above other people and looking down on them, and so often that’s encouraged in our culture. But John always saw the best in us. And he never gave up, and never stopped speaking out because he saw the best in us. He believed in us even when we didn’t believe in ourselves. As a Congressman, he didn’t rest; he kept getting himself arrested. As an old man, he didn’t sit out any fight; he sat in, all night long, on the floor of the United States Capitol. I know his staff was stressed.

But the testing of his faith produced perseverance. He knew that the march is not yet over, that the race is not yet won, that we have not yet reached that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character. He knew from his own life that progress is fragile; that we have to be vigilant against the darker currents of this country’s history, of our own history, with their whirlpools of violence and hatred and despair that can always rise again.

Bull Connor may be gone. But today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans. George Wallace may be gone. But we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators. We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here, there are those in power are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting – by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the postal service in the runup to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don’t get sick.

Now, I know this is a celebration of John’s life. There are some who might say we shouldn’t dwell on such things. But that’s why I’m talking about it. John Lewis devoted his time on this Earth fighting the very attacks on democracy and what’s best in America that we are seeing circulate right now.

He knew that every single one of us has a God-given power. And that the fate of this democracy depends on how we use it; that democracy isn’t automatic, it has to be nurtured, it has to be tended to, we have to work at it, it’s hard. And so he knew it depends on whether we summon a measure, just a measure, of John’s moral courage to question what’s right and what’s wrong and call things as they are. He said that as long as he had breath in his body, he would do everything he could to preserve this democracy. That as long as we have breath in our bodies, we have to continue his cause. If we want our children to grow up in a democracy – not just with elections, but a true democracy, a representative democracy, a big-hearted, tolerant, vibrant, inclusive America of perpetual self-creation – then we are going to have to be more like John. We don’t have to do all the things he had to do because he did them for us. But we have got to do something. As the Lord instructed Paul, “Do not be afraid, go on speaking; do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Just everybody’s just got to come out and vote. We’ve got all those people in the city but we can’t do nothing.

Like John, we have got to keep getting into that good trouble. He knew that nonviolent protest is patriotic; a way to raise public awareness, put a spotlight on injustice, and make the powers that be uncomfortable.

Like John, we don’t have to choose between protest and politics, it is not an either-or situation, it is a both-and situation. We have to engage in protests where that is effective but we also have to  translate our passion and our causes into laws and institutional practices. That’s why John ran for Congress thirty-four years ago.

Like John, we have got to fight even harder for the most powerful tool we have, which is the right to vote. The Voting Rights Act is one of the crowning achievements of our democracy. It’s why John crossed that bridge. It’s why he spilled his blood. And by the way, it was the result of Democratic and Republican efforts. President Bush, who spoke here earlier, and his father, both signed its renewal when they were in office. President Clinton didn’t have to because it was the law when he arrived so instead he made a law that made it easier for people to register to vote.

But once the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act, some state legislatures unleashed a flood of laws designed specifically to make voting harder, especially, by the way, state legislatures where there is a lot of minority turnout and population growth. That’s not necessarily a mystery or an accident. It was an attack on what John fought for. It was an attack on our democratic freedoms. And we should treat it as such.

If politicians want to honor John, and I’m so grateful for the legacy of work of all the Congressional leaders who are here, but there’s a better way than a statement calling him a hero. You want to honor John? Let’s honor him by revitalizing the law that he was willing to die for. And by the way, naming it the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, that is a fine tribute. But John wouldn’t want us to stop there, trying to get back to where we already were. Once we pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we should keep marching to make it even better.

By making sure every American is automatically registered to vote, including former inmates who’ve earned their second chance.

By adding polling places, and expanding early voting, and making Election Day a national holiday, so if you are someone who is working in a factory, or you are a single mom who has got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot.

By guaranteeing that every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, D.C. and in Puerto Rico. They are Americans.

By ending some of the partisan gerrymandering– so that all voters have the power to choose their politicians, not the other way around.

And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster – another Jim Crow relic – in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.

And yet, even if we do all this – even if every bogus voter suppression law was struck off the books today – we have got to be honest with ourselves that too many of us choose not to exercise the franchise; that too many of our citizens believe their vote won’t make a difference, or they buy into the cynicism that, by the way,  is the central strategy of voter suppression, to make you discouraged, to stop believing in your own power.

So we are also going to have to remember what John said: “If you don’t do everything you can to change things, then they will remain the same. You only pass this way once. You have to give it all you have.” As long as young people are protesting in the streets, hoping real change takes hold, I’m hopeful but we cannot casually abandon them at the ballot box. Not when few elections have been as urgent, on so many levels, as this one. We cannot treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy.

Like John, we have to give it all we have.

I was proud that John Lewis was a friend of mine. I met him when I was in law school. He came to speak and I went up and I said, “Mr. Lewis, you are one of my heroes. What inspired me more than anything as a young man was to see what you and Reverend Lawson and Bob Moses and Diane Nash and others did.” And he got that kind of – aw shucks, thank you very much.

The next time I saw him, I had been elected to the United States Senate. And I told him, “John, I am here because of you.” On Inauguration Day in 2008, 2009, he was one of the first people that I greeted and hugged on that stand. I told him, “This is your day too.”

He was a good and kind and gentle man. And he believed in us – even when we don’t believe in ourselves. It’s fitting that the last time John and I shared a public forum was on Zoom. I am pretty sure that neither he nor I set up the Zoom call because we didn’t know how to work it. It was a virtual town hall with a gathering of young activists who had been helping to lead this summer’s demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death. And afterwards, I spoke to John privately, and he could not have been prouder to see this new generation of activists standing up for freedom and equality; a new generation that was intent on voting and protecting the right to vote; in some cases, a new generation running for political office.

I told him, all those young people, John – of every race and every religion, from every background and gender and sexual orientation – John, those are your children. They learned from your example, even if they didn’t always know it. They had understood, through him, what American citizenship requires, even if they had only heard about his courage through the history books.

“By the thousands, faceless, anonymous, relentless young people, black and white…have taken our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

Dr. King said that in the 1960s. And it came true again this summer.

We see it outside our windows, in big cities and rural towns, in men and women, young and old, straight Americans and LGBTQ Americans, Blacks who long for equal treatment and whites who can no longer accept freedom for themselves while witnessing the subjugation of their fellow Americans. We see it in everybody doing the hard work of overcoming complacency, of overcoming our own fears and our own prejudices, our own hatreds. You see it in people trying to be better, truer versions of ourselves.

And that’s what John Lewis teaches us. That’s where real courage comes from. Not from turning on each other, but by turning towards one another. Not by sowing hatred and division, but by spreading love and truth. Not by avoiding our responsibilities to create a better America and a better world, but by embracing those responsibilities with with joy and perseverance and discovering that in our beloved community, we do not walk alone.

What a gift John Lewis was. We are all so lucky to have had him walk with us for a while, and show us the way.

God bless you all. God bless America. God bless this gentle soul who pulled it closer to its promise.

biden dreams

August 16, 2020 commentary

WASHINGTON — One wintry day in 1992, my boss drolly told me to try to look young.

We were meeting Richard Nixon and the fallen president preferred to talk to reporters who were not old enough to have covered his Waterloo of Watergate.

We had our coffee with him two years before he died. Some of his observations on the presidential race were smart but one seemed more vengeful than visionary.

He warned that Bill Clinton’s campaign would have to be careful about how it deployed Hillary Clinton. “If the wife comes through as being too strong and too intelligent, it makes the husband look like a wimp,’’ he said, adding that unfortunately some voters concurred with Cardinal Richelieu’s pronouncement, “Intellect in a woman is unbecoming.”

I wondered if he was still smarting that Hillary Rodham had been a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry. And I didn’t agree with him. Arkansas voters had a period of adjustment with their governor’s formidable wife. But on the national stage, it was Bill Clinton’s inability to control his appetites that made him seem weak — not having a strong partner.

Without missing a beat, nearly three decades later, William Bennett went on Fox News after Joe Biden anointed Kamala Harris and picked up right where Nixon had left off.

“She is a very ambitious person,’’ Bennett told Bret Baier, about how the California senator might overshadow Biden. “She’ll be out there doing tons of interviews. Where will Joe be? Will he still be in the basement? There could be some problems here that arise.”

It won’t fly.

All those old tropes about castrating women are threadbare as Trump’s despicable attempt to recycle the birther smear he used to slime Barack Obama, this time against Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother. She was born in Oakland, Calif.

Biden looks confident for choosing an accomplished woman who delivered a haymaker in a debate. After Donald Trump’s petty vindictiveness, Biden rising above grudges is a lovely thing to behold.

President Trump represents the last primal shriek of retrograde white men afraid to lose their power. He’s a dinosaur who evokes a world of beauty pageants, “suburban housewives,’’ molestation, cheating on your wife when she’s pregnant, paying off porn stars, preferring women to be seen and not heard, dismissing women who challenge you as nasty, angry and crazy.

Even as Fox hacks lambasted Harris as “transactional,” Michael Cohen dropped an excerpt from his tell-all describing life with Trump as a mob movie: “I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.”

In his nefarious attempt to suppress the vote, Trump is ruining that great American achievement, the U.S. Postal Service. He’s complimenting Marjorie Taylor Greene, the winner of a Republican primary in Georgia who openly flirts with the insane QAnon cult and says she’s going to Washington to get rid of that “bitch,” Nancy Pelosi. (Let us know how that goes.) And, inexplicably, the president is talking about undermining Social Security, not only touching the third rail of politics but picking it up and putting it in his mouth.

Yet our mad king has the gall to dismiss Harris as “sort of a madwoman.”

Trump’s hard-core base of white misogynists and his yammering sewing circle of Bill Barr, Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson will eat it up.

“Is America ready for a shallow, hectoring, rich lady whose only real fans work at hedge funds and MSNBC?” Carlson said, hectoring.

Harris has shown that she can throw a few elbows, that she doesn’t worry about always being nice, and I like that about her. The effort to cast her as an Angry Woman will not succeed; the country is rapidly moving past such caricatures. Besides, women should be angry. Trump’s feckless response to the coronavirus has forced parents to play Russian roulette with their kids and schools.

It’s rich that the campaign of the phony in the Oval called Biden’s running mate “Phony Kamala.” If Team Trump wants to depict her as calculating, bring it on.

After all the Trump flailing, some calculating would be welcome. We need the daughter of a scientist — as a little girl, she washed her mother’s test tubes at the research lab — to calculate the best way to get us out of virus Groundhog Day, once the president who fought masks and who bungled testing is dispatched. We need someone who worked in law enforcement to calculate the best way to reimagine policing without decimating it.

The charismatic senator bristles at being called “the female Obama.’’ Valerie Jarrett, Hilary Rosen and other feminists have sent out a memo instructing the media not to talk about the appearance of a woman running on the ticket. Don’t call her glamorous! Still, I have to say, the senator has that same magnetic smile that Obama had, back in the days before Mitch McConnell wore him down, a smile that fills you with hope about what America can be.

After Biden teamed up with Obama, he said privately that he knew that he was unlikely to succeed the president because his party would want to make history with the first woman in the White House after the first Black president. Biden would have to settle for being the bridge linking the past — experience and establishment ties — to a future with the exciting political newcomer.

But fate, which has often been cruel to Biden, has provided a stunning, soaring twist to the story. After being condescended to by Obama whippersnappers and Hillaryworld, and pushed out of contention for the 2016 race by Obama, Biden was brought back to life in 2020, at age 77, by Jim Clyburn and Black voters in South Carolina. And now he will be the nominee he thought he could never be, as well as the bridge for another younger, biracial, razzle-dazzle partner with an uncommon first name. This time, it’s a woman from the West with a “Modern Family” home life. Biden could be paving the way for the first woman to be president, one who writes with pride about her Black and South Asian roots. (A bit of expiation for Anita Hill.)

If that happens, Donald Trump will deserve some credit, too, for mobilizing women voters to fight against his porcine, backward, dangerous behavior and inspiring Democrats to push for a woman, especially a woman of color, to get the golden ticket. Trump tweeted Friday that he wants to build a “BEAUTIFUL STATUE” here in honor of the centennial of women getting the right to vote. But being the catalyst to elect the first woman as vice president would be the best way to celebrate.

by Maureen Dowd
Opinion Columnist
New York Times
Sunday, August 16, 2020

the house of the rising sun

February 13, 2021 commentary


  • this is the 9th and final circle in Dante’s Inferno
  • it’s reserved for the worst sin of all – treachery
  • and in this circle, at the center of Hell, we find a 3-headed Satan masticating on Judas, Brutus and Cassius – history’s most infamous traitors

The following speech was given on the Senate floor by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Saturday, February 13, 2021.


“January 6th was a disgrace.

“American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of democratic business they did not like.

“Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President.

“They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he’d lost an election.

“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.

“The House accused the former President of, quote, ‘incitement.’ That is a specific term from the criminal law.

“Let me put that to the side for one moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago: There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.

“And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.

“The issue is not only the President’s intemperate language on January 6th.

“It is not just his endorsement of remarks in which an associate urged ‘trial by combat.’

“It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe; the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was being stolen in some secret coup by our now-President.

“I defended the President’s right to bring any complaints to our legal system. The legal system spoke. The Electoral College spoke. As I stood up and said clearly at the time, the election was settled.

“But that reality just opened a new chapter of even wilder and more unfounded claims.

“The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.

“Sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally.

“This was different.

“This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.

“The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began.

“Whatever our ex-President claims he thought might happen that day… whatever reaction he says he meant to produce… by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world.

“A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him.

“It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.

“Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the Administration.

“But the President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored.

“Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!

“Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger… even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the President sent a further tweet attacking his Vice President.

“Predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as further inspiration to lawlessness and violence.

“Later, even when the President did halfheartedly begin calling for peace, he did not call right away for the riot to end. He did not tell the mob to depart until even later.

“And even then, with police officers bleeding and broken glass covering Capitol floors, he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals.

“In recent weeks, our ex-President’s associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of human shield against criticism.

“Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters.

“That is an absurd deflection.

“74 million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did.

“And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it.

“One person did.

“I have made my view of this episode very plain.

“But our system of government gave the Senate a specific task. The Constitution gives us a particular role.

“This body is not invited to act as the nation’s overarching moral tribunal.

“We are not free to work backward from whether the accused party might personally deserve some kind of punishment.

“Justice Joseph Story was our nation’s first great constitutional scholar. As he explained nearly 200 years ago, the process of impeachment and conviction is a narrow tool for a narrow purpose.

“Story explained this limited tool exists to “secure the state against gross official misdemeanors.” That is, to protect the country from government officers.

“If President Trump were still in office, I would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge.

“By the strict criminal standard, the President’s speech probably was not incitement.

“However, in the context of impeachment, the Senate might have decided this was acceptable shorthand for the reckless actions that preceded the riot.

“But in this case, that question is moot. Because former President Trump is constitutionally not eligible for conviction.

“There is no doubt this is a very close question. Donald Trump was the President when the House voted, though not when the House chose to deliver the papers.

“Brilliant scholars argue both sides of the jurisdictional question. The text is legitimately ambiguous. I respect my colleagues who have reached either conclusion.

“But after intense reflection, I believe the best constitutional reading shows that Article II, Section 4 exhausts the set of persons who can legitimately be impeached, tried, or convicted. The President, Vice President, and civil officers.

“We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.

“Here is Article II, Section 4:

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

“Now, everyone basically agrees that the second half of that sentence exhausts the legitimate grounds for conviction.

“The debates around the Constitution’s framing make that clear. Congress cannot convict for reasons besides those.

“It therefore follows that the list of persons in that same sentence is also exhaustive. There is no reason why one list would be exhaustive but the other would not.

“Article II, Section 4 must limit both why impeachment and conviction can occur… and to whom.

“If this provision does not limit the impeachment and conviction powers, then it has no limits at all.

“The House’s ‘sole power of Impeachment’ and the Senate’s ‘sole Power to try all Impeachments’ would create an unlimited circular logic, empowering Congress to ban any private citizen from federal office.

“This is an incredible claim. But it is the argument the House Managers seemed to make. One Manager said the House and Senate have ‘absolute, unqualified… jurisdictional power.’

“That was very honest. Because there is no limiting principle in the constitutional text that would empower the Senate to convict former officers that would not also let them convict and disqualify any private citizen.

“An absurd end result to which no one subscribes.

“Article II, Section 4 must have force. It tells us the President, Vice President, and civil officers may be impeached and convicted. Donald Trump is no longer the president.

“Likewise, the provision states that officers subject to impeachment and conviction ‘shall be removed from Office’ if convicted.


“As Justice Story explained, ‘the Senate, [upon] conviction, [is] bound, in all cases, to enter a judgment of removal from office.’ Removal is mandatory upon conviction.

“Clearly, he explained, that mandatory sentence cannot be applied to somebody who has left office.

“The entire process revolves around removal. If removal becomes impossible, conviction becomes insensible.

“In one light, it certainly does seem counterintuitive that an officeholder can elude Senate conviction by resignation or expiration of term.

“But this just underscores that impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice.

“Impeachment, conviction, and removal are a specific intra-governmental safety valve. It is not the criminal justice system, where individual accountability is the paramount goal.

“Indeed, Justice Story specifically reminded that while former officials were not eligible for impeachment or conviction, they were “still liable to be tried and punished in the ordinary tribunals of justice.”

“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.

“I believe the Senate was right not to grab power the Constitution does not give us.

“And the Senate was right not to entertain some light-speed sham process to try to outrun the loss of jurisdiction.

“It took both sides more than a week just to produce their pre-trial briefs. Speaker Pelosi’s own scheduling decisions conceded what President Biden publicly confirmed: A Senate verdict before Inauguration Day was never possible.

“This has been a dispiriting time. But the Senate has done our duty. The framers’ firewall held up again.

“On January 6th, we returned to our posts and certified the election, uncowed.

“And since then, we resisted the clamor to defy our own constitutional guardrails in hot pursuit of a particular outcome.

“We refused to continue a cycle of recklessness by straining our own constitutional boundaries in response.

“The Senate’s decision does not condone anything that happened on or before that terrible day.

“It simply shows that Senators did what the former President failed to do:

“We put our constitutional duty first.”

1. The title, on the main-page, is from Eric Burdon’s and The Animals’ famous 1964 breakout hit.
(The US Senate, 20-years into the twenty-first century, is nothing more than a crumbling house-of-prostitution.)
2. The above image is a painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
3. The featured-image, the thumbnail on the main-page, is a detail of the Bouguereau painting.

ezra klein

March 4, 2021 commentary

Biden Is the Anti-Trump, and It’s Working

.If you can dial down the conflict, you can dial up the policy.

By Ezra Klein
New York Times – Opinion Columnist

American politics feels quieter with Joe Biden in the White House. The president’s Twitter feed hasn’t gone dark, but it’s gone dull. Biden doesn’t pick needless fights or insert himself into cultural conflicts. It’s easy to go days without hearing anything the president has said, unless you go looking.

But the relative quiet is deceptive: Policy is moving at a breakneck pace. The first weeks of the Biden administration were consumed by a flurry of far-reaching executive orders that reopened America to refugees, rejoined the Paris climate accords and killed the Keystone XL oil pipeline, to name just a few. Now the House has passed, and the Senate is considering, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, a truly sweeping piece of legislation that includes more than a half-dozen policies — like a child tax credit expansion that could cut child poverty by 50 percent — that would be presidency-defining accomplishments on their own.

It goes on. The White House just sent Congress the most ambitious immigration reform bill in years. It midwifed a deal to get Merck to mobilize some of its factories to produce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, and now Biden is saying there should be enough of a supply for every American adult to get vaccinated by the end of May. Imagine! The administration is also working on an infrastructure package that, if early reports bear out, will be the most transformational piece of climate policy — and perhaps economic policy — in my lifetime. Biden is blitzing.

This is roughly the opposite of how Donald Trump approached his presidency. Trump combined an always-on, say-anything, fight-anyone communications strategy with a curious void of legislative ambition. He backed congressional Republicans’ unimaginative and ultimately doomed Obamacare repeal effort, and then signed a package of tax cuts tilted toward the wealthy. It was bog-standard, Paul Ryan-conservatism — nothing like the populist revolution Trump promised on the campaign trail. Trump signed plenty of executive orders, but when it came to the hard work of persuading others to do what he wanted, he typically checked out, or turned to Twitter.

Even so, Trump convinced many that he was a political genius whose shamelessness had allowed him to see what others had missed: You didn’t win by being liked, you won by being all anyone ever talked about, even if they were cursing your name. “Very often my readers tried to persuade me there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and Trump had proven that,” Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at N.Y.U., told me. “All that mattered was you were occupying space in the spectacle — not what was actually happening to you in that glare.”

One rebuttal to that theory was always obvious. “Trump never got over 50 percent approval,” Rosen says. “He’s a widely hated man, a one-term president.” For all the talk of Teflon Don, Trump paid a price for his antics and affronts and scandals. Bad publicity actually is bad publicity.

But another way of looking at it is that Trump’s communication strategy was successful in getting Trump what he actually wanted: Attention, not legislation. Biden wants legislation, not attention, and that informs his team’s more targeted approach. “You can be all over every newscast and insert yourself in every conversation, but if you aren’t driving that conversation toward a focused agenda, it isn’t doing you a lot of good,” Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, told me.

(Note: the link below takes you to the article at the New York Times. The article includes the graph mentioned above.)

So far, Biden’s quieter strategy appears to be working. As these charts show, he gets far less media attention than Trump — even after Election Day, the share of news stories with Biden’s name in the headline was less than half of what Trump got — and Google records far less search interest in his administration. But Biden is polling at about 54 percent, around 10 points higher than Trump at this stage of his presidency (or any stage of his presidency). More tellingly, the American Rescue Plan is polling between 10 and 20 points ahead of Biden, making it one of the most popular major pieces of legislation in recent decades. In one recent poll, Republicans were asked whether Biden’s plan should be abandoned for a bipartisan alternative, and they split down the middle, with as many Republicans saying the plan should be passed as abandoned. That’s remarkable.

The American Rescue Plan is a bolder, more progressive, economic package than anything a Democratic president has proposed since L.B.J. But it is not, for now, a polarizing package. It’s less polarizing even than Biden, who only polls at 12 percent among Republicans. You could chalk that up to its popular component parts, but the Affordable Care Act’s individual policies were popular, too, and the bill polled at around 40 percent. You could say it’s the coronavirus crisis, but coronavirus policy is sharply polarized. I suspect Biden’s calmer approach to political communication is opening space for a bolder agenda.

A few pieces of political science research are shaping my thinking here. In 2012, Stephen Nicholson, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, published an interesting paper called “Polarizing Cues.” In it, Nicholson asked people their opinions of proposed housing and immigration policies, sometimes telling them that Barack Obama supported the policy and at other times telling them that George W. Bush or John McCain supported the policy. What he found was that opinions didn’t much change when people heard that a political leader from their own party supported a bill. But opinions changed dramatically when you told them a political leader from the other side supported a bill — it led to sharp swings against the legislation, no matter the underlying policy content.

When I called Nicholson to ask him about the paper, he gave an insightful explanation for the results. Humans tend to see diversity in the groups we belong to, and sameness in the groups we mistrust, he said. A Democrat knows there are many ways to be a Democrat — you can be a Biden Democrat, an A.O.C. Democrat, an Obama Democrat, a Bernie Democrat, a Clinton Democrat. So a signal from any one Democratic leader is weaker, because he or she may not be the leader you care about. But no matter which kind of Democrat you are, Republicans blur in your mind into an undifferentiated mass of awful, so a signal from their political leaders is stronger. The process works the other way, too, of course. A recent Gallup poll showed 88 percent of Republicans disapprove of Biden — the more Biden makes the American Rescue Plan about himself, the more they’ll hate it.

Then there’s the book “Stealth Democracy,” by the political scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. They marshal a mountain of survey data to show that Americans have weak and changeable views on policy, but strong views on how politics should look and feel. Many, if not most, Americans believe “political conflict is unnecessary and an indication that something is wrong with governmental procedures,” they write. The more partisan fighting there is around a bill, in other words, the more Americans begin to believe something must be wrong with the legislation — otherwise, why would everyone be so upset?

Mitch McConnell understood all of this, and he ginned up political bickering to undermine Obama’s agenda. But Biden seems to understand it, too. When I talked to Bedingfield, she kept circling back to Biden’s preference for rhetoric and strategies that turn down “the temperature” on American politics. But Biden isn’t taking the usual Washington strategy toward that goal, which is to retreat to modest bills and quarter-measures. Instead, his theory seems to be that if you can dial down the conflict, you can dial up the policy.

I’ve argued before that Biden’s central insight in the campaign was that negative polarization — the degree to which we loathe the other side, even if we don’t much like our side — is now the most powerful force in American politics. Biden often refused to do things that would endear him to his base, because those same things would drive Republicans wild. That strategy is carrying over to his presidency. And in part because of it, the reaction to his signature legislative package, which really is a collection of policies progressives have dreamed of for years, isn’t cleaving along normal red-blue lines.

Like any other communications strategy, this will work until it doesn’t. Biden will have his failures, as all presidents do. But for now, it’s working, in defiance of the lessons many thought Trump’s presidency taught.

Speak softly and pass a big agenda. It’s at least worth a try.


April 7, 2021 commentary

Our battle with the evangelicals

Robert Harrington | 10:30 am EDT April 6, 2021
Palmer Report » Analysis

Believe it or not, you can blame it on the hippies. Once the inevitable happened and over-indulgence in drugs took its foregone toll on the “flower children” of the 60s, the hip and with-it scenes quickly dissolved into slums. San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district turned into a ghetto. Disillusioned, burned out and lost, the counterculture generation looked around for something new. And then, a miracle happened. Something old became exactly the something new they were looking for.

Enter the Jesus Freaks of the early 70s. Burn-outs were suddenly reinvigorated with a new mission and a new meaning. Hippies found God. The fusty old Bible was reimagined in a new translation called the Good News Translation, and given a new title: “Good News for Modern Man.” The movement grew and grew, until it became a youthful force to be reckoned with. I remember. I was there. I was one of them.

It all started so well and ended so badly. What happened along the way? You had to be there. But the youthful churches increased in strength and numbers and became mega-churches, and with huge attendance came huge amounts of money donated. As a theorem, “the love of money is the root of all evil” is laughably easy to disprove. But as a cautionary tale it definitely has merit. Very quickly the youthful church became filthy rich, and it did what the hippies kept warning us against. Its leaders turned 30. Then 40. Then 50. Somewhere in there the love of money became the love of political power. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today the evangelicals still mouth the same platitudes and pretend to believe the same things we believed back then, in the early days. But it’s now all a lie. The lie didn’t happen overnight, to be sure. It happened slowly, in stages, manifest in little compromises and little hypocrisies that became larger and increasingly morally unsustainable with each passing year, each passing decade. Finally the church turned into the very thing it stood against a long time ago, back in the early days. What once was about inclusion in a unifying message of love for all, came to stand for exclusion, racism, greed (disguised as the “prosperity gospel”), hypocrisy, hatred, chaos and counterfeit outrage, and an unrealistic vision of an America of the past that never really existed. In short, the hippies went full circle: they finally “went establishment.”

The evangelical church has become, according to writer and lecturer Frank Schaefer, the “real political danger facing the United States right now.” Like me, Schaefer fled the hypocrisy of the church in the early 80s. But unlike me he was part of what Time Magazine called “evangelical royalty,” having founded with his father the anti-abortion movement. It was Frank Schaeffer’s father, Francis Schaeffer, who inspired a generation of evangelicals to enter politics as the righteous defenders of the unborn in the early 70s. It was they who, as the younger Schaffer puts it, worked to “make abortion the litmus test of acceptable policy for evangelicals.” Together they built a political framework that grew into the monster we see at work today.

Schaeffer contends that the evangelical movement is shrinking. Because of this it’s becoming more desperate and willing to use more and more draconian methods to cling onto power, including extreme violence and extreme anti-democratic means. Schaeffer contends that the evangelical movement is the greatest enemy of democracy, and I agree.

It’s certainly true that busloads of evangelical Christians were among the insurrectionists at the Capitol on January 6. Schaeffer explains this as Evangelicals who “want to achieve their goals by imposing theocracy, their biblical so-called beliefs on the rest of the country.” They weren’t just along for the ride on January 6. Evangelicals were the motivating force behind the insurrection. Without them, January 6 would not have happened.

How do evangelicals propose to impose theocracy on America? “By judicial fiat and by rigging the electoral system in undemocratic ways,” Schaefer says, “overtly suppressing votes, overtly gerrymandering …”

Evangelical Christianity is the one common bond between Republicans. They may differ in various ways, but they’re all without exception evangelical Christians, or, like Trump, at least they pretend to be when they have to. Even Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the most hateful people most of us have ever seen, tweeted “He is risen” on Easter Sunday.

Schaeffer says the media doesn’t really understand this, they don’t understand what the evangelical movement is really up to. “The media looks in the wrong place,” he says. “They talk about race as if somehow all of this can be explained by racism. It can’t. They talk about economic decline as if somehow all this can be explained by working class Americans in the rust belt losing jobs. They’re looking in the wrong place. Look at religious fundamentalism instead.” Or in the words (falsely) attributed to Sinclair Lewis, “When fascism comes to America, it will be clothed in the flag and carrying a Bible.”

Schaeffer summarises this way: “Let’s just say it. Evangelical white Christians and the fundamentalist movement trying to cling to power through non democratic means, are the enemy of democracy [and] they are the enemy of the United States of America.” The danger is that “We have within us now a shrinking, desperate, angry minority, who are going to rig the system in their favor to push a moralistic agenda on the rest of us. And they will use any means possible.”

It is a dying movement that has become, in its death throes, deadly dangerous. We will never stop it until we understand it. This may very well be our last battle with the evangelicals. They will either fail and die out or they will destroy democracy and America with it. Our moral Armageddon may yet be ahead of us. And to think it all started with a bunch of hippies. The mind boggles. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

graveyard of empires

April 18, 2021 commentary

Another casualty in the graveyard of empires.

By Maureen Dowd

Opinion Columnist, New York Times

April 17, 2021

WASHINGTON — Afghanistan has a complicated relationship with time. And America has a complicated relationship with revenge.

Between these two truths, tragedy blossomed.

Awash in grief and anger, we invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 to hunt down Osama bin Laden and punish the Taliban for letting him turn a maze of caves into a launching pad to attack America.

But, despite the lessons the Soviets learned in 10 hard years there fighting ghostly warriors who disappeared into the mountains, American officials and generals never absorbed this simple fact: Even the battles we won, we lost in a way. As we grasped for our own revenge, what kind of revenge quest did we inspire in those who watched daisy cutter bombs rain hellfire or a wedding party disintegrate in a flash from an American airstrike? How many enemies have we spawned trying to help Afghanistan?

Taliban leaders say Americans have all the clocks, but they have all the time.

The Bush administration was arrogant and ignorant about occupying this medieval moonscape. Officials thought they could bomb the bejesus out of the people who hated us, so that they would never look at us cross-eyed again. We would be the swaggering hyperpower. Even Barack Obama, once so prescient on the futility of invading Iraq, was suckered by the military into a pointless surge in Afghanistan, a near tripling of troops, in 2009.

I remember touring Afghanistan and Iraq with Obama’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, at the time, flying over the snow-capped mountains that make Afghanistan a natural fortress and sinkhole for empires. I asked him if the president had been rolled by the generals. “That’s ridiculous,” Gates snapped, adding: “Anybody who reads history has to approach these things with some humility because you can’t know. Nobody knows what the last chapter ever looks like.”

Well, we seem to be at the last chapter, and it looks just as grim as all the other chapters of this misbegotten occupation.

Even then, it was clear that our attempt to turn Afghanistan and Iraq into model democracies was not going well. Touring those countries, Gates could barely leave the small secured zones.

At a joint news conference with Gates, our corrupt puppet Hamid Karzai needled his American sugar daddies, protesting that America was stuck because Afghanistan would not be able to get its own forces ready for 15 or 20 more years.

We attended a briefing where military leaders talked about “partnering” with and “mentoring” Afghan forces, but they acknowledged that before they could get to security training, they first they had to teach a vast majority of Afghan recruits to read and write.

Gates told reporters he had only just learned the “eye-opener” that the Taliban were attracting so many fighters because they paid more. Generals in Afghanistan said the Taliban were giving fighters $250 to $300 a month, while the Afghan Army was paying about $120. So Gates, employing the American way of throwing more money at a problem, got the recruits a raise to $240.

And this pathetic bidding war with the Taliban was eight years in.

We should have respected Afghanistan’s reputation as “the graveyard of empires” and Pakistan’s deserved reputation for double-dealing. The Time magazine cover in December 2001, “The Last Days of the Taliban,” mocks us.

We spent 20 years fighting in Afghanistan. But given our flat learning curve, every year there was like the first. So we were really on our first year for the 20th time, making the same mistakes over and over again.

As with Vietnam, many of those in charge knew for a long time that the war was unwinnable, but they hid the evidence, giving rosy forecasts while burning through $2.2 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives.

As Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who was the Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015 for the secret “Afghanistan Papers,” a project on how things went a cropper: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

Many top Bush officials and neocons who mired us so deeply in the first place were absurdly demanding this past week that President Biden not pull out. They are living cushy lives, enjoying big cable TV contracts and hosannas from liberals for trashing Donald Trump, while our troops have been dishonored by their half-baked and dishonest strategies.

Before we send our young people overseas to die, we need to learn from history and understand what we’re doing, not simply act out of vengeful emotions.As vice president, Biden was a lone voice in the Oval Office objecting to the surge in Afghanistan. He told Obama, if you let them, the generals will box you in and string it out.

And that’s how you end up with a “forever war,” an endeavor that becomes a self-sustaining energy source, where the objectives are redefined to infinity.

Afghanistan will go down as another lesson in the folly of leaders whose egos simply do not allow them to think they are involved in a failure, so they contrive to paint it as a success.

The U.S. has built a stable of weapons that can kill people wherever it desires. Drones and bombs that can go and drop anywhere we want them to. But the U.S. never bothered to figure out the rest of the equation.

Trump was shooting from the hip but his instinct to withdraw was right. And Biden was right to ignore dire warnings about what will happen when we leave. The Taliban cannot be trusted; they’re true believers in a medieval ideology. A power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban was never going to work.

“The main argument for staying longer is what each of my three predecessors have grappled with: No one wants to say that we should be in Afghanistan forever, but they insist now is not the right moment to leave,” Biden said, adding: “So when will it be the right moment to leave? One more year? Two more years? Ten more years? Ten, 20, 30 billion dollars more above the trillion we’ve already spent? ‘Not now’ — that’s how we got here.”

He talked of how he has carried a card for the last 12 years with the exact number of American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He spoke of his late son, Beau, his “North Star,” who was deployed to Iraq.

“I’m the first president in 40 years who knows what it means to have a child serving in a war zone,” he said.

Hopefully, our experience in Afghanistan will be the graveyard of America’s propensity to believe it can do whatever it wants with its military, without thinking through the consequences.

How could we justify another 20 years, one Afghanistan veteran asked me, poignantly noting that there’s nothing left of his friends who died in the war but names inscribed on park benches.

What’s the Secret of Biden’s Success?

April 21, 2021 commentary

The president’s party is finally comfortable in its own skin.

By Paul Krugman

New York Time, Opinion Columnist
April 19, 2021

Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A new Democratic president has inherited a nation in crisis. His first major policy initiative is a short-term relief bill intended to lead the way out of that crisis. He follows that bill with proposals to address longer-term problems and, if possible, to change American society for the better. His party holds majorities in the House and the Senate, but both of his initiatives face scorched-earth opposition from Republicans.

I could be describing the early months of either the Obama administration or the Biden administration. But there’s one huge difference between them: Even though Barack Obama began his presidency with high personal approval ratings, his policies never had strong public support. Public approval for Joe Biden’s policies, by contrast, is almost surreally high. Why?

To see what I’m talking about, compare polling on the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — with polling on Biden’s American Jobs Plan.

The A.C.A., famously, had negative net approval throughout the Obama years. Its image didn’t improve until the Trump administration tried to kill it, and even then it faced overwhelming disapproval from Republican voters.

By contrast, Americans approve of the jobs plan by huge margins, and while elected Republicans are dead set against Biden’s proposal, Republican voters on net support it.

What’s the secret of Biden’s success?

Part of the answer, surely, is identity politics. Let’s be blunt here: The modern version of “only Nixon could go to China” may be “only an old white guy can sell a new New Deal.”

Another factor working in Biden’s favor is the closing of professional Republicans’ minds. Even before conspiracy theories took control, Republican politicians were living in a mental bubble; in many ways the modern G.O.P. is more like a cult than a normal political party.

And at this point Republicans seem so deep in the cult that they’ve forgotten how to talk to outsiders. When they denounce every progressive idea as socialism, declare every center-left politician a Marxist, rant about “job creators” and insist on calling their rival the “Democrat Party,” they’re talking to themselves and persuading nobody.

If you want to see Republican tone-deafness in action, look at Senator Marsha Blackburn’s recent attack on the jobs plan. It’s not really about infrastructure, she proclaimed; why, it would spend hundreds of billions on elder care. And she apparently imagined that voters would see helping the elderly as a bad thing.

Biden, then, benefits from having a nonthreatening persona and an opposition that has forgotten how to make persuasive policy arguments. But the popularity of Bidenomics also reflects the effectiveness of a party that is far more comfortable in its own skin than it was a dozen years ago.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats are members of a normal political party — basically a mildly center-left party that looks a lot like its counterparts across the free world. In the past, however, Democrats seemed afraid to embrace this identity.

One striking thing about the Obama years, in retrospect, was the deference of Democrats to people who didn’t share their goals. The Obama administration deferred to bankers who warned that anything populist-sounding would undermine confidence and to deficit scolds demanding fiscal austerity. It wasted months on a doomed effort to get Republican support for health reform.

And along with this deference went diffidence, a reluctance to do simple, popular things like giving people money and taxing corporations. Instead, the Obama team tended to favor subtle policies that most Americans didn’t even notice.

Now the deference is gone. Wall Street clearly has a lot less influence this time around; Biden’s economic advisers evidently believe that if you build a better economy, confidence will take care of itself. The obsession with bipartisanship is also gone, replaced with a realistic appreciation of Republican bad faith, which has also made the new administration uninterested in G.O.P. talking points.

And the old diffidence has evaporated. Biden isn’t just going big, he’s going obvious, with highly visible policies rather than behavioral nudges. Furthermore, these forthright policies involve doing popular things. For example, voters have consistently told pollsters that corporations pay too little in taxes; Biden’s team, buoyed by the Trump tax cut’s failure, is willing to give the public what it wants.

So Biden’s 2021 isn’t playing anything like Obama’s 2009, and Republicans don’t seem to know what hit them.

Of course, polls may change. Public support for the Obama stimulus, never very strong, plunged in the face of a sluggish economic recovery. Voters might sour on Bidenomics, too, if the economy disappoints.

But all indications are that we’re heading for an economic boom, with G.D.P. growing at its fastest rate since 1984. If that happens, Biden’s policies might get even more popular than they are now.

How all of this will translate into votes remains to be seen. But early indications are that Biden has achieved what Obama never did: finding a way to make progressive policies truly popular.

Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography.

that long ago

June 27, 2021 commentary
Greetings from Cosenza

Note: The following as a translation of a short piece that Massimo Veltri posted on Facebook. I’ve always enjoyed reading anything he posts, even if I have to put the text through a translation tool. With the piece below, I did a combination of Word/Google translation plus my own work. Massimo’s writing is very accessible and is about the lives of everyday people. I tried to replicate in English the tone and style he was using in Italian.

The original piece shocked me because it described a world and experiences so similar to those my friends and I were having in Canada. (In 1965 I was still living in Northern Ontario.) We may have been Calabrian transplants, separated by an ocean, but our life experiences were very similar.

Enjoy his wonderful memory of 1965 in Italy.

Part One

In June, the Beatles played in Genoa and the Oscar Mandodori listed, for the first time, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms for 350 Lire. By July, Mariner 4 had landed on Mars and Italian President Giuseppe Saragat and French President Charles de Gaulle inaugurated the Mont-Blanc Tunnel. In August, the Beatles again made news with their new LP Help. And yet I was consumed by my upcoming final exams – esami di stato. It was 1965 – a lifetime ago.

That year was truly a shift from one phase of my life to another. I remember losing a bunch of weight – almost 25 pounds because of the stress of the State Exams. And yet the night before the first test, my friends and I went to a party. The apartment was on Via Miceli and we milled around on the terrace pretending not a care in the world. We were Crayola Crayons that the wine was scattering on terrazzo. A strange night. Any yet a few days earlier we had gone up to Praia a Mare with all our teachers for our end-of-the-year outing. There we were in organized groups monitored and under surveillance and to find each other among the sunbathers we would whistle the theme from the film Bridge on the River Kwai. The belligerence of youth graduating from high school.

Back then there was a weekly – Epoca – that with its photographs and foreign reporting observed many of us. It was a substitute, a companion to, a supplement to our little student newspaper that we struggled to publish.

We were so young, some still carried their baby-fat, and we were happy in that sleepy Cosenza of long ago. But mostly we were naïve; we skirted any suggestion of growing up; we refused to consider what was awaiting us – out of sight out of mind. Yes, Italy was changing, the economic boom of the early Sixties lingered, even if fleetingly. But we had money in our pockets, and we had a Ticket to Ride.

Part Two

A few days ago, several of us got together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that long-ago. We met at a restaurant near San Fili. Sixteen showed, about half our graduating class. (Some had opted not to come; some we could not contact; some have passed away and some have left the region.)

In thinking back, I realize that we were so innocent; we had not yet met the furies of adulthood – envy, jealously, arrogance. At seventeen, the debilitating behaviors and attitudes of maturity were still dormant. At seventeen, the dissonance between joy and sorrow, anxiety and hope was a sound of silence. We trafficked in the banal of teenage disagreements and competitions. Sharing homework, helping each other prep for orals this was our world. Even our teachers remember us as an extraordinary and innocent group.

And yet by September the landscape was changing. Many were heading off to college. I had spent a lot of time researching what I wanted to major in and where I wanted to study, and in the end, with my pressed-cardboard suitcase packed to the bursting, I headed north to Naples and L’Universita degli Studi di Napoli, Federico II. I lived smack in the center of the old city on Via Mezzocannone.

For a time, we wrote to each other; we got together at Christmas and Easter and during summer vacations, but soon new rhythms took over and the sprawling friendships of high school began to change. Three of us weathered the storms of maturity and stayed in contact, stayed friends through all the changes, through all the years. But in looking back, I’m now 72, I realize that something has stayed with me, something has found a home in my heart, in my psyche, something from that long-ago. That elusive thing is manifest in the scent of a spring breeze as it runs over the arid Calabrian hills; in the joy of a remembered confidence; in the rush of a new friendship, in the twist of an old Beatles favorite. And neither time or agency can ever erase these memories from my life.

credit not blame

August 30, 2021 commentary

By David Rothkopf
The Atlantic
Monday, August 30, 2021

Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks.

America’s longest war has been by any measure a costly failure, and the errors in managing the conflict deserve scrutiny in the years to come. But Joe Biden doesn’t “own” the mayhem on the ground right now. What we’re seeing is the culmination of 20 years of bad decisions by U.S. political and military leaders. If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame.

Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. Although Donald Trump made a plan to end the war, he set a departure date that fell after the end of his first term and created conditions that made the situation Biden inherited more precarious. And despite significant pressure and obstacles, Biden has overseen a military and government that have managed, since the announcement of America’s withdrawal, one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in their recent history. By the time the last American plane lifts off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 31, the total number of Americans and Afghan allies extricated from the country may exceed 120,000.

In the days following the fall of Kabul earlier this month—an event that triggered a period of chaos, fear, and grief—critics castigated the Biden administration for its failure to properly coordinate the departure of the last Americans and allies from the country. The White House was indeed surprised by how quickly the Taliban took control, and those early days could have been handled better. But the critics argued that more planning both would have been able to stop the Taliban victory and might have made America’s departure somehow tidier, more like a win or perhaps even a draw. The chaos, many said, was symptomatic of a bigger error. They argued that the United States should stay in Afghanistan, that the cost of remaining was worth the benefits a small force might bring.

Former military officers and intelligence operatives, as well as commentators who had long been advocates of extending America’s presence in Afghanistan, railed against Biden’s artificial deadline. Some critics were former Bush-administration officials or supporters who had gotten the U.S. into the mess in the first place, setting us on the impossible path toward nation building and, effectively, a mission without a clear exit or metric for success. Some were Obama-administration officials or supporters who had doubled down on the investment of personnel in the country and later, when the futility of the war was clear, lacked the political courage to withdraw. Some were Trump-administration officials or supporters who had negotiated with and helped strengthen the Taliban with their concessions in the peace deal and then had punted the ultimate exit from the country to the next administration.

They all conveniently forgot that they were responsible for some of America’s biggest errors in this war and instead were incandescently self-righteous in their invective against the Biden administration. Never mind the fact that the Taliban had been gaining ground since it resumed its military campaign in 2004 and, according to U.S. estimates even four years ago, controlled or contested about a third of Afghanistan. Never mind that the previous administration’s deal with the Taliban included the release of 5,000 fighters from prison and favored an even earlier departure date than the one that Biden embraced. Never mind that Trump had drawn down U.S. troop levels from about 13,000 to 2,500 during his last year in office and had failed to repatriate America’s equipment on the ground. Never mind the delay caused by Trump and his adviser Stephen Miller’s active obstruction of special visas for Afghans who helped us.

Never mind the facts. Never mind the losses. Never mind the lessons. Biden, they felt, was in the wrong.

Despite the criticism, Biden, who had argued unsuccessfully when he was Barack Obama’s vice president to seriously reduce America’s presence in Afghanistan, remained resolute. Rather than view the heartbreaking scenes in Afghanistan in a political light as his opponents did, Biden effectively said, “Politics be damned—we’re going to do what’s right” and ordered his team to stick with the deadline and find a way to make the best of the difficult situation in Kabul.

The Biden administration nimbly adapted its plans, ramping up the airlift and sending additional troops into the country to aid crisis teams and to enhance security. Around-the-clock flights came into and went out of Afghanistan. Giant cargo planes departed, a number of them packed with as many as 600 occupants. Senior administration officials convened regular meetings with U.S. allies to find destinations for those planes to land and places for the refugees to stay. The State Department tracked down Americans in the country, as well as Afghans who had worked with the U.S., to arrange their passage to the airport. The Special Immigrant Visa program that the Trump administration had slowed down was kicked into high gear. Despite years of fighting, the administration and the military spoke with the Taliban many times to coordinate passage of those seeking to depart to the airport, to mitigate risks as best as possible, to discuss their shared interest in meeting the August 31 deadline.

The process was relentless and imperfect and, as we all have seen in the most horrific way, not without huge risks for those staying behind to help. On August 26, a suicide bomber associated with ISIS-K killed more than 150 Afghans and 13 American service members who were gathered outside the airport. However, even that heinous act didn’t deter the military. In a 24-hour period from Thursday to Friday, 12,500 people were airlifted out of the country and the president recommitted to meeting the August 31 deadline. And he did so even as his critics again sought to capitalize on tragedy for their own political gain: Republicans called for the impeachment of Biden and of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Within hours of the attack at the airport, America struck back, killing two terrorists and injuring another with a missile launched from a drone. A separate drone strike targeted a vehicle full of explosives on Sunday. In doing so, Biden countered the argument that America might lack the intelligence or military resources we would need to defend ourselves against violent extremists now that our troops are leaving.

The very last chapter of America’s benighted stay in Afghanistan should be seen as one of accomplishment on the part of the military and its civilian leadership. Once again the courage and unique capabilities of the U.S. armed services have been made clear.  And, in a stark change from recent years, an American leader has done the hard thing, the right thing: set aside politics and put both America’s interests and values first.


September 3, 2021 commentary
The following appeared in The Nation on Friday, September 3, 2021

Sotomayor’s Defiant Dissent

In her blistering dissent, the Supreme Court justice calls out her conservative colleagues’ breathtaking disregard of precedent and the Constitution.

By Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Conservatives would have you believe that the Supreme Court’s decision to allow Texas’s law banning abortions after six weeks, and deputizing bounty hunters to enforce it, was a narrow and technical ruling from the high court. It was not. It was a frontal attack on the constitutional rights of women, made all the more despicable by the conservative decision to authorize the Texas attack on women without the benefit of a full, public hearing on the issues. In dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Maria Sotomayor called out her conservative colleagues for all of it: their “breathtaking defiance” of constitutional order, their stunning rejection of precedent, and their flaming cowardice.

She could not stop them, but for posterity and future generations, she placed on the record an account of their shame. —Elie Mystal

The Court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. Last night, the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s enactment of a law that flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents. Today, the Court belatedly explains that it declined to grant relief because of procedural complexities of the State’s own invention. Because the Court’s failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review and inflicts significant harm on the applicants and on women seeking abortions in Texas, I dissent.

In May 2021, the Texas Legislature enacted S. B. 8 (the Act). The Act, which took effect statewide at midnight on September 1, makes it unlawful for physicians to perform abortions if they either detect cardiac activity in an embryo or fail to perform a test to detect such activity. This equates to a near-categorical ban on abortions beginning six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period, before many women realize they are pregnant, and months before fetal viability. According to the applicants, who are abortion providers and advocates in Texas, the Act immediately prohibits care for at least 85% of Texas abortion patients and will force many abortion clinics to close.

The Act is clearly unconstitutional under existing precedents. The respondents do not even try to argue otherwise. Nor could they: No federal appellate court has upheld such a comprehensive prohibition on abortions before viability under current law.

The Texas Legislature was well aware of this binding precedent. To circumvent it, the Legislature took the extraordinary step of enlisting private citizens to do what the State could not. The Act authorizes any private citizen to file a lawsuit against any person who provides an abortion in violation of the Act, “aids or abets” such an abortion (including by paying for it) regardless of whether they know the abortion is prohibited under the Act, or even intends to engage in such conduct. Courts are required to enjoin the defendant from engaging in these actions in the future and to award the private-citizen plaintiff at least $10,000 in “statutory damages” for each forbidden abortion performed or aided by the defendant. In effect, the Texas Legislature has deputized the State’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures.

The Legislature fashioned this scheme because federal constitutional challenges to state laws ordinarily are brought against state officers who are in charge of enforcing the law. By prohibiting state officers from enforcing the Act directly and relying instead on citizen bounty hunters, the Legislature sought to make it more complicated for federal courts to enjoin the Act on a statewide basis.

Taken together, the Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas. But over six weeks after the applicants filed suit to prevent the Act from taking effect, a Fifth Circuit panel abruptly stayed all proceedings before the District Court and vacated a preliminary injunction hearing that was scheduled to begin on Monday. The applicants requested emergency relief from this Court, but the Court said nothing. The Act took effect at midnight last night.

Today, the Court finally tells the Nation that it declined to act because, in short, the State’s gambit worked. The structure of the State’s scheme, the Court reasons, raises “complex and novel antecedent procedural questions” that counsel against granting the application, ante, at 1, just as the State intended. This is untenable. It cannot be the case that a State can evade federal judicial scrutiny by outsourcing the enforcement of unconstitutional laws to its citizenry. Moreover, the District Court held this case justiciable in a thorough and well-reasoned opinion after weeks of briefing and consideration. At a minimum, this Court should have stayed implementation of the Act to allow the lower courts to evaluate these issues in the normal course. Instead, the Court has rewarded the State’s effort to delay federal review of a plainly unconstitutional statute, enacted in disregard of the Court’s precedents, through procedural entanglements of the State’s own creation.

The Court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligations to protect not only the rights of women, but also the sanctity of its precedents and of the rule of law.

I dissent.

Biden - Statuary Hall

January 6, 2022 commentary

Madam Vice President, my fellow Americans: to state the obvious, one year ago today, in this sacred place, Democracy was attacked. Simply attacked. The will of the people was under assault. The Constitution, our constitution faced the gravest of threats. Outnumbered in the face of a brutal attack, the Capitol Police, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the National Guard and other brave law enforcement officials saved the rule of law. Our democracy held. We the people endured. We the people prevail.

For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol. But they failed. They failed. And on this day of remembrance, we must make sure that such attack never, never happens again.

I’m speaking to you today from Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. This is where the House of Representatives met for 50 years in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

This is – on this floor is where a young congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, sat at desk 191. Above him, above us over that door, leading into the rotunda is a sculpture depicting Clio, the muse of history. In her hands, an open book, in which she records the events taking place in this chamber below. Clio stood watch over this hall, one year ago today, as she has for more than 200 years. She recorded what took place: the real history, the real facts, the real truth, the facts and the truth that Vice President Harris just shared, and that you and I and the whole world saw with our own eyes.

The Bible tells us that we shall know the truth and the truth shall make us free. We shall know the truth. Well, here is the God’s truth about January 6, 2021. Close your eyes. Go back to that day. What do you see?

Rioters rampaging, waving for the first time inside this Capitol, the confederate flag that symbolized the cause to destroy America, to rip us apart. Even during the Civil War, that never, ever happened. But it happened here in 2021.

What else do you see? A mob, breaking windows, kicking in doors, breaching the Capitol, American flags on poles being used as weapons as spears, fire extinguishers being thrown at the heads of police officers. A crowd that professes their love for law enforcement assaulted those police officers, dragged them, sprayed them, stomped on them.

Over 140 police officers were injured. We all heard the police officers who were there that day testified to what happened. One officer called it quote “a medieval battle” and that he was more afraid that day than he was fighting the war in Iraq.

They’ve repeatedly asked since that day, how dare anyone, anyone diminish belittle or deny the hell they were put through? We saw with our own eyes rioters menace these halls, threatening the life of the Speaker of the House, literally erecting gallows to hang the vice president of the United States of America.

What do we not see? We didn’t see a former president who had just rallied the mob to attack, sitting in the private dining room off the Oval Office in the White House, watching it all on television and doing nothing for hour, as police were assaulted. Lives at risk. The nation’s capital under siege.

This wasn’t a group of tourists. This is an armed insurrection. They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people. They were looking to deny the will of the people. They were looking to uphold – they weren’t looking to hold a free and fair election. They were looking to overturn one. They weren’t looking to save the cause of America. They were looking to subvert the Constitution. This isn’t about being bogged down in the past. This is about making sure the past isn’t buried.

That’s the only way forward. That’s what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth. They face up to it. It sounds like hyperbole, but that’s the truth. They face up to it. We are a great nation.

My fellow Americans in life, there’s truth. And tragically, there are lies. Lies conceived and spread for profit and power. We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here’s the truth: the former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle.

Because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest and America’s interest. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our constitution. He can’t accept he lost. Even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said: he lost.

That’s what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward. He has done what no president in American history, the history of this country has ever, ever done. He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people.

While some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against it, trying to uphold the principle of that party, too many others are transforming that party into something else. They seem no longer to want to be the party, the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes.

But whatever my other disagreements are with Republicans who support the rule of law and not the role of a single man, I will always seek to work together with them, to find shared solutions where it possible.

Because if we have a shared belief in democracy, that anything is possible. Anything.

And so at this moment, we must decide, what kind of nation are we going to be? Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people?

Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but under the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it.

The Big Lie being told by the former president and many Republicans who fear his wrath is that the insurrection in this country actually took place on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020.

Think about that. Is that what you thought? Is that what you thought when you voted that day? Taking part in an insurrection, is that what you thought you were doing, or did you think you were carrying out your highest duty as a citizen and voting?

The former president’s supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see Election Day as the day of insurrection. And the riot that took place there on January 6th as a true expression of the will of the people.

Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America? I cannot.

Here’s the truth. The election of 2020 was the greatest demonstration of democracy in the history of this country. More of you voted in that election than have ever voted in all of American history. Over 150 million Americans went to the polls and voted that day in a pandemic. Some at great risk to their lives. They should be applauded, not attacked.

Right now in state after state, new laws are being written. Not to protect the vote, but to deny it. Not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it, not to strengthen or protect our democracy, but because the former president lost. Instead of looking at election results from 2020 and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes, the former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections.

It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic, and frankly, it’s un-American. The second Big Lie being told by the former president’s supporters is that the results of the election 2020 can’t be trusted. The truth is that no election, no election in American history has been more closely scrutinized or more carefully counted.

Every legal challenge questioning the results and every court in this country that could have been made was made and was rejected, often rejected by Republican-appointed judges, including judges appointed by the former president himself from state courts to the United States Supreme Court. Recounts were undertaken in state after state. Georgia – Georgia counted its results three times, with one recount by hand.

Phony partisan audits were undertaken long after the election in several states. None changed the results. And in some of them, the irony is the margin of victory actually grew slightly.

So let’s speak plainly about what happened in 2020. Even before the first ballot was cast, the former president was preemptively sowing doubt about the election results. He built his lie over months. It wasn’t based on any facts. He was just looking for an excuse, a pretext to cover for the truth. He’s not just a former president. He’s a defeated former president. Defeated by a margin of over seven million of your votes. In a full and free and fair election.

There is simply zero proof the election results are inaccurate. In fact, in every venue where evidence had to be produced and oath to tell the truth had to be taken, the former president failed to make his case.

Just think about this, the former president and his supporters have never been able to explain how they accept as accurate the other election results that took place on November 3rd. The elections for governor. United States Senate. House of Representatives. Elections, in which they closed the gap in the House. They challenged none of that. The president’s name was first. Then we went down the line, governors, senators, House of Representatives.

Somehow, those results are accurate on the same ballot. But the presidential race was flawed? And on the same ballot, the same day, cast by the same voters? The only difference, the former president didn’t lose those races. He just lost the one that was his own.

Finally, the third Big Lie being told by a former president and supporters is that the mob who sought to impose their will through violence are the nation’s true patriots. Is that what you thought when you looked at the mob ransacking the Capitol, destroying property, literally defecating in the hallways? Rifling through the desks of senators and representatives? Hunting down members of congress. Patriots? Not my view.

To me, the true patriots for the more than 150 Americans who peacefully expressed their vote at the ballot box. The election workers who protected the integrity of the vote and the heroes who defended this Capitol. You can’t love your country only when you win. You can’t obey the law only when it’s convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.

Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America, at American democracy.

They didn’t come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here in rage. Not in service of America but rather in service of one man. Those who incited the mob, the real plotters who are desperate to deny the certification of this election, and defy the will of the voters. But their plot was foiled; congressmen, Democrats, Republicans stayed. Senators, representatives, staff, they finished their work, the Constitution demanded. They honored their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Look folks, now it’s up to all of us — to We the People — to stand for the rule of law, to preserve the flame of democracy, to keep the promise of America alive. The promise is at risk. Targeted by the forces that value brute strength. Over the sanctity of democracy. Fear over hope. Personal gain over public good.

Make no mistake about it, we’re living at an inflection point in history, both at home and abroad. We’re engaged anew in a struggle between democracy and autocracy, between the aspirations of the many and the greed of the few. Between the people’s right of self-determination and self-seeking autocrat. From China to Russia and beyond, they’re betting the democracies’ days are numbered – they’ve actually told me democracy is too slow, too bogged down by division to succeed in today’s rapidly changing, complicated world.

And they’re betting, they’re betting America will become more like them and less like like us. They’re betting in America is a place for the autocrat, the dictator, the strongman. I do not believe that. That is not who we are. That is not who we have ever been. And that is not who we should ever, ever be.

Our founding fathers, as imperfect as they were, set in motion, an experiment that changed the world, literally changed the world. Here in America, the people would rule. Power would be transferred peacefully. Never the tip of a spear or the barrel of a gun. They committed paper and idea that couldn’t live up to – they couldn’t live up to, but an idea it couldn’t be constrained.

Yes, in America, all people are created equal. Reject the view that if you, if you succeed, I fail. If you get ahead, I fall behind. If I hold you down, I somehow lift myself up.

The former president who lies about this election and the mob that attacked this Capitol could not be further away from the core American values. They want to rule or they will ruin. Ruin when our country fought for at Lexington and Concord at Gettysburg and Omaha Beach, Seneca Falls, Selma, Alabama. What – and what we were fighting for: The right to vote. The right to govern ourselves. The right to determine our own destiny.

With rights come responsibilities. The responsibility to see each other as neighbors. Maybe we disagree with that neighbor, but they’re not an adversary. The responsibility to accept defeat, then get back in the arena and try again the next time to make your case. The responsibility to see that America is an idea. An idea that requires vigilant stewardship.

As we stand here today, one year since January 6, 2021, the lies that drove the anger and madness we saw on this place, they have not abated. So we have to be firm, resolute and unyielding in our defense of the right to vote and have that vote counted.

Some have already made the ultimate sacrifice in this sacred effort. Jill and I have mourned police officers in this Capitol rotunda not once, but twice in the wake of January 6th. Once to honor Officer Brian Sicknick, who lost his life the day after the attack. The second time to honor Officer Billy Evans, who lost his life defending the Capitol as well.

We think about the others who lost their lives and were injured and everyone living with the trauma of that day. From those defending this Capitol to members of Congress in both parties and their staffs to reporters, cafeteria workers, custodial workers and their families.

Don’t kid yourself. The pain and scars from that day run deep. I’ve said it many times and it’s no more true or real when we think about the events of January 6th. We are in a battle for the soul of America. A battle that by the grace of God and the goodness and greatness of this nation, we will win.

Believe me: I know how difficult democracy is. And I’m crystal clear about the threats America faces. But I also know that our darkest days can lead to light and hope. From the death and destruction as the vice president referenced in Pearl Harbor can the triumph over the forces of fascism. From the brutality of Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge came a historic voting rights legislation.

So now let’s step up. Write the next chapter in American history, where January six marks not the end of democracy but the beginning of a renaissance of liberty and fair play.

I did not seek this fight right to this Capitol year ago today, but I will not shrink from it either. I will stand in this breach. I will defend this nation, and I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy. We will make sure the will of the people is heard. That the ballot prevails, not violence. That authority of this nation will always be peacefully transferred. I believe the power of the presidency and the purpose is to unite this nation, not divide it.

To lift us up. Not tear us apart. It’s about us, not about me. Deep in the heart of America, burns a flame lit almost 250 years ago of liberty, freedom and equality. This is not the land of kings or dictators or autocrats.

We’re a nation of laws of order, not chaos, of peace, not violence. Here in America, the people rule, through the ballot. And their will prevails. So let’s remember together, we’re one nation under God, indivisible, that today, tomorrow and forever, at our best, we are the United States of America.

God bless you all. May God protect our troops. My God bless those who stand watch over our democracy.


October 10, 2022 commentary

Robert D. Kaplan

Random House, New York

Copyright, 2022

Here I am at the station from which I left on my first journey, it has remained as it was then, without any change. All the lives that I could have led begin here.

  • Italo Calvino, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler (1979)

But how can you look at something and set your own ego aside? Whose eyes are doing the looking?

  • Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar (1983)

‘Europe’ is too large and too nebulous a concept around which to forge any convincing human community. And it is not psychologically realistic to posit, along lines favored by the German writer Jurgen Habermas, a local and supranational duality of communities around which allegiances may form, prudently shorn of the dangerous emphasis on ‘identity’ associated with the historical national unit. It does not work … ‘Europe’ is more than geographical notion but less than an answer.

  • Tony Just, A Grand Illusion? (1996)


The Globe in Miniature
The real adventure of travel is intellectual, because the most profound journeys are interior in nature. That is why travel at its most useful creates a bibliography. For the most affecting of landscapes invite research into their history and material culture, so that the result of a journey is that books pile up in one’s library: everything from poetry to history to philosophy to geopolitics and the legacies of empires and civilizations. For they all (and much more) flow together. Because such a bibliography knows no categories, it is a rebuke to academic specialization, even as the greatest of academic specialist build out from a narrow base to uncover a universe. It is the books of the particular specialists that guide me: they are characters in this journey as much as the landscapes I encounter. For it is the books you have read, as much as the people you have met, that constitute autobiography.

Because travel is a journey of the mind, the scope of the journey is limitless, encompassing all manner of introspection and concerned with the great debates and issues of our age. The glossy magazines, selling pure fantasy as they often do – with photo spreads of delectable fashion models set against background of Third World splendor – manifest nothing so much as a profound boredom. This has nothing to do with travel.

Travel is psychoanalysis that starts in a specific moment of time and space. And everything about that moment is both unique and sacred – everything. As Borges writes, ‘The moon of Bengal is not the same as the moon of Yemen.’ Because you stand fully conscious before a moon and a sky that are not exactly like they are in any other place, in any other time, travel is an intensified form of consciousness, and therefore an affirmation of individual existence: that you have an identity even beyond that which the world. You family, and your friend have given you. And because no one has the right to know you as you know yourself, you must seek to become more than what you are by exposing yourself to different lands, and the history and architecture that go with them.

And you must do so alone! No one should get between you and a distant shore: not even a loved one. Originality emanates from solitude: from letting your thoughts wonder in alien terrain. I boarded a ferry from Pescara to Split a half century ago to feel alive this. For this reason I am alone now in a church in Rimini in winter. The lonelier the setting, the crueler the weather, the grater the possibilities for beauty, I tell myself. Great poetry is not purple; it is severe.

Seeking out the strange and unfamiliar does not confer wisdom, of course. To see the difference between people and cultures is not the same as to find some of them, as they say, ‘exotic’ – a word that should itself be exiled. Exoticism arose as an escape from the mass society. Where everyday life is full of banality and boredom. But as industrialization and post-industrialization seep everywhere on the planet, difference between place and people must be teased out of an acquired familiarity, not an unfamiliarity. The mystery of travel involves the layers revealed about yourself as you devour such knowledge. Thus, travel must lead to self-doubt. And I am full of doubts. The more I am praised in some quarters, the more I find fault with much of what I’ve done. With doubts come guilt and self-recrimination. Now that I am old, I realize that the difference between the groups and the people about which I once reported – in specific places, in specific moment in time – are transforming and evaporating before my eyes, as humanity strives towards a synthesis.

But these are all things that I have discovered in the course of this journey: a journey that originated with the desire for solitude and introspection, but which turned out – stage by stage – as I covered more miles, and headed into more politically fragile terrain, to be a work of reporting; where I was, in the end, talking to all manners of Slovenian and Croatian thinkers and Montenegrin and Albanian strongmen. I failed my vow of silence at some geographical point where Italy merges into the Slavic world, discovering that my questions about Europe at the end of the modern age brought back the relevance of early modernism (between the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution) to our own times, in which identities have once again become fluid and multiple. These questions were too urgent to be left only to books and my private thoughts. The Adriatic was an obvious place to look for answers: though overlooked by journalists and professional strategists, the Adriatic defines Central and Eastern Europe as much as the Baltic and Black Seas do.

And the further I progress in my journey, what became obvious was this:

The dichotomy between Occident and Orient, always fragile on these shores, always interwoven, registers less and less: rather than a ‘clash,’ there is a ‘concert.’ Catholicism and Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy and Islam, Western Rome and Eastern Rome, the Mediterranean and the Balkans, achieve a stirring fusion on the Adriatic. All of Europe is distilled here, within a geography that one can actually comprehend and therefore grasp. It is the globe in miniature. Indeed, the civilizational subtleties of the Adriatic now encompass the world. The age of populism that the media declares is merely an epiphenomenon: a swan song for the age of nationalism itself. The Adriatic, consequently, constitutes an elegy to a category of distinctions that I spent my life observing. I am certain only in my loss of certainty. It is in this way that I deconstruct myself – in the course of a journey, obviously.

My journey culminates in Corfu, where I confront through Greece’s own past the ultimate human and historical drama: that of the refugee experience. Migration is the story of humanity. It will continue to define Europe in the twenty-first century: the influx of Arabs and Africans that we have seen so far is merely the beginning. And few migrations have been as heartrending and instructive as that of over a million ethnic Greeks from Asia Minor to Greece itself in the early 1920s.

Finally, I write at the edge of a precipice. A precious, eclectic seascape that encompasses the whole of Europe – including its Orthodox and Muslim aspects – is about to become planetary, as the new and vast maritime empire of China threatens to overwhelm all of these European associations that I have sketched herein, making this journey a mere period piece, a tour-ender in old foreign correspondents’ lingo. For the Adriatic is about to be linked with the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean as key elements of a burgeoning global trade, from Hong Kong to Trieste by way of Hambantota, Gwadar, and the other Indian Ocean ports.

Then there is the battle over new natural gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean, and the struggle over oil in war-torn Libya. More than half a dozen littoral countries are involved in both intense negotiations and military positioning to see which consortium controls these envisioned pipelines, some of which may enter Europe through the Adriatic. Truly, the Adriatic is becoming a choke point on international trade and geopolitical interests.

But how to grapple with such an overwhelming vision?

By going local, rather that global. By boring deep into the historical and aesthetic peculiarities of each place, rather that losing the texture through some bland and abstract, formulaic global approach. In the early years of the twenty-first century I traveled throughout the greater Indian Ocean, in anticipation of its christening as the ‘Indo-Pacific’ by the Pentagon. At the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century I journey through the South China Sea, in anticipation of that region’s future in news headlines. And in the middle of that second decade, in 2016, I began traveling throughout the Adriatic, in anticipation of its possible destiny as the western maritime terminus of China’s Belt and Road.

But my aim has not been to theorize on the global geopolitics in light of China’s and Russia’s return to great power status. Rather, the reverse: for the macro view requires a base of granular knowledge. And thus, just at the Adriatic is about to realize a new global significance, I have decided to employ it as a geographical metaphor for an age that is passing: the modern age itself in Europe. Only by appreciating what is passing can we better analyze what is about to come.


December 21, 2022 commentary

From the New York Times

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine spoke before a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday night, delivering in halting but forceful English an impassioned speech that thanked the United States for its support in his nation’s war against Russia and vowed victory as he pleaded for further aid. The following is a transcript of his remarks, as recorded by The New York Times.

Thank you so much. Thank you so much for that. Thank you. It’s too much for me. All this for our great people. Thank you so much.

Dear Americans, in all states, cities and communities, all those who value freedom and justice, who cherish it as strongly as we Ukrainians in our cities, in each and every family, I hope my words of respect and gratitude resonate in each American heart.

Madam Vice President, I thank you for your efforts in helping Ukraine. Madam Speaker, you bravely visited Ukraine during the full-fledged war. Thank you very much. Great honor. Thank you.

I am very privileged to be here. Dear members of the Congress, representatives of both parties who also visited Kyiv, esteemed congressmen and senators from both parties who will visit Ukraine, I am sure, in the future; dear representatives of diaspora, present in this chamber, and spread across the country; dear journalists, it’s a great honor for me to be at the U.S. Congress and speak to you and all Americans.

Against all odds and doom-and-gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking. Thank you. And it gives me good reason to share with you our first, first joint victory: We defeated Russia in the battle for minds of the world. We have no fear, nor should anyone in the world have it. Ukrainians gained this victory, and it gives us courage which inspires the entire world.

Americans gained this victory, and that’s why you have succeeded in uniting the global community to protect freedom and international law. Europeans gained this victory, and that’s why Europe is now stronger and more independent than ever. The Russian tyranny has lost control over us. And it will never influence our minds again.

Yet, we have to do whatever it takes to ensure that countries of the Global South also gain such victory. I know one more, I think very important, thing: The Russians will stand a chance to be free only when they defeat the Kremlin in their minds. Yet, the battle continues, and we have to defeat the Kremlin on the battlefield, yes.

This battle is not only for the territory, for this or another part of Europe. The battle is not only for life, freedom and security of Ukrainians or any other nation which Russia attempts to conquer. This struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live, and then their children and grandchildren.

It will define whether it will be a democracy of Ukrainians and for Americans — for all. This battle cannot be frozen or postponed. It cannot be ignored, hoping that the ocean or something else will provide a protection. From the United States to China, from Europe to Latin America, and from Africa to Australia, the world is too interconnected and interdependent to allow someone to stay aside and at the same time to feel safe when such a battle continues.

Our two nations are allies in this battle. And next year will be a turning point, I know it, the point when Ukrainian courage and American resolve must guarantee the future of our common freedom, the freedom of people who stand for their values.

Ladies and gentlemen — ladies and gentlemen, Americans, yesterday before coming here to Washington, D.C., I was at the front line in our Bakhmut. In our stronghold in the east of Ukraine, in the Donbas. The Russian military and mercenaries have been taking Bakhmut nonstop since May. They have been taking it day and night, but Bakhmut stands.

Last year — last year, 70,000 people lived here in Bakhmut, in this city, and now only few civilians stay. Every inch of that land is soaked in blood; roaring guns sound every hour. Trenches in the Donbas change hands several times a day in fierce combat, and even hand fighting. But the Ukrainian Donbas stands.

Russians — Russians use everything, everything they have against Bakhmut and other our beautiful cities. The occupiers have a significant advantage in artillery. They have an advantage in ammunition. They have much more missiles and planes than we ever had. It’s true, but our defense forces stand. And — and we all are proud of them.

The Russians’ tactic is primitive. They burn down and destroy everything they see. They sent thugs to the front lines. They sent convicts to the war. They threw everything against us, similar to the other tyranny, which is in the Battle of the Bulge. Threw everything it had against the free world, just like the brave American soldiers which held their lines and fought back Hitler’s forces during the Christmas of 1944. Brave Ukrainian soldiers are doing the same to Putin’s forces this Christmas.

Ukraine — Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender. So, so, here the front line, the tyranny which has no lack of cruelty against the lives of free people — and your support is crucial, not just to stand in such fight but to get to the turning point to win on the battlefield.

We have artillery, yes. Thank you. We have it. Is it enough? Honestly, not really. To ensure Bakhmut is not just a stronghold that holds back the Russian Army, but for the Russian Army to completely pull out, more cannons and shells are needed. If so, just like the Battle of Saratoga, the fight for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and for freedom.

If your Patriots stop the Russian terror against our cities, it will let Ukrainian patriots work to the full to defend our freedom. When Russia — when Russia cannot reach our cities by its artillery, it tries to destroy them with missile attacks. More than that, Russia found an ally in this — in this genocidal policy: Iran. Iranian deadly drones sent to Russia in hundreds — in hundreds became a threat to our critical infrastructure. That is how one terrorist has found the other.

It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies if we do not stop them now. We must do it. I believe there should be no taboos between us in our alliance. Ukraine never asked the American soldiers to fight on our land instead of us. I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves.

Financial assistance is also critically important, and I would like to thank you, thank you very much, thank you for both financial packages you have already provided us with and the ones you may be willing to decide on. Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.

Russia, Russia could stop its aggression, really, if it wanted to, but you can speed up our victory. I know it. And it, it will prove to any potential aggressor that no one can succeed in breaking national borders, no one committing atrocities and reigning over people against their will. It would be naïve to wait for steps towards peace from Russia, which enjoys being a terrorist state. Russians are still poisoned by the Kremlin.

The restoration of international legal order is our joint task. We need peace, yes. Ukraine has already offered proposals, which I just discussed with President Biden, our peace formula, 10 points which should and must be implemented for our joint security, guaranteed for decades ahead and the summit which can be held.

I’m glad to say that President Biden supported our peace initiative today. Each of you, ladies and gentlemen, can assist in the implementation to ensure that America’s leadership remains solid, bicameral and bipartisan. Thank you.

You can strengthen sanctions to make Russia feel how ruinous its aggression truly is. It is in your power, really, to help us bring to justice everyone who started this unprovoked and criminal war. Let’s do it. Let terrorist — let the terrorist state be held responsible for its terror and aggression and compensate all losses done by this war. Let the world see that the United States are here.

Ladies and gentlemen — ladies and gentlemen, Americans, in two days we will celebrate Christmas. Maybe candlelit. Not because it’s more romantic, no, but because there will not be, there will be no electricity. Millions won’t have neither heating nor running water. All of these will be the result of Russian missile and drone attacks on our energy infrastructure.

But we do not complain. We do not judge and compare whose life is easier. Your well-being is the product of your national security; the result of your struggle for independence and your many victories. We, Ukrainians, will also go through our war of independence and freedom with dignity and success.

We’ll celebrate Christmas. Celebrate Christmas and, even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian — if Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. And we don’t, don’t have to know everyone’s wish, as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: Victory. Only victory.

We already built strong Ukraine, with strong people, strong army, strong institutions together with you. We developed strong security guarantees for our country and for entire Europe and the world, together with you. And also together with you, we’ll put in place everyone who will defy freedom. Put-in.

This will be the basis to protect democracy in Europe and the world over. Now, on this special Christmastime, I want to thank you, all of you. I thank every American family which cherishes the warmth of its home and wishes the same warmth to other people. I thank President Biden and both parties, at the Senate and the House, for your invaluable assistance. I thank your cities and your citizens who supported Ukraine this year, who hosted our Ukrainians, our people, who waved our national flags, who acted to help us. Thank you all, from everyone who is now at the front line, from everyone who is awaiting victory.

Standing here today, I recall the wars of the president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which are I think so good for this moment. The American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory. The Ukrainian people will win, too, absolutely.

I know that everything depends on us, on Ukrainian armed forces, yet so much depends on the world. So much in the world depends on you. When I was in Bakhmut yesterday, our heroes gave me the flag, the battle flag, the flag of those who defend Ukraine, Europe and the world at the cost of their lives. They asked me to bring this flag to you, to the U.S. Congress, to members of the House of Representatives and senators whose decisions can save millions of people.

So, let these decisions be taken. Let this flag stay with you, ladies and gentlemen. This flag is a symbol of our victory in this war. We stand, we fight and we will win because we are united — Ukraine, America and the entire free world.

Just one thing, if I can, the last thing — thank you so much, may God protect our brave troops and citizens, may God forever bless the United States of America. Merry Christmas and a happy, victorious New Year. Slava Ukraini. [Glory to Ukraine]


Nancy Pelosi

January 22, 2023 commentary

Nancy Pelosi

Got It Done

Maureen Dowd
Sunday, January 22, 2023
New York Times

WASHINGTON — It’s not a pretty sight when pols lose power. They wilt, they crumple, they cling to the vestiges, they mourn their vanished entourage and perks. How can their day in the sun be over? One minute they’re running the world and the next, they’re in the room where it doesn’t happen.

Donald Trump was so freaked out at losing power that he was willing to destroy the country to keep it.

I went to lunch with Nancy Pelosi at the Four Seasons to find out how she was faring, now that she has gone from being one of the most powerful women in the world — second in line to the presidency — and one of the most formidable speakers in American history to a mere House backbencher.

I was expecting King Lear, howling at the storm, but I found Gene Kelly, singing in the rain. Pelosi was not crying in her soup. She was basking as she scarfed down French fries, a truffle-butter roll and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts — all before the main course. She was literally in the pink, ablaze in a hot-pink pantsuit and matching Jimmy Choo stilettos, shooting the breeze about Broadway, music and sports. Showing off her four-inch heels, the 82-year-old said, “I highly recommend suede because it’s like a bedroom slipper.”

Fans dropped by our booth to thank Pelosi, and women in the restaurant gave me thumbs-ups, simply because I was sitting with her.

“I wonder, Maureen, girl to girl, I keep thinking I should feel a little more, I don’t know,” she hesitated, looking for the right word. Over the course of our conversation, she said the word was “regretful,” and she thought about it in church, and during morning and night prayers, but she just wasn’t feeling it. “It’s just the time, and that’s it. Upward and onward. I’m thrilled with the transition. I think it was beautiful.”

Her daughter Alexandra, a documentary filmmaker, assured me that it’s not an act. “I can tell you, in my 52 years of being alive on this earth, I have never had the kind of weekend I’m having right now,” she said last Sunday. “My mother is at peak happiness. I’ve never seen her like this. It’s like she’s floating through the air. It’s fascinating for my kids because they don’t know this person.

“I think you want to enjoy being old. I don’t think you want to spend your final days fighting with Kevin McCarthy about how many seats you get on Appropriations.”

Before I could broach the humiliating spectacle of McCarthy abasing himself to the loonies on the far right and being tortured by preposterous Matt Gaetz, Nancy Pelosi brought up her successor.

She looked at me, her brown eyes widening, and said: “I’m sad for Kevin that he couldn’t do that in a way that brought a little more dignity to the House of Representatives. It’s strange.” She added, “What happened was inexplicable.”

The woman is, as her friend and fellow California lawmaker Anna Eshoo said, “satin and steel.” I tried to keep a straight face at Pelosi’s satiny solicitude. She had, after all, called the Jello-spined McCarthy “a moron” in 2021 after he criticized the Capitol physician’s mask mandate.

I dryly asked the devout Catholic if she was praying for McCarthy, the way she once prayed for her nemesis Donald Trump.

“Yeah, I was, because I was praying for the House,” she said. “It was just stunning that he wouldn’t be ready. You know what your challenges are. Just be ready. What they were seeing, whether they realized or not, was an incredible shrinking speakership.

“Really, in order to even honor — ‘honor’ isn’t the word — in order to recognize some of the requests that were being made, you have to have the leverage to get the job done. They were undoing his ability to do what they were asking him to do. That was most unfortunate. I don’t want to see the job turn into something else. It has to be the speakership.”

Did she give McCarthy any advice?

Yes, she said; before the first vote, when he seemed confident, she told him, “Get it done.”

But for four long days — days in which McCarthy was brought low by the ugly forces he had helped unleash — he couldn’t get it done.

“Well,” she observed, popping another chocolate in her mouth, “you do have to know how to count.”

At one point during the later rounds of voting in the McMarathon, Eshoo said, Pelosi asked her for a pen. “She grabbed part of the newspaper, and she was running the numbers herself,” Eshoo said. “She had the numbers before the numbers ever appeared. When I left the Capitol that night, I wish I had kept the rumpled newspaper used by the master of numbers.”

Pelosi said she found it “particularly concerning” when McCarthy “went up to Gaetz on the floor. That seemed to be unnecessary.” She said, why not “work it out in the bathroom” or some other private space. “To me, it was indicative of the disrespect they had for the Congress of the United States, that they would not have had their act together. It was a cause of wonder that they had to take 15 votes. How does that bode for what comes next?”

Pelosi did not accept an invitation to sit with her protégé, the new minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, for the speaker votes. She did not want to be the Godfather whispering in the ear of Michael Corleone. She chose to sit near the back with her old friends in the California delegation, Eshoo, Doris Matsui and Mike Thompson.

Pelosi had vowed not to hover over the new leadership, telling reporters, “I have no intention of being the mother-in-law in the kitchen saying that ‘my son doesn’t like the stuffing that way — this is the way we make it in our family.’”

Some in the room felt that Steny Hoyer, her old deputy, looked needy, still sitting up front behind the new leadership.

I asked Pelosi if she had to persuade Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, her old No. 3, to step back and make room for a new generation.

“I’m not responsible for them,” she said. “No.”

Eshoo said Pelosi does not need to cling because her tenure was “jaw-dropping with a real sense of awe about the place and who came before us.” Her reputation, Eshoo said, “will stand the way the Washington Monument stands. They can’t chisel away at that.”

Not that there weren’t those who tried. For Republican candidates, Fox News and the right, she was a “Satan” to rally against, the epitome of Democratic evil. “S.N.L.” caricatured her as an uber-lib in 2006, with Kristen Wiig, as Pelosi, talking to a pair of chain-and-leather-clad aides, one with a gag in his mouth. But the far left of her caucus never made things easy for her, either, and some moderate Democrats even made a pathetic stab at deposing her. She never won over pundits, as Tip O’Neill did, despite accomplishments to match his.

I asked Pelosi to compare working with President Barack Obama and President Biden.

They were both “Senate-centric,” she said, but “they connected with the American people in different ways.”

“Obama in a more Obama-esque way” — here she waved her hand over her head — “and Joe in a real regular-Joe way” — here she waved her hand over her heart. “Both of them are quite wonderful. I always say to people: ‘You have to know your Why. Why do you think you should be the one? What is your vision?’ And you have to know your What — how to get it done.’ They’re both good at that.” In the case of Obama’s signature health care plan, it required all Pelosi’s legislative legerdemain to provide the What to his Why and power it into law.

Even before Pelosi had a chance to turn over the gavel, the inmates had taken over the asylum. The madness includes scenes of the country teetering on the edge of financial default; Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene throwing down in the congressional ladies’ room; the backlash against giving spots on the Homeland Security and Oversight Committees to Greene — who said that if she had been running the Jan. 6 attack, “we would have won” and it would have been armed, and who blamed “space lasers” she said were controlled by a prominent Jewish family for a wildfire in California; and, of course, the fabulist follies of the Untalented Mr. Ripley, George Santos, the anti-drag queen/alleged former drag queen whose most recent nadir was getting accused of pilfering money from a disabled veteran’s dog.

While McCarthy tried to quell the chaos, Pelosi was busy ruminating on whether she should wear a blue and yellow sweater (Golden State Warriors colors) to take her teenage grandsons to the game against the Wizards that afternoon; they were also going to the White House Tuesday to watch the championship team be honored. When Alexandra complained that her kids would miss school if Mimi, as the boys call her, took them to the Warriors’ celebration, Mimi replied, “This is the White House with Steph Curry.” End of discussion.

Even Pelosi’s old sparring partners have bowed before her mastery of politics. She was regarded by many on the Hill as an Armani dilettante when she arrived in Congress in 1987, an affluent San Francisco housewife with a frozen smile, a well-connected daughter of a former Baltimore congressman and mayor. But she is finishing up her career as “one tough son of a bitch,” as the former Speaker John Boehner told me. He calls the first Madam Speaker the best speaker of the modern era; he even cried at her portrait-unveiling at the Capitol last month.

She knew how to raise money and get her candidates elected, he said, and “she held her caucus together in an unbelievable fashion.” He added, “When push came to shove, she just whipped them in line. I don’t have a mean bone in my body. All right? I just don’t. She does.” He chuckled with admiration for his old adversary.

Abigail Spanberger, a Democratic lawmaker from Virginia, saw the steely side of Pelosi after she co-sponsored legislation to ban current members of Congress and their families from trading individual stocks. Spanberger claimed that Pelosi stalled until the bill was moribund. (It has now been reintroduced.) Pelosi — whose husband holds a fortune in stock — argued that lawmakers should be able to participate in the free-market economy.

Eshoo recalled the time in 2019 that Pelosi (in an interview with me) brushed back A.O.C. and the Squad, saying that they might rule on Twitter but in the House, “They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

The part of Alexandra Pelosi’s HBO documentary about her mother that got the most attention was film from Jan. 6, when the speaker said about President Trump, moments before the mob in the hallways screamed for her blood, “If he comes, I’m going to punch him out.” It was a raw moment for Nancy Pelosi, described by Eshoo as “a lady with both an inner and an outer refinement about her.”

Nancy and Alexandra Pelosi say they’re not sure whether she actually would have thrown a haymaker if he had invaded her turf. “Perhaps we’ll never know,” Alexandra said. As speaker, Pelosi did offer a master class, with a fiery orange coat, wagging finger, dramatic ripping and sarcastic clapping, in how a woman could spar with Trump. His nickname for her, “Nervous Nancy,” did not hit the mark because, as Eshoo said, at critical moments “she never blinked or had a white knuckle.”

Alexandra agreed: “I’ve never seen her crack. It’s in her DNA. She doesn’t cry, she doesn’t whine, she doesn’t throw tantrums. Her motto is, as the Marines say, ‘Embrace the suck.’”

I asked Pelosi how the savage attack on her husband of nearly 60 years, Paul, had affected her decision to step down. The beating with a hammer by a QAnon believer left him looking like Frankenstein under his dashing hat, Alexandra said, and with an incapacitated hand that the doctors thought he might lose. His daughter said he has handled it gracefully because he’s “a really cool cat.”

“I was probably going to go anyway,” Nancy Pelosi said. But, she added, “say we won by 20 votes and it was a big thing, I might have stayed. It’s true that I had two thoughts in mind when I went to the floor, to stay or not to stay. It was time to move on.”

She said that in 2016: “If Hillary had won, I could have left. But I was not going to let Donald Trump have his way with the government.” She was also irritated that she was constantly asked if she was too old for the job when Mitch McConnell, who’s about the same age, wasn’t.

She said that she believed the Democrats could have held onto the House in November if top New York pols had realized that the key issue in that state was crime.

“That is an issue that had to be dealt with early on, not 10 days before the election,” Pelosi said, adding about Kathy Hochul, “The governor didn’t realize soon enough where the trouble was.”

Returning to the subject of her husband, she said that it was unimaginable having her home turned into “a crime scene” and then getting hit with sick conspiracy theories about Paul, and Republicans making fun of the attack.

“The fact that they were after me and then they hit him,” Pelosi said, looking stricken. “He’s a strong person, athletic. This has been tough. It’s going to be about three or four more months before he’s really back to normal.”

Alexandra, always the id to her mother’s superego, was more blunt: “I think that weighed really heavy on her soul. I think she felt really guilty. I think that really broke her. Over Thanksgiving, she had priests coming, trying to have an exorcism of the house and having prayer services.”

Alexandra has always been outspoken about the personal sacrifice for the family that her mother’s public service entails, given all the demonization; the daughter teased her parents that her mother had turned their last name into a curse word.

“It’s a miracle that this kind of thing never happened sooner,” Alexandra said. “We were always worried. It’s like your worst fear coming to life.”

Now that Nancy Pelosi has made way for fresh leadership, does she think President Biden should do the same? He would be 86 by the time he finished another term. (Chuck Grassley was just re-elected to the Senate at 89 and fractured his hip this month.)

She said that Biden “has done a great job” and will make his own decision on whether to run again. She said he will have to weigh the pros and cons: “Is age a positive thing for him? No.” But she said that age is “a relative thing,” noting that she met recently with centenarian Norman Lear and he was sharp as a tack. On the plus side, she said, “I think Jill is ready to go, for him to run.”

Does Pelosi think Biden is the only one who can beat Trump in 2024?

“No,” she replied. “I think we have other great candidates when the time comes.”

I said that some Democrats are rethinking a Biden re-election run because they are upset over the slippery, inept way the White House has handled the discovery of classified documents from Biden’s days as vice president in multiple places — including the Wilmington, Del., garage that houses his green 1967 Corvette. They worry that it neutralizes Democrats’ ability to go after Trump on the issue, especially after the president cavalierly said on Thursday that he has “no regrets” about it.

Pelosi said that her long years on the House Intelligence Committee taught her that there’s a big difference between the sort of “obstruction” on documents that Trump engaged in and the way Biden “openly put forward” the documents.

Also, she said, it’s important to know, “What is the nature of the documents? Maybe there’s one word in there that shouldn’t be.” Or, she said, is it in the “strictest” classified category?

I noted that even analysts on MSNBC were saying that the White House’s messaging was terrible, and Pelosi replied: “I’m not a big fan of MSNBC. I love some individuals there, but. …”

Pelosi’s accomplishments are stunning. Besides getting Obama’s health care bill passed, she saved the economy when she forced through the bank bailout in 2008. She shepherded the spending bill last year with a historic investment in climate change. She was that rare, courageous lawmaker who fought the Iraq invasion, while other top Democrats inexplicably went along with the tragic decision.

When I asked other women in journalism what they thought I should ask Pelosi, they all said the same thing: “How does she do it?”

She climbed to the top in a “Boys will be boys” universe while raising five kids she bore in six years. She said she had many 20-hour days as speaker, days that were often scheduled in five-minute increments, according to aides, and she still tirelessly works and travels around the globe and, while she doesn’t drink, she and her husband like to socialize. And on top of all this, she manages to stay meticulously groomed, wearing masks that matched her outfits during the Covid siege, and sticking with her stilettos to briskly walk the Capitol’s marble floors, even as women who are 20 years younger phase out their high heels.

“You’re a freak of nature,” I told her.

She agreed: “I’m not saying everybody’s like me because I am a little bit freakish. I have to say I really feel quite blessed in that regard.”

In her daughter’s documentary, there’s a funny scene where Pelosi does housework while she listens to a pandemic briefing from Mike Pence and members of the Trump administration. She is clearly not impressed with their strategy on Covid. After fulsomely thanking the vice president, she puts him on mute and asks Alexandra, who’s behind the camera, “Am I a bitch or what?”

Pelosi laughed when I asked about it. “I did my rugs,” she said. “I did my kitchen. I made my bed. And he’s still talking.”

She credits her energy to Italian genes and dark chocolate. She has even started using her famous sweet tooth to avoid uncomfortable questions.

When I told her I’d pulled a muscle doing yoga, she smiled. “See? I keep away from all exercise.” She power walks, but her daughter said that turns into “walks while taking power calls.” Alexandra once saw her mother on an exercise bike, eating chocolate ice cream out of the container while talking on the telephone and lightly cycling.

When a Fox News reporter asked Pelosi in the hall of Congress recently about how the president has handled the classified document kerfuffle, she nibbled on a cookie, indicating she couldn’t talk because her mouth was full. It evoked the days when Ronald Reagan would pretend he didn’t hear tough questions because of the whirring blades of Marine One.

I thought of Pelosi’s indefatigability when another of the world’s most prominent women, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, said she would quit before the upcoming election because she was out of energy and resolve. The inspiring and charming 42-year-old, who has a 4-year-old daughter and has been in office five years, said she does not think you should stay on the hot tin roof of politics unless “you have a full tank and a bit in reserve.”

If I were Pelosi, I would be supine on a chaise in my St. Helena vineyard watching BritBox. But, over a double espresso, she reeled off some recent weekend activities, stacking them Jenga-style.

She was back in San Francisco the weekend before last. On that Sunday, she had a thank-you event for supporters. Then she went to the 49ers game — “which we won” — and later swung by the San Francisco Jazz Festival to see trumpeter Chris Botti.

She spent last weekend at a hotel in New York. She and Paul went to see “Leopoldstadt” on Saturday afternoon and took Alexandra’s sons to the closing show of “The Music Man” on Sunday. The family went to Balthazar Saturday night, where Paul and Nancy previewed many of the songs from the Meredith Willson show. (Paul once played Prof. Harold Hill in a charity show.)

“They have joy for the first time since the attack,” Alexandra said. “We sat there for three hours having all these courses. She never pulled out her phone. We used to sit down and tell the waiter: ‘Oh, we’re in a rush.’”

Last month, Pelosi invited me, along with several other women reporters, to lunch in the Board of Education Room, which was once, as Jackie Calmes, a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, put it, “the Capitol’s most historic man cave.” Earlier speakers, like “Cactus Jack” Garner and Sam Rayburn, both from Texas, had invited younger lawmakers, like Lyndon Johnson, for drinks, cards and bull sessions.

Opposite a painting of the Texas state seal, Pelosi had ordered up two new frescoes of her own — the Golden Gate Bridge and suffragists marching outside the Capitol in 1919.

When she came to the House in 1987, determined to sound the alarm about AIDS, she said the men in power would dismiss the women with remarks like, “Why don’t the women just make a list of the things they’d like to see done and give us the list?” She revealed that she still feels the sting of sexism — “a thousand nicks a day, even though people may not realize it or intend it” — and slyly said of the men who tried to hamper her political rise, “Poor babies.” She’s planning a memoir “to set the record straight.”

As we left the Four Seasons, Pelosi showed me a turquoise ring she was wearing given to her by Afghan female artisans and said she “would like to see Congress be a stronger voice for women in the world.” She also said she would like to help the women in Congress in any way she could.

Won’t she still be a celebrity, even without her old title and big staff and wide balcony?

“I was a woman of great power, and now I’ll be a woman of great influence,” she said. “Whatever that happens to be.”

Note: The two images – Featured and the above picture of Pelosi in her MaxMara coat – are not from today’s article. I have not provided a link to the original Maureen Dowd piece – Nancy Pelosi Got It Done – because it requires a NYT subscription in order to read it.

wartime partnership

February 24, 2023 commentary

New York Time
Friday, February 24, 2023

The relationship between the two leaders has become critical to the future of the international order.

By Peter Baker and Andrew E. Kramer

WASHINGTON — After Russia invaded Ukraine last year, President Biden reflected privately on his long-distance conversations with President Volodymyr Zelensky. He did not know the man well — and might never get to. It was chilling, several people remember him observing grimly, to think that he might be talking with a dead man.

Mr. Biden was hardly the only one to assume that Mr. Zelensky might not survive the Russian onslaught, given the target the Kremlin had put on his back. But the American president was happy to be proved wrong — and surprised to discover, like the rest of the world, that Mr. Zelensky was more than a former comedian and tougher than anyone imagined.

By the time Mr. Biden made a dramatic unannounced visit to wartime Kyiv this week, the two had grown close enough to greet each other with the easy familiarity of old friends. “How are the children?” Mr. Biden asked. “It’s amazing to see you,” he added, perhaps still shocked that the Ukrainian president has escaped Russian efforts to kill him. Mr. Zelensky inquired about Jill Biden. “She’s doing well,” the president replied. “She’s still teaching.”

It has not always been so convivial. The two leaders have been on a remarkable journey together since the invasion one year ago on Friday, forging a partnership that is critical to the future of the international order but that at times has been fraught with friction, according to officials in both camps who asked not to be identified. Mr. Biden has secured $113 billion in military and other aid to be delivered to Ukraine, but in their telephone calls it has never been enough for Mr. Zelensky, who presses for more, more, more, faster, faster, faster. It took months to develop a better understanding of each other and smooth over hard feelings.

It is, after all, a relationship of necessity but not of equals, one of mutual interests but disparate priorities. If Mr. Zelensky is a modern-day Winston Churchill, as admirers often say, then Mr. Biden finds himself assigned the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt before Pearl Harbor, mustering the so-called Arsenal of Democracy to arm European allies without drawing the United States directly into a war.

While Mr. Biden shares Mr. Zelensky’s goal of driving out Russian invaders, he worries about provoking President Vladimir V. Putin into escalating the war beyond Ukraine’s borders or into a nuclear conflict. Mr. Biden’s reluctance to provide the most advanced weaponry vexes Mr. Zelensky, but the Ukrainian has learned how to slowly wear down resistance to eventually get much of what he wants.

“Both are really determined and strong leaders,” said Igor Novikov, a former adviser to Mr. Zelensky on American affairs. “When their interests align, it’s the best relationship ever. If there are misunderstandings or different points of view, emotions pop up. I classify it as a complicated relationship, not in the bad sense. But it’s complicated.”

The tension is inherent to their different positions and responsibilities. “There’s just a basic structural thing here that has nothing to do with the personalities of Biden or Zelensky,” said Michael A. McFaul, an ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama who is regularly in touch with Ukrainian leaders.

“Zelensky is trying to save his country,” Mr. McFaul said. “There’s nothing worse than getting the reports at the end of the day about how many people have died. Nobody should be surprised that he wants more all the time. He believes, and I think he’s right, that this is the way this war ends.”

As for the American president, Mr. McFaul said, “Biden feels, rightly so, that he’s mobilized the world and he’s mobilized America and the Pentagon has done more than it’s ever done before, and he’s frustrated he doesn’t get more praise for that.”

As wartime allies go, Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelensky are a historical odd couple, an 80-year-old career politician who became a pillar of his country’s political establishment and a 45-year-old satirist who once played a president on television but had never served in public office before being elected to lead his nation. Mr. Biden came of age during the Cold War and was first sworn into the Senate five years before Mr. Zelensky was born. Mr. Zelensky was 13 when his country emerged from the collapsing Soviet Union as an independent country.

Their relationship was burdened before they ever met. Shortly after Mr. Zelensky was elected in 2019, President Donald J. Trump pressured him to investigate Mr. Biden, a demand that led to impeachment. New to government, Mr. Zelensky felt burned, assuming the byzantine maneuvering was the norm for American politics and wary of where it left him when Mr. Biden defeated Mr. Trump.

It did not go unnoticed in Kyiv that Mr. Biden spoke by phone with Mr. Putin in January 2021, just six days after taking office, while Mr. Zelensky did not get a call until April. Mr. Biden did not even nominate an ambassador to Ukraine until a year later, two months after the Russian invasion. In summer 2021, while Mr. Biden met with Mr. Putin in Geneva, the Ukrainians lashed out at visiting American officials for not imposing sanctions on Germany over its new Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia.

By winter, as Russian troops gathered on the Ukrainian border and American intelligence concluded that Mr. Putin planned to invade, Mr. Zelensky remained skeptical of Mr. Biden’s public warnings.

When the Ukrainian leader decided to travel to the Munich Security Conference last February, Mr. Biden’s team advised him not to leave his country in case it was attacked. He attended anyway, rallying international support and returning before the invasion.

Biden administration officials privately also pressed Mr. Zelensky to develop a succession plan in case something happened to him because the Ukrainian Constitution only called for the speaker of Parliament to fill a vacancy and listed no one else in line.

On the night of the invasion, Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelensky spoke by telephone. It was a harrowing moment for the young Ukrainian, who was in a capital facing a brutal assault. During his visit to Ukraine this week, Mr. Biden recounted their conversation.

“You told me that you could hear the explosions in the background,” Mr. Biden recalled. “I’ll never forget that. And the world was about to change. I remember it vividly, because I asked you — I asked you next — I asked you: ‘What is there, Mr. President? What can I do for you? How can I be of help?’ And I don’t know that you remember what you said to me, but you said, and I quote: ‘Gather the leaders of the world. Ask them to support Ukraine.’”

“And you said that you didn’t know when we’d be able to speak again,” Mr. Biden continued. “That dark night, one year ago, the world was literally, at the time, bracing for the fall of Kyiv — it seems like a lot longer ago than a year, but think back to that year — perhaps even the end of Ukraine.”

The Biden team assumed that Mr. Zelensky would either be killed or lead a government in exile. But clad in an olive green sweatshirt, he refused suggestions to leave Kyiv, angry that the Americans doubted Ukraine’s resolve.

Ukrainian officials spread the story that Mr. Zelensky rebuffed the suggestion with a memorable quote: “I need ammunition, not a ride.” The Biden team considers the story apocryphal, a former administration official said, but was impressed by the mythmaking, which is a common tool of war.

Less than a week after the invasion, Mr. Biden told television anchors at an off-the-record lunch that he saw no offramp to get Mr. Putin to stop. He said he believed Russia would be able to defeat Ukraine, taking major cities, and he expected many people to die, according to an account from in the room. The idea that Ukraine could beat the Russians “is not going to happen,” Mr. Biden said. He acknowledged that to occupy and control the country was a more daunting challenge, but believed that Mr. Putin’s only game plan was to topple Mr. Zelensky and set up a puppet government.

The assumption that Moscow would quickly win influenced a strategic decision by Mr. Biden that proved an enduring source of grievance with Mr. Zelensky. American officials feared sending sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine that might fall into Russian hands, much like in Afghanistan when Mr. Biden withdrew troops the previous year. So they were restrained in what they sent.

In what became regular conversations with Mr. Biden, however, Mr. Zelensky relentlessly pushed for more, often skipping lightly over the gratitude for what the Americans had provided and instead presenting a list of what they had not.

Mr. Biden bristled at the president of the United States being treated like a supply sergeant, according to administration officials, believing that such lists should be discussed by their aides while the two leaders focused on higher-level questions.

On at least one occasion last summer, as reported by NBC News, Mr. Biden lost his temper when he called to tell Mr. Zelensky about $1 billion in aid he had just approved only to have the Ukrainian leader immediately list what else he needed.

“Zelensky learned early on that it was a mistake not to provide the list,” Mr. McFaul said. “He learned that the best way to get the system to work was to give the list. And Biden didn’t like it, absolutely.”

Mr. Zelensky’s approach stemmed from living in a capital under regular bombardment. “In Zelensky’s view, the weapons deliveries are appreciated but extremely slow,” Mr. Novikov said. “For those delays, we are paying with Ukrainian blood.”

Biden administration officials appreciated the strain Mr. Zelensky was under.

“If I were in your position, I would be doing the exact same thing,” Mr. Biden would tell Mr. Zelensky, according to a senior official. In the early weeks of the war, the official said, Mr. Zelensky would sign off calls with Mr. Biden by saying, “This may be the last time I see you.”

But Biden officials privately appealed to Mr. Zelensky’s team to handle the phone calls differently. The situation improved once Bridget A. Brink, the new American ambassador, arrived last spring. And Mr. Biden has often given in to Mr. Zelensky, eventually agreeing to send HIMARS guided rocket launchers, a Patriot antimissile battery and M1 Abrams tanks, all of which he initially withheld.

The relationship has grown stronger in recent months. Mr. Zelensky’s splashy visit to Washington just before Christmas seemed to make an impression on Mr. Biden and his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, who calls himself the quartermaster of the Ukraine war and works closely with Andriy Yermak, Mr. Zelensky’s top adviser. And Mr. Biden’s return trip to Kyiv highlighted their solidarity as Mr. Zelensky thanked him profusely for help that will be “remembered eternally,” while pressing for additional weapons more gently.

“At the beginning, it was a quite rocky relationship and there’s still a certain rockiness but less,” said John Herbst, a former American ambassador to Ukraine who has praised Mr. Biden for the aid but argues that it has been way too slow. “To this day, the administration still complains that the Ukrainians are ingrates — and that’s because they refuse to look critically at their own policy.”

Speaking by telephone from Kyiv, Mr. Herbst said Mr. Biden’s visit went a long way toward cementing the partnership with Mr. Zelensky — to a point. “I know the Ukrainians loved the visit,” he said. “Him being on the streets of Kyiv struck a real chord and demonstrated the support they wanted to see. But the elite are still asking, where’s the beef?”


Peter Baker reported from Washington, and Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv, Ukraine. Katie Rogers contributed reporting from Washington.

All images are from the New York Times article.

How Landscapes Shape the Way We Think

October 24, 2023 commentary

New York Times – Oct. 23, 2023


By Adam Nicolson

Mr. Nicolson is an English author who writes about history, landscape, great literature and the sea. His latest book is “How to Be: Life Lessons From the Early Greeks.”

A few years ago, my wife, Sarah, and I went on a sailing trip on the eastern Aegean. It was heaven: The two of us out at sea, charting a course between Greek islands and the coast of Turkey, taking turns helming the boat and dozing below, surrounded by all the glittering blue of the sea.

As we hopped from port to port, I couldn’t help but notice that the names of many of the places we passed were familiar to me, as I had come across them in my work as a historian. Thirty or forty miles to the south of our boat was Miletus, the birthplace of some of the first recorded theorists of the physical world. Twenty miles to the east in Ephesus was the home of Heraclitus, the earliest person whose reflections on the interrelatedness of things have come down to us. Across a nearby peninsula, just 70 miles away, was Lesbos, the island of Sappho and Alcaeus, the greatest early lyric poets. To the south in Samos was the birthplace of Pythagoras, an early theorist of an everlasting soul.

It struck me that not so far out of view from the cockpit of our small boat was the whole province in which Greek philosophy had begun. Those gray-blue masses of island and mainland hid within them the thinkers’ cities.

There, afloat on the water, I began wondering about the relationship of places and ideas — how places can open up the way we think and feel, and give access to minds, however distant and strange. I realized then that philosophy has a geography. To be in the places these thinkers knew, visit their cities, sail their seas and find their landscapes is to know something about them that cannot be found otherwise; and despite that locatedness, and despite their age, the frame of mind of these first thinkers remains astonishingly and surprisingly illuminating today.

But why here and why then? Several centuries earlier, the great near-eastern civilizations of the Bronze Age, in Mesopotamia, Egypt, eastern Turkey and Crete, had all collapsed or nearly so. A wild and anarchic period of petty kings and sea pirates — the world, essentially, portrayed by Homer in “The Iliad” — had followed. But then, from about 650 B.C. onward, there was an emergence and a renaissance, as a constellation of independent harbor cities started to emerge in the eastern Aegean. They were mainly merchant oligarchies, often deeply skeptical of the virtues of monarchy, dependent more on trade than agriculture, absorbing the ancient wisdom from the earlier civilizations to the east but crucially not dominated by them. The trading Greeks could take what they wanted (math, astronomy, sculpture, temples, alphabetic writing, the making of gold and silver jewelry) but remain independent.

Above all, the Greeks were not subject to vast instituted kingly and priestly bureaucracies. A mental freedom coursed through their cities. They were adventurous, expert sailors and shipbuilders, sending expeditions out to the far north of the Black Sea and to the western end of the Mediterranean, taking olives and vines to southern France, bringing back shiploads of silver from the great mines of southern Spain, lacing the Mediterranean with the bright wakes their poetry celebrated.

Entrepreneurial qualities governed them: inventiveness, a sprightliness of mind, a new athleticism, a certain fluidity of thought, a desire to rule themselves, to generate their own systems of law and regulate their turbulent lives and to find justice by accommodating difference.

These harbor cities were the homes of the people generally considered to be the first philosophers, with lives dependent on the sea and on the connections the sea could provide. This version of Greece in the centuries between 700 and 500 was not land-based. It essentially existed at sea and, where it touched the land, it appeared and manifested itself as the cities from which these philosophers came.

What we think of now as the mainland of Greece, then filled with communities of farmer-warriors, played essentially no part. Recorded philosophy was almost entirely a harbor phenomenon, a byproduct of trading hubs on the margins of Asia, on the islands, and eventually in the rich lands of Sicily and southern Italy. Its creators were from the mobile edges, merchants in ideas, people from communities in which exchange was the medium of significance and for whom inherited belief was not enough.

Those mercantile qualities of fluidity and connectedness were precisely the governing aspects of the new thought. The philosophers’ emphasis was on interchange and, in Heraclitus in particular, the virtues of tension. Just as in a bow, he wrote, the string pulls against the frame, and would collapse if either string or frame failed; a just society needs to be founded on a tension between its constituent parts. Everything flowed through everything else, multiplicity was goodness and singularity the grounds of either sterility or tyranny.

There is nothing stiff about this way of thinking. These early Greek forms of thought cross all the boundaries between poet and thinker, mystic and scientist, in a rolling, cyclical, wave-based vision of the nature of reality. The thinkers did not provide a set of rationalist solutions nor of religious doctrines, but again and again explored the borderland between those ways of seeing. Possibility and inquiry, the effects of suggestion and implication, rather than unconsidered belief or blank assertion, were the seedbed for the new ideas.

This harbor mind holds lessons for us now. We may want fixed answers and rigid definitions. but vitality — and perhaps even health — lies in the ability to stay afloat, stay loose, stay connected, stay with the questions and entertain doubt as the unlikely bedrock of understanding. The only understanding is in the fluidity of mind.

Who would have guessed that a few days setting sail in the cool of a Greek morning, dropping anchor in sandy, eye-blue bays, and swimming in the shade of olive trees on shore with sheep bells ticktocking beside us, could have started to change my mind about the fundamental nature of things? But it did.

And if anyone asks me why I now think as I do, I can answer: Because I once went sailing in the sea where philosophy began.