Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Reading

Craven — Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker on the firing of Andrew McCabe.

If you wanted to tell the story of an entire Presidency in a single tweet, you could try the one that President Trump posted after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I., on Friday night.

Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms established by Presidents of both parties. Every sentence displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds.

The President has crusaded for months against McCabe, who is a crucial corroborating witness to Trump’s attempts to stymie the F.B.I.’s investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia. McCabe had first earned Trump’s enmity for supervising, for a time, the F.B.I.’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, which ended without charges being filed against her. In these roles, McCabe behaved with the dignity and the ethics consistent with decades of distinguished service in law enforcement. He played by the rules. He honored his badge as a special agent. But his service threatened the President—both because of the past exoneration of Clinton and the incrimination of Trump, and for that, in our current environment, he had to be punished. Trump’s instrument in stifling McCabe was the President’s hapless Attorney General, who has been demeaning himself in various ways to try to save his own job. Sessions’s crime, in the President’s eyes, was recusing himself in the Russia investigation. (Doing the right thing, as Sessions did on that matter, is often a route to trouble with Trump.)

Sessions’s apparent ground for firing McCabe, on the eve of his retirement from the Bureau, thus perhaps depriving him of some or all of his retirement benefits, involves improper contacts with the news media. As an initial matter, this is rich, coming from an Administration that has leaked to the media with abandon. Still, the charges seem unfair on their face. After McCabe was dismissed, on Friday night, he said in a statement that the “investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week.” The idea that this alleged misdeed justifies such vindictive action against a distinguished public servant is laughable.

In his statement, McCabe spoke with bracing directness. “Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey,” he said. In other words, McCabe was fired because he is a crucial witness in the investigation led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel. The firing of Comey is the central pillar of a possible obstruction-of-justice case against the President, either in a criminal prosecution or in an impeachment proceeding. By firing McCabe, Trump (through Sessions) has attempted to neuter an important witness; if and when McCabe testifies against Trump, he will now be dismissed by the President’s supporters as an ex-employee embittered by his firing. How this kind of attack on McCabe plays out in a courtroom, or just in the court of public opinion, remains to be seen.

What’s clear, though, is the depth of the President’s determination to prevent Mueller from taking his inquiries to their conclusion, as his personal attorney, John Dowd, made clear. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Dowd said, “I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.” Of course, notwithstanding Dowd’s caveat that he was speaking only for himself, Rosenstein is on notice that his failure to fire Mueller might lead to his own departure. And Sessions, too, must know that his craven act in firing McCabe will guarantee him nothing. Trump believes that loyalty goes only one way; the Attorney General may still be fired at any moment.

To spin matters out further, Sessions could be replaced with someone already confirmed by the Senate—perhaps Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the E.P.A.—who could take office in an acting capacity. At the moment, Mueller’s investigation is supervised by Rosenstein, the deputy Attorney General, but presumably a new Attorney General, without Sessions’s conflict of interest, would take over that role. And that new Attorney General could fire Mueller. Such scenarios once seemed like the stuff of conspiracy theories. Now they look like the stuff of tomorrow’s news.

Andrew McCabe, who turns fifty on Sunday, will be fine as he moves to the next stop in his career. The demeaning and unfair act that ended his law-enforcement career will be seen, properly, as a badge of honor. Still, this is far from a great day for the men and women of the F.B.I., who now know that they serve at the sufferance of unethical men who think that telling the truth amounts to “sanctimony.” The lies in this story are about the F.B.I., not from the F.B.I. The firing of McCabe, and Trump’s reaction to it, has moved even such ordinarily restrained figures as John O. Brennan, the former director of Central Intelligence, to remarkable heights of outrage. Brennan tweeted on Saturday:

The haunting question, still very much unresolved, is whether Brennan’s confidence in America’s ultimate triumph is justified.

Look For The Union Label — John Nichols in The Nation on Conor Lamb’s message to Democrats.

Paul Ryan and Donald Trump are running scared. After the Republican candidate who ran with the ardent backing of the Republican Speaker of the House and the Republican president lost a special election for a Pennsylvania congressional seat in a district that was so Republican-friendly that Donald Trump won it by 20 points and the former GOP congressman regularly ran without opposition, the men who define the Republican Party as it now exists had to explain their loss.

So they announced that the Democrat who beat them was, more or less, a Republican. Ryan claimed that the victor in Tuesday’s special election, Conor Lamb, ran as a “conservative.” Trump claimed that Lamb leaned so far to the right that, the president mused, “Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.”

This is the carefully crafted spin that politicians peddle after they have suffered a setback.

Lamb’s narrow victory, which could still be challenged with a recount demand, unsettled top Republicans for good reason. It suggests, as the 2018 midterm-election season takes off, that Democrats could win almost anywhere. According to the Cook Political Report, there are 118 Republican-held seats in the US House that are less Republican-friendly than Pennsylvania’s District 18. This vulnerability explains why Ryan and Trump want pundits and pols to imagine that Lamb embraced their policies and simply ran with a “D” after his name. They want that to be the “lesson” that pundits and pols take away from Tuesday’s election result.

The real lesson, the one that Democrats need to recognize, is precisely the opposite. Lamb isn’t exactly a progressive Democrat. But Ryan’s being absurd when he tries to identify the Pennsylvanian as a conservative. Lamb campaigned as a sharp critic of corporate influence on American politics, someone who criticized Trump’s tax policies and aggressively defended the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs that Ryan seeks to dismantle. Alex Lawson, the executive director of Social Security Works, says: “Lamb’s victory is a repudiation of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan’s plans to gut the American people’s earned benefits.”

There’s no question that Lamb adopted cautious language—and cautious stances—on several issues of consequence. Even as he supported abortion rights, the Democrat described himself as “personally pro-life.” Though he backed background checks for gun purchases and was explicitly opposed by the National Rifle Association, Lamb’s response to gun-violence issues was disappointingly tepid. The same goes for his vapid statements on immigration. And Lamb’s digs at House Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi were political gimmickry at its most drab.

But on the essential issue of labor rights, Lamb ran a far more militant campaign than most prominent Democrats have in recent decades. The candidate sought labor endorsements, as Democrats usually do, and he called his Republican rival out for taking anti-labor positions. But Lamb went much further than that. Instead of treating organized labor as a special-interest group, he embraced unions like the Pennsylvania-based United Steelworkers as a vital piece of the infrastructure for a healthy civil society.

On the short list of priorities that he made the focus of his campaign, Lamb listed “Unions” and declared: “I support unions, and I’m proud to be endorsed by the AFL-CIO. I believe that all workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively for better wages, benefits and working conditions. And I know that when unions do the work, it gets done on time and on budget. Union members in our district can count on me to be the most effective ally they have in fighting to protect their rights, support prevailing wages and Project Labor Agreements, and defeat the ideological extremists who want to put unions out of existence.”

Go search the websites of prominent Democrats for similar sentiments. Rarely, if ever, will you find this sort of explicit pro-labor message. Listen to the speeches of Democratic winners (and losers) in recent races for lines like these from Lamb’s election-night address:

Side by side with us at each step of the way were the men and women in organized labor.

Organized labor built Western Pennsylvania. Let me tell you something: Tonight, they have reasserted their right to have a major part in our future. These unions have fought for decades for wages, benefits, working conditions, basic dignity, and social justice. Thank you! Thank you!

You have brought me into your ranks to fight with you. Let me tell you something else: I am proud to be right there with you.

National media outlets have had a hard time wrapping their heads around the reality of what Americans think about unions and labor rights. They have, for the most part, failed to communicate the significance of Conor Lamb’s bold embrace of a labor movement that has been the target of a brutal assault by billionaire donors like the Koch brothers and political tools like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Lamb put organized labor at the center of his campaign. That was smart politics. As AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka explained: “Conor Lamb won this race because he proudly stood with unions, shared our agenda and spoke out for our members.” That is the lesson Democrats should take from this special election. And it’s not just a lesson about western Pennsylvania or the embattled Great Lakes states.

Americans like unions. The Gallup polling organization has for 80 years asked voters: “Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions?” The current approval rating, 61 percent, rivals the high rates of 50 years ago—when leaders of both major parties pledged their allegiance to organized labor.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, perhaps because unions were so popular, even Republicans were supportive of them. There was an understanding that former Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was on to something when he explained: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt [a wealthy political donor of the era], a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Ronald Reagan, a former president of the Screen Actors Guild, ran for governor of California in 1966 as a foe of Republican assaults on labor rights. “Reagan recalled with pride his years as a labor-union president,” Time magazine reported at the time. “As a result of that experience, he has taken a strong pro-labor position on right-to-work laws.” Several years earlier, Richard Nixon was an outspoken opponent of an attempt to undermine labor rights in California and make it a so-called right-to-work state.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Republicans turned hard against labor, and too many top Democrats imagined that unions were a thing of the past.

That was always false, and it remains so to this day.

At precisely the point when strong unions are needed to address mounting inequality and injustice, Republicans like Ryan and Walker have positioned their party on the side of the virulently anti-labor extremism of the Koch brothers. Unfortunately, too many Democrats have continued to mount only lukewarm defenses of unions. That’s a mistake that has cost the party politically.

Americans of all backgrounds have experienced jarring economic and social shifts— globalization, a digital revolution, a revolution in automation and robotics—that are making them feel insecure about their future. Just as unions addressed the insecurities of the past, they are needed to address the insecurities of our own time.

Conor Lamb recognized this reality, made common cause with the labor movement, and won. His fellow Democrats would be wise to do the same.

Stephen Hawking Lived Beyond His Body — An appreciation by Héléne Mialet.

Midnight. As I was browsing the internet, I saw, like shooting stars, emails suddenly appear and disappear from the right-hand corner of my computer screen. The first from CNN announcing the death of Stephen Hawking, the second from an editor at TheAtlantic asking me to write about him.

I had written about the man for 10 years—as a biographer of some sort, or an anthropologist of science to be more precise, studying the traces of Hawking’s presence. But now I felt a powerless inertia, unable to write anything. I didn’t think I would be affected by his death, but it touched me deeply. I was overwhelmed by the numerous articles that started to appear all over the world doing precisely what I had studied for so long and so carefully: recycling over and over again the same stories about him. Born 300 years after the death of Galileo Galilei, holder of Cambridge’s Lucasian Chair of Mathematics (once held by Isaac Newton), and now … died on the same day Albert Einstein was born. The life paths of history’s most iconic scientists intersected in weird ways. The puzzle seemed complete: Hawking had fully entered the pantheon of the great.

Because of him, I too had been in the eyes of the press. After I wrote an article in Wired magazine about his reliance on technology, I received an incendiary message on my answering machine accusing me of desacralizing his iconic status by transforming him into a robot. My picture circulated in the Daily Mail with Darth Vader at my side. I even received death threats. But I was arguing not that he was more machine than human, but rather that he was like all of us: all too human, and always dependent on others, whether humans or machines.Hawking fascinates. He has always done and he will always do. He fascinated me as an anthropologist curious to understand the ins and outs of modernity: science, technology, and, at its core, the central role of genius and individuality. Hawking was at once a “beautiful mind” in the public eye, and a beautiful counter-example to those like me who argue that science is socially, collectively and materially made.

So what to make of Hawking then—this iconic genius, who had lost the capacity to talk, and the use of his hands, and seemed to live only in his head? Was it really “all in his head”? This is the question I explored in my book: incredulous, but curious; interested in the myth, but thinking like a social scientist; respectful of the man, but ready to understand what allows him to think and produce theoretical work as a cosmologist. It is then that I started to reconstruct, one by one, what I call his “extended bodies.”

Unable to do anything by himself, Hawking had to delegate his competences to machines and humans who were doing for him what he couldn’t do alone. His disability was thus making visible what we normally don’t see and take for granted: the complex support without which not only Hawking—but anyone—would not be able to be and to think. The question was becoming then, not who he was, but where he was in these multiple collectives, in his extended bodies. And he was definitely there.Someone who can walk, when asked to give a lecture, can just jump on a train and go. For Hawking it typically took months of preparation before he could travel from one point of the planet to another. Even the questions that he would be asked had to be prepared in advance. Despite this orchestration, made possible by his many human and mechanical assistants—the people and things which in a sense choreographed his genius—the man would always surprise his audiences, making them, for example, wait for 15 minutes, only to respond to an elaborate question with a simple “yes” or “no”.

Writing an article for him was often the product of a close collaboration with his students. But more than once, though his students had spent months doing complex calculations, they would often underplay their own contributions and give credit instead to Hawking’s amazing intuition. Intuition? Thinking, you mean? Yes, of course, he was a master at thinking, but his thinking was aided by intellectual tools, such as diagrams, that were carefully crafted by his students who had learned his diagrammatic way of thinking. He would learn these diagrams, memorize them and think with them, as he couldn’t draw them by himself.

Yes, he was definitely there, resisting his entourage when they tried to convince him to change his software, his old program, Equalizer, that was painfully slow, but had become an extension of himself; or to change his American accent, which had become, as he liked to recall, part of his identity.

There was the Hawking who played with his audience by making them wait for 15 minutes to only say “yes” or “no.” The one who surprised me the first time I met him by telling me he would print our interviews directly from his computer, no need to record. The one who protested the white studio used in the documentary called TheHawking Paradox, because he thought it made him look dead.

But more than all of this, the image that will remain forever in my memory is Berlin. Hawking had flown from Cambridge with his assistants and a few students for an international gathering on string theory. The last night, after the meeting, we went to a fancy restaurant in Potsdam, where Churchill, Stalin, and Truman met to establish order on the world after the war. Stephen decided we should all go to a nightclub after dinner. Nobody really wanted to go; we were all tired. He was not, and so we went, dancing together till late in the night.

 Doonesbury — Dress for success.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day

Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

[Originally posted September 2, 2013]

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day

Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Reading

100 Days — Margaret Doris on the road ahead for Hillary Clinton.

PHILADELPHIA—Ain’t nobody gonna rain on her parade.

Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to celebrate the launch of her fall campaign outdoors on Friday afternoon, with Independence Mall providing a historic backdrop to a massive rally. Instead, when the forecast called for thunderstorms, organizers scaled back and moved the rally indoors, to an old gymnasium best remembered as the home of the inaugural 1938 NIT champion Temple University Owls.

It didn’t make no nevermind to the candidate.

“I don’t know about you, but I stayed up really late last night. It was just hard to go to sleep,” an ebullient HRC told the crowd of several thousand supporters gathered just hours after she formally accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. “When I woke up this morning, and Bill and I started drinking our coffee—or asking that it be administered with an IV—we suddenly looked at each other and we realized as of tomorrow, we have 100 days to make our case to America.”

The kick-off event, the prelude to a three-day bus trip reprising the Bill Clinton/Al Gore 1992 post-convention swing, served as a formal introduction to the themes and images that will define the campaign in the weeks to come.

The Democratic Party has now taken back the flag. Red, white, and blue bunting festooned the balconies and railings in McGonigle Hall, and the campaign handed out American flags to the celebratory crowd. Unfortunately, the convention did not inspire a new campaign slogan. The Clinton/Kaine ticket is apparently sticking with “Stronger Together.”

Donald Trump has travelled far on “Make America Great Again.” Bernie Sanders’ “A Future to Believe In” inspired over 13 million voters. Rolled out in late May, “Stronger Together” is by some counts the seventh slogan HRC has employed in the course of her campaign and sounds sadly like something the second string at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce came up with to promote a new compound laundry detergent.

On Friday, massive Bernie Blue “Stronger Together” banners and signs flanked the left side of the podium (on the right, large stenciled lettering on the walls suggested campaign tactics: GYMNASTICS. FENCING.) The candidate herself is on week two of her wedding dance song, entering and exiting with Tim Kaine to the strains of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (two points for going with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell over Diana Ross).

“Donald Trump painted a picture, a negative, dark, divisive picture of a country in decline,” she said Friday. “He insisted that America is weak, and he told us all, after laying out this very dark picture, that ‘I alone can fix it.’

“Now, as I watched and heard that, it set off alarm bells, because just think about what happened here 240 years ago,” she continued. “Think about our founders, coming together. A Declaration of Independence, writing a Constitution. They set up our form of government, the longest-lasting democracy in the history of the world. And you know they did it because they knew they didn’t want one person, one man, to have all the power, like a king,” she said. “I don’t know any founder, no matter how strong they were, no matter how smart they were, that believed only one person could solve our problems.”

As if on cue, a protester starting yelling “Hillary is a war criminal!” As he was escorted out, HRC seamlessly ad-libbed, “And I’ll tell you something else—they also expected a kind of raucous debate in America. But at the end of the debate we have to come together and get things done.”

She can expect to encounter protesters almost every day from here on in. Her ability to keep her cool, to handle protesters with grace and wit, will say much about the condition of the campaign.

Jody Sturgill, 43, travelled to Philadelphia from east Kentucky to volunteer with the Philadelphia Host Committee. Back home, he juggles the challenges of promoting tourism in Kentucky’s impoverished coal region, advocating for LGBTQ causes, and supporting Hillary Clinton.

“I’ve been working for her since 2007,” Sturgill explained at the conclusion of the rally, watching from a balcony as Bill Clinton worked to leave no hand unshaken. “I’ve met her in person like four times. She’s a genuine person.”

He continued, “What you see on TV seems more fake or projected. [In person] she seems more like an aunt or a grandmother.” That’s why he hopes the campaign puts Kentucky in play. “Everybody…thinks they’re forgotten. She needs to come, let her voice be heard.”

Drew Wicas, a rising senior at Franklin Marshall, and her sister-in-law, Erica Wong Wicas, a workers’ comp litigator, got in line at 9 a.m. to secure a spot at the rally. Drew Wicas, a Sanders supporter, found the whole event “magical.”

“Talk about someone that doggedly goes after something,” she said, impressed.

“She just had this big convention, and she’s ready to get going.”

“I’m going to donate a buck or two” to the Clinton campaign, she said, taking a page from the Bernie Sanders playbook. “Everybody’s got a buck or two. You’re a college student, donate a buck or two.”

The thunder held off, and the rains never came. The “bus” outside was really two “Stronger Together” buses, several charters, a couple of black SUVs, and a fleet of police escorts.

Finally, after a long and grueling primary season, the campaign was on the road again.

Forty Years Later — Remembering the Big Thompson flood in Colorado.  I was there when it happened.

A year’s worth of rain fell in 70 minutes.

Clouds piled 12 miles into the mountain sky unleashed a deluge on July 31, 1976, setting off the most powerful flood since glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago.

The chaos along an otherwise trickling Big Thompson River killed 144 people, five of whom were never found, and carved out a chapter in the history books as Colorado’s deadliest natural disaster.

It was the eve of the state’s 100th birthday, part of a three-day shebang that drew weekend warriors and outdoor enthusiasts to the mountains of Larimer County. An estimated 3,500 people were camping, fishing and relaxing in the canyon that night.

A thunderstorm parked near Estes Park and turned the sky a daunting black late that afternoon.

Some residents recall fishing in Loveland and looking to the west, curious about the strange storm pattern that didn’t jibe with late-summer monsoon flows. Others remember the peculiarity of water filling wheel barrows in a matter of seconds or nature’s brilliant light show after the sun set.

Even the 2013 disaster in the same spot paled in comparison both in body count and sheer brutality, largely because people were caught flat-footed some 40 years ago. A foot of rain fell during a few hours in a stretch of land between the tourist hub of Estes Park and the quaint mountain communities of Drake and Glen Haven.

With nowhere to go, that deluge sped down the rocky hillsides.

It took everything in its path.

“I’m stuck. I’m right in the middle of it. I can’t get out…” said Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Willis Hugh Purdy in his last radio transmission before being swept away, killed by the water. He’s credited with saving hundreds of lives by issuing evacuations lower in the canyon.

Propane tanks burst. Water buoyed homes. Babies were snatched from their families.

The river even moved a 275-ton boulder the size of a small house.

All told, the pressure washer of water that tore through the Big Thompson Canyon caused more than $35 million in damage to 418 homes and businesses — nearly $150 million by 2016 standards. More than 400 vehicles, many loaded with tourists or residents trying outrun the water, were swept off roads and sent crashing down the steep and craggy mountain canyon.

Bodies were pulled from debris piles and muck from high in the canyon to areas near Interstate 25. It wasn’t until the death toll surpassed the 100 people that many realized just how bad this storm had been.

There were at least 250 reported injuries, and more than 800 people were helicoptered out when day broke and the sun shined the following Sunday morning, Aug. 1. The stories of survival, near death and loss made national headlines. Flood waters were replaced by a flood of people — rescuers, family members and journalists, their own stories making headlines about covering the mayhem in a time before cellphones, the internet and camera ubiquity.

“For days, it was a race from one stop to the next, then to the nearest phone or back to Fort Collins to make the deadline for the afternoon paper,” wrote Jake Henshaw, the lead Coloradoan reporter who covered disaster, in a column marking the 10th anniversary. “…[W]hat strikes me most is not how quickly the flood and the rescue were over but how long the clean-up took and how deeply the scars cut.”

Families gathered at the old Loveland Memorial Hospital, anxious to hear the latest identity of the figures tucked in body bags, which were laid out in refrigerated trucks in the parking lot — there were too many for the morgue to handle. The bodies of five flood victims were never located.

Signs now dot U.S. Highway 34 — and canyons across Colorado — warning people to climb to safety in the event of flooding. That was a lesson from 1976. Flood plains were re-drawn. Some homes were rebuilt. Many weren’t.

Each year, residents, friends, family, and survivors gather at the Big Thompson Canyon Association and Memorial Site, about one mile below Drake, 13 miles west of the Kmart on U.S. Highway 34 in Loveland. Sometimes there’s singing. Other times just speeches. Scholarships to children have become part of the ceremony.

But there’s always a somber note that hangs in the air, one that remembers the deadliest natural disaster in Colorado history.

¿Qué está cocinando? — Maddie Oatman at Mother Jones tells us that you have never actually eaten Mexican food.

When white people think of Mexican food, visions of nachos coated in orange melted cheese and jalapeños, or burritos bursting with grilled chicken come to mind. Even in US cities where “authentic” Mexican taco trucks line the streets, fried meat and sour cream feature prominently. Sure, these dishes might make you salivate, but they’re just one layer of the country’s complex cuisine—and a pretty unhealthy layer at that.

Hiding behind these modern dishes is a legacy of foods from the indigenous people who inhabited Mexico before the Spanish arrived. For their new cookbook Decolonize Your Diet, authors Luz Calvo and Catrióna Rueda Esquibel dug up that history and displayed it in all its glory. Their task: To “decolonize” their diets and show readers how eating foods native to North America led them to healthier lives.

As the authors informed us on our latest episode of Bite, indigenous Mexicans feasted on corn, beans, potatoes, wild greens, cactus, squashes, other plant-based dishes, and meat prepared in a wide variety of sauces. This diet kept them relatively healthy: Historians have found that at the time of the Spanish Conquest, the Aztecs in Mexico lived, on average, 10 years longer than Spaniards.

But, as Esquibel told us, “the Spaniards really tried to change the way indigenous people grew food and prepared food. They wanted to replace their foods with European foods, particularly wheat.” Indigenous grains were thought to be inferior, and some of them, like amaranth and chia, were even outlawed because they were used in religious ceremonies and associated with paganism.

In other words, the very foods that have come to characterize contemporary Mexican-American fare—cheese, flour tortillas, beef, cane sugar—didn’t exist in America before the Europeans. And unfortunately those foods are linked to the obesity, diabetes, and cancer epidemics plaguing Mexican-American communities today.

As Calvo and Esquibel found, revisiting pre-Hispanic cuisine meant unearthing ancient ingredients and recipes that can help counter those diet-related maladies. But for the couple, it’s about more than physical health: “We’re trying to push people towards a radical rethinking of the way food is both grown and distributed and consumed,” Calvo said.

They left us with a recipe ripe for mid-summer produce: A rich vegetarian soup showcasing creamy corn and delicate blossoms from a squash plant. “You can really put whatever you happen to have growing in the garden into the soup as well,” Calvo noted.

Sopa de Milpa
*Milpa is a sustainable crop-growing system used throughout Mesoamerica.

Adapted from Decolonize Your Diet: Plant-Based Mexican-American Recipes for Health and Healing, by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel

Ingredients
15 squash blossoms
2 fresh poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, and seeded
½ medium white onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced
6 cups corn stock (made by bringing 8 cups water with 6 corn cobs, 1 quartered onion, 4 peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, and any fresh herb sprigs to a boil and then simmering for 1-2 hours. Strain solids and use broth in the soup recipe) or vegetable broth.
2 medium zucchinis, sliced into bite-sized quarter-rounds
2-3 ears of corn, to make 2 cups kernels
2 tablespoons chopped epazote or cilantro
½ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 avocados, peeled, seeded, and cubed
6 ounces queso fresco, cubed (optional)

Preparation
Prepare squash blossoms: If there is a long pistil in center of blossom, remove and discard. Rinse flowers gently under cool water. Gently tear squash blossoms in half.

Roast the poblanos: Rub with oil and place under broiler until they turn black and blister. Place in a bag or under glass container and steam for 30 minutes. Carefully remove charred skin from chile. Tear chiles into strips about ¼-in wide and cut each strip 3-4 inches long.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, sauté onions in oil about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Add garlic and stir until fragrance is released, about 30 seconds. Add corn stock, chiles, zucchini, corn, and epazote/cilantro and bring to a light boil. Simmer 20 minutes. Add squash blossom pieces and cook 5-10 minutes, or until zucchini is crisp-tender. Add salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Ladle soup into blows and serve topped with avocado cubes and queso fresco.

Doonesbury — Teachable moment.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Short Takes

Egyptair flight from Paris to Cairo disappears from radar over Mediterranean.

One of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram escaped after two years of captivity.

The Labor Department announced new rules that will allow millions of workers to collect overtime.

Mudslides in Sri Lanka displaced thousands of people.

A federal judge in Kansas ruled against the state’s strict voter registration rules.

Donald Trump listed the eleven people who will never serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Tigers completed the sweep of the Twins 6-3.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Short Takes

Two Russian attack planes buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic.

Verizon workers on the East Coast go on strike.

Five big banks failed to meet government criterion for security against failure.

Louisiana governor reinstates LGBT protections in the state.

Seriously?  Denny Hastert’s lawyers say he “doesn’t remember” an alleged sexual encounter with a 17-year-old wrestler.

The Tigers beat the Pirates 7-3 thanks to a grand slam by Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Short Takes

One year for murder: Don Blankenship, the former head of Massey Energy, will serve the maximum penalty for his conviction for conspiracy that resulted in the death of 29 miners.

Not Quite: The prime minister of Iceland didn’t exactly resign after getting caught in the Panama Papers.

San Francisco mandates six weeks of paid parental leave.

Friended Fire: Militia groups get their weapons via Facebook.

The Tigers beat the Marlins 7-3; the perfect season continues.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Friday, August 28, 2015

Short Takes

Up to fifty people found dead in immigrant smuggling truck in Austria.

California cut water use by over 30% in July.

Report: Planned Parenthood videos altered.

NLRB makes it easier for fast-food workers to unionize.

Tropical Update: TS Erika looks to edge close to South Florida by Monday.

The Tigers lost 2-0 to the Angels.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Short Takes

Iran nuclear talks extended.

California imposes strict water use restrictions.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) indicted on corruption charges.

Atlanta educators found guilty in test cheating scandal.

McDonald’s raising pay for employees at corporate-owned restaurants.

R.I.P. Cynthia Lennon, first wife of John Lennon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Short Takes

Defense Secretary Carter made his first trip to Afghanistan.

President Obama wants to shield seniors from retirement plan grifters.

Dock workers on the West Coast have a tentative agreement to settle their strike.

The endless winter continues in the South and Northeast.

Never too late: 94-year-old charged with serving at Auschwitz.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Short Takes

Egypt strikes back at ISIS in Libya.

Danish officials say they have arrested two people in connection with an attack at a freedom-of-speech event over the weekend.

A train carrying crude oil derailed in West Virginia; several hundred people evacuated.

The government is intervening in the labor dispute that has slowed shipping at West Coast ports.

Now it’s ice — The Southeast and Northeast brace for more bad weather.

6.8 earthquake hits northern Japan.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

More Socialism

What is this country coming to?

On Thursday, President Obama is going to call for the passage of the Healthy Families Act, a bill that would require most employers to give workers paid sick leave.

The legislation calls for businesses with 15 or more employees to let them accrue up to seven paid sick days a year to care for themselves or a family member who falls ill. On a call with press, adviser Valerie Jarrett said the White House estimates that it would give 43 million workers access to leave who don’t already have it. The leave could also be used by victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to recover or seek assistance. Obama will also urge states and local governments to pass sick leave laws of their own.

The president will also sign a memorandum that will ensure federal employees get at least six weeks of paid sick leave for the arrival of a new child and propose that Congress pass legislation to give them six weeks of paid administrative leave.

The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t have a national requirement that workers get access to paid sick leave. The lack of a law leaves nearly 40 percent of Americans without access to leave. But progress has been made at the state and local level: three states — California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts — and 16 cities have passed paid sick leave legislation, covering millions of workers.

It’ll never happen.  The Republican-controlled Congress, which has more days off than the Amish tech support team, will never pass anything that would give the average worker any kind of break, especially if it’s for domestic violence.  I’ve got five bucks that says one of the GOP geniuses will tell us that if you get sick or beat up, that’s your own fault, so why should your employer suffer?  It’s just more Kenyan secret gay Muslim socialism.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

VW Backfire

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was very proud of his role in getting the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga to narrowly vote against joining the UAW by warning that if they did, it could mean fewer jobs and perhaps plant closings.

He may be right, but not in the way he intended.

Volkswagen’s top labor representative threatened on Wednesday to try to block further investments by the German carmaker in the southern United States if its workers there are not unionized.

Workers at VW’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last Friday voted against representation by the United Auto Workers union (UAW), rejecting efforts by VW representatives to set up a German-style works council at the plant.

German workers enjoy considerable influence over company decisions under the legally enshrined “co-determination” principle which is anathema to many politicians in the U.S. who see organized labor as a threat to profits and job growth.

Chattanooga is VW’s only factory in the U.S. and one of the company’s few in the world without a works council.

“I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again,” said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s works council.

“If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor” of potentially building another plant in the U.S. south, Osterloh, who is also on VW’s supervisory board, said.

The 20-member panel – evenly split between labor and management – has to approve any decision on closing plants or building new ones.

Nice going, Senator.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Short Takes

VW workers in Tennessee reject UAW.

Syrian peace talks deadlocked.

President Obama talks water distribution, climate change in drought-stricken California.

Pot of gold — U.S. issues guidelines for banks handling accounts for marijuana sales.

Jurors deliberate for fourth day in Florida trial over loud music.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

In honor of the holiday, I’m taking the rest of the day off.  See you tomorrow.

12 Beach and Ocean