Tuesday, July 16, 2019

We Have Liftoff

Fifty years ago this morning — Thursday, July 16, 1969 at 9:32 a.m. EDT — Apollo 11 lifted off from Cape Canaveral for the moon.  I remember the moment vividly.  I watched it from a little TV in our kitchen as I got ready to go out to my math class at summer school.  I may have been a little late to the 10:00 a.m. class, but I wasn’t going to miss it.

The next day I went up to my grandmother’s place in Michigan where we watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon Sunday night.

What’s amazing is we did it at a time when computing was in its infancy — your average iPhone has more computing power than the Apollo 11 capsule and LEM put together.  And we did it in eight years; from the first suborbital flight of Alan Shepard to Tranquility Base despite setbacks and tragedy.  Yes, there was the pressure to beat the Russians, but it was also the drive to fulfill a goal that seemed so far out of reach that the only thing to do was to do it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Blast From The Past

You’re on a road trip.  You stop for gas and pick up a burrito out of the counter-top warming oven.  Three hours later you come down with a volcanic case of the trots.  What do you do?  Do you turn around and go back to that gas station and rant against the kid who sold you the burrito, or do you pull into CVS, get a bottle of Kaopectate, and drive on?

That, however earthy, is a metaphor for the current debate in the Democratic primary.

I get it that a lot of elections are about the past and rarely about the future for the simple reason it’s a lot easier to re-litigate and obsess over history than speculate about the future.  At least with history you are on somewhat safe ground with what passes for facts and truth, whereas with the future, it’s all up for grabs.

But here we are talking about busing to achieve racial integration, something I remember that was in the news when I was in high school in 1970.  Is this really how we’re going to decide the presidential election when most of the people casting votes weren’t alive when this topic was on the front page for the first time?

And this isn’t the only election where the past comes back to haunt us.  In 2004 we had to go back to Vietnam and the Mekong Delta with John Kerry; again fighting a war that was lost fifty years before.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of our history and where it has led us and what we can learn from it, nor should we not hold those who were in office all those years ago accountable for what they did then and how they see themselves now and their place in our future.

Paradoxically, we are still dealing with the aftereffects of busing; racial integration is still a concern in the public schools.  But it’s more important to consider and plan for what we must do now.  Any campaign for public office, be it city council or president of the United States, has to be about where we’re going and what we’ve learned, not what we should do about something that happened in 1970.

In other words, now you know to plan ahead, pack a lunch, and don’t buy a burrito at a gas station.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-Day

Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy by the Allies during World War II.

It has been immortalized in American history through film (The Longest Day, Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan). As Bryan noted on the 70th anniversary, so many things could have gone wrong that it’s amazing that it was a success.

My great-uncle Cary Dunn served in the Army in the war and came ashore on that day. Thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed or injured during the invasion, but it was the beginning of the push to end the war in Europe. Paris would be liberated in August 1944 and the war in Europe would end eleven months later with the surrender of Germany.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

That Morning

On June 5, 1968, I woke up early in my dorm room in Auchincloss Hall at St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island. It was the last week of my freshman — and only — year at the school, and we were in the middle of final exams. I had gone to sleep the night before, after cramming for my Old Testament exam, listening to WBZ Radio out of Boston which had been reporting the early results of that day’s primary election in California. Bobby Kennedy was favored to win, but the final results hadn’t come in by the time I had to obey the prefect’s order for Lights Out and turn off the radio.

I was only fifteen but I was already getting interested in politics, especially since President Johnson had announced in March that he would not seek and would not accept the nomination of his party for another term as president. Eugene McCarthy, the anti-Vietnam War candidate, had showed surprising strength in the New Hampshire primary, and with the entrance of Bobby Kennedy into the race in March, it looked like the Democrats were poised to take the party in a whole new direction and put forward a charismatic and dynamic candidate who could beat the Republicans, even if they nominated that old war horse, Richard Nixon. Bobby Kennedy was drawing huge crowds everywhere he went; crowds of all ages, including high school and college kids who were still too young to vote (the voting age wasn’t lowered to 18 until 1971). And I was caught up in it; I read everything I could about him, including the cover story entitled “The Politics of Restoration” in the May 24, 1968 edition of Time, and I put the cover of that issue on my wall like it was a rock concert poster. I saw in Bobby the continuation of the hope and optimism that I remembered from his older brother Jack, the first president I remembered not as some vague and distant old man, but as a person and someone I cared about. I looked forward to Bobby Kennedy sweeping into Chicago in August and capturing the nomination, picking up the torch, and sprinting to victory in November against the dour and scary Republicans. Camelot was going to make a comeback, and the White House would be crawling with Kennedy children once again.

And then I turned on the radio.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. Instead of the normal news, weather and sports from Boston, I tuned in to hear the morning news announcer stumbling through a wire service report that “the doctors would be holding a press conference on Senator Kennedy’s condition in a few moments,” and then he said, “To recap, Senator Robert Kennedy was shot last night in Los Angeles after winning the California primary against Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. He’s in critical condition at Good Samaritan Hospital….” I listened for a few more minutes, then knocked on the door of the kid next door, a guy named Jeff. He was still asleep — it was a little before seven and we didn’t have to be to our final until 8:30 — but soon the entire floor was buzzing with the news. When we gathered in the cavernous second-floor study hall to sit for our exam, the chaplain led us in prayer for Bobby, and then we methodically took the exam. Afterwards, we waited for any news, but we all had the sick feeling that we knew what was coming. We had heard it before with John F. Kennedy less than four years before and with Martin Luther King in April.

Three days later, June 8, 1968, was graduation day — they call it Prize Day at St. George’s. That was also the day of Bobby Kennedy’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, but I missed it on TV since I was sitting in the stuffy gym watching the senior class pick up their diplomas. After lunch I got on a charter bus to Boston to catch a plane back to Toledo, knowing I would not be returning to St. George’s in the fall, and arriving at home in the dusk of a June night in time to see once again the grainy black-and-white images of yet another Kennedy funeral procession up the hill of Arlington National Cemetery. Night had fallen — the funeral train trip from New York had taken longer than expected — and the procession, including the teenage sons of Bobby and Ethel bearing their father’s coffin, made its way to the grave site under the glare of floodlights. He was buried under a simple white cross near the eternal flame of his brother.

That was the summer that cities burned, the police rioted at the convention in Chicago, the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, and Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie began their campaign to keep the White House in the hands of the Democrats while trying desperately to distance themselves from the Johnson administration; not an easy task since Humphrey was LBJ’s vice president. The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in Miami, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama who stood in school house door and swore to uphold segregation now and forever, launched a third-party run to draw off disaffected conservative blue-collar Democrats, a lesson not lost on Richard Nixon and the GOP when Wallace carried five southern states with ten million votes. I volunteered for the local Democratic campaign office and spent many weekends after I got my driver’s license in September handing out literature to inner city neighborhoods in Toledo. Vote Humphrey-Muskie said the little red, white, and blue stickers, and I tried hard to be as enthusiastic as possible, but I sorely wished they said Vote Kennedy.

We watched the election returns in November, the race too close to call until the next morning. My history teacher wheeled in the big TV on the VTR cart and we watched Walter Cronkite pronounce Richard Nixon as the next President of the United States. Vice President Humphrey conceded gracefully, and I spent the evening scraping the last of the Humphrey-Muskie stickers off the bumper of my mom’s 1967 Ford Country Squire.

*

It’s been fifty years since I felt the same way about a presidential candidate as I did about Bobby Kennedy. Perhaps, like your first love, you can never recapture the intensity, the newness, the thrill of hearing someone express the feelings you feel and you experience a passion that goes beyond yourself; you start to see the world in the third person, and you take it so personally that it becomes a part of you. And when the shock of the loss hits you, it numbs you. The grieving process is excruciating, and you feel as if nothing could ever be the same again. And the next time you know that no matter what the next person says, be they a candidate for president or a lover, you will never forget the first one and you will subconsciously compare them, and the new one will be found lacking. It’s not their fault that I can’t fall for them the same way I fell for the first one. In a way, I wish I could. I admire the passion of the people I see taking up the cause of their candidate, no matter their party, and I am envious of their devotion to the cause. I hope they never lose it, but I also hope they realize that sometimes it can be taken away with a terrible force and brutal reality that leaves a scar that is never truly healed.

In one small way, the spirit and youthful passion of my admiration and support of Bobby Kennedy has never left me. When I first envisioned the character of Bobby Cramer in 1994, I knew where his name came from; he was born in 1961 and his mother adored Bobby Kennedy. I think the same sense of hope that I saw in Bobby Kennedy comes through in the boy in the novel and the play, even if he does believe that hope is his greatest weakness. But I wish that I — and the country — can find that hope again; that we all find that same sense of wonder and purpose to do what we can to make this country and world a better place that I had on that June morning in 1968, the moment before I turned on the radio.


Bobby Kennedy

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Reading

Charles P. Pierce — It Didn’t Start With Trump.

Joe Biden kicked up a fuss the other day by saying something…un-smart. (Ex-tree! Ex-tree! Read allaboutit!) He suggested that the current president* is a historical one-off and that, once we are rid of him and have fumigated the White House thoroughly, the normal routine of governing the country will resume and everybody can have drinks with each other at the end of the day. If there is one issue that desperately needs litigating in the Democratic Party’s primary process it is this:

Resolved: this presidency* is the logical outcome of 40 years of modern conservatism and its effect on the Republican Party. If it wasn’t this guy, it would’ve been somebody else.

It is pointless for any Democratic candidate to run for any office without acknowledging this fact. We’ve been banging this tin drum around the shebeen here since it opened, but not enough people have embraced the truth of it. (An aside: I really like some of my Never Trump brethren, but they should go back to their own party and clean out the stables. During an election year, and especially during the Democratic primaries, as far as I’m concerned, they all can take a seat.) The problem is the party, and what it’s become.

The party is the problem, because of what it’s become—a vehicle for bigotry, religious fanaticism, rigged elections, retrograde social policies, renegade plutocracy, staggering wealth inequality, scientific ignorance, reflexive stupidity, violent populism, white supremacy, and a view of the American electorate that is all switch and no bait. (Did I miss anything?) Three times since 1981, the Republicans have produced a president who basically embodied all of these things, just to varying degrees. Ronald Reagan played fast and loose with the truth; is that business about trees causing air pollution really any nuttier than whatever it was that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago tweeted at 5 a.m. this morning? George W. Bush launched a war on false pretenses and made this a nation that tortures people and is proud of it. Is that any better than what’s going on at the border now? The question isn’t how the Republicans produced this particular disaster of a president*. The question is what took them so long.

And it is a root and branch thing, too. The federal judiciary is salted thick now with judges who will reinforce in the law all that is destructive in conservative politics. That Alabama state legislature that passed that horrific assault on women’s rights? You watch. At least two of those cats will be in Congress within the next decade. These people and these policies have something close to an unbreakable lock on the United States Senate. And there is no sign within the Republican power elite that anyone is willing or able to control what the party has become. There’s no Frankenstein, hauling his ass over the polar ice to chase down the monster that has escaped the lab.

The only possible way to change the Republican Party is to force it to answer for itself, over and over again. One of the biggest mistakes ever made in American politics, as the redoubtable Driftglass reminds us almost daily, was the Democratic Party’s blunder in letting the Republican Party off the hook for the various catastrophes wrought by the administration of C-Plus Augustus. Iraq, Katrina, and the Economic Collapse should have been hung around Republican necks in the same way, and for the same reasons, that Democratic politicians had to talk for 20 years about the mannequin the Republicans made out of George McGovern, whom Bobby Kennedy once called the most decent man in the Senate.

This cannot be allowed to happen again. If a Democrat is elected in 2020, that person should use all the powers of the office to demonstrate once and for all that the prion disease afflicting the Republicans now has reached terminal stage and that the GOP is a mad dog, snapping at phantoms in midair, and endangering the public health and welfare. Mitch McConnell should be made an object of anger and ridicule, and that work should come from the top. The mad dog is at the door.

Can A Fetus Get A Passport? — Carliss Chatman in the Washington Post speculates on the legal ramifications of granting a fetus full personhood.

Alabama has joined the growing number of states determined to overturn Roe v. Wade by banning abortion from conception forward. The Alabama Human Life Protection Act, as the new statute is called, subjects a doctor who performs an abortion to as many as 99 years in prison. The law, enacted Wednesday, has no exceptions for rape or incest. It redefines an “unborn child, child or person” as “a human being, specifically including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability.”

We ought to take our laws seriously. Under the laws, people have all sorts of rights and protections. When a state grants full personhood to a fetus, should they not apply equally?

For example, should child support start at conception? Every state permits the custodial parent — who has primary physical custody of the child and is primarily responsible for his or her day-to-day care — to receive child support from the noncustodial parent. Since a fetus resides in its mother, and receives all nutrition and care from its mother’s body, the mother should be eligible for child support as soon as the fetus is declared a person — at conception in Alabama, at six weeks in states that declare personhood at a fetal heartbeat, at eight weeks in Missouri, which was on the way to passing its law on Friday, but at birth in states that have not banned abortion.

And what about deportation? Can a pregnant immigrant who conceived her child in the United States be expelled? Because doing so would require deporting a U.S. citizen. To determine the citizenship of a fetal person requires examination of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which declares, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The word “born” was not defined by the drafters. Presumably, they intended the standard dictionary definition: brought forth by birth. Our dates of birth are traditionally when our lives begin; we do not celebrate our dates of conception or the date of our sixth week in utero. But in states with abortion bans, “born” takes on new meaning. Now legislatures assign an arbitrary time during gestation to indicate when life, personhood and, presumably, the rights that accompany these statuses take hold. This grant of natural personhood at a point before birth brings application of the 14th Amendment into question and may thus give a fetus citizenship rights — but only in those states. There are no laws that allow the United States to deny citizenship rights to a natural-born citizen merely because they reside with, or in, a noncitizen.

Detaining any person without arraignment or trial violates the Constitution and international human rights laws. A fetus has not committed a crime, not been arraigned or charged, not weathered a trial by a jury of its peers, not had the opportunity to confront its accuser. These laws redefining personhood surely mean that a pregnant woman cannot be incarcerated, as doing so requires confining a second person without due process.

The Alabama state Senate passed the country’s most restrictive abortion legislation May 14 that could set a precedent for other legislative bodies.

If personhood begins in utero, a fetus will need a name and a Social Security number to begin exercising private rights and using public resources. A Social Security number is necessary to claim a child on taxes. It is also a requirement to act on behalf of a child privately, like opening a bank account, buying savings bonds or obtaining insurance coverage. Typically, parents apply for a Social Security number when they obtain a birth certificate, but if states declare that personhood begins at some earlier arbitrary point in time, they will need to provide evidence, perhaps through a life certificate, that this new person exists and resides in their state. Once the life is established, can a mother insure a six-week fetus and collect if she miscarries? Will the tax code be adjusted in these states to allow parents to claim their unborn children as dependents at conception? If so, can a woman who suffers more than one miscarriage in a fiscal year claim all of her children?

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution requires a census every 10 years to count all persons residing within the United States. If a fetus is granted personhood, it should be included in the count. The census currently asks about the age and date of birth of each household resident. Will it now include the date of conception in select states so that fetuses may be counted? There is the potential to unfairly skew census data and disproportionately apportion representatives and resources to those states.

These questions highlight the unintended and potentially absurd consequences of sweeping abortion bans. At the heart of the issue is how the 14th Amendment’s definitions of personhood and citizenship should be applied. States have been allowed to define the personhood of unnatural creatures — such as corporations — since very early in our nation’s history. In exchange for this freedom, states are not permitted to go back on their deal. In other words, once personhood rights are granted, a state may not deny life, liberty or property without due process, nor may a state deny equal protection under the law. States have never had the right to define the personhood of people. This was a subject — influenced either by place of birth or by complying with immigration and naturalization requirements — for the Constitution and federal law. State grants of natural personhood challenge this norm.

When states define natural personhood with the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, they are inadvertently creating a system with two-tiered fetal citizenship. This is because Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey create a federal floor for access to the right to choose — a rule that some ability to abort a fetus exists in the United States. If these cases are overturned, that eliminates only the federal right to abortion access. Overturning Roe would not prohibit a state from continuing to allow access. In a post-Roe world, in states like New York that ensure the right to choose through their constitutions and statutes, citizenship will begin at birth. In states that move the line to define life as beginning as early as conception, personhood and citizenship will begin as soon as a woman knows she is pregnant.

Trying to define citizenship and personhood based on the laws of each state creates some far-fetched and even ridiculous scenarios. If we follow that logic, we’ll tie our Constitution into a knot no court can untangle.

Doonesbury — House Rules.

Friday, April 19, 2019

From Here On Out

Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker:

In the most memorable scene in the most anticipated government report in recent history, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, takes us inside the Oval Office on May 17, 2017. President Trump, having fired the F.B.I. director in an apparent effort to shut down the investigation of him and his 2016 campaign, was in the middle of interviewing candidates for the new vacancy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, much to the President’s fury, stepped out of the room to take a phone call. He returned with bad news: his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had appointed Mueller to be a special counsel and conduct an independent investigation. Russiagate would live on. Trump “slumped” over in his chair, according to the report. “Oh, my God, this is the end of my Presidency,” he said. “I’m fucked.”

For now, at least, it appears that he was wrong. The appointment of Mueller did not lead to the end of Trump’s Presidency. Not yet, and probably not ever. The release of the special counsel’s report, on Thursday, showed that Mueller did not turn up conclusive evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy. But the report’s belated publication, almost four weeks to the day after Mueller submitted it to Attorney General William Barr, is hardly the “complete and total exoneration” that Trump initially claimed it was and that Barr misleadingly and incompletely portrayed to the country. We knew that wasn’t the case the minute Trump said it.

What we didn’t know until Thursday, when we finally saw the four-hundred-and-forty-eight-page document, is how much evidence Mueller had amassed about the President, panicked and in crisis mode, trying to shut down and block the investigation. The report documents ten different incidents that raise questions about the President’s behavior. Was it obstruction of justice? The Mueller report concluded (albeit in legalistic and unclear language) that that is a matter for Congress to decide. And Congress, as a matter of political calculation and senatorial math, remains unlikely to pursue the question to its bitter end.

Whatever happens, and for however long the Trump regime lasts, be it until 2021 or 2025, it will be scarred, tarred, and broken by the Mueller report, redacted or not, or whether or not it winds up as a series on Netflix.  History will prove that how Trump got to office and how he dealt with the aftereffects will overshadow and skew anything he does, and just as Watergate will forever be the tagline and epitaph for Richard Nixon, not to mention the people who worked with and for him, the story of Russian meddling and how the Trump regime responded to it will be the first line in its obituary.

And it’s all his own doing.  The only reason he’s not under indictment for collusion is that his campaign couldn’t get their act together to do it right.  As for obstruction of justice, it’s certainly not for the lack of trying.

So despite all the crowing and calls to move on from the base and the Wormtongues at Fox, Trump called it: he’s fucked.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

On The Roof Of Notre-Dame

Lauren Collins writes in The New Yorker about being on the roof of the cathedral just weeks ago.

Seeing the spire of Notre-Dame split like a pencil, you wanted, honestly, to be sick. “La flèche s’est effondrée” (“The spire has collapsed”) was how they said it—on TV, on the radio, on Twitter—in French. “La flèche” also means “arrow.” That seemed fitting: Notre-Dame’s peak was a standby of Paris wayfinding, but it also pointed to the sky, to the realm of creators and destroyers who, on a whim, could seize a city on a Monday night. To Victor Hugo, the Paris skyline was “more jagged than a shark’s jaw, upon the copper-colored sky of evening.” Now there was a smoking void. The falling arrow seemed to be pointing to some kind of reckoning, to some bigger thing than the construction accident that early reports suggested might have been at fault for the fire. The omniscient of the Internet told us not to fret, that cathedrals had been built and burned before. But Parisians watched with the supplicant helplessness of the ages, singing hymns on their knees as the firefighters battled to save the north belfry on the second day of Holy Week.

The diocese of Paris had recently begun a hundred-and-fifty-million-euro restoration, which was to have been carried out over the next ten years. The façade of the cathedral was cleaned up in 2000, but the rest of its exterior was in dire shape. Flying buttresses were giving way; erosion had blunted the pinnacles into melting candles. In some places, the limestone was so friable that you brushed a finger against it and it ran like sand through an hourglass. In others, missing elements had been replaced by plywood and PVC pipe. The spire’s lead covering was cracked, and water had damaged the wooden structure that underlaid it.

Late on Monday night, I called Olivier Baumgartner, a master technician at a company called SOCRA, which specializes in the restoration of historic monuments. Baumgartner and a colleague, Alexandre Decaillot, had spent a week working at the cathedral, removing copper statues for restoration offsite. “I’m completely nauseated,” Baumgartner told me. He added, of the effort to restore the cathedral, “In wanting to give her a second youth, we have perhaps destroyed her.”

I met Baumgartner on the roof of the cathedral in late March, when I went to see how the renovation was coming along. He and Decaillot had been at Notre-Dame for almost a week, dismantling the copper statues of the twelve disciples that the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc installed around the cathedral’s spire sometime after 1843. The men were wearing hard hats and cobalt-blue jumpsuits. Scaffolding rose around them. Decaillot was carrying the apostle Andrew’s head, which he had just separated from its base with a blowtorch. The head was heavy, so Decaillot held it upside down and face in, with its nose poking into his belly. Then he turned the head around and stuck a hand into its hollow neck, like a puppeteer. Saint Andrew had a mournful look. Streaks of verdigris ran from his eyes to his beard, giving the impression that he’d been crying for a hundred and sixty years.

Decaillot and Baumgartner had been deployed to Versailles (fixing the marble in the Hall of Mirrors) and Mont Saint-Michel (re-gilding the archangel Gabriel and putting him back on top of the church with the aid of a helicopter). Even so, they were discreetly thrilled to be spending their workdays in the gargoylesphere. From where they were standing, you could see the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, the mysteriously lopsided towers of Saint-Sulpice.

Fabuleux,” Baumgartner said.

C’est la chance,” Decaillot replied.

Decaillot and Baumgartner finished work on the statues on Thursday. They were looking forward to going back to Notre-Dame in a few weeks, to take down the rooster that perched on top of the spire. Tonight I realized that we may have been some of the last people to stand there. I remember seeing a pigeon that had made its nest in the flat of a gargoyle’s neck. I got up close to a clock that, I was amazed to learn, was wound every Thursday morning. The job site seemed clean and well organized—there was a shower cabin where, before descending, each worker was required to wash off toxic lead, untold quantities of which were released tonight into the atmosphere—but I was amazed at how fragile everything was, and how intimate its upkeep. The cathedral was the work of people, not machines.

Baumgartner has also been working on the renovation of the Samaritaine department store, just across the river from Notre-Dame. There, he said, private firemen patrol the job site as a preventive measure. But that would have been impossible at Notre-Dame, due to its architecture. “There’s no such thing as zero risk,” Baumgartner said.

As of late Monday evening, the western façade of the cathedral—the twin bell towers, the Portal of Judgment—appeared to have been saved. “The worst has been avoided,” the French President, Emmanuel Macron, said on the scene. For Parisians, Macron said, Notre-Dame was “the epicenter of our lives.” He vowed to rebuild and said that a national fund to do so would be launched on Tuesday.

That morning on the roof, Decaillot and Baumgartner wrapped Saint Andrew’s head in bubble wrap, sealing it with orange tape. They put it in a wooden crate where his brethren—along with four smaller sculptures depicting symbols of the Evangelists—were waiting.

The saints’ bodies were joined with their heads last week, at the artisans’ workshop in Périgueux. They are the city’s sentries, its wayposts, the bombers of a billion photos, the inhabitants of an arrondissement in the sky. They, at least, are safe.

Photo from Sipa/AP.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Reading

Dr. King’s Warning — Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images

For the first time since Congress passed legislation to make the third Monday of January a national holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the National Mall—including the memorial dedicated to King’s honor—is closed due to President Trump’s insistence that Congress submit to his demand for a national monument to racism and fear. We must be clear that this is the impasse we face. Democrats cannot be blamed for failing to compromise.

On the opening day of the 116th Congress, Democratic leadership in the House took up bipartisan legislation to reopen the Congress that their colleagues in the Senate had already compromised to approve. Only one thing kept 800,000 federal employees from receiving their paychecks this past week: the refusal of Trump and his congressional enablers to consider that legislation.

Fifty-one years ago, Dr. King and the Poor People’s Campaign threatened to bring the federal government to standstill in order to demand that it serve everyone in America’s multi-ethnic democracy. In 2019, President Trump has shuttered the government to demand that we build a bulwark against the browning of America.

This is, as he promised it would be, Trump’s shutdown. But the president is not acting alone. Congressional Republicans who have been unwilling to stand up to the him for two years created the conditions for this present crisis. And all along the way, Trump’s white evangelical boosters have offered their blessing. Defending Trump on Fox News, the Rev. Robert Jeffress argued recently that Trump’s wall cannot be immoral because Heaven itself has walls. He did not mention the Bible’s testimony that Heaven’s gates are always open.

Though most religious leaders are not Trumpvangelicals like Jeffress, we must recognize the complicity of so-called moderates in a moment of crisis if we are to honor the memory of Dr. King. While most people today recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as both a great American and a great preacher, we would do well to remember that he was not affirmed by a majority of Christian leaders in his own day, black or white.

When we celebrate King, it is easy to conjure the image of a Klan preacher spewing hatred against the civil-rights movement, just as Trumpvangelicals offer a religious blessing to Trump’s white nationalism today. But segregationist preachers were not the only religious resistance to King’s efforts for systemic justice in America. Dr. King’s own denomination, the National Baptist Convention, pushed him out along with other Baptist preachers who insisted on the tactic of nonviolent direct action. Then as now, the opposition to reconstruction of American democracy claimed the moral narrative in our common life.

Dr. King objected—and his polemical response is what we remember half a century later. But the fact that the ecumenical leadership of the faith community in Alabama at the time felt self-assured in making this statement is a testimony to how prevalent their political “realism” was across theological traditions.

We must not deceive ourselves. Even as we gather in churches, synagogues, community centers, and university halls across America to honor the legacy of Dr. King this weekend, the so-called moderates’ call for compromise is drowning out King’s insistence that we cannot submit to the terms of white supremacy. Trump’s immoral demand for an unnecessary wall is an effort to concretize every lie that has been told about immigrants by this administration. Such a wall would be as poisonous to our common life as the “whites only” signs in 1960s Birmingham were to the citizens Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to support in their campaign to tear down Jim Crow.

King understood that whenever we compromise with a lie about who people are, we empower the political forces that have exploited our nation’s divisions to cling to power. The same politicians who want a wall today are also blocking voting rights and the expansion of healthcare to all Americans; they are the same people who have deregulated corporate polluters and denied climate science—the same ones who insist on increasing investment in the war economy while slashing our nation’s safety net and denying workers the right to earn a living wage.

We must be clear: Trump’s demand for a wall is not about border security. It is about a lie as sinister as the claim at the heart of Jim Crow—that America’s future depends on the values of white rule, not the promise of the multi-ethnic democracy we have struggled toward in this land for 400 years. We must not make the same mistake that the clergy of Birmingham made in 1963. If we would honor King, then let us follow him in refusing to compromise with a lie.

Nothingburger — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker.

On Saturday, the twenty-ninth day of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Donald Trump tried to make a deal. The President, trapped between his far-right bona fides and the general electorate, offered to support a limited measure called the Bridge Act, which would extend temporary legal protections for Dreamers in exchange for full funding of his $5.7-billion border wall. The offer was reportedly crafted by Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, and without the input of congressional Democrats. Yet, almost on cue, Trump’s supporters claimed that the President had effectively flipped the script on his partisan detractors. “Compromise in divided government means that everyone can’t get everything they want every time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “The President’s proposal reflects that. It strikes a fair compromise by incorporating priorities from both sides of the aisle.”

The problem was that the offer addressed none of the Democrats’ concerns, either on the issue of the Dreamers, whose legal status Trump has put in limbo, or the shutdown, which Trump precipitated by demanding funding for the wall. In 2017, when Trump cancelled DACA, he gave Congress six months to devise a solution to protect the legal status of some seven hundred thousand Dreamers. Of all the proposals under consideration, the most conservative was a provisional arrangement known as the Bridge Act. It offered to freeze DACA protections in place for three years to buy Congress time as it sought to devise a proper solution. One of the bill’s sponsors, a Colorado Republican named Mike Coffman, who lost his reëlection bid last November, told me at the time that the bill was a last resort. Moderate Republicans preferred a more comprehensive solution that included a path to citizenship for Dreamers; the Bridge Act was something to have in place in case a deal couldn’t be reached in time. For all of its insufficiencies, the previous version of the Bridge Act would have covered many more people (some 1.3 million Dreamers) than the iteration outlined by the President on Saturday (roughly seven hundred thousand existing DACA recipients). Predictably, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, wasted no time in calling Trump’s latest proposal a “non-starter.” The question now is how long will the President, through clenched teeth, pretend he made the gesture in good faith?

It’s no accident that the White House has selected this measure to try to goad the Democrats, who, for the last several months, have been clear on one thing: no congressional deal on Dreamers would be acceptable unless it included a pathway to citizenship. The Bridge Act doesn’t just come up well short of that; in effect, it simply prolongs the status quo. Federal judges have already blocked the Trump Administration’s effort to cancel DACA, meaning the program is, for the time being, held in place. It’s a precarious situation—only existing recipients can renew their status, and new applications aren’t being accepted—but the Bridge Act is hardly a significant improvement. “The White House hasn’t released a bill yet, but the three years under the Bridge Act is not a three-year extension of DACA,” Kamal Essaheb, the policy director of the National Immigration Law Center, told me on Saturday. “Under the original Bridge Act, the protections end at a certain date in the future. So, if the Bridge Act is enacted today, all work permits would expire in January, 2022, for example. That’s not much of a give, because someone renewing their DACA status today would likely get a work permit into mid- to late 2021.” There’s a chance that the Supreme Court will hear the Trump Administration’s case for ending DACA, but as of now the Justices have not shown any sign that they will; it seems increasingly unlikely, therefore, that the Trump Administration’s appeal will be heard during the Court’s current term. An additional inducement offered by the President, on Saturday, has a similarly stale logic. He proposed a three-year extension of temporary protected status (T.P.S.), which allows victims of war and natural disasters to live and work in the United States, for the three hundred thousand people who lost it over the last two years because of Trump. In October, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump Administration’s efforts to end their T.P.S.

The President proposed a raft of other measures, few of them new or meaningfully different than the terms already being haggled over. He wanted to add more border agents; invest in immigration judges; increase drug-detection technology at the border. The Democrats, who on Friday proposed to add a billion dollars to border-security funding, shouldn’t be particularly opposed to any of these details on their own. Their objection, however, is both more general and more explicit: they want to reopen the government first, and then deal with Homeland Security policies.

Ultimately, the most revealing aspect of Saturday’s proposal is the bland predictability of it. Last year, around this time, the President backed himself into the same corner: he agreed, in an Oval Office meeting with Chuck Schumer, to trade close to five times the wall funding he wants now for a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Immediately afterward, he changed his mind, triggering a government shutdown. Earlier that month, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came to him with a bipartisan solution for Dreamers, which included changes to legal immigration and redoubled funding for border security—in short, all the measures the President had publicly demanded. He responded by blowing up the deal on the spot. Once more, Trump is hoping that the Democrats will flinch, and that no one will remember how we got here in the first place.

Doonesbury — More twitterpation.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Friday, December 21, 2018

Thursday, November 22, 2018

November 22, 1963

JFK 11-22-06Friday, November 22, 1963. I was in the sixth grade in Toledo, Ohio. I had to skip Phys Ed because I was just getting over bronchitis, so I was in a study hall when a classmate came up from the locker room in the school basement to say, “Kennedy’s dead.” We had a boy in our class named Matt Kennedy, and I wondered what had happened – an errant fatal blow with a dodgeball? A few minutes later, though, it was made clear to us at a hastily-summoned assembly, and we were soon put on the buses and sent home. Girls were crying.

There was a newspaper strike at The Blade, so the only papers we could get were either from Detroit or Cleveland. (The union at The Blade, realizing they were missing the story of the century, agreed to immediately resume publication and settle their differences in other ways.) Television, though, was the medium of choice, and I remember the black-and-white images of the arrival of Air Force One at Andrews, the casket being lowered, President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the events of the weekend – Oswald, Ruby, the long slow funeral parade, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – merging into one long black-and-white flicker, finally closing on Monday night with the eternal flame guttering in the cold breeze.

I suspect that John F. Kennedy would be bitterly disappointed that the only thing remembered about his life was how he left it and how it colored everything he did leading up to it. The Bay of Pigs, the steel crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Test Ban Treaty, even the space program are dramatized by his death. They became the stuff of legend, not governing, and history should not be preserved as fable.

At the age of eleven, I never thought about being old enough to look back fifty-five years to that time. According to NPR, more than sixty percent of Americans alive today were not yet born on that day. Today the question is not do you remember JFK, but what did his brief time leave behind. Speculation is rife as to what he did or did not accomplish – would we have gone in deeper in Vietnam? Would he have pushed civil rights? Would the Cold War have lasted? We’ll never know, and frankly, pursuing such questions is a waste of time. Had JFK never been assassinated, chances are he would have been re-elected in 1964, crushing Barry Goldwater, but leading an administration that was more style than substance, battling with his own party as much as with the Republicans, much like Clinton did in the 1990’s. According to medical records, he would have been lucky to live into his sixties, dying from natural causes in the 1980’s, and he would have been remembered fondly for his charm and wit – and his beautiful wife – more than what he accomplished in eight years of an average presidency.

But it was those six seconds in Dealy Plaza that defined him. Each generation has one of those moments. For my parents it was Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the flash from Warm Springs in April 1945. Today it is Challenger in 1986, and of course September 11, 2001. And in all cases, it is what the moment means to us. It is the play, not the players. We see things as they were, contrast to how they are, and measure the differences, and by that, we measure ourselves.

Monday, September 17, 2018

If History Is Any Guide

The fact that Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser of sexual assault has come forward and is willing to testify is good in that it removes the shadow of anonymity behind which his supporters can hide and dismiss the claim.  But if history — in the name of Anita Hill — is any guide, it is she who will be vilified and Judge Kavanaugh portrayed as the victim, and the Republicans will still vote to confirm him to the Supreme Court.

It’s not just the intervening years since Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas displayed himself as a sexual predator or the emergence of the #MeToo movement have elevated the consciousness of sexual assault and the pervasive ways in which the perpetrators try to convince us that it’s all a witch hunt.  They haven’t, even though the number of people who have been brought to justice — or at least been identified and faced the consequences — has risen dramatically in the last few years.  It’s only been happening among those who have a conscience, and oddly enough, the people who preached the loudest about “character counts” and worried endlessly about what to tell the children, are the ones who rise to the defense of the accused and find creative ways of dismissing the charges.

The vote may be delayed.  Christine Blasey Ford may give testimony on live TV, reenacting the Clarence Thomas hearings of 1991.  But in the end — and especially with their party led by someone who was able to be elected while bragging about committing sexual assault — they will find a way to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the court.  Then he and Justice Thomas can share a Coke and a smile.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Since Then

Today marks seventeen years since the attacks in New York, Washington, and the foiled one that crashed in a Pennsylvania field.  Since then, what have we become?

I remember driving home from school that afternoon, listening to NPR as they covered the aftermath live, and the days afterward; going out before dawn to walk Sam and not hearing the usual air traffic overhead, thinking of the yet-unimaginable responses this country would have to such a brutal attack.  I don’t think I had the foresight to wonder how it would change our national psyche, but I remember thinking that whatever happened, I hoped it would be for the better.

It has not.  In the years since, we have become more narrow-minded, paranoid, defensive, and easily frightened, even when we have tried to respond to our better angels.  Seven years after the attack we elected our first African-American president, many of us with the hope that this was a sign of healing and growth, only to have it turned immediately to hatred, recrimination, and xenophobia against our own.  The fear of the Other, be they from different countries, of different ethnicities, or even of a non-conformist sexual orientation, became fodder for political ambition and divisiveness.  Instead of coming together, we pushed away.  As so many have noted, the goal of terrorism is to kill not one person but kill as many as possible not to achieve a body count but to weaken the body as a whole.  In that regard, the attacks that Tuesday morning were a success.

Look at what we have become.  We flinch; let one deranged individual try to bring down an airplane with a sneaker and we spend ten years shuffling barefoot through the airport.  We kneejerk; when African Americans rightly point out that America is still dealing with its original sin — slavery and Jim Crow and the social structure it created — and football games become a clash of symbolism over an icon.  When black men are killed by police and people object, it is no longer a cause for examination of a culture but a rallying cry for racists.  And when we elect a president who embodies the worst aspects of authoritarianism, narcissism, and cannot think beyond the end of the last election cycle, we have allowed ourselves to become the pawns of those who would like to bring us down, not just to their level but to where we can be conquered; not by an army but by our own lizard-brain reflexes.

We’ve been here before and we’ve recovered from worse.  There have been countless good deeds of healing and growth since that day, even though it takes reminding.  We have seen over and over we can do better, even if the bellicose and the tweeters drown them out.  The number of us who want to work together is greater than those that wish to keep us apart; we just have to be that much more assertive.  As I’ve said so many times, hope is our greatest weakness, but it is also like gravity: invisible, immeasurable, but constant and unconquerable.  Channeled with action and reinforced with a belief in ourselves and what we can do together, hope can win.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Thursday, August 9, 2018

On This Date

August 9, 1974.

Where were you?

I was in Perrysburg, Ohio, a month out of my NOLS program and three months after graduating from Miami, getting ready to go up to northern Michigan for a couple of weeks before finding a job. On that very day I had a dentist appointment but I got back in time to watch Nixon’s Lear speech to the staff and Ford’s swearing in.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Ten Million Mustangs

1965 Ford Mustang 2+2

A bit of automotive history has been made.

When Samuel Crawford’s grade-school teacher asked her students what they wanted to do when they grew up, his classmates said they wanted to be doctors, lawyers and accountants. Sam said he wanted to build Mustangs, and his classmates laughed.

“The ’64 Mustang had just come out,” Crawford said. “All I could think about was that brand new pony car.”

Of his 31 years at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant, Crawford, has spent the last nine putting racing stripes on Mustangs. Today, he will join thousands of Ford workers celebrating production of the 10 millionth Mustang.

“I do what I said I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t know how they were built, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. And I have worked on 4,000 or 5,000 Mustangs.”

The iconic vehicle has been America’s best-selling sports car in the last half century and the world’s top selling sports car three years straight.

[…]

The 10 millionth Ford Mustang is a high-tech, 460-horsepower 2019 Wimbledon White GT V8 six-speed manual convertible equipped with driver assist technology and built at Flat Rock. The first serialized Mustang (VIN 001) produced in 1964 was the same color and model with a three-speed manual transmission and 164-horsepower V8.

I’ve had three, so in some small way, I’m part of the parade.

Saturday, August 4, 2018