Good night, Brother-in-Love

I wrote this in 2017, but a friend found it on the web today, and I’ve decided to post it here.

On a Tuesday night, my husband called his brother in Italy. We were a few days into a long-anticipated tour of India. Sal shared our first impressions of the exotic land with Lauro. They joked and laughed. Lauro had seen his cardiologist that afternoon. The doctor had given him the go-ahead to go to Capri the next day. He pronounced Lauro in fine health.

Sal and his brother are closer than any two people I have ever known. They were born in Capri, Italy, and now Lauro lives in Naples and Sal lives in New York. Sal was nineteen when he left to make a new life in America. The distance only strengthened their bond. They spoke on the phone every day and saw each other several times a year. The last time was less than a month before, for Lauro’s ninetieth birthday.

On Wednesday morning, Lauro called to his wife from bed, took her hand, squeezed it and expired.

Sal received the call from Lauro’s son, Giovanni, halfway through a five-hour bus trip from Agra to Jaipur. Sal was beside himself, so much so that I feared for him. I kept telling him to breathe deeply so he would stop shaking and jerking involuntarily. I was thankful to be among friends; they took turns hugging Sal, trying to comfort him. The shock and the urgency to get to Naples were tearing him apart. Some hours later, we left the hotel in Jaipur at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, the best we could do.

The trip was long and stressful: from Jaipur to Abu Dhabi to Rome to Naples by Thursday evening. In Naples, very sad and very difficult. Giovanni met us at the airport, visibly distressed by the shock of his loss. At home we were greeted by the red eyes and tear-stained faces of the grandchildren. Their parents, aunts, and uncles were trying to calm their grandmother, who was crying uncontrollably.

The funeral had been postponed to Friday morning to allow us to arrive from India. The church was filled to capacity. Lauro wasn’t bashful; he had made himself known and was loved by many. Even the greengrocer, the barista, the pharmacist, and the other merchants he saw every day were there. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years: young people (our contemporaries) grown old; children, no longer children, now with children of their own.

There was no eulogy. Lauro’s cousin was prepared to speak, but the mass was just beginning as he arrived from Capri. The priest was grandiose and phony and really annoyed me. He spouted platitudes and rarely mentioned Lauro by name. Finally the service ended, people began to leave, and then Sal rose and walked up to the mic. He did what he has always done: Sal found the words to speak for everyone. Earlier, he had told me he would not say anything, but he changed his mind as the priest pontificated. He felt the need, he told me later. Sal was amazingly eloquent, raw, and moving, and I was very proud of him. He provided the humanity the priest was incapable of expressing; he never stumbled or hesitated. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

After saying good-bye to the many friends and relatives, Sal, Giovanni and his older daughter, Lauro’s son-in-law, and I set off for the crematorium in some God-forsaken town in the boonies outside Naples. (Cremation has been allowed by the Church only very recently, but there is still no cremation in the city.) There was a smell in that place that I won’t soon forget. They asked if we wanted to watch. We saw a screen on the wall. “No!” we said as one. While we waited, I could hear the furnace roaring for an hour and a half until the ashes were ready for us to take them away.

The next day, Lauro’s daughter Olimpia, her husband, Sal, and I took Lauro back home to Capri for the last time. Watching in Anacapri’s cemetery filled with flowers and birdsong as the tombstone on the family crypt was slid open and the small box lowered into its depths was even harder than the cremation.

In truth, Lauro died in the best possible way. We are suffering, but he didn’t. He always called me “sister-in-love,” because, he said, “sister-in-law” is too cold. Just a few weeks before, he had had a beautiful party for his ninetieth birthday. The whole family was there—joy and music, laughing and singing. As it happened, we couldn’t have had better closure. Alberto, Olimpia’s son, took terrific pictures and organized them into a beautiful book that he had given to his grandfather a few days before. He also made one for his Uncle Sal. Alberto told us that Lauro had immediately procured a padded envelope to send the book to his brother so that it would be waiting for him upon our return from India. The following day, Lauro took the book with him as he did the shopping, showing it to the merchants and everyone else he knew.

He will be missed.

Photo (Sal on the left, Lauro on the right)

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The right to choose abortion is not the in Constitution?

Really, Justice Alito?

WWhen the Founders wrote the Constitution, they didn’t write it for women. Nor did they write it for Blacks. Neither of these groups had any rights at all. Fetuses weren’t mentioned either. What do you propose to do with the three women who sit on the Court with you? And Justice Thomas? Should he have 3/5 of a seat? Interracial married couples had no rights. There was no same-sex marriage in the 18th Century. Will you propose to invalidate Brown v. Board of Education and Obergefell v. Hodges? The Founders understood that society and its norms evolve continuously and so provided the amendment process to modify the Constitution as customs and the country inevitably changed.

For centuries corporations had no voice, no influence in elections. They had no religious rights. But they have all of these now. Do you contemplate overturning Citizens United?

The filibuster is not enshrined in the Constitution.

Where is there a right to private gun ownership outside of a “well-regulated militia”?

Will you strike down Griswold v. Connecticut and the legality of contraception? If Roe v. Wade au goes down, will the morning after pill and the IUD be outlawed as well because they are effective when conception has already occurred?

Does the Constitution grant the right to ban or burn books that are deemed ideologically impure by a minority?

By striking down Roe v. Wade, you will open the door to revoking all matter of established precedents, profoundly changing life the United States as we know it.

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Robots and police

My husband anxiously interrupted my reverie. I was lollygagging, still in bed, thinking about the day ahead. Little did I suspect that I would shortly receive a call from the police.

Still in bed and squinting in the obtrusive daylight, I perceived that my mate, who is technically not very savvy, was holding his cell phone. He was frustrated and needed my help, because the flashlight was on and he couldn’t turn it off. I opened my eyes fully, took the phone, focused with a little difficulty, and after finding the flashlight icon, jabbed it a few times. The light refused to extinguish itself.

Ultimately, I realized that it wasn’t the flashlight at fault; it was the touch screen that wasn’t working. Since I knew from long experience that unresponsive electronic devices usually respond to a reboot, I tried to turn it off. Impossible. The sliding button refused to obey my continued swipes. Of course it didn’t. It couldn’t. The touchscreen wasn’t working.

As I continued to press the two buttons that access the turn-off screen, the phone began to beep. I didn’t know that a long press on those buttons would send out emergency calls. To my horror, the phone was dialing 911 and I couldn’t stop it. The police called back. Fortunately, he understood my plight and graciously accepted my apology.

The phone excitedly called the other emergency contacts. I had to reassure the kids that the calls went out automatically and their father was home safe and sound.

But the problem persisted and I was still in my nightgown. Using my phone, I called tech support.

A futile back-and-forth ensued. The phone robot finally accepted that it wasn’t capable of understanding which phone I was calling about and why I wasn’t using it.

At last a live agent came on. I tried to explain what the problem was. Once she realized I was calling about my husband’s phone and not mine, she had to ask him to allow her to speak with me. Then she instructed me to reboot the phone. Once again, I explained that I had tried to do just that, but wasn’t able to because the touchscreen was unresponsive. As we were going back and forth, the phone line dropped.

I moved to where the signal was stronger and I redialed, not at all looking forward to another session with a robot and a junior tech. But while I was plying the keyboard on my phone, the phone line dropped again.

I dialed yet another time, now using the almost obsolete land line. After the initial, forced repartee with the robot, a real person came on. Now I had two problems: my husband’s phone was on the fritz and my phone was too, but for a completely different reason. Try to explain that. I leave it to your imagination.

And there was an added complication: the phone signal in our house is practically non-existent, so we must use wifi to make calls. The tech agent had some difficulty understanding this and was trying to teach me how to turn off the wifi because it fights with the (presumptive) phone signal.

While I was trying to convince the agent that I can’t make calls from home except on wifi, my husband walked in, triumphant smile on face, working phone in hand. He had put it on the charger. Problem solved. Eventually, my problem too was solved. With some trepidation, I looked forward to discovering what the rest of the day had in store.

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Can U.S. and allies stand with Zelenskyy?

NATO and the European Union are dithering over how to provide military assistance to qawE Ukraine without provoking Putin. All are agreed that declaring a no-fly zone is tantamount to an act of war, because it means shooting down Russian airplanes when they invade Ukrainian air space. But NATO and Russia both have nuclear weapons, and no one wants to put Putin to the test, in essence daring him to make good on his threat to use them. Putin’s forces may not be performing well on the ground, but that doesn’t make his nuclear arsenal any less lethal.

Since the Cold War, Russia and the United States have come up to the brink, but no further, because of the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The knowledge that no matter which side fires the first missile, there can be no winner, but rather assured mutual destruction, is the ultimate deterrent. In addition, the resultant radioactivity would soon poison the entire planet. The holocaust would spell the end of most of terrestrial lifeforms and possibly the annihilation of the planet itself.

I sincerely doubt, however, that Putin, despite his veiled threats and as out-of-control as he seems to be, is not so insane as to actually detonate a nuclear device. Still, he is armed with 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons designed for use on the battlefield that can have a very limited range of total destruction and radiation fields. He may not hesitate to use these as a last resort if he sees he has no chance of subduing Ukraine.

Even a war with conventional weapons would be catastrophic. A conflict that sets half the world (the 30 members of NATO, the European Union and our Pacific allies) against the other (Russia and its allies, China and North Korea) is unthinkable, but not impossible.

But avoiding escalation is a vain hope. So long as the Western allies refuse to “close the sky,” Putin will continue to drop bombs until every building is demolished and no Ukrainian remains standing. Can the West truly just stand by on the sidelines and watch the fighting, the bombing, the dying, and the suffering? Civilians murdered, soldiers maimed, children orphaned, families separated, an entire nation snuffed out? Or will it try to thread the needle by donating planes for Ukrainian pilots to fend off the Russians? This too is risky. Putin announced that any countries holding planes meant for Ukraine may be considered adversaries.

The free world is not standing by. It is sending weapons and humanitarian and medical supplies. By the eleventh day of the war, almost 20,000 volunteers from 52 countries had streamed to Ukraine to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers on the front lines. Foreign medics are tending to the wounded in hospitals and on the battlefield. Almost three million refugees have received offers of shelter, food, and clothing when they succeeded in crossing the border. All over the world, people are protesting and raising money for the beleaguered nation. In Russia, thousands have been arrested for demonstrating against the war, more than 4,500 in one day alone.

President Biden is flying to Brussels for an extraordinary NATO summit meeting on March 23. Let’s hope they will agree on a way to end the bombing and safely evacuate civilians.

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“Close the sky!”

Pres. Zelenskyy’s impassioned plea to the U.S. and NATO for a no-fly zone over Ukraine goes not unheard, but unheeded.

The fear that direct engagement with Russia initiated by downing a Russian plane over Ukraine’s airspace would spark a confrontation with Putin is realistic. He is being backed into a corner that leaves him few options. The most likely is what he is doing now, doubling down and intensifying the terror and destruction. That he would suffer the humiliation of surrender is inconceivable. Like TFG, Putin cannot admit he was wrong. He miscalculated by assuming the Ukrainians identified as Russians and would welcome the Russian troops as liberators from non-existent Nazis.

Diplomatic initiatives, devastating sanctions and arming the Ukrainians have not curbed the hostilities, let alone ended the fighting. Ukrainian resistance has slowed the Russian invasion, but brave as the Ukrainians are, they are being killed and losing ground. They will eventually have to succumb to Putin’s force majeure.

If Western allies allow Putin to continue the annihilation of Ukraine by mercilessly shelling and besieging its cities, depriving them of power, water, food, and heat in sub-freezing weather; mining and blocking humanitarian corridors for fleeing civilians; bombing hospitals and wantonly killing civilians, Putin will have no incentive to restrain from forcibly annexing former Soviet republics to achieve his dream of restoring the Russian empire.

But the Baltic states and Poland are now members of NATO, so any aggression against them will constrain the alliance to defend them militarily, probably igniting World War III. In other words, inaction now could well result in the very thing NATO seeks to avoid. And Ukraine would be smoking rubble.

The greatest fear in provoking Russia is that Putin will make good on his threat to use nuclear weapons. Since 1945, the nuclear option has been off the table. The Cuban missile crisis was the exception, but even then, nuclear missiles served as deterrents because the would-be combatents recognized that in a nuclear war there could be no winners, only mutual destruction.

As terrifying as Putin’s putative willingness to go nuclear is, we are now at a point where we will have to risk it, if not now, then very likely later. Though Ukraine is not a NATO member, and thus we have no treaty obligation to defend it, letting 44 million Ukrainians die or go into exile will expose our professed ideals of liberty and democracy to be shallow and hypocritical. Putin has few options, but so does the West.

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A bright light in the darkness

Daily footage of new and unspeakable atrocities in Ukraine and the terrifying prospect of a nuclear accident or a deliberate launch of a nuclear weapon dominate the news coming from the war. There is even the possibility that bombing a Ukrainian nuclear reactor could release a “dirty” bomb. Not an actual nuclear bomb, but a lethal explosion that would scatter radioactive material, poisoning the air, water and earth, not to mention human beings.

Despite the horrors, good news manages to leak out, showcasing not the worst, but the best of humanity.

At the Hungarian border Ukrainian refugees are pouring into the country, 140,000 in the first seven days of the war. The Hungarian government is notoriously anti-immigrant, but Hungarians are streaming to the border to greet them. As the trains arrive in Budapest loaded with refugees, they are met by volunteers who welcome them with hot tea and toys for the children. They do not understand each other, because the Hungarian language is radically different from the Indo-European languages of Ukrainian and Russian (as well as English).

Women are carrying children and pets and dragging suitcases packed with the little they could salvage from homes that were burned or bombed or likely targets of Russian aggression. From the train platform they are directed to a staging area where tables piled with food await them: hot and cold beverages, sandwiches, snacks, fresh fruit and more. People with special dietary concerns, like vegans, find their needs have not been overlooked. Besides food, the refugees are given essentials they were unable to take with them. Medication, clothing, hygiene needs, blankets, paper goods— the Hungarians have tried to anticipate every need. 

From this hall in the train station, the refugees are directed to a transportation hub where they are matched with people who will drive them to where they want to go— to embassies or homes of friends or family. Hungarians have lists of their compatriots who have offered temporary lodging to Ukrainians who arrive with no plans and nowhere to go. Some arrive with train tickets in hand for farther destinations. The ones who know where they want to go but have no way to get there are given train tickets.

From a humanitarian perspective, the outstanding feature of all this is that volunteers, not government, have organized and are executing this outpouring of generosity and love to their devastated brothers and sisters.

H/T to the on-the-spot reporting of MSNBC’s Ali Velshi.

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Inflection Point

Last week Putin’s intentions and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were being evaluated differently in Washington and Kiev. U.S. intelligence was predicting an imminent invasion, publicized by Pres. Biden, but Pres. Zelensky downplayed the threat, perhaps wanting to believe a possible Russian incursion might be a ways down the pike and not wanting to panic the Ukrainian public.

Until now we didn’t know that the invasion was stalled because Putin was acquiescing to Xi Jinping’s request that he wait to attack until after the Winter Olympics in Beijing were over. The two leaders met just before the Olympics and issued a joint statement affirming that their partnership would know “no limits.” Russian soldiers crossed into Ukraine days after the Olympics ended, following the playbook laid out by the U.S.

But China hasn’t endorsed Putin’s war. It is in a delicate position: China has pledged a partnership with Russia, but now can’t bail Russia out without risking a rift with its primary trading partner, the United States. No matter what action it takes, China will alienate either the U.S. or Putin. It can’t make up Russia’s deficit caused by Western sanctions without jeopardizing its relationship with the U.S.

The surprising resilience of the Ukrainians has so inspired the West that it has responded in ways no one could have anticipated (see Zelensky and the World v. Putin and Russia). The most astonishing result of Putin’s unprovoked aggression is the shoring up of the alliance of the free world on every continent. The solidarity with Ukraine and the outpouring of financial, military and moral support is completely contrary to Putin’s assumptions that the West is too weak and fat to execute harsh sanctions and withstand the consequent hardships like runaway gas and oil prices. The former U.S. president had done his best to rupture the bonds of NATO, but Putin (to his undoubted dismay) has singlehandedly revitalized the alliance. Even the warring political parties of America have found common ground in opposing the invasion.

The world has undergone a transformation.

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Zelensky and the World v. Putin and Russia

Ukraine’s courage, like David’s defying Russia’s Goliath, has caught the imagination and support of the free world. Everyone expected the country to crumble under overwhelming Russian military might. Six days later, Ukraine is resisting the Russian juggernaut with unforeseen mettle and determination. Putin must be confounded that his projected slam-dunk occupation is not going as planned.

His troubles began with President Volodymyr Zelensky, who refused the evacuation offer from the United States. “I need ammunition, not a ride,” he (now famously) responded. The young, former comedian with no political experience has evolved into a heroic wartime leader. Zelensky is rallying his people every day, exhorting them to fight in any way they are able. And they are responding. Fiercely. Civilians are taking up arms, studying TikTok video instructions for driving captured Russian tanks, gathering bottles to fill with explosives. Girls are making camouflage nets for their soldiers. A brewery in Lviv stopped making beer, producing Molotov cocktails instead.

Conversely, Putin is revealing himself to be not so much a master strategist, but rather an aging autocrat who, after decades of no opposition, has lost his ability to perceive hard-edged reality. Some of his troops are reported to have surrendered and their tanks run out of gas.

Zelensky’s example is inspiring not only his countrymen, but the entire world. Crowds are protesting Russia’s invasion worldwide, even inside Russia, where thousands have been arrested.

NATO and the European Union have imposed devastating banking sanctions. Germany has executed a complete reversal of its decades of nonintervention: it is now sending military equipment to aid Ukraine and canceling the Russian gas pipeline to stymie Russia; historically neutral Switzerland and Sweden are sending arms to Ukraine. Beyond Europe, Taiwan, Australia and Japan are joining forces with the anti-Russia coalition.

International support for Ukraine is symbolic as well as tangible. Landmarks around the globe are sporting the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag: the Empire State Building in New York, the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the London Eye, are just a few of the many. And not only in Europe: monuments in Toronto and Sydney and Tokyo are also illuminated in blue and yellow. 

The sports world is joining in. The International Skating Union has barred Russia and Belarus from its competitions. In soccer, some countries threatened to boycott the qualifying games for the World Cup if Russia were a participant. Then the international soccer associations UEFA and FIFA banned Russian teams from competing on the world’s fields for an indefinite period, and St. Petersburg will no longer host the very important Champion League’s final game.

In the entertainment field, Disney is boycotting Russia, and Netflix will no longer carry the propaganda channels required by Russian law, though it means the possible loss of hundreds of thousands of Russian subscribers. Warner Bros. has indefinitely delayed the Russian opening of The Batman, an eagerly anticipated blockbuster film.

Without taking away any appreciation of Ukrainian heroism or the international support it has galvanized, I have to remark that our unhappy world has many conflicts and suffering peoples. Is it right or fair that Ukraine receive so much sympathy and attention while other travails go ignored? African students fleeing the Ukraine to return to their homelands have reported being made to wait at the border for a much longer time than Ukrainians, even being beaten and abused by Ukrainian border guards. Of course, Ukraine and the Slavs are White and European while Africans and Arabs are people of color.

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It’s not the withdrawal

Soldiers with the 10th Mountain Division escort evacuees at
Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Aug. 20

The invasion was doomed from the start.

Addressing America’s current political crisis, Ezra Klein’s essay in The New York Times, “Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem,” asserts that the problem is much bigger than the chaotic withdrawal. There was no feasible way to exit gracefully. All the attacks on Biden and the mismanagement of the pullout are a distraction. Focussing on the disastrous drawdown is more palatable than admitting a colossal defeat: The ignominious exit leaves Afghanistan no better off after two decades of occupation at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives lost and an expenditure of more than $2 trillion.

No, the real problem, Klein contends, is our failure to learn from past disasters. We are blinded by the illusion that our military might can force the outcome we seek. We believe the oxymoron that we can impose democracy on a culture that we don’t know. We deceive ourselves by insisting on our honorable conduct despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The misguided faith in our ability to control coupled with our refusal to accept the limitations of our power keep leading us down a rabbit hole.

There’s no denying America is the most powerful country in the world, but what we’ve seen over and over in recent decades is we cannot turn that into the outcomes we want. Whether it’s Afghanistan or Libya or sanctions on Russia and Venezuela, we don’t get the policy outcomes we want, and I think that’s because we overreach — we assume that because we are very powerful, we can achieve things that are unachievable.

Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security

Klein reports that Ben Rhodes, a top foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, told him

Afghanistan. Iraq. Yemen. Somalia. Libya. Every one of those countries is worse off today in some fashion. The evidentiary basis for the idea that American military intervention leads inexorably to improved material circumstances is simply not there.

Moreover, writes Klein, we are holding on to the illusion of our knowledge. The Iraq war should have taught us that 

We don’t know what we don’t know, and, even worse, we don’t always know what we think we know [emphasis mine]. Policymakers are easily fooled by people with seemingly relevant experience or credentials who will tell them what they want to hear or what they already believe. … We do not understand other countries well enough to remake them according to our ideals. We don’t even understand our own country well enough to achieve our ideals.

Klein alludes to the famous observation of Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense for President G.W. Bush and an architect of the Iraq war:

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. 

But Rumsfeld missed another kind of unknown. Klein appends the one that proved the most treacherous, the false known, that is, believing that something false is actually true. Things like Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and the conviction that the Iraqis would joyously welcome an American invasion.

We don’t listen to the dissenting voices that recognize the folly of foreign invasions. “That has allowed too much to go unquestioned, and too many failures to go uncorrected,” writes Klein, and

It is telling that it is Biden who is taking the blame for America’s defeat in Afghanistan. The consequences come for those who admit America’s foreign policy failures and try to change course, not for those who instigate or perpetuate them. [Emphasis mine]

Klein notes the hypocrisy of our foreign policy and its tragic consequences:

To many, America’s pretensions of humanitarian motivation were always suspect. There are vicious regimes America does nothing to stop. There are vicious regimes America finances directly. It is callous to suggest that the only suffering we bear responsibility for is the suffering inflicted by our withdrawal. Our wars and drone strikes and tactical raids and the resulting geopolitical chaos directly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis.

But, he concludes,

The choice we face is not between isolationism and militarism. We are not powerful enough to achieve the unachievable. But we are powerful enough to do far more good, and far less harm, than we do now.

Will the powers that be embrace that philosophy?


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Henri and Bob, hurricane reprise

Churning up the Atlantic, Hurricane Henri is barreling towards us on the southern shore of Long Island. It’s on time, expected, even, because we are at the height of the North Atlantic hurricane season. 

I’ve been here before. Thirty years ago, almost to the day, Hurricane Bob smashed, blew down, swept away or submerged anything with the audacity to stand in its way. 

Yesterday, while I was securing outdoor furniture and flowerpots too large to bring indoors, my mind kept returning to a Monday morning in August a lifetime ago. Gathering flowers soon to be destroyed and collecting a few almost ripe apples, I reflected on the contrasts between my memories of Bob and the realities of 2021. 

It was our first summer in a new house then, and the “garden” was not much more than the potato field it had vanquished the year before. The orchard, the hydrangeas, and the towering trees belonged to a hazy future. The advancing storm would find slim pickings at our house.

The sun had hardly risen when the shrill ringing of the phone rudely roused me. I wondered who could possibly be calling at that hour. I didn’t expect my next-door neighbor whom I barely knew.

“Have you brought everything in?” she demanded.

“Why would I do that?” I replied obliviously.

“Don’t you know there’s a hurricane on the way? I’m coming over.”

It was already drizzling. There were no cell phone alerts in those days and few people had mobiles anyway. Our husbands were gone, on their way to work the city. We were on our own.

I was only half-dressed when Lena appeared at the door in her wellies, ready for action. Together we heaved and toted whatever we could into the garage.

Hours later, her mission accomplished, Lena returned home. I filled the tub and big pots with water. We kept in touch— our landlines never abandoned us— as the tempest raged with increasing violence. I felt like the little pig quivering as the wolf did his best to blow the house down.

The rain didn’t come down. It battered us horizontally, gushing over the threshold. It was all I could do, mopping and wringing ceaselessly with huge towels, to keep up with the tide of water. When the water slowed, that was the signal not to relax, but to move to another side of the house where the storm was bursting in under a different door. The hurricane wound round the house, buffeting it from every direction successively. The only respite we had was when the eye passed over before the storm resumed.

Later that afternoon, Bob moved on and bright sun followed. Despite our exhaustion, we had to see how the world outside had fared, so we jumped into Lena’s Jeep and zigged around downed trees and power lines.

For four days we supported each other, living without power and feasting on the contents of our incapacitated freezers. But the barbecue worked, and we grilled Lena’s tomatoes and my mozzarella for breakfast. Our well water depends on an electric pump to reach our faucets, so we had to haul buckets of the water stashed in the tub for the toilets. We bought batteries, burned candles and went early to bed.

On the second day, we saw truckloads of men climbing poles. They came from faraway places like Canada, helping to restore power. Surrounding towns came back online, but our small village stayed dark.

The August heat was oppressive, yet on the third day we reached what then seemed the height of luxury: a friend in one of those towns offered us warm showers. By the fourth day, however, our sense of adventure was waning. Late that afternoon, we cheered when the power finally came back on. 

Today we have a generator. Food will stay cold in the freezer and water will run freely. We will watch television and read books at night. As powerful as it is, though, the generator cannot help the garden. The zelkova gives us welcome shade and shelter, but if pushed to the limit, it is close enough to crash through the roof. While we will be far more comfortable with Henri, we also will be much more vulnerable.

Despite the havoc it wreaked, Hurricane Bob left me an invaluable gift. The unique adventure we experienced together forged an enduring bond between Lena and me.

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Fran Lebowitz and me

Fran Lebowitz in 2011. Photo by Christopher Macsurak, License

I’ve never met Fran Lebowitz. I enjoy her wit, her humor, and her distinctive point of view. I admire her ability to name whatever elephant is in the room, to say what many think but don’t dare say. I spent a couple of hours in her company (on YouTube) today, so she’s on my mind. In many ways I consider her a kindred soul. She loves words and knows her grammar. So do I, notwithstanding the ungrammatical title of this post. I think that “Fran Lebowitz and I” would be a turnoff to the many people who don’t think proper grammar is necessarily a good thing. Yet I don’t feel right lowering my standards. Actually, these days I don’t feel right about many things.

Like the state of the nation, specifically the impending demise of American democracy. Income and wealth inequality, white supremacy, the shameful state of healthcare in the United States and the alarming diffusion of the Delta variant of the coronavirus are dangers and evils that keep me awake. I deplore the gullibility of the followers of radicalized politicians who lie shamelessly to stay in power. The legislatures and executives who deceive their constituents, encouraging them to indulge, defenseless, in activities that expose them to a deadly virus– these faithless leaders are criminals.

I digress. Back to Fran. She’s decreed that “racism is a fantasy” because under the skin there is no difference among human beings. She’s right. Waving the Confederate flag anywhere, let alone in the Capital (which was largely built by Black slaves) is worse than offensive. It is sickening. Fran believes, and I agree, that if the insurgents who stormed the Capitol on January 6 had been Black, they would have been shot. Justice in America is not blindfolded. Difference in gender, on the other hand, she says cannot be denied. Until men can get pregnant, women will have to resist their domineering. I don’t think there is a woman alive of any color who has not had a “me too” experience.

I love gadgets. Living without my computer is unthinkable and my phone is practically attached to my body. Fran, on the other hand, doesn’t believe that technology has been a boon for mankind. She flaunts her comfortable survival without a smartphone, a computer or a microwave oven. I agree with her that riding the subway and seeing practically every passenger intent on his phone is depressing. According to Fran, eighty percent of even the adults are not reading or talking; they are playing games. They don’t read books or newspapers or talk with other people. In fact, most of the time people use the apps on their phones for anything but talking. Texting has become the preferred mode of communication. Human contact– practically eliminated in deference to Covid-19– is losing the battle as office workers prefer working from home and masking and social distancing conspire to keep strangers from interacting.

In addition to a passion for social justice, I share with Fran the experience of writing block or more like a blockade, as she calls it: “I would not call it a writer’s block. A writer’s block to me is a temporary thing. A month, you know, six weeks. This was more a writer’s blockade. To me, this was very much like the Vietnam War. It was the same timetable, it was on the same schedule as the Vietnam War. I don’t know how I got into it and I couldn’t get out of it.” She has said that writing is “agonizing,” that writing is hardest work there is. “The only job that is worse is coal mining.” And very few people mine coal any more.

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Can’t get away

A while back I tried to give up my obsession with politics. I knew that stuff was still happening, but I needed a break from the constant pounding of bad news on almost every front and Trump, Trump, Trump all the time, “shocking, but not surprising.” I devoted myself to garden and kitchen, watching the spring unfold, trying to remain oblivious to the death, disease and corruption I knew were swirling about me.

Instead, I soaked up the beauty of nature’s magnificence, drawing strength and renewing hope from the lilac, clematis, cherry, apple, lily, and iris that blossomed in turn. I looked forward to the splendor of peony and hydrangea soon to come. Buds peeped out, then swelled and popped, glorying in the sun and the rhythm of cycles set in motion long ago.

But reality finally had its way. It came rudely banging on my door, shredding my reverie. One dear friend after another began to have problems, serious problems. The Capitol succumbed to a murderous mob and lawmakers were unmoved. The American experiment in democracy was unraveling. It became impossible to look away.

So, hello world, I’m back.

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A very Good Friday

For a Neapolitan, thoughts of Easter conjure up the extended family enjoying a lovingly prepared and eagerly devoured feast. Not least among the delicacies is the pastiera, an essential part of Easter, a dessert that no Neapolitan table would be without.

A certain man I know well came of age in Capri, a mythic island in the Bay of Naples. Despite emigrating from Italy 73 years ago and living in the U.S. ever since, Capri has always been an integral part of him. During this past Easter Week Sal was especially overcome by nostalgia. In his fantasy he savored the pie redolent of orange blossoms and cherished memories, and he mentioned his longing to the people closest to him. Covid has whetted separation from family and friends and unbridgeable distances to a constant, bitter sting.

I called a pastry shop on Arthur Avenue, an Italian section of the Bronx, where shops and restaurants offer every sort of Italian food: mozzarella and parmigiano, salami and prosciutto, broccoli rabe and radicchio, cannoli and, wait for it– pastiera! The bakery’s website vaunted their shipments to every part of the country.

Imagine my dismay to learn they shipped cookies, but not pastiera, because of its fragility.

On Wednesday a former colleague of Sal’s told him to expect a package the following day. He wondered what it could be, and a part of him wished it would be a pastiera, even knowing that couldn’t be.

Imagine Sal’s delight when he found a package on the doorstep next morning– and it contained not one pastiera, but two! His former partner, sharing a craving for the same dessert, had sent one for Easter and one for the freezer.

Later on Thursday, Sal received notification of a shipment from Italy that would arrive on Friday. He was stumped, not having the slightest idea who the sender was, or what could possibly be in the package.

Finally, the parcel arrived. It was a pastiera, shipped from Naples by his nephew, who jumped at the chance to alleviate the longing of the uncle he loves so much.

Neapolitan Pastiera


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Make your own ricotta

Easy, fast and delicious

I’ve done a lot of experimenting in the kitchen in the time of Covid. Today I’m going to share Melissa Clark‘s instructions for making homemade ricotta. Why make ricotta, you ask, when it is so easy to buy? As Melissa says, “Because you can!” It is amazingly tasty and costs less than store-bought.

For the first try, make a small amount to see if you like it. This recipe yields about 1-½ cups.

You will need cheesecloth. Fold into four thicknesses and drape over a colander leaving a large overhang, so that when you pour the ricotta in to drain, the cheesecloth won’t fall in. Set the colander over a large bowl, but one that doesn’t let the colander touch the bottom. If the colander rests on the bottom, it will sit in liquid and it won’t drain.


  • 1 quart WHOLE milk (it makes a difference)
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • ¼ cup of whole yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-½ teaspoons of lemon juice.*

Put everything into a large pot over medium-high heat and whisk to blend. When it begins to boil, lower to simmer and stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick.

Watch for bubbles along the edges. The curds will begin to form. Pour into your prepared colander. (If you like large curds, simmer another 1-2 minutes.) Drain until it looks like ricotta. Voilà!

You can save the whey for other uses, including a facial.

*Or vinegar: white wine, distilled or cider

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The Senate is broken. Can it be repaired?

Gridlock is endemic to the Senate, thanks in large part to the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to end debate on any bill in order to proceed to a vote on the bill itself. The 60-vote threshold is virtually impossible to achieve in the current hyper-polarized Senate, ergo gridlock is assured.

It wasn’t always this way. Greasing the wheels of the Senate to facilitate legislation is theoretically easy.

The filibuster is a procedural rule, originally intended to protect the vulnerable minority from being steamrolled by the majority (even though today the minority protected by the Republicans consists of the wealthy and the privileged). As it was first written, any senator could call for an end to debate when it became an obstructionist or delaying tactic. Since then, the procedure has been modified many times; most significantly, when restrictions on the length of debate were removed, allowing the speaker to continue unhindered for as long as he wanted, unless 60 senators could agree to cloture, i.e., to close the debate and move on to the vote. But a simple majority of the senators can do away with the filibuster altogether.

Mitch McConnell really likes being Majority Leader in the Senate. He wants his old job back and knows how to get it. He’s done it before.

In 2009, Obama entered the Oval Office with a huge approval rating and robust majorities in both House and Senate. The common wisdom held that Republicans had to work with the Democrats in order to keep the GOP from fading into history. But McConnell’s wickedly brilliant insight was to do the opposite. He bet that by relentlessly opposing the Democrats he would cripple their ability to govern, thus eroding their popularity with the voters. His tactics were hugely successful. Though McConnell didn’t succeed in his stated goal of making Obama a one-term president, the Democrats suffered what Obama called a “shellacking” in the midterms. Republicans took back the House and Senate with large margins.

In 2020, Republicans cut into the House majority achieved by Democrats in the 2018 midterm. The Senate seats are evenly divided, though the Democrats have the edge by dint of Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote. McConnell, however, has his eyes firmly fixed on the prize. Right off the bat, he blackmailed Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, in their first negotiation as they formed the Senate. McConnell gave Schumer an ultimatum: agree not to touch the filibuster, which is essential for Republican control of the Senate agenda, or renounce any hope of Republican cooperation. Schumer had to capitulate because he lost two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who vowed to keep the filibuster, perhaps in the vain hope that it would promote bipartisanship.

McConnell also knows that bipartisanship in a polarized Senate is not merely fantasy; it is a hallucination. Bipartisanship helps the majority, not the minority. The majority leader doesn’t allow bills to reach the floor that will split his own caucus. If Republicans help Democrats to pass the Covid relief bill, its success will be attributed to Biden and the Democrats. If the bill fails, by the time the election rolls around, the public will be primed to remember the Democratic failure, not the Republican responsibility for it.

There is a workaround for the filibuster, but only for bills that address fiscal issues. They can be passed with reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority. Assuming no Democrats defect, the Covid relief bill could be passed with VP Harris’s tie-breaking vote. But other initiatives, like those related to climate change or immigration or civil rights, that might pass with a majority, will fall on the 60-vote threshold. The filibuster ensures that they can no longer pass, even with a majority in the House and Senate, the president’s signature and no danger from judicial challenge.

Initially, I was floored by McConnell’s diatribe against Trump delivered minutes after he voted to acquit Trump on a technicality. A little later I realized that McConnell, apart from playing to both sides, was actually taking another step toward his goal of restoring the Republican majority and his leadership of the Senate with it. Some commentators have observed that McConnell was trying to appease his corporate donors who closed their purses after the Jan. 6 insurrection and coax them back into the fold. Republicans need money for their campaigns; they win back their seats and McConnell consolidates his power.

The choice for Schumer and the Democrats is clear: eliminate (or modify) the filibuster or get very little done in the 19 months left before failure guarantees defeat in the midterms.

Note: It is well worth listening to Ezra Klein’s conversation with Adam Jentleson about these matters in his podcast, The Ezra Klein Show.

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The fix was in

The Capitol was under siege and nobody came because the fix was in.

Consider this timeline:

  • November 9th: Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper for refusing to allow active-duty military to be deployed domestically to put down peaceful protests.
  • November 9th: four senior officials at the Pentagon replaced by Trump ideologues.
  • December 4th: Esper’s replacement, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, dismissed nine Defense Business Board members and replaced them with 11 Trump loyalists, including former Trump 2016 campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie.
  • January 6th: President Trump inflamed his restive followers and all but escorted them down Pennsylvania Avenue to attack and disrupt the counting of the ballots. Trump did not want Joe Biden’s victory finally ratified.
  • Meeting little opposition, the marauding Trumpist terrorists stormed and occupied the Capitol.

Responding to a plea for help from the hunkered-down Congressional leadership, Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland pressed the Pentagon to authorize sending the National Guard of Maryland across the state line. The Capitol Police were overwhelmed and needed assistance to quell the riot. Hogan was “ready, willing and able,” but his entreaties were “repeatedly denied,” he said. The Pentagon followed Trump’s orders to refuse assistance to terrified lawmakers or defend the iconic building.

An hour and a half later, VP Pence interceded and Gov. Hogan’s forces made their way to the Capitol.

Pondering this, the conclusion that the attack had been planned weeks in advance and law enforcement instructed not to disturb the pillagers is inescapable. It is mind-bogglingly nightmarish to know that the president of the United States fomented and encouraged the insurrection, denied succor to the victims, and stood by while the Capitol’s doors were rammed, glass was shattered and its sacrosanct chambers invaded.

Are we safe if Donald Trump remains in office, with the awesome power vested in him? Should he not be held accountable for the death and injury he caused and the havoc he wreaked? Call your members of Congress and your senators if you think we would be safer with Trump removed from office, stripped of his power, and deprived of any opportunity to hold office again.

Contact your senators. Go to for phone numbers, email and postal addresses.

Contact your representatives. has every phone number, mailing address and social media account.

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“This is not who we are.” Really?

We would like to believe that the attempt to overturn the presidential election and the denial of the legitimacy of duly elected President-elect Biden are aberrations, the actions of an insignificant group of outliers. Over and over, we hear and read, “This is not who we are.”

But the ugly and irrefutable truth is that this is who we have become. It is not who we imagined ourselves to be, who much of the world believes we were, who we would like to be. No, America the no longer beautiful has been exposed as a racist, violent society. The President is both racist and violent. True, he has lost the popular vote twice, but in 2020 74 million voters chose him over Joe Biden. Almost 47 percent of the electorate chose Trump despite or because of his bigotry, corruption and desecration of American ideals and institutions.

If you don’t like what you’re reading, do something about it. Help change American society. Let’s start by removing Donald Trump from the office he has defiled. Let’s restore America and relight its beacon for freedom. Call your Congressional representative and your senators. Make it happen!

Contact your senators. Go to for phone numbers, email and postal addresses.

Contact your representatives. has every phone number, mailing address, social media account, how to schedule a meeting. Get active.

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Impeach, Convict, Prosecute

Domestic terrorists egged on by Pres. Trump scale walls of Capitol

The House could initiate impeachment proceedings today. After yesterday’s attempted coup d’état and the sacking of the Capitol, there is no question that President Trump, who incited and applauded his followers’ insurrection, has committed treason and should be evicted from office ASAP. Proceedings should begin TODAY, because Trump presents a clear and present danger to the United States. Most Republicans, among them Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of Trump’s staunchest enablers, are finally appalled and horrified by the President’s disgraceful actions. They could perhaps be counted on to support a Democratic initiative to impeach and convict Trump.

Trump could also be removed from office by his Cabinet if they follow the 25th Amendment. But only impeachment will guarantee that he will never hold elective office again.

We have to raise our voices, make ourselves heard. Call your senators and representatives. Encourage your friends to call. According to Indivisible, phone calls are much more effective than emails. Now is the time to act.

Contact your senators. Go to for phone numbers, email and postal addresses.

Contact your representatives. has every phone number, mailing address, social media account, how to schedule a meeting. Get active.

Do it now!

Trump’s terrorists march toward Capitol

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It can’t happen here…

photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

It’s happening now.

Donald Trump is demonstrating that to hold on to his presidential power he will resort to illegal means appropriate to a dictator, not a president. For Trump, the Constitution and the law are merely hurdles to defy and evade.

Until now, our institutions have held the line. The courts and election officials have pushed back Trump’s attempts to nullify the election and overturn Biden’s victory. But five weeks after his loss is manifestly undeniable, he doggedly perseveres.

Eighty-eight percent of the Republicans in the House and Senate — 222 elected representatives of the people — have yet to acknowledge Biden’s win. They are silent, not daring to contradict the President, but rather enabling him. Trump is bullying election officials to rescind their confirmations of the vote tally in favor of Biden and pressuring state legislatures to toss out majority votes for Biden and send slates of pro-Trump electors to anoint him in the Electoral College.

Trump showed his willingness, even enthusiasm, to gas protestors and send armed military troops to (Democratic) American cities to tamp down their demonstrations. He fired his defense secretary for opposing the deployment of active-duty troops against American citizens. He purged the Pentagon leadership, replacing three top officials with Trump loyalists. It’s hard to see these acts as anything but preparation for a coup.

Almost one third of the judges on the federal bench are Trump appointees. Trump expects that at least some of them will switch their allegiance from the Constitution to the President. With Mitch McConnell leading the way, Trump had his third conservative justice on the Supreme Court confirmed days before the election. Trump had already announced that if the election did not return him to the White House, it had to be fraudulent and he would have the Supreme Court step in and rule in his favor. Yet again, he revealed his ignorance of how government works. Or, since he had ignored subpoenas and scoffed at the law with impunity, he assumed he could bend the Supreme Court to his will.

Think back to the time when Trump was a buffoon we didn’t take seriously. We ridiculed his braggadocio, scorned his garishness, denounced his school-yard tactic of name-calling. Until the Republican convention selected him as their standard-bearer, the idea of a President Trump was the fantasy of fools.

Remember the shock, despite his climb in the polls, when he achieved the impossible. Democrats were stunned and Republicans dizzy with joy. Gallons of ink were spilled by pundits trying to understand how the political neophyte, vulgar misogynist, racist bigot and unscrupulous wheeler-dealer could have captured the ultimate prize.

Yet here we are.

Republicans enabled him to defy the law and flout convention as he demonstrated that he had never read the Constitution he had sworn to preserve, protect and defend. Eventually, however, he discovered Article II, Section 2, and the awesome power entrusted to the chief executive. It “allows me to do anything I want,” he affirmed several times. Well, of course it doesn’t, but that didn’t stop Trump from using any means to achieve his ends.

Today Trump refuses to concede his loss to Joe Biden and is trying to overturn the election he insists was stolen from him. Despite his infantile behavior, a man as desperate as Trump to retain his hold on power can’t be easily dismissed. Though his incompetence may save the Republic this time, a future despot, far smarter than Trump, will have observed the tactics with which Trump undermined democratic institutions and circumvented the law. He will exploit weaknesses in the system revealed by Trump and may well succeed where Trump has failed.

Pay attention and take nothing for granted. The triumph of democracy depends on its citizens to protect it.

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Congratulations, America!

The nail-biting is over. Democracy, threatened as never before, has survived. Decency has triumphed over spite. Empathy over self-dealing.

Progress. Transformation.

Now the really hard work begins. Winning the election was easy compared to the monumental task we now face. Joe, Kamala, and all Democrats must reach out to the people who voted for Trump, and they in turn have to agree to look forward, to begin the healing process. Unless we breach the bitter divide, rebuild the Union that made America great, the United States will be history.

We have to trust in a leader who will take on the Coronavirus, follow the directives of the medical experts, if we are to beat back the scourge that is killing us. The virus is an apt metaphor for the partisan disease that has crippled the U.S. Until grandparents fearlessly hug their grandchildren and friends embrace each other, when children learn in classrooms, restaurants sparkle with good cheer, big stores and small shops alike welcome shoppers, and Democrats and Republicans work together … will we get our lives back.

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2020 election — the day after

Joe Biden

By the third day after the election, Democrats should be realizing that even without the hoped-for landslide, Biden has done very well. So far, he’s flipped Michigan and Wisconsin and has a good chance of flipping three more states: Arizona, Pennsylvania and possibly Georgia. That’s the good news.

Control of the Senate is still theoretically possible, though unlikely. (We can dream, can’t we?) Republicans added to their 29-state majority of state legislatures. Since the legislative majorities of the states redraw their election districts every 10 years, based on the decennial census, the heavily gerrymandered map now has the potential of skewing even more to the right. The opportunity to shape the majority of electoral districts to their advantage will continue for at least the next decade. Democrats, despite being the majority of Americans, may have to cede control of the Senate to the Republican minority.

[Read an explanation of gerrymandering and how it results in minority rule.] 

The government we now have is an oligarchy— rule by a few. Since Democrats are concentrated in cities and Republicans tend to live in rural areas, sparsely populated states are mostly Republican, whereas densely populated cities are strongly Democratic. The result of this demographic distribution is that in the Senate, sixty senators from the least populous thirty states represent less than a quarter of the population. The courts, which should be impartial in a democracy, have become politicized, dominated by partisan conservatives.

If the American system worked as was originally intended, each state would have equal representation in the Senate and each citizen would be represented in the House of Representatives. But the system isn’t working. By dint of their gerrymandering, Republicans now have an advantage in the Electoral College, which gave the presidency to the loser of the popular vote in 12 of the last 20 years. Five of the justices on the Supreme Court were appointed by a president who lost the popular vote and confirmed by senators who represent less than half the electorate. Judicial reform and abolishment of or changes to the the Electoral College will be possible only when the minority no longer controls the Senate. 

Donald Trump

The election of 2020 will have far-reaching consequences, but until the results are known, the fate of American democracy hangs in the balance. In the face of a likely loss, Trump had a public tantrum Thursday evening. He claimed the election was fraudulent, that he was being cheated. He demanded the vote-counting be halted and threatened to take his case to the Supreme Court. Lacking any evidence to back up his claims, he was clearly flailing, desperate to hold onto power by any means. Trump never admits to losing, so a loss of this magnitude will surely spur him to lawless, despotic extremes. Will Republicans finally act to curb Trump’s worst instincts? If so, will they be able to restrain him? Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a very bumpy ride.

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What happened to the Blue Wave?

I turned the light out early this morning when it seemed pretty sure that Biden had won Arizona, knowing the outcomes of critical races would remain in doubt for hours and days. Kelly eased out McSally in the AZ senate race, the second Dem pickup after Hickenlooper unseated his opponent in Colorado. Nevertheless, with an expected loss in Alabama, the Dems netted only one seat.

A few hours later, I woke up to learn that the Senate was tied 47-47. The prospects for a Senate takeover looked pretty dim. The national map hadn’t changed much since the debacle of 2016. The Republicans for the most part were clinging to Trump. The much-anticipated Blue Wave was not to be. It had foundered on the pernicious rocks of Trumpism. 

Even as I asked myself how anyone who has witnessed Trump’s assault on democracy, the reversal of the hard-won triumphs in civil, women’s and gay rights, his disdain for the value of human life, his willful ignorance of the crisis of climate change, and his refusal to take arms against the coronavirus or in defense of the planet can still believe him, it became clear that most of the red states were still solidly in his thrall. 

It’s easy, I guess, to believe his lies when you receive no information that contradicts them. But don’t they know anyone sickened or killed by the virus? Have none of them lost their homes to floods or fires that occur, not once a century as before, but with increasing regularity? Some farmers must have noticed that Trump’s vaunted tariffs have resulted in crops they can no longer sell to China. Factory workers should have noticed their jobs migrating to foreign shores.

Yet here we are. What bothers me most is the refusal or inability of almost half the country to see how Trump is betraying them. As for the other half, we have to suffer the violations of the laws and customs we were taught to respect and value. Not that we are blameless, far from it. Both sides have transgressed, and the injustices rampant in American society cry out for correction. But in order to do that, we have first to agree on what the injustices are. Our deepest problems will remain, no matter who lives in the White House.

Having followed my stream of consciousness, setting down my rambling thoughts has had a calming effect. At times this morning, the tears were brimming, about to erupt. Now I’ll turn to music for its ability to distract and soothe.

As of this writing, Biden has flipped Wisconsin and Michigan. He seems to have a path to the winning total of 270 electoral votes. Democratic control of the Senate, though theoretically possible, is likely lost.

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An unexpected reward

This week I spent most of my days texting thousands of voters in battleground states to encourage them to vote and answer any questions they might have about the process. By yesterday, many had already voted and at least many voiced their annoyance at receiving so many election-related texts, emails and phone calls. I’m tired of them too.

But then a special question came in:

I didn’t have a ready answer, so I replied

The next day

I had done my research:

And the payoff

That one text made the countless tedious hours well spent.

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Thanks to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Jennifer Ives on LinkedIn:

  • If you are a woman and hold job, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
  • If you were able to keep that job even when you became pregnant, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
  • If you hold a credit card or a bank account or a house in your name, without the permission of your husband or your father, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
  • If you were able to marry the person you love, regardless of their gender or yours, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.
  • If you don’t even know the number of rights that you have, because there are too many to count, or maybe because you take them for granted, you have Justice Ginsburg to thank.

Every single woman stands on the shoulders of this tiny giant every second of every day; there are not enough thanks in this world for Justice Ginsburg.

#Leadership #RuthBaderGinsburg #JusticeGinsburg

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Stop the world— I want to get off!

As events whiz around us with dizzying speed, the title of a 60s musical taunts me. The overload is too much; it’s mind-blowing.

The week began with the New York Times exposé of the details of Trump’s financial fiascos and shady deals. We knew about the bankruptcies, but the extent of his losses belie his cultivated image of the savvy entrepreneur. Were his multi-million dollar losses evidence of ill-conceived, hubristic investments? Or were they deliberately contrived to evade paying income tax by neutralizing the income derived from his television show? That the president is a fraud and a swindler is “shocking, but not surprising,” the all-too-familiar reaction to every new revelation of his chicanery.

Tuesday’s presidential debate was anything but presidential. The president disdained even the pretense of decorum. He continually interrupted and talked over Biden to rattle him and prevent the national audience from hearing the former vice president’s ideas and proposals. Trump appeared to be goading Biden, pressuring him to stutter or stumble.

In Bret Stephens’s words, Trump was “crass and cruel, rough and rude, small and stupid.” He refused or was unable to empathize with Biden’s evident pain as he mentioned the loss of his son, rebutting Trump’s denigration of the military fallen. On a less personal level, Trump refused to condemn white supremacists and their violent tactics.

Over seven million Americans have succumbed to COVID-19, and of those, almost 210 thousand have died. The president, who steadfastly scorned the urging of medical officials in his own administration to observe public safety measures like wearing a mask and social distancing, has now, inevitably, been infected himself. His willful carelessness in public and in the White House has spread the contagion among many in his entourage and who knows how many of the attendees at his rallies.

The world is watching.

Many are gleefully enjoying the karmic retribution, but the consequences of Trump’s illness could have nasty repercussions for the nation. At a minimum, the Coronavirus will impinge on Trump’s campaign events at a time when he is falling behind in the polls. If he becomes incapacitated, Pence may take the presidential reins from the president, as stipulated by the 25th Amendment. If Pence also falls ill, Nancy Pelosi, as the Speaker of the House, is next in the line of succession.

If the President dies or if he is incapacitated, he will be taken off the ballot. But when Election Day is less than a month away and millions have already voted early, printing new ballots is out of the question. The name of the incapacitated or deceased candidate will remain on the ballot. The Vice President will not automatically take his place. Who will choose a replacement? The political parties? Congress? The state electors— whom will they choose if they are not bound to a candidate? There are many permutations, all alarming.

Even worse, however, are the nightmare scenarios Barton Gellman explores that may ensue if Trump loses and refuses to concede as he has threatened to do. Or suppose Trump and the gerrymandered Republican “majorities” in the Electoral College finagle a victory?

What happens next is, at this point, unknown, because this is a situation with no precedent. I won’t be the only one looking for a way to jump off the whirling implosion.

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A funny thing happened…

On the way to the golf cart—

Out of breath, Donald Trump was slowly trudging back with his golfing buddies, all captains of industry. Suddenly, the wind howled, the sky opened, and the rain came pouring down. The shaggy, soggy, orange tuft left its perch on Trump’s head and blew drunkenly across the green. Glowering, Trump lurched into his cart and pulled a towel over his head, barking orders to the caddy to take him back to the clubhouse posthaste.

As far as we know, this didn’t happen, but having witnessed his vanity and his sensitivity to any degree of humiliation, we can easily imagine Trump’s reaction. He does not have a sense of humor, Trump’s erstwhile personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, writes in his tell-all memoir. Cohen, who saw Trump up close and personal for a decade before they fell out, notes that Trump doesn’t laugh and he can’t tell jokes.

Consequently, humor and ridicule may be Joe Biden’s best weapons against the taunts and lies Trump habitually hurls against anyone who dares to cross him.

Writing in the New York Times, columnist Nick Kristof and psychiatrist Richard Friedman both advise Biden to use humor in the presidential debates to put Trump on the defensive. Humor and ridicule, counsels Friedman, may be Biden’s most powerful weapons. Barack Obama skewered Trump so wickedly at White House Correspondents Dinners that Trump– alone among U.S. presidents– has skipped every one since he took office. He even forbade his staff to attend.

Donald Trump at 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner with his White House as imagined by President Barack Obama

Biden can rattle Trump, writes Friedman, by “mock[ing] the president as weak and unaccomplished.” His extreme narcissism makes him “exquisitely sensitive to criticism and especially to ridicule.”

Recounting the experiences of dictators, Kristof observes that “sly wit sometimes deflates them more effectively” that denouncing them. “Authoritarians are pompous creatures with monstrous egos and so tend to be particularly vulnerable to humor,” explains Kristof. He points out that skeptical voters who don’t trust liberals resent the negative press and criticism of the president. But they do enjoy jokes, so they are more likely to be won over by mockery of the president that is funny and mordant than by a familiar litany of Trump’s lies and his scorn of American traditions and institutions.

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It ain’t over yet

The President of the United States

After succumbing to panic, I’ve pulled back from the edge, trying to let my cooler self prevail. Trump repeatedly says and does outrageous things for two reasons: he wants to normalize his despotic conduct so that we forget how beyond the pale it actually is, and he attempts to instill fear in us, because fear is paralyzing.

But now is the time to be ANGRY, not fearful. Now is the time to do whatever it takes, whatever each one is able to do, in order to encourage people to come out and VOTE. This is no time to be passive.

The majority of voters, including quite a few covert Republicans as well as other very well known ones, do not like Trump.

Former Republican appointed and elected officials, generals in the military and political operatives have repudiated Trump. (For starters, former Director of the FBI, James Comey; former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois; former General and Secretary of State Colin Powell; senior campaign strategist for John McCain’s presidential run, Steve Schmidt.) By mid-summer the Republican super-PAC, the Lincoln Project, had raised $18.7 million to defeat Trump.

Knowing that Vote-by-Mail would greatly advantage Democrats, Trump attempted to cripple the US Postal Service. But the resultant hue and cry forced him to back down. Despise the awesome power invested in him, he blusters to disguise his fear of exposing his own failure.

So, until the fat lady sings, make calls, write letters, paint signs, take to the streets, raise your voice and above all, VOTE.

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Filed under 2020 Vote, Resistance, Trump

No democracy, no union. Where do we go from here?

Small American flag recovered amid World Trade Center debris at the Fresh Kills Landfill. 9-11 exhibit at the East Tennessee History Museum. 2003 Smithsonian photo by Hugh Talman.

The United States is no longer. It is not united and it no longer has a government that is of the people, by the people, or for the people.

The Republicans in the Senate majority represent 18 percent of the country’s population; 60 percent of the Senate now represents just 24 percent of the country. Let that sink in.

The United States is not a democracy. The principle of one man, one vote has become a travesty.

Now Mitt Romney (R-UT), the lone Republican senator who voted to impeach Donald Trump, has announced that he supports the move to allow Trump to nominate the next justice of the Supreme Court. Romney’s decision almost certainly guarantees that the replacement of liberal icon Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be a hard-right-leaning conservative.

We can anticipate the resulting 6-3 majority to muzzle the liberals. In addition to the Senate, Republicans control the judiciary and possibly the executive branches of the government.

We can expect the minority “majority” to overturn every Democratic initiative to safeguard the country and protect its people. Republicans will achieve their fondest goals. They will

  • revoke Roe v. Wade, erasing the woman’s right to choose that RBG was instrumental in establishing almost 50 years ago.
  • dismantle the social safety net devised by Democratic administrations
    • Social Security, envisioned by Franklin Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression
    • Medicare and Medicaid, initiated under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society
    • Obamacare, Barack Obama’s first step toward universal health care
  • abolish regulations that combat climate change, protect the environment from commercial exploitation, reform the banking system
  • stifle any attempt to regulate guns

What can the gagged majority do? It’s clear that a country so divided cannot stand.

Civil war is one response. The blue states could secede. Geography is an impediment, because Democrats inhabit not only the East and West Coasts that are separated by a vast expanse, but also great cities in the Republican Midwest like Chicago. Republicans tote guns, Democrats by and large don’t. I suspect the food supply from the Farm Belt is largely in Republican hands.

At this moment I’m not coming up with alternatives to this nightmare scenario. I ask readers to argue with me and suggest ways to cope with the untenable situation that we face.

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Filed under American Society, Climate change, Politics, Resistance

RBG, Nina Totenberg and the friendship that bound them

This morning I read Nina Totenberg’s tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and their 50-year friendship. Lovingly written, the NPR obituary is a series of vignettes that

have little to do with her brilliance, hard work or devotion to the law, or even her pioneering role as the architect of the legal fight for women’s rights in this country. 

“Rather,” Totenberg continues,

they are examples of her extraordinary character, decency and commitment to friends, colleagues, law clerks — just about everyone whose lives she touched. I was lucky enough to be one of those people.

The first story Totenberg relates about her friendship with RBG reveals the depth of the future Justice’s commitment to her friend:

She was still on the D.C. Circuit in 1988 when the Cosmos Club, after years of effort from many of its male members, finally voted to admit women. Against my better judgment, I agreed to be proposed as one of the first female members. But, as it turned out, I was blackballed. While I was happy not to have to pay the significant fees associated with membership, the truth is I was really hurt, and I must have told Ruth about it.

Some time later, RBG was invited to visit the club, and at the end of a tour of its lovely interior, her escort invited her to become a member. As the story was related to me, Ruth paused, and in that quiet, low voice of hers, said to her escort, “You know, I think that a club that is too good for Nina Totenberg is too good for me, too.”

The story of two women, reporter and Supreme Court Justice, and their friendship despite their potentially adversarial professions touched me deeply. If you have read this far, I am sure you will enjoy “A 5-Decade-Long Friendship That Began With A Phone Call.”

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Filed under People, Women