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.

Ingredients

  • 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 https://contactsenators.com for phone numbers, email and postal addresses.

Contact your representatives. https://www.contactingcongress.org 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 https://contactsenators.com for phone numbers, email and postal addresses.

Contact your representatives. https://www.contactingcongress.org 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 https://contactsenators.com for phone numbers, email and postal addresses.

Contact your representatives. https://www.contactingcongress.org 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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VOTE!

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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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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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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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2020 Annus Horribilis

And the stars fell out of heaven and the moon could not be found
The sun was in a million pieces scattered all around
Why did you ever leave me, you knew how it would hurt
And now there’s darkness on the face of the earth

Willie Nelson, Darkness on the Face of the Earth

Palo Alto, California, 9-9-2020. Photo by Evan Baldonado

The apocalyptic events of 2020, all coming together, are overwhelming. People are dying. 200,000 dead! and millions infected. Mind-boggling. As are the fires on the West Coast. Who ever heard of orange skies? The pictures are beautiful, awesome, and horrifying. Disasters of epic proportions. Fire tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, ashy skies– Loss and death and destruction everywhere.

Loyalton, California. 8-16-2020. Photo by Katelynn & Jordan Hewlett, AP
Ruth Bader Ginsburg at her Senate confirmation hearing, 1996

But all that wasn’t enough. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, feminist icon, extraordinary legal brain, unflagging energy, is GONE. After a long, difficult bout with cancer, we should be happy that she is finally relieved of her pain. She was 87, after all; she lived a full life, by any standard.

But I can’t stop thinking of her, what she achieved, what she meant to me, personally. I can’t stop thinking about her, sobbing in spite of myself. In other times, no one would question that her legacy, the liberation of women and of men too, would live on.

But today the world is upside-down. Truth is becoming an extinct commodity, and half the country is convinced that everyone else is deceptive, cruel, and scheming to take over the government or what’s left of it. The other half believes the others are ripping the country apart, snuffing out democracy, shredding the Constitution. The freedom and the ideals that we aspired to, but never quite reached, are dissolving. A nightmare.

Is the world truly coming to an end?

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Filed under Coronavirus, Environment, People, Personal, Women

Thank you, RBG. Rest In Peace

Looking down from the steps of the supreme court on mourners and demonstrators gathering following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 9/18/2020 Photo by Rosa Pineda

NOOOO!!!

The anguished cry rose across the country with the news that the legendary, beloved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had lost her final battle. She fought determinedly and won the first skirmishes, but cancer’s relentless invasion ultimately overcame her body.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

She must have suffered during the last few years with several surgeries complicated by three broken ribs, but she refused to let such inconveniences interrupt her work. Thanks to her crusade against the mistreatment of women and minorities, RBG changed the lives of all Americans. We can rejoice that Ginsburg was celebrated during her lifetime for her remarkable achievements. Many artists and great minds die in obscurity, deprived of the satisfaction of knowing their works would be widely acclaimed. 

Ruth was a barrier-breaker and a high-achiever. She was among the first women admitted to Harvard Law School. When Marty, her husband, got a job in New York, she moved with him and completed her law studies at Columbia. During her last year she made Law Review and finished at the top of her class, while simultaneously caring for her baby and Marty, stricken with cancer.

Her professors from both Harvard and Columbia recommended her for a clerkship on the Supreme Court. But Justice Frankfurter, a good friend of theirs, would not consider her because he refused to hire a woman. This was not the first nor the last of continual rebuffs. Each one increased her sensitivity to the abuse of marginalized groups, especially women.

How many women born 50 years ago or less understand how inequality made women’s lives and aspirations radically different from those of men? How many know that until the 1970s, when old laws were struck down and new laws began to change the culture, women were rarely if ever seen in corporate boardrooms, in the houses of Congress, state legislatures or the courts? They were prohibited from serving on juries (so they never could be judged by juries of their peers) and often were not hired or promoted in order to protect jobs for men.

Women suffered domestic inequality as well. It grew from a culture that didn’t question the unproved assumption that women have to be protected because they are weak— essentially inferior to men. Inequality was not confined to the home. The premise that women are dependent on men was also embedded in the entire American legal system. Not until the first two women in history— Sandra Day O’Connor first, followed by Ginsburg— were appointed to the Supreme Court and gained the power to challenge those laws, did the barriers that were holding women back begin to crumble.

Even before Ginsburg became an Associate Justice at the Supreme Court, however, she argued five landmark cases before it in less than a decade. Her victories in these cases during the 70s transformed women’s constitutional status.

Ginsburg’s primary goal was to equate discrimination against sex to offenses against race, applying the Fourteenth Amendment to both. In Frontiero v. Richardson she maintained that

Sex like race is a visible, immutable characteristic bearing no necessary relationship to ability. Sex like race has been made the basis for unjustified or at least unproved assumptions, concerning an individual’s potential to perform or to contribute to society.

Ginsburg’s work has made it possible for women to no longer be singled out because of their sex and treated differently from men under the law. Ginsburg taught, for example, that alimony and shorter work hours are actually harmful to women because they enable dependency. Shorter work hours also mean lesser jobs for women and less pay. 

Ginsburg understood that sex-role stereotyping can also adversely affect the dominant sex. Men are in a double bind: they do not benefit from all the talents of their wives, they have to work harder and they miss out on quality time with their children.

Justice Thurgood Marshall and his tactics served as a model for Justice Ginsburg in her crusade for women’s equality. Marshall led the battle for civil rights in the Supreme Court. His strategy of achieving small, incremental changes culminated in the sweeping change of the Civil Rights Act. The achievements in civil rights and women’s rights of Justices Marshall and Ginsburg brought about radical and profound change in American society. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg richly deserves the hagiographic reverence accorded to her. A diminutive woman, she presumably had tiny feet, but no one has feet large enough to fit into her shoes. She will be sorely missed, and those who follow her have an obligation to preserve her legacy and build on it.

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Another day in the time of Covid

img_2079Feeding  the cats was first on the agenda this morning.

I was hungrier than usual, so I took time that I usually don’t, to make myself a cappuccino and a slice of buttered olive bread. Then laundry, then a Zoom call.

A friend was coming for lunch at noon. We had planned to sit outside, social distancing, of course, but the summer sun has given way to autumn chill. We would have to improvise a Covid-safe setting indoors.

We began to prepare a pizza rustica, one of my husband’s specialties. He makes the filling, and I do the crust. Unless it’s a very special occasion, I don’t make the crust from scratch. I let the bottom crust thaw a little, then pierced it all over, intending to blind-bake it.. An idea came to me for a new way to make the crust hold its shape. I set an empty pie pan on the raw crust, and in lieu of pie weights (mine had disappeared), I sprinkled the pan with pebbles I’d collected on the beach.

Meanwhile, I began making a chocolate mousse with a recipe I found last night. Wonder of wonders, it had only two ingredients, bittersweet chocolate and water, and the author, Melissa Clark, assured me that it would take all of 10 minutes.

Right.

First, I had to break the block of chocolate into pieces that would melt in the water. Do you know how hard a block of chocolate is? I began to chop last night and made some headway with a hammer. My husband had a better idea. He used a knife as a chisel and was much more successful. In the morning, I combined the water and chocolate, put it on the stove and hoped it would be okay on its own while I took care of the pie crusts. I prepared two bowls, a large one with ice and a second, smaller bowl inside. Though Melissa said the chocolate would melt quickly while being constantly whisked, mine was pokey. We should have chopped the chocolate into even smaller pieces.IMG_1396

The bottom crust held its shape beautifully. I assembled the pie, filling it with the eggs, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and tiny pieces of soppressata that my husband had prepared. I gingerly placed and sealed the top crust and slipped it into the oven. By this time, it was 11:30, and our guest was due at 12. The pie usually bakes for at least an hour and has to rest for another 10-15 minutes.

Back on the stove, the chocolate was still lumpy. I continued to whisk. Finally, it was smooth, ready to be whisked in the cold bowl that was waiting for it. I whisked and I whisked, this time using an electric immersion blender. It was tedious work, though the chocolate smelled wonderful. When it failed to become thick and fluffy, I melted more chocolate as Melissa suggested. While it was melting, the beaten chocolate in the cold bowl hardened. It clearly had to be melted again. Using the bowl as the top of a double boiler, I stirred and stirred until the chocolate liquified and showed no remaining lumps. By then, it was 12 o’clock. Out with the electric whisk. Again. This time, the chocolate gained close to the right consistency.

I filled the first dessert cup. Looked fine. For the second one, I realized I had to remove the bowl from the ice and work very quickly. The chocolate was a little thicker and harder. For the third, I had to dig into the stiff chocolate with the spoon. The leftover chocolate was very solid.

The pizza rustica was in the oven for an hour and a quarter. By then, it was close to 1:00. Our guest must have forgotten or scrambled the date or was very late.

Much later, she called and apologized profusely. She told me the date was on her calendar, but she forgot to look. I laughed. I’ve done that too.

My husband and I enjoyed a delicious lunch, followed by the virtual activities we are obliged do in the time of Covid.

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Another way to shut down a mailbox

MailboxLocked

Mailbox in Washington, D.C.

No, they are not taking them away any more. They are just locking them up.

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Japan celebrates ghost of Olympic Games

Screen Shot 2020-08-17 at 4.36.36 PM

Fireworks in Tokyo planned for the cancelled Olympic Games

The fireworks were prepared by Tokyo for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games this year. The Olympics are not taking place because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but these fireworks cannot be stored until 2021. The Japanese put the show on anyway. Enjoy the outstanding Olympic fireworks under Mount Fuji.

Go to YouTube.com and watch https://youtu.be/r9fSwpZtUu8   And turn up the volume.

#Fireworks #Olympics 2020

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Voting in 2020. Tricky.

MailBoxHeap

Mailboxes cast away and heaped up like so many corpses

Many of us are concerned about the problems with the U.S. Postal Service and the 2020 presidential election.

Trump’s escalating attacks on the USPS are both politically and personally motivated. 

Trump can’t abide anything, whether fact-based or not, that he perceives as criticism. His feud with the media, especially the New York Times and Washington Post, is unremitting, because they relentlessly search, find and publish details of Trump’s illegal and immoral activities. 

Jeff Bezos owns the Post and is also the CEO of Amazon, so Trump’s animus extends to the online retailer as well as the newspaper and the person who heads both. The mutually beneficial contract between Amazon and the USPS particularly sticks in Trump’s craw, because he wants to cripple Amazon, not let it benefit from a special, lower rate for its packages. Consequently, the ineffectiveness of his demands that the post office raise its rates infuriates him.

Trump’s upcoming bid for re-election provides the political rationale for his hostility to the USPS. He knows that the ease of voting by mail will greatly increase voter turnout, and that a larger turnout will favor the Democrats. This understanding drives his campaign against mail-in voting. In the throes of the pandemic, Trump would force voters to crowd in and outside the polls, exposing themselves unnecessarily and increasing the chance of a new spike in Covid-19. 

Crippling the post office would effectively handicap the Democrats. Dirty tricks, like eliminating most polling places in densely populated areas, make voting onerous and suppress the vote. Democrats are mostly clustered in cities, so they would bear the brunt of such tactics.

On Twitter, we are admonished to put the current problems in perspective:

Sheletta Brundidge @ShelettaIsFunny

·I ain’t gone say we ain’t worried about #45’s trying to keep us from voting, but Black folks have overcome much more and still found a way. Folks gotta cast their ballots by any means necessary. Ain’t a dog barking at you, no clubs beating you and no fire, so make it happen!

And:

Straight No Chaser @serioustalk01

Everytime I hear people lamenting that they shouldnt have to risk their lives to vote I think of John Lewis and so many others who did just that. No, you shouldn’t have to risk your life to vote, but we have to deal with what is, as Black people have done for centuries.

Trump won’t approve billions in emergency funding for the post office that would enable Democrats to expand mail-in voting. “Now, they need that money in order to have the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said. Without that money, “they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.” The president made plain his intention to stymie the electoral process. It is up to the states to extend their deadlines or explain the importance of voting as early as possible.

USPSSortingLoss

As I write this, mailboxes are being taken away in parts of California, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Montana. Ten percent of the expensive mail-sorting machines at distribution centers have also been removed. We don’t know if they are being moved to other places, abandoned, stored or destroyed. 

The officials who are dismantling the Post Office should be cognizant of 18 USC §1701:

Whoever knowingly and willfully obstructs or retards the passage of the mail, or any carrier or conveyance carrying the mail, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

To be sure, the administration has relented somewhat in reaction to the outpouring of outrage, protests and petitions to Congress. USPS spokesman Rod Spurgeon told NBC News that they will halt the removal of post boxes until after the election.

What can you do, to safeguard the election and make sure your vote is counted?

  • Request an absentee or mail-in ballot
  • Do not mail it.
  • vote.org has all the information you need. Or google the Board of Elections in your state to find out where to drop off your mail-in ballot. It is usually not the polling place. 

By following these guidelines, you will not be relying on USPS to deliver your ballot on time. Instead, you can ensure that your ballot is delivered and counted. You won’t have to stand in long lines and risk infection. After dropping it off, find out how to track it online to make sure it is verified. California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado can track your ballot as if it were a package from Amazon.

Take whatever precautions you choose, but VOTE!

Update:

To countermand your ballot being sent as bulk mail, put a 55-cent stamp over whatever is printed on the part you mail back and it automatically must go First Class.

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Cognitive dissonance

From the idyllic

Sitting in the garden, watching the green leaves flutter overhead, matching the birdsong to the red cardinal in the apple tree, listening to the rustle of the pines in the gentle breeze, I marvel at the absence of the sounds of city traffic, ambulance, police and fire engine sirens. I am in a world far removed from “real life.” The contrast between the microcosm to the macrocosm could not be greater. Though now the occasional plane is resuming its drone overhead, the only real disturbance is the roaring of the motorized lawn mowers.

To the gruesome 

Hundreds of thousands dead and dying from a relentless disease, millions of lonely people suffocating in their sickbeds, and the as yet uninfected constrained to wear masks and keep others at a distance. Many millions more out of work, unable to return to their jobs which no longer exist… Institutions that were the heartbeat of the city: theaters, restaurants, music, museums and movie theaters, street artists, exhibitions of human creativity, schools and great universities — gone: some never to return, some irretrievably altered, only a few managing to hold on— for now.

To the unthinkable

The earth is dying and there is no collective will to save it. The air we breathe and the water we drink become more toxic every day. The oceans are rising, reclaiming the land that was home to about 40 percent of the world’s population, exiling them and forcing their migration into the territory of people inland. The seas are warming, increasing the frequency and intensity of death-dealing storms and dispersing previously tropical diseases into the temperate zones. Deserts are expanding and the supply of fresh water and arable land is shrinking. The over 400 million tons of plastic produced annually are choking the oceans and killing marine life. Every human being alive today has plastic in his or her body.

To the signs of hope and change

Black Lives Matter. At last, white people are struggling to understand and begin to acknowledge the legacy of slavery, the systematic racism that pollutes every aspect of American life. Peaceful protests and the eradication of icons of the Confederacy are symbolic actions, but it will take much more to atone for the sins of 400 years and to build a society that fulfills the premise that all men [and women] are created equal and that each has the absolute right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Filed under Coronavirus, Global Warming, Musings, Personal

This is our government

To aid her readers in their quest for the most egregiously malfeasant actors in Trump’s cabinet— “Vote for Trump’s Worst!”— Gail Collins inventories the cast of characters and their blatant abuse of the public trust. Her column is a handy reference tool, because the misdeeds and corruption vie for supremacy in venality. Choosing the worst is a real challenge, because, she warns, “the competition is intense.”

Vice President Pence: prim and unperturbed by the president’s lies and scandals; his confidence mirrored Trump’s delusion that the pandemic would be history by Memorial Day.

Attorney General William Barr “Can President Trump move Election Day?” Barr responded, “I’ve never looked into it.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as Tom Friedman recounts, persuaded Trump to fire the State Department’s inspector general “reportedly because he was investigating … Pompeo’s own efforts to evade a congressional ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and for improperly asking a State Department employee to run errands for him and his wife.” Among many more examples of deceit and corruption.

Chad Wolf, the acting head of Homeland Security, had previous experience as a travel industry lobbyist, which apparently prepared him to be Trump’s yes-man, confining immigrants at the Southern border and tear-gassing peaceful protesters in Democratic cities.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, whose big donations to Republican causes initially qualified him for the job, now sees as his mission the destruction of the U.S. Post Office to accommodate Trump’s wish to abolish voting by mail.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr. shut down the census count a month early, though it had been previously extended to October 31 because of the Coronavirus. Up to 40% of the population has not yet been counted, disproportionately people of color, the disabled, immigrants, and the elderly, all groups difficult to count and likely to vote against Trump. The dramatic undercount of Black, Latino and other minority communities will diminish their federal funding and political representation.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industries, “took a lead in the administration’s massive financial relief package for oil and gas companies.” He was a central figure in the decision to use military police to gas protesters from Lafayette Square so that Trump and his bible could have their photo op.

Andrew Wheeler, former lobbyist for energy companies, Collins writes, is currently engaged in “a crusade” to extend “the life of giant pits of toxic coal sludge.”

Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation, the very wealthy wife of Mitch McConnell, has close ties to power players in China and benefits from her family’s shipping company. It garnered up to $1 million from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Alex Azar, Health and Human Services, whose principal occupation seems to be supervising the dismembering of the Affordable Care Act.

Betsy DeVos, Education Secretary and sister of Erik Prince, favors charter schools and doesn’t like public schools. Her brother founded Blackwater, the military mercenary hit squad in Iraq. The family is very wealthy and has ties to right-wing billionaires.

And the winner is …

On August 12, Collins announced the winning readers who picked “Trump’s Cabinet from Hell.” First place was no contest. Attorney General William Barr won hands down, as he did last year. Second place went to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came in third.

The “smug arrogance” and “ignorant incompetence” of DeVos set her apart from the field. 

Reader Martin Benjamin wrote, “Rookie of the year has to be [Postmaster General] Louis DeJoy, for the sheer chutzpah of destroying one American institution (the mail) in the cause of destroying another American institution (democracy).”

For some reason, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin came in near the bottom. One reader noted that he walked away from Goldman Sachs with about $46 million in stock, yet he thinks $600/week is overpaid.”

One reader worried that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao wasn’t “getting enough credit for the wholesale theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from Americans.” Airline passengers weren’t reimbursed for their tickets on flights cancelled because of the Covid-19 emergency.

But Attorney General William Barr earned the most opprobium: ”When the country’s top law officer ignores the rule of law to protect Trump from prosecution and advance the president’s political interests, it is downright scary, not to mention a threat to our democracy.” 

VOTE November 3 so that the work of draining the swamp in Washington can begin. The Republic cannot survive another four years of Trump.

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