Thursday, December 31, 2020

President Pence?

Just over a year ago, on December 18, the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The articles were submitted to the Senate on January 16, 2020, which voted to acquit the president of both charges on February 5.

Suppose, however, at least 67 Senators had voted to convict the president on one or both of the articles. Donald Trump would have been removed from office and Vice President Mike Pence would have assumed the role.

A more emotionally stable President Pence would have been less divisive and may well have handled the pandemic more responsibly than the man he replaced.

Pence would logically have been the Republican candidate for president in the 2020 election. With the anti-Trump fervor gone, the nation could have rallied around Pence, supporting his efforts to develop a more coherent strategy to combat COVID-19.

The Republican party would be in a far better place inaugurating a President Pence on January 20. Its fealty to President Trump led it down a blind alley promoting false claims of a fraudulent election, claims that undermine our democracy and relegate the party to infamy.

Audio Version

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Pandemic Paradox

As we end this tumultuous year, 2020, which has been defined by the coronavirus, deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 are approaching 330,000 from over 19 million confirmed cases. These numbers understate reality because not all cases and deaths have been diagnosed.

Why did it turn out so, the infections accelerating this fall as the weather turned colder and the U.S. responded with que serĂ¡, serĂ¡ and a shrug?

The Paradox

The pandemic is a paradox which the country has not been able to solve.

Many who are infected with COVID-19 have no symptoms, many have mild symptoms, most recover — yet the virus is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., the cumulative death toll the same as the population of Salt Lake City or Birmingham, according to Scientific American.

The highly contagious disease spreads largely by close contact among people and, in some cases, transmission across longer distances. Limiting gatherings with others avoids exposure, by definition. When that is not possible, wearing a mask to reduce the probability of either inhaling the virus or expelling reduces the risk of infection. Yet government and business policies implementing these steps, either as regulations or simply recommendations, have been decried by some as unconstitutional infringements on personal liberty.

The life of an infection is relatively short — weeks — yet the U.S. has not been able to contain it after 11 months. It has consistently spread across the country, infecting all regions, even those knowing for months it was coming. December — not yet history — has been the worst month for deaths since the first peak in April.

Confirmed COVID-19 infections in the U.S. Source: Johns Hopkins University, 12/30/20.

Why is this pandemic such a paradox, when the U.S. has the medical expertise, the infrastructure, and financial resources to counter it? Why is it so difficult to manage, when other countries have demonstrated strategies that work?

I’ve concluded we lack government leadership, a coordinated and unified response, and both community and individual resolve. These interconnected deficits, amplified by a vocal minority of naysayers, have created a controversy about wearing masks and a false either/or choice between reducing infections or sustaining the economy.

What Can We Do?

Eleven months in, can we do anything to mitigate this tragedy or must we await the country being vaccinated, accepting the collateral infections and deaths while hoping they don’t affect us personally?

I think the following steps would yield measurable improvement, reducing infections and death until enough of us are vaccinated for the country to reach herd immunity. These steps must be implemented consistently across the nation, a “united we stand, divided we fall” strategy.

1. Stay in place for 14–21 days to minimize new infections.

The idea is for everyone to stay in place to let the current infections play out without causing new infections.

The incubation period for COVID-19 infection is 5–6 days average and up to 14 days, according to the World Health Organization. The BMJ reports data from culture studies indicates people can become infectious 1–2 days before feeling symptoms and will remain infectious for up to seven days. CDC guidance is a person with a mild case of COVID-19 remains infectious for “no longer” than 10 days after symptoms appear, while a person with a more severe or critical illness will “likely” be infectious for no more than 20 days.

The life of the infection defines the time we need to stay in place. While some exceptions will be required — seeking medical care, getting groceries — wearing masks and reducing the number of people in stores will reduce the probability of infection.

Everyone staying in place must be done nationally at the same time; otherwise the virus will cross borders and spread from areas with high infection to those with low infection — just as we’ve seen it cross the country this year.

2. Quarantine international travelers entering the U.S.

As other countries and some U.S. states have done, incoming travelers must quarantine for an appropriate time to minimize the risk of bringing in the virus and spreading infection.

A 14-day quarantine has been the norm, based on the incubation period for infection, although this time could be reduced if the quarantine is combined with testing.

Our near-empty hotels can provide the rooms, meals, and testing centers for travelers.

3. Implement a multi-layer testing strategy.

The foundation of a multi-layer testing strategy is in-home antigen tests with near real-time results, with a protocol of one or two tests per week per person following the national stay-in-place period. This policy would apply nationwide, for anyone going to public places (e.g., offices, stores, churches).

If a test is positive, the person quarantines while confirming the infection with either additional in-home antigen or local PCR tests.

Although the antigen tests may not be as accurate as PCR tests, they can be widely accessible, and the near real-time results will enable anyone infected — especially if they are asymptomatic — to protect others from becoming infected. See

Ideally, the test results would be reported to public health officials to provide community data on the positivity rate. To balance individual privacy with public health, the data — even from a positive test — could be reported anonymously (by zip code, perhaps). Someone with a positive test could be asked to contact local health officials. Anyone becoming seriously ill will presumably show up at a hospital.

4. Provide additional economic relief.

Given the economic impact of staying in place, adding to the year-long effects, it’s reasonable for the federal government to provide additional economic relief: unemployment, rent and mortgage assistance, and business support. Considering this national disaster, the “cost” to the federal deficit is an investment in the economy, particularly with interest rates so low.

I believe if this strategy had been employed in the spring, when the coronavirus was first spreading in the U.S., the number of infections, deaths, and attendant economic devastation would be considerably less than what we’re living through. Had we been united around a nationwide response, the virus would not have been able to dance through our patchwork of local and state plans and political divisiveness.

While Operation Warp Speed’s development of vaccines is heartening and will, hopefully, enable us to return to a more normal life by the end of 2021, we have a long winter and spring to endure. A strategy built around these principles will alleviate the nation’s suffering near-term.

SARS-CoV-2 won’t be the last pandemic to threaten the globe. Developing such a strategy will help us better prepare for the next time.

Caveat: I claim no medical expertise. Nonetheless, I think the framework is a sound approach and should be appropriately tweaked to reflect the latest medical knowledge of the virus.

This post also published on Medium.

Monday, December 14, 2020


On this day, Monday, December 14, I note several milestones worth remembering:

Joe Biden was officially elected president and Kamala Harris vice president with the vote of the Electoral College — actually 50 separate tallies, one in each state. The totals were 306 to 232, coincidentally the same split as in 2016, when Donald Trump was elected.

The first SARS-CoV-2 vaccinations, developed by Pfizer, were given across the U.S. after the FDA approved use of the vaccine late Friday. The U.S. has ordered some 100 million doses, enough to cover 50 million people, each requiring two shots 21 days apart. Vaccines being developed by several other companies are being tested, with Moderna’s version set to be reviewed by an independent panel of the FDA this Thursday.

That is a hopeful sign in the face of the grim milestones that more than 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, over 110,549 are now in the hospital, and 1,358 died so far today, according to data on The COVID Tracking Project website.

Another positive milestone would have been President Trump conceding the election and graciously congratulating the new president and vice president. He didn’t. Even before the election, he was claiming voter fraud and a stolen election, offering no proof to support his wild claims. Is Donald Trump delusional or just a massively sore loser, intent on destroying as much of the government as he can on his way out of Washington?

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Man Who Would Be Emperor

It has been a week since the presidential election was called for Joe Biden, after Pennsylvania pushed him over the 270 requirement to 279 electoral college votes. Arizona and Georgia have since been called for Biden, bringing his electoral vote count to 306 — coincidentally, the same number Donald Trump won in his 2016 bid for the presidency.

Yet, a week after Joe Biden was declared the president elect and 10 days after the election, President Trump has not conceded nor has he congratulated the president elect.

The president’s Twitter feed is a stream of false claims the election is being stolen from him:


Yesterday afternoon, the president gave a briefing at the White House, lauding his administration’s efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic. At one point he implied his administration would end, the only hint he’s given:

Ideally, we won’t go to a lockdown. I will not go — this administration will not be going to a lockdown. Hopefully, the — the — whatever happens in the future — who knows which administration it will be? I guess time will tell. But I can tell you, this administration will not go to a lockdown.

He took no questions, retreating back into the White House after delivering his prepared remarks.

Beyond my incredulity and anger, I wonder about the personality and mental health of a man whose sense of self won’t admit loss or failure, a man who promotes a blatantly false reality.

Is this a calculated strategy to keep the more than 70 million who voted for him in his orbit, to hold onto his power over roughly half the country and the Republican party?

I find it as maddening that most of the Republicans in Congress are kowtowing to the president’s falsehoods, choosing fealty to the president and party ideology over loyalty to the Constitution and the norms of our democracy.

The functioning of a democracy requires good will, trust, and norms of civic behavior. While we’ve suffered an erosion of those values since well before Donald Trump was elected, he has amplified them by his intentional disrespect for virtually all of our civic norms.

Except for the grace of God, reflected in the votes of the American people and honest election officials, Donald Trump would be emperor.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

The 2020 Presidential Election

Vice President Joe Biden, 2013

Four days after the 2020 election, with votes still being counted in multiple states, Pennsylvania pushed former Vice President Biden above the 270 electoral votes needed to become president-elect. The major news organizations — even Fox News — quickly reported that Biden won the election.

The news, via text from my daughter, immediately brought relief after the uncertainty of the past four days, then tears as I felt the significance of this outcome following four nightmarish years, where the president’s policies and actions have been so discordant with my values.

President Trump has not conceded the election, his campaign still challenging the vote counting in various courts. The last time the president spoke publicly, he argued his win was slowly being stolen. I don’t expect a gracious concession speech and am concerned about steps he may take between now and the inauguration to further his policies and protect himself, his family, and inner circle from future legal action.

As I write this, the Washington Post website shows Biden received 74,493,496 votes, President Trump 70,342,725, 50.5 percent to 47.7 percent. The expected “blue wave” did not happen. The Democrats did not flip the Senate, although the upcoming Senate runoff in Georgia offers an opportunity. They lost seats in the House. The country is clearly divided. Although he amplified the divide, Donald Trump did not cause it. He gave a voice to nearly half the country who feel unheard, discounted, disrespected. Let us not forget the pain those Americans feel, mirroring my own feelings the past four years.

Had Joe Biden not become the Democratic nominee, had it been a more progressive candidate such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, I suspect President Trump would likely have coasted to a second term. I hope this registers with those who have been pushing for the country to adopt very progressive policies. We do, indeed, need more access to health care; lower cost educational options post high school; action to address climate change; recognition of dominant white, male power and steps to broaden access to power; police reform; and on and on. However, building consensus in a divided government will require the Republicans to be open, the Democrats to be humble.

That Joe Biden will become the 46th president — who emerged from a primary with some 24 candidates and built his campaign around uniting the country and being a president for all Americans — leads me to ponder whether there is a providence governing the course of human events. Of all those candidates, he has the temperament to unite the country and the governing experience to build bridges across the disparate political ideologies.

Largely overshadowed by the presidential protagonists since she was selected, except for the debate with Mike Pence, Kamala Harris makes history with several demographic firsts — first woman, first woman of color — and is likely positioned to repeat those firsts as future president.

I hope, perhaps naively, that the focus of our leaders will now shift from this divisive election to collectively address the many problems before us: the coronavirus, recession, inequality, extreme weather, international instability, and on and on. Who, in God’s name, would want this responsibility?

(Nevada has now been called for Joe Biden, bringing him to 279 electoral votes.)

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Two Countries, Two Very Different Responses to SARS-CoV-2

SARS-CoV-19, the virus causing rampant COVID-19 infections around the globe, is the greatest scourge to the country’s health and economic well being as any threat during my lifetime. As disturbing and puzzling as how the virus attacks the body — its spike protein able to penetrate human cells to replicate — is the country’s psychological response to the pandemic.

Assuming no attempts to mitigate the virus, an infected person is estimated to spread the virus to 5.7 others (R0 = 5.7), which makes it highly contagious, particularly since someone carrying the disease often shows no symptoms 1. While most people do recover, the number of deaths from the virus in the U.S. has reached a staggering 250,000 since January 21, when the first U.S. case was reported.

That dichotomy — most recover yet many die — may help explain why our society is struggling to develop a national strategy and the will to carry it out. The failure to develop and deploy an effective strategy to address the pandemic falls on the president. When confronted by a national challenge, we look to our president to marshal the country’s response and secure citizen commitment, particularly if we are asked as individuals to sacrifice for the good of the nation.

Tragically, President Trump’s response has been confusing and contradictory. The accelerated campaign to develop a vaccine, known as Operation Warp Speed, is his best effort, as a vaccine will have the greatest long-term effect reducing infections and deaths. Unfortunately, as the pandemic arrived in the U.S., the administration was inconsistent and ineffective coordinating the manufacturing and distribution of an adequate supply of PPE, largely leaving the states to compete with each other for scarce supplies. He favored the states with Republican governors and criticized Democratic governors and mayors for their quarantines.

From the bully pulpit, the president downplayed the seriousness of the virus and the best steps to prevent infection, undermining the use of masks through his words and the actions of his administration. The lack of masks and social distancing at the White House ceremony nominating Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court arguably led to the president’s own infection with COVID-19, as well as multiple people who attended the event.

His contradictory and bellicose messages have obfuscated the seriousness of the pandemic and amped a strain of American individualism and distrust of government, a “you’re not the boss of me” attitude. His tweets and campaign speeches calling for the “liberation” of states and cities imposing quarantine measures fuels this dangerous ideology.

The president has consistently claimed success fighting the pandemic. During last week’s presidential debate, he said, “We're rounding the corner, it’s going away.” Yet the data shows the falseness of his words. The ineffectiveness of the president’s hollow claims and his wanton disregard for scientific guidance is quite obvious comparing the COVID-19 infections in China and the U.S.

Does this data confirm the president’s claim that “it’s going away”? Source: 91-DIVOC and Johns Hopkins.

China was slow to respond to the initial outbreak in Wuhan. When it did, it imposed a severe lockdown across the country, from 23 January until 8 April in Wuhan (ending sooner in other parts of the country). While the accuracy of China’s official numbers is questionable, it’s hard to argue the country’s infections were as high or as prolonged as those in the U.S.

Although its authoritarian quarantine was draconian, China did a far better job containing the virus. The country’s economy has reopened and is recovering. We are still struggling to limit the spread as SARS-CoV-2 propagates across the country. Surely our democracy can do better than we’ve done.


Today, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, “We’re not going to control the pandemic. We are gonna control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.” He said the pandemic can’t be controlled “because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu.” 2

  1. ↩︎
  2. ↩︎

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Promises Made, Promises Kept?

With just a few weeks until the election, The Daily podcast examined the promises made by candidate Donald J. Trump and which of those he has fulfilled during his term as president. Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, provided this scorecard:

Promises Kept

  • Cut taxes, both corporate and individual.
  • Reduced regulations, including environmental and financial.
  • Increased defense funding.
  • Banned travel from five Muslim majority countries.
  • Increased ICE enforcement, including separating families and restricting the ability to request asylum.
  • Building portions of a wall along the border with Mexico.
  • Drove the ISIS caliphate from the land they had captured.
  • Reduced the number of U.S. troops in the Middle East.
  • Criticized foreign alliances (e.g., NATO, World Health Organization), withdrew from international agreements (Iran nuclear deal, Paris climate accord, and the Trans Pacific Partnership), and threatened or implemented tariffs on trade with various countries.
  • Negotiated an updated trade agreement with Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA.
  • Filled many judicial vacancies, including soon to be three Supreme Court justices.
  • Eliminated the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) individual mandate and joined a lawsuit filed by the states to repeal the entire ACA, to be argued before the Supreme Court right after the election.

Promises Not Kept

  • Restore American manufacturing jobs.
  • Eliminate the U.S. trade deficit with China.
  • Eliminate the national debt, which he promised to do within eight years. Even excluding the pandemic, it increased due to the tax cut and increase in defense spending.
  • Repeal the ACA and replace it with a plan "far less expensive and far better."
  • Complete the wall along the southern border and have Mexico pay for it.
  • “Drain the swamp,” i.e., eliminate Washington corruption and self-dealing.

Failures from Unexpected Events

  • Leading the nation's response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic to minimize both the economic impact and deaths — now approaching 225,000 Americans dead and some 8.5 million infected.

My Scorecard

I found Peter Baker’s summary informative and useful, as it provides a tally of the president's promises, “successes,” and failures. The days since the presidential election and Donald Trump took the oath of office have been so chaotic and dystopian, I have been overwhelmed and don’t have an organized, coherent list of what has happened. So this gives me something to review and critique:

Taxes — The corporate tax cut went too far, and I wonder whether the claim it would lead to a reinvestment in America and more jobs has proven true. The individual tax cuts highly favored the wealthy; I feel they should have had a tax increase.

Regulations — No doubt some federal regulations are burdensome and deserve to be eliminated. Bureaucracies tend to overreach. However, aggressively cutting environmental regulations, as the president has done, impairs our already late and meager response to climate change. Eliminating the financial regulations enacted after the 2008 “great recession” seems like a quid pro quo from lobbying by banks and investment firms, which will likely lead to a similar financial catastrophe in the future.

Immigration — Having seen the contributions by immigrants to this country, I vehemently oppose the president's anti-immigrant, American first orthodoxy. It has led to dehumanizing and inhumane policies, particularly for those in marginalized communities. Building a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border, while symbolic, is an ineffective solution to the challenge of managing the flow of people looking for an opportunity to live the American dream.

America First — While globalization causes dislocations in industries and those who work in them, my belief is globalization and “free” trade collectively benefit the globe, including the U.S. and, admittedly, me. Ideally, the world would see itself as a common humanity rather than nationalistic silos competing in a zero-sum game. Governments should help those hurt by economic disruptions with “safety net” policies and programs to assist them learning new skills and making transitions to new roles, perhaps in other regions of the country. Just as common technical standards enable global data communication, fair agreements governing the environment, health, and trade benefit all. As we've seen, the weather and viruses don't stop at borders.

ACA — President Trump's actions to repeal the ACA with no replacement — despite his frequent promises of a wonderful plan coming within just a few weeks — seems motivated purely by Republican pique over the ACA and, particularly, the animus for President Barack Obama. This policy is likely the most hurtful to the American people, reflecting a callous disdain for every person's right to access health care.

COVID-19 — The number of infections and deaths in the U.S. compared to other countries reflects a failure in presidential leadership. No, we could not have avoided the pandemic, but a coherent national response could have coordinated resources, directing them to the hardest hit areas; funded emergency manufacturing of PPE; kept public awareness and protocols aligned with the evolving scientific understanding of the virus; minimized public complacency; and avoided the blue/red divide over masks and “liberating” cities and states from policies intended to reduce the spread — ultimately yielding fewer American deaths. Wearing masks became a political issue largely because President Trump regarded it as unnecessary and a sign of weakness, making it a controversy.

Drain the Swamp — Coupled with the president’s personality and temperament, this is arguably his most egregious violation of the norms and ethics of office. His self-dealing led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives, and his overall philosophy of avarice is reflected in the controversies surrounding his businesses and the many resignations by members of his administration for ethical lapses.

Values — I’ve always expected the President of the United States to be a living symbol of the values America aspires to achieve. During my life, no president has lived up to that ideal; yet, despite their politics, a number have moved our country closer to these values: Lyndon Johnson pushed civil rights legislation, Richard Nixon created the EPA, and Barack Obama effectively bet his administration to giving all Americans access to health care. Tragically, Donald Trump’s boorish persona and actions are antithetical to the values of a government of, by, and for the people. Instead, his values align with the sovereignty of the individual and the pursuit of money, power, and sex.

I couldn’t believe Donald Trump was a serious candidate for president, I was astonished when he became the Republican nominee, then heartbroken when he won the presidency. Since he assumed office, each day has brought a dismaying example of how this country’s principles are being undermined by a kleptocracy and a man who believes he is all powerful.

Given the deep divide in the country, I’m unsure whether those who view Donald Trump as I do will be able to prevail in the election. If we lose, I fear the next four years will seriously wound this country.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Whose Day Is It?

While talking with a colleague Friday, he mentioned our day off today, referring to the federal holiday designated as Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day, wrying adding something about rewriting history.

Although his comment triggered me, I resisted the urge to give him my “fair and balanced” opinion, which would likely come across as a lecture. So I obliquely acknowledged his statement, understanding he feels like he’s walking across a political minefield during these highly contentious times.

So rather than lecturing him, I’ll think aloud here.

A long-used adage says history is written by those in power. Growing up, I internalized Columbus Day as celebrating the “modern” arrival of Europeans on the vast American landscape, which led to the European colonization of the continent, the birth of the United States, and my forebears coming in search of better lives. Arguably, I would not be here had Columbus not sailed west in search of a more direct route to the Indies.

The other side of the story is when Columbus arrived, the land was already occupied by many tribes of people. Over the coming centuries, the European settlers and United States government disenfranchised them of their rights, sought to erase their “primitive” cultures, and forced them to move to restrictive reservations. That meets the definition of genocide: “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.”

Ironically, Columbus Day was first designated a national holiday not to celebrate the arrival of Christopher Columbus, rather as a one-time celebration to placate Italian Americans and ease diplomatic tensions with Italy. The holiday was declared by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, following the murder of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans. At the time, Italian immigrants were seen as outside America’s racist view of itself as white and Protestant. Columbus Day didn’t become an annual federal holiday until 1968, possibly as much a celebration of Italian-American heritage as commemorating the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

Returning to my colleague's comment, celebrating Columbus' arrival in the Americas without acknowledging the sins his journey unleashed is truly rewriting history — or hiding those chapters in the basement so we don’t tarnish our view of the perfect American experiment. Our treatment of the indigenous peoples is among the sins we have yet to atone for as a nation.

U.S. states celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day
(Native American Day in South Dakota)

US states celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day

Source: Kaldari
License: Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication, CC0

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Independence Day

I am searching for America, a country divided.

I see one side hearkening to a time when people knew and accepted their place in this land of no castes, striving through independence and hard work to raise a God-fearing family and live a comfortable life, working in the coal mines and factories of American industry, the manufacturing engine that created the consumer society.

The other side wants to add chairs around the table, so all have a seat no matter their skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, belief in God or no god. All at the table have equal dignity and the opportunity to pursue the fabled American dream through freedom and hard work.

Langston Hughes, the Black writer and social activist whose work spanned the first half of the 20th Century, movingly captured this divide in his poem “Let American Be America Again.” He begins,

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Hughes goes on to paint a vision of the country living up to its founding ideals:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Come November, we’ll learn how America sees itself, our values reflected through the peoples’ votes.

Read the entire poem Let America Be America Again.

The Wikipedia biography of Hughes describes his ancestry, tragically too common:

Like many African-Americans, Hughes had a complex ancestry. Both of Hughes' paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved Africans, and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were white slave owners in Kentucky.

Also posted to Medium.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Time to Eliminate DACA

On Thursday, the Supreme Court stopped President Trump’s move to rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a policy announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012. Reflecting a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court ruling only said the Trump administration acted improperly when it terminated the program, by not adhering to the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the court considered “only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action” and concluded it failed to do so. This ruling, while positive, leaves the door open for the Department of Homeland Security to resume its effort by beefing up the argument for rescinding DACA.

A permanent resolution to the DACA limbo lies with Congress passing legislation — assuming the president signs it or Congress overrides a veto — providing permanent legal residence and a path to citizenship for those in the DACA program. As the House passed legislation last June (the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019), the responsibility falls to the Senate.

To encourage Senate action, I sent the following letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, and a slightly modified version to Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Mitt Romney (Utah).

Subject: Legal Status and Path to Citizenship for DACA Participants

While the Supreme Court’s ruling this week provides a reprieve for those who have enrolled in the DACA program, the decision does not provide a permanent solution for the children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents and grew up here —most now strengthening American society.

It’s time for Congress to pass legislation to provide those participating in DACA with legal residency and a path to U.S. citizenship, ending their Kafkaesque limbo.

As you know, the House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act last June, one year ago. The Senate must now act — and do so before President Trump marshals a renewed effort to address the Supreme Court’s concerns and rescind DACA. In your role as Majority Leader, you have the responsibility to put this on the Senate’s agenda.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Words Not Frozen in Time

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that firing someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal, as is any such discrimination occurring in the workplace. Surprisingly, six of the nine justices supported the ruling — including Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts, whose views are typically conservative — and Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion.

This ruling comes as a positive and much-needed sign amidst a long discouraging political climate, particularly the Trump administration’s pushback against transgender rights. While this case only applies to workplace discrimination, it does affirm LGBTQ rights, advancing them with this as precedent for the next case.

What I find fascinating about this case was how the court assessed the core question. The justices were asked to decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to gay and transgender people. Title VII of that law prohibits workplace discrimination for race, religion, national origin or sex. The court’s ruling says “sex,” as used in the law, does apply to gay and transgender workers.

Justice Gorsuch’s argument and logic make sense:

An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex… It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.

Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito argued that in 1964, when the law was passed,

Discrimination “because of sex” was not understood as having anything to do with discrimination because of sexual orientation or transgender status… Any such notion would have clashed in spectacular fashion with the societal norms of the day.”

I find this to be true, certainly his statement about the societal norms in 1964. It’s highly unlikely anyone in Congress was thinking of advancing gay or transgender rights when the bill was drafted and passed. If any were, they were prophetic.

What’s amazing is this ruling shows, once again, that language is not frozen in time. While its meaning may not literally change, the meaning adapts to the time. While virtually no one in 1964 thought Title VII encompassed sexual orientation or gender identity, Gorsuch’s logic is convincing: the language does apply.

Just as the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence apply to all, even as the nation’s founders excluded slaves when writing those words arguing for independence from Britain.

The brilliance of this irony is that our words often mean more than we realize. With time and grace, we can live into them.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Lesson in Humility

My urge to write about the times we’re living in seems constantly thwarted by the ongoing cascade of events, each triggering my anger and increasing despair over the state of American society and those who govern us. Yet before I collect my thoughts to write a blog post, another event erupts on the news, dominating the news cycle and fueling the social media fires. President Trump is usually at the center of my anguish, if not originating the conflagration, then aligning with it, and critiquing what used to be the norm for behavior as just being politically correct.

Timber Hawkeye is one of the people who inspires me. I find insight in applying Buddhist principles to life, particularly its teachings about the self and our unity with the universe. Timber Hawkeye articulately distills these principles into a secular frame, and I find his perspective helpful in refining my own philosophy of living a constructive and contributory life.

Tying these two apparently unrelated threads together, Timber Hawkeye (TH) held a live chat session today, inviting participants to submit questions. One of the exchanges was an aha moment for me:

Question: Can you explain the lessons we are to learn by having someone like Trump as our president?

TH: Well, he didn’t get there by himself; he has the support of millions of people, so let’s not project all of your dismay onto one individual and look at the whole picture and what concerns you, which, if I understand correctly, is the fact that half the population doesn’t see the world the way you do. And that upsets you?

Response: He is divisive and mean with his tweets and not a role model for school-age kids — comes across as a bully, in my opinion.

TH: I suggest you add the words “according to me” to each of your statements in order to keep your own ego at bay. When you say “he is being divisive,” add the words “according to me” at the end, because according to half the population, he is trying to unite everyone.

Do you see the benefit of adding the words “according to me” to the end of everything you say, and perhaps asking “according to whom” when you hear someone else’s statement (don’t do this out loud, necessarily, but pause and think of the source)?

Anther person: So changing the wording, you’re answering for yourself and not assuming for others?

TH: It’s bigger than “not assuming for others.” It’s knowing that your viewpoint is yours alone, that there’s no Universal Truth, and that if you believe there is, notice how it’s always conveniently your own.

Another person: Adding “in my opinion” puts the accountability for the thought onto the person versus the source.

TH: Yes, it’s something I try to remind myself all the time: never speak from a place of knowing, always from a place of learning.

The moral of this story: never assume nor claim my truth is universal. When I speak my truth, clarify that my words are just mine, my viewpoint open to discussion and learning.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Reflecting on the Coronavirus

From time to time — less often than I would like — I collect my thoughts in what I call an “audio postcard” that I send to my kids. It fulfills my desire to keep in touch and share something meaningful, meaning something that might be worth listening to in a decade.

As we’re in the midst of a global societal shutdown caused by a virus only 120 nm in diameter,1 a crisis “forecast” yet not experienced since the 1918–1919 Spanish flu pandemic, I have been thinking about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and thought I would share my thoughts.

This was recorded on March 29. Tragically, the numbers of infections and deaths are far higher today.

  1. ↩︎

Friday, February 21, 2020

What’s the Point of Blogging?

One of my goals hopes this year is to rejuvenate my personal blog.

That raises the question why? What is my motivation, what am I seeking? Immortality via the web? Readers? The internal satisfaction of crafting a thought, an idea, and expressing it well?

Probably all three, although I tell myself the point is to write for myself, as a way to formulate my ideas and then revisit and test them in the future.

Om Malik, a well-known tech blogger who founded GigaOM and now writes for himself at Om, recently wrote about an exchange with writer Craig Mod. Malik writes:

I shared my own resistance to writing in a world that is drowning in words. It can feel like pouring water into the dead sea. Mod’s take surprised me. He said to basically forget about what is in the world, and to focus inward and look at what’s important to one’s self. Let the writing be about your inner thoughts and your interests. Let it be about what drives your soul and your thinking. After all, that is the only value I can bring to the internet, crowded as it is with opinions.

Thanks for the clarity and encouragement.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Kindle Chronicles Podcast

Len Edgerly, creator and host of The Kindle Chronicles podcast, invited me to be his guest on this week’s episode. Despite my surprise, as I’m not his typical author or Kindle-related guest, I agreed and am glad I did. We had a wonderful conversation, which you can listen to here:

Len and I first met at a Podcamp Boston conference, where he gave a presentation about podcasting and his workflow with The Kindle Chronicles. Following the conference, I began listening to his weekly episodes and haven’t missed one.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

What's A Citizen To Do?

I'm feeling pretty powerless and dejected by the impeachment trial of President Trump. Through the investigation and impeachment in the House, the Republicans in both House and Senate have shown abject fealty to a president who would be emperor. While the senators are not allowed to speak during the trial, the other voices defending the president seem to be even more amplified and strident.

While I think the president is, without question, guilty of obstruction of Congress, I do see a defense for the charge he abused his presidential power: while the president’s attempts to use Ukraine and hurt the likely Democratic candidate for president were inappropriate, his actions may not justify removal from office. Yet no Republican has acknowledged that his actions were inappropriate. The talking points say the impeachment is a Democratic “coup” to overturn the 2016 election.

Compounding my frustration with the Republican response is knowing the acceptance of presidential power afforded President Trump would not be extended to President Obama, nor to a successor from the Democratic party. To wit, Mitch McConnell refused to grant a hearing for President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, and Republicans claimed President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program was an abuse of presidential power.

Fairness and reciprocity are strong values I hold, and blatant hypocrisy weighs on me physically. What’s a citizen to do?

It now seems the only hope of learning the truth — aside from awaiting the long judgment of historians — is for the Senate to call witnesses who have first-hand observations of the conversations and actions that led to withholding military aid to Ukraine. Four Republican senators are viewed as sufficiently moderate to at least consider voting to call witnesses: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah. So I sent each the following email:

Your Role in the Impeachment Trial of President Trump

Dear Senator,

While you were elected to represent the citizens of your state, your role in the impeachment trial of President Trump is to represent the citizens of the United States in accordance with the Constitution.

As a citizen observing the House of Representatives’ investigation that led to impeachment, I have no doubt that the President is guilty of obstruction of Congress. The evidence that his orders prevented the House from hearing from potential witnesses and reviewing all relevant documents is indisputable.

The evidence supporting the first article, abuse of power, is strong. Based on the President’s history in office, I have little doubt he has abused the powers of his office — and will continue to do so if unchecked. Nonetheless, I understand others believe otherwise. Hearing from the members of his administration who were involved in the Ukrainian discussions and withholding of military funding, such as John Bolton, should confirm this abuse of power or support the President’s claim that he is innocent.

I urge you to vote to call witnesses and gather additional documentation as part of the Senate trial, a logical and timely step to seek the truth about the President’s actions and motivation in withholding military aid to Ukraine.

As a member of the Senate, you stand on the threshold of history. I hope, for the sake of the country, you will choose the Constitution over fealty to the President.


Gary Lerude

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Dismal State of Our Political System

Politics has never been a landscape of kind discourse. Policy disagreements quickly decline to ad hominem attacks on an individual holding an opposing view.

President Trump has uniformly used this tactic to demean anyone disagreeing with him, probably thousands of times since declaring his candidacy on June 16, 2015. When he was elected President, I hoped the enormity of the election and dignity of the office would inspire him to shift his behavior. Unfortunately, he remains truculent, not hesitating to dishonor the dignity of anyone caught in his diatribes.

The President of the United States retweeting a disrespectful caricature of the Senate Minority Leader and Speaker of the House was inconceivable until Donald Trump was elected. Now it’s normal.

Although the factionalism of our politics started long before Donald Trump’s ascendency, his standard of behavior has condoned further deterioration of the already rancorous relationship between the political parties. His impeachment provides perhaps the most stunning example, with Republications taking up a full-throated defense of his call to the President of Ukraine, then his recalcitrant attempts to block any investigation by the House of Representatives.

Donald Trump is proving his outrageous campaign claim that he can “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters” — apparently not any Republication votes in Congress.

Friday, January 03, 2020

The Merry Christmas Kerfuffle

The 2019 Christmas season is rapidly fading into Christmas past, yet before the discounted greeting cards and wrapping paper totally disappear from the stores, I want to reflect on one of President Trump’s campaign promises, to make saying “Merry Christmas” politically correct once again.

That’s one campaign promise where he’s claimed success, at least as far as uttering what he wants — which he certainly does, whether at a campaign rally or via his Twitter feed.

I’m speculating that this Merry Christmas kerfuffle is a reflexive response by those who feel they are losing their heritage or culture. That puzzles me, as I don’t see the loss.

My practice is to say “Merry Christmas” to those who celebrate Christmas, “Happy Hanukkah” to those who celebrate Hanukkah, “Happy Diwali” to those who celebrate Diwali, and “Happy Holidays” when I’m not sure what holiday, if any, is meaningful to whoever I’m addressing. In a group with strangers, my default is “Happy Holidays.”

If I managed a store catering to the community or a business with diverse employees, I’d go with “Happy Holidays” to be as inclusive as possible.

My intent is not to devalue or offend Christians. Rather, the choice of words reflects my intent to be kind and avoid offending someone who doesn’t find meaning in the Christian view of Christmas. It doesn’t matter that the majority of Americans are Christian, assuming that is really true, or that the first European immigrants who arrived in America held Judeo-Christian beliefs. Making space for another person’s beliefs doesn’t change what I believe nor threaten my beliefs.

The choice of greeting can be a sign of gracious hospitality acknowledging other beliefs and the right to hold them. Or, it can be a sign that the other person is not one of us — our myopic sense of a homogenized America — and not welcome.

I hope we can see beyond any feelings of loss to honor our neighbors, coworkers, and the strangers we meet. Namaste.