Re-writing the History of the January 6th Insurrection

Alan Zendell, July 27, 2021

As the House Special Committee begins to receive testimony in its investigation of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol, we are hearing gut-wrenching testimony from the police officers who were most directly involved in facing off against the White Supremacist MAGA mob. Not incidentally, they were also the officers who suffered the worst physical and emotional trauma from the event.

As we review the testimony of Capitol Police and DC Metropolitan Police officers, illustrated by videos from police body cams, Capitol security surveillance cameras, and videos taken by insurrectionists brazen enough to document what they were doing, we should first take a step back and review what some House members said about the attack. In May, some of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters in the House Republican Caucus spoke out against what they called misrepresenting a few thousand tourists as an armed insurrectionist mob.

By now, every American has either seen hours of videos of what happened on January 6th or watched it live on TV while it was occurring. The mob had guns, knives, lead pipes, baseball bats, fire extinguishers – even flagpoles wrapped in American flags – all used as weapons to bludgeon and torture law enforcement officers who were protecting the very Republicans (as well as the entire Congress) who now dispute that what we all saw really happened.

Representative Andrew Clyde (R, GA) said the mob was just people moving “in an orderly fashion in between the stanchions and ropes taking pictures … you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” Is that what you saw? Representative Pat Fallon (R, TX), calling reports about the insurrection overblown, said, “Our friends in the mainstream media are quite fond of labeling January 6 as an insurrection or even a rebellion,” as if our own eyes weren’t witness enough.

Representatives Paul Gosar (R, AZ) and Jody Hice (R, GA) both addressed the single casualty among the rioters. A rioter named Ashli Babbitt who had wrapped herself in an American flag was shot by a Capitol police officer attempting to break into the House chamber, as many in the mob were chanting that the Representatives should be captured and killed. Gosar and Hice claimed that only Trump supporters lost their lives that day and wanted the police officer prosecuted. The Justice Department exonerated the officer. More to the point, four police officers died defending the Capitol against the mob, and many more were seriously injured.

The nation watched then President Trump egg the mob on and tell them to march on the Capitol. We also saw Trump’s lawyer, Rudi Guiliani, Senator Josh Hawley (R, MO) and Representative Mo Brooks (R, AL) encourage the crowd to violence if the Congress failed to reverse Joe Biden’s defeat of Trump in the 2020 election. It is clear to any objective viewer that the mob was there at Trump’s bequest, supporting his attempt to overturn the election, despite his claims of fraud having been rejected in more than sixty lawsuits, by mostly Conservative judges. It is also clear that Trump was willing to undermine the Constitution and threaten the existence of our republic to retain power, in the style of twentieth century fascists.

If anyone doubts that Trump cares more about himself than the good of the nation, consider that his sole pre-occupation since Biden’s inauguration has been to discredit the leadership of the Republican party and attempt to purge anyone disloyal to him personally from its ranks. As Representative Adam Kinzinger (R, IL) said during this morning’s hearings, Trump’s actions threaten our democracy, and trying to cover up the insurrection or repaint it as a peaceful protest is an insult to the American people.

Kinzinger and fellow Republican Liz Cheney (WY) have been ostracized by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and called “Pelosi Republicans” because they support the Speaker’s attempt to get at the truth, all at the direction of Trump, whose only remaining weapon is the divisiveness he nurtured and fostered. He continues to work behind the scenes to scuttle all efforts at bipartisan governing in the Congress. Despite the overwhelming popularity of the COVID relief act that sustained millions of people who lost their income because of the pandemic, and the 83% popularity of the bipartisan infrastructure bill worked out by twenty Senators, (10 Democrats and 10 Republicans,) Trump calls every Republican who supports bipartisan government a traitor and a sellout to socialist radicals.

He has also quietly been the leading voice of the anti-vaccine movement which is now responsible for COVID caseload spikes in five states, all Republican-led with the lowest percentage of vaccinated citizens. For Trump, it still is and always will be all about him. So what if 500,000 of the 600,000 COVID deaths in our country are already on his hands? The CDC predicted today that we will soon see 200,000 new cases per day, but Trump couldn’t care less about those, either.

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The Billionaires’ Space Race

Alan Zendell, July 20, 2021

This morning’s Blue Horizon launch of four people into “near space,” was perfect by every standard. It went off precisely on time, going straight up, as advertised, to a maximum altitude of seventy miles, flying a perfect parabola after the engines shut down. The booster made a vertical landing exactly where it was intended to, two miles from where it took off. The occupants in the mostly glass capsule, designed for optimum viewing, got to experience three minutes of weightlessness, floating around and whooping with joy before they strapped in for the descent back to Earth.

Coming down, the capsule and its passengers were in free fall until it reached the altitude at which an airliner would be in its final landing approach, when its main parachutes deployed (perfectly.) The numbers displayed on our television screens said it touched down in the west Texas desert at a vertical speed of 15 mph, about as fast as you’d hit the water from an eight-foot diving board. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the event was that the whole thing took less than fifteen minutes – an entire space mission viewed on live TV in a quarter of an hour without commercials.

The passengers were the world’s wealthiest human, Jeff Bezos, his brother, Mark, eighty-two-year-old Wally Funk, an early female aviator whose dream to become an astronaut was derailed by her gender, and eighteen-year-old Oliver Daemen. Bezos’ launch followed on the heels of Richard Branson’s rocket plane flight to much nearer space, and not to be outdone, Space X’s Elon Musk, a much wealthier billionaire than Branson will soon make his own visit to suborbital space.

The billionaires’ space race raises questions, chief among them, “Why?” We hear a lot about ego trips, the privileges of wealth, and importantly, whether it has value for average people or is just a publicity stunt to market a space tourism industry. A brief ride like the one Bezos took this morning currently costs $250,000, and the Washington Post reports 600 people have already reserved tickets. Imagine what trips to orbiting resorts will cost and who will be able to afford them.

What does all this mean to you and me? First, it’s fun. This morning’s brief flight was great entertainment, in part because of its brevity; no tense waits for a ship to achieve orbit or re-establish communication, no long days in orbit or traveling to the vicinity of the moon. Everything happened so quickly, there wasn’t time for worrying or nail biting. And who, watching, didn’t ask, “Would I have the courage to climb into that capsule?”

In case we didn’t notice, (I’m sure most people watching didn’t,) an astrophysicist who was assisting Anderson Cooper on CNN’s coverage, said the real significance of the test flight was to showcase the astounding level of scientific and engineering expertise America possesses. Bezos, Branson, and Musk are all investing their own money, but they capitalized on the billions of dollars of investment by the government to get our space program where it is today. The question of whether to invest more, even private funds, is a valid one that has a complex answer.

This morning’s launch was done in total transparency with the entire world watching, a huge risk that reflected Bezos’ confidence in his people. It did a lot to enhance our prestige internationally, and there were some notable subtleties. Ground control was just a moderate-size room staffed by four people, and the whole Texas launch complex could fit into a small corner of the one at Cape Canaveral. That, combined with the re-usability factor foreshadows a new generation of space exploration that won’t bankrupt any treasuries.

Still, millions of people ask why do it at all. There are traditional answers, all valid, like building industries in orbit that can benefit from the lack of atmosphere and weightlessness. Like the early space program, technology spinoffs will quickly find their way into consumers’ shopping carts. Remember the world before Tang and styrofoam? We don’t even know what we’re missing.

But the most compelling reason to make space travel and exploration routine and cost-effective is the long-term survival of humanity. We’ve all thrilled to disaster movies and novels that depicted the end of life on Earth: nuclear war, out-of-control pandemics, monsters unleashed from the thawing permafrost. They’re all science fiction, but some, like possible asteroid impacts are based on solid science. Astronomers and astrophysicists are nearly unanimous that such a catastrophic event is inevitable, whether it occurs tomorrow or ten thousand years from now. When it does, humanity will need somewhere else to live.

This is not a new idea. Almost ninety years ago Edwin Balmer and Phillip Wylie published the novel, When Worlds Collide. In 1950, Immanuel Velikovsky published Worlds in Collision, which despite the similar title was a scholarly study of ancient history and archaeology. Velikovsky effectively argued that the dinosaurs were wiped out by a near collision between Earth and another planet-sized body that shifted Earth’s axis of rotation by sixty degrees; that is, much of what used to be near the equator suddenly found itself in Siberia.

We know these things happen; we also know most asteroids capable of such devastation are discovered accidentally when they come close to Earth’s orbit. We could wake up any morning to the news that we’ll all be dead by Thursday. That sounds like a damn good reason to establish self-sustaining habitable colonies off Earth ASAP.

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A Fascist America?

Alan Zendell, July 16, 2021

Back in 2017, when I first broached the subject of Donald Trump’s apparent infatuation with the tactics Adolf Hitler used to solidify and expand his power, some readers nodded sadly in agreement, some scoffed, and some got really angry – not at Trump, but at me for daring to compare him to the monster responsible for the Holocaust. To be fair, they had a point. Trump’s concentration camps contained Mexican “rapists and drug dealers,” not Jews and Gypsies, and the death toll in Trump’s camps (including children) was less than sixty. Hitler murdered 100,000 times as many.

When, last evening, Stephen Colbert called Trump a Fascist, his New York audience cheered as if Colbert had announced that the Yankees had just defeated the Red Sox. (Alas, the game had been rained out.) Colbert was paraphrasing the remarks of Joint Chiefs Chairman, General Mark Milley, who had been interviewed by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker for their just-released book: “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year.” Milley, a graduate of Princeton, Columbia, and the Naval War College, was appointed to serve as Chairman by Trump in 2018 and was kept on by President Biden.

There have been many tell-all books about the former president, none of them complimentary, and there will be more coming out. The unanimity with which well-respected journalists and historians have trashed Trump’s performance in office raises some important questions. Why hasn’t there been a single book written praising him? Do only angry, disgruntled people write books, as Trump would have us believe? And there’s the ultimate question: what will it take to get through to people who are still mesmerized by Trump’s message of hate and right-wing extremism? I don’t expect the Proud Boys to change their minds, although a few expressed disillusionment after being convicted of various crimes related to the January 6th Insurrection. What about the millions of people who voted for Trump who are not racists and hate-mongers? When will enough be enough?

I understand that people on the right have no use for the discredited Michael Cohen, no matter that everything he has said or written proved accurate. I also understand their negative reaction to left-leaning journalists, even famous ones like Carl Bernstein who is best known for his writings on Watergate. But no one would ever call Bernstein’s partner, Bob Woodward, a lefty, and Woodward’s books and articles about every president since Nixon have always been viewed as fair and objective. His view of Trump is like all the others’.

Similarly, the comments of prominent members of Trump’s administration, H. R. McMaster, James Mathis, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, to name a few, painted Trump as angry, vengeful, ignorant, and very often deranged. Even loyalist Steve Mnuchin announced that he couldn’t take being around Trump after the Insurrection.

When General Milley, who subscribes to the protocol of never publicly criticizing a superior officer speaks out, every American who cares about the future of our country should pay attention. What Milley said about Trump should terrify them. His allusions to Nazi tactics and specifically to Hitler leave no doubt about how he feels. Milley says Trump’s behavior in the months after he lost the 2020 election brought America to “a Reichstag moment.” He likened The Big Lie, Trump’s attempts to subvert state election officials, and his attempts to influence judges he felt owed him favors to the things Hitler did to consolidate his power. He called Trump supporters marching in the streets of Washington and several state capitals Brownshirts and said Trump was a threat to our democracy.

Milley had feared that Trump might try to overthrow the government, but was confident he would fail because the military would never support such an action. Nor would the CIA, the NSA, or law enforcement agencies. Milley has no doubt that if he could have gotten away with it, Trump would have transformed America into a Fascist state. Lest anyone doubt his meaning, a week after the Insurrection Milley said of Trump’s extremist supporters, “These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II.”

That’s what the general in charge of our entire military thinks of Trump. Like the others who spoke out before him, he describes Trump as a dangerous, wannabe tyrant. Parties and ideologies aside, if you’re a patriotic American who supports the Constitution, isn’t that enough to convince you that our first priority must be making sure Trump is never in a position of power again?

This isn’t the first time people have feared the rise of Fascism in America. In 1935, as Hitler was dismantling the Weimar Republic and replacinig it with a Nazi police state, Sinclair Lewis published, It Can’t Happen Here. Can’t it?

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Getting at the Truth

Alan Zendell, July 5, 2021

The next few weeks should be fascinating if you don’t mind sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to see if your elected leaders do their jobs or continue to trash the Constitution. The issue, of course, is which version of truth will be recorded as history, the one being propagated by Trump or the one supported and thoroughly documented by 100 million witnesses who watched everything live on television, nearly six months of law enforcement investigations, and judges who looked at more than sixty law suits and ruled that Trump’s claims of a rigged election were without merit.

Part of the problem we face is the evolution of both social media and more traditional journalistic media. The development of nuclear technology gifted the world with the ability to destroy itself virtually instantaneously with no prior diplomatic or ethical discussions of its use. In like manner, the various information outlets have grown in every direction that could find a wealthy sponsor, but that growth is more like a malignant tumor’s than a healthy expansion of knowledge and information.

Futuristic writers anticipated this situation decades ago. Several prominent authors predicted that the unregulated expansion of the Internet would result in the demise of verifiable truth, replaced by noise from every political and extremist quarter stretching the limits of First Amendment-protected free speech. Unfortunately, those who predicted that chaos would replace honest journalism proved to be prescient. Tens of millions of Americans get their “facts” from media outlets and social media manipulators who are more interested in promoting radical agendas than dealing with reality.

There have always been fringe groups who made absurd, unprovable claims. But this is the first time the leader of the movement to undermine our moral and ethical values as well as the basic ideas our Founders wrote into the Constitution was a former president. A president who has no regard for truth, is motivated solely by increasing his own power and wealth, and is supported by a heavily armed extremist fringe of the population is the most serious threat our nation has ever faced.

Many would add, “since the Civil War,” but I contend that the current threat is worse. In the 1850s, the antagonists who disagreed about slavery and the universality of human rights never pulled any punches about what they believed. Today, we are dealing with a seething underground movement that perpetuates destructive lies. That movement is driven by anger, bigotry, greed, and misogyny. To date, no amount of objective reporting and fact-checking has made a dent in their crazy theories.

If the Trumper movement is allowed to take over the Congress, America will pay a back-breaking price. We will be hopelessly divided, almost as if the Civil War never ended, and our standing in the world will be degraded as claims by adversaries like Vladimir Putin that our professed values are nothing but hypocrisy will be shown to be true. Although it is almost trite to say it, this is a potentially catastrophic existential threat our grandchildren will have to face.

Trump’s lies brought us a half million unnecessary deaths from COVID and resulted in the bulk of the anti-vax movement that threatens countless more. They brought us the insurrection on January 6th, and have set up a critical confrontation in the House of Representatives. At the center of this battle is Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who, after blaming the attack on the Capitol on Trump, realized he needed the votes from Trump’s loyal base to maintain his leadership position and possibly his seat. Poor Kevin boxed himself into a very uncomfortable corner, having told the truth under the stress of the moment, and then having had to bow and scrape to his maniacal leader ever since.

We see this coming to a head today. McCarthy has no choice but to appoint five members to the House Committee investigating the insurrection. As a result, yesterday, he actually told the truth again, denying Trump’s Big Lie and acknowledging that Joe Biden won the presidency in 2020 fairly and overwhelmingly. Today Trump announced that his lackey, McCarthy, had been summoned to New Jersey where he will be read the riot act and informed in no uncertain terms of exactly how Trump wants the House hearings to go.

Combined with extremist media predictions that Trump will be reinstated as president (whatever that means) next month, McCarthy is very much between a rock and a hard place. The outcome could be something quite radical – the House Minority Leader might even show some balls and integrity, and stand up to a deranged demigod who is trying to destroy America, but don’t bet on it.

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Leaving Afghanistan, Triage on a Global Scale

Alan Zendell, July 9. 2021

Triage is an unpleasant but necessary concept. Sometimes, we can’t save everyone no matter how deserving or worthy they are. It happens on battlefields, during epidemics, and in routine hospital settings, as when there are more patients who need transplants than available organs. While we rarely refer to them that way, we instinctively make triage decisions every day. It could be canceling a vacation because replacing a broken-down car is more important, or sadly for many, having to choose between food and health care.

The unilateral decision to end the forever war in Afghanistan is precisely that kind of decision. Setting aside all the diplomatic and intelligence mishaps that have kept us mired there for twenty years, the decision to leave is rooted in present-day realities. We sent troops to Afghanistan as part of our misguided invasion of Iraq in reaction to nine-eleven. President George W. Bush authorized the mission to root out Al Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden.

The decision was allegedly based on national security concerns, but if we’re being honest, the national mood after terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners in a devilish plan to take down the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon, and either the White House or the Capitol demanded revenge. Our national psyche still hadn’t recovered from the humiliation of Vietnam and our political leaders succumbed to the need to show both Americans and the world that we weren’t going to pushed around by primitive warlords on a quest for Jihad.

Worse, the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan evolved into nation-building, which experts correctly predicted would be a disaster. It was partially successful in Iraq, which was more secular and industrially developed, but a complete failure in Afghanistan, which outside of the capital is a nation dominated by petty chieftans and religious zealots.

Should we have known better? In 1979, Russia invaded Afghanistan and attempted to occupy and remake it in its own image. Even with massive resources and relatively easy supply lines, they were stuck there for ten years, and the debacle bankrupted and ultimately caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yes, we should have known better.

Our twenty years in Afghanistan has cost more than 2,400 deaths and nearly 30,000 injuries among American military personnel. 40,000 Afghans were killed on our watch and the country is in the midst of a civil war that is far beyond our ability to influence. Afghanistan was broken when we got there, and we are leaving it in chaos. History will look back on our twenty years there as the worst series of political, diplomatic and military blunders in our history.

Our government claims we’re leaving because we accomplished our mission of killing Osama bin Laden, which was more of a symbolic victory than a substantive one. It cost American taxpayers more than a trillion dollars, the same amount President Biden wants to spend to rebuild our infrastructure. We can’t sugar coat this mess, and we can’t afford to lose any more lives or waste any more resources desperately needed to recover from COVID. Leaving Afghanistan is an obvious triage decision, plain and simple.

Republicans will continue to snipe at Biden, claiming he is conceding Afghanistan to the Taliban and the terrorists they harbor. But the Trump-dominated party can’t say that too loudly, because Biden’s decision to end the war simply fulfills the provisions of a deal then President Trump made with the Taliban in an attempt to shore up his re-election prospects.

President Biden, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during most of the Cold War, understands how Afghanistan wrecked the Soviet Union as well as anyone. He could have rolled over and extended the deadline to withdraw, but he refused to sacrifice any more American lives and throw good money after bad. And reacting to the diplomatic chaos his predecessor caused, he needed to assert that a commitment made by the American government means something, even one made by a self-serving president.

As President Biden attempts to heal our nation from COVID and end the reign of right-wing domestic terror unleashed by Trump, he understands that all of our resources must be focused here at home. As he fights for legislation to help Americans recover against Republicans who are suddenly budget conscious after passing a tax bill that spent a trillion dollars to further enrich the already wealthy, he is ending the financial drain of a tragic and meaningless war, that has averaged $50 billion per year. That should help keep a lot of bridges and buildings from collapsing.

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Comparing Then and Now

Alan Zendell, July 6, 2021

Running for re-election in 1984, Ronald Reagan asked Americans if they were better off than they were when he took office. Yesterday, President Biden delivered an Independence Day speech that asked Americans to compare where we were a year ago with how things are today. It was an uplifting speech, reminding us how far we’ve come in combating the pandemic, emerging from our darkest days and being able to hug each other again. No more visiting our friends and loved ones virtually or with a pane of glass separating us from them, hands pretending to touch on either side of the glass.

Biden talked about government as a tool for helping people, that during his five-and-a-half months in office, government resources were mobilized to assure that vaccines were available to everyone who wanted them, that millions who lost jobs as a result of COVID were kept afloat by stimulus checks while our economy re-opened. Republicans since Ronald Reagan have postured the government as the enemy; Biden re-asserted the notion that the government has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of all Americans in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson.

He didn’t brag about the size of the crowd cheering him or the booming stock market. Rather than boasting about increasing the wealth of the richest Americans and sustaining a tax code that places the burden of paying America’s bills on the middle class, he repeated his consistent theme that we’re all in this together. Maximizing the use of government resources moved America from the nation whose response to the pandemic was one of the worst and deadliest in the world to one whose recovery and use of vaccines outstrips every other developed nation’s. Rather than suggesting that he knew more than all of his advisors and Cabinet officers and claiming personal credit for our success, he shared it with every American.

Biden’s nature is to focus on the positive while reminding us that recovery is a long process that cannot be taken for granted. But it’s also important to remember how much we’ve lost, how much damage his predecessor did to our country. Biden won’t ever directly attack Donald Trump. It’s not his style. But with Trump in the wings attempting to disrupt and obstruct everything Biden does, the rest of us don’t have that luxury. Biden asked us to compare this Independence Day with a year ago. I would expand the question.

If Americans continue to be vaccinated, COVID should just be a bad memory a year or two from now. The more serious threat to our country is the internal divisions that have come to dominate our politics and personal lives. They weren’t created by Donald Trump, but his political movement thrives on them the way a vampire survives by draining the lifeblood from its victims.

America has never fully realized the fruition of its founding ideals, but each of the generations since slavery was abolished has been better than the one before it. We have a long way to go, but let’s give ourselves some credit for how far we had come, at least until 2015. The clearest measure of how little Trump cares about America is that virtually everything he said and did in the past six years has been part of an attempt to turn back the clock on the progress we’ve made at realizing the dream of universal equality and opportunity. That means reversing progress in equality before the law, learning to treasure diversity rather than suppress it. It means widening rather than narrowing the income gap between gender and racial groups. It means abandoning our decades-long attempt to balance capitalism against the need to support the health and welfare of every American.

But that’s not the worst harm Trumpism has done and continues to do. Trump attempted to redefine truth and distort our notion of greatness. Greatness is not isolation and separation or a society defined by hatred and bigotry. We don’t get to be a great nation simply by claiming to be one. The divisiveness and anger unleashed and nurtured by Trump has affected our personal lives, too. Do you know anyone who hasn’t had long-standing friendships destroyed by Trumpism or experienced the same disaffection within families, parents and children, siblings, cousins, people they once valued and loved who we barely speak to each other any more?

That’s the sad legacy of the Trump administration and the thing Joe Biden most desperately wants to help us heal from. He does it by positive example, but it’s up to us to heal ourselves. Those who continue to spout lies and hate cannot be allowed to have a dominant voice. We know who they are. We can rid ourselves of them when we next cast our votes.

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What Were We  Celebrating on the Fourth?

Alan Zendell, July 5, 2021

For me, something about the Fourth of July was off this year. I felt like the country was desperate to celebrate something, but not sure what it was. The legacy of the last five years has changed us. We knew the post-COVID “new normal” would be different, but yesterday was a not too subtle reminder of how different it might look.

Americans are desperate for something to celebrate, to feel like life is normal again. It wasn’t long ago that the sight of lawns festooned with American flags on the Fourth was a source of pride. I’ve always been embarrassingly patriotic, and all those flags were inspirational. But not so much this year.

The sharp divisions in our country, symbolized in part by the fight over confederate flags and monuments made the sight of all those stars and stripes feel like a political statement, and there seemed to be far fewer of them than in previous years. I attribute that entirely to Donald Trump’s MAGA bullshit. He single-handedly made patriotism synonymous with right-wing, gun-toting extremists, whose version of patriotism was storming the Capitol in insurrection.

The media and sponsors like Macy*s did their best. Like action filmmakers using computer imagery to enhance the performances of mere humans, they put on spectacular displays of fireworks and entertainment all over the country. It looked great, and our television hosts did everything they could to make it festive. But as I watched the spectacular pyrotechnics from New York and Washington, I couldn’t help feeling that there were millions of angry people who saw only socialist-leaning blue states putting on a Hollywood-style show.

I had the surreal feeling that I was living in two different worlds. While Washington celebrated all day long – the Nationals and Dodgers played at 11:00 am to begin a capital-wide party that lasted twelve hours – its neighbor forty miles to the northeast felt like a tomb. Baltimore, which also usually puts on a spectacular event that mimics the British bombardment of the city in 1812, canceled its celebration this year because of lingering fears of COVID and a depleted treasury without a deep pocket sponsor.

I dined at one of the best restaurants in the city amid what should have been teeming crowds. Instead of crowds, there were mostly empty streets and businesses that depend on those crowds struggling to survive. That particular tale of two cities was downright creepy, and a far more accurate portrait of America.

The Fourth brought a heartfelt warning from Dr. Anthony Fauci that we’re not out of the COVID woods yet. It was a specific reminder of 600,000 lives lost, most of which could have been averted if Trump hadn’t politicized the pandemic. It was also a stark warning that the 150 million Americans who are not yet vaccinated are very much at risk from the “delta” variant of the virus, which is far more contagious and likely deadlier than the strains we dealt with in 2020. It’s simply insane that the decision to accept a life-saving vaccine has also become a red state-blue state issue, instead of a sign of red, white, and blue solidarity. While Trump wants to claim credit for the incredible accomplishments of medical researchers who developed the vaccines, the refusal to take them which is very much a red state phenomenon is another part of his horrific legacy. Recognizing that made the noise and flashing lights of celebration seem hollow.

“America the Beautiful” means a lot to me. That’s why I purchased it as a domain name and used it to try defend America against Trumpism. When a military choir sang the song during New York’s fireworks last night, I listened to the words for the millionth time, especially, “God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” A voice inside me responded, “Not this year.” Mass shootings, thousands dead from gun violence, continued police brutality against minorities, closing our doors to refugees, right-wing militias, QAnon, Antifa, and red states attempting to curtail their citizens’ right to vote don’t sound much like brotherhood to me. So I have to ask, exactly what were we celebrating on July 4, 2021? Surely not the 245th anniversary of the codification of American values.

If that sounds too cynical and pessimistic, I apologize. I didn’t mean to rain on your parade, but reality is what it is, and burying our heads in the sand always makes things worse. I’m glad many Americans had a chance to celebrate and feel normal for a few hours, but we have a lot of work to do in this country if America the Beautiful is to be preserved. In Joe Biden, we have a president who cares, but he can’t do it alone.

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Saving Our Future

Alan Zendell, June 30, 2021

If it wasn’t obvious before last week, it should be now. Our country and the planet of which it is a small part are in trouble. The problem is more serious than petty politics, huge egos, and fossil fuel industry lobbyists. Our infrastructure and ecosystems are dying, and eight billion humans will likely die with them if we don’t act. There’s still time to fix what’s broken and reverse the processes of decay and degradation that cause highways to crumble, bridges to collapse, and buildings to lose their integrity, and we can still offset many of the effects of climate change, but time is running out.

We’ve been ignoring wake-up calls and warnings far too long. I was shocked to realize that it’s been ten years since the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minnesota collapsed. That’s ten years in which highways, bridges, and tunnels all over the country continued to deteriorate while Congress demonstrated its impotence in dealing with real problems. What should have been an urgent national 911 call has been largely ignored, the issues kicked down the road.

NPR reported that like the recent building collapse in South Florida, “the interstate highway bridge had been classified as structurally deficient, meaning that it was aging and in need of repair … and the bridge was also rated as fracture critical, meaning the failure of just one vital component could cause the whole bridge to collapse.” Subsequent engineering studies showed similar results for thousands of critical structures around the country. Yet, we are still watching the spectacle of Republicans caring more about stifling a Biden presidency and upsetting a megalomaniacal former president who still thinks he’s running things than acting to fix them.

The infrastructure bill also recognizes that almost ten percent of our population doesn’t have internet access. That’s not only about not being connected to social media or playing online games – it’s about not being able to participate in e-commerce and having access to sources of mind-broadening information that aren’t available any other way. We laugh at scenes of crowds of people scrolling through websites on their phones, but for people who can’t, the inability to do so isn’t a laughing matter.

The compromise infrastructure bill is a positive development, but it ignores a number of critical public health emergencies: tens of millions of Americans without health care, half the population still not vaccinated against COVID, and the ever-worsening impact of climate change. These things affect the long-term survival of our economy, our ability to feed our people, and how future generations will live with droughts, wildfires, excessive heat, and rising sea levels and water tables. Hundreds of people have died during the current heat wave, and that number could soar into the millions during our lifetimes if we do not act now.

Forty years ago, people living in the Pacific Northwest (western Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia) rarely saw summer temperatures above the mid-eighties. Most people lived in unair-conditioned homes and drove unair-conditioned cars. Even places like San Diego rarely experienced temperatures that high, except for a couple of weeks each summer when the Santa Ana winds blew desert air back through the mountains passes of the Sierra. All that changed in just a few decades.

The entire west coast of North America has seen temperatures rise steadily, drought conditions worsen, reservoirs dry up, and millions of acres of forest lost to wildfires. The last few days have seen temperatures in the northwest that were inconceivable when I raised my family there. 115 degrees in Portland, 109 in Seattle, and 120 in Linton, BC, temperatures that used to be typical only of the Mojave Desert. Even Las Vegas has never recorded a temperature of 120 degrees.

This is neither a joke nor a temporary phenomenon. It’s a reflection of a constantly evolving jet stream reacting to consistently rising levels of heat in our atmosphere. It’s going to get worse, and the rate at which things worsen will likely accelerate. This is about survival. Humans cannot live in 120-degree heat. Yet, more than a dozen states, the latest being Florida, recently passed legislation to support the fossil fuel industry at the cost of retarding conversion to renewable sources of energy.

That’s why it’s essential not only that the Congress pass its watered-down infrastructure bill, but that Democrats force through a reconciliation package that finally implements a plan to remediate the effects of climate change. If we don’t, future generations, assuming they are still around to look back on our foolishness, will marvel at how we could have engaged in decades of slow-motion societal suicide.

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Living in Interesting Times

Alan Zendell, June 29, 2021

The phrase, “We live in interesting times” is an ironic warning about coming uncertainty and jeopardy. Whether or not it was originally a Chinese curse, the implication is that war and chaos are a lot more interesting than peace and tranquility. That’s true if you’re the producer of an action film, but for the rest of us, a year or two of boring calm might be just what we need.

What makes the current time “interesting” is the lingering influence of Donald Trump, which is having a paralyzing effect on our government’s ability to move the country forward. If you think of the double whammy of COVID and the Trump presidency as a crippling injury on a national scale, we are presently living through the physical rehabilitation stage of recovery. It’s painful and long, and we hate it, but it’s the reality we have to live with.

Most Americans want an end to the constant airing of personal grievances, the spewing of lies, and the legal loose ends of trying to overthrow a legitimate election and stage an insurrection. A lot of anger remains on all sides, and having to wait months for resolution is widening the divides Trump exacerbated throughout our country. Our legal system moves ponderously, and the gathering of evidence takes time, but those are two things distinguish a democracy from an autocracy.

Trump recently embarked on his “Save America Tour,” which most observers more accurately labeled his “Revenge Tour.” A few thousand people, mostly hard-core supporters who came from far away, showed up for his Ohio rally last Saturday, but it was nothing like his earlier rallies. Time was he could rent an arena and fill it with locals, drawing four to five times as many people. On Saturday, the attendees stood in a fairground outside of Cleveland.

People interviewed before the rally sounded angry and ignorant, their attitude saying, “Don’t annoy us with facts. We have our own truth.” That’s the kind of thing we hear from people who have harbored decades-long grievances based on lies right-wing hate radio has indoctrinated them with for thirty years. It’s mindless anger based on greed, envy, bigotry, and skillful manipulation by political opportunists. Angry people have always been around, but Trump gave them a voice and promised to remedy their grievances.

What Ohio showed more than anything was that Trump’s hard-core base can still make noise, but it is a shrunken shell of what it once was. Many in the crowd got bored and left before the rally ended. Do you think that was because hearing about Trump’s personal grudges again with no evidence of any policies that address the crowd’s real problems had grown tiresome? Were the people who left early saying, “We’ve had enough of this crap?”

Fear of Trump’s base is what paralyzed Republicans in Congress. It’s what enabled Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell to hold their caucuses together during Joe Biden’s first five months in office. McConnell based his strategy on the assumption that Trump could cause so much trouble within his party, they would have no chance of winning a majority in either chamber in 2022. But if I can see Trump’s influence waning, surely Republicans in the House and Senate can too.

The recent bipartisan compromise in the Senate on the president’s infrastructure proposal was a rebuke to both Trump and McConnell. Most Republican Senators would prefer that Trump disappear so Congress can try to get back to doing its business. The final shape of the infrastructure bill will speak volumes about how much influence he still has. He’ll never back down voluntarily, and some of his supporters predicted more violence to come as some form of endgame emerges.

I remain optimistic that the country will heal from Trump. In 1966, in the midst of our military buildup in Vietnam and the fight over civil rights and women’s right to choose, Senator Robert Kennedy said, “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” In that, he may have been echoing Charles Dickens a couple of centuries earlier: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

I believe the worst of times brings out the best in us. The dark times are ending, and there is reason to hope. If Dickens had known about climate change, he might have said the summer of despair, but that would be quibbling.

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Trump’s Sinkng Ship

Alan Zendell, June 28, 2021

Remember Bill Barr, Donald Trump’s last Attorney General? Remember his smug, arrogant smirk, and how he could sound demeaning and sarcastic without uttering a word? Barr loved the power, reveling in the unfettered opportunity to settle old scores, as long as they fit into Trump’s agenda. Remember how, after the election, at Trump’s behest, he used Justice Department Resources to launch an investigation to support Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen because of massive election fraud?

From the day he was appointed Attorney General, Barr gave every appearance of being another Trump lapdog, although it didn’t seem to make much sense in his case. Clearly nearing the end of his political career, (he’s seventy-one,) he was already respected in conservative circles – he didn’t need that job, but he clearly wanted and lobbied for it.

When Trump appointed him, it was widely reported that Barr was very critical of the attempts to impeach Richard Nixon and force him to resign his presidency. He had opined that Nixon had been railroaded and shouldn’t have caved in to pressure – an interesting view of a president who essentially admitted to committing a felony in office. Trump had always wanted to use the DOJ as his own personal legal attack dog, and Barr appeared to be willing to make that happen, especially when he issued a distorted summary of the findings of the Mueller investigation that made Trump look completely exonerated, when in fact, Mueller had cited a dozen instances when Trump’s actions looked prosecutable.

There’s one important difference between Trump and Barr. Trump spent most of his adult life behaving like a raging bull, ignoring laws and rules that didn’t suit him, knowing his highly paid lawyers could usually intimidate his enemies, and when they couldn’t, the worst consequence he would face would be a fine and a slap on the wrists. In the world of business, you have to be Bernie Madoff to wind up in prison.

Barr, on the other hand, understands government, something Trump never cared enough about to learn. Barr understands that there are serious consequences for malfeasance or criminal behavior while serving in office, and unlike his sociopathic boss, there were lines he knew he couldn’t cross. Thus, while Trump was screaming about fraud and a stolen election last November, Barr was putting the final touches on his version of an investigation that found no indication of fraud that might have influenced the outcome of the election. And on December 1, 2020, Barr told that to an Associated Press reporter who published it the same day.

This week, Jonathan Karl published the results of his interviews with Barr and Mitch McConnell in the Atlantic. Karl says McConnell had been pressuring Barr to go public since right after the election. McConnell himself refused to speak out because, he claims, Trump would have gone ballistic and sabotaged the two Senate runoffs elections in Georgia, which he did anyway. You’d think politicians as experienced as McConnell and Barr would have understood the danger of having a tiger by the tail.

That pretty much sums up how Trump has been able to control the Republican party for six years. Having a tiger by the tail is problematic because if the tiger turns on you, you’re dead. And this particular tiger had publicly turned on enough people, particularly Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, that Barr and McConnell had no illusions about who and what they were dealing with. Most Republican politicians had shown themselves to be craven cowards since Trump came on the scene, which made it especially difficult for McConnell to speak out publicly.

Is it a coincidence that the Atlantic article appeared just as the New York District Attorney’s office announced that they are about to indict the Trump organization on charges of tax fraud? Do you find it surprising that Barr now claims he only began the DOJ investigation into election fraud because he knew he’d have to respond to Trump’s lies one day? Ah, the joy of revisionist history. It’s truly amazing how courageous rats become when it’s clear the ship is taking on water with no salvation in sight. Trump hasn’t completely lost his shrinking base, and he probably won’t, but his media presence now centers around a television network (AON) fully invested in crazy conspiracy theories. His attempt to re-establish himself on social networks turned into a lead balloon, and his revenge tour rallies aren’t attracting crowds the way they used to.

Barr is one of the chief rats in this scenario. When he decided to publicly reveal that he had jumped ship, it was a sign that it will all be going down soon.

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