Category: Social Commentary

The Train Wreck Around the Bend

The Train Wreck Around the Bend

On July 31, 1909, the Milwaukee Road’s westbound Overland Limited went off the tracks and wrecked at Cambridge, Iowa. I’m inclined to see this as an allegory for what lies around the bend for the Democratic Party if things continue to shape up as they are.

It’s not just me saying this. The predictions are coming from both sides of the political aisle, with observers ranging from long-time Dem strategist James Carville to a ménage of commentators on the liberal cable networks, to none other than Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh on the right, echoing similar views.

I’m scared to death,” Carville ranted on MSNBC following the Iowa Democratic caucuses, something of a train wreck of their own. In a subsequent interview, Carville went on to say, “I don’t know. We just had an election in 2018. We did great. We talked about everything we needed to talk about, and we won. And now it’s like we’re losing our damn minds. Someone’s got to step their game up here.”

What has Carville and others so petrified is the rise of Socialist Bernie Sanders as a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nominee to challenge President Donald Trump in November, and the overall lurch of the party – and seemingly all couple dozen of its presidential wannabes – toward the far left.

We have candidates on the debate stage talking about open borders and decriminalizing illegal immigration. They’re talking about doing away with nuclear energy and fracking. You’ve got Bernie Sanders talking about letting criminals and terrorists vote from jail cells. It doesn’t matter what you think about any of that, or if there are good arguments — talking about that is not how you win a national election. It’s not how you become a majoritarian party.”

Right. Think about it. Plan to do it. Just don’t talk about it. You’d be excused for thinking that’s how politicians usually run their games. But that’s not the only cow, maybe not even the biggest one, lying across the tracks. It’s the ascendancy of the far left of the party, represented by Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her left-wing corterie, known as The Squad, in Congress. And it’s the failure of the Democratic establishment’s self-styled savior, former Vice President Joe Biden, to light anything other than a small and flickering flame among Dem voters. More than the chickens coming home to roost, it’s the cows that are coming home to ruminate, right across the tracks.

Old Bernie, backed with a good chunk of the younger vote and others with a weak grasp on the meaning of Socialism or Bernie’s questionable past, eked out a 26.2% of delegate equivalents versus Pete Buttigieg’s 26.13% in the Iowa caucuses (if you can believe the results). And in New Hampshire he came out with 25.8% of the vote versus Mayor Pete’s 24.5%. Not exactly a rousing victory, especially since in 2016 he came away with 60.4% versus Hillary Clinton’s 38% (admittedly in a less crowded primary field). Meanwhile Trump, in the little-heralded Republican primary in New Hampshire, came away with more votes, by far, than any candidate of either party in the history of the state, even doubling the number generated by former President Ronald Reagan when New Hampshire was a far more conservative state than it is today.

The real story of both Iowa and New Hampshire has less to do with Bernie’s numbers as with the crashing and burning of two other candidates, previously considered “front runners” in the contest. In Iowa, both Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden sank respectively to third and fourth place, with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar hot on their heels. And then in New Hampshire Klobuchar jumped to third place, with 19.9% of the vote, exceeding the combined totals of Warren (from the neighboring state of Massachusetts, from which many New Hampshire residents have relocated) and Biden. Biden didn’t even wait around for the results before bailing on the Granite State and his supporters there and heading off to the Palmetto State, South Carolina, which he has called his “fire wall.” Underscoring Biden’s fall from grace, Sanders’ New Hampshire showing was enough to push him within just a day to the top of the polls nationwide, displacing Biden, the previous choice of the Dem establishment.

Are you beginning to see why this situation could be shaping up as a train wreck for the Democratic Party?

Shades of 1968

Police in Lincoln Park, Chicago
Sihouetted view of a group of police officers as they advance through clouds of tear gas in Lincoln Park in an effort to remove protestors during the Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Illinois, late August 1968. (Photo by Art Shay/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images); used under Fair Use.

To be clear, let me say that, for a number of reasons, I don’t see what happens in June at the Democratic convention in Milwaukee likely to be equivalent to what happened in August 1968 at the Democratic convention in Chicago. Well, probably not quite. The country isn’t as worked into as much of a frenzy over the political divide as it was over the Vietnam War going full bore at that time. And probably more people, especially young people, have other things to concern themselves with today than they did in 1968. But it doesn’t mean that something along those lines might not lie ahead for the party.

Looking at the lay of the land going into the Nevada caususes, the South Carolina primary, and then Super Tuesday on March 3, when 16 states and terrirories hold their primaries, caucuses, and conventions, we have Bernie on the left and set to pick up most of the support on that side of the political spectrum. That’s even more likely given the lack of a viable way forward for Warren. Among the more ” centrist” (though not really) candidates, we have Buttigieg, the mayor of a small city in Indiana and a gay man also seen as beholden to Wall Street; Klobuchar, a lesser known senator from Minnesota with a history of abusing her staff; and Biden, an aging former Vice President who has a hard time putting two sentences together, who thinks it’s okay to refer to voters in terms of a 1952 movie on the Canadian Mounties, and whose credibility and integrity has been cast into serious doubt as a result of the Dems’ ill-fated impeachment fiasco targeting Donald Trump. Oh, and then we have another billionaire besides the President, former New York City Mayor (and ex-Republican) Mike “Stop and Frisk” Bloomberg, who thinks he can buy his way into the nomination by pumping hundreds of millions of his own funds into the race. Speak of a field of poor choices. Now are you starting to see more of the problem?

Through the use of super delegates, the Dem establishment stole the nomination away from Sanders in 2016. Will they do it again this year? If you think the party poobahs in Washington and on Wall Street and out in the bastions of Dem power across the land (such as they are) aren’t thinking about it, I have a railroad to sell you. They have seen the writing on the wall about the virtually inevitable demise of Joe Biden. And so, seeking another alternative, they’ve already bent the rules to let Bloomberg onto the debate stage, even though he doesn’t have one actual donor other than himself, donor numbers being one of the previous standards for deciding who gets on the stage and who doesn’t. But any port in a storm, and somehow these people (who have had nothing good to say about the 2010 Citizens United decision) apparently think pitting one billionaire against another is a good idea and good for America. Or maybe it’s just good for them? Am I being too cynical here?

Let’s say the Dem establishment manages to once more steal the nomination away from Bernie. What then? Undoubtedly a significant number of his supporters will either stay home on Nov, 3, or they’ll vote for Trump, just as they did in 2016. But some of his supporters are talking about a third option.

As stated by Kyle Jurek, Sanders Field Organizer in Iowa, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination or it goes to a second round at the DNC Convention. Fucking Milwaukee will burn. The billionaire class. The fucking media, pundits. Walk into that MSNBC studios, drag those motherfuckers out by their hair and light them on fire in the streets.”

This inflammatory rhetoric, videotaped and presented online by Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, must have touched a nerve somewhere out amid Sanders’ supporters. The Washington Post incorrectly reported that Jurek was a mere volunteer, not a paid staffer, and when O’Keede challenged that report as false Twitter blocked his account. Lest you think Jurek is an outlyer, remember that it was largely Sanders supporters who, in true Brown Shirt form, turned out en masse on the streets of Chicago on March 11, 2016, to force Trump to cancel a rally he had planned there that night. Do you remember that scene of political obsctruction by mob? I do.

I also remember, if vaguely, the events of August 1968. If you don’t remember them or were too young to have lived through them, you really should update yourself. If nothing else, you’ll learn there are precedents for today’s political divide, and the divide within the Democratic Party, and you might learn something about the power of the disenfranchised (self-styled or real) to disrupt and make their presence known. [Disclaimer: Following a little 1972 imbroglio with the Rutgers University Campus Police on the Rutgers-Newark campus, I was successfully represented by one Stu Ball, who had been part of the Chicago Seven defense team. Life’s little claims to fame.] One way or another, the chances for a schism within the party is almost fore-ordained. Whether it will lead to the kinds of dramatic events that gripped Chicago in 1968 remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, amid the current churn on the Democratic side, the President is at the highest levels of his popularity since taking office and has every reason to be optimistic about his reelection chances, regardless who the Dems wind up putting up against him.

Who put this cow on the tracks?

While it might take a village to raise a child, it took Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her band of unruly House Dems to help set up the crisis of identity facing the Democratic Party and the chess board likely to lead to the reelection of the President. As I’ve called it in a previous posting, the Dems’ unremitting rage against Trump and their repeated unsuccessful attempts to unseat him and undo the results of the 2016 election is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Cow on the tracks
Cow on the tracks, The Jack Finn Collection; used under Fair Use.

What the ill-fated impeachment did, besides bolstering Trump’s support, was put a spotlight on the possible corruption of Joe Biden and his son Hunter in Hunter’s business affairs in Ukraine and China. In the process, Pelosi managed to take the shine off her party establishment’s front runner and throw the whole process into even more disarray than it already was. All of Pelosi’s antics, like tearing up the President’s State of the Union address – seen by many as tasteless and lacking in decorum – can’t stop the impending train wreck she may have engineered.

After what will seem like an eternity of sound-alike debates, charges and counter-charges, and jockeying (or pony soldiering, if you’re Joe Biden) for position among the candidates, June is likely to roll around in, say, a mere four months, and then we’ll all get to see if the Dem train stays on the rails or runs off into a ravine. If nothing else, it should be entertaining to watch.

Featured image: Cambridge, Iowa, train wreck, unknown, presumed public domain.

 

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

 

The Holidays are past and the presents opened and put away (or returned), the wrapping paper disposed of, and New Year’s resolutions forgotten. But there is one gift that keeps on giving.

If you’re one of the 15 people in the nation watching the impeachment show going on in the Senate, and you still have any brain cells remaining, you probably recognize what gift I’m talking about.

Whichever side of the impeachment issue you come down on, you can see the show taking up time and space in the Senate for two weeks now as a gift. If you think Trump is the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin (not content to compare the President to their likes, now Dem apparatchiks are comparing a key member of his defense team to them on national television this week), you’re hearing all your conspiracy theories given voice by the House Impeachment Managers. And to you, that is a gift. On the other hand, if you see through the glaring holes in the Dems’ impeachment case, holes ably presented by the Defense team, you see the President’s rising approval ratings and improving chances in the upcoming election, and can only rejoice in this post-holiday gift being handed him.

Maybe the only people who don’t see the impeachment trial as a gift are the Democratic senators running for President – Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar – who have to keep to their seats in the Senate chamber instead of roaming the snowy fields of Iowa in pursuit of votes in the Iowa caucuses, set for Monday night.

I’ve written in this space before about how the Dems have taken swing after swing at the President, and how each one was a miss. The impeachment show is their latest swing, but one preordained from the outset to fail. The chances of getting 67 senators to vote to remove the President is about as likely as the earth reversing its rotation. It seems the hapless Dems can’t win for losing, and yet they refuse to take the out and retire to the bench. The power of hatred (or political avarice, if you want to be kind about it) runs deep.

If you have any doubt that the Dems want to carry this charade on as long as possible, you just have to consider their persistent call for additional witnesses in the Senate trial. Just as they tried to do in the Kavanagh confirmation hearings, they’d like to drag in anyone that might have anything negative to say about Trump – the leading figure being former National Security Adviser John Bolton, previously the butt of their disdain – while trying to block anyone who might shed any light on the political underpinnings of the impeachment or the possible corruption of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Never mind that they had every opportunity to call Bolton or whatever witnesses they wanted in their investigation in the House and effectively blocked every witness the Republicans wanted to call. Or, as the Defense team pointed out, the House Managers played video clips in the Senate trial of no fewer than 17 witnesses giving testimony in the House inquiry and presented more than 28,000 pages of documents, and to argue for more witnesses at this stage of the game was essentially reopening the investigation.

What Happens Now?

Whether the show goes on for another day or two or stretches out into weeks will largely depend on the vote of a few wobbly Republican senators who might vote in favor of motions brought by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Last week Schumer tried to gum up the works by introducing a boatload of amendments to Senate impeachment rules at the outset of the trial, and every one of the motions was rejected along solid party-line votes, 53-47 (with just one Republican senator crossing the line on only one amendment). If that happens again on Friday, it’s likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will move for a quick vote on acquittal and this whole production could be over in time for the Super Bowl on Sunday.

It’s a fool’s errand to predict what some individual senators will decide, but here is my tentative prediction: Motions to call witnesses will fail, the acquittal vote will be held, either Friday night or on Saturday, and the President will be acquitted, with all but one or two Republicans, and even two or three Democrats crossing the aisle, voting for acquittal. Falling far short of the 67 votes needed to remove the President from office, the impeachment will be over. And then the country can get back to normal business. Right?

Wrong. The nation’s business is the last thing the Dems are interested in pursuing, despite their high rhetoric. As it is, the President scored two huge policy victories while the impeachment show was underway – the new USMCA North American trade pact replacing NAFTA and the first-stage trade deal with China – but if you blinked, you might have missed news of those. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even did her shameless best to steal the stage on the USMCA, trying to claim it as her own after sitting on the bill, which wouldn’t even have existed were it not for Trump’s initiative, for months.

No, regardless acquittal of the President, the Dems won’t let the nation’s business get in the way of their hatred for Trump. They, with their media lackeys, will continue to paint the President as the Devil Incarnate. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try another impeachment attempt when this one fails in their unbounded effort to steal the 2020 elections. It really isn’t any wonder that Congress’s job-approval rating languishes in percentages in the lower 20s and high teens.

But there’s that gift that keeps on giving. Amid all the sturm und drang, Gallup polling shows Americans the most confident about the economy that they’ve been in 20 years, and other key indicators, such as record low unemployment, historically record low black and Hispanic unemployment, growing real income, and dropping opiod deaths, are all positive for the President. As the Democratic Party appears more in disarray by the day, with the party establishment doing what it can to once more keep Bernie Sanders from getting the nomination, as it did in 2016, and fractures between the more radically Leftist wing of the party and the so-called moderate faction widening, Trump has to be encouraged by all this.

The wrapping paper might be put away, but that gift the Dems have given him just keeps on giving.

[Update February 1, 2020: The first part of my prediction came to pass on Friday, January 31, when the Senate voted 51-49 not to call for witnesses. The vote was on a strictly party-line basis, with the exception of senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine who crossed the aisle to vote with the Dems. The second part of my prediction, that the vote to acquit the President would be held Friday night or on Saturday, was close, but no cigar. The House Managers and the White House Defense will make final arguments on Monday, and a number of senators also want to bloviate about reasons for their vote, one way or another, so the final vote on acquittal and the end of the impeachment trial has been set for Wednesday, February 5. Meanwhile, the President will give the State of the Union address Tuesday evening. Should make for interesting viewing to see interaction between the President and those who would remove him from office.]

Photo credit: Nick Fewings / Unsplash, used with permission.

Redux: The Hurricane Next Time

Redux: The Hurricane Next Time

I originally posted the piece that appears below on Sept. 21, 2017, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. There have been more hurricanes since, most notably in this part of the world Hurricane Michael, which destroyed a good part of the Florida Panhandle last year, and now Hurricane Dorian, which devastated the Bahamas in the past week. What I said in 2017 still applies today: There will always be another storm, and such storms create winners and losers — mostly losers.

With Dorian, Florida was mostly a winner, while the Bahamas, not far offshore, took the brunt of the storm. When a Category 5 storm not just hits but sits for a couple days right over your location there isn’t going to be much left. And that is the case with the Bahamas. It will be days, weeks, maybe even months before the full damage done and casualties sustained are tallied. In the coming days I hope to post some legitimate ways in which people can provide assistance to the people of the Bahamas. Watch this space.

In the original piece I laid out a plan that could enable this country, and possibly others in the paths of these devastating storms, to be better prepared for them and more able to deal with their aftermath. To my knowledge, in the intervening two years, nothing along the lines of what I proposed or any other effective comprehensive preparation or recovery plan has been implemented. While lessons continue to be learned — Florida’s response under its new governor, Ron DeSantis was even more orderly and effectively implemented than the response to Irma described in the original piece — and our ability to track and, more importantly, predict great storms continues to grow, we’re still dealing with a very imprecise science and art in facing some of the earth’s greatest challenges.

Perhaps most discouraging, virtually none of the steps I and others proposed for protecting the most vulnerable — the infirm and the elderly — in storms have actually been implemented, other than some on paper. Meanwhile, 12 of the 14 deaths my initial piece mentioned in the nursing home in Hollywood, Fla., have been ruled homicides and three nurses and a facility administrator have been charged with manslaughter. But their attorneys say they are being scapegoated for the failures of local and state officials, including then-Gov. RIck Scott, in failing to respond to calls for help. One also wonders why the owners of that nursing home have not been charged for their negligence in not properly equipping the facility or having an effective EAP in place.

“The decision to charge these people is completely outrageous,” Lawrence Hashish, an attorney for one of the charged nurses, told USA TODAY. “They are scapegoats, low-hanging fruit for the Hollywood police.”

There is plenty of blame to go around for things done wrong after many of these storms. One doesn’t have to expect perfection, which is a remote possibility in any event, to look and push for improvement, action on lessons learned, an upward learning curve. Doing things the same way over the years, in storm after storm, and expecting different results is the stereotyped definition of insanity. So I once more posit my proposals, which I think have merit and could be of use in that next storm, or the ones after it. Your thoughts are welcomed. Here is what I said in 2017:

  *     *    *

Another week, another hurricane. There was Harvey. And then Irma. Jose is heading north. Maria has worked its devastation. Hurricane Season being what it is, the storms line up across the Atlantic and the Pacific. Whatever the next time is, there will be a next time. And another hurricane.

I’m back aboard my boat after evacuating to Destin in the Florida Panhandle to get out of the way of Irma. Part of my excuse for the delay in posting to this blog. Irma, it turned out, was accommodating and jogged northeast just before it hit the Tampa Bay area. Good news for me and my neighbors. Bad news, very bad news, for people in the interior of the state and further to the northeast. Storms create winners, and losers. Mostly losers.

Ask the people of Houston and elsewhere in Southeast Texas. Ask the people of the Florida Keys, or Southwest Florida, and lots of other places in the state. Ask the people of Barbuda and St. Thomas, of Sint Maarten and Saint-Martin and Puerto Rico. And before them, ask the people of the Philippines, of Mississippi and Louisiana, of Mexico and Honduras and South Carolina and New Jersey and even New Hampshire and numerous other places.

Hurricanes aren’t picky and they don’t discriminate. They’re equal opportunity destroyers and, given enough time, they spread their devastation around. Of course, the planet would have worse problems were it not for the big storms that redistribute the earth’s heat energy, but try telling that to someone who can’t get out of their house without a boat, or no longer has a house at all, or who has no water, food, or electricity. Or lost a loved one. It’s a tough sell.

I’ve been around hurricanes almost my whole life, in their projected path several times but, if you ignore passing through two of them during one sea transit of the North Atlantic as a kid, I’ve never been in the middle of one. I guess that’s my hurricane karma. But I’ve seen the aftermath of them, spent weeks that turned into months that turned into years living with the after effects of Katrina, and I’ve had a chance to observe both close-up and at a distance the preparations for their arrival and dealing with what they leave behind.

It’s those two elements – advance preparations and dealing with hurricane aftermaths – that I want to focus on here. Some of what I have to say is based on observation of those two things in several storms, and some is based on a plan I developed while living with the protracted recovery from Katrina.

Based on the events of recent weeks, at least in the U.S., I think some lessons have been learned. Some are partly learned. But we still have a continuing learning curve to go up and more work to be done.

The debacle that was the overland evacuation in Texas from the approach of Hurricane Rita in 2005 taught us some things about evacuations. Rita, the Atlantic’s fourth most intense hurricane ever recorded, the most intense storm ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico, and coming just three week’s after Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught, prompted fears the storm would devastate the Texas Coast. This led to an uncoordinated series of evacuations that poured between 2.5 million and 3.7 million people onto the state’s highways, leading to total gridlock. While the concept of contraflow, to reverse all inbound lanes on the Interstates to outbound, was already known, the order to implement it came too late and it took more than eight hours to make the change-over. Of the seven people in the U.S. who died directly as a result of Rita, only one was in Texas. But an estimated 113 people died in the botched Texas evacuation, including 23 nursing home residents who were killed when the charter bus they were on caught fire on the Interstate.

In advance of Hurricane Harvey this year, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner decided not to issue any evacuation order for the city. Not mandatory, not voluntary. Turner, looking back at Rita, reasoned that you can’t put 6.5 million people on the highways without creating mayhem. But virtually the entire city wound up inundated, with many left homeless, or stranded in flood-damaged houses from record rainfall. Some were electrocuted when, for reasons that are not apparent, the power was not cut off as a precaution as is normally done. It seemed the city was far from prepared for the storm to come.

As for evacuations, the answer, of course, is not to evacuate an entire city the size of Houston, the nation’s fourth largest, but to evacuate the most vulnerable areas. To provide local shelters. To move some people in buses and not everyone in private vehicles. And to do the necessary to avoid ancillary deaths, to the extent possible. It wasn’t a mystery that Houston was going to be pummeled with massive rainfall. The path and potential of the storm was known, as was Houston’s topography and propensity to flood. And yet, there was no evacuation order.

Contrast that response with the response of Florida Gov. Rick Scott and state, county, and local officials in Florida. With Irma on its way and a high likelihood it would hit the state in some place or other, Scott went on what was almost a personal campaign to get people to evacuate the most vulnerable areas, and made it as easy as possible for them to do so. Tolls were removed from the state’s toll roads – they are about to be reinstated at this writing – hotels were ordered to accept pets, the Florida National Guard was partially mobilized, and state troopers were used to escort fuel trucks.

The first priority was evacuating the Florida Keys, which are tethered at the bottom of the state by 90 miles of the Overseas Highway, the sole land access to the Keys. Other areas deemed most vulnerable, the low areas of Southeast and Southwest Florida, were the next priority. And then other vulnerable areas came after that. Scott’s campaign launched a week before Irma’s arrival, and kept up throughout the storm and in its aftermath, and continues even well after the storm. Florida’s evacuation was not perfect – there were serious fuel outages, long delays at times on the state’s Interstates and other highways, and Irma’s vagaries wound up unexpectedly sparing some areas while hitting others, hard – but overall it went pretty well, given the enormous number of people affected.

Not everyone followed the evac. orders, and authorities said they would not arrest anyone for not complying. While a major reason for an evacuation is so first responders don’t have to risk their lives searching for stragglers in trouble, authorities also said that after a certain point no one should count on a rescue. Whatever the factors involved – in part, at least, the euphoria and excessive confidence that pervades many Keys residents – those who stayed behind in the islands came to find out the devastation a Category 4 hurricane can bring. It’s not yet known what the death toll is in the state as teams go through the destroyed housing of the Keys looking for survivors and casualties.

Of the points where preparations for the storm failed, perhaps the most telling and disturbing was the lack of back-up plans, power, and action by some nursing homes, both in Texas and Florida. The incident that has gotten the most attention was a nursing home in Hollywood, Fla., where so far 14 elderly residents have died. With a hospital just across the street, it’s hard not to assign negligence to the managers and owners of this facility. The state has opened an investigation and alleged criminal negligence, but meanwhile the horse – 14 of them so far – has left the proverbial barn and can’t be brought back.

A spokesperson for the nursing home association said that nursing homes are not required to have generators, only a back-up power supply. Whatever the hell that means. From my perspective, based on what happened in these and other storms and the personal experience of my own mother when she was alive, there is entirely too little oversight of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. This paucity of oversight applies in other times, too, not just when there are storms. But certainly things need to be beefed-up to deal with natural disasters. Every nursing home and assisted-living facility should be required to have an emergency action plan (EAP), which should be reviewed by regulators, and also to conduct drills practicing the EAP, to the extent practical. There also has to be more attention paid to those “back-up power supplies” and sufficient generation capability should be required to not just keep the lights on, but also run the air conditioning in hot areas and heat in cold ones.

As I mentioned, I lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast through most of the recovery from Katrina. The very slow pace of recovery in both Mississippi and Louisiana was a source of frequent frustration to me, but it was a true bane to those who had to suffer through it. In some cases, people have never recovered. Burdened with too much bureaucracy and red tape and some truly bone-headed decisions, FEMA proved to be largely inefficient and, for many, ineffective in its response. In the end, someone calculated that for all the money spent on FEMA and other agency responses, the government could have built a new house and put two new cars in the driveway for each affected family. That is a scandal of the first order.

What I have seen, and experience has borne out, is that a multi-pronged approach is needed to respond to any natural disaster of this magnitude. In the plan I previously developed, this approach would be more forward looking than backward looking. At the head of the effort would be a disaster council combining federal government agencies, non-profit relief organizations, faith-based groups (which often provide a major portion of recovery efforts), and the profit sector. All these groups have a stake, and a contribution to make, both in preparing for natural disasters and in recovery. And this applies not just to hurricanes, but to other natural disasters, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, and major fires.

Similar councils should be established at the state level in the most affected states, with coordination between the state and national councils. And under my plan, Congress and state governments should consider establishing a disaster fund into which both public and private funds would be deposited in advance of disasters, not leaving things to allocations after the fact, which often come too late to deal with the worst immediate effects of a major storm or other disaster. This approach makes the response both prospective – looking ahead to future disasters – and retrospective – looking back in the aftermath of those that have already occurred. The cost will be there in any event, but by having funds already allocated they can be assigned quicker and will offer the most and most efficient benefit to those affected.

We tend to avoid thinking about what might happen tomorrow, even less about paying for it. But just as our learning curve in preparation and recovery has continued to go up with each major storm, I see this as a logical next step in our approach to dealing with hurricanes and other natural disasters, which are not just going to go away.

The Hunger Games on Our Southern Border

The Hunger Games on Our Southern Border

If you haven’t read the novel The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, or the other books in the trilogy – Catching Fire and Mockingjay – you should. Alternatively, you can watch the films by the same names (there are four, Mockingjay being broken up into two separate films), or do both. I say this not to promote sales of the books or the films (not that I would object to that since they’re all worth reading and viewing) but rather because you’re likely to gain greater understanding of what has been going on for months on our Southern Border, furthered by the anti-Trump-at-all-costs agenda of Democrats in Congress.

To encapsulate the story line for readers of this piece not familiar with it, the books are set in a notional post-Apocolytic country of the future, Panem, that occupies North America. It is ruled by a wealthy political class in the Capitol (sic), the capital city located somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The technologically advanced Capitol rules over twelve impoverished districts (formerly thirteen until one was obliterated) with an iron fist. As punishment for a past failed uprising against the Capitol, every year each district must pick, by lottery, two of its residents, a boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, and send them to a pageant at the Capitol. The key element of this pageant, the Hunger Games, features a fight to the death between the youthful participants, called tributes, televised to all the residents of Panem. In the end, there can be only one tribute who emerges victorious, the other 23 left dead in the treacherous arena in which the games are played. The protagonist and narrator in the series is the girl tribute of District 12, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (played in the films by actress Jennifer Lawrence).

Without giving away more plot points, the analogy I am painting is this: In this country, as in Panem, we have a privileged political class with the power to rule benevolently or malevolently, to pass laws, to fund programs, to create and change processes, and to create, or not, an environment of civility of benefit, or not, to its residents. And this political class, like the residents of the Capitol, is content to watch the suffering and death going on at our Southern Border, to use this suffering and death for its own political purposes, to point fingers and engage in grandstanding of the most shameless variety, to dither and lie and shirk its duties, all magnified by the megaphone provided by the sycophantic mainstream media, rather than do anything concrete to resolve the drama playing out daily along the border with Mexico.

To be clear, and as I’ve said before: Both major political parties are complicit in this travesty. While I believe the Democratic Party is far more responsible for the current Hunger Games than their Republican counterparts – and I’ll explain why I believe that in a moment — both parties have had chances over recent decades to solve the problems of our decrepit and ineffectual immigration system, and neither has seen fit to do so. At various times one party or the other, when it controlled both houses of Congress as well as the White House, could have done the necessary to keep from happening what now is happening. Instead of a relic of the distant past, we could have a modern and effective immigration system, comparable to other countries, like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and even the UK. But as I’ve said repeatedly over the years, the Democrats don’t want to fix things because they want cheap votes, and the Republicans (though, to their credit, some have changed their positions in more recent years) don’t want to fix things because they want cheap labor. And both have the suffering and deaths, whether of the immigrants at the border or of American citizens and legal residents bearing the brunt of the effects of our broken immigration system, on their heads and the blood on their hands.

Now to lay out why the Democrats are mainly responsible for the current border Hunger Games and how they have used them for their political purposes, at the high human cost of those participating in them. What we have seen is not just a significant increase in illegal crossings of the Southern Border, but a major increase in unaccompanied minors and family units, including minors, crossing the border illegally or seeking asylum at border crossings. While overall numbers are beginning to rival the peaks of apprehensions seen in 2000 and 1986, the change in the makeup of border crossers is putting a major strain on the resources and capabilities of the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to care for the children and teenagers increasingly in its custody. And instead of rising to the occasion of discouraging this flow on unaccompanied minors and families, or at minimum providing the resources needed to cope with it, the Democrats have preferred to disingenuously declare there was no crisis at the border and to accuse the President and the federal agencies charged with dealing with the flood of humanity coming at them of fabricating a crisis.

To quote but a few, in January House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis.” This was added to by Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, who said, “President Trump just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis.” Piling on, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren respectively called the border situation a “manufactured crisis” and “fake.” And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York, more focued on relitigating the two-year old Mueller investigation than doing anything to actually protect the country, said, “There is no crisis on the border . . . We certainly oppose any attempt by the president to make himself a king and a tyrant to appropriate money without Congress.”

And then, despite the best effort of the Dems to play down and deny that there was a crisis on the Southern Border, along came former Obama Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson who, in May, unequivocally stated that there was, indeed, a crisis on the Southern Border.

“We had 100,000 apprehensions in the month of March and another 100,000 in the month of April. That’s the highest it’s been in 12 years,” Johnson told Fox News host Neil Cavuto.

Oops. Wasn’t Johnson given the Democratic play book? Or was he just willing to be honest and say what was going on? After all, border control was under his purview when he was HS Secretary, so one could assume he knew of what he spoke.

And then, in a mind-boggling turn-around, reminiscent of the Doublespeak referenced in George Orwell’s dystopic novel 1984, Pelosi followed Johnson’s assertion by saying, “Well, let me just say this. We have never not said that there was a crisis. There is a humanitarian crisis at the border, and some of it provoked by the actions taken by the administration.”

During all this time, the Dems refused to back any additional funding either for border control or to support the increasingly humanitarian duties being foisted onto CBP. As wave after wave of immigrant caravans and random migrants came up through Mexico from its southern border with Guatemala, the Dems steadfastly refused to deal with the issue. It was clear that these caravans, originating in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, were organized by whomever stood to gain from this onslaught of immigrants, and in the process they provided enormous profit and cover to human smugglers and drug cartels. None of this was sufficient to move Pelosi or the Democratic-controlled House to take any action to deal with this mess along our Southern Border. As the President tried one tactic after another to carry out his duties to protect the country from rising illegal entries, all the Dems could do was say, “no.”

According to news sources along the border, there also has been a notable increase in citizens of Cuba and Venezuela seeking to declare political asylum along the Southern Border. Their presence has not been widely reported in the national media, but is indicative of the multi-country nature of the onslaught.

As the accompanying CBP charts dramatically demonstrate, apprehensions of inadmissible migrants – an indication of overall flows, even if far from all illegal border crossers are apprehended – have skyrocketed on the Southern Border (what CBP calls the Southwest Border), even as Pelosi and Schumer and the rest have denied any crisis. In the month of May alone, 144,278 people were either apprehended (132,887) illegally crossing the border, or were found to be inadmissible (11,391) at formal border crossings. In just over the first six months of fiscal year 2019, there had been more apprehensions along the border than in the entire previous fiscal year, with the numbers continuing to mount significantly. As noted, at the current rate, they will equal or surpass the peak illegal border-crossing years of 2000 and 1986.

The biggest growth in numbers, as the charts reveal, are in the categories of unaccompanied minors and family units. These are categories that, historically, have not formed a major component of illegal border crossings, and which have added significantly to the burden put upon CBP. This is further complicated by the so-called Flores decision of 1997, in which a settlement reached in the matter of Reno v. Flores determined that federal authorities could only detain unaccompanied minor migrants 20 days before they had to be released to their parents, adult relatives, or sanctioned programs. In 2015, Obama-appointed judge Dolly Gee extended this limit to minors apprehended with their parents, making it virtually impossible to deport families with children seeking asylum.

There is no question that the images coming from the border are disturbing to most people. Regardless how one feels about the immigration issue, the sight of people in turmoil, crowded into often makeshift facilities, the small children, bewildered and at the will of their elders and officials, and the images of those who have died in the process, should be troubling. Which makes the Hunger Games nature of what is happening all the more poignant. While the political class, led by Pelosi and Schumer and their ilk, dither, the suffering and death go on, all depicted graphically by the media who are all too quick to criticize but offer no more solutions than the politicians. If you go back and look, you’ll see that this has become an annual event, with the same kind of political cover being given the Dems last year at this time. The only difference is that this time, the crisis has become even bigger and the lack of Congressional action to address is even more apparent and harder to cover up.

Perhaps it is the latter reason, which I believe strikes at the conscience of most Americans, that finally prompted the Senate to pass its bipartisan $4.6 billion appropriations bill providing humanitarian aid to the border, by an overwhelming vote of 84-8, and for the House to accept the same bill, without changes, by a vote of 305-102. Even given the current crisis, the House had passed a bill that would have put constraints on the President’s actions, and which he said he would not sign. While Pelosi accepted the Senate version, still only 129 Democrats in the House voted for it, and 95 voted against it, including many members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Meanwhile, 176 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, only seven voting against it. The President has said he’ll sign the Senate version of the bill.

In urging her caucus to vote for the Senate version of the bill, Pelosi wrote, “The children come first. At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the resources needed to protect the children are available . . . In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill.”

Too bad Pelosi didn’t think much about the children six months ago, or a year ago.

Meanwhile, there are those who apparently still prefer the Hunger Games version of events, like freshman Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who idiotically and insultingly compared the CBP holding facilities along the border to Nazi concentration camps, using the phrase “never again” to draw a reference to the Holocaust. And earlier today, touring a Homestead, Fla., facility holding migrant children, Democratic Presidential candidate and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio – who has done a good job of turning around the progress that city had made in recent decades before his administration – criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s “concentration camp” reference, but instead said the facility was “like a prison.” He criticized it because the children were being “marched around,” which made him conclude, “That’s a prison camp.” We don’t know how many elementary schools de Blasio has visited, but in my experience being “marched around” is a pretty common phenomenon in them, and no one says they’re prisons. Reportedly de Blasio went on to make the inane statement that the children were being held there against their will. Isn’t that the definition of detention or holding, but is it even necessary to respond to such stupidity?

The moronic levels to which this entire matter has risen were highlighted on Wednesday when employees of Wayfair walked off the job to protest their employer’s sale of beds to go to detention centers holding migrant children. Using Ocasio-Cortez’s “concentration camp” comparison, the employees, we suppose, would rather the children sleep on concrete floors than on beds, the lack of which in some cases has been one of the criticisms leveled against CBP. Instead of “let them eat cake,” perhaps the employees’ slogan might be, “let them eat cement dust.”

And while the debate and the dithering and the finger-pointing and the politicking go on, so do the Hunger Games on the Southern Border. Whose child will be next to fall?

Photo credits: Featured Hunger Games image: Pixabay; Girl in line: Edgard Garrido / Reuters; Migrant children: Edgard Garrido Reuters; Children on ground: Click2Houston.Com; Held boy: Spencer Platt / Getty Images; all images used with permission or under Fair Use doctrine

That Time of Year Again: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

That Time of Year Again: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

This piece initially appeared two years ago, on June 21, 2017, the Summer Solstice. Today it is once more the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the actual solstice officially occurs at 11:54 a.m. EDT/15:54 UTC this morning. The time and other references and weather comments in the piece are as they were two years ago, when the post first appeared. I’m no longer living on the boat, and it’s been a rainy year so far. And this year it’s been 50 years, half a century, since my father’s death. I think I will make re-posting this piece an annual event. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s June 21, the day of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a day that holds various meanings for different peoples, and its significance goes back millennia. The solstice, whether summer or winter, officially took place at 12:24 a.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time this morning, or 04:24 UTC.

Just to set the record straight and dispel any questions about my scientific knowledge, I know it’s not the longest day in the world. It’s the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere. But we’ll get to this a bit later.

It’s been a mixed bag today here on the West Coast of Florida. We’ve been having a lot of rain, something we didn’t have much of over the winter, and the rainy times are interspersed with sunny breaks. Right now, as I look out the window of my boat, the sun is mostly out but I’m looking at the light through rain-drop spattered glass. At least we’re not getting the effects of Tropical Storm Cindy, which is much further west and at this moment dumping lots of water on the upper Gulf Coast.

In this country, the summer solstice marks the official beginning of summer, though in other places and other cultures it marks the middle of summer, as indicated by the name Midsummer Night, which can occur anywhere from the 20th to the 24th of June. And really it is midsummer, since the days, which have been lengthening since the equinox three months ago, now will start to grow shorter, the nights longer.

The sun has reached its apogee in this hemisphere, as it stands today directly over the Tropic of Cancer. I feel summer ending, we already are on the downhill side, the side that will take us through the hot coming months but already on the slide back into winter, the cold time of year. Just as in the Southern Hemisphere the days will begin to grow longer as the seasons move back to summer.

A year ago on this day I was in Alaska, where there never really was a night. Where I was, well below the Arctic Circle, the sun went down sometime around midnight, but there was a kind of twilight that lasted until the sun rose again a few hours later. Above the Arctic Circle on this day, the sun never sets, and it truly is the Land of the Midnight Sun.

My thoughts turn to other things on this day. Someone asked me the other day, which was Father’s Day in the U.S., what thoughts I had of my father on that Sunday. But really, I think of Father’s Day as a commercial holiday. I also remember the last Father’s Day I had with my father, and how my mother did her unwitting best to create conflict between me and my father. While I may wish a happy day to the fathers I know on Father’s Day, it is today, the day of the solstice, that I think of my father. June 21 was his birthday, which in most years coincides with the solstice. I was told as a child that it was the longest day of the year, which I translated in my own way into it being the longest day in the world, and I would go around telling everyone who would listen that it was.

“It’s the longest day in the world!” I’d exclaim each year on his birthday, from morning until night.

I think today of my father on this day, the 21st of June. Gone now, for nearly 48 years. And I think back to the day of his birth, June 21, 1913. One hundred and four years ago. Even had he not died young as he did, just 56 years old, it is hard to imagine that he would still be alive today had he not died when he did. A prolongation of the inevitable.

A factoid I learned earlier is that today is not the longest day in the history of the world, as one might imagine it to be given that the earth’s rotation on its axis generally was slowing. Rather, the longest day in the history of the world is believed to be June 21, 1912, and things like the earth’s tides and recession of the glaciers have caused a slight increase in the rate of the planet’s rotation since then. My father was born a year later, which arguably could have been the second or third longest day in the history of the world, if not the actual longest day in the world.

I wonder what it was like on that June day, the day of the solstice, the longest day of the year, the day my father was born, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Did his father and mother, his Italian parents, my grandparents that I never knew, know it was the solstice? Did they even know of the solstice? Regardless, I’m inclined to think they did not think of it, if for no other reason than that they had something else on their mind that day. And then I think of the things people from then knew and were taught and how many of those things have been lost today, in these encroaching new Dark Ages in which we find ourselves, and I have to wonder. Perhaps they knew, better than most people today know. Or care to know. And they did note the auspicious day on which their son was born.

I’ll think of my father again on July 27, the anniversary of his death, and by then even our summer, the summer as we define it, will be half over.

The solstices, like the equinoxes, serve as a kind of punctuation for me. I watch the ebb and the flow of the days, the seasons, the years, and they mark the passage of time, time that increasingly slips by way too quickly. All of life is punctuation, I think. Slowing. Stopping. Breaking things, even waves on the water, into different parts, different pieces, different rhythms and fugues and movements and phrases and sentences. It is through such punctuation that we mark our lives, mark our transit through summer and back into winter, from day into night, from life into death. Watching, as a reader of a story does, while the time of our lives flows past. When we lose that punctuation, everything blends into one big mass, and we feel lost in the current, flailing and drowning as we’re pulled inexorably along. At least I do.

Enjoy this song, which I found today amid my files, and with which I end this post, and enjoy the time that nature and life give us.

Click here if song doesn’t play.

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there, and here.