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Category: Political Commentary

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.

Mueller’s Muddle and the Nation’s Peril

Mueller’s Muddle and the Nation’s Peril

If you watched even part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday, you saw a man who was clearly befuddled, out-of-touch with basic facts of the investigation he headed and unknowledgeable about the report bearing his name, and at sea when it came to answering even basic questions put to him by members of the committees before whom he appeared. It was, to put it in kind terms, most uncomfortable to watch someone who has been lauded by some as such a sharp and able personage and straight shooter embarrass himself before the nation.

Beyond casting further doubt on any attempt to impeach the President, Mueller’s performance raised serious questions about what kind of peril the nation might be in if this is indicative of what can be expected from someone as highly lauded as Mueller, and in positions as influential as those he’s held. We’ll look at these questions and the former FBI director’s history in a bit.

Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee had hoped that Mueller’s testimony before those committees would pave the way toward impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, but it didn’t take the full day of hearings to cast those hopes onto the rocks for many. Even Trump critics and impeachment advocates characterized Mueller’s testimony as “a disaster.”

As Harvard law professor and former Obama judicial adviser Laurence Tribe tweeted, “Much as I hate to say it, this morning’s hearing was a disaster. Far from breathing life into his damning report, the tired Robert Mueller sucked the life out of it. The effort to save democracy and the rule of law from this lawless president has been set back, not advanced.”

Image by Getty Images

No less than former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod tweeted, “This is very, very painful,” later adding, “Not a commentary on the content. The report is damning. That was reenforced today. He has been an exemplary public servant, as people are both sides attested, but he clearly was struggling today and that was painful.” And media people, ranging from Fox News’s Chris Wallace to NBC’s Chuck Todd, also characterized Mueller’s testimony as “a disaster.”

This has been a disaster for the Democrats and I think it’s been a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller,” Wallace said.

I’m not a doctor, and being d’un certain âge myself, I do my best to avoid ageism. But watching as things unfolded Wednesday, it was hard not to conclude that the 75-year-old Mueller is perhaps suffering from some sort of dementia. Some have tried to attribute dementia and other such things to the 73-year-old Trump, but the contrast between the forceful Trump and the doddering Mueller could not be more stark.

NBC News took the trouble to count the number of times Mueller deflected or declined to answer questions put to him Wednesday: 198 times. “Outside of my purview,” was a term Mueller used over and over. Of course, another former FBI Director, James Comey, beat that total in his Congressional testimony on Dec. 14, responding a mind-boggling 245 times during his session that he didn’t remember, didn’t know, or didn’t recall, in response to questions put to him. It would seem, if these two are to be believed, that FBI Directors don’t know much, after all. At one point Wednesday, Texas Republican Louie Gohmert was able to get Mueller to admit he and Comey were friends. Mueller initially simply said they were “business associates.” Under further questioning by Gohmert, Mueller finally said, “We were friends.” This is a key point and goes to Mueller’s credibility since part of the Special Counsel’s mission was to determine if Trump’s firing of Comey constituted obstruction of justice. Mueller did concede that a president has the right to fire the FBI director.

It wasn’t just Mueller’s demeanor and comportment that were troubling. More disturbing were the things that became apparent during the seven hours Mueller was in the Congressional hot seat. These include:

Image by AP Images
  • Mueller has little knowledge of what is in the 488-page report bearing his name. While he was instructed by the Justice Department not to go beyond what is contained in the report – an instruction that Mueller actually had sought – he frequently had to look around at staff members sitting behind him to confirm if something was or wasn’t in the report, and often requested confirmation of the page on which a certain issue being asked about appeared.
  • Almost certainly, Mueller had little direct input to the 22-month-long, $30-million-some investigation with which he was charged as Special Counsel. Apparently he left the bulk of the investigation to staff members, most notably the highly controversial Andrew Weissmann. Despite Mueller’s stated high regard of Weissmann, a donor to the Democratic Party, Weissmann’s record is more than spotty. A unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court overturned convictions Weissmann obtained based on overzealous prosecution in the Enron case of 2002-2005, but only after he had destroyed the Arthur Anderson accounting firm, putting 85,000 employees out of work. As head of the Fraud Section of the Obama DOJ, he also greenlighted the Uranium One deal that transferred control of one-fifth of America’s uranium to Russia following a $500,000 speakers fee paid to former President Bill Clinton by a Kremlin-linked bank and millions more paid by Russian sources to the Clinton Foundation about the time of the Uranium One deal.
  • Astoundingly, Mueller said he didn’t know what Fusion GPS was or that the firm had paid former British spy Christopher Steele to prepare the so-called and unverified “dossier” as opposition research on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Mueller also was unaware that this “dossier” formed the basis for the initial FISA Court warrant that eventually became a key element in his appointment as Special Counsel and the investigation he headed. As Ohio Republican Steve Chabot put it, following Mueller’s confused response, “It’s not a trick question.” Mueller finally responded with one of his many “that is outside my purview” replies. I would say that it is outside reason that, short of being lost in the Borneo jungle for the past three years, one could not have heard of Fusion GPS or the Steele dossier. But there was Robert Mueller, Special Counsel and former chief cop of the U.S., looking for all the world like he was hearing these things for the first time.
  • For a man who has spent much of his career in the upper echelons of government, Mueller seemed to have no knowledge of the political implications of his position. He said he had vetted his team carefully, but was unaware that virtually his entire team had Democratic Party connections and many had donated significant sums to the Hillary Clinton campaign and other Democratic candidates. During questioning by North Dakota Republican Kelly Armstrong, Mueller pushed back, elaborating one of the rare times in his testimony, “We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job. I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years. And in those 25 years, I have not had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.” Armstrong proceeded to point out how DOJ rules require that officials not only be free of conflict of interest but even the appearance of conflict of interest.
  • Mueller was unaware of the anti-Trump prejudice of several members of his team, such as Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, before that prejudice, expressed in their exchanged emails, was revealed in an investigative report of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. He said when this matter was brought to his attention he fired them.
  • Mueller, when asked by Arizona Democrat Greg Stanton, couldn’t recall which president first appointed him as U.S. Attorney. “Which senator?” Mueller asked in response to the question. “Which president,” Stanton replied. Mueller said he thought it was President Bush, referring to President George H.W. Bush. It was President Reagan.
  • In the Judiciary Committee testimony Mueller told California Democrat Ted Lieu that they did not charge Trump with obstruction due to a DOJ legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, seeming to give Dems the ammunition they were looking for. And then at the beginning of the Intelligence Committee testimony he walked the statement back, saying, “We did not reach a determination as to whether the President committed a crime,” adding that his team “never started the process.”

As troubling as Wednesday’s testimony was, Mueller’s history raises even more serious questions. And that history makes one wonder how he was able to earn the accolades provided him and be selected as Special Counsel. It’s not hard to uncover that history, and here are just some of the bigger issues that litter Mueller’s career:

Image by Politico
  • Appointed FBI director on Sept. 4, 2001, a week before the 9-11 attacks, Mueller can’t be held responsible for the intelligence lapses that allowed those attacks to take place. But he actively engaged in a cover-up of the bungling that went on in the FBI, the White House, and the CIA that enabled the 9-11 terrorists to carry out their plans. A joint Senate-House inquiry conducted by then-Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who took intelligence matters very seriously, uncovered the depth of the ineptness that Mueller did his best to conceal [personal note: I’ve always had huge respect for Graham, a Democrat, and one of the bigger career blunders of my life was turning down an offer of an internship as a speech writer for Graham when he was Governor of Florida]. Along with giving what amounted to false testimony to the joint inquiry, Mueller later stonewalled Graham, refusing to respond to subpoenas to testify before the inquiry. As Graham later wrote, the FBI, under Mueller, “insisted that we could not, even in the most sanitized manner, tell the American people that an FBI informant had a relationship with two of the hijackers.”
  • Mueller bungled the investigation into the anthrax attacks that followed the 9-11 attacks, focusing on an innocent man and pursuing him for seven years while the real killer walked free. After leaks to the press made life unbearable for the man, Steven Hatfill, wrongly focused on by Mueller and his deputy Comey, and the true perpetrator was finally identified and committed suicide, the government in 2008 reached a settlement with Hatfill for $5.82 million. Mueller wouldn’t even attend the press conference in which the settlement was announced and refused to apologize for any aspect of the investigation, adding that it would be erroneous “to say there were mistakes.”
  • Further bungling by the FBI under Mueller may have led to the April 15, 2013, bombing of the Boston Marathon. In brief, the FBI in 2011 had warnings from Russian intel sources that Tamalan Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers who carried out the bombing, posed a potential threat. But after an investigation of Tsarnaev, the FBI closed the case on him. “As a result of this, I would say, thorough investigation,” Mueller told a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, “based on the leads we got from the Russians, we found no ties to terrorism.” Meanwhile, he admitted that electronic notifications that Tsarnaev had left the U.S. and spent six months in Russia were not fully shared with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston. More fascinating though, and worthy of a thorough reading, is the theory that Tsarnaev was actually an FBI operative.

Again, these are just some of Mueller’s missteps and the imbroglios he’s been involved with over the course of his career. There are lots more, but these are some of the bigger ones. At this point it’s pretty clear that his utility to Trump’s enemies is pretty much done as the Dems continue to battle between themselves over whether they should attempt to impeach the President or not. Meanwhile, the polls are pretty much all over the place, but the bottom line is that most Americans don’t favor impeachment.

In the wake of Mueller’s muddled testimony Wednesday, and even more after looking at the blunders and cover-ups he has been involved with over the years, I think there are bigger issues than this. All Americans should be concerned about the nature and quality of the people in charge of running the country. This is not to say that there aren’t a lot of good and qualified people. But if someone with Mueller’s record can attract the accolades that have been piled on him, what does that say of the standard to which they are held? It’s facile to assume that those in charge at some of our most important and powerful institutions are competent and right-headed. It is to the nation’s peril when they are not.

Featured image by Getty Images. All images used under Fair Use.

Voyage to the Moon: A Personal Journey

Voyage to the Moon: A Personal Journey

“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” – Words on the plaque left on the moon by the crew of Apollo 11

There have and will be many words written and numerous commemorations broadcast this week to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first time humans set foot on the moon. For that reason, and others of a more personal nature, this will be an account of my own journey leading up to that momentous event, and since, and not any kind of historic or scientific record of the flight of Apollo 11 or the first moon landing. Yes, it’s long. But it’s been a long trip.

What happened on July 20 and 21, 1969, to me was the culmination not just of my own interest in space and space exploration that I had pursued since I was a child, but the result of many centuries of human scientific development and evolution, and also the climax of the eons that preceded them when primitive humans looked up at the moon with wonder, yearning, and maybe even fear. That phrase on the Apollo 11 plaque, “We came in peace for all mankind,” best summed up my feelings on that historic night.

The Early Years

I can’t say specifically what triggered my early interest in space, except perhaps a general interest in science, but I do know that by the age of 9 I was writing novellas about future space explorers engaged in both dramatic and mundane tasks in the far reaches of the solar system. Starring protagonist Fairleigh Starr and his intrepid crew aboard the space freighter Euphrates, I still have those little string-bound books and their illustrative covers, hand-drawn in crayon on cardboard, somewhere in my archives. I also still have some of my early astronomy books.

I don’t remember the exact year or my age, but at some point my father got me an actual, real, reflecting telescope, and this opened up new vistas beyond our planet to me. Many were the nights he and I would brave the cold out in our driveway pointing the telescope toward the moon and beyond. Under the red skies of Northeastern New Jersey, illuminated as they were by the myriad lights of the New York Metro area, it was hard, if not impossible, to see much beyond the biggest and brightest celestial objects, the moon being paramount among them. All these decades later I can still picture in my mind’s eye the distinct craters and the bright silvery surface of earth’s sole natural satellite as seen vividly through that telescope.

The late 1950s and early 1960s were heady times for anyone interested in space exploration. In fact, they were heady times even for those not so interested. As the United States faltered through one failed launch after another, the Soviets – known more generally to us as the Russians – were succeeding in their advance into space. The thing that got our attention more than anything was the successful launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, in October 1957. More than attention, it struck fear into the hearts of many, including my own mother, who tucked her 7-year-old son, being me, into bed one post-Sputnik night, saying as she did, “I don’t think we’re going to live to see Christmas this year.” Thanks for that, Mom.

As it turned out, we did survive to see that Christmas, and many since. But again it was the Russians who were first to send a man not just into space, but into orbit, when cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin circled the earth one time on April 15, 1961. Less than a month later, on May 5, 1961, the U.S. finally succeeded in launching the first American into space, astronaut Alan Shephard, on a 15-minute sub-orbital flight launched atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket from Cape Canaveral. Watching the launch and recovery of the Freedom 7 Mercury capsule on TV still remains in my memory, as do the other Mercury launches and recoveries to follow. And then, nine months later on February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, three times, aboard the capsule Friendship 7, and the U.S. took the lead in what was clearly a space race. By then I was hooked on space, and there was no looking back.

What led us on the path to the moon was a speech President John Kennedy gave to Congress on May 25, 1961, when he said that the U.S. “. . . should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Kennedy repeated the same objective in a now-famous speech he delivered to 40,000 people in the stadium at Rice University in Houston on September 12, 1962, saying, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

The course was set to the moon, and despite a chorus of naysayers, the objective was reached, Kennedy’s challenge fulfilled, on July 20, 1969.

The mission of Apollo 11 had lifted off four days earlier, on July 16, 1969, at 9:32 a.m. EDT (13:32 UTC), from Launch Pad 39A at Cape Canaveral – known at the time as Cape Kennedy in JFK’s honor – carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins toward the moon. A product of the work of Wernher von Braun and his team of German rocket engineers brought to the U.S. following World War II, the Saturn V rocket that bore them aloft was, and remains, the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, so loud on launch its sound waves broke windows in Titusville, 12 miles away. Armstrong later described the initial ascent as a very bumpy ride, at least until first-stage separation, when he said things became smooth and totally silent. At that point, the world waited, and watched.

“The Eagle Has Landed”

July 1969, exactly a half century ago, was a personally tumultuous time for me. At 19 ½, in the summer between my sophomore and junior years at Rutgers University, I was in the midst of my first real affair, and that in itself was proving more challenging than I had bargained for (Sheila was an artist, she didn’t look back – thank you Bob Dylan for summing things up so well). I had a summer job mowing grass and picking up litter on the New Jersey Turnpike, out of the Secaucus yard in the most congested and polluted sector of the Pike in its final miles between Newark Airport and Exit 18, the northern terminus and gateway to the George Washington Bridge. I was living back at home for the summer and in a state of ongoing conflict with both my parents. Worse was how I sensed my father often didn’t have the heart for the conflict, but my mother goaded him into it and to appease or please her, he’d rise to the occasion.

It also was perhaps the most creative time of my life. On the many and prolonged breaks my maintenance team on the Turnpike would take, once Moe, our supervisor, had driven off and left us to our own devices, we would drop our mowers and tools and retreat to the shade under an overpass, or occasionally wander off the Pike to some nearby diner for a late breakfast. While the other guys sat around and shot the shit for hours, I would sequester myself to write and draw in my own imagined, but productive, world. Along with my writing, I was able to draw in ways I had never before, nor since, been capable of. If you can imagine completely changing the gears in your head, that was what it was like that summer.

I don’t remember all the details or reasons, but the small group of friends of which Sheila and I were a part could not be together the night of the moon landing. It was a Sunday night, July 20, and I had work the next morning, moon landing or no moon landing. As I recall, my high school friend John Horohan was with his girlfriend Jane, who had introduced me to Sheila, and I don’t remember whether Sheila was with them or somewhere else. She wasn’t with me, though, nor I with her, which was the main thing.

The lunar lander had touched down on the moon’s surface earlier that afternoon, almost out of fuel and in a different location – the Sea of Tranquility – than initially planned, at 4:17 p.m. EDT (20:17 UTC). As it turned out, Armstrong had to take over the controls of the lander following a computer overload and finding too many bus-sized boulders at the initial West Crater landing site. It was with relief when Mission Control, along with the rest of the world, heard Armstrong’s words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

The actual moon walk was planned for later that night, and that to us was the big event. I had been sleeping out on our enclosed back porch, as I was wont to do in the summers spent at home, and that night I was watching there in the dark, on the small TV we kept on the porch, the events unfolding 240,000 miles away on the moon. On the moon! My parents were upstairs in their room also watching on their TV, and we could have been on separate planets for the divide between us on that historic night. Other than some forays my mother would make down to check on me – mostly to harass me for staying up past my alleged bedtime, as I recall – we had little or no contact that night.

The telephone provided the link between me and my friends, a kind of lifeline as it were, and we stayed in touch intermittently via it as the time approached for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to step out of the lunar lander and descend the craft’s ladder to the surface of the moon. As we and 600 million other people around the globe watched, that came at 10:56 p.m. EDT (02:56 UTC on July 21), when Armstrong stepped down onto the lunar surface, uttering the famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” (controversy has dogged those words ever since, and it’s pretty well believed that a blip in the radio transmission changed the intended and spoken “one small step for a man” to what is commonly attributed to Armstrong). Aldrin followed Armstrong down the ladder, and together, as we watched in fascination and through bleary eyes and blurry black and white video images, the pair bounced around on the lunar surface, collecting moon rocks as they did, for the next two and a quarter hours. Meanwhile, Collins, in the command module, named Columbia, orbited the moon, keeping an eye on things from 69 miles above the lunar surface.

Little did I realize at the time what connections I would have with Armstrong, and especially Aldrin, and other men who set foot on the moon, a decade and a half later.

The Aftermath

What I saw in the lunar mission and the success of Apollo 11 was not just a victory and amazing achievement for America, but the culmination of centuries of discoveries and achievements of many people of many nationalities. There was Copernicus, a Pole, who in the Sixteenth Century, postulated a universe with the sun, not the earth, at its center. He was preceded in the heliocentric theory by Aristarchus of Samos, a Greek, eighteen centuries earlier, and followed in the next century by Galileo, an Italian, who was declared a heretic for his beliefs by the Catholic Church in 1633. It took the Church three more centuries to finally concede that it’s supposedly infallible belief was, well, wrong. Galileo’s theories of gravity also proved to be correct, not bad for a heretic.

There was Newton, an Englishman, and his discoveries of the laws of physics. And Lippershey, a Dutchman, who invented the telescope. And da Vinci, another Italian, who had invented an actual flying machine – the helicopter – and the parachute, and who also had postulated a heliocentric universe. The Chinese in the Ninth Century invented the rocket, but Goddard, an American, invented the first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926. And von Braun and the other German rocket engineers brought it all together, with American support and funding, with the Saturn V. I don’t mean this list to be inclusive, but simply illustrative of the worldwide, global contributions over the centuries that finally resulted in Apollo 11 and the moon landing.

Indeed, as the plaque said, “We came in peace for all mankind.” And at the moment of mankind’s first steps on the moon and the days that followed, the world was largely united in hailing a feat that previously existed only in the realm of dreams and the imagination. Of course, there are still those on the fringe who continue to imagine that the whole moon landing was staged, that the astronauts descended to some hidden chamber under the launch pad or went to Hollywood, where there was a set made to look like a moonscape and the whole thing was an elaborate deception. And when I was posted as a diplomat to Albania in the 1990s, people there said they had been told by the previous Communist regime that it was the Russians, not the Americans, who had landed men on the moon.

A week after the lunar landing and walk, on July 27, 1969, my father died, unexpectedly, in front of me, in the midst of one more of our low-level conflicts. He had gotten to witness people walking on the moon, something almost unimaginable at the time of his birth in 1913, and then he was gone. And thus, with his death, began the rest of my life, the half century that followed.

After Apollo 11, there were just six more lunar missions – five lunar landings, one short of what was planned when Apollo 13 ran into serious problems en route to the moon and had to return to earth without reaching its destination. Later, as a journalist covering the space program, I lost count of the number of times when engineers and managers who had been involved with the Apollo program told me that getting men to the moon was not the big challenge of the Apollo program. It was getting the crew of Apollo 13 back alive. In any event, with the splashdown of Apollo 17 on December 19, 1972, the moon program was over, less than three and a half years after the launch of Apollo 11. The country, embroiled in the Vietnam War and deeply divided, was withdrawing into itself, and Congress cut NASA’s funding. What was left of funding for manned space flight was directed toward the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission with the Soviet Union and three missions of Skylab, the world’s first space station. After all the years of striving to reach the moon, and meeting the challenge President Kennedy laid down, we reverted to missions in low earth orbit. To this day, that is where we have remained.

What struck me then, and continues to trouble me, is how for eons people looked to the heavens and wondered and dreamed of what it would be like to walk on the moon. And now billions of people, billions of children, and adults, were born and lived since the last human left the moon, and again are left to look toward the heavens, toward the moon, and wonder and dream, just as primitive humans did millennia ago.

As America and the space program drifted through the 1970s, I looked inward, too, and essentially cut myself off from what was going on in the world, and what remained of the space program. I had this peculiar idea that if I cut off the news of the world and its problems those problems would go away and leave me alone. It didn’t take more than several years to realize that’s not how things work.

A Return to Space

My return to space came in 1982. After detours through Woodstock and Key West and grad school at the University of Florida, I wound up taking up a reporting job in Cocoa, Fla., at the doorstep to Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center. While I was with the weekly paper, The Tribune, I struck up a friendship with the lead reporter, Peter Adams, at our sister daily, TODAY (now FLORIDA TODAY). Perhaps it could only happen in Brevard County, Fla., but the lead reporter was the Science Writer, formerly known as the Aerospace Writer, whose primary duty entailed covering the space program.

The Space Shuttle program was under way, with the launch of the orbiter Columbia and STS-1 in April of 1981. Peter invited me to accompany him to witness a launch of the Shuttle at KSC, the launch of Columbia and STS-5 on November 11, 1982. It was one of the most exciting things I’d ever witnessed, and again, I was hooked. I later finagled my first assignment actually covering a space launch, as a freelancer for The Globe and Mail of Toronto, reporting on the launch of a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral carrying a Canadian satellite that subsequently failed to go into orbit and was lost. Peter and I continued to remain in close contact, and when he left the paper to go to The Orlando Sentinel, our main competition, he recommended me for the choice position of Science Writer. I not only moved to my first position on a daily, but to the premier reporting position, with the charge to report daily on the space program and other science topics.

The first launch I was to cover as primary reporter was the maiden launch of the new orbiter, Challenger. But before it could launch I received a phone call from a confidential informant late one night in the newsroom. The word was that a problem with the Shuttle’s main engines had been discovered and the launch would be delayed, possibly for months. I was able to chase down other sources to confirm the report, and we were first to break the story of Challenger’s impending lengthy delay, which turned out to be totally correct. I had already managed to win the confidence of those closest to the Shuttle program and to break my first big story.

Challenger finally did launch on April 4, 1983, carrying a tracking and relay satellite into orbit. The flight, the first of many Space Shuttle missions I would cover, also featured the first EVA – Extra-Vehicular Activity, or space walk – of the Shuttle program. In my time as Science Writer, I got to cover many other firsts: The first flight of Spacelab. The first American woman in space. The first flight of two women in space, and the first space walk by an American woman. The first African-American in space. The first Shuttle night launch. The first launch of the orbiter Discovery. The first Shuttle landing at KSC. The first recovery and return to earth of orbiting satellites. The first classified Department of Defense Shuttle mission. The first in-space repair of an orbiting satellite. The first flight of a politician in space. Many of my stories got national play via the Gannett News Service and appearance in USA TODAY, for which TODAY served as the model.

I approached my work as a Science Writer the same way I approached other reporting positions I had filled, which was to build in as much diversity and have as much fun with it as I could, all while doing a competent and credible job of reporting. I felt my specialty was taking highly complex scientific and technical details and issues and translating them in a way that just about any reader could understand, without dumbing them down. In the course of my term, I managed to score a wonderful stint at Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., got to visit the WET-F – the huge water tank where astronauts practice doing EVAs in simulated weightlessness – in Houston, launched my own weather rocket, the Yacenda-1, from Cape Canaveral, flew aboard a NOAA hurricane tracker plane through a tropical storm, rode on the huge transporter that carried the Shuttle to the launch pad, and sat at desks of scientists with actual moon rocks on them. I came up with the term “astroworker” – a word my editors hated and took out at every chance they could, which is why you’ve never seen it – to encapsulate the kind of manual activity many astronauts and mission specialists engage in while in space.

More than anything was the thrill of meeting, interviewing, and in some cases spending time with people who had helped establish America’s place in space, people that had just been names bordering on mythological to me, and now I had the opportunity to be face-to-face with them. I got to interview and know half the men who had walked on the moon. It was said even then that Neil Armstrong rarely granted interviews. I had a telephone interview with him while he was a professor in Ohio, and he was indeed the humble, quiet, non-self-aggrandizing person I had been told he was. And I got to pal around for several days with Buzz Aldrin, who was and is every bit the character he was ascribed to being, though also knowledgeable and serious about America’s space pursuits. He told me of what was to be his next mission, setting up a space science program at the University of North Dakota. I love that the President featured Aldrin at the most recent State of the Union address.

I got to visit Edgar Mitchell and meet his family aboard Mitchell’s yacht when it was docked in Brevard County. I had the opportunity to interview Alan Bean about his art and Alan Shephard about his beer business. I had a number of encounters with Fred Haise, of Apollo 13 fame, both as a reporter and later as someone bidding for business from the company with which he became an executive, Grumman Aerospace. As then chief of the astronaut corps, John Young was someone I got to see and quote in numerous news conferences. I was able to meet Tom Stafford at an evening event. Though he wasn’t an astronaut, I got to interview Chuck Yeager, the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound and live to tell about it. And, a high point, I got to hang out with Walt Cunningham of Apollo 7 fame during some very entertaining days at Cape Canaveral when I had invited him to speak at a conference I helped organize, and then some time later have lunch with him at Brennan’s in Houston. I still remember the moment when we were waiting to board a tour bus at KSC and Cunningham was sitting on top of a waste basket, just as a place to rest. The bus driver informed us we needed to get tickets to take the tour, and then, realizing who the unassuming guy sitting on the trash can was, came bounding back off the bus, practically giddy and shaking, blurting out, “I’m sorry, Mr. Cunningham! I didn’t recognize you at first! Of course you don’t need a ticket! Anything you want, Mr. Cunningham!”

Along with all the other names and personalities, I got to interview Judy Resnik, one of my most memorable interviews. I still have the tape of that interview in which Resnik said she didn’t fear going up on the Shuttle since NASA took such care looking after the astronauts’ safety. When Challenger blew up on the bitterly cold morning of January 28, 1986, taking the lives of Resnik and her six crew mates with it, NASA wasn’t looking out for the astronauts’ safety, and neither was it when Columbia disintegrated on reentry on February 1, 2003. Both were avoidable disasters.

Looking Forward

I was no longer covering the space program at the time of the Challenger disaster — in fact, earlier the very morning it occurred I had looked toward the space center and said to myself, “One day that thing is going to blow up and I won’t be there when it does” — but I still was involved with space through my public relations firm, ITech International, which specialized in aerospace and high technology, among other areas. To me, the Challenger disaster was personal, both on account of the needless death of Judy Resnik and the other astronauts and specialists and the civilian school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, aboard, all of whom I had seen in news conferences and reported on, but because I helped bring Challenger into the world, covering its first launch, and the issues that had delayed that launch.

Following the Challenger disaster my old paper, TODAY, invited me to write an op-ed piece about the disaster and my views on where the country should go in its wake. In it I wrote how the Space Shuttle was equivalent to the early iterations of airliners that eventually led up to the DC-3, the first commercially successful airliner, and rather than expending money on another Shuttle orbiter, the nation should dedicate itself to new iterations of space transportation systems and go on to further space exploration. Obviously, Congress and NASA felt otherwise, and the space agency went on to build the orbiter Endeavour, which launched for the first time on May 7, 1992. And then, with the landing at KSC of the orbiter Atlantis on July 21, 2011, the Space Shuttle program came to an end.

And now, 50 years after the triumph of Apollo 11, we remain confined to low earth orbit. The International Space Station, development of which began when I was still involved with the space program, is the sole embodiment of humans in space. Since the end of the Shuttle program, the U.S. doesn’t even have the means of bringing our own astronauts to and from the ISS, depending on Russian rockets to do so. There are commercial rockets in the late development stage that are expected to be able to carry people to and from the ISS, but they’re not certified for this purpose yet. In fact, much of what holds promise for the future of space exploration rests with private companies, such as SpaceX and Boeing and several others.

I’m sure there is a lot of important work that goes on aboard the ISS, but I would venture that few people outside the program can name even one or two projects, specifically, that the ISS crews are working on. There is even credible argument that space is an expensive and not terribly great place for doing science. Regardless, whatever they are doing, it doesn’t provide the kind of excitement and global attention that deep-space exploration, most notably the Apollo lunar voyages, provided, and can provide. I am not denigrating the tremendously exciting and important and truly amazing unmanned space missions we’ve conducted. Our knowledge of the solar system and the universe beyond has been expanded enormously by these missions, and they should be continued. But somehow they lack the appeal and drama of manned missions of exploration to new destinations.

NASA and the space program reached its nadir in 2010 when its then-Adminstrator, Charles Bolden – himself a former astronaut – told Al Jazeera television that he had been charged by President Barack Obama with three primary tasks: Encourage children to learn about math and science, improve relations with foreign nations, and, Bolden said, “perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering.”

Compare that with President Kennedy’s challenge, that the nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade was out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. Not because it was easy, but because it was hard. In the intervening decades, it seems we have come down not just from the moon, but from rising to the kind of challenge the nation responded to in the 1960s.

Now there is talk of going to Mars. I’m happy to see that. While recognizing the costs and dangers involved in such missions, I think it is inevitable that the human spirit is always going to drive us on to bigger and more daring ventures, whether on earth or in space. I think it makes a lot of sense for us to go back first to the moon, and establish a base there. It takes a whole lot less energy to launch a rocket from a place where the gravity is one-sixth what it is on earth. There may be other justifications for a base on the moon, but that one alone provides justification if, in fact, we are intent on going to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system.

Most of my space interest these days is constrained to looking at the full moon, when it appears and the skies are clear, and watching for night launches from Cape Canaveral. I’m living 120 miles from the launch site, but in the dark of night I can get pretty clear views of the launches, which continue to excite me. Recently, during the latest SpaceX launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket from Pad 39A on June 25, the same launch pad from which Apollo 11 launched, I actually got to see the return to earth of the two first-stage boosters that came back to land at KSC. I think that was even more exciting than the launch, all the more so since I wasn’t expecting to be able to see that, just as watching the first Shuttle landing at KSC from the grandstand beside the runway was so exciting 35 years ago. I’m sure that one of these days I’m going to need to go back down to the space center and watch a launch from closer up.

And now, fifty years after that first footstep on the moon, I and the other 7.7-whatever billion people on this planet can only look up at the moon, and wonder: Will mankind ever again set foot on that celestial body? Will my children get to go there? Some might even wonder if they, themselves, will get a chance to go to the moon.

It is of such wonderment that giant leaps are born.

Watch the actual ignition and liftoff of Apollo 11 shot by a NASA camera at the launch pad

All images by NASA except the last image which is by SpaceX

This is a joint posting with my fiction site. It also appears on Medium.

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

The Russia Hoax Is Over: Now It’s Time to Prosecute the Real Colluders

The Russia Hoax Is Over: Now It’s Time to Prosecute the Real Colluders

Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s report is in, and it’s not going to change a lot of minds. Those afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) are saturated with too much prejudice and misinformation to accept its conclusions and concede they were wrong. And on the other side, for those of us who knew all along that the basis for the Mueller investigation – the Russia Hoax – was bogus, the report just confirms our belief (read my July 2017 posting Why I Don’t Care About the Russia Thing to see what I said about all this nearly two years ago, two months after Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel).

Regardless which side one comes down on, what Mueller’s report should do is to alert the entire country to how there was a secret attempt by those in power, aided and abetted by many in the mainstream media, to undermine the nation’s electoral process and to thwart the election of a single person – Donald J. Trump – to the presidency, and to stymie his ability to govern once elected. Now it is time, if there is any justice left in this country – admittedly a huge stretch of belief and the imagination – to root out, investigate, and prosecute the real colluders, those parties involved in what amounts to a silent coup attempt, the greatest and most far-reaching conspiracy in U.S. history.

I don’t use those words lightly. I pride myself on not being a conspiratorialist. I think stupidity and greed and zealotry and serendipity account for far more that happens in the world than conspiracy. But if ever the word applies, it is to what has gone on behind the scenes in the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department, the State Department, the FISA Court, Congress, the DNC, the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Clinton Foundation, the Obama White House, and — not insignificantly — much of the national media, since at least 2016. And no matter how one feels about Trump, we all should be concerned about this amalgam of forces and the danger it represents.

Some elements of this conspiracy, particularly things that went on involving several top officials of the FBI, have already been revealed, but there is much, much more that has yet to reach the light of day. If it ever does. Now with the Mueller report out and, after pumping $30 million taxpayer dollars down the toilet, clearing Trump of any collusion with the Russians, it is time to deal with the real collusion that went on, and continues to go on and, against all odds, to prosecute the guilty parties.

Let’s start with what we now know, courtesy of the 22-month-long Mueller investigation.

First, and most critically important, is that there was no collusion between Donald Trump and anyone close to Donald Trump with the Russians to steal the 2016 elections. Second, there was insufficient evidence to document any attempt on the part of Donald Trump to obstruct justice. He was completely within his rights as President to fire former FBI Director James Comey, someone who had grossly abused the power of his position (more on Comey a bit later).

The third important take-away, as Mueller concluded, was that the Russians, unaided by anyone connected to Trump, meddled in the 2016 elections. Duh. Unless you’ve been living in a monastery on Mount Athos for the past century, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the Russians have been meddling in our elections for a very long time. I don’t think I was terribly prescient to have pointed out this very thing in my July 2017 posting, and it didn’t take $30 million for me to make the observation. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time. While this isn’t even close to being a surprise, it does paint a trail directly to the White House – not to Trump, but to former President Barack Obama. Again, more on this a bit later.

Thanks to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, we learned last year of the misdeeds of former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, former Special Counsel to the Deputy Director of the FBI Lisa Page, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Director James Comey, and former Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik. Also mentioned is former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, noted for urging Comey to refer to his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s gross mishandling of official emails as “a matter,” not an investigation (speaking of obstruction of justice), and her notorious meeting with former President Bill Clinton on the tarmac at Phoenix where, she and Clinton insist, they didn’t discuss the investigation into Mrs. Bill Clinton. Right.

Thankfully, all these miscreants are now “former” officials, resigned or fired or, in the case of Lynch, phased out with the change of administration. While Horowitz absolved these parties of acting as they did for political purposes, a reading of the events and the messages exchanged between them would give any fair observer serious doubt about that contention. Nevertheless, Horowitz cites numerous incidents where agency and departmental policies were not followed, examples where clear conflicts of interest arose and officials failed to properly recuse themselves, improper use of both official and private means of communication between officials, and – importantly – improper disclosure of non-public information.

Among the many troubling findings in the IG’s report, the ones concerning improper and even illegal contacts between top FBI officials and the news media are especially troubling since they uncover the nexus – can we call it collusion? I think so – between government actors and so-called news reporters. As Horowitz said in his summary to Congress, “We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters . . . We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review. In addition, we identified instances where FBI employees improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events. We will separately report on those investigations as they are concluded, consistent with the Inspector General Act, other applicable federal statutes, and OIG policy.”

Critically important in that verbiage are the words “federal statutes.” Many of these actions violated federal law, aside from the blatant ethical violations, and it is time that the guilty parties be charged and tried for their violations. This includes Comey who, as I pointed out in June 2017, openly admitted violating the law in his testimony before Congress, and has further inculcated and embarrassed himself as time has gone on. Comey accuses Trump of undermining the reputation and credibility of the FBI. But, no, Mr. Comey. It’s your actions and those of the others who abused their positions that have undermined trust in the FBI. If one can fault Trump for anything in dealing with Comey, it is in not firing Comey as soon as he took office.

That’s the FBI and the DOJ. And now we come to the CIA. This week, post-Mueller, I literally couldn’t stop laughing listening to John Brennan, Director of the CIA under Barack Obama – and someone who has accused Donald Trump of treason – lamely say perhaps he had based his allegations on faulty information. Faulty information? Okay, I used to work on the inside of the intel community, so I know what total balderdash that is. But for interviewers and alleged journalists not to challenge this contention is nothing short of journalistic malpractice. I mean, what kind of idiot does one need to be to believe a single word of this ridiculousness? He was the friggin’ head of the CIA, furchrissake, and he’s saying he accused the President of the United States of being a traitor based on “faulty information”? But it’s more than mere idiocy behind the malpractice. It’s the same kind of malice, and the motivation to cover one’s own sorry ass, that motivates someone like Brennan that motivates his interviewers to let him skate by on what on its face is utter nonsense.

While the intel community confirms the obvious, that the Russians meddled in the 2016 elections (and just about every other election), it’s another Obama appointee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, that provides the direct link to Obama himself and his role in this massive collusion. Clapper, who called President Trump a KGB operative (I suppose based on more “faulty information,” or maybe that was just “the least untruthful” thing he had to offer, like the one he gave in explaining his never prosecuted 2013 perjury before Congress), has confirmed that President Obama was informed of Russian electoral meddling. And he knew of it at least as early as the summer prior to the November 2016 elections.

So Obama knew. And we all know he knew. So what did he do, as President, to block this Russian intervention? In a private meeting in September 2016, he asked Vladimir Putin to cut it out. That’s it. Cut it out, Vladimir. One can imagine how seriously Putin took this admonition, coming from Barack “Red Line” Obama. So why didn’t Obama do more to block Russian interference? For the same reason that Comey said he released, without consequence, the news of Hillary Clinton’s emails turning up on Anthony Weiner’s private computer in October 2016: Obama figured Clinton would win the election and he didn’t want to muddy the waters, like Comey didn’t want Hillary to start her administration, which he fully expected to happen, under a cloud. And then when Trump won, it was only then that Obama went public with his knowledge and took any direct action against the Russians. Like Comey, he didn’t want Clinton to start her administration under a cloud, but he had no problem casting the darkest kind of cloud over Trump. Given his prior inaction in near-complete disregard for the integrity of the U.S. electoral system for political reasons, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the collusion goes right to the top, to Obama himself. And what influence that had on how others acted is a matter for reasoned speculation.

Now at this point, things get still more interwoven. Byzantine would be an apt descriptor.

A large part of Mueller’s investigation was based on information gathered under a secret warrant issued by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, commonly called the FISA Court, based on the acronym for the act authorizing the court). The court issued this warrant, which allowed monitoring of Carter Page, a one-time low-level Trump foreign policy aide, based on an unverified, and since largely discredited, “dossier” produced by a private consulting group known as Fusion GPS and commissioned and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

To be clear, it is a major violation for the FBI to provide unverified information to the FISA Court in pursuit of a warrant. The FBI has to confirm that the evidence offered has been verified, and in offering the dossier as verified, which it was not, and not revealing that it was actually a product of the Clinton campaign, the FBI – under Comey and McCabe’s direction – essentially committed a fraud on the FISA Court. Without delving into every single detail and level of subtlety, the end result was the ability on the part of the FBI and other intel agencies to spy not just on Page but on other U.S. citizens with whom Page communicated – up to 25,000 individuals, including just about everyone connected to Trump, and possibly Trump himself.

That would have been bad enough, but what we now know is that then National Security Advisor Susan Rice – by her own admission – requested the unmasking of U.S. citizens and thus had access to information gathered not on foreign enemies, but on U.S. citizens – U.S. citizens connected to the Trump presidential campaign. Rice — the same Rice who lied to the country for weeks about the true facts of the 2012 Benghazi attack – has insisted she did this for national security reasons and not to spy on the Trump campaign.

But wait – there’s more! Former Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, another key Obama confidante, made 260 requests to unmask U.S. citizens – more than one a day both prior to, and succeeding, the 2016 elections, right up to Trump’s inauguration. Thanks to FOIA litigation against the State Department and the NSA filed by Judicial Watch and the American Center for Law and Justice, we have evidence of the political bias behind these unmasking requests, and also more evidence of the nexus between the Obama White House and the news media. Email chains unearthed by the FOIA demands reveal how Power – who, as UN Ambassador, ostensibly would have no grounds for any unmasking requests – and her counselor, Nikolas Steinberg, sought “to seek maximum amplif.[ication]” of her pro-Obama/anti-Trump political pitch with 60 Minutes Executive Editor Bill Owens and others. Owens’ response, that he would help Power pitch her effort to undermine Trump’s incoming administration, should remove any doubt about the anti-Trump bias in the media.

The list of both Obama and media people involved in this – should we call it collusion? – goes on. Read about it here.

Before we’re done with the FISA Court issue, it should be noted that Mueller himself, when he was Director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was called by the FISC to answer for some 75 cases, some going back to the late 1990s but many under his tutelage post-9-11, in which the FBI improperly omitted material facts from warrant applications. So now the question arises, why haven’t we heard from the FISC about the improper submission of the dossier to obtain the warrant against Carter Page? Good question. Maybe, now that the Mueller report is out, we will hear from it. And if not, one has to wonder whether the FISC judges involved in issuing the warrant are part of the collusion. I’m not ready to say they are, but it’s a question that needs asking the longer the silence goes on.

Moving on to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, where much of this litany of misdeeds originates, I’ve already made clear on a number of occasions, including in my other linked postings above, why Hillary Clinton needs to be prosecuted. She should be, as should anyone in the State Department (my former employer), whether career person or political toady, who allowed her to get away with conducting official business, and putting highly classified emails, on an unsecured private server. Her complete and clearly illegal disregard for national security, as well as her other misdeeds, including her “pay-for-play” deals while Secretary of State, such as the Uranium One deal and involving the Clinton Foundation, all provide fertile ground for investigation and prosecution. As I’ve said more times than I can count, had I done what she did, I’d be in prison right now. And that is where she should be.

By the same token, those officials, whether in the FBI, or any of the other agency or department, at whatever level, who violated the law, should be prosecuted. A clear marker needs to be laid down to assure this sort of abuse of power does not recur. Now, if ever, post-Mueller, is the time for this process to be set in motion.

But do I see it happening? Do I believe that tomorrow the sun will come up in the West and set in the East? The depth of corruption, the extent of the collusion, and the two levels of justice we live with in this country all make prosecution of Hillary and most of the other guilty parties about as likely. Sure, there might be some low-level functionaries punished, beyond the resignations and firings that have already taken place. Maybe. But the worse offenders? The most egregious actors? Not likely. I truly wish I believed otherwise, and given the seriousness and profound impact this affair – this attempted silent coup – has had on the country, I think things will not be right with our democracy ever again without some semblance of justice. Just as Lincoln’s assassination, the assassination of JFK, and Watergate each changed the direction and nature of the country that came after them, we likely are witnessing a similar disruption that will have lasting effects. And we may never see things set right.

All of this has been hiding in plain sight for the past three years, and actually much longer. It’s all been there to see if anyone took the time and effort to look. To look, and not depend on the misrepresentations, obfuscations, and just plain untruths – that journalistic malpractice, that is but one manifestation of the death of journalism, I referred to earlier – committed by a large part of the mainstream media, fed and furthered by some in Congress, and the other official players in the bureaucracy. It is this part of the collusion, the part contributed and covered-up and spread by the mainstream media, that I think poses the greatest danger to our democracy, which so depends on a free – and fair – news media.

In his parting remarks to the country in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of a military-industrial complex that posed a threat to our liberties and democratic processes. Now we need to speak of a political-media complex that poses a threat at least as great, and almost certainly greater, as the military-industrial complex Eisenhower saw. It is perhaps the defense and support of this new complex that, more than anything, motivates and drives the effort to defame and bring down Trump. This largely explains why opposition to Trump can be found on both sides of the political aisle. Whether in his accusations of fake news or his willingness to buck the established order, Trump represents a threat to the political-media complex and all it stands for. And whether we like him or not, we all need to fear this complex.