New Trier Democrats’ Posts

Where Were You On 9/11?

Do you remember where you were 18 years ago today? If you’re in your mid-twenties or older, I’ll bet you do. — September 11, 2001 was one of those landmark dates in history when the trajectory of a nation’s future is abruptly changed. Or perhaps in the case of 9/11, I should say “abruptly accelerated.” 

That September morning, soon after the attack, I heard a radio bulletin about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center’s towers. I switched on the TV and saw the entire horrible scene unfold as another plane slammed into the second tower and both buildings collapsed. At that moment I imagine most of you, like me, sensed that things would never quite be the same again. Terrorism from a foreign source had succeeded within our boundaries in a big way.  

Immediately, new and more stringent security procedures were established both in the public areas and in the business buildings of our cities. In many cases those measures are still in place today. And we’ve gotten used to them. — Now, we think nothing of being asked to open our business bag or purse for inspection. We accept such intrusions in our privacy as necessary for our safety. (In recent years, the increasing occurrences of mass shootings have also played a big role in our acceptance of such inspections.) 

9/11 made Americans a bit less secure, and a lot more open to whatever steps our government declared were needed to protect us. As we now know, those “necessary steps” eventually included the military invasion of two countries.  

Realistically, it could be presumed that before 9/11 our nation’s international trajectory was already headed toward armed involvement in the Middle East. For several years, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, two bored cold warriors with no Cold War left to fight, had been touting their “Project for a New American Century.”  

This vision for our future saw the United States establishing a “benevolent global hegemony.” (I guess that would mean we would call the shots for all the other nations on earth — but in a warm, friendly way.) To do this, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their fellow hawks believed we should perpetually maintain the United States as the world’s preeminent power. – Incidentally that sort of dream for America would also be a dreamy situation for government contractors like Halliburton, a company close to Dick Cheney’s heart. — Back then it actually was his heart.  

So with the arrival of 9/11/2001, a lot of pieces were already in place for what came next. Of course at that moment in time we had no idea what lay ahead. But we now know that the attack in New York led to our invasion of Afghanistan, a military involvement that has become the longest war is our nation’s history, 18 years long!  

From the start there was some debate about whether the actions of a group of Al Qaeda fanatics should be dealt with as if they were an enemy nation. Should we use military forces to attack them in the country where they were hiding? Or should we, and our allies, deal with them as international criminals, using spies, informants, drone surveillance, all the tools of espionage to track down the terrorists and eliminate them? We chose military boots on the ground. Since then, there have been many casualties – American and Afghani. Would a different path have been a better choice? We’ll never know. 

Our involvement in Iraq began in 2003. Unlike Afghanistan where Al Qaeda was sheltered, the Iraqi government and its people had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. However, much of the American public remained angry and open to punishing any Middle Eastern country that might have aided terrorist activities.  

The Iraqis were, in fact, enemies of Al Qaeda, but that fact didn’t get in the way of the hawks in the White House. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney and President George W. Bush all pushed for intelligence results that would justify an invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  

They got their wish, although the intelligence reports they cited were mostly bogus. 16 years later, thousands of American military have been wounded or killed and tens of thousands of Iraqi’s have died. Also, many billions of tax dollars have been spent. Beyond that, the destabilization of Iraq created a power vacuum that allowed the rise of ISIS, resulting in thousands more dead and displaced. And the chaos created by the rise and eventual fall of ISIS has led to thousands of people fleeing Syria and Iraq; creating new problems for Western Europe to the delight of Russia’s Putin.  

On 9/11 as we watched the live TV coverage of the World Trade Center’s towers fall, we couldn’t see where things would lead. But there were people in our nation’s capital who could see where they wanted things to go. These were the cold war hawks who continue to believe that brute power trumps any other approach to international relations. Ironically, today’s news also included a fellow, like them, who never saw a war he didn’t admire, John Bolton. Thankfully, he just lost his White House job. Inexplicably, he still has admirers in high places. 

The national trajectory that September 11 kicked into gear has yet to reach its end point.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

2020 Is Already Here

Last night, the New Trier Dems’ Executive Committee held its monthly meeting. Although it wasn’t officially designated as the kickoff meeting of the 2020 Campaign year, the September date made it just that. Summer vacations are now behind us, the kids (and grandkids) are back in school and the weather is starting to remind us that autumn will soon be here.  

Politically speaking, this means the season for focusing on grassroots political activity has arrived. Local office holders and office seekers have started passing petitions to get themselves on next year’s primary ballots. U.S. congressional Democrats in several nearby Illinois districts are preparing to do battle with heavily funded challengers, already beginning their attacks. “Boots on the ground” actions are being organized to add new Democratic voters in neighboring battle ground states – particularly Wisconsin. Periodically, there may even be volunteer activities in our area to help Democrats in more distant states where vulnerable Republicans can be thrown out of office. (These days that’s always a good thing.) 

So with all that said, what’s happening right now in New Trier? Well, I suppose I should first mention that a larger NTD kickoff for the 2020 campaign year will occur in 10 days, on Saturday, September 14, in Wilmette’s Gillson Park. It’s our Annual NTD Membership Meeting followed by a lakeside picnic open to everyone. (Details are in “events” below.) It’s an afternoon that will give everybody a chance to get psychologically energized for the fourteen months between now and Election Day, 2020. — That’s right, folks. Fourteen months is all the time we have to halt the disastrous spiral our nation is in. 

Along those lines, last night the Exec Committee had a special guest. We were visited by Nancy Bruski, an activist from Evanston who has been working on an extremely valuable project just across our northern border. It’s a project that could actually win Wisconsin for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 2020. — No doubt you remember how, in 2016, Donald Trump became President of the United States because of a 27,000-vote margin when too many Wisconsin Democrats either stayed home or stayed unregistered. 

Wisconsin still has a Republican controlled legislature that continues to maintain voting barriers against unregistered Wisconsin residents who have profiles that make them likely Democratic voters. Wisconsin residents can register at polling places on Election Day but they most possess a Wisconsin voter ID. For some voters, the process of getting that ID can be confusing or a hassle. We know that many potential Democrats in that state still haven’t acquired their IDs. Ms. Bruski, working with Evanston’s Indivisible organization, has been having success changing that. – We’ll have more detailed info on all this at the Annual Meeting and Picnic on the 14th. 

I know this litany of volunteer possibilities may sound intimidating. But it’s not a matter of doing all of them – just some of them — or perhaps just one of them, whatever your time allows. And by the way, there will certainly be more volunteer opportunities you might choose as 2020 heats up. Stay tuned. 

One last thought: Why are we talking about grassroots volunteer efforts when actual elections are still many months away? – It’s because we have a man in the White House who is quite possibly the worst president in the history of the United States. He is ill equipped to be president in many, many ways. He is mentally and morally flawed — deeply. He increasingly shows the symptoms of a malignant narcissist; a sociopath in arguably the most powerful position on earth.  

Beyond all that, in the years since Trump’s election it has become quite clear that nearly all Republicans in office, for reasons that are difficult to fathom, are willing to go along with whatever this dangerous man desires, no matter how much damage this may be doing to our country. 

Next year is not just about making sure Donald Trump does not return to the White House in 2021. It’s also about working to remove his Republican enablers and apologists from the positions of power they have disgraced.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

P.S. You may notice that Indivisible’s Wisconsin Voter ID initiative is listed below among the Upcoming Events. Unfortunately, the scheduling of the NTD Annual Meeting and Picnic at Gillson Park is on the same day as the next Wisconsin Voter ID canvass. But don’t worry, there is another foray into Wisconsin in early October that we can all join. 

So, for all of you reading this who are members and friends of the New Trier Democrats, we hope you’ll join us on the lake at Gillson on September 14, and then make plans to travel to Wisconsin a few weeks later. And if you’re a reader who is already part of Indivisible’s Wisconsin project, have a great, successful trip.

A Prescription For Justice

Today I read a couple news stories that reminded me of how disappointed I am that certain aspects of our justice system fall short of delivering true justice. The stories were about separate lawsuits targeting two well-known pharmaceutical firms.  

One of the stories was about the state of Oklahoma suing Johnson & Johnson. The suit said the company and its subsidiaries “created a public nuisance” by using misleading language to aggressively market addictive painkillers, downplaying the risk of addiction. 

An Oklahoma judge determined Johnson & Johnson had indeed practiced such promotion, with dangerous consequences. And the good news is, the judge ordered J&J to pay Oklahoma $572 million in compensation, one of the largest monetary awards in U.S. history, — However the bad news is, this impressive sum is a fraction of the $17 billion settlement that Oklahoma sought and (considering the damaged lives, families and deaths) possibly deserved.  Yes, a Big Pharma corporation was held responsible for egregious misdeeds, but for a corporation that enjoyed $76.5 billion in worldwide sales in 2017 alone, a one-half billion-dollar penalty is peanuts. 

The other drug company story involved Perdue Pharmaceuticals. They are probably best known as the makers of OxyContin. They’ve made a variety of other pain medicines for years, but OxyContin, introduced in 1996 as an “extended release” formula of oxycodone, has been their super seller. It promised 12 hours of powerful time-released pain relief and demanded a price of up to hundreds of dollars per bottle. Once things got rolling, Purdue’s earnings boomed from a few billion dollars in 2007 to $35 billion in 2017. 

Such a successful product made the owners of Perdue richer than ever. Those owners are the Sackler family, who share an estimated fortune of $13 billion. And as I learned in my research, dealing with accusations and lawsuits isn’t new to them.  

In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges that the company had misrepresented the dangers of OxyContin, and three of their top officials pleaded guilty to criminal misdemeanors. The company and the men paid $634.5 million in fines. In a 2015 settlement, Kentucky received $24 million from Purdue Pharma. And most recently, prior to the Oklahoma court’s judgment against Johnson & Johnson, the Sackler family and Purdue settled with Oklahoma out of court for $270 million.  

As of right now, forty-eight states and Washington, D.C., as well as approximately 2,000 local and county governments, hospitals, and patients have gotten involved in suing Purdue and the Sacklers for allegedly using deceptive sales practices. The complaints have now been consolidated by a federal judge. 

This brings me to the interesting proposal the Sacklers just made to resolve the grievances against them and their company. — Perhaps they see the writing on the wall. For sure, they’re aware of the recent revelations of documents showing they clearly did encourage behavior that helped lead to our opioid disaster. 

The Sacklers are proposing they declare bankruptcy and that Purdue be reorganized as a for-profit “public benefit trust. ” Reportedly, the “public benefit trust” would last for at least a decade with Purdue contributing between $7 billion and $8 billion, some of it coming, ironically, from the sales of drugs that combat opioid overdoses. 

The trust would provide $4 billion in drugs to local and state governments to fight opioid addiction and also provide governments with profits from the sale of OxyContin. On top of that, the Sackler family would give up its ownership in Purdue, and contribute $3 billion to the settlement. – You might notice that this personal sacrifice would leave the family with only $10 billion for their personal needs. 

I would not be surprised if the Sacklers and some of their peers running other Big Pharma firms envision wriggling out of this predicament in a way similar to the model presented by the tobacco industry. That group still has growing sales overseas and has found a profitable new product line at home that continues to deliver addictive nicotine. Those guys lied to the U.S. public for years as they knowingly sold a product that caused sickness and death. Then they lied to congress about their actions. Eventually, their corporations paid huge fines – but they’re still in business.  

At this point in my litany of misdeeds, guilty pleas and settlement payments, you might notice that nowhere is there a mention of any person spending any time in jail. You never see it in the news either, because it doesn’t happen. The penalty they pay is always just…money.  This is where my disappointment surfaces. Corporate crimes require corporate criminals, and they should pay for their actions with a piece of time from their lives. Virtually all other criminals do. 

Outrageous quantities of drugs have been pumped into communities and regions with populations that clearly do not justify the sales figures. People all through the system have known what was going on was wrong – from the manufacturers and marketers to the distributors, pharmacies, doctors and public officials. The national media even reported on it.  

With all the destruction of human lives, the willful ignorance of criminality, the displays of soulless greed…so far it appears that nobody has been held accountable beyond paying a financial settlement – and finding dollars has not been a problem. Get people hooked on a drug, make lots of money from it and, if you’re caught, pay a fine. It’s the kind of system that would make “El Chapo” Guzman envious. 

According to the CDC, last year nearly 49,000 Americans died from opioids. It may not be pre-meditated murder, but these opioid epidemic enablers are definitely accessories to that ultimate crime. They should face the justice of jail time.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

A Slow Day For News

On most Wednesdays, I begin my day reading a couple newspapers, checking out NPR stories and mulling over what I might write about in this weekly commentary. Of course there are some Wednesdays when I already know the direction I want to take because, during the week between the Wednesdays, something major captured everyone’s attention. On those occasions I start writing down thoughts earlier. 

Then there are those Wednesdays when our president has done something so outrageous or foolish or just plain buffoonish during the past week that I can’t resist talking about it, even though being talked about, whatever the reason, is what Trump loves. (Frankly, if I wrote a commentary every time Trump did or said something asinine, I could probably start a daily column. – And how depressing that would be, especially for me.)  

It’s also true that every day, every week, every month there are ongoing issues that deserve our attention: Climate Change…gun violence…the corrosive effects of racism…of sexism…It’s a list of heavy subjects that all justifiably demand action. But to talk about them in general terms, week after week, would get more than a bit preachy. 

So, each Wednesday I look for a specific incident, policy or point of view that inspires me to present my personal take on it. — And this week, nothing really grabbed me. Yes, our nation’s leader did propose that we buy Greenland from Denmark. But when Denmark’s Prime Minister called Donald Trump’s proposal “absurd,” the president cancelled his planned visit to Denmark and responded that Prime Minister Frederiksen’s words were “nasty.” He’s such a sensitive human being. Hearing such blunt language from those foul mouthed Danes shocks him.  

And then there was today’s report on Mike Madigan’s fired Chief of Staff, Tim Mapes. It sounds like he was one of those bosses you hope never crosses your path in a job, an insecure guy who resorted to bullying and threats to “manage” his subordinates. (I wonder where he learned that?) And now an investigator’s report has advised Mapes’ boss, Mike Madigan, that he should be less trusting in delegating power to just one person. Gosh! I would not have thought House Speaker Madigan was such a naïve, trusting guy. — You learn something new every day. 

Other than those two colorful stories, I was reluctant to comment on the other news items I noticed. They were either too early in development, such as the shifting language used by Democratic Candidates to describe their proposed healthcare plans, or the news stories required a lot more research than my time allowed (or that I was willing to invest).  

However, I don’t want to wrap up this week’s comments without offering something substantive to consider. It’s not a new idea. In fact, it’s been the underlying purpose of this New Trier Democrats’ newsletter since its beginning.  

When you scroll down below this commentary, you’ll find ways to make use of services provide by elected officials such as County Commissioner Suffredin and State Representative Robyn Gabel. And you’ll read about several social gatherings, including two big ones with the New Trier Dems. You’ll also be offered a chance to learn about a fight for immigrant and economic justice going on right here in our own area. And you’ll see some fundraisers too.  

Accessing services, building social relationships, gaining political knowledge, flexing financial muscle are important facets of our New Trier Democrats’ organization. And they all help us win elections. But…

The power behind our success at turning the North Shore blue continues to be our grass roots volunteers. I’m guessing that includes many of you. Offering you ways to volunteer has been a defining purpose of this newsletter. 

Just a few days from now, on August 24, you can train to be a Deputy Voter Registrar, a valuable volunteer service that can affect the outcome of next year’s elections. There’s also information on canvassing potential Democratic voters in Wisconsin next month — and as you know, the importance of winning Wisconsin in 2020 can’t be underestimated. There’s even an intriguing opportunity to have an impact on a state house race in Virginia. 

These opportunities are all explained below. The month of August marks the end of our vacation season. Now it’s time to start thinking about the work ahead of us. We cannot, we must not allow Republicans to prevail in 2020.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Europeans Only!

This past 4th of July holiday, I took the day off from writing this weekly commentary. Instead, I simply displayed these key words from the famous plaque at our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”  

The words come from a poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. In 1903, the poem was cast onto a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal’s lower level. 

Although those words don’t date back to 1776 and the founding of our nation, I thought they summed up a standard of behavior for our United States that began to germinate with the writing of our Declaration of Independence. It has grown into a worthy ideal that has repeatedly reminded Americans – at least, I believe, the majority of Americans – that offering a harbor of hope to people of goodwill, hungry to thrive in a free society, is a quality America should always champion. 

But yesterday, Ken Cuccinelli, President Trump’s acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, clarified the Trump Administration’s understanding of those inspiring words. He said the Emma Lazarus poem only referred to “people coming from Europe.” As he put it, “people who can stand on their own two feet.” 

Before I even get into how misguided his words were, I have to point out that Mr. Cuccinelli’s boss, Donald J. Trump, has owned businesses that have pleaded for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on at least 4 occasions. – It seems “standing on your own two feet” is easier when you can force your numerous creditors to eat a lot of the debt you created. 

I also see some irony in that Mr. Cuccinelli’s name, although of European extraction, likely gave his forebears a bit of trouble when they came to our shores from Italy. Although it is a European nation, Italians were not always welcomed with open arms by many long-time American citizens. I cannot believe Cuccinelli isn’t aware of this, however I can believe he has about the same amount of empathy and perspective as his leader – zilch. 

But I digress. Ken Cuccinelli’s comments were made a day after the Trump Administration announced it will work to deny green cards to migrants who seek Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance. 

I suspect that a lot of this new positioning has to do with the Trump 2020 Presidential Campaign and its appeal to Trump’s hardcore supporters. They want their voters to view the Latin American refugees in our country and on our border as undeserving of any “safe harbor,” no matter what their reasons for seeking asylum. 

The Trump Administration would like their audience to believe that we got where we are today thanks to the work ethic and wholesome values of longtime American citizens, not “outsiders” who don’t look like us and who “expect government handouts.” (I should also mention that for a lot of our history, our nation’s economic success was aided by the labor of several million non-Europeans known to census takers as “slaves.”) 

I guess if you revised the words of poet Lazarus to reflect the new Trump policies, it might read like this: “Give me your well-educated, your financially secure, your select group of people prepared to add immediately to the U.S. GDP…” 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for smart, successful, entrepreneurial men and women emigrating to our United States and future citizenship. We want people who will add their skills to our economic growth. (As long as they aren’t some variety of criminal.) But excluding a broad diversity of backgrounds from that pool would be a stupid move. 

And as for Cuccinelli’s “Europeans only” interpretation, in 2016 Forbes magazine listed 45 foreign-born billionaires who made their fortunes in the U.S. These are the countries they came from: Argentina, Australia, Burma, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Korea, Morocco, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vietnam. 

Some of those successful immigrants came here already equipped with an education and sufficient funds to the quickly get started. But others came equipped with little more than their brains and a strong will to succeed in a country that allows such success to happen, regardless of your background.  

I think we all know that our nation’s behavior has been far less noble than the inspiring words at the base of Lady Liberty would indicate. Nevertheless, the ideal expressed there has repeatedly resurfaced over the years. Today, it is gratifying to see the present push back from Americans across the country against the treatment of Central American refugee families at our southern border.  

That’s what striving for an ideal brings — whether you set it for your own personal behavior or, as a people, for the behavior of our entire nation. It may never be fully achieved but aspiring to reach it makes us better and stronger than we would otherwise be. 

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

P.S. Emma Lazarus’ poem alludes to the Collussus of Rhodes, one of the “seven wonders of the ancient world.” According to legend, the gigantic statue stood at the entrance to the main port of Rhodes, with one foot on each side of the entrance. Our statue of liberty was going to be placed in New York Harbor, between the welcoming twin cities of New York and Brooklyn (not yet absorbed as a borough). Here is the poem in its entirety: 

The New Collussus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Our “Peculiar Institution”

I’ve been writing these NTD News essays for a number of years and I’m sorry to say that I’ve written about today’s subject far too many times already. Once again, it’s guns. 

It’s been just a few days since the horrific slaughter of human beings in El Paso and Dayton. But in those few days we’ve heard pleas for action from the families of the shooting victims, followed by dozens of opinions from the right and left declaring what needs to happen next. 

The general consensus among those willing to support new gun laws is that universal background checks and “red flag” laws would each make a difference. I’m sure they’re right, and it now seems likely that such reforms have a good chance of being adopted.  

Gun bills passed by the Democrat-controlled House include such modest measures. Unfortunately, that legislation has been blocked for months by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his reasoning being President Trump would veto it anyway. However, these two most recent massacres, in states Republicans need to hold in 2020, could revise that position. And the fact is, polls show that a large majority of America’s gun owners favor substantive and sensible steps such as background checks.  

But still, a disgusting number of legislators (mostly Republicans) and the Trump White House remain reluctant to support any approach that might raise the campaign financing hackles of the National Rifle Association. So, this week they’ve come up with diversionary language that cites too many mentally ill Americans and violent video games as two causes of our frequent mass shootings. Both claims are false. 

To be fair, I would guess that even the most cowardly or closed minded Republican (unless he/she is psychologically incapable of empathy) does want to see the probability of future mass shootings reduced. But when it comes to taking a virtuous stand that could prevent future tragedy for hundreds, but might also endanger future reelection, those Republicans seem to be falling back on that legendary prayer: “Please God, make me good, but not just yet” 

It is also interesting that with this most recent pair of American mass murders, one right wing suggestion for combating crowd shooters has pretty much been missing: the idea that good people with guns stop bad people with guns. Although, I actually did hear one Republican politician spout that simplistic solution.  

The realities in both El Paso and Dayton clearly reveal that the above-mentioned politician is an idiot. The El Paso shootings occurred in a state that has some of the most permissive gun carry laws in America (and they are about to get even looser). So the odds are that several people in that Walmart had handguns. All any of them had to do was simply stop, aim and fire their handgun while the shooter sprayed the crowd with his AK 47 style rifle. — Would you? 

And in Dayton the fallacy of guns carriers countering a shooter was made even clearer. Within 30 seconds of the first bullet fired, the Dayton shooter, Connor Betts, was shot dead by off-duty officers — good people with guns. However, during the 30 seconds before Betts was killed, he got off enough shots to end the lives of nine people and wound 27 others.  

Betts had a .223 caliber high capacity military style automatic rifle with a 100 round drum magazine, and he had more magazines with him ready to use. According to the NRA and their gun manufacturer sponsors, this is weaponry that every American with “a clean record” has the right to purchase.  

How is such an insane situation allowed to continue? — The NRA and the people behind them want it that way. 

The NRA was created in the post-Civil War years to improve the marksmanship skills of Americans – especially northerners. They’ve sure come a long way since then. Over the years they successfully built the image that they exist to protect the gun rights of hunters, marksmen, freedom loving Americans. Meanwhile, they’ve become the politically savvy lobbying arm of the manufacturers of guns. 

At the most basic business level, gun manufacturers are no different from makers of bowling balls, bicycles or brassieres. Manufacturers exist to sell their products and gun manufacturers make weapons. They cannot remain viable without new sales and profits every year. Year after year. 

The NRA and their gun-maker overlords do not want to have another national discussion about whether assault weapons or high capacity gun magazines should be banned. If they can keep the range of reforms down to procedural changes and new layers of paperwork, I suspect they can live with it. – Besides, they know that procedures will be handled with different degrees of difficulty in different states. The subject of how many people can be killed in seconds by their products is a discussion they’d like to avoid. 

The NRA and the politicians they control do not want the public and their legislators going directly after the real problem in America — the proliferation of high-powered weaponry in the hands of tens of millions of people.  

In the years before the Civil War, a former South Carolina congressman and U.S. vice president referred to slavery as “The peculiar institution.” Those benign words labeled a terrible aspect of American life.  

With an estimated 393 million guns circulating in our nation of 330 million people, it may be time to start referring to guns as 21st Century America’s “Peculiar institution.” This is definitely not our finest hour.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Debating The Debates

Last night on national television, we heard from ten Democrats who want to be their party’s nominee for our next president. Tonight, we’re going to hear from ten more. To get onstage, these twenty met certain criteria (fundraising and poll numbers). The total number of aspiring candidates is ever higher! 

I won’t attempt to critique last night’s performance of each candidate or the specifics of what they said. That’s beyond my skill set. — If you did miss last night’s event, you can find complete videos or transcripts on the Internet and draw you own conclusions.  

With that said, I did get a couple of general impressions that I’ll share: 

— There is a progressive core of Democrats who believe it’s time for America to renew the energy, ideas and ideals that led our nation to achieve so many positive milestones. Those Democrats were well represented on the stage. (I imagine we will see some of that thinking represented in the debate tonight too.)

— There is also a segment of Democrats who appeared last night who, although progressive on certain issues, are reluctant to challenge the status quo in truly big ways (they claimed they had in the past – maybe so). Such reluctance led them to criticize various Medicare expansion proposals and border “security” positions with words that were close to Republican talking points. (I also recognize that they are from “red” states.) 

It will be interesting to see if that dynamic holds true tonight. Beyond that, it will be interesting to see if the CNN producers and debate narrators handle their chores in a less annoying way.  

Each of this year’s Democratic Party “debates” has been allotted two hours of TV time. However, last night if you subtracted the time spent introducing each candidate as they strolled onto the stage, the narrators’ introductory and interim comments, the breaks for paid commercials, and each candidates opening and closing remarks, viewers were given little more than ninety minutes to hear the ten candidates present specific thoughts on at least a dozen complex and critically important issues.  

The narrators’ rules allowed a one-minute response to each of CNN’s questions. Once the timer reached one minute, the narrator started speaking over the candidate’s comments – often just as their summary point was being made. This really did annoy me. 

I may not possess the keen ear of a TV professional like CNN’s Jake Tapper, but I’ve been in conversations for a lot of years. If I’m actually listening to what’s being said, I know when that person speaking to me is nearing the end of their sentence. Their cadence and wording makes it clear. These debates do have reasons for time rules (commercial breaks if nothing else), but there must be a better way to handle this. 

At our New Trier Dems endorsement sessions, we have a timekeeper with a “30-seconds” sign that is quietly flashed to each speaker. Amazingly, he/she usually wraps up within seconds of their allotted time. Perhaps CNN could budget for a tiny light bulb on each podium. The narrator could click it on when 5 or ten seconds of time remained. The candidate’s words might be rushed, but viewers would at least hear the summary language without someone else’s voice shouting them down. — Or perhaps the CNN narrator could simply say, “ten seconds left” and allow the candidate to finish unmolested. 

The shout-down methods of CNN’s fastidious timekeepers accomplished the opposite of what their event was supposed to produce. Information was lost.  

As the debate went on, I also got a growing feeling that there was something “off” about the questions being asked. At times, they almost felt accusatory. And, for sure, they felt like the narrators were trolling for “gotcha” lines that would keep the polarization pot stirred for future CNN TV discussions.  

Often, the initial question asked about a new subject didn’t call for an “elevator statement” that quickly described the candidate’s position and reasoning. Instead the leadoff question was worded to demand a defensive answer. That’s not all bad. We should see how the candidates handle such confrontation. But those challenging leadoffs happened so often it started to feel like the tone of the entire debate carried a negative vibe. I hope things are different tonight. 

Last month, as I watched the first pair of debates with the glitzy stage setting and the parade of candidates on display, it reminded me a bit of the Miss America Pageant. I thought, “Is this the best procedure we can come up with to determine who we want to be our next president?” 

Thankfully, these debates are only part of the process. The grass roots action starting this fall is when things really take off.  

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Mulling the Mueller Report

Today New Trier enjoyed picture perfect weather. So, how did I spend my day? I watched Robert Mueller responding to House Congressional committees on Capitol Hill. 

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-NY, and the House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif, presided over about seven hours of questioning from both sides of the aisle. Judiciary was in the morning, Intelligence in the afternoon. 

As we all know by now, last April’s release of the much-anticipated Mueller Report didn’t have the public impact we Democrats had hoped for. Four hundred pages of legal language, interrupted with blacked out sentences, paragraphs and pages, made it difficult for the public to get their heads around the truly bad behavior committed by Donald Trump and his shady crew. 

And beyond the uninviting bulk of the actual report, the newly appointed Attorney General William Barr had his own affect on the public’s perception of the report. He presented his Trump-friendly 4-page summary to the American people before Mueller’s 400-page report was officially released. He was brief and dismissive in his summation of events that covered several years, before, during and after the President’s capture of the White House. Barr’s approach reminded me of the policeman at the scene of a crime urging curious passersby, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” 

For much of the public, A.G. Barr’s summation became their first (and only) impression of Mueller’s findings. So, even though there was plenty in the full Report that should, at the least, alarm Americans about the activities of President Trump and his operatives, Barr’s language led many to dismiss the report’s importance and move on to “bigger” concerns. 

Before today’s hearings began, I suspect congressional Democrats were hoping to get Mr. Mueller to read some of the most damning report findings in his own voice. Perhaps they envisioned headlines tomorrow like, “Mueller says President Trump took action to obstruct federal investigators!” But throughout the morning nothing like that happened.  

Instead, almost all of Robert Mueller’s morning responses used a minimum of words. The committee member would ask a question based on the report’s language and Mueller would respond with the briefest reply. There was a lot of “That is generally the summary…I rely on the wording of the report… I refer you to the report.” The result was the committee member ended up reading the report’s findings verbatim, with Mueller then agreeing with what he just heard. – This does not lead to blockbuster headlines. 

The Republican Representatives couldn’t have known how Robert Mueller would perform today. So, they had their well-rehearsed outrage ready when it was their turn to “interview” him. Virtually every Republican on each committee appeared to be in lockstep with a single message: Robert Mueller’s investigation was biased against Donald Trump from the start. On the one hand, they praised Mr. Mueller for his service to our country as a Marine war hero and longtime public servant, while simultaneously accusing him and his team of conspiring to “get” President Trump. Sometimes politics is pretty disgusting. 

It’s doubtful that anything the Republicans had to say changed the minds of any Democrats. But it did give those GOP legislators nice sound bites to play on local TV back home. And it did give us a preview of what their party’s official spin will be if revelations of Trump’s multi-pronged connections to Russia or his frantic efforts to obstruct justice, threatens to grow into a national scandal. 

The possibility of that happening increased a small bit during the afternoon House Intelligence Committee session. Mr. Mueller seemed to become more talkative after lunch. His comments concerning the veracity of witnesses from Trump’s circle were more frank. He agreed that some were outright liars. He also testified that some written responses to the questions he sent to President Trump were not completely answered.  

But he was especially vocal when the focus was on the security dangers presented by a foreign power meddling in our democratic processes. 

Mueller referred to “attacks against the United States such as what the Russians did in 2016.” He said he expected the Russians to do it again and said, “in fact, their doing it right now.” He spoke of wanting the public to be diligent against future meddling, saying much more needs to be done to protect against these intrusions…we need to harden our election infrastructure, make sure our voting procedures and methods are strengthened. He urged the congressional committee to use the resources we have to address this threat and stated that the FBI continues to be looking into foreign meddling. 

I believe the hearings underscored this is a real area of vulnerability in Trump’s 2020 campaign. A majority of Americans now accept the fact that Russians meddled in our elections. Even the most conservative voters don’t like that reality and don’t want it to ever happen again. The Russia-Putin-Internet efforts that aided Donald Trump in 2016 should be hung around Trump’s neck like a huge, shiny medal of shame.  

And here’s one last thought. If we hadn’t won the U.S. House in 2018 it’s highly unlikely these hearings would have even been held. Aren’t you glad you helped make that happen?

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Big News! Donald Trump Is An Ignorant Bigot

As usual, the past week was filled with important news items. The lingering deluge of rain in Louisiana and the flooding and misery it caused for thousands was a big story. Scientists again speculated that climate change was behind the storms disastrously slow movement. (But, one more “brief” incident along humanity’s path toward existential disaster wasn’t enough to retain much interest.) 

Another story that briefly grabbed our attention was the continuing revelations about conditions at immigrant detention facilities on our southern border. Depending on your media source, it’s either “just fine thank you,” or a national disgrace. — Fair and balanced. You decide. 

But then something really big occurred that steered our attention away from everything else. 

I agree, the event was certainly newsworthy, although what we learned from the story could hardly be called “news.”  President Trump tweeted a message to the nation that was untruthful, bigoted and, in its context, pretty clearly racist. And, he used language that many of us thought had been abandoned for its ignorance several generations ago.  

How shocking! Donald Trump was capable of saying something with a racist perspective and an ignorance of our nation’s most treasured values. — This is not really news to most of us. 

Republican politicians and commentators quickly recognized that Trump’s tweet was, at the least, controversial and could be problematic for some Republican office holders and candidates. So, they immediately began spinning their interpretations of what Trump had said, what he was defending, why he was correct. The congresswomen the president referred to were “radicals, socialists, communists; they hated America and, if given the chance, would destroy it.” 

Democrats, on the other hand, saw Trump’s foolish twitter rant as a “gotcha” moment. Here was Trump using language that many Americans knew was identical to words used against their own families in past (or in some cases present) times. 

Our USA has families with Irish or Italian or German roots, who know stories passed down from earlier generations about hearing, “Go back where you came from,” when they emigrated to America. There are Catholics and Jews and Muslims who know their families have heard those words. There are African American and Mexican American families whose roots go back to our nation’s beginnings and yet still hear that hostile epithet.  

“Go back where you came from!” has been yelled at Americans by Americans throughout our U.S. history. It is truly a stupid thing to say. And coming from the mouth of the President of the United States makes it doubly stupid. 

So, I’d like to think that the offensiveness of President Trump’s most blatantly dumb tweets will begin to have a damaging effect on his chance for reelection. Maybe they will. 

However, seeing so many headlines and editorials, so much TV and radio attention, so much Internet activity exclusively devoted to President Trump has me wondering who is benefiting the most? Trump may be gaining more than he’s losing. 

His outrageous behavior may be giving the man just what he wants: — He’s reinforcing his pugnacious appeal to the core of his supporters.– He’s laying the groundwork for 2020 by establishing his credentials as the defender of “real Americans.” — He’s memorably branding some of the most progressive members of Congress as “people who hate America.”– He’s drawing attention away from embarrassing news stories – like his old friendship with accused sex trafficker of children, Jeffrey Epstein. 

I may be giving Donald Trump too much credit. He may not be a clever strategist, but merely a guy who learned how to succeed by doing and saying outrageous things without putting much thought into it.  

So I will end with this: One of the things I love most about our United States is when I spot a storefront sign or an advertisement for a business with multi-national names. You know, like the law firm of Shapiro, O’Reilly and Wong, or the design firm, Olson, Ramirez, Schmidt and Patel. — I made those names up but I’ll bet you can find similarly diverse real world examples. What’s so cool about this is that there are only a few nations where you might see such a wonderful mix of backgrounds, people with origins that represent every corner of our world, now working together as Americans free to pursue their ambitions and dreams. 

As House Speaker Pelosi recently said, “Our diversity is our strength. Our unity is our power.”

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Trump, the Historian?

So last week, America was treated to the pageantry of President Trump’s Independence Day celebration, a “Salute to America” as interpreted and produced by the only person capable of handling such a tremendous job — Donald Trump.  

His original vision was to stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as he reviewed a passing parade featuring America’s military might. His inspiration was a parade he witnessed on the Champs Elysees in Paris for Bastille Day. (I bet he would have really been envious of those parades Stalin used to throw.)  

Unfortunately for the president’s plans, the projected costs, logistics and potential street damage forced him to settle for marching men, military bands and aircraft flyovers. A few stationary tanks were, however, delivered on flatbed trucks to the podium location – not exactly creating the drama Trump had in mind. 

Of course the highlight of President Trump’s patriotic presentation was going to be his speech. And as it turned out, his 45 minute address, read from a teleprompter, was relatively uneventful. Unlike his usual style, the president didn’t use any of his time at the microphone to talk about himself, attack perceived enemies or spread outrageous lies. Quite refreshing. 

However, at one point his words did conclusively reveal that our nation has the weirdest (or at least most confused) leader in the western world. It was when President Trump spoke of how General George Washington and his brave Revolutionary Army crossed the Delaware “and seized victory from ‘Cornwallis of Yorktown,’ as our army manned the air(space?), it ‘ranned’ the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do. And at Fort ‘McKendry’ (wrong war, wrong name) under the rockets’ red glare it had nothing but victory.” 

At that moment, anyone paying attention to the words the president was saying might have been alarmed that he was having a stroke. For Donald Trump to speak of George Washington’s Revolutionary War army taking over Cornwallis’ airports in 1775, more than one hundred years before airplanes existed, is disturbing. Is he that ignorant? Or does he even hear the words that come out of his mouth? – And does he care? 

Later Trump brushed the whole incident off as a problem with the teleprompter. Seriously, if you were reading aloud from a book about the Civil War and you thought you saw words that said, “General Grant pursued General Lee in his Jeep,” would you pause before uttering those words. Or if the type was illegible, would you ad-lib with the word, “Jeep?” I don’t think so. 

I’ve since read one analysis of what happened, written by a teacher who has worked with kids that have a severe reading disability. She wasn’t speaking of dyslexia. It was more problematic. The words on a page don’t even register in the reader’s brain. She opined that this might be why President Trump reads from a teleprompter slowly, one word at a time. And why he refuses to be burdened with reading reports of any length from his staff, who now know to severely limit the size of any reports they put in front of him. — He literally can’t read them.  

I know that is all conjecture. There may be another explanation for Trump’s disinterest in written information. Perhaps it’s simply that Donald Trump is an extremely lazy man. Or he has a tiny attention span. Or his narcissism finds little value in words that aren’t about him or his interests. 

But I’m betting the schoolteacher’s explanation is closest to the truth. I believe Donald Trump has never mastered the ability to read. And someone so poorly equipped to study and understand the written word, shouldn’t be sitting in the Oval Office. It’s actually quite dangerous. 

So on that gloomy note, what can we do right now to make the future of our United States a bit brighter? I guess the first thing to do is not give up hope for better things ahead.  

We should view last November’s election successes as just the beginning for turning the page. — We should continue to show strong support for all the Democrats from our region that we’ve sent to congress. And as our state goes through some substantive changes, we must stay firmly behind our Democratic state legislators too. The excellent people we’ve elected locally to our state legislature should give us cause for optimism. This also applies to some of the County officials we’ve helped elect. Reform is in the air for every level of government. 

The point is to stay engaged. So, I’ll end this with three pleasant suggestions for engagement that actually don’t require any effort beyond eating, drinking and talking. (I suppose two of the suggestions also could also include some bargain shopping.) 

Check out the events listed just below this essay: The Winnetka Sidewalk Sale on Friday, July 19 and the Wilmette Summerfest & Sidewalk Sale on Saturday, July 20 are two opportunities for political conversations at the New Trier Dems’ table. There will also be information there from Democrats we’ve helped elect. (Some may stop by at any time.) 

And mark your calendar now for Monday, July 22. The New Trier Democrats’ Annual Meet & Greet will once again be held at Avli Restaurant in Winnetka. There won’t be any political speeches, but there will be lots of candid conversations with a number of our Democratic office holders. The drinks are good. The food is delicious. And the discussions should be inspiring.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973