“Now it is your turn to let freedom ring”

Today, as Congressman and civil rights veteran John Lewis was laid to rest at a funeral service in Atlanta, Georgia, America saw another side of this country, the opposite side of Trump’s America.

The contrasts could not have been starker, and it renewed our hope that better days are ahead.

Here is Lewis’ op-ed article in the New York Times today, written just a day or so before his death on July 17. It’s a call to action to all Americans of good will.

“Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation”

By John Lewis

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”


 

 

 

With dizzying speed, Joe Biden races to the front

Events in the American presidential election campaign are overtaking each other with dizzying speed. What was conventional wisdom just a week ago – before the South Carolina primary on February 29 – has after Super Tuesday been completely trashed.

Almost counted out, Joe Biden is now in the lead. The front runner, Bernie Sanders, stumbled badly, and the field got thinner, a lot thinner — out is Tom Steyer; out is Pete Buttigieg; out is Amy Klobuchar; and out is Michael Bloomberg.

Only Elizabeth Warren remains, but her days are clearly numbered. After a series of third and even worse finishes, she did not even manage yesterday to win her home state, Massachusetts, coming in third after Biden 33 percent, Sanders 26, Warren 21, and Bloomberg 11. In my hometown, Great Barrington, in the western part of the state, with a population of a little over seven thousand, Sanders won with 691 votes, followed by Biden 606, Warren 515, and Bloomberg 180.

Biden surprised all evening as the results came in, from east to west, and ended up winning ten of the fourteen states. His huge victory in Virginia stunned observers and set the tone for the evening. And what followed surprised even more, when, in the North, he captured Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Maine. And his victory in Texas was truly mind-boggling – no one saw that coming. His support, just like in South Carolina, among the African American voters, continued to be solid, 60 to 70 percent. But he also made big inroads among white suburban voters, who, in many places, went to the polls in larger numbers than 2016 and even than 2008, when Barack Obama captured the presidency. That bodes well for November.

Sanders, on the other hand, failed to expand his support, and, writes professor Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia, “it’s clearer than ever now that at least some of his support in 2016 was simply a function of being the alternative to Hillary Clinton. Matched up with Biden more directly now, it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to match his 2016 achievements.” Momentum is now with Biden. Still, Sabato adds, the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nominee might change again. “Certainly, Biden is going to be under renewed scrutiny, and his campaign performances have been shaky at best.”

The consequences of Biden’s weaknesses, when the Democrats do not have “an awesome” candidate, as Tom Friedman writes in today’s New York Times. the party needs to have an “awesome coalition.”  “That means a party that is united as much as possible – from left to center to right – so it can bolster the nominee against what will be a vicious, united and well-funded Trump/GOP campaign.”

Right now, that unity does not exist, although it took a big step forward with Biden’s former rivals, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, with his billions, all endorsing Biden and, thereby, the moderate wing of the party against Sanders’ left-wing progressivism, his “democratic socialism.” Biden, should he win the nomination, needs Sanders and his young supporters to win in November. On the day after Super Tuesday, Sanders showed no indications that he is ready to play ball, at least not yet.  And, so, the race goes on, to the next Tuesday and maybe the Tuesdays after that, all the way to June and then the convention in Milwaukee in July. For the Democrats that is a dark scenario indeed.

 

A voice of hope and optimism from Minnesota

R.T. Rybak, the former long-time mayor of Minneapolis, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and CEO and president of the Minneapolis Foundation,  lends a voice of hope and optimism to these otherwise dark days in America.  Let’s hope he is right. Here he is, on his Facebook page:

“My heart sank Friday as I walked down Pennsylvania Av in Washington and saw a giant reviewing stand had been built in front of the White House. Eight years ago this is where I was so filled with pride when I saw our new President Barack Obama, and his family, as they were about to enter their new home. Knowing it was now about to house Donald Trump was almost more than I could take.
I felt so hollow when I thought about all we have had, and what we will lose. But something really wonderful happened next and I hope it gives hope to those of you who love President Obama as much as I do:
I went through security into the White House because the President invited me in to come by for a few minutes before he left office. I turned the corner to the Oval Office to see him looking more energized than he has in months, and with that huge smile on this face that has lifted so many of us so many times.
I gave him a copy of my book, told him that now that he’s mastered this POTUS gig he was ready for the big time as a Mayor. Then I handed him a note from my wife Megan O’Hara recalling what it felt like nine years ago when we stood in the Des Moines Convention Center, just after he won the Iowa caucus, and the announcer said: “And now the next First Family of the United States of America.”
I was really overwhelmed as I was telling him that because it was such a moment of pride, a beginning of a long path to him getting to the White House and, now it was over. He put his arm on my shoulder and looked at me intensely, saying, “We aren’t done yet.”
I wish I could have bottled the look in his eyes so all the people I know, and don’t, who feel dishearten now, who are so fearful of what comes next, and who feel a sense of loss, know he is absolutely not, under any circumstances, going to stop fighting for what we believe in.
“I’m going to take a little vacation,” he said, “get a little sun, but then we are right back at it. ”
He told me about the work he will be doing on youth and families, on getting more people engaged in voting, on protecting liberties. Then he said the words that meant the most to me: “The best is yet to come.”
I believe Barack Obama was the greatest President of my lifetime, but as I heard him talk, I remembered he is about more than political office. At so many times—his amazing speech about race in the first campaign, his powerful words after Sandy Hook, his second inaugural when laid out the imperative of attacking climate change—he has moved us beyond politics to elevate our values. This is his great opportunity now; just as America faces a crisis of values, a great debate about who we really are at our core, he will be speaking not as just a politician, but as a moral leader. In many ways we need that even more today than great politicians.
In the couple minutes we had left we talked about what I am learning in my own evolution from political to civic leader; about what you can and can’t do in and out of office, and how much can be done if each of your statements aren’t filtered through the cynicism people have for politicians.
We said goodbye and I walked out of the White House, past that reviewing stand, but didn’t feel the same sense of dread. Donald Trump will be my President and I won’t try to delegitimize him even though many, including Trump, tried to do that to Obama for eight years. But we can fight for what we believe, and fight back, hard, when we see something wrong. And, remembering that look in the President’s eye when he told me, “We aren’t done yet”, and remembering all we have seen during his remarkable Presidency, I know he will be with us every step.
Later that night Megan and I went to a farewell party at the White House. I talked to Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan who has gone back to Chicago to work on youth violence prevention, to former Attorney General Eric Holder who is organizing opposition to unfair redistricting around the country, former White House political director and Ambassador Patrick Gaspard who is working on citizen engagement with George Soros, Gabby Giffords is fighting the gun violence that robbed her and so many others of so much, activist actors like Alfre Woodard who has been through waves of social movements saying she’s now ready for the next phase. Obama has been a President but Obama is also a movement that isn’t done on Jan 20.
Back in 2007, when I was working with activists around the country in the Draft Obama campaign, I wrote a blog on a national website saying: “Barack Obama is a great man but this is not about him. It’s about setting off a movement.” The next day he called my office, said that’s the way he saw it, that he was community organizer who wanted to light the spark, and he recruited me to volunteer for what was then a long-shot campaign. I still feel that way, and it’s clear he does, too.
And after those few wonderful minutes with him as he gets ready to leave office, I feel, like him, that “the best is yet to come.”

A tragedy, and an uncertain future, but not the end

Well, I tried, as did over 59 million American voters, but Donald Trump was not to be stopped.

The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, one of my favorite American journalists, called the election, “An American tragedy” — a triumph for “nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.”

Trump’s victory is a victory for the old America and a rejection of the past eight years under Barack Obama. It’s a big step backwards, away from the America of freedom, openness, and multiculturalism that had brought millions of immigrants, like me, to its shores.

Not only did Trump improbably win the White House, but the Republican Party held on to its majorities in the Senate and the House. The political results will come swiftly: Merrick Garland, nominated many months ago by Obama to the Supreme Court will never become a member of the Court, whose conservative majority is now guaranteed for years to come. The Affordable Care Act could be abolished and the fate of those twenty million with new health insurance is unknown. The future of the nuclear deal with Iran is highly uncertain. “Get ready for a rough ride,” writes Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus.

Still, this is not the end of America. The political forces, from Trump himself and other Republicans to President Obama and Hillary Clinton, have all quickly urged the coming together to ensure the peaceful transition of power. We are Americans first, patriots first, said Obama. “We all want what’s best for the country.” Tomorrow, he will receive Trump in the White House.

For the anti-Trump forces, for the losing side, there are some silver linings in the dark clouds. Hillary Clinton won the plurality of the vote, 59,679 million to 59,472 million for Trump. But she lost the all-important Electoral College vote, failing to reach the magical number of 270. And that’s really all that counts. That’s happened before, most recently in 2000, when Al Gore won the plurality of votes but still lost the election to George W. Bush. It’s time to do away with this antiquate election system and elect America’s president on the basis of how many votes he/she gets.

California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont belong to the group of states where Clinton captured over 60 percent of the vote, followed by New York State with 59 percent, Washington State 56, and Illinois, New Jersey, and Rhode Island 55. In Washington, DC, almost 93 percent of the voters supported Clinton. For Trump, Wyoming gave him his largest victory margin with 70 percent of the vote, followed by West Virginia 69, Oklahoma, 65, North Dakota, 64, Alabama and Kentucky 63, and Tennessee 61 percent.

It was urban vs. rural, the two coasts vs. the heartland. The election shows a country split down the middle, more divided than anyone had realized.

The Democrats failed to capture the majority in the U.S. Senate but they had some success by electing three new, female, senators: Kamala Harris, California, Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada, and Tammy Duckworth, Illinois, an Indian/African-American, a Latina, and a Thai-American. Maryland has a new U.S. Senator, Democrat Chris Van Hollen — my former Congressman — who, in turn, was succeeded by Jamie Raskin, also a progressive Democrat.

In Minnesota, which I have followed closely a few years, Clinton squeaked through with 46.8 percent of the vote, or 43,000 votes, but the Republicans increased their majority in the State House and captured the majority in the State Senate. Democratic governor Mark Dayton’s two remaining years in office will not be easy. Minnesota also elected the first Somali American to the State Legislature. 34-year-old Ilhan Omar, who came to America as a child after years in a refugee camp, captured 81 percent of the vote in her Minneapolis district and became not only the first Somali-American legislator in Minnesota, but in all of America. That’s not Trump’s America, but it is my America.

 

Obama’s historic speech in Havana — finally!

The tragedy in Brussels and the endless election campaign came to overshadow President Obama’s historic speech in Havana, Cuba, yesterday.

So I am posting it here because of its  importance. Finally, the United States and Cuba have broken with the past and started on the road towards a new, constructive relationship.

I am also posting it because of its eloquence, Obama at his best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEw3H0C-Lj8

 

Scalia’s death raises the stakes but also the question of reforms

The presidential election campaign all of a sudden got more contentious, more exciting, and more important with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the leading conservative on the Court.

The voters on November 8 will now decide not only who occupies the White House after President Obama, and who controls the U.S. Congress, but also who, conservatives or liberals, will control the third branch of the American political system, the Supreme Court.

With Scalia gone, the Court is tied, 4 – 4, between conservative and liberal justices. An Obama appointment would almost certainly swing the Court to a liberal majority and, for the first time since 1972, the justices appointed by Democratic presidents would outnumber those appointed by Republican presidents. The change would be monumental.

The Republicans in the Senate led by majority leader Mitch McConnell have instantly made it clear that they have no intention to consider an Obama nominee, no what who that is. The decision to appoint Scalia’s replacement should be made by the next president. But Obama is not elected to a three-year but to a four-year term. He has almost a year left in office and he has, rightly, declared that he intends to nominate a new justice. So we are in for a big fight, a complicating, new factor in an election campaign already fraught with uncertainty and tension.

McConnell, who famously said during Obama’s first term that his primary political goal was to make sure that Obama was not reelected now wants to deny the president, who has already appointed two new high court justices, the chance to appoint a third. McConnell’s stern “no” could have serious election implications for the Republicans and their goal to keep their Senate majority, as NYT’s Nate Cohn outlines. We’ll see how this plays out.

The death of Scalia is also an important reminder of how totally unpredictable the system of appointing Supreme Court justices is. It’s time to change what’s been, rightly, called an undemocratic system by doing away with life time appointments and create more orderly nomination procedures with term limits and a retirement age. In Minnesota, to which I presently spend a lot of attention, the retirement age for the state’s highest court is 70. That’s a bit young, maybe, but why not 75? And why not a 20-year term limit? Or both?

Sadly, such reforms are seldom part of the American political dialogue. They should be, particularly as the politicization of the Supreme Court shows no signs of abating.

Iowa and New Hampshire solved nothing — and that’s good!

Two down but no end in sight. Iowa and New Hampshire solved nothing.

That’s the only conclusion to draw after the first two contests in the American presidential election campaign.

And maybe that’s a good thing. Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of today’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic America. How can they be when 95 percent of New Hampshire’s population are white and when two thirds of the Republican voters in Iowa are evangelical? That’s not today’s America.

At least, the candidates in both parties are fewer than before. Among the Democrats, it’s now a real race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Who would have thought just a short time ago that Bernie Sanders, who sounds like a good Swedish social democrat like Olof Palme, would capture such enthusiasm and support among American voters? As someone who has grown up in that northern European political culture, much of what Sanders says sounds right: basic fairness, health care for all, income equality, free education. But is it a sign of something new in American politics? Is it a sign that a “democratic socialist’’ all of a sudden is acceptable, maybe even mainstream? Or is it more an indication of the country’s voters so desperately seeking something new, and fresh, that even a 74-year old Senator can symbolize this?

Still, in today’s America, his vision is politically completely unrealistic, and, I believe, will only carry him so far. In the end, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But the fact that Sanders won 83 percent of the voters between 18 and 29 years of age while Clinton only won among those over 65 and failed to win the women’s vote must be most worrisome. Is America ready for a woman president, or is Hillary Clinton the wrong female candidate?

That depends, largely, on who the Republican nominee is. Right now, it could be Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or one the so-called establishment candidates, if one of them catches fire. If not, the Republican Party will be led by either the chief clown, Trump, or the chief spokesman of evangelical America, Cruz, the most conservative nominee since Barry Goldwater in 1964. We know how that ended. And that’s what worries the establishment in the Republican Party, but can they do anything about it? So far, no.

Both Sanders and Trump are outsiders, and, ironically, both have no chance in realizing their vision of America. Trump plays the strong man with an enormous ego who thinks he can solve all the problems. His message is fool’s gold and he should not be taken seriously. It’s sad to see so many do, that two thirds of the Republican primary voters in New Hampshire agreed with his proposal to bar Muslims from entering America, or that Trump, a man with zero foreign policy experience, is the best man to handle an international crisis. Unfortunately, the Republican voters, at least so far, seem to listen to what David Brooks calls the “pornography of pessimism” among the Republican candidates about of the state of affairs in America. Will that last? We don’t know.

Yes, it was a remarkable week for Obama — and now on to gun control!

It was a remarkable week for President Obama, as the New Yorker’s David Remnick writes so eloquently: “What a series of days in American life, full of savage mayhem, uncommon forgiveness, resistance to forgiveness, furious debate, mourning, and, finally, justice and grace.”

Indeed, it was a remarkable week for America, capped by Obama’s eulogy over the victims at the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a must to see and to listen to, for all American. So go ahead!

Now, let’s now hope the Confederate flag really does come down from the South Carolina State House, and everywhere else where it might fly. And let’s hope the discussion about the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage is over. Because it is done. Finished. Let’s move on!

Sadly, however, most Republicans, including the “clown bus” of presidential candidates, seem reluctant to do so, holding on to something that has passed them by. That doesn’t seem to be a  winning strategy, and it is disappointing.

And let’s hope the Democrats, going against their own President on the Asian trade bill, will come to their senses. I come from a country ruled by Social Democracy for decades and where everyone belongs to a union. Still, it is a country that firmly believes in international trade, in an open world, in the globalization that we are all experiencing. There is no going back here either, so how could Nancy Pelosi and the great majority of the other Democrats go so wrong? It is not a winning strategy for America, and it is, also, disappointing.

Remnick’s article talks about Obama’s “resolve.” He is still the President for another year and half, so let’s hope he uses that remaining time to move forward on gun control. The curse of guns in this country must come to an end. Let’s hope.

We are reminded again: Torture is torture. Period.

The U.S. Senate’s torture report is out, and that was a good day for America. But it underlined  once again that America “lost its way”during those dark years after 9/11, as Eric Lichtau wrote in his book Bush’s Law – The Remaking of American Justice.

“This is not how Americans should behave. Ever,” says today’s main editorial in the Washington Post.

So, to talk about whether these “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked or not is completely irrelevant.

“Torture is wrong, whether or not it has ever ‘worked,'”  the Post adds. Exactly.

“Only fools” discuss whether illegal actions “work,” wrote Slate Magazine’s legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick some time ago. Exactly, again.

But, as Lithwick also wrote, they “got away with it:” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and his staff member Jose Rodriguez, who destroyed video tapes of the torture sessions.

Now, what? Probably nothing, unfortunately.

Congress, controlled by the Republicans after the new year, will not touch this. And President Obama, who started out so well and in his first weeks as president in 2009 shut down CIA’s secret prisons, prohibited the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and he promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, also said no to all investigations, no prosecutions and no indictments, no truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa after apartheid, no to a commission report like the one after 9/11. Nothing.

Was he wishing it would all go away? It hasn’t. The prison in Guantanamo Bay is still open and now the torture debate is back with a vengeance.

It was a “horrible decision” by Obama to close the books on this chapter of of our history, writes the New York Times today, describing the whole report as a “portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” And, it “raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these crimes.”

Exactly, yet again.

Steadily lower voter turnout is the sad fact in all democracies

“The Worst Voter Turnout in 72 years!”

That was the headline in New York Times’ main editorial today, as the paper lamented the fact that only 36.3 percent of the American voters bothered to vote in the midterm election on November 4.

In no state did the voter turnout exceed 60 percent, with Maine coming closest at 59.3 percent, followed by Wisconsin 56.9, Alaska 55.3, Colorado, 53, Oregon 52, Minnesota 51.3, and Iowa 50.6 percent.

Indiana had the lowest turnout with only 28 percent, with New York, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah all also under 30 percent.

“Lower voter turnout since World War II is a trend in all democracies,” says Sören Holmberg, election expert and political science professor at the University in Gothenburg, Sweden. “It seems that democratic decision making no longer is as important for people as it used to be in our globalized world.”

Voter turnout in countries like Sweden, 83.3 percent in the parliamentary election in September this year, is still much higher than in the United States, but turnout in Sweden used to be even higher, over 90 percent in the 1970s and 1980s. Holmberg points to a steadily lower voter turnout in the elections to the European Parliament, only an average of 42.5 percent earlier this year, to England where turnout for parliamentary elections has gone down from over 80 percent after World War II to slightly over 60 percent, to France also from around 80 percent after the war to below 60 percent today.

Even in Australia and Belgium, where voting is obligatory, has voter turnout decreased, although turnout is still around 90 percent.

The United States has special problems, like gerrymandering. Uncompetitive districts lowers voter turnout, and incumbents are re-elected at an average rate of over 90 percent, says Holmberg.

Lower voter turnout favors the Republicans. So instead of making voting as easy as possible for everyone, as I think should be the goal of every democracy, the Republicans have continued to try to make it more difficult. That is an especially sad fact in the American democracy.