hearings

We arrived home from the UK just in time for the first primetime hearing of the findings of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Since that hearing held on June 9th, there have been three more during the daytime with several more on the schedule.

Because I follow the news closely, I had thought that the hearings might not be very revelatory for me but I have found them to be very powerful. Part of the impact is that the testimony is all under oath. While some of the information had been revealed by investigative reporting or published in books by various participants, one was never quite sure of the veracity of claims. Knowing that witnesses are sworn to tell the truth makes it more likely that they are, given that committing perjury before Congress or a court can result in imprisonment. The vast majority of the 1000+ people who have been interviewed in the investigation came forward voluntarily without being compelled by subpoena, so they intended to tell what they had seen and heard for the good of the country. The committee also has access to hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence, enabling it to stitch together a detailed timeline of the web of activities that led to the January 6th attack as well as what happened on that day and in the aftermath.

In the daytime hearings, a different member of the Committee has taken the lead in questioning, sometimes paired with a member of the staff. The staff includes experienced lawyers and investigators who have done the lion’s share of the work with witnesses and evidence.

At this point, the Committee is providing a preliminary review of its findings; a written report will be issued later in the year. They are doing a very comprehensive job of laying out evidence in an organized and cogent way. It probably helps that many of the committee members are themselves lawyers with courtroom experience. Their questioning of live witnesses is very straightforward so that each witness can tell their story without the distraction of political grandstanding. Most of the witnesses, whether appearing live or in recorded clips, are Republican officeholders, officials, or staff, so that it is clear that the Committee is not just interviewing critics of the Trump administration or engaging in hearsay. The Committee is putting forth actual evidence that you would expect to find in a court of law.

Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, presides and does opening and closing statements at each hearing; Vice-chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, also does opening and closing statements each time. She has been particularly vocal in calling out Trump and the Republicans who assisted him in the lies about the 2020 election that led to the Capitol attack.

The testimony has revealed some previously undisclosed details. For example, in the hearing that centered on threats to then Vice-president Mike Pence, we learned that attackers got within forty feet of him as he was being evacuated, that he refused to leave the Capitol grounds, and that he was acting as commander-in-chief in calling in the National Guard as Trump refused to act.

It’s sobering and terrifying to see through this evidence how close our country came to an actual collapse of our democracy. If Pence and Republican members of Congress had delayed certification in violation of the Constitution, there would likely have been widespread violence in all regions of the country; Trump would have declared martial law and it would have been very difficult to recover our democracy. It’s also chilling to see the continuing impacts on our electoral process. A number of states have enacted provisions that make it easier to disenfranchise voters or ignore their legally cast ballots. Supporters of the lies about the 2020 election are winning elected office in some states, enabling them to interfere with government from within.

It’s very tense to be in the middle of all this, gaining all this knowledge but not knowing if/when there will be consequences for those who engaged in wrongdoing. We know the Justice Department is investigating but we don’t know if they will charge Trump, members of his administration and staff, and members of Congress with crimes pertaining to attempts to stage a coup. The Committee will make recommendations for legal reforms to the Electoral Count Act and other measures to try to avert another attempt to interfere with the certification of the election. These should be widely endorsed and enacted with large majorities of both parties but it remains to be seen if they will.

It scares me that so many current Republicans still cling to lies about the 2020 election and refuse to take responsibility for their activities that supported it. Even after the attack, eight senators and 139 representatives voted against acceptance of some of Biden’s electors, even though there was no factual basis to do so. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican who led a group on a long tour of the House office buildings the day before the attack though the entire Capitol complex was closed to visitors due to the pandemic, is denying he did anything wrong, even with evidence that a member of the tour group was part of the January 6 mob. There are dozens of members of Congress who should resign over their shameful disregard for their oath to uphold the Constitution but there is not even the possibility of Republican votes in favor of censure, much less removal from Congress.

I’m trying to remain hopeful that these hearings will break through the denial bubble that surrounds many Republican voters. After being the only major broadcast/news outlet to not air the initial primetime hearing, Fox News has begun to provide some coverage. I think that the powers that be at Fox News knew that the hearings would be important because during the primetime hearing, they did not take their usual commercials breaks so that their viewers wouldn’t be tempted to check in on the hearings. It’s also important to remember that Fox News, despite its name, is not really a news channel. While there are actual journalists who work for Fox News, they only have a few hours of airtime per week. The vast majority of their programming is classified as “entertainment” with pundits/personalities who are not constrained by any standards of truthfulness or propriety. The breath-taking amount of fear-mongering that Fox News and other right-wing outlets echoes and engenders the civic divide that Trump and the Republicans created and which threatens our democracy.

If Republicans watch the hearings, they will hear a number of familiar people and themes. Retired Judge J. Michael Luttig, one of the most revered conservative jurists, was featured in one hearing, speaking about the current dangers to our democracy. A number of the witnesses have spoken about the role of their faith in their actions. Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers was particularly eloquent in this regard.

I have been moved by the real-world consequences for those who protected the integrity of the election and of the Capitol. Speaker Bowers’ account of the threats against him and his family, including harassment at his home as he and his wife attended to their terminally ill daughter. US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards’ testimony on being injured on January 6th and still trying to aid her fellow officers in what amounted to hand-to-hand combat, not the policing work for which they had been trained. The appalling loss of any sense of safety or security for election workers Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, including even the ability to use their own names in public for fear of being attacked after being repeatedly vilified by Trump, Giuliani, and their followers.

I will continue to watch the hearings and the analysis and urge all the people of the United States to do the same. I hope that they will mark a turning point for the electorate so that we can root out all those who have failed in their oaths to uphold the Constitution before it is too late.

The hearings are showing us how close we came to disaster and how little time we have to strengthen our democratic institutions against attack.

One-Liner Wednesday: a warning

It is high time that we all stopped being tools and victims of totalitarian techniques—techniques that, if continued here unchecked, will surely end what we have come to cherish as the American way of life.

Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, June 1, 1950, speaking against McCarthyism

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/06/22/one-liner-wednesday-ive-got-the-power/

a lake, a landmark, and rubies

Spouse B and I returned yesterday from a weekend celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary at Geneva on the Lake. We had never been there before but had received a gift certificate for the inn as an expression of gratitude from my sisters after our father’s death for the years of caretaking for Nana and Paco as the “local daughter.”

Geneva on the Lake is located in the Finger Lakes region of central New York State, on the north end of Seneca Lake, about a two-and-a-quarter hour scenic drive from our home, featuring views of farms, vineyards, forested hills, and the entire western side of the lake.

After delays in our getaway due to pandemic surges, weather conditions, and our trips to the UK to visit family, we decided to go for the weekend of our 40th wedding anniversary. The gift certificate allowed us to splurge on the Loft Suite in the original 1910 portion of the villa, directly overlooking the gardens and Seneca Lake. In this photo, our suite is located on the third floor above the central doors, where you see three half-moon windows and three rectangular windows above.


Here you can see the windows from the inside and why it is called the Loft Suite:


All the furniture in the suite, including in the adjoining bedroom, is Stickley, which is a venerable upstate New York mainstay, still headquartered in Manlius, near Syracuse. I especially enjoyed the loft space for reading and looking out at the lake.

There was also a full kitchen and a small dining table, although we didn’t have much use for them as we ate breakfasts and dinners at the Inn. Our first evening there was warm, so we ate under the canopy on the terrace but the other meals were in the Lancellotti dining rooms. Because we like to eat (unfashionably) early, we were able to sit near the windows and enjoy our food and the view in relative – and unmasked – quiet.

When staff asked if we were there celebrating, we told them it was our 40th anniversary. They would offer congratulations, followed on a couple of occasions by the question, “What’s your secret?” Like the college reunion question about what I’d been doing for the last forty years, I didn’t have a ready answer. If I had been able to think quickly enough, I might have echoed Paco’s line about taking it one day at a time, although I don’t think that is the answer.

Like my answer to most questions, it’s complicated. First, I don’t think there is a secret to being married for forty years. It helps to find the right person when you are young and to manage not to develop a grave illness that threatens longevity. Of course, there needs to be love and respect between the spouses, but that is not a secret.

I think, for B and me, an important factor is that we met and became friends early in high school. Because we experienced adolescence together, we managed to influence, complement, and support each other as we grew into adulthood. I don’t think I would be the same person that I am now without B’s love, encouragement, and commitment over the years.

B and I share our rural roots and were both raised by long-married parents; my parents, known here as Nana and Paco, celebrated their 65th anniversary not long before her death in 2019. We both are of a serious temperament with wide-ranging interests and the inclination to dig deeply into topics. However, our central interests differ. I spend much more time on the arts, especially music, writing, and poetry, and on spiritual/philosophical issues, which influence my analysis on politics and public policy. B is much more involved with technology and quantitative/analytical issues with additional interests in history and science fiction/fantasy. We are both liberal-artsy enough, though, to be able to understand and approach different topics and problems from multiple vectors. This helps when we have to make decisions, whether it’s nuts and blots plans for our home or complex care-giving situations. We have faced a greater than average number of medical problems across our families’generations. Many marriages succumb to these kinds of stressors, but B and I have been able to weather them with our ability to think and talk things through and our commitment to dedicate ourselves to doing the best we are able. Our mantra has been “no regrets” and, while we certainly do have instances where outcomes were not what we had hoped, we are content that we were able to give comfort and care to the best of our abilities.

Sunday was also Father’s Day, our first without Paco and B’s first as being part of the eldest generation in the family. I admit that our anniversary was a good distraction for me to keep me from dwelling too much on being without my father on Father’s Day for the first time. I hope that B will be granted a similarly long stint as a grandparent and, if ABC and/or JG choose, the opportunity to become a great-grandfather someday. B loves being a grandpa, although the distance factor does present complications. We are hoping, though, that when B retires, we may be able to spend some longer periods of time in the UK.

We returned home from Geneva in time to celebrate Father’s Day and our anniversary with daughter T, who had chosen cards for the occasion. When we decorate envelopes for hand-delivered greeting cards, we often draw a personalized “stamp” in the corner. On our anniversary card, T had drawn a shining ruby. As I don’t often wear jewelry, I had neglected to look up that the 40th anniversary is commemorated with rubies.

I had, however, worn two significant pieces of jewelry for the weekend.

The ring is a family birthstone ring with topaz for B, rose zircon for me, the diamond that was originally in my engagement ring for E, and alexandrite for T. The necklace is by Wedgwood and was B’s wedding gift to me.

In the photo, you can also see my gold wedding band, which I always wear. It’s a simple gold band and has been resized once but still bears its original inscription of our name and wedding date on the inside.

It’s more precious to me than any ruby could be.

birthdays and Jubilee

As I mentioned in this post, spouse B, daughter T, and I were recently in London, UK, visiting daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughters ABC and JG, who live in East London with L’s parents.

The main reason for the timing of the visit was that it was half-term break for ABC and her fifth birthday. We were so happy to be there to celebrate with her. Due to a number of health issues – thankfully, not COVID – and other complicating logistical factors, we spent most of our time visiting between their house and our apartment hotel. ABC was thrilled to even have an overnight in our unit.

Because ABC lived with us in the US for her first couple of years, she is very comfortable with us. For JG, who was born in August 2020, we are virtual strangers or, at best, figures from a computer screen who inexplicably appear in person. Still, she was able to relate to us better this time than when we visited last December/January. Both ABC and JG relate more to Auntie T than to Nana and Grandpa. Aunties are obviously much better playmates!

It’s also nice that JG is finally able to be out and about more in public. As a pandemic baby, she wasn’t able to go visiting or go to stores, libraries, churches, etc. for a big chunk of her life, so people beyond her household can still be daunting, exacerbating the developmental stranger anxiety that waxes and wanes throughout infancy and toddlerhood. As she gets older, we expect that she will warm up to us more quickly when we visit.

The timing of our visit also meant that we were there for Queen Elizabeth’s seventieth Jubilee. As we are crowd averse even in non-pandemic times, we didn’t go to any celebrations in person but watched them on BBC One. I saw the trooping the colour, the lighting of beacons, the service of thanksgiving, the Derby, and the Jubilee concert. There were also various block parties. There was so much celebrating that there was a shortage of decorative bunting!

It was ironic that as soon as the Jubilee celebration concluded, there was a no-confidence vote among the Conservatives in Parliament on the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson survived the vote, but the narrow margin suggests that he may have to step aside as PM in the coming months. We’ll see.

It was nice to see people being so supportive of their aging monarch, even as she, understandably, needed to pass on some of the hosting duties to her heirs. It was also touching to see the Tree of Trees sculpture that celebrated the Queen’s request to plant a million trees in honor of her platinum Jubilee.

We had a bit more celebrating to do, as T’s birthday was the day we returned home. While we could not have a “tree of trees” to celebrate her, part of her birthday gift was a donation in her honor to a project that is working to preserve the ‘ōhi‘a trees of Hawai’i. The trees are being killed by a fungal disease for which there is no known remedy so there is an ongoing seed banking project in order to restore the population after the fungal disease has run its course.

I appreciate that these commemorations celebrate the past by looking to the future. There is so much to do to secure a future for the younger generations and the planet. Our history gives us both positive and negative examples of how to react to and make change. Instead of rosy nostalgia, we need to be clear-eyed about our past and present and use that knowledge to improve the situation. especially for those who are now children, teens, and young adults.

One-Liner Wednesday: darkness

The future is dark. Is this the darkness of the tomb – or of the womb?

Valerie Kaur

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/06/15/one-liner-wednesday-one-of-those-days-3/

BPP Spring 2022 Anthology

I’m pleased to share the Binghamton Poetry Project Spring 2022 Anthology. The Binghamton Poetry Project is a grant-supported outreach program in which graduate students in poetry and creative writing from Binghamton University offer free community workshops, offering children, youth, and adults the chance to learn more about and write poetry. BPP moved online during the pandemic, although we are hopeful that an in-person workshop will be possible again this summer.

This spring, I attended two workshops. My poem “Aubade with Birds” was written in response to a prompt in Suzanne Richardson’s workshop, Fresh Images and Form. This was my first attempt at writing an aubade, which the Poetry Foundation defines as “a love poem or song welcoming or lamenting the arrival of the dawn.” I seldom write love poems and this one is definitely more on the lament side.

The other two poems were written during Shannon Hearn’s FIELDING TENDER: Nature Writing for the Apocalypse. “Kaʻūpūlehu” is based on a visit to the dryland forest preserve by that name on the Big Island of Hawai’i where daughter T interned during a semester spent in the Islands while she was a student at Cornell University. B and I were not able to visit during that semester but made a trip there several years later with her. Kaʻūpūlehu is an amazing place; you can see some videos and photos and learn more about it here.

The haiku in the anthology is one of five I wrote during a fun session with Shannon in which we wrote haiku in response to an image and a randomly generated word. (There is a note with the information on the word and image included on the page with the poem.) There was quite a bit of laughter that evening as some of the images and words led to pretty fantastical literary leaps, but I thought this particular haiku managed to make sense apart from its origin in the exercise.

Thank you for visiting the Binghamton Poetry Project anthology. Please check out the other poets while you are there. Some of the past anthologies are also available through the drop-down menu.

One-Liner Wednesday: crossing

I appreciate that the pavement at a lot of the pedestrian crossings in London is marked “LOOK RIGHT” or “LOOK LEFT” to keep those of us used to traffic flowing in the opposite direction from getting hit by vehicles.
*****
This helpful one-liner is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays series. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/06/01/one-liner-wednesday-electronics-screwing-up/

She Quits the Garden: A multivoice video chapbook

I’m excited to share this post from Marilyn McCabe, announcing her newly published video chapbook, She Quits the Garden.

Marilyn had shared these poems with the Boiler House Poets Collective at one of our residencies at MASS MoCA before their remarkable transformation into a multivoice video chapbook. Enjoy!

O Write: Marilynonaroll's Blog

Thrilled that this project found a home on PoetryFilmLive. As it’s a video chapbook, it’s a bit longer than my usual work, so I hope you’ll hang in there for the 10 minute run time.

https://poetryfilmlive.com/she-quits-the-garden/

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mass shootings and Broome County and beyond

On May 14, 2022, a shooter from Broome County in the Southern Tier of New York State where I live killed ten and injured three in a Tops Supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, a city about three and a half hours away.

This horrible crime evoked immediate grief and rage. In such circumstances, commentators in the media react quickly, which can result in oversimplification of a complex situation. I heard commentators say that mental health problems are just an excuse used when the shooter is white. That his parents must be monsters. That his town must be filled with racists.

I understand the passion and fury of their reaction but they had not had time to look into the realities on the ground here in Broome County. The shooter did have mental health issues. He had been evaluated at a hospital after making disturbing comments about murder/suicide in an online high school class last year, not long before he graduated. He managed to convince people that he had been joking but we now know that he was not. I don’t know if he was referred for any counseling but mental health services in our area, especially for youth, are not easy to access. Wait lists can be long as there aren’t enough providers to meet the needs of residents, especially with the increased mental strain brought about by the pandemic. New York State does have a red flag law which would have removed weapons from his home but it was not triggered because he wasn’t reported as a threat.

The shooter went to great lengths to hide his activities from his parents. He hid his newly acquired assault weapon in his room. Because ammunition clips of more than ten rounds are banned in New York State, he modified the Bushmaster himself. He told his parents he was going hiking when he was making a reconnaissance trip to Buffalo.

The students at the high school in Conklin mobilized to send messages of support to the victims in Buffalo and to raise money for their needs. While it’s true that less than 1% of residents in town are Black, the students wanted to show that their school is not racist. The “white replacement theory” that the shooter espoused was not something he learned there or in town but from mass media and the internet. This is not to say that there aren’t racists in Conklin, as I’m sure there are, but to show that many people there are anti-racist and working to show that in the wake of the shooting.

That mental illness is part of the story in mass shootings is not confined by race. The mentally ill shooter in the April 12, 2022 New York City subway shooting is a Black man. While the Broome County shooter in Buffalo is white, the shooter from the other Broome County mass shooting was not. On April 3, 2009, a Vietnamese-American man killed thirteen people and wounded four before killing himself inside the American Civic Association in Binghamton. He was known to be mentally ill; his father had begged the state not to allow his son a handgun license. This was before red flag laws in New York, which were not enacted until after the Newtown shooting.

The ACA shooting, though it was among the ten deadliest mass shootings in the US at the time, did not enter the national consciousness like other mass shootings. While there was a brief descent by national media, there was no presidential visit or long-standing news coverage of the aftermath of the families and community, except in limited local sources. I wrote this post on the fifth anniversary, positing that, because most of the victims were immigrants from various countries, the American public failed to relate to the victims as people like themselves. Because it was dismissed from public discourse so quickly, Broome County largely did “move on” from the shooting. As a young child at the time, the eventual shooter from Conklin may not even have heard about the ACA shooting, despite it happening in a bordering city to his town.

I had been mulling all this, preparing to write this post, when the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas happened. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman, who also injured others, including his grandmother before he went to the school. He was later shot and killed by police.

The United States suffers mass shootings like this on a regular basis. Political leaders offer thoughts and prayers. Democrats typically call for legislation to reduce gun violence and Republicans typically say it isn’t the right time or that nothing should be done to restrict access to guns or that a proposed legal change would not have helped the situation. The Republicans even say that we need more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens so that they can stop the bad guys with guns, despite the fact that even trained security officers have trouble stopping a gunman with an assault weapon and body armor. So nothing gets done and the cycle repeats.

Will the juxtaposition of these two horrific shootings, each by an 18-year-old wearing body armor and armed with a military-style assault weapon, change any national policies in order to reduce future mass shootings?

I’m trying to have hope but it’s difficult to maintain.

I believe that national level laws are needed. New York has enacted a number of laws that have reduced gun violence and mass shootings, including red flag laws and limiting the size of gun magazines. Sadly, the shooter in Buffalo evaded those. If the size of magazines was limited throughout the US, though, he would not have been able to modify his gun to shoot more than ten rounds, which would have afforded a better opportunity to stop him when he had to pause to reload.

Besides national red flag laws and limiting the size of magazines, other measures for consideration could be universal background checks for all gun sales, requiring safety courses and licensing to own a gun, increasing the age to buy a gun to 21, and banning the sale of military-style weapons. From 1994-2004, the United States did have a ban on these weapons. The number of mass shootings fell in those years and skyrocketed after the ban expired.

The main reason that opponents of gun safety measures give is the Second Amendment to our Constitution. This is due to a misinterpretation; regulation of arms is permitted as has been shown in the courts many times. In his retirement, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, “The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.” Still, most Congressional Republicans and many Republican governors maintain that gun ownership is an absolute right, which keeps them from taking action to reign in gun deaths and injuries.

While mass shootings generate the most public outrage, the sad fact is that the majority of gun deaths occur in smaller incidents. The greatest number of gun deaths are self-inflicted. This fact again shows the intersection of mental health and gun violence. In a country with more guns than people, easy accessibility to guns makes suicide attempts more likely to be lethal.

One of the excuses politicians use is that reform X would not have prevented this specific incident. This misses the point. We need to enact a broad swath of reforms which will still not prevent every death but will prevent many of them.

The sickening thing is that the long delay has enabled more and more deaths and injuries to occur. It was discouraging to look back on my posts on this topic, for example, here and here and here. In 2016, I even had a guest viewpoint printed in our local newspaper. I make the same arguments that many others have made in the media and in the political arena.

And here we are again, in national mourning, waiting for action to address the carnage, this time with the spectacle of the National Rifle Association, the most powerful anti-reform group, holding its convention in Texas just days after the shooting in Uvalde.

Will we finally see national action this time, however slight? Will the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, added to Newtown, Charleston, Las Vegas, El Paso, etc., etc., and, yes, even Binghamton, finally tip the scales in favor of action by the Republican officeholders who have been preventing protective laws? Or perhaps the belated recognition that they are continually losing constituents to violent crime, domestic violence, shooting accidents, and suicide? Maybe they will begin to suffer the cognitive dissonance of laws that withhold alcohol and tobacco sales until age 21, while allowing 18-year-olds to vote, serve in the military, and buy guns – and that charge even young teens as adults for violent crimes.

Congress is currently in recess. When you come back to Washington, please, do something, however incremental, to make a difference. A first step will lead to others so that the United States can make progress toward the rates that nearly every other Western country has regarding gun violence. We elected you to lead us to “domestic tranquility.”

Our current state of sorrow and rage is its opposite.

a trip to IKEA

I know it may seem as if I have fallen off the face of the earth lately because I’ve posted less often than usual but I am still here.

Well, not my usual “here” as I am in London visiting daughter E and her family. Yesterday, E and granddaughter JG took us to IKEA for the first time. While there are IKEAs in the US, none of them are near our home. E was explaining that in some places, like Germany, rentals tend to have just the four walls so stores like IKEA offer furnishings for whole rooms as a package.

We ate lunch there. Of course, I had to try the Swedish meatballs. They reminded me a bit of the Swedish meatballs my mom used to make using a recipe from her Swedish neighbor. None of this putting sour cream in the gravy nonsense!

I’m still struggling a bit with jet lag but slept almost normal hours last night. Today is the first day of the half-term break for granddaughter ABC and for son-in-law L. We are hoping to do a bit of sight-seeing next week, although we may try to do gardens and outdoor venues as much as possible. We need to stay COVID-free if at all possible!

I’ll try to get some posts out in the coming days. I had intended to write a post about the mass shooting in Buffalo but then the Texas school shooting happened so I need to expand somewhat.

Stay tuned…

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