A National Disaster. A National Disgrace.

April 27th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

One of the maxims of our nation, embraced by everyone, has always been, “Our children are our future.” Not much to argue with there.

Another universally accepted truth is that a child’s formative years are the most important in learning and character development. According to UNICEF:

Children’s brains are built, moment by moment, as they interact with their environments. In the first few years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed each second – a pace never repeated again. The quality of a child’s early experiences makes a critical difference as their brains develop, providing either strong or weak foundations for learning, health and behaviour throughout life.

If the forgoing is true, if we really believed it, you would think we would plow every possible resource into early childhood development and learning. You would think responsible societal child care would be one of our top national policies and priorities.

But such is not the case in America. No town, city, county, or national government, none of them, support child care in any meaningful way. It’s sort of every parent for themself. Good luck finding decent child care, and you’ll need even better luck paying for it.

We have a situation in which child care enterprises cannot afford to pay many of their educators much more than minimum wage, and, even at that, parents, especially poorer parents, cannot afford to enroll their kids, presuming they can find an available slot. Every single thing in the child care “business” seems set up for failure.

For example, in my home state of Massachusetts, generally regarded as having the best educational system in the nation, 15.3 percent of early childhood educators still live below the poverty line and families in the Commonwealth pay 20% to 40% of their income for early education and care.

This is insane.

Sonya Michel, a professor at the University of Maryland has written a fascinating and infuriating essay on the history of child care since earliest times. The History of Child Care in the U.S., published by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Social Welfare History Project, should be required reading—for everyone.

Michel explains how early child care advocates, always women, fought hard to get government financial support for child care during the New Deal and after World War II. However:

From 1969 to 1971, a coalition of feminists, labor leaders, civil rights leaders and early childhood advocates worked with Congress to legislate universal child care policy, but their efforts failed when President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971. As a result, for the next three decades, direct federal support for child care was limited to policies “targeted” on low-income families. At the same time, however, the federal government offered several types of indirect support to middle- and upper-class families in the form of tax incentives for employer-sponsored child care and several ways of using child care costs to reduce personal income taxes.

Ronald Reagan, who did not invent the term “Welfare Queen,” but adopted it as part of his campaign strategy beginning in 1976, saw to it that, after winning the presidency in 1980, child care expenditures for low-income families were dramatically reduced while those benefiting middle and high-income families nearly doubled, mostly through tax credits.

In the years since Reagan, we have continually found new and inventive ways of sweeping this national disaster under a threadbare carpet for posterity to trip over time and again. Despite all the face plants, we never learn.

There are places where child care and early learning are done well. Unfortunately, unless you’re really well off, you won’t find those places in America, which is one of the reasons many ex-pats living in France choose to remain there until their children are ready for public elementary school. The French, like them or not, have figured out how to provide high-quality, affordable child care. Why can’t we?

Other European countries have distinguished themselves by enacting policies aimed at elevating work-life balance to a high level. In addition to France, Germany and Sweden have embraced the notion that governmental assistance in early childhood is a serious societal responsibility.

Without credible, high-quality early childhood education for everyone, how can we expect to prepare today’s children to carry America’s torch into the future?

It’s time to end this national disgrace.

 

 

How To Rebuild Ukraine And Who Pays For It?

April 25th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

What’s past is prologue.
William Shakespeare – The Tempest

In 1870, Germany defeated France in a Battle of Annihilation at Sedan, which led to its ultimate victory in the Franco Prussian War and the creation of the German Empire. In a stick-in-the-eye insult, Kaiser Wilhelm 1 was crowned the first Emperor in the  Hall of Mirrors of Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. As part of the terms of the subsequent Treaty of Frankfurt am Main, the Germans took Alsace Lorraine and levied massive reparation payments of five billion francs the victors thought would take France at least 20 years to pay. As long as they remained unpaid, German troops would remain in France. The Treaty’s final insult was a German battle parade straight through the Arc de Triomphe, then down the 1.9 kilometer long, 70 meter wide Champs-Élysées, and ending in the  Place de la Concorde, where Parisians had draped all of the statues in black. German troops marching to rhythmic fife and drum. It was humiliation the French never forgot.

With a Herculean effort that amazed Germany, France paid the reparations in three years, and the Germans had to leave. However, the taking of Alsace Lorraine, which sat on the western French border, right next to Germany, just as Ukraine’s Donbas region sits next to Russia, was the debasement that gnawed at France the most.

 

 

 

 

The Germans, with their colossal arrogance of the time, ignored Bismarck’s recommendation to treat the French in Alsace Lorraine lightly and allow them some autonomy. So, hatred grew. And kept growing all the way up to World War 1. It was palpable on both sides, so much so that from 1895 until 1914 each devoted themselves to planning and preparing for that war, which they knew, absolutely knew, would come, the Germans with their Schlieffen Plan, which required the violation of Belgium neutrality and predicted the capture of Paris on Day 39 of the war*, and the French with their Plan 17, which depended** on the Germans violating Belgium neutrality, but had no prediction for the capture of Berlin. Fifteen years planning for the the worst war in history. Not planning to prevent it, but planning to win it, because they both knew it was inevitable. It was the tragic, but natural, gravitational course of things at the turn of the 20th century.

Alsace Lorraine did not cause World War 1, but the hatred it involved was fuel for the massive fire to come.

Ukraine and Russia have also been preparing for war for some time, since 2014 when Ukrainians threw out Putin’s presidential puppet Viktor Yanukovych in the Revolution of Dignity. Following that, an enraged Putin annexed Crimea and sent Russian soldiers in olive drab uniforms without insignia into the Donbas to help Ukrainian separatists “liberate” the area. That was the beginning of the inexorable march to today.

Today, if you can possibly put aside the more than 2,300 Ukrainian civilians that have been mercilessly killed and the 12 million that have been displaced, five million out of the country, you are faced with the physical infrastructure damage the Russians have wrought. There are now cities in Ukraine that look like the worst of those bombed to ruin in World War II.

Last week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal called on members of the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance, suggesting it will cost at least $600 billion dollars to rebuild the war-torn country following Russia’s invasion.

The prime minister made the appeal Thursday during a ministerial meeting held by the IMF and the World Bank in Washington, D.C., as Russia’s war neared its third month.

Who will pay? And how? And if Russia captures the Donbas, what will happen? History suggests Ukrainians will react just as the French did, preparing with all their might to take it back. Maybe not now, maybe not in the near term, but the French waited 44 years.

Realizing the enormity of the rebuilding task, there are now suggestions being floated. Chief among them is: Taking all the Russian and Oligarch frozen assets in the hands of the west, and using them to pay for reconstruction. This would net a few hundred billions of dollars and would be a nice start.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen seemed open and receptive, but also cautious, to that idea last week. When asked during a press briefing about the potential of using frozen Russian Central Bank funds to support Ukraine, Yellen said, “I wouldn’t want to do so lightly,” adding that it would have to be done in consensus with US allies and partners and might need Congressional approval. That would be an interesting vote, indeed.

On Thursday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a virtual address to IMF and World Bank leaders that “a special tax on war is needed.” He called for the proceeds of sanctioned property and Russian Central Bank reserves to be used to compensate Ukraine for its losses. He added that frozen Russian assets “have to be used to rebuild Ukraine after the war as well as to pay for the losses caused to other nations.” He said it would take $5 billion per month over the next three months just to keep the Ukrainian economy alive, an economy which the IMF predicts will shrink by 45% this year. It’s easy to see why.

Of course, Russia will strenuously object to this, and, regardless of what happens in the Donbas, Putin, losing all his now frozen assets forever, might be driven to do something even more terrible than he already has. And that, my friends, could drop us right back into 1914 all over again.

I hope at least some of our leaders have studied history.

*The Germans made it to 70 miles from Paris before they had to retreat and dig in. Thus began more than five years of trench warfare with nearly 10 million soldiers and even more civilians killed.

**France had an agreement with England, whereby if Germany violated Belgian neutrality in an attack on France and if France never set foot on Belgian soil, then England would enter the conflict on the side of France, which is exactly what happened. Belgium had been guaranteed perpetual neutrality in the 1839 Treaty of London, signed by the German Confederation, England, France, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands, and Russia.

The Sunshine State Goes Darth Vader Dark

April 23rd, 2022 by Tom Lynch

In 1967, 55 years ago, the Walt Disney World Company proposed building a recreation-oriented development on 25,000 acres of property in Central Florida. The property sat in a remote area of Orange and Osceola Counties, so secluded that the nearest power and water lines were 10-15 miles away. Neither Orange nor Osceola County had the services or the resources needed to bring the project to life.

In that year, the Florida State legislature created a special taxing district for Disneycalled the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID)that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

Walt Disney World then moved ahead with its vision to turn 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land, into a global destination resort that today hosts millions of visitors every year.

The Special Taxing District designation gave the Disney company significant tax benefits amounting to tens of millions of dollars every year. However, those special tax benefits came with special upkeep responsibilities.

The new legislation said Walt Disney World would be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc.

Local taxpayers, meaning residents of Orange and Osceola County, would not have to pay for building or maintaining those services.

That all changed yesterday when Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation revoking Disney’s Special Taxing District designation. Now, Disney will be paying taxes it did not up to now have to pay. It will also be relieved of having to  provide the municipal maintenance services it has provided for the last 55 years for Orange and Osceola Counties, whose combined population is about 1.8 million. With Disney and its 80,000 Floridian employees no longer picking up the bill, the responsibility for all those municipal services, including Police and Fire, now falls to the counties. Property taxes (the way municipalities raise revenue in Florida) will  increase substantially.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings is worried. “My primary concern is about any particular cost shifts that are mandated by the state to local governments,” he said in an interview with Orlando’s News 6. He should be worried.

Digging deeper, Sarah Rumpf of Mediaite notes repealing Disney’s status means that Orange and Osceola Counties, in addition to municipal services, are now responsible for Disney’s $2 billion bond debt—a 20% to 25% tax hike costing $2,200 to $2,800 per family of four. And if that’s not enough, since Disney’s RCID pays more and has better employee benefits than the Florida government, county workers taking on the jobs currently performed by Disney will likely have to take pay and benefit cuts. Yikes!

In another little twist, since both counties voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Machiavellian DeSantis has found a new and improved way to stick it to opponents.

The creation, passage, signing and enactment of this legislation happened in four days.

The question is Why? Why all this political steamrolling? The answer is because Governor DeSantis, who brooks less dissent than Caligula, is upset because Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek had the daring temerity to criticize what has come to be known as the Governor’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Chapek even went so far as to apologize to his 80,000 employees for not condemning the bill earlier and more strongly.

The bill, officially known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, would ban classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade; lessons on those topics in other grades would be prohibited unless they are “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate,” a vague threshold, indeed. And parents would be allowed to sue over violations. It doesn’t take the Oracle of Delphi to see where this is headed.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is DeSantis throwing seasoned red meat to his right-wing carnivores in Florida. It is DeSantis showing his many followers exactly what he thinks of the LGBTQ+ population. It is discriminatory and downright bigoted. But in Florida, it resonates, and the Governor’s lapdog legislature is happy to walk three paces behind carrying the bags.

In the immortal words of that great American salesman and inventor Ron Pompeo, “But wait. There’s more!”

In response to the 2020 census, the Florida legislature was required to draw up new legislative maps. It did, and the gerrymandered result gave Florida Republicans a guarantee of two additional seats in the US Congress. However, this was not good enough for Governor DeSantis, who created his own maps, which guaranteed four additional seats. In DeSantis’s version, Republicans would be expected to win 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts, a four seat increase from the 16 they hold now. The Republican-dominated Legislature, in happy subservience, approved the Governor’s maps, which he signed into law three days ago. In addition to giving the Republicans four more seats, the new maps eliminate two currently held by Black Democrats, one of whom is Val Demings, who is challenging Marco Rubio in next year’s senate election. In the game of Pool, we’d call this an Elegant Combination.

The map is expected to draw a near-immediate court challenge from Democratic-aligned groups that contend the proposal violates federal and state law because it dismantles and diminishes those two seats currently held by the Black Democrats. Recognizing Democrats would challenge in court the new maps, Republicans, planning ahead, even included in the final bill $1 million to pay for that fight. Trouble is, it’s not clear if that legal battle can be resolved before June, when candidates must qualify for the ballot.

If all this were real warfare instead of the political kind, we would say Governor DeSantis and his Republican army had just won a Battle of Annihilation.

 

 

 

 

 

Unmasked In America

April 20th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Having now fully recovered from a week-long dance with COVID 19, I can report that here in the heart of the Berkshire mountains, once again all seems right with our little corner of the world. The grey and red squirrels have resumed tormenting Lancelot, the mighty wonder dog, as they contemptuously steal the bird seed he daily guards, impervious to his barking, too fast for his chasing. But he continues to try. We should all be so determined.

Meanwhile, in a surprise ruling yesterday, US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national mask mandate for public transportation. Airlines and their passengers appeared jubilant.

Much has been made of the fact that Judge Mizelle is both a Trump appointee and was judged by the American Bar Association “not qualified,” as noted in its 8 September 2020 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee when Judge Mizelle was being considered for her current position.

Judge Mizelle had been nominated to serve as a district court judge for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. As part of its analysis of a candidate’s qualifications for such a position, the ABA goes by criteria laid out in its Backgrounder.

The Backgrounder provides that “a nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law.” The Backgrounder further provides that “in evaluating the professional qualifications of a nominee, the Standing Committee recognizes that substantial courtroom and trial experience as a lawyer or trial judge is important.”

The ABA noted Judge Mizelle was admitted to the Bar only eight years before her nomination and had never “tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel.”

Judge Mizelle had clerked for four judges, including Justice Clarence Thomas, and spent all of ten months at what the organization called a “reputable law firm.” Although the ABA wrote that the Judge had a “keen intellect,” in what appeared to be a sardonic coup de grace dripping with cynicism it noted, “We also are aware that as a law school student the nominee participated as co-counsel with her supervising law professor in two one-day state court trials as part of her curriculum.”

I’m wondering if the ABA, in its long history of evaluating people for district court judgeships, has ever before felt the need to dip into a candidate’s law school course history in order to say something, anything, nice about the candidate’s experience.

Moving beyond how she got to where she is, we need to ask how Judge Mizelle’s order will play out? As mentioned above, airlines seem to be overjoyed, but airplanes are well-ventilated conveyances. Her order affects all public transportation, and subways at rush hour, for instance, have about as much ventilation as a well-traveled sarcophagus.

And what about other industries? Although Judge Mizelle’s ruling applies only to public transportation, it is forcing others to re-examine their policies. For example, consider the health care industry.

Most health systems and physician groups have indicated they will maintain their masking requirements, regardless of changes in other industries. Some providers are easing the rules in certain markets as COVID-19 infection rates decline, but those decisions were made independent of Mizelle’s ruling.

Trinity Health’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Daniel Roth, said the Judge’s ruling jeopardizes the immunocompromised and those who can’t be vaccinated. “Trinity Health has followed guidelines from the CDC to ensure the safety of our colleagues, clinicians and patients. Yesterday’s court decision removing the requirement for face coverings on public transportation was irresponsibly abrupt and increases risk,” he said in a statement.

This evening, the Biden administration’s Justice Department, in keeping with a recommendation from the CDC, announced it would appeal Mizelle’s ruling. Although this might be the right health decision, it is likely the wrong political decision. It will perpetuate the uncertainty and confusion Americans face every day as they travel, and that will only strike another blow at Biden’s approval ratings. It may be time, finally time, to let Americans decide for themselves, with all the heartbreak that might bring to some.

No one’s asking me, but if they were, I would dearly love to advise President, also Politician, Joe Biden to do nothing, absolutely nothing. Let this go and, with a smile on your face, watch it fly off into the vastness of the darkest of nights never to be mentioned again. With all the problems of the last 15 months, if he never again had to get into the “to mask or not to mask” debate, our President would be one very happy guy.

Yes, I would dearly love to offer that advice.

But what about the many immunocompromised people who have to travel but are scared to death to do it. What about them?

And what about the children? What about the children too young to be vaccinated, in some cases too young for a mask? What about unmasked adults on public transportation near those children who might infect them because they chose their personal “freedom” over the potential harm to a child?

What about that?

How Easy It Is

April 14th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

“A large swath of humanity just seems highly suggestible and follows the lead of people they’ve come to admire. That sometimes turns out fine, and sometimes not.” From yesterday’s Letters from the Berkshires.

Recovering from CoVid 19 is difficult in more ways than one.

Although I’m pretty sure this is true for all religions, my Roman Catholic education and upbringing  instilled in me and my peers a desperate need to be constantly productive and to feel bad if we weren’t, because that would be the very definition of LAZY. We were all indoctrinated, brainwashed really, and it has stuck all the way into an eighth decade. Now, sickness has thrown a spanner into the personal productivity assembly line.

I was reminded of that today, as I was fighting the virus and found myself somewhere between productive and lazy, leaning toward lazy, when I picked up a story from the Associated Press (AP) (no byline given) describing the harshly repressive actions taken by Vladimir Putin’s Security Police against even the slightest hint of criticism for his growing-more-barbaric-by-the-day immoral destruction of Ukraine.

It seems now, and the AP story documents this, that most Russians (although we may never know for sure) have swallowed Putin’s Kool Aid to the point where the Russian sociological landscape is beginning to look like that of East Germany’s before the fall of the wall. Neighbor is turning in neighbor for the slightest whiff of disagreement, or even enquiry. This happened fast.

Much of humanity continues to demonstrate how susceptible it is to believing something absent any evidence, any factual confirmation, as long as leaders tell it to them repeatedly. Over and over again we see this everywhere. Look no further than the Big Lie here in the USA. But at least falling for the Big Lie is yet to get people killed (as long as you don’t count the January 6th Insurrection).

Until 23 February, Ukraine and Russia were neighbors with often overlapping histories* covering several centuries. Despite the fighting raging in Eastern Ukraine since 2014, most of the country thrived.  Ukrainians had friends and relatives in Russia and Russians had friends and relatives in Ukraine. They spoke to each other – usually in Russian. But then overnight, Ukrainians became “bestial” Nazis, and now the mission of the Russian state seems to be to exterminate the population, the very definition of genocide. And sadly, most Russians appear to be buying the lie.

I will leave you with this little morsel to digest;

“Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a Communist dictatorship. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

That was Reichsmarschall Herman Göring, second most powerful man in Nazy Germany, a man who knew a thing or two about committing Genocide, answering a question from  Gustave M. Gilbert a psychologist who had access to the prisoners during the Nuremberg trials in 1946. The quote is taken from “Witness To Nuremberg,” (Arcade Publishing, 2002, page 30) by Richard W. Sonnenfeldt, Chief Interpreter for the American prosecution, who was present as interpreter and translated and recorded Göring’s response to Gilbert.

*One part of those overlapping histories, known in Ukraine as the Holodomor, happened when the Georgian Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, exterminated millions of Ukrainians by intentional, genocidal starvation in 1932 and 1933. Mr. Putin doesn’t talk about that.

 

The Dragon Has Struck

April 13th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

A little setback

Reality landed with a heavy thud on Monday morning here in the Berkshires. After not feeling well Sunday evening, I tested positive for CoVid 19 Monday morning.

I will be forever grateful to the scientists who created the vaccine that has made this a moderate inconvenience (but it’s certainly no fun), rather than a full-bore medical event. Believe me, this could have ended very badly were it not for three vaccine shots.

Two of the symptoms are, shall we say, interesting. First, things are a bit fuzzy in the brain. Concentration is sometimes difficult, as in right now as I try to type these words, but make more mistakes than usual, many more. Second, occasional profound fatigue. For a guy who is used to playing energetic tennis four or five times a week, this is humbling, indeed.

It’s a long time ago in the life of this pandemic that I stopped trying to figure out why people would choose to risk their lives (and those around them) by refusing vaccination. A large swath of humanity just seems highly suggestible and follows the lead of people they’ve come to admire. That sometimes turns out fine, and sometimes not.

Correction

In my column of last Friday, 8 April, in which I reported on the actions companies doing business in Russia are taking in light of Putin’s inhumane invasion, I wrote this sentence about a specific company that has chosen to remain and sell its stuff to Russians:

Personally, I have decided the Acer corporation will not be among the brands I consider for my next pair of running shoes.

However, as percipient readers have reminded me, the Acer Corporation makes computers, not running shoes. It’s the Asics Corporation that makes running shoes. I should have known better. The offending sentence now reads:

Personally, I have decided the Acer corporation will not be among the brands I consider for my next computer.

Since I really like Asics running shoes, I am happy I can continue buying them with complete moral justification! Just as soon as I leave my CoVid bed.

Please forgive me for the error.

 

Important Items You Might Have Missed This Week

April 8th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Let’s ban some books!

During the summer of my 15th year, my father walked into our very Roman Catholic home to find me reading a paperback book on the couch in our living room. “What are you reading, Tommy?” he said. So, I showed him the book I was well into. It was Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer. Whereupon, Dad became somewhat apoplectic, and rushed into the kitchen where my mother was starting to cook supper. “Mary, do you know what your son is reading?” he said. “Of course,” my mother replied. “I gave it to him.”

Tropic of Cancer is an autobiographical novel by Henry Miller, published in France in 1934 and, because of censorship, not published in the United States until 1961. And it is racy, indeed. It is also superbly well-written and compelling as it takes the reader on a tour of Miller’s mind as he lived a hedonistic life in the Paris of his youth.

My mother knew a book would never hurt me. People could and would, but not books. And I’m happy to say she eventually convinced my father of the value of that proposition.

I bring this up, because yesterday Pen America released a deeply researched report, Banned in the USA, addressing what it calls the “Index”* of books banned in the U.S. from 1 July 2021 through 31 March 2022. That’s just nine months.

It may flabbergast you to learn that during those nine months the Index lists 1,586 book bans that have occurred in 86 school districts in 26 states. These districts represent 2,899 schools with a combined enrollment of over 2 million students.

Mom would have disapproved.

I was somewhat disappointed I could not write about the banning of Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece Fahrenheit 451. The irony of writing about banning a book about a society that bans and burns books would have appealed to me. However, that book is not on Pen America’s Index (perhaps the book banners aren’t very well read). The irony will have to wait. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer didn’t make the Index, either. I guess hedonism from 88 years ago is fine now, or maybe the book is just too old to worry about anymore. But four of Margaret Atwood’s books are on the list, including The Handmaid’s Tale.  That’s a pity.

Some highlights from the Pen America report:

  • These bans have targeted 1,145 unique book titles by 874 different authors, 198 illustrators, and 9 translators, impacting the literary, scholarly, and creative work of 1,081 people altogether.
  • Texas led the country with the most bans at 713; followed by Pennsylvania (456); Florida (204); Oklahoma (43); Kansas (30); and Tennessee (16).
  • Processes aimed to uphold the First Amendment in the context of school book challenges are not being followed. Of bans in the Index, 98% involve departures from best practice guidelines for how school authorities may remove books; most bans and restrictions have occurred without proper written forms, review committees, or transparency. While school boards and administrators do have some discretion over library and instructional materials, there are safeguards and best practices meant to protect students’ First Amendment rights that are being widely abrogated.

Among titles in the index:

  • 467 titles (41%) included protagonists or prominent secondary characters who were people of color;
  • 247 titles (22%) directly address issues of race and racism
  • 379 titles (33%) explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes, or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+
  • 184 titles (16%) are history books or biographies. 107 have explicit or prominent themes related to rights and activism (9%).
  • 42 children’s books were censored, including biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Duke Ellington, Katherine Johnson, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cesar Chavez, Sonia Sotomayor, Nelson Mandela, and Malala Yousafzai.
  • The majority of the books targeted have been works of fiction, however 28% are non-fiction and include history books, analytical and/or personal essays, and children’s reference and informational works.

*The “Index” of Prohibited Books, Index Librorum Prohibitorum, established in 1557 by Pope Paul IV, was a list of books Roman Catholics were prohibited from reading on pain of excommunication. The books were prohibited because they contained material considered dangerous or contrary to faith, morals, or the teaching of the Church. I’m not sure if Pen America intended this relationship, but I’ll assume the authors did.

What actions are companies doing business in Russia taking in response to Putin’s invasion?

Yesterday, in an important New York Time op-ed, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the Lester Crown professor of management practice at the Yale School of Management, who has studied corporate social responsibility for 45 years, and Steven Tian, research director at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, pointed out that in the late 1980s roughly 200 American companies withdrew from South Africa, partly in protest against its apartheid system. These actions helped topple the racist regime.

With that in mind Sonnenfeld, Tian and their Yale team have made a deep dive into how companies doing business in and with Russia are responding to the inhumane invasion of Ukraine. After completing their analysis they have placed businesses in one of five categories based on their response to the war. They say, “Consumers should know whether the companies that make their food, clothes and goods are fully committed to ending Mr. Putin’s atrocities.”

Many of the companies they examine are household names. The 162 companies that have chosen to stay have offered a number of excuses, which I find lack any compelling rationale. Sonnenfeld and Tian urge consumers to pressure by boycott. Personally, I have decided the Acer corporation will not be among the brands I consider for my next computer.

Brief comment

Yesterday’s confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court was everything I predicted it would be in yesterday’s Letter From The Berkshires, but a putting-a-period-on-it is in order.

Republicans, continuing to display an abysmal lack of grace and dignity, abruptly walked out of the senate chamber immediately following the Vice President’s announcing the vote. The video of them all rushing for the door as Mitt Romney stood in their midst applauding and looking slightly bewildered as they almost ran him down was disgraceful. The spectacle made a mockery of a place where great Americans, many of them Republicans, once stood.

 

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Process Is A Repulsive Metaphor For Our Time

April 7th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

When Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would be retiring as soon as his replacement was confirmed by the Senate, he gave President Joe Biden perhaps the only chance he’ll ever have to make his mark on the Court.

Biden had promised to nominate a “black woman” if he ever had the opportunity—and that is precisely what he did in nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Most people thought that because Brown Jackson’s appointment would not change the mostly conservative makeup of the Court in any way—a perceived liberal replacing a bona fide liberal—and because of her standing as the first Black woman in the Court’s history, and because she went through the confirmation process with the Judiciary Committee in 2021, one year ago, for her current position, her appointment would be approved in a show of bipartisanship that is ever so rare in today’s America. Most people thought a bipartisan confirmation process would allow Republicans to appear big-hearted and welcoming.

Well, “most people” were wrong. We were suckered into and down the rabbit hole of delusional thinking. Although three Republicans, Romney, Murkowski and Collins, have announced they will vote for her confirmation, the final vote will be anything but bipartisan. The voting is scheduled for 1:45 pm today. She will be confirmed, just not in the way Biden would have liked. After that, Congress will go back to the normal internecine warfare we’ve grown to know so well.

In the Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination, the knives came out long and sharp. The vileness of the Republican strategy was exemplified Tuesday on the Senate floor by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who fancies himself quite the  presidential contender, when he said, “The last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis. This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.”

Cotton’s execrable remark was apparently meant to suggest that not only is Judge Brown Jackson a Nazi sympathizer, she’s also a full-blown Nazi herself!

Why would this Harvard Law graduate and former Infantry officer say such a stupid and hateful thing? How could a demonstrably smart guy stoop that low? What could he possibly stand to gain from such a ridiculous statement? In defending himself, he said he attacked the Judge, because, when working for the Federal Public Defender Program, she defended three Guantanamo detainees, thereby making her sympathetic to terrorists.

In their questioning and public statements, it’s almost as if Republicans were describing an entirely different person. For example, they criticized her for being “soft on crime” and berated her for lenient sentences that go against judicial sentencing guidelines. But Judge Brown Jackson enjoys the full-throated support of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest law enforcement labor organization in the United States, with more than 356,000 members. This organization rarely comments on judicial appointments, but they’re all in for her. Yet, still, on Fox News over the weekend, Senator Ted Cancun Cruz criticized Brown Jackson for her work as a public defender, arguing people go into that line of work because “their heart is with the murderers, the criminals, and that’s who they’re rooting for.”*

Ask yourself why, really why, Republicans are nearly united in their opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, who, by all accounts, both deeply conservative and liberal, is eminently qualified for the appointment. Why did a number of Republican Judiciary Committee members, led by Cruz, focus so much on pedophilia? Why, in their 11.5 hours of questioning, were so many of their sanctimonious “questions” dripping with condescension, misogyny and naked racism? Why were they so very proud of that heroic accomplishment?

I will tell you why. It is because to this day 32% of Republican voters have continued to fall for the Big Lie and believe Joe Biden’s election was illegitimate (23%), or they’re not sure (9%).

It now seems the main goal in life for most Republican politicians, regardless of national interest, is getting reelected—they’ve become addicted to the power in the Washington they decry—, and to do that requires outright pandering to the Trump base and its enablers and supporters. Mustn’t upset Tucker Carlson and his 3.21 million misguided viewers.

American leaders, whose opportunistic ambitions know no bounds, are digging us a hole out of which not even light can escape. This is how democracies and empires die.

 

*Public Defenders do noble work for little compensation, representing people who would otherwise go unrepresented. They provide the legal representation the Constitution requires. The same thing John Adams did for the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre.

To Recapture Its Greatness, America Must Look To Its Past

April 6th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

At the close of World War II, the United States had become by far the dominant world power. How could it not be? Europe had been beaten to a pulp, the same for Russia. Japan had been bombed nearly back to the stone age. China was a nonentity, and India was still a British colony. There was no one else. The U.S. was the last man standing. In addition to the tragically killed and wounded, the worst thing the country had faced was rationing for the war effort. The mainland continental United States was nearly untouched by enemy action during the entire war.

But the physical devastation was so severe in Europe that in May 1947, nearly two years after Victory in Europe Day, Winston Churchill described the continent as “a rubble-heap, a charnel house, a breeding ground of pestilence and hate.”

As the only country with the resources to lead the rebuilding of Europe and Japan after the war, the United States realized its post-war prominence came with colossal responsibility—and opportunity. In perhaps this nation’s greatest contributions to humanity, it poured money, personnel, and other resources into the most massive rebuilding effort in history. This was one of those rare instances where beneficence exquisitely blended with national self-interest. During the years following the war, America devoted itself to European and Japanese recovery in ways that  should still inspire us today.

  • The U.S. developed the four-year European Recovery Program (the Marshall Plan) under the leadership of Army General and Secretary of State George C. Marshall* to rebuild the infrastructure and rehabilitate the economies of 16 western and southern European countries to allow stable conditions to develop and democratic institutions to survive.  This included Germany, and stands in sharp contrast to the humiliating and draconian measures taken by the victors at the Treaty of Versailles following World War I. Stalin wanted similar measures after World War II, but was overruled by the allies who, despite the atrocities committed by Germany, knew it would be folly to repeat the mistakes of Versailles. The Marshall Plan years (1947 – 1951) were the fastest period of growth in European history and led to the Schumann Plan, the Common Market and now the European Union. The Marshall Plan also led directly to the creation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). During the Marshall Plan, the U.S. contributed $17 billion over the four-year period (more than $200 billion in today’s dollars). The Soviet Union and its allies refused to accept any of the aid from the Marshall Plan, because doing so would allow the U.S. to have a degree of  control over the Soviet economies, and the paranoid Joseph Stalin could never allow that;
  • Similarly, in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur took charge of the Supreme Command of Allied Powers (SCAP) and began the work of reconstruction. SCAP dismantled the Japanese Army and banned former military officers from taking roles of political leadership in the new government. To rebuild the Japanese infrastructure and economy, the U.S. invested nearly $3 billion ($20 billion in today’s dollars) in materials, manpower and humanitarian aid between 1947 and 1952. Today, having abandoned its early 20th century bellicosity, Japan is the third largest economy in the world.
  • After the war, although reconstruction was critical for the future, establishing justice for war criminals was central to that time’s present. As in Nürnberg, Germany, where more than 3,000 Nazis were prosecuted for war crimes during the two years following the war, the Allies brought to trial Japanese wartime leaders by convening war crimes trials in Tokyo and at various tribunals sitting outside Japan. Some 5,000 Japanese were found guilty of war crimes.
  • In 1948, Russia initiated the cold war by inhumanely blockading the three western sectors of Berlin, cutting off 2.5 million people from access to electricity, food, coal and other crucial supplies. Beginning 26 June 1948, two days after the blockade was announced, U.S. and British planes carried out the largest air relief operation in history, transporting some 2.3 million tons of supplies into West Berlin on more than 270,000 flights over 11 months. The awesome magnanimity of the Airlift, which cost America $224 million ($2.6 billion in today’s dollars) saved the lives of an untold number of Berliners.

  • In April, 1945, even before the war ended and 12 days following the death of President Roosevelt, the U.S. hosted more than 500 delegates from 51 countries who conferenced for two months in San Francisco to create the framework for what would become the United Nations. In the middle of the conference the delegates gathered in Cathedral Grove of Muir Wood to pay tribute to the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

A unified America did all that, and more. It demonstrated the greatness of “the American century,” and was a significant and proud moment in our history.

And now, in 2022, 77 years following the end of World War II, what have we become? There have been majestic moments in our history, notably the 5th decade of the 20th century, when national self-interest trumped political self-interest. Is anything resembling that intelligent altruism possible today in our deeply divided country where partisanship is egged on by grandstanding politicians whose only consideration is their own ambition?

Eventually, please God, soon, the war in Ukraine will end. Unlike in Germany and Japan at the end of World War II, it is highly doubtful we will ever be able to bring to justice Vladimir Putin and the rest of the Russians responsible for the obvious war crimes unveiled in Bucha this week. They will never again be able to visit a western country, but they’ll be safe among what passes for friends.

However, a massive rebuilding will face the world. Ukraine was a beautiful country, the largest in Europe, with magnificent architecture. It will require an enormous investment in time, money, and skilled workers to restore it to its former beauty. Do we here in America have any of the George Marshall-like fortitude to commit ourselves to that effort? We won’t have to stand alone; all of Europe will be there to help. But we will need to lead, as we did in the past. Will our profound national partisanship allow that?

The tragedy in Ukraine offers us a moment for unity. Republicans, who have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even the idea of supporting the administration’s efforts to help, will have an opportunity to put partisanship aside to show America what they can be capable of.

It is noteworthy that thus far they are being shown up by a Ukrainian President who is demonstrating what love of country and leadership really are.

 

*Marshall may be the most accomplished statesman and wartime leader in American history. He was armed forces Chief of Staff during World War II, a five-star general (one of only five in history), Secretary of State following the war, where he organized the Marshall Plan, Secretary of Defense during the Korean conflict, Time’s Man of the Year—twice, and, in 1953, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Long Recent History Of Russian Brutality

April 4th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Hungarian-born Imre Nagy had been a committed communist since shortly after the Russian revolution of 1917. From 1933 to 1941, he served the Soviet NKVD secret police as an informer. During that period, he denounced more than 200 colleagues, who were then purged and arrested.  Fifteen of them were executed. Nagy was no Mother Teresa.

The Soviets installed Nagy as Chairman of Hungary’s Council of Ministers in 1953, and over the next two years, beginning to recognize the repression of which he had long been a part, he tried to reduce the harsher elements of communist rule. The Russians could not tolerate this, and they ousted him in 1955.

On 23 October 1956, the people of Hungary declared independence from the Soviet Union and threw out Russia’s puppet government. They then named the sixty-year-old Nagy Prime Minister. In something akin to a Road to Damascus conversion, the now reformist Nagy took full control of the government, admitted non-communist politicians, dissolved the ÁVH secret police, promised democratic reforms, and unilaterally withdrew Hungary from the Warsaw Pact on 1 November. On 4 November, the Soviets launched a massive invasion, swiftly regained control, and deposed Nagy, who took refuge in the Yugoslavian embassy. Two weeks later, after giving assurances for his safety, the Russians lured Nagy out of the embassy and immediately arrested and deported him to Romania. Two years later, he was tried for treason, found guilty (there’s a surprise), and immediately executed.

In the 66 years since Russia obliterated the freedom dreams of the Hungarian people, the Kremlin has repeatedly demonstrated that its approach to putting down dissent in Hungary was not an anomaly; it was the rule. Since then, it has been swift and brutal in crushing any action it interprets as a threat to its hegemony. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 offers another example.

In early 1968, the Russian puppet leader Antonin Novotny was deposed as the head of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and was replaced by Alexander Dubcek. The Dubcek government ended censorship in early 1968, and this new freedom resulted in a public expression of broad-based support for reform in which government and  Communist Party policies could be debated openly. In April, the Czech Government issued a formal plan for further reforms.

Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, could not allow this, and on 20 August Warsaw Pact forces invaded and occupied Prague. Over the two days it took to destroy the Prague Spring, the Russians killed 137 Czechoslovakian civilians and seriously wounded 500. The Kremlin justified the use of force in Prague under what would become known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that Moscow had the right to intervene in any country where a communist government had been threatened. This doctrine also became the primary justification for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the nine-year war it eventually lost after seeing 15,000 of its troops killed and 35,000 wounded. Two million Afghans died during the the war.

As the Soviet Union was collapsing, the people of Chechnya, which the USSR had controlled since 1921, broke away. Russia invaded and began the brutalization of the Chechen people and the destruction of the capital city, Grozny. In 2003, the United Nations called Grozny “the most destroyed city on earth.” The Russians killed between 5,000 and 8,000 civilians in a little over a month.

After the fall of communism in 1989, and with the exception of the Chechnya invasion, the evil Genie was crammed back into its bottle for the next 11 years, during which capitalism and democracy emerged and the oligarchs were born. This ended when Russians elected Stalin doppelganger Vladimir Putin to the presidency in 2000.

As I have written previously, over time it has become more and more easy to mistake Putin for a modern-day Ivan the Terrible. On his watch and at his direction, Russia invaded the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008, tore off a part of the country, and invented the “states” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in the process destroying towns and murdering civilians before withdrawing most of its troops. Next came the Syrian city of Aleppo, which Russia reduced to dust in 2016. There, Russian troops destroyed hospitals and schools, choked off basic supplies, and killed aid workers and hundreds of civilians in just a few days.

Does any of this sound familiar?

And now we have Ukraine, where the world seems amazingly surprised to see Putin’s Russia trying to eliminate an entire country using the same barbaric methods it has employed so often since 1956.

It appears Vladimir Putin sees his mission in life is to recreate Imperial Russia with himself as Tsar. His tactics are not new. As Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says, Putin will throw soldiers at Ukraine “like logs into a train’s furnace.”

The world did nothing to punish the Soviet Union for Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or Afghanistan. It did nothing, absolutely nothing, to punish Putin for Grozny, Georgia or Aleppo.

The Ukrainians are fighting with patriotism, bravery, and incredible determination. Ten million have been displaced. Russian forces have blown to oblivion cities, hospitals (at least five of them), schools and theatres. Just as in Grozny, when Russian troops withdraw they leave the bodies of dead civilians lying in the streets for the world to see. Yesterday we learned about the atrocities in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, where, after the Russians withdrew, Ukrainians found more than 400 innocent civilians who had been killed, some with their hands tied behind their backs. These are war crimes, and after World War II, we executed German commanders for doing that sort of thing.

Neither the U.S. nor NATO will put a single soldier on the ground or a single plane in the air to overwhelm what appears to be an inferior Russian army. Instead, we send weapons and supplies. I’m of two minds about that, but I understand the argument that joining the fight might make a terrible situation worse, if that’s possible. Moreover, public support for that just isn’t there. Seventy-five percent of Americans are against it.

So, we are reduced to fighting with sanctions as our weapons. To me, that seems like throwing a strawberry at a battleship expecting to sink it. But right now, what do we have except the strawberries?