9-11 Plus 20

I doubt I will go to witness the ceremony of remembrance at the 9-11 Memorial this year, the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attack. I am never comfortable when I am at the 16-acre site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. It’s not the memories. Those come and go depending on what is going on in the world. It’s the images which lingered before me for months after that day. Now they almost never return. Unless I am at the site.

On September 11, 2001, my wife Amy and I lived in Battery Park City in lower Manhattan. We had moved there from midtown just a few months earlier. Our apartment building was at the south end of the neighborhood, south and west of WTC Tower #2. I was the New York Bureau Chief and Senior Correspondent for public television’s Nightly Business Report and the newsroom/production facility/broadcast studio was just across West Street, even closer to the tower, due south of the site. Tower #2 filled the window of my bedroom, and of my office.

I was putting on my tie when I heard a noise I later described as the sound of a dump truck unloading gravel at my feet. Running to the window, I saw smoke coming from the top of Tower #1, the view partially obscured by #2, which was closer to me. I had been through the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, so I did think of that. But I thought in terms of a bomb planted inside, or an explosion on one of the equipment floors toward the top of the building. It was 8:46am.

I called Mark Landsman, our veteran assignment desk manager and reported that I was going right to the scene. And I called Howard Grossman, our senior technical staff member. Howard also lived in Battery Park, in a building at the north end. I asked him to grab a camera and meet me. Amy and I went down to the street. We would not leave each other’s sight for a full week.

On the street the talk was of an airplane hitting the north tower. Know-it-all that I can tend to be, I opined as to how ridiculous that idea was. I knew flight patterns over the Hudson River included a visual approach to LaGuardia at higher altitudes and a sightseeing route for small aircraft at lower altitudes. But the weather was clear and the idea that a two-pilot commercial jet would hit the towers was inconceivable. Perhaps a solo pilot could lose control. But it seemed to me there was much too much damage, a large gaping hole in the south side of Tower #1, for it to have been caused by a light aircraft. The idea that a jet had been intentionally steered into the tower never crossed my mind.

As we walked north along South End Avenue, toward the towers, we sensed rather than saw a shadow come up from behind, where the Statue of Liberty stood welcoming people to the United States. Then came a massive explosion right in front of us, along the south face of Tower #2. The second jet had come in from the south and slammed into the second tower. Now there was no question that we were witnessing a purposeful attack. We ducked instinctively behind parked cars as debris rained down from the building. The plane was moving away from us and went all the way through the building to the north side, where most of the heavy debris landed. We were safe where we were. People on the ground on the north side were killed by falling debris. It was 9:03am.

As unbelievable as these events were, I had no idea that they would get even worse. As the day unfolded, the images, the ones I can’t avoid seeing when I visit the site, began to build up. Through it all, I was a numb reporter doing what he was programmed to do, shooting pictures, and taking notes. We saw people streaming out of the buildings, frightened, sweaty, many covered with soot, some bleeding from cuts and more serious injuries. We saw police and firemen heading into the buildings while at the same time telling civilians to get away from the area. I first heard the sirens and then turned to see scores of emergency vehicles barreling out of the Battery Park underpass which connects the east side to the west side at the bottom of Manhattan Island. It seemed that every ambulance in New York was headed right at us.

There is one more image, still difficult to talk about. From the North Tower, we had noticed what appeared to be some unusual debris, small, dark spots falling from the upper floors. We shot pictures, and then realized what it was. People were falling from those incredible heights. They had elected to jump to certain death rather than face what must have been the hell of the heat and flame that was upon them. The inferno was the result of burning jet fuel from the fully loaded airplanes. We did not broadcast those pictures that day.

After a time, Howard suggested he walk a considerable distance to the east, away from the site, so that he could get a long shot that allowed the entire height of the towers to appear in the frame. I agreed. I already had a variety of ground shots; people pictures and even a few interviews with dazed survivors. Amy and I headed south, to the bureau office. It was about 9:30am.

We had been standing right across Liberty Street at the base of Tower #2, in front of the fire department company for the area, along the row of restaurants and fast-food joints that were frequent luncheon destinations on workdays. Less than half an hour later Tower #2 would collapse. The fire station, known as “Ten House,” Engine 10, Ladder 10, would be crushed under tons of debris. Five members of the company would die.

I updated our headquarters by phone. I was standing in front of the window, watching the south tower, now half hidden by smoke. Amy was on one side of me, Erika Miller, a Nightly Business Report reporter, on the other. Suddenly we could see that something was happening to the tower. For want of a better word, it seemed to shimmer, to go out of focus. It took several seconds before the meaning of the strange scene registered, the tower was collapsing, dissolving it seemed, coming straight down. I pushed Amy and Erika out of my office into the newsroom in the center of the bureau, away from the windows.

If the tower had fallen over to the south, it would have landed on our building at 74 Trinity Place. As we know now, each tower’s weight was carried by the steel shell, and as the structure holding the upper floors to the frame literally melted from the heat, the floors fell in one by one. Many lives were probably saved because the building collapsed inward on itself, rather than falling over onto the surrounding buildings.

The bright and sunny day turned into the pitch dark of night. Wave after wave of thick black smoke and debris roared past our building. It would seem to pause, get somewhat lighter, and then another wave would hit. The speculation is that secondary explosions accounted for that effect. I wondered if our 100-year-old office building would hold. It did, but a fine layer of debris penetrated the old window frames and settled throughout. A smell like burning rubber filled the air. That smell would linger for many months.

To my surprise our electric power and our electronic connections to the outside world continued to operate. It did begin to get stuffy and hot, probably because the filters on the intakes for the air conditioning system on the roof became clogged with debris. We could see the reporting on cable news on our newsroom monitors. NBC had a camera across the Hudson in Jersey City and another on top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, both giving a clear view of the destruction.

Slowly the realization hit me. Although I knew many people had evacuated the building, I was sure many had not gotten out in time. Certainly not the police and firemen. The idea that the tower would completely collapse was something else that had never ever crossed my mind. I concluded that I had just witnessed with my own eyes the death of hundreds if not thousands of people. My thoughts also turned to Howard and the other members of the two crews I had out on the streets recording video. Had my assignments cost them their lives? It took about 20 minutes before they were able to get dial tones on their mobile phones and call in. Both crews had ducked into buildings as the debris raced toward them down the famous canyons of Wall Street. One had even recorded what looked like a dust cloud coming down the street. All of my people were safe. A few minutes later, the north tower collapsed. It was 10:28am.

For the rest of the day, in fact, for the rest of the week, I was on autopilot, doing my job as if in a trance. The police ordered us to get out of the area. But before we abandoned ship, we transmitted our video and we lit up the studio and I sat down for two interview reports, one for our own program and another with Ray Suarez of the PBS NewsHour. I was in a jacket but not wearing a tie, sweaty and disheveled. No one complained.  I still have that tape. As it happened, since the stock market never opened for business that day, our program was preempted to make way for an expanded NewsHour. My interview did appear on the NewsHour, describing with reasonable calm what I had seen and done through the day, along with the pictures shot by our dedicated and brave crews.

The rest of the week was spent improvising. But improvise we did and although we lacked access to our studio and some of us lacked access to our apartments, we filed reports for each broadcast.

We didn’t have time to be frightened on that day. The fear came one day the following week. That day the stock market reopened, and we returned to Wall Street to cover the event. It was an armed camp with national guard armor on the streets and armed soldiers at checkpoints carefully inspecting our news media credentials as we walked from the City Hall subway station, as close as we could get on public transportation, to the New York Stock Exchange. The unspoken thought on everyone’s mind was how great a target we made if anyone was planning another attack.

Over the years I have had time to reflect on the impact of that day. For more then two hundred years we in the United States had a belief in our invulnerability. There had never been a real attack on the homeland, separated as it is from threats on the other side of oceans. Now we had lost our innocence. We were suddenly living in a land of stoplight-like “threat level” indicators, loaded with security guards, and identification checks at every turn. We are fearful. And I believe that has had a major negative effect on our national psyche.

We also have lost our sense of invincibility. Having prevailed in multiple worldwide conflicts to become the world’s only superpower, we now faced wrenching structural change to our society at the hands of a radical terrorist operating out of the near primitive backwaters of humanity. And when we announced that we would avenge the killing of nearly three thousand of our fellow citizens by sending the world’s most powerful military to destroy the man behind the attack, he managed to escape.

It took ten years to kill Osama bin Laden, the terrorist a Senate Foreign Relations Committee study said was, “within our grasp” when he was holed up in the mountains at Tora Bora in Afghanistan three months after 9-11. Another ten years having gone by, the same people who sheltered bin Laden, the Taliban, have taken control of Afghanistan again. This is a disaster for Afghans there who have been helping Americans for the last two decades.  Not to mention what will happen to Afghan women and any Afghan with an education. Twenty years of American effort to secure that country ended in a failure we haven’t seen since Vietnam. And our adventure in Afghanistan also led to our excursion into Iraq from which the only beneficiaries seem to be Iran, Russia, and Turkey.

Our initial reaction to the attack was bipartisan. Republicans and Democrats alike screaming for retribution. But in the aftermath as we failed to fell the foe and seemed bogged down in a country of questionable strategic interest the finger pointing began. We relied on faulty or fabricated intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq and the declaration that Iraq, Iran and North Korea form an “axis of evil” that presents an existential threat. We tortured prisoners and we used unmanned drone aircraft to execute enemies on a global scale. The good will our special nation had built up in the eyes of the world following the Second World War has been expended. We built a massive domestic police force at the control of the federal government. We can’t recognize ourselves. And we are divided to an extent we haven’t seen since the Civil War.

Our costs total several thousand more American soldiers dead. Trillions of American dollars spent. An exhausted American military unable to meet its own readiness standards. And real questions as to just how well our incredibly expensive armies would do if they were to face a real existential threat to the homeland. Did we fight a war with bid Lade,n and lose?

All those images and emotions and concerns return when I stand at the Trade Center Site. And that is why I am not eager to visit that place.

A new One World Trade Center tower stands tall near the site where the original twin towers stood. And other new buildings surround it.

I think they have done a remarkable job on the 9-11 Memorial itself. While it was considered essential to redevelop the site to demonstrate our resolve to carry on in the face of a great tragedy, planners were able to leave the actual footprints of the twin towers open.

They have been turned into recessed pools; water falls gently over the walls that encompass them. On the parapet on top of those walls are the names of the people who died. It is solemn and peaceful and very moving when you stand there. The gentle sound of the falling water obscures the sounds of the city and gives rise to thought and reflection.

Still, when standing there I need only to look up and see, just across Liberty Street, the spot where I stood just minutes before the towers fell. I am acutely aware of the fact that while I survived that day, along with my family and my colleagues, so many lost their lives. When I stand here the images come back. And I’d rather they not.


If He Builds It, We Will Come

August 13, 2021 Update

I don’t mean to brag but, well, yes I do. My hometown Chicago White Sox beat the New York Yankees 9-8 in the Field of Dreams game with a dramatic bottom of the ninth inning walk off home run by Tim Anderson. The lead had changed hands several times. There is no hiding the fact that baseball faces some big challenges in the years a ahead. Perhaps this event will help. It was a great game.

August 12, 2021

Tonight the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees will play the first major league baseball game ever in the state of Iowa. There will be eight thousand people in the stands. They will have paid from $1,500 to $5,000 for the privilege. The town of Dyersville, Iowa, the game’s location, has a total population of about four thousand. The game will be telecast on Fox at 7:15 Eastern Time.

The special game commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of one of my all time favorite films, Field of Dreams, which stars Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Timothy Busfield, and in his last film role, Burt Lancaster. The anniversary was actually last year but the tribute game, originally scheduled for 2020, was delayed by the Covid shutdown.

This is the story of a man named Ray Kinsella who came of age in the turbulent 1960s and has decided to head for Iowa with his wife and young daughter and take up farming in search of something he is not quite sure of. There, while out tending his corn crop he hears a mysterious voice saying, “If you build it, he will come.” And he sees a vision of a baseball field in the middle of the corn. He plows under his corn and builds the field. Eventually, a group of “ghost” players from the disgraced Chicago Black Sox team of 1919 show up to play.

Yes, this is a fantasy. If you can’t get your mind around that you may as well stop here and wait for my next blog on public affairs. It is also an ode to the sport of baseball, perhaps not as popular as it once was but still the great American pastime. It is a romance guys can shed a tear over without embarrassment, for it is the story of a man’s love for his family, his sport, and his father. And it is a teacher of life’s great lessons. Don’t put off telling people what they mean to you. If you wait too long you may never get the chance. And don’t search too hard for what is important, it is probably right in front of you.

I still remember seeing my first professional baseball game. My father took the nine year old me to watch the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. The Yankees were playing. I was already playing baseball at school and summer camp and I was never much of an athlete. But baseball was a game you could play at all skill levels, and later in life I still enjoyed playing whether is was an intermural game at college or a game of mixed softball between other newsroom teams in Chicago’s summer soft ball leagues.

The wonderful actor Kevin Costner, on the other hand, is a serious athlete with a special love for baseball. He is often involved with professional teams and might have been good enough to play in the majors if a little thing like his film career didn’t get in the way. He starred in three of the greatest base ball films of all time, Bull Durham and For Love of the Game as well as Field of Dreams. He played a retired baseball player in The Upside of Anger and narrated the documentary, Fastball. Costner has said he was reluctant to do Field of Dreams because he had just finished Bull Durham but changed his mind once he read the script by Phil Alden Robinson, who also directed, and W.P. Kinsella, author of the book, “Shoeless Joe” on which it is based.

But beyond Costner’s wonderful performance and the great script, there are great moments for all of the supporting players.

There is Amy Madigan, who plays Kinsella’s wife, Annie. Also a child of the sixties, as am I, she stands by Ray even as their financial situation gets more and more dire because of the baseball field occupying space needed to grow enough corn to keep the farm in business. Even as Ray reacts to a second message from the mysterious voice, “Ease His Pain.”

Little needs to be said about the presence of James Earl Jones in any film. Here the great actor plays a J. D. Salinger like character, a reclusive author, the real Salinger whose name was used in the novel reportedly objected. Jones’s “Terence Mann” acts as an expository partner for Costner’s Kinsella until the end when he delivers a monologue, that ode to baseball I talked about earlier, as worthy as any Shakespeare performance you might see. “People will come” to see the mysterious “ghost” players from years gone by to play the game they love in Ray’s field, he tells his friend.

Ray Liotta plays “Shoeless Joe Jackson,” the player from the days of the Chicago Black Sox scandal who arrives at the field first. Timothy Busfield , who plays Annie’s pain-in-the-rear brother Mark who is allied with a group of investors who want to buy the mortgage note on the farm which Ray cannot pay. Mark can’t see the players on the field of course, because Mark does not believe. There is the child actor Gaby Hoffman, who plays Ray and Annie’s daughter, Karin and tells Ray that the people who come to watch the game will gladly pay enough money to save the farm.

And then there is the legend Burt Lancaster, in what was to be his last performance. Lancaster plays a doctor loved by the people of his small town. But Dr. Archibald Graham has a secret. He once played baseball in the minor leagues and was called up to the majors on the last day of a season. He played one inning. The ball was never hit in his direction. He never got to bat and never got another chance. “Moonlight” was the nickname they gave him. He regrets never having batted, and Ray commiserates after somehow being transported back in time to meet Graham, that it was a tragedy. (Skip over the time travel thing please, I told you this is fantasy). “No,” says Moonlight, “it would have been a tragedy if I had never had a chance to become a doctor.”

These lessons are all here to be learned. And at the end, Ray realizes that his father, John, played by Dwier Brown, is the catcher on the ghost team. “He” has come. Father and son have a catch, the catch Ray never had with his father when he was still alive. The “pain” was Ray’s. And it has now been eased. There isn’t a dry eye in the house.

So watch tonight’s game. Go see the movie. Appreciate what you have. Don’t regret what you have not. Be good to your parents. And to yourselves. And to everyone you love.

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A Guest Blog From The ICU

I know it has been a while since I last wrote. I’ve been dealing with some legal problems which I may be writing about in the future but for now are all time consuming. I do have a half written blog about the resurgence of Covid-19 and the idiots who refuse to get vaccinated which may see the light of day after my court deadline on Friday. But for now I want to share this blog from an Intensive Care Unit nurse which was posted on Twitter. It is brilliantly written and heart rendering. Please read.


I became an ICU nurse at the end of July in 2020, during one of the first peaks of Covid when it was all still so new. I learned how to be a nurse behind a respirator and a yellow gown, amidst the constant beeping and hissing of ventilators that couldn’t support failing lungs. Because I was so new, I had no baseline for what normal nursing looked like; I just had a vague sense that it couldn’t look like this. The unit was bleak and everything we did felt futile, and I realized at some point I felt more like a ferryman to death than anything else. Some people lived, if they never got to the point they needed Bipap. Most didn’t. By the time they came to us they were too sick, their lungs too shredded, kidneys already failing and blood already clotting and so often beyond the power we had to heal. I would watch, feeling helpless, as they would go from a nasal cannula to a Vapotherm to a Bipap, and then when their chests started heaving and they started sweating I knew with heavy dread that soon they would be intubated.

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No Bill. Just No.

This tweet was posted by Bill Cosby shortly after he left prison and returned to his home. IMHO, never has a bigger piece of BS been posted on the Internet. For those in the audience who are even older than I am, IMHO means, In My Humble Opinion. These acronyms abound in the world of social media but it is becoming more and more important that I remind readers that this blog represents my opinion. This is because now that Chief Justice John Roberts has achieve his lifelong goal of nullifying the Voting Rights Act and eviscerating the Fifteenth Amendment along with it, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas are taking aim at the First and the Sullivan exemption for critics of public figures may not be long for this world. That’s a subject for another day.

Today we have Bill Cosby. I have managed to avoid writing about Cosby for years. But this tweet, posted just hours after the comedian who was put on trial for sexual assault, convicted by a jury, and sentenced to spend 3-10 years in jail was released from prison, was the last straw.

No, William Henry Cosby, Jr., your release has nothing to do with innocence. It does not make you innocent. And your victory dance is both unseemly and unsightly for a man who remains, in my opinion, both a disgrace and a profound disappointment.

A disappointment, because I still remember my first serious date. The year was 1968. I had my new driver’s license. I had convinced my mother to let me borrow her car. I had convinced a very nice high school classmate to join me on this expedition. And she had convinced her father to trust me with his daughter on a Saturday night trip to downtown Chicago for a grownup dinner and then a show.

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GOP ∞ – Democracy 0 – Roberts 😉

The racist party scored another infinite victory in the United States Senate with all 50 Republicans voting against even discussing legislation to overhaul election law in America. Of course the Constitution says in case of a tie vote the Vice President, currently Democrat Kamala Harris, breaks the tie. But this democratic majority rules standard doesn’t apply here because this wasn’t a vote on passing into law the “For the People Act.” This was a “motion to proceed to consideration.” This little bit of nonsense, known as a cloture vote, requires a three-fifths vote. A 50-50 tie doesn’t cut it. You won’t find this “filibuster” rule in the Constitution either. It has been a tool of the racists for years.

The law would protect voting rights, end partisan gerrymandering, establish new ethics rules for federal officials, and curb big money in politics. No wonder it didn’t stand a chance. Republican senate leader Mitch McConnell called it a “power grab” by Democrats.

Let’s just make a little reality check here. Senate Democrats represent 43 MILLION more people than Senate Republicans but 41 Republicans representing just 21% of the voters in the country can block the For the People Act, which is supported by 68% of Americans. Democracy is the loser here.

And what exactly are the terrible things this For the People Act would address? They are the things that would combat the seemingly never ending attempts to keep in force the Jim Crow laws which are designed to prevent primarily people of color from voting. These laws institutionalize the practices which interfere with the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of the right to vote.

  • Partisan gerrymandering as a tool for disenfranchising voters.
  • The principle that people should choose who represents them instead of the other way around.
  • That we should make it easier for people to vote, not more difficult.
  • That corporations should not be able to buy elections.
  • That dark (or untraceable) money does not belong in politics.
  • That government should work for the people, not the special interests.

These are all things Republicans cannot stand for the simple reason that when people vote, Republicans lose. And Mitch McConnell doesn’t like to lose. The man who represents the four and a half million people of Kentucky just loves telling presidents elected with 80 million votes where they can stuff it. He blocked the agenda of Barack Obama. Now he’s blocking the agenda of Joe Biden.

But McConnell isn’t the only winner in this vote. Let’s not forget that it represents a great victory for John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States. John Roberts has made the destruction of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 his lifelong crusade. His opposition to the Act dates back to his days as a law clerk for then Associate Justice William Rehnquist. Rehnquist, also to become a Chief, notoriously wrote a memo in 1952 stating, “I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be re-affirmed.” Plessy was the infamous “separate but equal” case institutionalizing racism in public schools. It was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Roberts, made Chief by President George W. Bush in 2005, got his ultimate chance to fight back for the cause of racism in America in 2013, demonstrating the hypocrisy of the typical Republic talking point that the courts should defer to the legislative branch and refrain from “activism” in their interpretation of law. In Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General et al. Roberts, writing for a 5-4 conservative majority, gutted the Voting Rights Act. In Shelby, Roberts struck down the Act’s formula determining which states had to receive advance federal approval for their changes in election law and procedure. Roberts complained that the “preapproval rule” for some states should not remain in force for such a long time without Congress updating the data on racist regulation in their territories which led it to enact the remedy. He mocked critics, telling them the states would not be so bold as to resume their racist activities. “Our country has changed,” he concluded.

Five years after the ruling, nearly 1,000 polling places had closed, many of them in predominantly African-American counties. Research shows that changing and reducing voter locations can reduce voter turnout. A 2018 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (a bipartisan, independent commission of the United States federal government) found that there had been an increase in laws making it harder for minorities to vote. The commission found that at least 23 states enacted restrictive voter laws, such as closures of polling places, cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls, and imposition of strict voter ID laws.

According to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, so far 18 states have put in place more than 30 laws restricting access to the ballot. These laws will affect around 36 million people, or about 15% of all eligible voters. In Georgia, a new law means that county election boards will no longer be bipartisan but will be appointed by Republicans; other states are similarly stripping power from Democrats to put Republicans in charge.

Roberts does not limit his disfavor to legislation designed to protect voting rights. Housing rights are on his radar as well. Is the Chief a racist or is he just naïve? His history indicates he is getting exactly what he wants.

There are some Democrats who believe the loss of this vote, preordained and expected, is just part one of a series of battle that will eventually produce voting rights legislation that will be less expansive than the For the People Act but still effective. One can only hope.

But history shows wishful thinking is not a viable political strategy and I see little likelihood Republicans will do anything that can be labeled bipartisan. The only answer seems to be to keep the votes, and losses, coming and run on these issues in 2022.

Perhaps a few extra seats in the Senate can be won by Democrats. But with Republican state legislatures left to gerrymander the boundaries of their districts, see my personal favorite abomination below ,designing them to disenfranchise people of color in Houston, one has to wonder if there is any hope for Democrats. Or for Democracy.

Texas 2nd Congressional District

The district is represented by Republican Daniel Crenshaw, who is one of the insurrectionists who tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election of Joe Biden. The boundaries of the district have been drawn to take as many black and Hispanic voters out of the other districts more generally in Houston, to reduce their numbers, while still being fewer than the number of white suburban voters included. That insures a Republican seat and renders ineffective a large number of minority voters who might prefer a Democrat. What a racket.

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What is a Joe Manchin?

Yeah. I know. An easy one, right?

A Joe Manchin is a United States Senator. Represents the great state of West Virginia. One of two senators representing about 1.8 million people. Claims to be a member of the Democratic party. Loves the spotlight. Is a royal pain in the butt.

Whose butt? Mine for one. I didn’t vote for Manchin. I did vote for Joe Biden. Remember him? He’s the one who ran for president. Got 81 million votes. Won the election. Has promised a wide range of popular reforms on taxation and spending designed to rebuild our aging infrastructure. Prepare us for the competitive world we face. Care for those who have not benefited from the great growth of the American economy in the last century. Narrow, at least a little, the gap between those who have done very, very, very well (and pay little or nothing in taxes) and those who could use a little help.

But we are unlikely to get any of these things, because Joe Manchin doesn’t want us to. In the United States Senate, 1.8 million people outvote 81 million. Or put another way, 41 votes beats 59. That’s because Joe M. believes in the filibuster come hell or high water. The high water will be arriving soon because new laws to help protect us from climate change can’t get 60 votes in the Senate. That’s what the filibuster rule requires and that makes the United States Senate about the least democratic institution in any modern democracy.

Just remember, the filibuster has nothing to do with the Constitution. The framers did not think it up. They clearly believed 51 votes out of 100 should be sufficient to pass new laws through the Senate. If anything the filibuster was a mistake written into the Senate rules controlling debate. The rule went unnoticed until segregationists hit upon it as a way to create a deadlock and prevent anti-discrimination laws from being voted on. That is the great tradition Joe Manchin is upholding.

Of course he’s not the only one. But he is one of two or three Democrats willing to torpedo the entire Democratic platform for…. Actually, I’m not sure what for.

Manchin says he has a strong belief that no legislation should pass unless it is bipartisan. I’ve written before about the days when Everett Dirksen and Lyndon Johnson could get together over a bottle and do some horse trading resulting in compromise legislation. But those days are long gone.

Mitch McConnell, the current Republican leader in the Senate, has dug in his heels on voting reform while Republicans across the country are passing law after law designed to suppress Democratic votes in future elections. McConnell also says revisiting the huge two trillion dollar 2017 Trump tax cuts for the rich and for big business is out of the question, and Democratic plans for increased infrastructure spending and social programs are not going to be paid for with tax increases as long as he has his 41 votes.

Meanwhile the turtle from Kentucky is warning that if Republicans regain control of the Senate in 2022 he’ll keep Joe Biden from appointing anyone to the Supreme Court. Probably from appointing anyone to any other court as well. McConnell is sent to Washington by a state with only about four and half million voters. Still he gets to tell Democratic presidents to go to hell any time he wants. Go figure.

Meanwhile Manchin won’t remove the filibuster to pass the voting rights law, the “For the People Act,” without Republican support. And Manchin won’t support use of the so-called “reconciliation” process to side step that blockade on Democrat’s tax and spending proposals, even though the Republicans used that process to pass the 2017 tax cuts.

There is really nothing one can do to solve the Manchin problem in the near term. The only solution for Democrats is to overcome the odds and win more Senate seats in 2022. A Democratic majority not counting Manchin, or the frequently unpredictable and always strange Krysten Sinema of Arizona, would render those two nominally Democratic senators irrelevant. That’s the title both so richly deserve.

At least good old Joe is keeping the political cartoonists busy:

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Ban the Damn Guns

America today is suffering a plague of gun violence.

It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. As a Chicago native, I learned as a child about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang. It was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibited automatic weapons in the U.S.

That ban was extended with restrictions on “semiautomatic assault weapons,” as well as magazines that met the criteria for what it defined as a “large capacity ammunition feeding device,” in 1989 after 34 children and a teacher were shot and five children killed in Stockton, California with a semi-automatic Kalashnikov rifle. A pull of the trigger is required for each shot of a semi-automatic. An automatic fires continuously.

The Federal Assault Weapons ban went into effect in 1994 after a 52-48 vote in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed it into law the same day. But times have changed. The ban expired after ten years and attempts to renew it have repeatedly failed. In 2018, another Valentine’s Day shooting, this one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 children and wounded 17 others. This time, then-President Donald Trump called for arming teachers, and the Republican-dominated Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have limited some high-capacity guns.

Fast forward to today. Our acceptance of violence npw stands in striking contrast to Americans’ horror at the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. I’ve done the legal arguments before, most notably here in a column which includes Chief Justice Warren Berger’s declaration that the conservative reading of the Second Amendment is a “fraud.”

I won’t repeat those arguments. What I do want to do is call your attention to the latest judicial idiocy, California has had its own ban in assault weapons for thirty years. Six other states plus the District of Columbia have similar bans. You would think even if the Second Amendment restricts the Federal government on gun control, language putting the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia” would allow the states, which at the time the Bill of Rights was written controlled the militia, to pass reasonable legislation to regulate firearms.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California now says he knows better than Berger and the state of California. He must figure the words “well-regulated” and “militia” were just thrown in because the Framers had some extra ink they wanted to use up. In a 94-page opinion Benitez declared unconstitutional the California statute. Benitez, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, comes out swinging with his opening paragraph:

Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR 15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.

Miller v Bonta, 19-cv-1537-BEN (JLB)

The Law and Crime blog has a detailed set of quotes from the decision. I’ll dwell on just a few. Judge Benitez writes, “The assault weapons ban has had no effect. California’s experiment is a failure.” This conclusion follows an analysis that claims the rate at which assault weapons were used in mass killings in California during the years the weapons ban has been in effect has not changed. Benitez also writes that mass killings are “rare events.” He also states, “A Californian is three times more likely to be murdered by an attacker’s bare hands, fists, or feet, than by his rifle.”

The New York Times ran a partial list of recent mass shootings in the United States.

Politifact earlier this year found that 10 of 11 mass shootings were done with AR-15 weapons. Newsweek says they were used in 26 of the last 80 mass shootings. As to his other conclusion, I have to wonder if he’d like to stand up for a duel. He gets the Swiss Army knife while his challenger gets the AR-15.

The hypocrisy of the conservatives is clearly on display here. If it is the place of judges only to “say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), Judge Benitez’s judgments on failure and the frequency of events is way out of the base path. If you believe in a state’s right to regulate its own militia, Benitez is also out of bounds.

Voters generally support an assault weapons ban. They support a large magazine ban. They support enhanced background checks. They support closing the gun show loophole. They might support amending the Second Amendment itself to clear up the poor punctuation that the gun lobby and their supporters in Congress and on the bench have used in the last few decades to prevent reasonable regulation. The United States has many more deaths by guns than other western developed countries. The United States has the weakest gun control laws in that group.

Do the math.

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