Tag Archives: gurvey

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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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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Pay to Play: The American Way

Money has always been a big factor in American politics. You can’t outright pay politicians in return for their vote on an issue of interest to you. That’s bribery and it’s a crime. 18 U.S. Code § 201. But you can come very close. That’s because it costs a tremendous amount of money to run for public office and we leave it to the politicians to raise their own funds.

State-wide races for governor, state legislator, or U.S. House or Senate seats can cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. A major state-wide campaign requires a hefty advertising budget and paid staff to handle things like communications, strategic planning, finances, and legal compliance.

So the holders of public office, from the smallest local post to the highest in the land, spend a great amount of their time raising money to finance their elections. In fact, both the Republican and the Democratic parties have offices located within walking distance of the Capitol. That’s because it is illegal for members to raise money from offices paid for by taxpayer dollars. The party offices contain phone banks and members are expected to put in time working those phones. Dialing for dollars as it were.

What does the donor get for those dollars? As previously stated it is not as crass as, “You make the donation and I’ll vote your way.” But it’s damn close. Consider this scenario: Two constituents are on the line, both want to talk to you about a piece of pending legislation. One is an individual wage earner who is barely making ends meet and either doesn’t contribute to your campaign fund at all or gives a token $25 each election cycle. The other is a professional lobbyist who represents a Fortune 100 company. That company contributes $250,000 each year to a political action committee which runs negative advertisements about your political opponent. Which call will you take?

The Curse of the First Amendment

It is, I must painfully admit, our wonderful First Amendment which is primarily responsible for this problem. While many countries have limits on how much money can be spent on political campaigns, and restrictions on how much money can be contributed, we have to cope with the wisdom of the framers who wrote:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

U.S. Constitution, First Amendment

There is little question that the right of free speech allows one to stand on the tallest soapbox one can find and speak in favor of one’s favorite political candidate. Or that the right of a free press allows journalists to write what they will about the candidates. And that right to petition the Government? That is the right both our individual constituent and the lobbyist were exercising in the example I described above.

Make no mistake about it. Political speech is exactly the kind of speech the framers were writing about when they drafted the First Amendment. This was the kind of speech that could get your head separated from your body if you uttered it back then in many of the countries of Europe and the reigning monarch happened to take offense. So for our long history as a nation political speech has been some of the most protected.

That makes it extremely difficult to restrict the political speech of individuals and does give the rich an advantage. They can afford to buy expensive television commercials and web advertisements promoting their favorite candidates and policies. At least, that’s how Mister Justice Gurvey sees it.

Citizens Dis-United

But I am unlikely to preside from any bench other than the one in my garden. And those who sit on the federal benches of the United States have a far more expansive view of first amendment freedoms. I read the Constitution to apply to the relationship between people, as in the opening words of the preamble, “We the People,” and their government. Our federal judges have thrown corporations into the mix by ruling that corporations are people.

To me the concept is absurd. Business entities that survive the lives of their owners were well known to the framers who wrote the Constitution. In fact, most of the colonies were themselves business entities in the form of royal charters or grants. If the framers wanted these business entities to have the rights of people they would have said so. They did not. And that should be that for any originalist, textualist, or whatever the term the judges on the conservative right like to cite. Except, that they want corporations to have the rights of people. So consistent judicial logic goes out the window and they wave the rules of textualism where failure to do so might lead to a legal result inconsistent with their overriding ideology. Thus speaks the hypocrite.

All of this came to a head in Citizen’s United v. Federal Elections Commission, a 2010 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated federal election law which Congress had developed over one hundred years and which put significant restrictions on corporate attempts to influence elections. Critics charge the effect has been to greatly increase the already outsized influence of corporations, wealthy donors, and special interest groups. And the Court isn’t finished. Just last month it heard Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez, a case that may make the situation even worse.

The Confession of Ted Cruz

So if you want to play the “let’s write the laws” game you have to pay the law-writers. But while “Pay to Play” is, thanks to the Supreme Court, perfectly legal, there is still one rule most people follow: You pay to play but you don’t talk about Pay to Play. That’s because it looks bad, because it is bad. And politicians are afraid of looking bad. At least in front of the voters.

Unless of course you are Ted Cruz, a man so out of touch with reality, or just so dumb, that he just puts it out there. Texas’s answer to all three stooges recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal complaining about corporations that are “woke.” By that he means, corporations like Coca-Cola, whose CEO James Quincey criticized voter suppression laws now being enacted in dozens of Republican controlled states saying he opposed “measures in the bills that would diminish or deter access to voting.” Quincey said Coke’s political action committee will not contribute to the campaigns of politicians who support these laws.

Well then, huffs and puffs Cruz, Senator guy who escaped for a vacation in Mexico while the people of his state were freezing during a power outage, if you don’t pay, don’t expect to play, Yes, Cruz supports voter suppression laws, and he tweeted:

There you have it. Pay to play. The Ted Cruz way.

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A Breath of Fresh Air

It some ways it was certainly unusual. But mostly its normalcy made it a breath of fresh air. For more than an hour President Joe Biden delivered a report to Congress, the nation, and the world on the state of the state one hundred days into his administration. He laid out the achievements already accomplished, the programs now under way, and the proposals he is sending to Congress for enactment into law.

One way the speech was unusual was that there were two women behind the president. Presiding over the joint session of Congress were Vice-President Kamala Harris, who is President of the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That was a historic first. Another way was that the chamber, which normally holds 1,600 people for these events, was limited to 200 by pandemic protocols. The audience members were socially distanced and most were masked.

Read more

Helicoptering on Mars – Really

A team of very smart humans flew a helicopter by remote control off the surface of Mars on April 19, 2021. It is easier to type that sentence than it is to truly appreciate the accomplishment.

The Mars Helicopter, named Ingenuity, weighs just four pounds. It is a proof of concept demonstration. That means it’s mission is just to prove that it works. It did. And it was the first time humans have achieved powered and controlled flight on another planet.

Ingenuity hitched a ride on the Perseverance rover. I wrote about Perseverance after it landed. Nicknamed “Percy,” it has a detailed science mission to look for signs of life on Mars. But first it was tasked with dropping Ingenuity, “Ginny,” onto the Martian surface, backing away and watching while the Ingenuity team tried to make their little drone fly.

This short video, taken by Perseverance, shows the entire first flight:

In this video captured by NASA’s Perseverance rover, the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took the first powered, controlled flight on another planet on April 19, 2021.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Mars is the closest planet to Earth, and has entranced humans since the beginning of recorded history. It is behind a paywall, but if you have access the Washington Post has produced a wonderful overview of the history of Mars exploration and the plans for this mission, known as Mars 2020.

The challenge for Ingenuity is that the atmosphere on Mars is only one percent the density of that of Earth. Strange at it seems, most of our airplanes effectively pull themselves through the atmosphere like a corkscrew pulls a cork out of a bottle. On Mars there is very little atmosphere to grab hold of. That produced a design for Ginny that meant a very low weight craft with relatively big rotors spinning at very high speeds. And of course the fact that radio signals take many minutes to get from Earth to Mars meant that Ginny, like Percy, has to be fed instructions but is then on its own to execute them. We humans find out if the task was achieved minutes or even hours later.

This was an amazing feat and in so many ways a tonic for the times in which we live. There are those who question the value of this kind of scientific research and exploration. Surveys show many people perceive the cost to be high. But in fact, the NASA budget is a tiny fraction of the military’s budget. The military budget just for its new Space Force and Space Command is higher. The debate is heated, but a majority of Americans favor continued funding for NASA.

Studies show that for every dollar spent on NASA, more than $8 is added to the economy. And you had only to watch the control room crew as the data came in documenting Ginny’s first flight on another planet to see how this research is exciting new generations of explorers. When I was a child watching the Mercury astronauts I saw images almost exclusively of white men wearing white shirts and narrow black ties. We now know that behind the scenes there were crucial if unsung members of the team kept hidden from the cameras. Today’s teams represent men and women across all demographics. If the United States is to remain competitive and really matter in the 21st century we need to do more to encourage all young people to pursue scientific careers.

Now that the helicopter concept has been proven, scientists and engineers planning future missions to Mars and elsewhere have access to a treasure trove of research as they explore the use of flying vehicles on their missions. There are, for example, many locations on Mars that are inaccessible by rover but are of great interest to planetary scientists. There is also an upcoming mission to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan has an atmosphere denser than that of Mars. There is already a helicopter named Dragonfly planned for that mission which is now scheduled to launch in 2026, arriving in 2034.

Even while waiting for Ginny to finish her testing, Percy is working. The MOXIE technology demonstration aboard Perseverance successfully extracted oxygen from the thin Martian atmosphere—a critical component for life support so humans can breath on the Red Planet and produce rocket fuel for the trip home.

The continuing plan for Mars 2020 is for Ingenuity to make several more test flights over the next few weeks, each one pushing the helicopter to fly higher and further away. A second flight was made on April 22nd, a third on April 25th. As often happens with technology demonstrations, it may well be pushed beyond its limits and crash on the surface. In any event, by the end of April it will be left behind as Perseverance leaves the scene to begin it’s own exploration of the Martian surface, which will include the collection of samples for retrieval on later flights.

You read that right. The Mars 2020 mission will be collecting samples of Mars to be picked up by later flights. Stay tuned.

Update – Ingenuity Tests Extended

After a successful fourth flight, NASA announced it would extend the test flight program for Ingenuity for another 30 days. Ginny’s mission was slated to end at the end of April. Now NASA plans to test the chopper’s ability to be a “scout” for future exploration by the Perseverance rover and future missions.

Perseverance will be farther from Ingenuity during the new flight phase, but the team thinks that the pair will still be able to communicate effectively. Additionally, Perseverance will not take the time to document the flights Ingenuity makes during its extended mission.  NASA will continue to provide updates on Ingenuity’s progress here.

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Infrastructure for the 21st century

I long for the days when I could have a rational discussion with someone I disagree on the serious issues of the day without that person spouting a stream of totally unsubstantiated falsehoods. In other words lies. I’m pointing my finger at you, Republicans, almost without exception.

Discussions with Democrats are also often frustrating. But that is because the Democrats include a wide range of differing views and the disagreements are generally over strategy. I’m thinking of you Joe Manchin. Not over the role of government in attempting to solve problems or denying that problems even exist. And Democrats are not inclined to interrupt a serious discussion with a rude critique of your mother’s footwear. I still remember being told, “Your mother wears army boots.” I was on the first grade playground at recess at the time.

Republicans will call you every name in the book at the drop of a hat. They will insult your relatives, living and dead. And charge you with a wide variety of crimes without the slightest bit of evidence. They also live in an alternate universe where up is down, down is up, and things you can see right before your own eyes are somehow not true. They revere the framers who wrote our Constitution, except when they ignore it.

Republican hypocrisy knows no bounds:

  • Senate rules are sacrosanct unless they need to be broken to thwart a Democratic proposal.
  • Deficits are bad but only if there is a Democrat in the White House.
  • The purpose of the federal government is to “provide for the common defense,” quoting the magnificent preamble to our Constitution, ignoring the fact that the phrase is part of a list and imminently following are the words, “promote the general welfare.”
  • Infrastructure means roads. That’s it. Roads.

Let’s put the debt debate aside for now except for to state that the evidence is clear, economics is an art, not a science. We really don’t understand what it is going on. Starting with Ronald Reagan, Republican, yes, Republican presidents have greatly increased the national debt by cutting taxes and increasing defense spending. Yet the inflation that was predicted by my college economics teacher (we used Paul Samuelson’s Principles of Economics) did not really appear. Go figure. For more right now I refer you to a great piece by John Oliver.

What this means is, while we should be watchful, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell seems to be, we do not have to be afraid of some Covid related economic stimulus. Republicans opposed the latest round of Covid economic payments even when Donald Trump asked for them. We also do not need to be afraid of a big infrastructure program. The Republicans are outraged at the infrastructure program, arguing that it will increase the debt and complaining that Democrats are extending the traditional definition of infrastructure.

Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with repairing the nation’s highways and bridges. Republican Dwight Eisenhower signed the legislation that created the Interstate Highway System in 1956 after all. But Republicans like highways that connect towns in rural America. Transportation projects that benefit urban areas do not get their approval. I take the New Jersey Transit train under the Hudson to Manhattan and always wonder if the crumbling tunnel, built in 1910, is going to cave in on the 200,000 people who use it every day. In 2012 the tunnel was inundated with millions of gallons of salt water during Super Storm Sandy. The water left behind corrosive chlorides, which continue to damage the already aged concrete and wiring. A Republican New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, and a Republican President, Donald Trump, each killed a project to build a replacement.

But where the Republicans most throw up the roadblocks is where it comes to infrastructure they claim is outside of the “traditional” definition of the word. I disagree. But I also don’t care. We do not live in a stagnant word. We can be respectful of our traditions but should not be afraid to change them for the public good.

So I am on board with what some analysts are calling “Social Infrastructure”:

Social infrastructure can be broadly defined as the construction and maintenance of facilities that support social services. Types of social infrastructure include healthcare (hospitals), education (schools and universities), public facilities (community housing and prisons) and transportation (railways and roads).

Aberdeen Standard Investments

I do not understand why people cannot see that the nation depends on the health of its people, and the safety, and quality of its schools. We also need a 21st century power grid and high-speed rail would be nice. Child care for working parents is an economic necessity. In an information driven society, broadband connections for the entire population are essential. Faced with tremendous world-wide competition education, research and development are all that stands between America and second-class status.

The public seems to understand this even if the Republicans do not. A Quinnipiac University National Poll finds the Infrastructure Plan is popular with the public:


Q46 Do you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?

—–

Support

Oppose

DK/NA

Total

44%

38

19

Republicans

14%

71

14

Democrats

81%

5

15


And even more popular if corporate taxes fund it as President Biden has proposed:

Q47 As you may know, President Biden has proposed funding his infrastructure plan by raising taxes on corporations. If it was funded by raising taxes on corporations, would you support or oppose President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan?

—–

Support

Oppose

DK/NA

Total

53%

39

9

Republicans

22%

70

8

Democrats

92%

6

2

Last but not least, expenditures on infrastructure, traditional and 21st century alike, have a large multiplier factor. Put simply, they pay off many times over. The benefits spread throughout the economy. The Eisenhower creation of the Interstate Highway System is credited with creating the long post-war expansion of the American economy. Studies show tax cuts for rich people and fiscal policies which benefit Wall Street do not have this positive effect. The proposed infrastructure projects should be seen as an investment in America’s future.

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