If We Had a Real Leader ~ NYT

Imagining Covid under a normal president.


Opinion Columnist

Credit…Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

This week I had a conversation that left a mark. It was with Mary Louise Kelly and E.J. Dionne on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and it was about how past presidents had handled moments of national mourning — Lincoln after Gettysburg, Reagan after the Challenger explosion and Obama after the Sandy Hook school shootings.

The conversation left me wondering what America’s experience of the pandemic would be like if we had a real leader in the White House.

If we had a real leader, he would have realized that tragedies like 100,000 Covid-19 deaths touch something deeper than politics: They touch our shared vulnerability and our profound and natural sympathy for one another.

In such moments, a real leader steps outside of his political role and reveals himself uncloaked and humbled, as someone who can draw on his own pains and simply be present with others as one sufferer among a common sea of sufferers.

If we had a real leader, she would speak of the dead not as a faceless mass but as individual persons, each seen in unique dignity. Such a leader would draw on the common sources of our civilization, the stores of wisdom that bring collective strength in hard times.

Lincoln went back to the old biblical cadences to comfort a nation. After the church shooting in Charleston, Barack Obama went to “Amazing Grace,” the old abolitionist anthem that has wafted down through the long history of African-American suffering and redemption.

In his impromptu remarks right after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy recalled the slaying of his own brother and quoted Aeschylus: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

If we had a real leader, he would be bracingly honest about how bad things are, like Churchill after the fall of Europe. He would have stored in his upbringing the understanding that hard times are the making of character, a revelation of character and a test of character. He would offer up the reality that to be an American is both a gift and a task. Every generation faces its own apocalypse, and, of course, we will live up to our moment just as our ancestors did theirs.

If we had a real leader, she would remind us of our common covenants and our common purposes. America is a diverse country joined more by a common future than by common pasts. In times of hardships real leaders re-articulate the purpose of America, why we endure these hardships and what good we will make out of them.

After the Challenger explosion, Reagan reminded us that we are a nation of explorers and that the explorations at the frontiers of science would go on, thanks in part to those who “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

At Gettysburg, Lincoln crisply described why the fallen had sacrificed their lives — to show that a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” can long endure and also to bring about “a new birth of freedom” for all the world.

Of course, right now we don’t have a real leader. We have Donald Trump, a man who can’t fathom empathy or express empathy, who can’t laugh or cry, love or be loved — a damaged narcissist who is unable to see the true existence of other human beings except insofar as they are good or bad for himself.

But it’s too easy to offload all blame on Trump. Trump’s problem is not only that he’s emotionally damaged; it is that he is unlettered. He has no literary, spiritual or historical resources to draw upon in a crisis.

All the leaders I have quoted above were educated under a curriculum that put character formation at the absolute center of education. They were trained by people who assumed that life would throw up hard and unexpected tests, and it was the job of a school, as one headmaster put it, to produce young people who would be “acceptable at a dance, invaluable in a shipwreck.”

Think of the generations of religious and civic missionaries, like Frances Perkins, who flowed out of Mount Holyoke. Think of all the Morehouse Men and Spelman Women. Think of all the young students, in schools everywhere, assigned Plutarch and Thucydides, Isaiah and Frederick Douglass — the great lessons from the past on how to lead, endure, triumph or fail. Only the great books stay in the mind for decades and serve as storehouses of wisdom when hard times come.

Right now, science and the humanities should be in lock step: science producing vaccines, with the humanities stocking leaders and citizens with the capacities of resilience, care and collaboration until they come. But, instead, the humanities are in crisis at the exact moment history is revealing how vital moral formation really is.

One of the lessons of this crisis is that help isn’t coming from some centralized place at the top of society. If you want real leadership, look around you.

CNN Arrest Is What Actual Censorship Looks Like ~ NYT

After days of presidential complaining about Twitter policies, the live-TV arrest of a CNN crew showed America an actual offense against the First Amendment.

Credit…via CNN


For days, President Trump has been on a rampage against Twitterfor its treatment of him, and it’s easy to see why. Early Friday morning, after a tweet from him about the violence in Minneapolisdeclared, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Twitter dispatched police officers to the White House, who handcuffed Mr. Trump and took him into custody on live television in view of the entire nation.

Oh, sorry, quick fact-check: That did not happen at all. The president remains free and tweeting. Twitter, a private company, remains free to set rules on the use of its service. The president’s flagged tweets — the “shooting” remark and a misleading attackon mail-in voting — remain available to read, the first behind a notice that it violates the service’s rules on glorifying violence, the second with a fact-checking link appended.

The arrest on live TV Friday was of Omar Jimenez, a CNN reporter, and his crew, who were handcuffed and walked off down a ravaged Minneapolis block, where they’d been covering protests and violence after the killing of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody.


Credit…via CNN


The incident, which unfolded over several tense minutes, was brazen and appalling. But at least it served a clarifying purpose. After days of hot air expended insisting on a politician’s “right” to use a private platform without correction, America got to see what an actual offense against the First Amendment looks like.

It looked like world news footage from a police state. Mr. Jimenez, wearing a mask in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, calmly negotiates with officers, visored and bunched in around the camera. He tells them they are live on the air, and he offers to get out of their way: “Put us back where you want us.”

He’s told, “You’re under arrest.”

He asks why and gets no answer. And he’s walked off, to the stunned play-by-play of the anchors in the CNN studio. (Mr. Jimenez is black and Latino. Notably, given the racial dynamics of the Minneapolis protests, a white CNN reporter also covering the story said he was treated much more politely.)

Then the producer is arrested, then the cameraman, until finally an officer picks up the camera and walks it off, the screen jostling into motion as if we, the audience, were being taken into custody, for getting too close, for seeing too much, for looking at someone the wrong way.

Credit…via CNN


The official explanation for the arrest was that the CNN crew refused to move on police orders, an absurdity given what the world saw and heard live. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” the network anchor John Berman said.

But we have seen things like this, not long ago, if not so flagrantly and shamelessly. Police in Ferguson, Mo., gave a similar rationalization in 2014 for arresting two journalists — ordering one to “Stop videotaping!” as he recorded his arrest — during the unrest after the police shooting of Michael Brown.

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In the past, though, the arrest did not happen to journalists who work for a news organization that the president had designated the “enemy of the people.” It did not happen under a president who once retweeted a doctored video that showed him beating on a person with the CNN logo covering his face.

And it did not happen in a week when that president threatened punitive measures against a private social-media platform for suggesting that the misinformation he tweeted was misinformation. The president, it seems, considers his inconvenience to be a violation of freedom, and actual press freedom to be an inconvenience.

Which in the end is the only real connection between Mr. Trump’s claims of oppression and the violation we watched on morning cable TV. Actual censorship happens when a government acts to suppress protected speech, not when a private company sets rules for using its platform.

Credit…via CNN

Just hours before the arrest, Mr. Trump posted his tweet with the “shooting” line, which the Miami police chief Walter Headley used in 1967 to justify crackdowns on civil rights protesters.

And for years, he has used his speech, copious and unfiltered, to argue that the police should have a free hand in dealing with threats, and that among the greatest threats are news outlets like CNN.

By noon on Friday, the president was still freely grousing about Twitter, on Twitter. His account made no mention of the CNN arrests.

That morning, Mr. Jimenez and his crew were released, with an apology from Minnesota’s governor. But the messages had already been sent. The arrest told all media that there are people within law enforcement who now feel empowered enough to shut down coverage of unrest — unrest resulting from police violence — flat out in the open.

And it told American viewers what kind of country they are living in. This country was captured in the final seconds of video by the CNN camera, laid on the concrete, still rolling, the booted feet of police lined up at a 90-degree angle. A country angry, frightened, smoldering and tilted sideways.

How to Protect 1 Million Acres of Public Lands ~ Patagonia catalogue

Jocelyn Torres  /  6 Min Read  /  Activism

Jocelyn Torres of Conservation Lands Foundation on the power of grassroots lobbying and voting for public lands.

The Basin and Range National Monument in Nevada was signed into national monument status in 2015 by Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act. Since 1964, more than 5 million acres of land in Nevada have been protected as public lands. Photo: Tyler Roemer


I grew up in Las Vegas, a place known for neon lights that drown out the night, not so much for open space or the outdoors.

But my family and I spent many holidays outside of the city. The trips we took to the Nellis Dunes Recreation Area, Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and Lake Mead National Recreation Area were highlights of my childhood.

Back then, I had no idea these places—which all have the words “recreation area” in their name—were managed by three completely different government entities: the county, the US Forest Service and the National Park Service, respectively. I didn’t fully understand this concept of different agencies managing natural places until well after I returned home from college. I know now that I was not alone in this—most people don’t know which government agencies manage which areas.

I returned to Las Vegas in 2011 after going to college in Southern California because I wanted to make some kind of difference in the community that raised me. I’ve worked on various issues throughout my career with progressive nonprofits, and public lands issues have always been near and dear to my heart because access to public lands was one of very few kid-friendly and affordable entertainment options available to my family. It is also a complicated issue to voice your opinion about, and I felt I could help my community navigate this more easily.

I joined the Conservation Lands Foundation five years ago to focus on connecting the users, volunteers and neighbors of protected public lands with the Bureau of Land Management so the public can ensure their experiences in these places are reflected and accounted for. It quickly became clear that there is a discrepancy between who makes land-use decisions and who gets impacted by them.

How to Protect 1 Million Acres of Public Lands
The author at proposed Avi Kwa Ame (Spirit Mountain) National Monument. The proposed monument is included in Senator Cortez Masto’s draft for the Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act, but there are no details about its size or scope. Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Torres


Whenever I join any land-planning meeting around southern Nevada, it’s easy to notice there aren’t a lot of people who reflect the local demographics. Land-planning meetings are public gatherings put together by a government agency to hear comments from the public about what they hope to see stay the same, or what they hope changes in a particular area (think: adding more bathrooms in a heavily visited place). The meetings are also an opportunity for the public to provide feedback about proposed decisions on how land will be enjoyed or used. This is why including participants who reflect the Las Vegas Valley in these meetings is crucial to ensuring the final decision works for the community and doesn’t cause unintended harm—like the time when an agave-roasting pit was damaged due to the addition of a direct hiking trail to a cultural site.

The reason people who reflect the community aren’t at these meetings can usually be attributed to cultural barriers, and the assumption that communities of color aren’t visiting the places in question. But while Latinos or Asian Americans might be fewer in numbers than our white neighbors, it doesn’t mean that these communities aren’t there. According to the 2019 Outdoor Participation Report by the Outdoor Industry Association, Hispanics went on the most annual outings (nationally), an average of 62.7 trips per participant, and Asians had the highest outdoor participation rates at 66.9 percent.

The first place I got involved in protecting was the Basin and Range National Monument. Located about three hours northeast of Las Vegas, it includes petroglyph sites, gorgeous vistas of wide-open valleys surrounded by mountain ranges and artist Michael Heizer’s unique art piece—which is the size of the National Mall and blends architecture with engineering and ancient American art. Basin and Range was the first place I played a role in designating as official public land.

During the planning process, I met with organizations and individuals to encourage them to submit comments to the Bureau of Land Management to express how they hoped the new national monument would accommodate their needs. The commenting process may seem like a trivial act in the age of social media when millions of comments exist on the internet, but comments are crucial pieces of information for the planners at the federal agencies.

Comments describe where people like to recreate, the types of infrastructure they hope to see, and the types of developments they don’t want to see. And it’s important that these comments are submitted because you better believe those who benefit from the extractive uses (oil, gas, mining) are sending in comments highlighting which areas they’d like to see further developed and closed to the public.

To help more people send in their comments, I worked with local advocates to create postcards with information about where to email comments, and bullet points about what type of information the agency was looking for. The biggest barrier in participating in an official public commenting process is that oftentimes people lack information about how to participate and what types of comments may be useful. Some people wonder whether their comments will even be considered if they don’t have a Ph.D. or an official title tied to their signature.

We’ve learned in the era of social media that no comment is too small to get a point across. I worked with elementary school students on crafting a one-page letter sharing how they would use the monument for field trips. Their biggest request was to have a place for their vans to be able to turn around on the road.

Musings from the border lands … Eric Ming

Por favor rŌbert  readers

Our pleasure to introduce Eric Ming (no need for a nom de guerre). Another San Juan desperado, writer, photographer, husband, skier, climber and gentleman of the world. Eric recently was transferred to the border lands of Colorado/New Mexico by The Man (forest service) to work El Rito, N.M. and was assigned to Aldo Leopold’s (Sand County Alminac) “Mia Casita” that Aldo built in Tres Piedras for his  la esposa, Estella Luna Otero Bergere …  Que sorpresa! 

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The Ming studio at the Leopold casita





Don Éric will surely channel some of the Leopold creativity and will hopefully pass on spontaneous art, ideas, photos, opinions, bar stories or whatever he wants for rŌbert aficionados to enjoy.

We look forward  to hearing from you.  Your dance card is open.






And don’t forget to eat at el Farolito, some of the best northern New Mexican food in the area, especially the green chile.

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gracias Caballero 




photos credit Eric Ming


Looking into southern Colorado from northern New Mexico


Artful Catholic site on the south end of Antonito, Colorado

Twitter screens Trump’s Minneapolis threat-tweet for glorifying violence ~ TC

Trump Meets With Small Business Leaders At White House

Image Credits: Chip Somodevilla


After applying a fact-checking label Tuesday to a misleading vote-by-mail tweet made by US president Donald Trump, Twitter is on a roll and has labeled another of the president’s tweets — this time screening his words from casual view with what it calls a “public interest notice” that states the tweet violated its rules about glorifying violence.

Here’s how the tweet appears without further interaction (second tweet in the below screengrab):

The public interest notice replaces the substance of what Trump wrote, meaning a user has to actively click through to view the offending tweet.

Engagement options are also limited as a result by this label, meaning users can only retweet the offending tweet with a comment; they cannot like it, reply to it or vanilla retweet it.

Twitter’s notice goes on to explain why it has not removed the offending tweet entirely — and this is where the public interest element of the policy kicks in — with the company writing: “Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”

Twitter appears to be shrugging off the president’s decision yesterdayto sign an executive order targeting the legal shield which internet companies rely on to protect them from liability for user-created content — doubling down on displeasing Trump who has accused social media platforms generally of deliberately suppressing conservative views, despite plenty of evidence that ad-targeting platform algorithms actually boost outrage-fuelled content and views — which tends, conversely, to amplify conservative viewpoints.

In the latest clash, Trump had tweeted in reference to violent demonstrations taking place in Minneapolis sparked by the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer — with the president claiming that “THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd” before threatening to send in the “Military”.

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!” Trump added — making a bald threat to use military force against civilians.

Twitter has wrestled with the issue of how to handle world leaders who break its content rules for years. Most often as a result of Trump who routinely uses its platform to bully all manner of targets — from rival politicians to hated journalists, disobedient business leaders, and even actors who displease him — as well as to dispense direct and sometimes violent threats.


~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Protests in Minneapolis Spread Across U.S.: Live Updates ~ NYT

A police station was set on fire in the city as people protested the death of George Floyd. Twitter attached a warning to a tweet by President Trump.


A CNN crew was arrested on live television while covering the protests Friday morning.



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  • 1:00 Protesters Set Minneapolis Police Precinct on Fire
Demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd boiled over late Thursday night. Protests broke out after a video went viral this week showing Mr. Floyd, a black man, struggling to breathe as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Mr. Floyd’s neck.CreditCredit…Carlos Barria/Reuters

As a police station burned, Trump threatened violence against those protesting a death in police custody.

A Minneapolis police station was overrun and set ablaze by protesters Thursday night as destructive demonstrations raged in the city and spread across the country overnight Friday after the death of George Floyd, an African-American man, in police custody.

He died after pleading, “I can’t breathe,” while a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck. The death set off days of continuing protests and scattered looting of stores in the city, as demonstrators denounced another in a long line of fatal encounters between African-Americans and law enforcement officers.


President Trump, who previously called the video of Mr. Floyd’s death “shocking,” later called the protesters “thugs” on Twitter and said that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” prompting the social media network to attach a warning to the tweet, saying that it violated the company’s rules about “glorifying violence.”


The spectacle of a police station in flames and a president appearing to threaten violence against those protesting the death of a black man in police custody — set against the backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic that has kept many residents from engaging with one another directly for months — added to the anxiety of a nation already plagued by health and economic crises.

Tera Brown, Mr. Floyd’s cousin, has said: “I want to see action. This was clearly murder.”

The demonstration near the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct grew more intense in the hours after prosecutors said that they had not decided whether to charge the officer videotaped pressing his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for about eight minutes.

The protests have spread across the state, leading to the evacuation on Thursday afternoon of lawmakers and employees from the State Capitol in St. Paul as a precaution.


~~~  READ ON  ~~~

Protests Over George Floyd’s Death Spread Nationwide

By Jin Wu


Other protests — many peaceful, some convulsed by violence — were reported across the country.

The State Capitol in Denver was put on lockdown after someone fired a gun near a peaceful demonstration, and protests in Columbus, Ohio, turned chaotic as crowds surging up the steps of the State Capitol and broke windows, videos posted by news outlets showed. The Columbus Dispatch reported that officers also used pepper spray on large crowds of demonstrators downtown after a few protesters tossed smoke bombs and water bottles at lines of officers.

In Phoenix, hundreds of protesters marched toward the State Capitol with relative calm, according to news reports, before tense face-offs with police officers later in the night.

PBS Series Documents The History Of Asian Americans Over 150 Years

NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña about the new PBS documentary series, Asian Americans.


~~~  LISTEN  ~~~

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Blame China – that is what the Trump administration has done as the coronavirus has spread across the U.S. And while China has been receiving the criticism, so too have Chinese Americans and, it seems, anybody who looks like them.

Asian Americans are reporting a surge in racist harassment and violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. And that brings new urgency to a five-hour documentary series now airing on PBS stations. The series is called simply “Asian Americans,” and it traces the discrimination these communities have faced in the U.S. over the past century and a half. Renee Tajima-Pena is the series producer of “Asian Americans,” and she joins us now. Welcome.

RENEE TAJIMA-PENA: Thanks so much for having me on.

CHANG: You know, I really appreciated your series because, as an Asian American kid growing up in the Bay Area, I became way, way more familiar with the story of the civil rights struggle for African Americans than I ever was for Asian Americans, and I feel like that’s still the case for lots of young Asian Americans today. And I’m curious, why do you think that is? Why do you think the Asian American story has always been more obscure in this country?

TAJIMA-PENA: Well, where would you learn it?

CHANG: Yeah.

TAJIMA-PENA: You know, we’re still pretty much invisible in the popular culture. I think more and more you see movies come out, these great episodic television shows, sitcoms. It’s changing, but still, it’s so embedded in the American psyche and imagination that we are a model minority. So as a model minority – you know, compliant, turn the other cheek, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do not engage in protests and movements for equality.

So that idea is just so much a part of the way people see Asian Americans that the story of Asian Americans, which is – you know, the biggest labor strike in the United States was mounted by Chinese immigrant railroad workers.

CHANG: Yeah.

TAJIMA-PENA: I mean, it goes back since we started arriving here. But people don’t know it.

CHANG: So for this particular series – I mean, it’s five hours long. You had to make so many decisions to fit – what? – a century and a half’s worth of Asian American history into five hours. Can you just describe for me the themes, the threads behind what you ultimately selected to tell?

TAJIMA-PENA: We were looking at the real story of Asian Americans, not the model minority. It’s a story of race, xenophobia, immigration, as well as real resilience. My family, for example – I’m Japanese American – my grandparents came in the early 1900s, smack in the middle of the anti-Asian exclusion era. They lived through the Great Depression. Then the depression was over; it was World War II. They were incarcerated behind barbed wire in American concentration camps.

And yet they thrived, yet they had families. They are part of building communities, and that’s really been the Asian American story. It’s really a story of resilience.

CHANG: And one of the hard truths that you take on is this idea that – you know, discrimination against Asian Americans in this country, there’s something about it that keeps repeating. Like, in times of crisis, for example, Asians get blamed, whether it be Japanese Americans during World War II or South Asians and people from the Middle East after 9/11 and now Chinese Americans during this pandemic. Does it feel cyclical to you, this scapegoating?

TAJIMA-PENA: I’m not sure that’s cyclical; I think it’s just embedded in American society, and that’s where the fight is. So for Asian Americans, it’s – we’re not exceptional. You know, all people of color in this country face racism and have since the beginning of the republic. When we look back in that history, there’s no coincidence that Jim Crow and anti-Asian Exclusion happened at the same time. I mean, it was the same, you know, roots of racism in the country.

But I think in terms of the scapegoating, you know, one thing we wanted to do with the series is look at these fault lines of race and xenophobia, and during times of crisis, those fault lines erupt.

CHANG: I mean, one of the threads I found most interesting in this series is how the Asian American struggle bumps up against the African American struggle in this country. The communities have, at times, buttressed each other but also have been at odds.

And you drew, you know, a century and a half later, a very powerful connection between the murder of Vincent Chin – the Chinese American man who was beaten to death by two white men in Detroit in 1982 – you draw a connection between his death and the killing of Latasha Harlins, an African American girl who was shot by a Korean store owner in LA in 1991. What are the parallels that you saw there?

TAJIMA-PENA: You know, I think that the Vincent Chin case, for Asian Americans, really stands out as being a turning point, when a lot of people realized, yeah, we do face discrimination and racism. But also, Asian Americans of all different nationalities came together to fight for justice. But I think that’s tricky because a Vincent Chin happens in the African American community, it happens to black and brown people almost every day, you know.

What we want to say as filmmakers is, you know, we’re a country that’s increasingly diverse, but at the same time more divided. So how do we move forward together? I mean, that’s a real question of the series. How do we move forward together? And there’s a lot in the Asian American story that helps us see how we can move forward together. I mean, that’s what we really want the audience to take away.

CHANG: Renee Tajima-Pena is a professor of Asian American studies at UCLA and the series producer of “Asian Americans” from PBS. Thank you so much for talking with us today.

TAJIMA-PENA: Thank you.

Happy 79th Birthday Bob! 

“I’d like to be able to hit a hundred-mile-an-hour baseball. But you have to know your place.” – Dylan
“Sometimes it’s not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don’t mean.” –  Dylan
Ginsberg and Dylan at the grave of Jack Kerouac. They’ve all been badly imitated, but there’s only one Dylan, one Ginsberg and one Kerouac.