Wednesday, January 20

The task at hand







Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States of America, begins the tough work of governing in the midst of unprecedented challenges including the Covid-19 pandemic, economic uncertainty and deep partisan divisions. “Few people in our nation's history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we're in now,” Biden warned.  

The speech echoed the urging from John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country."

Like Kennedy, Biden reminded citizens of their responsibilities: “As we look ahead in our uniquely American way, restless, bold, optimistic, and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be” – that all have a part in repairing, restoring, healing, building and contributing to the nation’s unity.

Biden promised to devote his “whole soul” is in uniting the country: “And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face, anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness.” He urged Americans to “see each other, not as adversaries, but as neighbors” and he asked Americans not to dismiss unity as a “foolish fantasy,” even though “the forces that divide us are deep and they are real.”

The work of uniting and improving the nation for all is never done, and each American has an opportunity to participate.

The task requires listening to one another, showing respect, seeing one another, defending democracy and the Constitution:  “And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated, and even manufactured.” He urges all citizens to work towards common goals including “opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor and, yes, the truth.”

Biden called on Americans to “end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal” by opening souls rather than hardening hearts. If all step up, “master this rare and difficult hour,” America will be stronger for it and “pass along a new and better world on to our children." And he quoted from the song “American Anthem,” written by Gene Scheer and performed by many artists: 

“Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
America America
I gave my best to you.

"Democracy has prevailed," he said. But that is true only if Americans are vigilant about protecting democracy. Americans have another opportunity to draft a chapter of American history together: “...together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear,” Biden concluded. “Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness. A story of decency and dignity, love and healing, greatness and goodness.”








And the poem by Amanda Gorman, the country's first youth poet laureate, concluded by emphasizing that each individual can choose to be a beacon of democracy and light: 

The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it

That is the task at hand.

Read the transcript of President Joe Biden’s Inaugural Address. Read the poem "The Hill We Climb" by Amanda Gorman.

Friday, January 15

Review: The Calligrapher's Daughter










 The Calligrapher's Daughter is set in early 20th century Korea, but the exploration of culture, women's rights, the desire for education and war recalls the themes of Fear of Beauty. A woman grows up in a family with Confucian values, prioritizing the status of men and and tradition. But the family is also Christian - and the author points out in a historical note at the book's end that "Korea is the only nation in the world where Christianity first took root without the presence of priests or missionaries, but exclusively as a result of the written world - Bibles, translated into Chinese by Jesuits, that a Korean scholar-official brought home from diplomatic trip to Beijing in 1631."

Author Eugenia Kim weaves the girl's story with Korean history from 1915 through the end of World War II. The child's father is disappointed by political change underway since her birth in 1910, due to Japanese control, and the fact that his first child is a girl, so he does not give her name and blames her for a long list of woes. Such humble beginnings do not dampen the girl's spirit or determination to pursue education and a career, partly due to her mother's deep and unconditional love. Those denied an education can become the most motivated students, as I explored in Fear of Beauty. Students can also benefit from a slow start that forces them to develop their own motivation. As the main character's husband recalls from his early childhood: "I read a chapter from Pilgrim's Progress and can still hear the murmurs of surprise. My father says this is the reason I was such a lazy student - too much pride, too early."

The mother encourages her daughter, remembering her own childhood experiences, sitting outside her brothers' classrooms to learn on her own: "She had longed to study the history of the Bible, the history of its writing, to see how... mere words had come to mean so much to so many." As I have written and taught in Sunday school classes, knowledge of the Bible is essential for literary studies

Of course true learning requires critical thinking, and that includes questions and doubt in addition to faith. The protagonists in both books share such doubts and the ability to pose questions.

Korean society requires men and women to hide their emotions and the protagonist in The Calligrapher's Daughter struggles after her marriage, arranged hastily before her husband's travel to the United States for studies. The Japanese occupiers deny the protagonist's visa application, and the couple is separated until the war's end in 1945.

Some other readers describe this book slow, but I found it especially suspenseful throughout knowing that the family lived in Gaeseong with the turmoil of occupation politics. That city was part of US-occupied South Korea in 1945, but was then transferred to North Korea in 1953 with the signing of the Armistice. Today, the city so close to the north-south border is a place for many exchanges between the two Koreas. In the book, the family is distraught when the Japanese take their home, relocating them to Seoul, but in the end, that can be viewed as a major blessing.  

I am grateful for this historical novel that provides context to WWII and the Korean War because my uncle Willliam Froetschel served in the latter: 

"Private Froetschel, a Medical Aidman, volunteered to accompany a raiding party into enemy territory. As they moved out from friendly positions and up a valley into hostile territory, the enemy suddenly opened fire with automatic weapons, seriously wounding one man and temporarily halting the rest of the patrol. Private Froetschel, with complete disregard for personal safety, ran through the heavy machine gun and mortar fire to reach the wounded man. After stopping the profuse bleeding from the wounded man’s leg, and helping him to the comparative safety of a draw, Private Froetschel returned to the fire swept area and attended to the wounds of another man who had been seriously wounded, and required his personal attention all the way back to the aid station. Private Froetschel was directly responsible for saving the lives of these two men and his heroic actions were an inspiration to all who observed him."

I hope the author considers writing a sequel.

Thursday, December 10



Texas, unhappy that Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, filed a lawsuit with the US Supreme Court demanding that legislatures in four swing states disregard voter wishes and choose another slate of electors. Eighteen other states along with Donald Trump have joined the lawsuit.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claims the states “exploited the Covid-19 pandemic” and made unconstitutional changes to their laws before the 2020 election.

Paxton who describes the election results as “tainted” holds a tainted background himself – facing charges “that he persuaded investors to buy stock in a technology firm without disclosing that he would be compensated,” reports the Texas Tribune.

The US Supreme Court ordered Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to respond by 3 pm today. 

Blue punching bag from Walmart; red boxing glove designed by Freepik.

Tuesday, December 8












Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order to ensure that vaccinating US citizens against Covid-19 takes priority over efforts to assist other countries, including close allies.

Failing to protect foreign workers will fail to protect the United States, a country of immigrants. Even before Covid-19 strained US health care systems, hefty percentages of health are workers were immigrants, reports Migration Information Source.

"Hospitals in at least 25 states are critically short of nurses, doctors, and other staff as coronavirus cases surge across the United States, according to the industry’s trade association and a tally conducted by STAT," reports Olivia Goldhill for STAT. "The situation has gotten so bad that in some places, severely ill patients have been transferred hundreds of miles for an available bed — from Texas to Arizona, and from central Missouri to Iowa."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed strategies to mitigate staffing shortages. And with a limited supply, the CDC recommended groups considered for early vaccination:

- health care personnel

- workers in essential and critical industries

- individuals with medical conditions that put them at high risk for Covid-19

- people aged 65 years and older. 

During the summer, the Trump administration arranged for enough vaccine from Pfizer to inoculate 50 million Americans, but declined an offer to reserve additional doses. The company now has commitments to other countries, reports the New York Times. “Any additional doses beyond the 100 million are subject to a separate and mutually-acceptable agreement. The company is not able to comment on any confidential discussions that may be taking place with the U.S. government,” noted a Pfizer statement.

The administration denied the New York Times report.

White House officials described the executive order as a "reaffirmation of the President's commitment to America first," reports CNN. Numerous companies continue to develop vaccines as well.

But as the old saying goes, beggars should not be choosy. Of course, Joe Biden, to be inaugurated as next US president as of January 20, 2021, can write his own executive orders. 

UPDATE: The executive order reads: "To ensure the health and safety of our citizens, to strengthen our economy, and to enhance the security of our Nation, we must ensure that Americans have priority access to COVID-19 vaccines developed in the United States or procured by the United States Government ('United States Government COVID-19 Vaccines')."

 Data source for graph is the Migration Information Source and the photo is from Jae C. Hong of Associated Press.

Wednesday, November 25


Most democratic leaders are wary about prosecuting a predecessor and rightfully so. Such attacks risk appearing politically vindictive and petty as Donald Trump did during the 2016 presidential campaign, when seen beaming as supporters chanted “Lock her up” about his opponent Hilary Clinton. 

Yet some behavior is so egregious and some bad actors are so shameless that prosecution is the only choice for ensuring accountability and discouraging similar behavior among future office holders.  Serving as president should make one “more accountable, not less, to the rule of law,” argues Andrew Weissmann, a member of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation of Trump, in an essay for the New York Times.

And some criminal activities are so egregious that other countries might consider charging Trump with human-rights violations and even war crimes. And those serving in his administration and in Congress who went along – continuing to cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election, maintaining that Trump was cheated of victory without evidence – are complicit. 

The list of scandals for the Trump administration is long, and accusations represent flagrant violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, some of the articles of which follow:  

-    Mishandling the Covid-19 crisis by discouraging wearing of masks and promoting the dubious treatments along with the concept of “herd immunity.” Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
-    Separating young children from parents who attempted to cross the border without keeping records to allow for reunification. Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
-    Describing Haiti and African countries as “sh--hole countries.” Article 2: “no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs…”
-   Approving of teargas for peaceful protesters. Article 20: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
-    Firing inspectors general who were investigating activities of his administration. Article 12: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
-    Interfering in elections by encouraging foreign interference, disrupting postal operations and disparaging mail ballots during a pandemic. Article 21: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Almost half of the US electorate supported Trump and these policies. President-elect Joe Biden may not have to waste precious time and energy on such matters if New York pursues cases against Trump. Also, other countries could find Trump guilty of crimes against humanity. “Universal jurisdiction is an international legal concept that allows a national court to investigate and prosecute certain crimes, including crimes against humanity, torture and genocide, even if those crimes weren’t committed within its national territory. It hasn’t been invoked often, but it’s not an impossibility,” explains attorney Carli Pierson for the Independent.

Other politicians may hope to replicate Trump’s behavior and policies to entice his large and energetic base. Swift prosecution may be the only means to stop the lying, name-calling, belligerence and cruelty along with the treacherous rejection of education, science and common sense.

Source of photo: PBS

Friday, November 20











One side interfered in the 2020 presidential election, and it was not Democrats. 

● In April, tens of millions of stimulus checks, bearing Donald Trump’s name, were sent to US citizens, with the Associate Press noting, “It marks the first time a president’s name has appeared on any IRS payments, whether refund checks or other stimulus checks that have been mailed during past economic crises.” A similar ploy was tried with a drug discount card for Medicare recipients, but failed. 

● Louis DeJoy, an expert in supply-chain logistics, took control of the post office in June 2020 even as election officials around the country, in the midst of a pandemic, encouraged voting by mail . Soon afterward, postal employees and customers noticed a marked slowdown in the mail. Fourteen states filed a lawsuit alleging DeJoy misused his authority to aid the reelection of Donald Trump. Federal district judge Stanley Bastian wrote: “At the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”

● Far-right activists were charged for using robo-calls to target black voters in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. The calls discouraged voters from registering to vote by mail and giving information to the government that could aid with debt collection or tracking suspects with warrants.

● Election officials in Georgia report that Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina reached out to Georgia’s secretary of state to suggest finding ways to exclude or invalidate absentee ballots that had been legally cast. Graham insists he was worried about the “integrity of the election process nationally” and trying to understand the procedures in multiple states. Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush noted: “Bottom line, we have a senator calling a key election official in the middle of an election as they're counting the vote – in a state he does not even represent – and apparently making suggestions to toss ballots. I find that to be clear interference in the electoral process and it's troublesome if he's doing it in order to help Trump." Georgia certified its election results today, naming Joe Biden the winner in the presidential race.

●  Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 150,000 votes but some Trump followers hope to undermine that victory by invalidating the votes from Detroit. At least four Michigan lawmakers are meeting with Trump today: Mike Shirkey, leader of the State Senate, and Lee Chatfield, House speaker, along with legislators Tom Barrett and Jason Wentworth. “White House and campaign officials said the president was acting on his own with what amounted to a pressure campaign to meet with lawmakers in the hopes of changing the outcome of the election," reported the New York Times. "But this is fraught with risks for the Michigan Republicans meeting with Mr. Trump because there are other races that were called for Republicans in the state that also have to be certified.” 













Politico suggests that the meeting could be transactional in nature and possibly even an attempt at felony bribery. “Under Michigan law, any member of the Legislature who ‘corruptly’ accepts a promise of some beneficial act in return for exercising his authority in a certain way is ‘forever disqualified to hold any public office’ and ‘shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not more than 10 years[.]’”

Losing power is hard, and Donald Trump is a desperate man. He faces criminal and civil probes, and he owes hundreds of millions of dollars: “Virtually all of Donald Trump’s debt - there is at least $1.1bn of it, according to his government financial disclosures and other documents - is backed by real estate, mostly linked to a small number of buildings and golf courses that form the core of the Trump business empire,” reports the Financial Times

Trump has run out of time for using his position to attract attention and leverage, and relies on stooges. The Oxford Languages dictionary defines a stooge as “a person who serves merely to support or assist others, particularly in doing unpleasant work.” 

A toxic boss regularly turns staff and friends into stooges. Researchers and career experts, according to CNBC, points to five warning signs of a toxic boss: poor communication skills, micromanaging, unrealistic expectations, incompetence and arrogance. They take credit for all successes and blame underlings for any failures.

Trump has lost the election but will continue to pull strings, treating Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, William Barr, Lindsey Graham, Nikki Haley and many other Republicans as his stooges. Republicans should be wary about signing on to do Trump's bidding. The demands will never end, and few come away with their reputations intact.

Source: Photo, Detroit News; toxic boss warning signs, CNBC

Tuesday, November 10


Georgia voters will determine which party controls the US Senate with the possibility of a January 5 run-off election for two Senate seats. Turnout will be key. 

Voters in democratic strongholds were generally more passionate, although Idaho as the exception. Close races in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Michigan demonstrate that every vote counts.

"Though it is poised for a recount, Georgia surprised America and the world when – on the basis of the first count –the Democrats outpolled the Republicans last week," reports the Guardian. "If the result survives the recount then Joe Biden will become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia in 28 years. He could not have done it without Stacey Abrams.

Georgia's turnout, at 68.1 percent, was above the national average of 66 percent, and an even higher turnout may be required to secure a Democratic victory.   

It's an uphill battle in the race between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, who so far took 49.7 and 47.9 percent of the vote, respectively. Ongoing vote tallies or even a recount could put Perdue over the necessary 50 percent. The Libertarian candidate won 2.3 percent, and if a runoff race is required, many of those votes could go to Perdue.  

The race between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Kelly Loeffler is more complicated after receiving 32.9 percent and 25.9 percent of the votes, respectively, according to the most recent results from the Associated Press. Other Democrats in the race took 15.5 percent of the vote, and other Republicans took 23.5 percent - and such votes could be expected to bring Warnock's total to 48.4 percent and Loeffler's to 49.4 percent. Then, add in the 0.3 percent of votes cast for the Green candidate, 0.7 percent for a Libertarian and 1.3 percent for independents. 

Displeased with the tight election results, Loeffler and Purdue have called on Georgia's secretary of state to resign.

Of course, some voters will cross party lines, and others may be unwilling to wait in long lines on January 5. And some new voters could be eager to show up for their chance to influence history.   

Georgia's turnout increased by at least 1 million people since 2016, suggests Michael McDonald who runs the US Elections Project.  

Youth contributed 21 percent of Georgia's votes, an increase from the national average of 17 percent, reports the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning and Engagement. Young voters and voters of colors tended to cast votes for Biden. reports Time Magazine.

Source for Nov 2020 election turnout data: Statista.