For My Mother, on the Eve of the Public Impeachment Inquiry

My mother was glued to the television every minute of the Watergate hearings when PBS began broadcasting them on May 17, 1973. I was a senior in high school then, and although I’m sure I must have left the house from time to time that summer before college, I was often alongside her, riveted. My mother had spent a lot of the preceding years chain-smoking and cursing every time Richard Nixon showed up on TV, and I lived with equal parts admiration and fear that one day her turquoise glass ashtray full of butts would go hurtling across the living room and shatter the screen.

The testimony itself proved shattering enough: John Dean’s complicity turned into conscience; Alexander Butterfield inadvertently revealing the White House taping system that eventually led to the “smoking gun” tape proving Nixon’s direct involvement in the cover-up and obstructing justice. I don’t remember at what point we put a bottle of champagne in the fridge in anticipation of celebrating the president’s demise after invincibility slowly turned to inevitability. But I remember popping it the night of August 8, 1974, when Nixon announced his resignation, effective at noon the next day.

Those times seem long ago and in a galaxy far, far away. They’ve been beautifully captured by James Poniewozik, chief television critic for the New York Times. I’ve been aching for my mother all day long, and his account makes me ache even more for a time in which accountability and truth mattered.

My mother would have turned 96 just last month, but she’s been dead since 1995. I often look up into the stars at night and think, “Thank God you’ve missed this, it would kill you.” I was grateful that my mother died with her adoration of Bill Clinton intact, unsullied by his impeachment scandal. I could imagine ashtrays hurtling once again through the air when the Supreme Court declared Bush the winner in 2000. Although I’m sorry she missed the Obama years (she would have been equally thrilled by Hillary), I was thankful she missed 9/11, Iraq, endless wars. Trump’s election would surely have finished her off. (I feel that way myself much of the time, and do not have my mother’s habit of smoking to relieve the anxiety.)

But I do wish I could have her on the couch right now, riveted, alive with fury. I love to imagine her devouring then adding to her shelves all the books about Trump (and his fall) to her extensive Watergate library.

Right now, the prospect of popping champagne seems dim. But if and when it comes, I’ll raise a glass to you, Mom.

Let Us Eat Cake!

Five minutes after the power came on after a three-day outage, I started baking an ice cream cake. Not the usual kind, with yummy layers of Mocha Almond Fudge and hot fudge sauce layered into graham cracker crust and left in the freezer, but my own invention–a variation of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Fans of Shrinkrapped may recall that our emergency preparations for the “safety” power outages PG&E implemented as fire control mostly involved grabbing a spoon and enjoying our dozen or so pints of premium Haagen Dazs. We lost our power a bit before 8:30 Saturday night, and since I failed to set my alarm to get up at 2:00 to dig in, my Sunday breakfast consisted of a fantastic, very thick Chocolate-Chocolate Chip and Cookies and Cream ice-cold milkshake, rivaling the Creamy Dreamies we used to get at the Lagunitas market on our way back from a day at the beach.

Jonathan, insufficiently committed to self-destructive acts for the greater good, left most of the dirty work to me. But between the two of us, we managed to polish off close to three pints while the ice cream was still in this near-perfect state of soft serve. I nobly continued for another pint or so after the melted stuff resembled chilled creamy soup. But hey, if people get excited about vichyssoise, what’s the difference? Eventually, however, even I had to admit that suffering indigestion and weight gain for this salvage operation might not be the best idea.

“It’s mostly cream, isn’t it?” Jonathan asked as we forlornly surveyed our losses. “Couldn’t we use it to make cake when the power comes back on?”

Right away I thought of my recipes that used milk. The one that uses the most—chocolate chip cake—is also Jonathan’s favorite. I figured the melted ice cream also contained a fair amount of sugar and butter, so before we could reset our clocks, I was measuring out ingredients. I wanted to get that sucker into the oven in case we lost power again.

“I’m not making the frosting until we know how it’s turned out,” I told Jonathan. We had a test slice after dinner—our first meal not cooked on our Coleman camp stove in three days. Yum! I wasted no time in making the frosting to complete my masterpiece. Unfortunately, I had only one-quarter of the amount of confectioners’ sugar required—not because of power outages, but because of a lapse in my usual hoarding of staple ingredients (i.e., anything used for baking). So I made glaze instead of frosting, and the cake was even better. The only improvement would be to serve it up with a big scoop of ice cream.

Which, unfortunately, we no longer have.

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Here’s the original recipe, with comments for how to improve it, with or without salvaged ice cream:

Real Chocolate Chip Cake—12 servings (make in a 10-inch high-quality Bundt or tube pan; if poor quality, there’ll be hell to pay in the form of a lot of yummy chocolate-laden cake top sticking to the pan, which you then have to pry loose and patch onto the rest of the cake. Or eat from the pan, and call it a day.)

3 cups flour                                                 1 tsp. vanilla

3-1/2 tsp. baking powder                          1 cup butter or margarine, softened

`1 tsp. almond extract                                ¾ tsp. salt

1-1/3 cups milk                                          1-3/4 cups sugar

4 eggs                                                        12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips–mini best

Preheat oven to 350. In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In large bowl, combine butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually add in flour mixture alternately with milk. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured 12-cup bundt or tube pan (approx. 10-inch). Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes (I recommend checking at 50—it’s invariably overbaked if it goes for a full hour). Remove from oven and cool in pan 10-15 minutes. Then turn onto serving plate. If you have failed to use a high-quality pan and it doesn’t come out in one beautiful piece, enjoy the patching or gorging job ahead of you. Cool completely, then top with chocolate frosting or glaze (I recommend either doubling or at least increasing by 50% for good coverage of the cake; or, if you use less sugar to keep it at glaze consistency, you can attractively drizzle it over the cake assuming you don’t need to disguise broken cake from using a cheap pan).

Chocolate Glaze: Combine ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, ¼ cup boiling water, ½ tsp. cinnamon, and 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar. Blend until smooth. I find it easiest to do in a food processor or blender, but if you double it, be careful so it doesn’t blow chocolate liquid all over your kitchen. (I doubled all the ingredients before I realized I had very little confectioners sugar, so only used about half cup of that–it made a fine glaze, though good to refrigerate it a little bit before topping cake so it isn’t so runny.)

Waste-Not, Want-Not Adaptation: Instead of the milk, I used 2-1/2 cups melted Haagen Dazs ice cream (I used Cookies and Cream, but any vanilla-based ice cream should do. You’re on your own if you favor minty or fruity flavors.) I used only one cup of sugar, and about 12 tbsp. of butter. I baked it for 60 minutes, and wish I had taken it out at 50 or 55 minutes—it will bake a bit longer as it cools in the pan.

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Also, the best things to have during a power outage: a portable solar phone charger; a Coleman stove; a sense of perspective; and a profession that doesn’t depend on electricity–in my case talk therapy.

Emergency Preparations

We’re a little bit on edge in California these days, what with earthquakes, Trump’s vendetta against the state, and, of course, wildfires. Massive numbers of alerts arrive telling us our power may or may not be shut off, for some indeterminate length of time. Lines for gas and bags of ice are long. Ire at Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility everybody loves to hate for good and not-so-good reasons is mounting.

We live in an area where the power rarely goes out, and we can make a dash by foot and be at the main drag in 30 seconds if necessary. Last night we practiced opening our garage doors manually. I pointed out the easily evacuated boxes of Christmas tree ornaments I’ve been collecting for the past 30+ years, and Jonathan rolled his eyes. We determined that our battery-powered lanterns are dead, but located three flashlights, put out a bunch of candles, found our solar phone charger and respirator masks, and have a full tank and a full charge for our cars. We have about 30 bags of chocolate chips in the downstairs cupboard. And maybe a can or two of tuna, plus several cans of beans. Our mostly empty go bags are at the ready, which probably indicates that our evacuation plan involves looting rather than preparation.

BUT, we’re totally ready to observe the #1 rule of power outages if you kind of ignore the one about not opening your refrigerator and freezer: Grab a spoon and eat all that ice cream before it melts!

Stay safe, everyone.

It’s Time

I live in a deep blue bubble where people have been jumping on the impeachment bandwagon for a long time. I mainline Pod Save America, and constantly read in “What a Day,” Crooked Media’s online newsletter, pro-impeachment arguments and lamentations about Nancy Pelosi’s caution. I love Michelle Goldberg, Charles Blow, and Jamelle Bouie, all New York Times columnists who favor impeachment and are passionate about removing Trump from office.

I share that passion. But until recently I have not been persuaded that impeachment is the right strategy. I distrust the preaching-to-the-choir fervor among many proponents, and I want to tear my hair out when I hear, “I don’t care if we lose seats, it’s the moral thing to do!”

As someone who spent a lot of time canvassing in a swing district in the run-up to the mid-terms, I can attest that people outside of deep blue bubbles care about healthcare, jobs, and traffic far more than impeachment, and that they tend to give the President the benefit of the doubt even if they don’t like his blowhard style. Nancy Pelosi has been right to worry about the vulnerability of Freshman Democrats from such districts who constitute the bulk of last year’s flipped seats. Like Pelosi, I have believed that the President wants to goad Democrats into a trap, that thorough investigations in the House should proceed, and that Trump and his entire party of enablers are best impeached at the polls. Plus, the prospect of a President Pence has scared me even more than the current arsonist-in-chief, who at least keeps people alarmed enough to actively work to defeat him.

My internal needle on impeachment has been changing, though. Trump’s continuing defiance of laws and norms, completely supported by the Dereliction-of-Duty Republicans, have stymied other options to hold him accountable, and we can’t continue with this erratic sociopath until November 2020 in what Pod Save‘s Dan Pfeiffer calls “Impeachment Purgatory.”

The silver lining of Trump’s presidency is that you don’t have to wait that long for his next self-destructive eruption. Now, thanks to the bravery of an intelligence whistleblower, clear lawbreaking by the Administration’s obstruction of the complaint’s delivery to Congress, and Trump’s public confession of soliciting foreign interference from the Ukrainian president for his own political gain in the 2020 election, there’s a fresh and clear-cut display of impeachable offenses. The latest revelations provide the hook to act now.

It’s time. “What took you so long?” some might say. Perhaps. But I prefer to think of it as “Now more than ever.”

ITMFA: Impeach the Motherfucker Already. I snapped that photo at the end of May in Oakland. I wasn’t there yet.  But I’m there now. Even if the Senate acquits, get every Republican on record. Then impeach at the polls. Every last one of them.

In Remembrance

Candle in the dark

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I wrote this post on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and offer it again today in commemoration. I hope we can some day live in a world where the best of humanity prevails.

As usual, I went to yoga Sunday morning, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Mostly I go for the effect on my muscles, not my spirit. But on this solemn day my yoga teacher lit a candle in remembrance, and invited us to practice Tonglen, breathing in all that is troublesome in the world, acknowledging it, then transforming it into compassion and peace on the exhale. After a few minutes, the class continued with its typical focus on backs, necks, and hips, or, as one member put it, “the usual overall soreness.”

At the end of the class, after the stretching and the Namaste, another member shared what happened to her Turkish and Egyptian friends ten years ago. They owned a restaurant in Manhattan, which they managed to keep open after the towers fell despite the chaos and lack of customers. Late at night three white men came in. They trashed the place. One of the owner’s friends managed to slip away and call the police. Soon the men who had destroyed the restaurant were apprehended and brought back to be identified before they could be charged.

“Yes, those are the men,” the owners told the police, who were eager to throw the book at them.

But the owners refused to press charges.

“This is a difficult day,” they said. “We understand their grief and rage. Let them go.”

Incredulous, the police did so reluctantly.

A few hours later, the three men came back with some of their friends, pressing upon the owners fistfuls of cash for the damage. The men helped clean up as best they could, and continued to come for the next several weeks until things were put right again.

Sometimes forgiveness is the most effective kind of justice. It is much more likely than hatred or revenge to spawn atonement. This is the lesson so often lost in our decade of fear and grief and war. But it is one worth remembering as we light a candle; breathe in trouble and sorrow; breathe out compassion and peace; and seek to ease the overall soreness of the world.

Ties that Bind

Tara Westover’s acclaimed memoir, Educated, is about many things: growing up in an extreme fundamentalist family under the thrall of a paranoid father, in an environment both idyllic and abusive; her attempts to break free; and education in both the sense of formal learning and its more expansive meaning–the process of self-discovery.

I happened to listen to Educated after finishing a monthly case conference led by Dr. Jane Rubin about working as a psychotherapist with developmental trauma. The memoir is a compelling example of the complexities we explored: the traumas themselves; the additional and more severe consequences of misattuned responsiveness from a child’s primary caregivers; and the terror of change that makes the dread not to repeat as powerful as the dread to repeat.  

A reviewer summarizes Westover’s dilemma: “Will she come home? Can she come home? Or will home be more damaging to her spirit than the broader dangerous world her father fears?”

A better question is can she leave home? Educated illustrates repeatedly the psychological difficulty and cost of doing so.

In “To Free the Spirit from its Cell,” Bernard Brandschaft (1993) writes of the danger change poses to attachment, and the pathological accommodations necessary to preserve “emotionally enslaving early ties.”

Therapists encounter these dimensions of trauma all the time. Patients who have seemingly progressed but who cannot go further remain, in Brandschaft’s words, “imprisoned in the gulags of their minds.” What might seem a baffling resistance is an expression of identity grounded in fierce loyalty and love.

In a Fresh Air interview, Westover says, “Abuse is foremost an assault on the mind. If you’re going to abuse someone, you have to invade their reality and you have to distort it.” She describes how abuse is normalized and depicted as deserved, how shame is internalized. She was only able to break away after she had “grown her own mind,” become a different self—one who still hopes for, but no longer awaits, signs that her family has changed.

A patient once gave me “The City,’ by C.P. Cavafy (1894), which reads in part:

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,

find another city better than this one.

Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong . . .

You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.

This city will always pursue you. . .

 As Educated so beautifully attests, it is not impossible to free the spirit from its cell, but it is heartbreakingly difficult.

Break (almost) from Reality

“It’s so surreal hiking through these meadows in the morning then reading about mass shootings in the afternoon,” remarked my husband, Jonathan.

We were in Mt. Ranier National Park, which had no cell phone service and very spotty wi-fi only at the visitor center. It took forever to download anything because of all the hundreds of tourists, including us, not quite sold on the idea of a totally unplugged vacation, desperate to log on. We persisted until the crowds thinned, triumphantly downloading email and the New York Times. That’s how we knew about the murders in El Paso and Dayton. That’s how we knew why the flag in front of the visitor’s center was at half-mast.

Hell might have been breaking out, but here we were in Paradise. That’s what this main area of Mt. Ranier National Park is called. And it truly was. In case you need a break from the real world, enjoy!

Jonathan said it looked like Mt. Ranier was projected on a blue screen. The mountain loomed everywhere we looked. We were walking around in a 3-D postcard. I felt we had stepped right into the pages of my Sierra Club engagement calendars, which always feature the unbelievable flower meadows carpeting the flanks of the sleeping volcano.

There were lakes and more flowers . . .

. . . and even some wild (and not so wild) life:

We spent several more days in the Sunrise area of Mt. Ranier National Park:

With more incredible wildflowers:

Alas, after ten days, we needed to return to reality. Which reminds me of a great T-shirt I saw on the trail–very helpful for the transition back to what we now face:

Airlift: Feeding the Grassroots

Like a lot of Americans, I went to a party on the Fourth of July. We celebrated Independence Day with fervent expressions of patriotism: BBQ, beer, and, of course, politics.

The sign on the door welcoming us read:

This was a couple of weeks after the first Democratic presidential debates, so there was a lot of buzz about the candidates. A few people had someone they were leaning toward, but most were so overwhelmed by the sheer number of contenders that they were waiting awhile for things to shake out. They wanted to give money to somebody, but who?

The presidential race of course generates a lot of attention (and money). But no matter who the nominee is, it’s what happens on the ground that matters most.

Luckily, there’s a lot we can do RIGHT NOW for Democratic victories, not just for President, but also for all-important Senate, House, and down-ballot races. Right before July 4th, I had gone to a gathering where I learned about Airlift, a new group I was excited to share with my fellow partygoers who were itching to join the fight.

Airlift’s tagline is “Feeding the Grass Roots,” with the goal of turning non-voters into voters. Airlift focuses not so much on candidates but on funding grassroots organizations working tirelessly year-round in their local communities to engage low-propensity voters, particularly young ones and people of color. Organizers listen to and talk with people about issues that matter to them, giving them a reason to vote. After a careful vetting process, Airlift funds groups with a proven track record of electoral success in key areas nationwide.

That strategy works. Remember how exciting it was in 2017, when Democrats flipped 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, paving the way for Medicaid expansion, and Doug Jones won Alabama’s Senate seat? These successes were followed by the 2018 mid-terms, when the steadily growing blue wave swept Democrats to victory up and down the ballot. Airlift played a key role, helping to:

  • Flip 21 house seats, including all 7 in California!  (West by Southwest Fund)
  • Restore voting rights for 1.4 million citizens in Florida (Organize Florida)
  • Turn Nevada almost entirely Blue! (PLAN Nevada)
  • Increase early youth voting in Texas by 500% (MOVE Texas)
  • Kick Scott Walker out of office in Wisconsin (Milwaukee BLOC Action Fund)
  • Pass redistricting in Ohio, Missouri, and Michigan (Lift the Midwest Fund)
  • Flip 15 Virginia house seats and win Medicaid expansion for 400,000 people (New Virginia Majority)
  • Pass automatic voter registration in Michigan and Nevada (MI-Liberation and PLAN Nevada)
  • Hire 600 organizers in Alabama who won the election for Doug Jones (Airlift special project)

And that was in the Fund’s infancy! This year, Airlift hopes to triple its first-year contributions. Efforts are organized around three strategic funds comprising 17 organizations: Lift the Midwest; West by Southwest; and Voter Motor. You can read all about these amazing groups here.

If we want to be true patriots and save our democracy, it’s time to engage and expand the electorate. 2020 will be a heavy lift. Make it easier by supporting Airlift today.

It will lift your spirits as well!

Moon Dreams

Moon and poppy collage (colored paper and toner, hand-cut and layered in quarter-inch strips), early work by my artist daughter

Fifty years ago today, I was 14 years old and standing with my parents in central Copenhagen, looking up. So were thousands of others–Danes and tourists from all over the world, jammed into the streets, craning our necks to see.

Our collective gaze fell not on the moon (it was the middle of the day), nor on a TV screen (there were no nearby stores with banks of televisions, and Jumbotrons hadn’t been invented yet). Instead, we were plugged into the moon landing through one of those electronic billboards flashing the news, the pixellated words chasing each other around the top of a skyscraper.

The crowd gasped, and my parents and I were caught up in the excitement. Only slowly did it dawn on us that we didn’t exactly know what was happening. We could make out obvious cognates like “Apollo” and “astronauts,” but we had no idea if the men had crashed or landed safely.

There was no confusion about the unity of the crowd, however. Even though the Apollo mission was born out of intensive nationalistic rivalry, all divisions and ill-will ceased to exist in that moment. We were one people–fearful, hopeful, awestruck–transcending the bounds of petty earthliness.

This is what I remember of the moon landing. That unity, good-will, and collective purpose feel scarce today when we need it more than ever. I dream of its return.

Republican Dereliction of Duty

Except for Justin Amash, the U.S. House representative from Michigan, no congressional Republicans have stepped forward to call for Donald Trump’s impeachment. The G.O.P. apparently gets a pass as all eyes turn to the Democrats to hold the President accountable. Their path is seeded with land mines no matter which route they pursue, especially since Trump, with total Republican acquiescence, has defied the Constitutional imperatives that grant Congress the duty and power of oversight. As Michelle Goldberg’s aptly titled New York Times column points out, “Impeaching Trump is risky. So is Refusing To.”

Obsessively focusing on whether or not Democrats should impeach Trump, however, is the wrong frame for deciding what to do about the grave peril this Administration and its enablers pose. For starters, it lets Republicans off the hook, and deals with only one man, leaving all those who are better mannered sitting prettily in power despite their complicity. 

We should instead emphasize how the President has failed utterly to even say let alone do anything about undeniable foreign sabotage in our elections, and how he continues to abuse the powers of his office by threatening to go after the FBI and his political opponents for starting these much-warranted investigations in the first place. He flaunts the Constitution daily by refusing to respond to any and all subpoenas. He refuses to address the myriad problems facing the country unless the Democrats drop their investigations. His brazen acts of corruption unfold at a dizzying and purposely mind-numbing pace. His presidency is one long tantrum after another. His malignancy knows no bounds.

Trump being Trump, however, is not the worst part. Far more dangerous is that Republicans, when they are not actively rallying around him repeating his lies, say nothing. We must hammer home the point that Republicans have failed to hold Trump accountable for large and small displays of unfitness throughout his campaign and presidency on matters well beyond Mueller’s investigation. Getting rid of Trump is insufficient; we can and must put an end to their dereliction of duty as well.  

Whether or not Democrats pursue formal avenues of impeachment, one thing is clear: We must Impeach at the polls—vote them all out.