Sunday, November 06, 2016

Big Sign that We Must Choose Love Over Hate

The bottom line of Election 2016: a choice between love and hate.

In a little over 30 hours, we will be at the polls. Then we will await the fate of the nation. This election has roller coastered our emotions as a country, and mine as an American, a husband, a father, a son. I have turned this election over and over and over in my head, trying to sort the garbage and vitriol from reality. In the end, it’s quite a simple choice: love or hate?

A vote for Hillary is a vote for love, for family, for hope, for peace, for country, for humanity. A vote for all that is possible, if we work together, build bridges, find common ground, promise to help one another solve our problems. She has built her life on service. Service to children, to families, to the rule of law, to the good of us all. She’s imperfect, of course, because she’s human. If anyone reading these thoughts has written her off simply for those imperfections, or for the hate, lies, and innuendo her opponent and countless others have spewed at her so you’ll do just that—write her off—I realize I probably won’t sway you back now. But know that Hillary will be President for all Americans, and love lifts us all. Now pause for a moment and consider what’s in your heart: love or hate? And what do you want in the heart and mind of the next President? I want her heart filled with love, courage, hope; her mind with intellect, curiosity, and openness to solve problems, with a strong team supporting her. Hillary’s heart and mind are there. It’s up to us to put her in the Oval Office, where, as President, she’ll protect us, build us up, as President Obama has done for eight years.

A vote for Trump is a vote for hate, a vote for fear, both of which he has stirred up unlike any presidential candidate in history. Hate of Hillary because she, like us all, has flaws, because she has dedicated her life to     children, families, and the American people. Hate of change and progress, as the United States and the world move forward, breaking down centuries of barriers and bigotry. Hate of those who don’t like look the same, talk the same, vote the same.  He’s run the long con on his supporters, just as he’s conned workers and small businesses throughout his fraud of a career, crushing those with less money or pull than him, building himself up by breaking them down.

His actions and words toward women are so heinous I remain without words to express my disgust and outrage. He’s no leader. He’s a racist, misogynist, anti-semitic, trigger-happy, authoritarian, sexual assault boaster. He’s left countless of victims behind in his filthy, foul wake. Don’t let the nation and the world be his next victims. A vote for him is a vote to abandon all that is already great about this country, all that has helped and will help us overcome our challenges. We are great because we are good, together. Divided, we fall. Don't bring us down. Don’t let his venom bring us down.

To quote the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Make no mistake, that arc will continue bending toward justice, toward peace, toward love, with or without you, with or without the United States of America. The question friends, voters, fellow Americans, that we must answer on Tuesday is whether we will help bend the arc, or fight it. History will judge us for this moment. And as the moral universe arcs ever closer to the elusive justice, ask yourself, will you be able to tell your children, your grandchildren, your great grandchildren that you helped it?

I intend to help the arc bend toward justice, toward peace, toward love. A vote for Hillary Clinton for President of the United States bends the arc ever further. I choose love. Love makes this country great because it makes us good, and only through love, and friendship, and hard work together can we overcome our deepest challenges, our deepest divides. And we will. I ask you to join me, friends, as we support Hillary to lead us in the next chapter of our journey.

#imwithher and #weareallwithher because we’re Stronger Together, and together, with love, we shall overcome.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Big Sign that I've Been Into the Belly of the Beast, or, A Visit to the Hummingbirds' Nest

When asked to comment on being married to a Bryn Mawr woman, E.B. White observed nearly 60 years ago that the "sensations of a Bryn Mawr husband are by their very nature private." If prudent, I would agree, but as E.B. also wrote, "a prudent male wouldn’t have married a Bryn Mawr girl in the first place."

So I am compelled to share some thoughts as a thank you to my lovely wife and her fellow Mawrtyrs for the glimpse this weekend at their experience, at the bolt of fabric unfurling the cloth from which they're all cut. I now know my wife—a woman I know better than any other human on the planet—even better, and I feel as though I've known her Bryn Mawr classmates for years.

Allow me to turn again to E.B. as a jumping-off point; indulge me a couple excerpts from his 1956 essay, "Call Me Ishmael: Or, How I Feel About Being Married to a Bryn Mawr Graduate" (Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin, Summer 1956):

What is there about these women that makes them so dangerous, so tempting? Why, it is Bryn Mawr. As they grow in years, they grow in light. As their minds and hearts expand, their deeds become more formidable, their connections more significant, their husbands more startled and delighted. I gazed on Pembroke West only once in my life, but I knew instinctively that I was looking at a pile that was to touch me far more deeply than the Taj Mahal or the George Washington Bridge.
. . .
You ask me how I feel to have undertaken this union. I feel fine. But I have not recovered from my initial surprise, nor have I found any explanation for my undeserved good fortune. I once held a live hummingbird in my hand. I once married a Bryn Mawr girl. To a large extent they are twin experiences.

This weekend, I visited Bryn Mawr's campus—the nest, the home of the hummingbirds—with the chicks all grown come back, reunited. They'd returned not to roost, although some perhaps had, or will, but rather to buzz their hummingbird buzz. I've held the hummingbird in my hands. I married the Bryn Mawr girl. Every day, she constantly startles and delights. But before Saturday, I'd never visited the nest, never seen where these hummingbirds buzz together. I'm certain they all buzzed before they arrived at Bryn Mawr, and I've seen mine buzz daily for a decade since she spread her wings. But back at Bryn Mawr, they buzz all at once, and there they learned their buzz changes the world.

In the Rockefeller living room—yes, living room, so very Hogwarts, as is fitting for a campus that not only recalls the fictional school but hums with a certain magic all its own—they reconnected and recollected. Amidst a sea of friends and memories, family all, out of the blue, over the buzz suddenly sounds a sprinkling of brightly cheered ancient Greek phrases, ending in the oft-echoed "Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr, Bryn Mawr!" Perplexing yet pleasing to the unfamiliar ear, uniting and uplifting to the Mawrtyrs, who even after years away still have years of practice.

In the early afternoon, after quieter lunch conversations concluded, with plates pushed aside and ice cream sandwiches eaten, the din rose again to a crescendo. And my light bulb blinked on: this din is no mere ruckus but rather hundreds of lovely, independent hummingbirds, returned to the nest from across the ages, 5, 10, 70 years on, sharing with one another, and their lucky guests, how they're changing the world day by day. Or rather, to borrow a phrase from Anne Lamott, bird by bird. And the hummingbirds' buzz builds. And builds. And builds.

Buzz on Mawrtyrs, buzz on. Holler when you need a hand from the husbands (and wives). Until then, we Bryn Mawr spouses will enjoy being always startled and delighted.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Big Sign That You Should Get Out Your Vote!

NEW YORK, Nov. 1 — Friends and fellow citizens, please vote tomorrow, Tues., Nov. 2, 2010. It's important, I promise.

Check your registration and polling place here:

Cast your ballot.

Report any problems by calling 866-OUR-VOTE or at or via Twitter using hashtags #EP[your state]-ZIP Code (e.g., for Times Square, Manhattan, New York #EPNY-10036] and #EP2010 (instructions here:

Polls in New York State are open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Post your 2010 voting stories in the comments.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Big Apple Musing: Big Sign that it's a Terrible Day for a Bike Ride (TERRIBLE!)

NEW YORK, Aug. 29 — A scene (and yes, he was making a scene) in Riverside Park, West 91st Street and Riverside Drive, 3:40 p.m.

Young girl, maybe 10 years old, rides a bike south on the park-side sidewalk of Riverside Drive, 10 or 15 yards ahead of a mother and son, also with bikes. They’re walking, not riding. Girl is maybe the daughter/sister. Her eagerness for a ride—on her bike and out in front—plus a lack of any other supervision in sight, says yes, definitely. This is Eager Sister’s ride.

But her brother is protesting.

“This was a terrible idea! A TERRIBLE! IDEA!” he wails, bringing up the rear, just behind Mom. Mom ignores the rant as tears stream down his freckled face, red hair matted under a blue bike helmet.

“Do you want to ride now?” Mom asks, not even a whisp of frustration in her tone. Clearly, this behavior is nothing unusual from her baby boy, Angry the Red.

“NO!!!” Angry retorts, drawing out the “oh” sound so it’s crystal clear to Mom that riding would only make things worse. Why in the world, his tone asks, would an 8-year-old boy want to ride a bike when he could be inside playing Wii?

“It’s TOO”—sob—“HOT!”—sob—“for a bike ride! It was a terrible, TERRIBLE! idea to go for a bike ride TODAAAAYYYY!”

It must have been Eager Sister’s idea. No way Angry’s buying what she’s selling. Ninety degrees, breezy, cloudless sky of brilliant Columbia blue. End of summer perfection on the Upper West Side.

But without a doubt, a terrible, TERRIBLE! day for a bike ride.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Are Torturers Above the Law? Or Can They Be Sued?

By Brendon Fleming

[Cross-posted from Our Rights, Our Future, the blog of the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights]

TortureNearly 20 years ago, Ali Samantar left his native Somalia, then a country tumbling deeper and deeper into chaos. After years as a general in the Somali army, as defense minister, and finally as prime minister, Samantar fled Somalia and eventually settled in Virginia. His past, however, eventually found him in the United States.

In 2004, a group of Somalis sued Samantar in federal court in Virginia, alleging that Somali agents under Samantar’s control had tortured them and committed other human rights abuses against them in the 1980s and early 1990s, before Samantar fled the country. Those suing wanted to see Samantar held responsible for the torture and abuses, asking he pay them monetary damages.

After five years winding its way through the federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court will now hear the case. At the core of Samantar v. Yousuf, is the issue whether or not Samantar is immune, as a former official of a foreign government, from being sued in the United States for alleged human rights abuses that occurred on his watch in Somalia in the 1980s. The suit claims Samantar and those in his command were responsible for killings, rapes, and torture—including waterboarding.

The plaintiffs, five Somali survivors of torture, sued Samantar under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act. The Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a federal law that has been on the books since 1789, allows non-citizens to sue their abusers in federal court for human rights abuses that violate international law. The Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA) allows victims of torture carried out by agents of a non-U.S. government to sue their torturers for monetary damages in federal court. The ATS and the TVPA are doors into U.S. courts for victims of torture and human rights abuses suffered abroad, at the hands of despots and tyrants. The laws allow a day in court for victims who might otherwise never have one in the United States, in their home countries, or anywhere else.

But the Supreme Court could close those doors, at least to some plaintiffs, with this case, depending on its reading of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). The FSIA is a law that governs when and how foreign countries may be sued in American courts. FSIA makes foreign countries immune from certain lawsuits. In this case, the Court will decide whether the ATS or TVPA allow lawsuits against foreign officials—individuals with state power, rather than merely a state itself—for alleged human rights abuses committed in their official capacity. Put another way, the Court will decide whether FSIA immunity extends to individuals acting as officials for foreign governments, including former officials, or whether it only immunizes foreign states themselves and their government agencies.

The Supreme Court must decide which is right: allowing the case against Samantar to proceed under the ATS and TVPA, thereby giving the victims of alleged torture their day in court, or using a federal law that was designed to facilitate diplomacy by protecting foreign governments instead to protect an alleged torturer and perpetrator of vast human rights abuses.

The ATS and the TVPA are important because they are an acknowledgment by the United States of the existence and enforceability of international human rights law. They recognize that some abuses are so flagrant that they violate the norms and rules accepted by the international community as the law of nations—international law. Allowing a suit such as this one, against Samantar, would be a significant step forward for the international rule of law—a resounding statement that individuals who torture for their governments or take official action that violates international human rights norms cannot hide behind their government’s immunity.

If the Supreme Court allows the case to proceed, a lower federal court could then determine that Samantar is liable for the alleged abuses, an outcome that the plaintiffs and many Somalis would no doubt applaud. But a court could instead, based on testimony and evidence, find him not liable, which would likely disappoint many who already believe Samantar is responsible for the abuses. As important as the outcome of the case is, it is equally important to allow the court to hear the case through to completion, without cloaking it with official immunity and stopping it in its tracks.

Somalia has been without a stable functioning government since 1991, when its government collapsed and Samantar fled. Regardless, U.S. courts can and should still provide a day in court for these Somali survivors.

(Photo by Javier Kohen.)

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