Thursday Reads

Egon Schiele, Four Trees, 1917, Belvedere, Vienna, Austria

Egon Schiele, Four Trees, 1917, Belvedere, Vienna, Austria

Good Afternoon!!

Today is Veterans Day and for the first time in 20 years, the U.S. is not involved in a major war.

NPR explains the difference between this holiday and Memorial Day, which originated with honoring those who died during the Civil War and later was designated as a day to honor the dead from all wars. Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day, in honor of the end of World War I:

Celebrated every November, Veterans Day honors all who have served in the U.S. military.

The federal holiday is observed on Nov. 11, the day World War I ended in 1918.

A year later, President Woodrow Wilson celebrated what was originally known as Armistice Day for the first time. But it wasn’t until 1938 that Congress recognized it as an official federal holiday.

In 1954, the holiday’s name was changed to Veterans Day, to honor the veterans of all wars the U.S. has fought. In France and elsewhere in Europe, the day continues to be known as Armistice Day.

Veteran’s Day was actually celebrated in October for several years, though.

The Uniform Holiday Act of 1968 moved the holiday from Nov. 11 to the “fourth Monday in October” to move ensure a long weekend for workers.

But in 1975 President Gerald Ford returned the holiday to its original November date, due to the significance in marking the the end of the war.

From an opinion piece by Jeremy Butler at CNN: What Veterans Day means to me and my family.

This past year and a half has come with its unique set of challenges for the veteran community — a significant portion being mental-health related. This year, a study about the impact of Covid-19 on veterans’ mental health found that nearly one year into the pandemic, the prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder increased, particularly among middle-aged veterans. Additionally, one of seven veterans experienced increased distress. Quick Reaction Force, veteran organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s (IAVA) comprehensive care program, reported a nearly 500% increase in veterans reaching out for support since the beginning of Covid-19 (compared to the previous 18 month period). The program also saw a 50% increase in mental-health-related needs since the pandemic hit.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

Between a once-in-a-century global pandemic, the abrupt end of the war in Afghanistan, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the ongoing fight to attain veteran benefits for some — like those unfairly discharged for being part of the LGBTQ+ community, to veterans seeking health care benefits for exposure to burn pits and toxic exposures — one thing is abundantly clear: veterans deserve access to quality resources and support when they return home from service.

Transitioning from the military can be difficult and some veterans experience challenges reintegrating into civilian life — including employmenthomelessness, and mental health related needs. We’ve heard mentions in the news that the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan coupled with the lingering effects of the pandemic has compounded feelings of anger, sadness, despair and isolation among veterans, spurring increased mental health concerns in our community.

However, the following stats might be less familiar to most. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2021 veteran suicide prevention report, about 17 veterans died by suicide every day in 2019. A recent membership survey by IAVA, an organization representing over 425,000 veterans and allies nationwide, also found that 43% of its members have considered suicide following joining the military. There are many factors that contribute to a veteran taking their own life — from mental health related needs, employment struggles, threat of homelessness, isolation, and difficulty accessing care, to name a few. These jarring statistics are neon signs to invest in and provide swift access to better care for all transition related challenges veterans may be experiencing.

E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post: Opinion: Asking military service of so few takes a toll on our democracy.

We rely on fewer and fewer of our fellow Americans to bear the burdens of war.

Nowhere is this narrowing of the responsibilities of military service more obvious than in the halls of Congress. Half a century ago, roughly three-quarters of the members of the House and Senate had served in the military. Today, veterans account for less than a fifth of Congress.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

This is, in part, a natural outcome of the end of the draft. But that does not reduce our national obligation to make Veterans Day more than a one-off occasion for gratitude.

We need to take stock of the burdens that 20 years of war have imposed on a remarkably limited share of American families.And we need to consider what it means that a large proportion of our nation’s leadership has never known what it is like to face combat. Its members have never had to risk their lives carrying out decisions made far away. They do not have to bear the physical and emotional scars of battle long after the wars end.

Perhaps because they are a self-chosen few, military veterans in Congress feel a special responsibility — to other vets, to the nation and to each other. Twenty-five veterans from both parties formed the For Country Caucus, with the goal of “a less polarized Congress.”

Read Veterans Day thoughts from caucus members at the link.

At Newsweek, William N. Arkin looks back on Veterans day in 2020: ‘We Are On the Way to a Right-wing Coup,’ the CIA Director Privately Warned.

It was the president’s first public appearance since the election—apart from his golf outings. On Veterans Day, November 11Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony. It was a somber occasion amid a steady rain, shadowed by the president’s refusal to concede the election and by his firing of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper so close to a transition.

Trump and Pence, accompanied by their wives, were late; their motorcade arrived well after the ceremony had started. The Army honor guard had already gone through most of their drill and the 21-gun salute rang out as the country’s elected leaders were driving up.

At the appointed moment, Trump walked to the wreath and laid a hand on it before returning to his spot to stand for the rest of the ceremony, about a half-hour. He made no public remarks, according to the White House pool reporters there.

Trump had actually pushed to hold the service, despite the recommendations of public health officials that the event should be cancelled because of the pandemic.

Behind the scenes, military leaders were worried about what Trump might do to remain in power despite losing the election. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley had heard rumors that Trump might try to have him removed.

Georgia O'Keefe, Autumn Leaves

Georgia O’Keefe, Autumn Leaves

Milley was taken aback by the prospect of such an unprecedented action, afraid that he was witnessing the unfolding of a coup. CIA Director Gina Haspel, who also expected to be fired, shared his fear. “We are on the way to a right-wing coup,” she told Milley.

In the “tank,” the military-only chamber famous for deliberations and private discussion, the seven joint chiefs, plus Milley and the vice chairman, quietly and privately began talking about what their options would be if they had to block an unlawful order from the commander-in-chief. According to a retired general officer who spoke to one of the participants, in the tank the discussions were frank and emotional. “They grappled with wide-ranging questions,” the senior officer said. “Not just how to protect the republic should Trump threaten, but also ways to protect the military institution, a goal that didn’t always easily mesh with what needed to get done.”

After the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, acting secretary Miller and Gen. Milley went on to a celebration at the new National Museum of the United States Army. Speaking of the history of the armed forces and the role that the military played in American society, nonpartisan and now “professional,” Milley drew his line in the sand.

“We are unique among militaries,” he said in his speech. “We do not take an oath to a king or a queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or religion. We take an oath to the Constitution. And every soldier that is represented in this museum, every sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman, each of us will protect and defend that document, regardless of personal price.” [….]

Meanwhile on television, retired four-star Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey also voiced what many in the brass were thinking, warning that Americans were “watching a slow-moving Trump coup to defy the Biden election and refuse to leave office by diktat.”

What was unfolding, though, was unique among coups. Nobody really thought the disorganized and isolated Trump was capable of organizing anything. And the president didn’t have the support of the military or the CIA or the FBI, or any of the other national security agencies, perhaps, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which had become embarrassingly partisan. Milley even remarked privately that a coup wasn’t possible because his camp had all the guns—a comment that was both comforting and chilling, one that showed how perilous the post-election period had become.

It’s difficult to believe that happened only a year ago and January 6 was still to come. Malcolm Nance argues that we are still in the middle of a “political/paramilitary insurgency.”

There is some good news today. Trump continues to lose his legal battle to hide his presidential records from Congress. CNN: Judge rejects another Trump attempt to slow down documents from going to House January 6 committee.

A federal judge on Wednesday night said she would not help former President Donald Trump as he attempts to buy time in his argument to keep secret records from his presidency, pointing him instead to an appeals court to seek help.

Judge Tanya Chutkan‘s latest decision comes a day after she ruled against Trump in a historic case regarding access to records from his presidency sought by the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

Trump, the judge said, cannot “do an end run around” her decisions to try to win the case by forcing a delay, just because he’s appealing.

Chutkan has stood by her decision that documents from Trump’s presidency should be given to the House panel. She also found that Trump, as a former President, cannot claim the documents are covered by executive privilege, when the current President supports their release.

With the National Archives set to send records to the House on Friday, Trump is scrambling in court for even a temporary hold.

Chutkan declined to grant the pause, dealing the former President his second loss in two days. That means Trump will now need to ask an appeals court for emergency help to keep the documents secret while he pursues appeals.


Autumn on the Seine at Argenteuil, Claude Monet

More good news from The Texas Tribune: Texas schools can again set their own face mask rules after federal judge overrules Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban.

The judge said the governor’s order impedes children with disabilities from the benefits of public schools’ programs, services and activities to which they are entitled.

Before I wrap this up, I want to recommend a long read from The Washington Post Magazine that my brother shared with me. It’s not about politics, per se, but it’s a serious problem that political leaders could change.

A Dog’s Life: Why are so many people so cruel to their dogs? My search to understand a hidden scourge, by Gene Weingarten.

The article focuses on the problem of dogs being tethered outdoors for long periods as well other kinds of abuse and neglect of dogs and the efforts of PETA workers to alleviate the suffering of these animals. I had no idea that PETA did this kind of work. As is the case with most lengthy stories, it’s difficult to isolate relevant excerpts, but here’s just a bit from the beginning of the piece:

From the front, the one-story clapboard house looks dingy and dilapidated, and the lawn is cluttered with crap. The backyard makes the front look like Versailles.

The wooden stairs from the back door to the yard are rotted through and have collapsed. In the grass is a rusted-out 1990s-era Camaro. There are tangles of scrap metal, discarded car parts, a sodden mattress, corroded appliances, a deceased push mower, a toolshed boarded up with plywood. There are ripe piles of garbage and moldering pits of ashes where trash and food scraps have been burned. As a portrait of desperation, destitution and decay, the tableau is almost literary. Faulkner’s Snopeses, meet Steinbeck’s Joads

You hear the three dogs baying before you see them, and then you see them and recoil. Each is tethered to a metal cable, which is tethered to its own primitive wooden doghouse. Each animal has only a few dozen square feet within which to move. The dogs can see and hear the others, but it is a tantalizing cruelty — they are so far apart they cannot touch or play. Neighbors never stop by. These three females have been alone outside, imprisoned apart in the same spots in this rotting place, day and night, for six months. Today it is 85 in the shade. They are panting. To Faulkner and Steinbeck you might have to add some Dante.

When the owner died, the house and animals were inherited by his daughter, who lives in another state. She has a relative who is supposed to stop in every once in a while to replenish the dogs’ food and water, but his visits appear to be intermittent and momentary. For reasons that defy common sense and decency, the daughter has chosen this heartless system rather than adopt the dogs herself or surrender them to someone who will care for them.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals knows about this place, and, with the grudging consent of the new owner, the animal rights organization sends a team of field workers to visit from time to time. They clean and refill the bowls and distribute flea meds and chew toys and straw for bedding and skritches under the neck, but they can’t alleviate the big problem, and they can’t come here often. Their headquarters are in Norfolk, 100 miles away, and they have hundreds of other mistreated animals to check in on, and new ones to find. And now the conditions here have deteriorated to this.

I really hope you’ll go read this story. It is heartbreaking of course, but also life-affirming.

Please share your thoughts and links on these or any other topics in the comment thread and have a good day.

6 Comments on “Thursday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    The Washington Post: Pressure builds on Meadows to cooperate with Jan. 6 committee as White House rejects his executive privilege claims.

    The House Select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the White House are ramping up the pressure on former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to cooperate with the probe into the insurrection as the committee zeros in on former president Donald Trump’s inner circle.

    White House Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su sent a letter to Meadows’s lawyer, George Terwilliger, Thursday morning notifying him that President Biden will not assert executive privilege or immunity over the documents and deposition requested by the House Select committee related to his client.

    Meadows was subpoenaed by the committee at the end of September. While he has been “engaged” with investigators to negotiate the terms of his deposition and turning over of documents, the pace of these discussions has caused the committee to weigh more aggressive measures against him.

    Su acknowledges the importance of “candid advice” from the president’s senior staff but cites “the unique and extraordinary circumstances, where Congress is investigating an effort to obstruct the lawful transfer of power under our Constitution” as reason not “to shield information reflecting an effort to subvert the Constitution itself.”

  2. dakinikat says:

    Thanks for this! Beautiful autumn paintings! The more we learn about the days leading up to the insurrection, the more shocked I become.

  3. dakinikat says:

    • djmm says:

      Well, black pastors are so scary! Outside the courtroom, they might start spouting scripture from scandalous books like the Bible! Inside the courtroom, they might look harshly at a defendant! The horror!!

  4. dakinikat says: