From Russia, with Love

No doubt you have been wondering: Just how well-connected is this guy? Whence comes his trenchant analysis, insightful reportage and other good stuff? Well, I can tell you this much: even my sources have sources. Beyond that, I could not say. Secrecy and discretion are all. I hope you are suitably impressed.

Or if not impressed, amused. A smile is important even in harsh times. Or especially then. This should be kept in mind, I think. Because when writing a blog, there is a tendency to pretension. The thought that people will – or even may – read what you write is exhilarating, when you think about it. So it’s best not to think about it.

With that preface as perspective, I am pleased to report that I did indeed come into a piece of information that may be of interest. Now that Russian plans for quickly conquering Ukraine have been thwarted by the Ukrainians themselves, with broad but limited support by NATO and partners, the question arises: how does this end? In my previous post I speculated about what the government of Ukraine must insist upon and what it might properly concede. But what of Russia? Which really means: what of Putin? Is there an outcome short of complete victory that Putin would accept instead of further intensifying his military efforts?

Maybe Russian television can give us a hint.  I paid a visit to my dentist this week.  She is, or was, Russian; she was born in Leningrad and grew up in Georgia.  She has lived in the United States for decades, is staunchly anti-Communist and anti-Putin.  But her sister still lives in St. Petersburg and sees and hears the news as broadcast in Russia.  And believes it.  The two sisters speak by phone, but the gulf in their knowledge of the ‘facts’ about the war in Ukraine soon had them shouting at each other.  

The Russian sister sent my dentist an item from the Russian online news service, including a map that Russia said is what Polish TV was showing.  According to Russia, this map represents Poland’s or the West’s goal of partitioning Ukraine.  Russia therefore can be credited with launching its “special military exercise” to save Ukraine from this fate.  The map shows a much-diminished Ukraine, with its northwestern part acquired by Poland, a southwestern bit going to Romania, and, interestingly, large eastern and southern areas absorbed by Russia.  

Here is the map:


Even as we walk through the mirror-world of propaganda, this map may tell us something of Russia’s own end goal.  We know damn well that Poland had no designs on Ukraine’s territory, as clearly as we know Ukraine’s government was not rotten with Nazis.  But the matter-of-fact collateral acceptance that much of Ukraine, even after this supposed Polish aggression, would be part of Russia, may indicate Russia’s core aims.  

As I stated in my first post on this war, on March 8, the realistic endpoint for Russia probably is partition.  I said it is likely that “Putin eventually proposes a division of Ukraine in exchange for cessation of all hostilities.  Russia would retain the areas it is about to subdue: the eastern provinces, the Azov and Black Sea coasts including Odessa, and the southern tier extending to Transnistria which already is separatist.”  Putin would love to restore Russia to the Soviet Union’s position and role in the Cold War that he feels should not have been lost.  Part of that was the partition of Germany into East and West, the former controlled by the Soviets.  

So never mind the bizarre accusation of Polish aggression, but look at the areas of Ukraine that the map shows belonging to Russia, appropriately in red.  That is Putin’s goal.  Russia’s failures thus far on the battlefield mean that he will settle for less, but only at the margins.  He will not abandon his aim of acquiring more Ukrainian territory than Russia controlled pre-2022; he will escalate rather than pull back to pre-2022 borders.  

To date, it seems NATO and its partners believe that the broad but shallow military assistance they are giving Ukraine, plus the gradual effect of economic sanctions, will be enough to repel the Russian forces from Ukraine.  I doubt that.  Currently, stalemate seems more likely, and that’s without accounting for Russian escalation.  

Whose side is Time on?  For the West, the more time that passes, the deeper the economic sanctions will bite.  Will that be enough to force Putin’s hand, and in which direction: negotiation or escalation?  For Putin, the more time that passes, the higher the death toll will mount, especially of Ukrainian civilians.  The West has trouble bearing high, continuing death tolls.

How many Ukrainians is NATO willing to sacrifice to preserve its reluctance to supply Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons systems, on the fear of escalation?   Does the West believe things are going well enough now to justify merely holding its course?  The Ukrainians beg – literally beg – to differ.

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The End of The Beginning

We live in an accelerated age. World War II was fully three years old when the tide began to turn, in the Soviet Union and in North Africa. Even at that point, amid glimmers of optimism, Churchill was clear and careful not to get ahead of events. In October of 1942, he said “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

We are now, perhaps, at the end of the beginning in Russian president Putin’s war on Ukraine. Today the war is four weeks old. The Russian and Ukrainian forces seem to be approaching stalemate, and Ukraine reportedly has recaptured bits of territory around Kyiv; however, the deaths on both sides continue to mount, especially in surrounded cities like Mariupol, and the flood of refugees from Ukraine, mainly women and children, now exceeds three million. And as Russia’s original plan to subdue Ukraine quickly by capturing its major cities apparently has failed, Russia seems to have shifted to a siege approach: its forces outside those cities rain death and destruction on the inhabitants, even targeting streams of refugees. With Russia’s conventional forces stalled, the use of chemical and biological weapons is very much on the table.

At this juncture, our instinctive wish is that the slaughter, the violence, the displacement and the heartbreak cease, and cease now. That urge should be resisted.

This past Sunday in my town, local groups organized a “Peace Vigil” at a park, and many in the community came together there. I did not attend. I could not support a gathering so labeled. If Ukraine merely wants peace, that is achievable at any time by uttering two words: “we surrender.” Peace, without more, is not the goal; only on certain terms is peace acceptable and sustainable.

Such terms cannot be achieved at this moment. In recent negotiations, Russia has proposed, among other things, that Ukraine be demilitarized. That would set the clock ticking on the next invasion, one that would end badly, either in Ukraine’s defenseless surrender or the West’s massive intervention. The only peace worth seeking will come with Ukraine’s victory, or at least a sufficiently dominant position on the ground that Ukraine would be able to impose terms that do not reward Russia’s aggression or invite future aggression.

What are the minimum acceptable terms? Ukraine must retain full sovereignty, including the right to defend itself. It must retain its full territory as of the start of this war, including the two eastern ‘separatist’ provinces. Ukraine likely would have to tolerate Russia’s de facto control of Crimea established in 2014, but (on the Korean model) should not have to formally recognize Russian ownership. In return, Ukraine could forgo application for NATO membership, but that promise should be time-limited even if long-term, e.g., 20 or even 99 years. Russian control over Crimea would be acknowledged de facto by Ukraine and NATO. All economic sanctions against Russia would be dropped by the EU and NATO nations and their partners. Ukraine also could provide Russia face-saving measures such as agreeing to prohibit neo-Nazi political parties, and agreeing to enact anti-discrimination laws with respect to its ethnic Russian minority.

Such a treaty is hypothetically achievable among reasonable parties. It is doubtful in reality. As noted, to bring Putin to such terms, Ukraine would first have to have more battlefield success. But if that began to develop, Putin doubtless would escalate rather than negotiate. Putin’s control over Russian policy does not (yet) appear threatened to the point of diverting him from his chosen course of war. He will first bet that increased force, more targeted to interrupt NATO’s military resupply of Ukraine, and the use of more destructive weapons on the civilian population, will shift the West’s and Ukraine’s thinking before his own military or economic losses compel him to shift his own. In this he is likely correct with regard to the West’s determination, if not that of Ukraine itself.

Faced with the continued appalling humanitarian toll and likely the more difficult delivery of supplies to Ukraine, the West will find peace talks increasingly attractive. Ukraine will resist concessions, but that will get harder if the West’s military support wanes.

As leaders of the NATO nations meet today, they should discuss, frankly and privately, the crossroads they now face. Ukrainians’ resistance to date has, for the moment, saved their country, but it will not be sufficient to defeat the coming Russian escalation. That escalation, either by re-focused tactics or by weapons of mass destruction, or both, will force NATO’s members to a choice: a markedly more vigorous response (beyond increased economic sanctions, which are necessary but insufficient) or more pressure upon Ukraine in the peace talks.

Can the West override their instincts and their last 75 years’ history, which are peace-loving, risk-averse, gradualist, economic- and diplomacy-centered, in the face of a committed aggressor? NATO needs to take decisions soon; this week would be nice. Postponement is itself a decision, and not a helpful one.

Do we move forward in a horrible struggle, or step back from it? There is some merit to either course, but I would rather things got worse before they get better, than the other way ‘round. Ukraine’s future likely rests on what NATO decides. Even if the steps taken do not bear fruit for weeks or months, we will eventually harvest what is sown now.

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Ukraine War – March 8, 2022

Ukraine Auguries

Never underestimate the willingness of the American government, and the American people, to seek peace at any price.  We are not a nation of Patrick Henrys, and probably never were.  And the limits of our appetite for even a war in which we are not combatants are already beginning to show. 

For the first 13 days of this war, US President Biden acted admirably and successfully to assemble and help manage a broad alliance of mostly Western countries responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Economic sanctions were imposed.  The first of these was small and peculiarly aimed at the economies of the two partly separatist eastern Ukrainian provinces, but by the next day, important sanctions were properly imposed on Russia, and more were promised.  That promise to date has been kept, as the US, EU and other important nations (notable exceptions China and India) ratcheted up sanctions, including interruption of SWIFT financial services, cutoff of trade, freezing of Russian government foreign accounts, and other steps. 

Today – March 8 — (written March 8th, although published to the blog on March 15 as it took me a week to re-establish passwords etc. after being away for so long) Pres. Biden announced that the US will cease importing Russian oil and gas.  These make up a relatively tiny percentage of US energy imports but the step is important not only for itself and its symbolism, but as recognition of two points: first, that Biden is willing to tell Americans they will have to bear some resultant increases in retail fuel prices at home (it’s a small enough price to pay); and second, that in practical terms, the entire alliance will not be expected to join fully in every step.  Europe imports some 25% of its energy from Russia and would suffer more deeply from such an embargo.  Even so, the EU reportedly announced it would aim to reduce its Russian energy imports by two-thirds by year end, a significant step.

NATO including the US has been effective at supplying Ukraine with arms, equipment, and humanitarian aid.  Western countries bordering Ukraine, especially Poland and including even Hungary with its Putin-philic leader Victor Orban, have been accepting, helping and processing refugees.  The stream of refugees is now nearing 2 million.  The silver lining of the horror and tragedy of this war is that it has unified and strengthened NATO as nothing has in the past 30 years; Pres. Biden deserves full marks for adroitly managing this hour of history… so far.

With NATO, the US has supplied Ukraine with arms including Stinger and (British) Javelin anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.  Last week the US approved $350 million of additional military aid to Ukraine, and one can be confident there is more to come.  At the same time, NATO and the US have been clear in rejecting Ukrainian pleas that they impose a ‘no-fly zone’ in Ukraine’s air space.  A no-fly zone requires enforcement, which means shooting down Russian planes that enter it; in other words, direct acts of war in the air.  Not to mention the need to destroy Russian anti-aircraft emplacements in Russian territory near Ukraine.  Both logically and under international law, those acts constitute war.  Russia could well retaliate against NATO, and escalation would follow, with a high risk of mutual mass destruction.

Ukraine and its superb president Zelenskyy – who clearly has risen to the crisis as if born to this role  – have understandably continued to ask for imposition of a no-fly zone despite NATO’s sensible rejection of that plea.  Pres. Zelenskyy’s first duty is to his country and he is right to ask, although we can surmise he is fully aware that the refusal will not change.

But Pres. Zelenskyy has asked too for a second-best alternative: aircraft.  Ukraine needs fighter jets in order to continue contesting control of its air space.  To date Russia has not achieved air supremacy and maybe not even superiority.  But Ukraine’s air force is small; they will run out of aircraft.  Hence Zelenskyy’s imploring, cajoling, begging, demanding NATO to supply planes.

Poland has 29 MiG jet aircraft that are similar enough to Ukraine’s force that Ukrainian pilots can readily fly them.  Poland is willing to furnish these to Ukraine’s defense.  The US seemed to support this, agreeing in principle to refill Poland’s air force with US F-16s to replace the MiGs.

But to the extent giving Ukraine the aircraft posed a risk that Putin would claim this was an act of war and would retaliate, Poland would likely have been the sole target.  So Poland found a way to share that risk: it offered to send the MiG jets to the US base at Ramstein, Germany, for shipment to Ukraine.  The US would then arrange delivery. 

Poland’s offer to fly the planes into Ramstein appears to have caught the US unprepared, but it shouldn’t have – it’s a smart move by the Poles so they do not have to bear alone whatever the Russian reaction is.  Apparently, as long as the US thought it could push Poland alone out in front of the aircraft transfer, we were all for it.  Now that we would have an active role, we have blinked.  The Pentagon’s first public response was to say that the Polish plan is ‘not tenable’ but without saying why.  

We should put those jets where our mouth is and get them sent.  If Putin wants to consider furnishing war materiel an act of war against Russia, he can already do that based on all the weapons we have already sent.  There is no clear line between a jet airplane and a sophisticated, internally guided surface-to-air missile.  By contrast, there is a clear line between merely sending equipment and committing combat forces to the war, whether the latter are soldiers, pilots or sailors.  

Of course there would be logistical problems to overcome: The MiGs would have to be repainted with Ukrainian insignia rather than Polish or NATO’s. More important, the jets presumably would have to be flown into Ukraine by Ukrainian pilot, so those pilots first would have to be carried to Ramstein – or to any takeoff point.  Should they be flown into Ukraine armed (rather helpful if attacked) or unarmed (helpful politically)?  But these are not insurmountable.  

We can only hope that the US’s sudden hesitation, for fear of reprisal, was merely a reflex response of caution and that after a day or two’s consideration the move will be approved.  We cannot afford to let the risk of inciting Putin to recklessness deter us apart from our own rational appraisal of the actual risks.  So evaluate the actual risk: To date, Putin has not attacked any NATO state for supplying war materiel, including sophisticated weapons systems, to Ukraine. Aircraft – flown by Ukrainian pilots – are one more form of such materiel.  The risk is low and the benefit to the defense of Ukraine is great; this step should be taken.

But I am not optimistic about this.  We have blinked because we are now asked not to offload the full risk onto an ally. Supplying the jets was a fine idea so long as Poland did it, but we will not do it.  

If this aid refusal stands, it darkens the prospects for the final outcome.  Ukraine’s Zelenskyy can promise to fight to the end, “whatever the cost,” as he said in addressing the British Parliament today, using Churchill’s words.  But can Ukraine fight on if NATO support is withdrawn?  And it is foreseeable that, led by the US, NATO would withdraw support if Putin eventually proposes a division of Ukraine in exchange for cessation of all hostilities.  Russia would retain the areas it is about to subdue: the eastern provinces, the Azov and Black Sea coasts including Odessa, and the southern tier extending to Transnistria which already is separatist.  Putin likely would throw in safe passage for every Ukrainian in ‘his’ area to the free west and north parts of Ukraine; that would reduce the threat of continued insurgencies.

Peace is precious to Americans and such a proposal would be sickeningly welcomed.  President Biden and his advisors should reconsider their initial rejection of supplying jets to Ukraine; it betokens defeat.  And defeat will further embolden not only Putin but certain other, more powerful, players, with their own designs and plenty of money, plenty of people, and plenty of patience, to achieve them.

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Storm, about to Break

Usually it happens in the summer, and it is my favorite weather: the air has been heavy with humidity, and suddenly the breeze slips off to somewhere else.  There is stillness, as the birds disappear and the sky bruises toward darkness, orange or purple. You feel the gathering electricity.  You are aware, with certainty, of the massive forces around you, but they have not acted.  They are readying.  You know there will be lightning and thunderclaps, and soon a drenching rain, but not yet.  These moments are ominous; that is, filled with omens, portents.  Exciting, but scary too. 

And then it begins, in some tiny way: a gust of wind from a new direction, a distant rumble of thunder, or a single fat raindrop landing at your feet.  It’s time.  Let it come, for come it must.

That’s how I feel now, on the eve of the March 3rd primaries — Super Tuesday, so-called. The events of the past 48 hours in particular, from the time we knew the results of the South Carolina primary up to this Monday night, have been major. The last two days have, for many, rearranged a year’s worth of careful planning. But what has transpired over the past month is only prologue, only the gathering of the elemental forces. Now comes the storm.

Over-dramatic, I know. But a large question is looming. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, has established himself as front runner to be the Democratic nominee for president. He did this not only by essentially winning the first three contests – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada – but by raising $46 million in February, on top of some $132 million raised from 2019 through January 2020, enabling him to build the strongest nationwide network of local offices.

The commitment of Sanders’s followers and the breadth of the Democratic field, up until two days ago, raised the possibility that Bernie could replicate Donald Trump’s run to the Republican nomination in 2016, when Trump’s mainstream competitors split their support in an ultimately futile quest to be the last opponent standing against him. By the time that happened, it was too late.

Hence the significance of the last two days. South Carolina is only a single medium-sized state, and one uniquely favorable to Joe Biden at that, with a population heavily African-American, older than the average state, and moderate to conservative on the Democratic spectrum. But Biden’s big win there was a tipping point; it led his mainstream competitors Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar not merely to withdraw but to endorse him. This in turn restored Biden to his pre-primaries position as leading traditional Democrat. It should also permit clearer comparison of the respective positions of the remaining candidates.

And only now comes the delegate deluge. Just 155 delegates have been chosen. Tomorrow, 1,357 pledged delegates will be chosen (once all the counting is done). By the end of April, almost all the rest will be awarded. A first-ballot win requires 1,991 pledged delegates.

Time now, therefore, to look at numbers. The first fact is surprising: withdrawal of candidates Buttigieg and Klobuchar (and Tom Steyer, and Andrew Yang) has reduced the likelihood that any candidate will achieve a first-ballot majority of pledged delegates. How can this be? Fewer candidates should mean that one of the survivors will win a majority.

The answer is that the Democrats in their wisdom decreed a 15% threshold for gaining delegates: if a candidate fails to get at least 15% of the vote (statewide or in a particular district), the candidate gets no delegates. With more candidates, there was a better chance that only one or two would clear the 15% hurdle. Now with just four major candidates (Sanders, Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg) chances are better that three or all four could exceed 15% and win bunches of delegates. For example, in California, the largest prize by far, guesstimates show both Warren (17%) and Bloomberg (15%) now winning delegates, where they were projected to fall just short prior to the narrowing of the field.

Over the next two months, unless Warren or Bloomberg, or both, drop out, they are likely to accumulate over 300 delegates between them. Neither seems remotely inclined to withdraw. Warren has been successful at fund-raising thus far, and Bloomberg is just warming up his checkbook. Certainly that could change. Bloomberg is a practical businessman and if he became convinced that his efforts were hopeless and were promoting a Sanders victory, he probably would withdraw; he clearly prefers Biden to Sanders. But he may well come out of Super Tuesday with more delegates at least than Warren and be encouraged enough to continue.

Warren’s desires are less clear. If she is not the nominee, does she care whether it’s Sanders or Biden? Her healthcare plan aligns with that of Sanders, as does much of her rhetoric, and she has not much attacked Sanders in debates. But if she is thinking she might be a compromise choice between Sanders and Biden, uniting the two wings, that seems far-fetched. For the time being she may believe she will pick up most Klobuchar supporters as the ‘women’s vote.’ I do not believe there is such a thing as the women’s vote, as a national block.

Time for predictions. All four candidates will get delegates out of California. Statewide popular vote (which will take several days to count, with all those mailed-in ballots): Sanders 37%, Biden 24%, and the other two just over 15% each. More importantly, Sanders will get fewer than 100 delegates more than Biden, from California. That lead will not be insurmountable.

The other big prize Tuesday is Texas. Call that one even, at 30% each for Biden and Sanders, Bloomberg crossing the 15% hurdle by a bit but Warren just below it.

Overall for Tuesday, Sanders will top 500 delegates by a bit, with Biden around 420-450, Bloomberg 200 and Warren 170.

Looking ahead, on March 17 Florida, Illinois and Ohio vote; Biden should narrowly win the day boosted by a strong Florida plurality. And on April 28, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware vote — it is possible that Biden could sweep them. And he probably will have to.

All this would be quite entertaining if it weren’t so important. I know the country has been polarized, pretty evenly, for years. I regularly watch both MSNBC and Fox News; I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (and the Washington Examiner, further right) . The two broad groups perceive utterly different realities, as delivered via TV, talk radio and social media, and they rarely talk with each other. But what worries me even more is the growing gulf between those (relatively) supportive of the America we live in, with all its faults, and those who feel angry, abandoned, convinced the system is fundamentally against them. This is not a liberal-conservative split. The disaffecteds elected Trump in 2016 to break the furniture. Not satisfied with the results, many of them now can be found at Sanders rallies.

In 2016 many Democrats were pleased when the Republicans nominated Trump; surely this buffoon could not be elected. Currently, many Republicans are gleeful over the rise of Bernie Sanders; America would never elect a socialist!

Good people in both parties better take a look at the mob that is forming, some from the ranks of their own party, some of the other — a mob that listens only to promises and accusations, that demands to be fed and funded and will not be appeased. Summer is coming, and a storm.

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Primary Day!

Tuesday, February 11th – the day of reckoning is here! I’m writing this about 4 pm, with the polls still open. Maybe I’ll drop in to the nearest one (there is a convenient list online) and ask the workers about turnout.  Something we top=notch political reporters do, all the time – because everybody knows turnout is crucial. 

I suppose it is, if one candidate is especially popular among people who are, relatively speaking, less likely to vote.  That means Bernie, champion of the young and the disaffected. I think. Later, in other states, it might mean Joe Biden, popular among black voters. I don’t think any of the others has a special cadre of support that would be distinctively affected by turnout. Women, for example, who I think vote at about the same rate as men. Or liberal voters… oh sorry, they’re all liberals.

As long as I’m here, I should write down my guess like everybody else, for the record. I assume no one among my (millions of) readers reads this blog for its acute political analysis or breathtaking command of voter trends. So I’ve got nothing to lose. But maybe I’ll hit it just right and folks will be amazed! (Did you know that Yankees manager Aaron Boone actually predicted the score of this year’s Super Bowl, exactly? Wow! But not really wow – thousands of prominent people of all stripes ventured predictions; probability says that one, or a few, are likely to nail it.)

So here goes. New Hampshire is next door to Vermont, and folks have known Bernie Sanders for a long time. And he ran four years ago and won here, got 60% of the vote. Massachusetts is next door too, but I don’t sense New Hampshirites adopting Elizabeth Warren as an almost native daughter the same way.

Amy Klobuchar had a very good debate showing last week (people said). And Pete Buttigieg is a good campaigner and personally appealing. Joe Biden, for all I loved him in his town hall appearance, did not have a huge cheering section at the Shaheen Dinner. Andrew Yang is a blast, so much fun, but is going to attract only those who are impractical enough to vote for the guy they actually like best even if he can’t win. In New Hampshire, that is pretty many people though. Tom Steyer is sound and fury signifying nothing. Tulsi Gabbard and Deval Patrick seem to be treading water without much support, and Michael Bennet is under water.

Distilling all that wisdom: Let’s say Bernie wins at 26%, with Pete a solid second, 22%, then Klobuchar, Warren and Biden battling for third; Klobuchar has the momentum and takes third with 15%, Warren 13% and Biden 12%. By my math that leaves 12% to divide among five others. (Votes for Bloomberg, not campaigning here, will be negligible.) Say that Yang ‘wins’ the also-rans, with 4%. Gabbard, Patrick, maybe 3% each, and Bennet and Steyer around 1%. each.

There you have it! What prize do I get? More important, what prize does the winner, or top finishers, get in real terms? Not much, I’d say. Unless there is some marked departure from the rough expectations, New Hampshire likely has little effect on what follows; South Carolina and Nevada are so different from this state that success here does not spell success there. And Super Tuesday looms, when Bloomberg might possibly be a factor (though I doubt his national appeal).

But that is not to say this place is unimportant. For one thing, it may narrow the field as the laggards realize their campaigns have no legs, and drop out. For another, New Hampshire hones the campaigning skills of those who will go on. They have had to face real people with real questions, and decide whether to give real answers. And, for the real ones, how to tighten up the wording of their answers.

For that, we all owe the people of New Hampshire. We owe them big time. This place is where folks expect to have met each candidate personally, and more than once too. A place where a candidate may lie to you, but has to look you in the eye to do it.

That matters.

I don’t want presidential campaigns waged only on tv, through social media, or at 10,000-seat rallies. If in theory all politics is local and all politics is personal, then this little, unimportant state makes that so in fact. For a week, these would-be world leaders have to stand up and face a question from a kid about plastic bags, or from a guy who’s just lost his job, or a veteran in a wheelchair, or an immigrant who is proud she has just become a citizen.

Everyone should come see this happen and be part of it. Especially Americans.

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Warren Report

It’s Monday, February 10th. One day before the primary. One more day to reach the voters, shake the hands, snap the pictures, wave the signs. The end is nigh. For me, one more drive to make, to join a crowd of people who fall mostly into two camps: devoted followers coming to cheer, or undecideds coming to judge.  One more candidate.  Today I’ll see Elizabeth Warren up close; I’m still not sure what makes her tick.

First, however, lunch. I walk down to the Red Arrow for lunch. There is a line stretching slightly out the door. There’s a Manchester cop helpfully directing people in and out, keeping them from blocking the doorway. Sirius XM Radio has commandeered one corner of the small place from which to broadcast – the front windows are covered with a big Sirius sign advertising the fact – so the scanty seating has been further reduced. Still, things move pretty quickly for someone just needing one seat, and soon I’m on a stool at the counter.

A group to my left finishes and leaves, and a group of four young men who’d been waiting some time sit down. I listen idly to their talk as I await my turkey club sandwich. Have I mentioned that this is the only diner I’ve been to where, ordering a turkey club, you are asked if you’d like white meat, dark meat or a mixture? Makes all the difference, to some of us. I get a mixture.

I hear a familiar phrase and turn to my left. Did one of these boys say ‘Mamaroneck’? Yes, serendipity has struck again. These four are part of the Mamaroneck High School contingent visiting the primary for a few days to soak up democracy in action. Their teacher, who runs the program, is Mr. Liberti; I believe the class is AP History. (In my 2016 sojourn here I’d actually dropped in on Mr. Liberti and his group at a neighboring motel, hoping to exchange stories or interview some kids, but I must say the teachers were less than wildly welcoming. No worries; I can understand that when chaperoning a large group of kids, it’s highly inconvenient to entertain visitors.)

So here are four who have temporarily spun off from the group to visit the famous Red Arrow. They advise they were given leave for the moment to do that. We talk a bit about what’s on the agenda. They are going to visit a news operation – CBS I think – and I am headed to Portsmouth for a Warren rally. All are MHS seniors and feel lucky their senior year coincides with the presidential primary. They consent to my naming them: they are Mohamed Flitti, Zisis Zias, Iain McLaren, and Andrew Basta (I apologize if I’ve got spellings wrong). As they admit to the waitress that they are first-time visitors to the Arrow, they get the traditional bell-ringing, hand-clapping treatment by the place, and get stickers saying they have been ‘de-virginized,’ all in good fun. This diner really is a little community – enough regulars to provide continuity and play off all the visitors from wherever.

I’m amused that the boys readily agree to try some cream pies – half slices each so they can each try two – before they get into their burgers and such. Ah, youth.

Late afternoon I drive to Portsmouth and find the South Church, and duly take my place in the queue outside. We will wait about 45 minutes for the doors to open, and no one is complaining. The two young women in line behind me are going to college in Massachusetts but are more connected to California – they will vote there. They attend the Olin College of Engineering and I can tell they are refreshingly smart, despite the occasional phrasings that make today’s college women sound to my ears like complete ditzes (“We are actually going to see her! This is so cool!”) A Warren volunteer comes along, signing in everyone (via a phone text; he shows me how to do it) and asking for poll workers for tomorrow. We all make our excuses without guilt because we don’t live here. The volunteer asks if we have any questions for him, and one of the girls asks “So… why Warren?” which is as succinct a call for justification as I’ve heard all week. For a moment it takes the worker aback. Then he says “I really like her policies,” or words to that effect, but he doesn’t specify any, or why.

We all get inside (or almost all; I learn later about 150 people are overflow and are sent to the basement to watch the event via closed circuit tv). The church looks from outside like an old, slightly decrepit survivor, all dark brown weathered stone and no ornamentation. Inside, it is dazzling, a majestic space that looks freshly painted in wondrous tones of pink, beige, peach. A grand proscenium up front, but no crosses or altar. It’s a Unitarian church, which I think is a house of moral uplift and organizer of public philanthropy for almost-atheists. The stage, or whatever, is set with a big Warren banner flanked by American flags.

Stage-lit South Church, Portsmouth, NH, setting for Warren rally February 10

The crowd, about 400 in the sanctuary, gets to hear an intro from a former Speaker of the New Hampshire state senate, who praises Warren as a fighter.

Warren enters to a standing ovation. She gets a big cheer by asking, “Isn’t it time for a president who likes dogs?” In fact, Warren’s dog Bailey is here – a lovely golden retriever, handled by Warren’s son. Warren tells us that later we can take selfies with Bailey, who is very good at that.

She recounts that she is used to winning unwinnable fights. She wanted to be a public school teacher since second grade. (I expect the “public” is a later political addition to the little girl’s original dream.) Her parents, “a janitor and a minimum-wage worker at Sears” did not view college as within reach for any of the family, but Elizabeth found schools that might give scholarships for debating (“I don’t do sports. Or music”) and used her baby-sitting money for the application fee. Eventually she made it to her “dream job” as a special education teacher.

The transition from that to financial regulation and later, government positions is unclear to me, and not addressed in the speech. But she gets a big hand as always with the story of Mitch McConnell’s remark “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The country has deep problems, she says. It works better and better for a small group at the top, not for the rest. It works great for giant drug companies, for private detention centers near our borders, for oil companies but not those of us worried about climate change.

Sen. Warren speaking in Portsmouth, Feb. 10. Gesturing to her left.

The speech is heavily slogans and imperatives. “We can’t nibble — it’s gonna take some big structural changes.” Some of it, to me, doesn’t quite parse: “When the system works for a few and not everybody else, that is corruption pure and simple.” No, I don’t think so. Corruption needs an element of self-profit, I think. Not that we don’t have that too. But what she describes might just be unregulated capitalism. I hope she doesn’t consider them synonymous.

She takes questions from the audience, but with a different method: people who want to ask questions get little lottery tickets, and Warren’s introducer pulled five numbers out of a bucket – those with the winning tickets get to ask their questions. It’s democratic and random, but it’s less spontaneous. And it lets everybody know in advance that she will be taking only five questions; no hopeful hands will go up.

Q1 concerned the boycott of Israel, and Democratic candidates’ failure to censure a congressperson from Michigan who is anti-Israel. Warren answers that ‘We – they all – are looking for peace. Peace for Israel and self-determination and dignity for Palestinians.’ We must encourage them to negotiate for a lasting peace. Trump is too close to Benjamin Netanyahu, has moved him in directions ‘not conducive to peace.’ We should not have a thumb on the scale. Warren says ‘I don’t support the boycott, but I don’t support anti-boycott legislation as I believe it infringes the First Amendment.’ (No mention of Congresswoman Tlaib.)

Q2 asks about student loan debt and especially relief for the parents who (also) assume such debt. Warrren says parents are included in her student loan bill package.

Q3 is about personal family leave, for part-time employees and people who own their own businesses. Warren says she asked Kirsten Gillibrand if she could take her plan after Gillibrand dropped out, and she’s adopted it. Likewise, she added Kamala Harris’s reproductive rights plan to her own platform. Look on her website for family leave provisions. (To me, it’s a factually correct answer, but unsatisfactory for a town hall setting.)

Q4 Asks for Warren’s plan to end Wall Street corruption and eliminate or deal with household debt that is in private hands. Warren says we need regulators who believe they serve interests of the customers, not the banks. Protect the consumer. “It’s time to admit trickle-down economics just doesn’t work.” For 40 years, GDP and the stock markets have gone up, but all that wealth has been soaked up to the top. Wages have been flat, adjusted for inflation. And the cost of housing, healthcare, education is all through the roof. So families build up debt. “It’s time for a wealth tax in America – 2% on wealth over $50 million; 3% on wealth over [some higher figure: $1 billion?]. She says, “It’s a property tax, but not just on the house, it’s on the diamonds, the Rembrandt and the yacht.” Because ‘when you made it big, you used people we all paid in part to educate; used roads and bridges we all paid for; police and fire we all paid for. So when you make it really big, chip in two cents of each dollar.” This gets a standing ovation.

Now, for me, it’s been a productive campaign event: I detest Donald Trump as president and am willing to bend a lot of political positions to see him out of office, but Warren has confirmed she is a bridge too far for me. Several bridges, yachts, and Rembrandts too far. Not that I have any of those things. But I evidently see the country oppositely from her. I am unwilling to put America in the hands of Elizabeth or, for that matter, Bernie. (Bernie at least is lovable.)

Q5 asks how to fix a system where the popular vote is overturned by the Electoral College. Warren answers “I want to get rid of the Electoral College.” And more: We need a constitutional amendment to protect the right of every citizen to vote and to count that vote. And a law to outlaw political gerrymandering. And we need to overturn Citizens United. “This is no time for small ideas. This is the time for Big Structural Change.” The crowd is on its feet again, screaming approval.

Well, that clinches it. I may be the last remaining person in the country who likes the Electoral College, which forces candidates to win states, not just people. Racking up 90% of the vote in California and New York (or Texas and Florida) isn’t enough, and shouldn’t be. And don’t get me started on Citizens United.

Afterwards, as is her tradition, Warren poses for selfies with all who want to. It takes a while, even though her staff by now are a well-oiled machine moving the people through. I question the political value of it – her time could be better spent squeezing in an extra appearance each day. A photo with her hardly cements anyone’s vote; it’s just a souvenir. Take me, for instance:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren meets the loyal opposition

As I drive back in darkness to Manchester I am reminded that a ‘huge’ Trump rally is about to take place there. In fact, as I drove east to Portsmouth for the Warren event, I saw – on the other side of the divided highway – a convoy of police cars, blue lights flashing, followed by a large bus labeled TRUMP – PENCE. Then more police cars; even some parked on the overpasses, keeping watch.

Sen. Warren was right about one thing: she said “They’ve got lots of money and power, but we have our voices and votes.” Amen to that. She also said “And there are a lot more of us.” That’s the real question for tomorrow, isn’t it? First, who has more, among this gaggle of Democrats? And then second, in November… but first things first. Because the answer to the second will depend in large part upon who wins the first.

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A Day with Joe

Sunday morning I woke up about 9:30 after a good nine hours’ sleep. My first and only event today is a Biden rally scheduled to open at 3:15. Anyone who knows me well can surmise what I did next: rolled over and went back to sleep. If I’m not going to church, why be up at 9:30 on a Sunday morning?  I next awoke at 11, which was better.

I did some writing and soon it was time to go. The event was at Alvirne High School, in Hudson, a half hour’s drive; the school was easy enough to find and had plenty of parking. The rally was in the main gym. Despite my being on time, it was already full of people on chairs surrounding a square speaking area, with more standing in the wedge areas between the four seated sections. It’s a big crowd. (I checked the occupancy sign that’s always present someplace in a public space like this, and it said the capacity for people in seats on the gym floor is 1,350.) I stood, and wiggled my way forward. The cameras and press, on a slightly raised platform, were arrayed behind the main seating section, facing the podium.

Media presence for Joe Biden’s town hall on Feb. 9

The warmup music included Sly’s “Everyday People,” the Supremes’ “Keep Me Hangin’ On,” and Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own.” (I’m sure that somewhere in this great land, a grad student in Political Science is doing a Ph.D. thesis analyzing candidates’ walk-on and exit songs.)

Biden is introduced by Michelle O’Leary, a school psychologist whose son, then 4, had a seizure later found to be the onset of Batten disease, an extremely rare neurological disease with a bleak prognosis. He received a drug that was in clinical trials. He’s now the first kid in the country with this disease to still be walking and talking on his own, at the age of 10.

It is a heart-rending and inspiring story, although its connection to Biden is not explicit. Presumably, the Affordable Care Act helps people pay for drugs they otherwise couldn’t afford (such as after a clinical trial ends in approval); more generally, Joe too has endured heartbreaking losses and cares about people like this, with stories like this.

Joe then enters to huge applause and hugs Michelle. The start of his speech reinforced my concerns from seeing Biden on tv, as it was absolutely conventional: “Hello hello hello hello hello. It’s great to be in Hudson.”

But then, speaking conversationally, he builds onto Michelle’s story with his own, about getting the diagnosis on his son Beau, and being told by the cancer doctor that all he could do was to “Go home and love him.” The doctor asked Biden what Beau had planned to do and Joe had replied, “He was going to run for governor.” The doctor said, “Let him run. There’s always hope.” That didn’t pan out for Beau but might for Mrs. O’Leary’s son and others.

Biden had brought notes with him but they are sitting on the lectern as he walks around, holding a long conversation with the various sides of the audience. He relates how people come up to him; how a man at one rally had nervously asked to speak with him, how they spoke afterwards and the man said he had lost his job. Joe talks about the day his own father told him and the family that he had lost his job and they would have to move (from Scranton PA to Delaware, where there were more jobs) but his dad had said, “It’s going to be okay.” Biden says he’s worried that today, families in that position don’t believe that it’s going to be okay; that the faith and optimism are gone.

He switches to the story of a woman from Hudson who’d been abused and battered at home. He says the Violence Against Women Act must be re-authorized, but it’s on Mitch McConnell’s desk, because of a new provision that would bar abusive husbands, fathers or boyfriends from being gun owners. At this point, Biden suddenly raises his voice – he’s yelling: “It’s WRONG. Trump is owned by the NRA. It can’t pass.”

He does the same with his story of people lined up to get boxes of food on a freezing day. He yells “What is happening to us? This is the United States of America!” I’ve heard the story before from him, but more in sadness than anger. Though I’m sure the anger and shouting are scripted, they still make an impression.

He is still worked up, talking about white supremacists and how Trump later said “There are very fine people on both sides.” Biden concludes that “This election, America’s character is on the ballot.” His ending is beautiful: “I’ve lost a lot in my life. Lost my wife and daughter in a car accident. Lost my son to cancer — but I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose my country. It will not happen.” You can imagine the applause.

Then he invites questions. Hands go up, he calls on people. All told, he takes at least a dozen questions – two or three times what I’ve seen other candidates take. And his answers are long, with stories and digressions: this man can talk and loves to talk. But he never got lost; the digressions were always brought back to reflect on the original question. He is in his element, not only getting to hold an extended conversation with a thousand people, but displaying depth (backgrounds of bills, US history, empathy) and breadth (familiarity with foreign rulers, areas of the US, demographics).

Joe Biden talks to the crowd at Alvirne High School, Hudson, NH, on Feb. 9

A few of the Q and A:

Q1: A woman says “I love you but I’m undecided.” Biden says, “You sound like my old girlfriend.” She has concerns about electability; Biden says “If I am the nominee, I will beat him.” “Could you put a dream team together? any thoughts of people for vice president, defense, commerce?” All he can say now is, “my administration will look like the country.”

Q2: About gun violence. Biden’s answer is good, by starting off saying “I own two shotguns.” He shoots skeet, and plenty of people hunt. They’re not the problem. The Second Amendment is not absolute; no amendment is. You don’t get to own a tank or a bazooka. No one should have an assault weapon, and no one needs a magazine with 30, 40, 50 rounds in it.

Q3: Man starts off “I’m 92 years old.” Biden says “Let me see your license; I don’t believe you.” Man says “I haven’t got one.” We’re all laughing. The man is worried about erosion of constitutional checks and balances. Biden says “I taught constitutional law for 22 years.” Gives a mini-lecture on the three branches, says this president has clearly overreached more than any modern president; “that’s not hyperbole, that’s fact.” Proud of his service in the senate, but “we don’t have a lot of Warren Rudmans any more, or Dick Lugars.” And goes into judicial appointments – his test would be whether a judge believes there are unenumerated constitutional rights. The Ninth Amendment says yes. Ends with “So we have to take back the Senate too.”

Q4: From a boy of 8 or 10: what to do about all the plastic going into the ocean; fish eat it, it kills them. Biden says we need a deposit on plastic bottles; federal. He did the coastal protection act when he was in the Senate. Climate change is the most important global issue we face.

Q5: How quickly can you undo all that Donald Trump has done? Biden says if it’s executive orders, I can undo them on the first day.

Q6: A woman who leans toward Buttigieg asks about plans to help Puerto Rico, because no candidates are talking about it. Biden says he’s been there many times, as Puerto Rico is in the same judicial circuit (the 3d) as Delaware. And his wife headed up the Save The Children operation there following the hurricane. Largest Hispanic population in Delaware is from there. But Trump doesn’t even know that Puerto Ricans are citizens.

Q6: Questioner urges Biden to pick someone from the top five candidates to be his running mate. Biden says his criteria are that it be someone younger than he, ready to be president on Day One, and with views similar to his. For example, no Medicare for All – too expensive. He says it would be presumptuous to name names, but “there are a number of people who I am simpatico with” like one “from Indiana.” But “I’m going to get in trouble if I say any more.” Also, among those who have already dropped out, potential cabinet members or national security heads. (Have we heard news here? Biden thinking of Pete for veep?)

Q7: An elderly woman in first row says “You would make America proud again.” Biden gives her cheek a kiss, poses with her for a photo.

Q8: Drill in the arctic refuge? Biden is “totally opposed to it.” Thinks he’s the only candidate who has actually been there (went after the oil spill). And no more drilling on federal lands, at all.

Q9: How to restore the US’s image across the world? Biden says on Day One, president has to be able to deal with international matters; no on-the-job training. I was chair of the Foreign Relations Committee; one reason that Barack Obama picked me. I know Putin; I know Xi Jinping. All politics is personal, and foreign policy is personal too. I’d tell NATO on Day One, “we’re back.” Must uphold Article 5. NATO is not a protection racket where we threaten our allies for money. Erdogan in Turkey has become an autocrat. I know Abe in Japan, need to restore the alliance between Japan and South Korea. We shouldn’t have withdrawn 5,000 special forces from support of the Kurds. “He [Trump] doesn’t have any idea of strategic thinking.” Notably absent from Biden’s answer is any popular promise about bringing troops home or staying out of wars. Maybe he just hadn’t got to those points yet, but his choice at least to cite other things first is encouraging to me.

Q10: A woman who is on the autism spectrum – what will you do for people with disabilities? And thank you for the ACA and mortgage lending bill. Biden says extend ACA, with a public option, and it will provide that there is no difference between physical and mental illnesses; there is no shame in mental illness. I check the troops update every day. 6,905 killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And 22 US service vets commit suicide every day. [Arthur’s note: that figure included active duty plus vets. Current figures are 16.8 vets and over 3 active duty – still bad.] And Biden says he will propose to fund the Disabilities Act completely – cost, $45 billion.

I am impressed, and revise my view, mostly from the debate, that he had lost a step. If my choice is between Biden and Trump, I believe Biden will do less harm to the country’s interests.

As he finishes, one of two young women standing in front of me turns around and recognizes me. Can this be? We say hello – again. Diligent blog readers might remember (from the “Team Bernie” post) that two days ago – Friday night – I met several Europeans at the Red Arrow Diner, including Celia from France and Giovanna from Italy. And here they are at the Biden event. My quick photo is unflattering but serves the documentary purpose:

Celia at left, me looking dopey, and Giovanna at right

From here, they are headed back to DC and Brookings. I am headed back to Manchester, amazed once again at how paths intersect.

I bet this doesn’t happen in Iowa.

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The Party Throws a Party

The annual McIntyre Shaheen Dinner of the New Hampshire Democratic Party is, according to the Boston Globe, generally a relatively calm affair. I’d say it usually draws a couple hundred party bigwigs and donors for a sit-down dinner where accomplishments are shared, mutual gratitude is expressed and, when necessary, plans are made to expunge Republicans from the state’s body politic.

Every four years, however, the event is bigger and noisier as primary fever takes hold. And in those years when the Dems’ presidential nomination is truly up for grabs, the Shaheen Dinner is bedlam. It is held, fittingly, in the (hockey) arena of Southern New Hampshire U, in downtown Manchester, 25 minutes’ walk from my lodgings. It is the only event here I’d needed to purchase a ticket for. I had bought a ticket in advance — $20 general admission — as it was expected to sell out.

I’d returned from the Sanders town hall in time to wash up and change, but still had not eaten anything today. I eyed the field of round tables on the main floor with white tablecloths, floral centerpieces, and waiters scurrying to and fro with laden trays. Also on the main floor, I noted enviously, was a long bar with a squadron of industrious bartenders. Best not to think of it. But the outer hall walkway surrounding the tier of the arena held concession stands, so all was not lost.

The outer hall was jammed too with all manner of tables, booths and exhibits put up by the campaigns of the various candidates. A photo booth for Buttigieg, literature from the teachers’ union, a guy advocating legalization of heroin (sure, why not?), a table of Warren paraphernalia, a life-size upright cardboard photo of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to stand next to for selfies (yes, she is really short), Sanders supporters handing out light-up red Bernie signs, tables of 20-somethings fighting climate change, fighting sexism, getting out the vote, enlisting counters for the census; all of them yammering, greeting friends, plotting next steps, barking at passers by; it was a souk of social causes. It was glorious.

It was also confusing to one who didn’t know the drill. The long oval hall surrounding the inner seating area had gateways every twenty feet or so, marked with the numbers of the sections they led to. Some of these entry ways seemed to be guarded by professionals, like a man with a CBS logo on his shirt; that entry was next to the door of a suite labeled ‘CBS party.’ Others were more loosely watched over by campaign volunteers. I went down a couple of these gates into the arena and surveyed the seats: all full. Finally I asked an arena guard where the plain old general admission seats were. He said I could (in theory) sit anywhere in this main level, above the arena floor, but in practice the candidates’ staffs always grab territories for their volunteers and supporters. Did I have a candidate? I told him I liked Buttigieg and he looked at a little list he had. I could see the candidates’ names written with numbers next to them. “Looks like he’s got sections 112 to 119.” He told me to watch the numbers over the entryways, and pointed me in the right direction.

Even at that, the first couple of sections I entered were full. I finally found a Pete section with some seats remaining in a couple of rows, and moved in. Everybody was friendly. Almost all of them had on yellow Pete 2020 t-shirts. Where do you get those? At the Pete table outside, couple of sections down. I parked my coat and gloves and notebook, then excused my way back to the aisle to get a t-shirt and some food.

Pete must have been doing well (or the staff had planned poorly), because they were all out of t-shirts. The girl behind the table said they were getting more in and would bring them through the rows for those who hadn’t got one. (This ultimately didn’t happen.) I had more luck at the concession stand: two hot dogs, some french fries, and a large Coke, for $19.75. Better prices than Yankee Stadium, although the hot dogs weren’t as good, and the ketchup tasted funny to me, clearly some brand I didn’t know.

I got back to my seat and ate – with brief interruptions to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and for the national anthem, sung by the New Hampshire Gay Men’s Chorus.

The place was full, and deafening. Different candidates’ sections would chant in competition with each other, or blow horns, or – we in the Pete section – rattle our plastic hand-rattlers.

The stage was a raised square in the center of the main floor, with a walkway leading to it. We in Buttigieg country were pretty lucky as we more or less faced the stage, at an angle; the Bernie camp was behind the stage on one side of the walkway entrance, and the Warren camp behind the stage on the other side.

Every now and then a big roar would go up when one or another candidate would emerge at the top of his or her sections to inspire the faithful. Pete did this, and we yelled. Elizabeth Warren did it too, across the way, and her sections erupted.

The program began with a welcome from Manchester’s mayor – she’s evidently a Democrat – and the party’s chair. Soon after, one of New Hampshire’s senators, Maggie Hassan, came out to big cheers. She said some hellos to celebs in the crowd, including Michael J. Fox. Then the star of the show, the Granite State’s senior senator Jeanne Shaheen came out to Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” and the whole place went wild. And it was time for the candidates.

Pete Buttigieg actually went first, and gave a good but not great speech. (Each would have ten minutes.) In one of his lines, to the effect that we must not further divide ourselves in our fight with the ‘divider-in-chief,’ he said we cannot go around saying that if you’re not a revolutionary then you are just for the status quo. This drew yells from Bernie land, although I couldn’t tell whether they were yelling in favor of revolution or in opposition to being accused of demanding that dichotomy.

Between speeches I asked the woman next to me, a labor lawyer from Alaska who represents the firefighters union, whether she thought it was good to go first, or last. She thought that was an interesting question, but that was as far as we got. It wasn’t a setting for a lot of conversation.

Amy Klobuchar followed, and got emotional mileage out of her FDR story, which I’d heard before, about the reporter asking a man crying as FDR’s funeral train went by, whether he had known the president. “No,” said the man, “but he knew me.” Klobuchar said Trump has no empathy, and roused the crowd with her peroration, “If you have to choose between nursing care for your aging parents and child care for your kids, I know you … if you have to choose between filling a prescription and buying groceries, I know you” and so on, “and I will fight for you.”

Joe Biden was next. His speech was more rambling, and he brought notes up to the podium, which neither Pete nor Amy had done, although he did not often look at them. He did get the applause of the entire crowd with his finish that “We must defeat Donald Trump.”

Andrew Yang then strode out, tieless as usual, and did some arithmetic, saying (presumably because of the Electoral College) that “each New Hampshirite is worth one thousand Californians.” I trust he was joking; it’s a wild exaggeration. He said we need to change how we view people; our economic view won’t work as “the net [economic] value of a mom raising kids at home is zero; the value of a community volunteer is zero; the value of artists – sorry, artists – is zero.” He even finished with a joke of sorts: “I am the ideal choice because the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.” It’s clear he’s having a great time campaigning.

Tom Steyer followed and blistered the hall with an aggressive address. There is no point just trying to be nicer guys than the Republicans; to defeat Trump “we have to kick his ass on the economy.”

Elizabeth Warren walked on to huge cheers from her camp, which is large. Her entrance song is “9 to 5” of course. She said she’s been “winning unwinnable fights pretty much all my life.” And “This is our moment.” She waved vigorously to all corners of the arena, and busted a couple of (brief) dance moves as she exited – to the song “RESPECT.” She’s very animated — looks like her advisers have told her to show she’s got more stamina than Joe or Bernie.

It’s hard to capture the scene in a photo, since all of it was loud, and so much of it involved movement of signs and lights, but here’s a picture I took while Warren was speaking:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses the crowd at the McIntyre Shaheen Dinner, Feb. 8

Bernie went next, to rapturous cries from his sections. He brought notes with him, which he checked a couple of times. He showed some dry humor in observing up front that “I detect differences of opinion” in the hall. He asserted that “four years ago it was ‘radical’ to urge a $15 an hour minimum wage” and “radical” to propose free public college tuition, or to say that “healthcare is a human right,” but these are not radical positions any more. He left to “Takin’ It to The Streets.”

Deval Patrick followed. He said that usually in our country, hatred shouts but kindness is only whispered. His imperative was that now is the time to “Shout kindness.”

By the time the next candidate, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, took the stage, many in the crowd were starting to leave. To my ears, Bennet does not have a commanding speaking voice. He had little following in the arena.

The final speaker was Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. I felt a bit sorry for her, and for Bennet, as they need a boost here to continue their candidacies but were speaking to a half-empty hall. She joked that the organizers had ‘saved the best for last.’ She did not seem a vibrant speaker, and I exited during her speech.

The hot dogs seemed rather a distant memory by now, and breaking up the cold walk home was a good idea, so I stopped at the Red Arrow for dessert: apple pie (warmed, but no ice cream) and coffee. I had my big Pete 2020 sign with me and leaned it against the back wall in hopes no one would step on it. I sat next to three guys visiting from Italy (Manchester is very cosmopolitan this week) and talked with the one next to me. His name is Gaetano diTomasso, and he is a history and politics student. He’s going to a Biden town hall tomorrow that’s on my schedule too, so I might see him there. I described the wild gala I’d seen tonight.

And I remembered what Jeanne Shaheen had said this evening about New Hampshire’s event: “This is how we do democracy.”

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Bernie’s Town Hall

I drove from the Law Forum in Concord about 40 miles east to Rochester, New Hampshire, for a Bernie Sanders town hall I had signed up for.  The event was scheduled for 1:30 but the online notice said the doors would open at 12:30.  This was the usual sort of timing, but I knew from a 2016 experience that if I wasn’t in line by noon latest I probably would not get in.  Bernie’s events are always jammed, and if primaries were decided by enthusiasm he would win.  As in fact I expect he will.

His event was to be in the Rochester Opera House. I found it and got in line outside to wait. The Opera House, which now is used as city hall but still doubles as an events and concerts space, is a pretty building. The crowd in line, despite frigid temps, was festive and was continually harangued in friendly fashion by hawkers of Bernie gear: hats, t-shirts, buttons, scarves, walking sticks (yes, really), and large photos of Bernie’s face. It remains unclear to me whether all this is connected with and benefits the campaign, or if some is the fruit of entrepreneurs sensing a market. If the latter, they seem to coexist peaceably with the actual campaign.

Forward end of the queue at Rochester Opera House; note Bernie gear on tables

We enjoyed the sun, which felt warm whenever the wind stopped. I watched the gamboling of the young black lab – far left in the photo – that belonged to a Bernie worker from Chicago. He told me he writes a blog too, just started last week; his wife told him to write so he would stop screaming at the tv. He said it works.

Oddly enough, I did not get interviewed while waiting in line. I was asked once, but they were only looking for New Hampshirites and contented themselves with the mother and small son immediately behind me. I was however approached by a pretty, dark-haired girl who asked if she could photograph me; obviously not a media pro because they don’t ask. I graciously assented. She was Meredith something (Mullaney? started with an M) and is a student in journalism at Northeastern.

The doors really did open at 12:30 and we inched our way in. Security volunteers would not let me take in my notebook — “because you could make a sign” (presumably some vile anti-Bernie sign). Being the resourceful type I am, I backed off the line for a bit, tore out one sheet from my spiral book, and stuffed it in my pocket for possible use. Back in line, I handed over the notebook after getting their assurance I could pick it up at this table after the event. (I fretted about that, but afterwards they did have a table full of people’s stuff, mostly water bottles, and my book was there.)

I found a seat on the aisle. The rest of the row filled up with groups of people but the single seat next to me remained open, until a lady came along and asked if it was available. She sat and we talked; she’d just retired a few months ago and was having second thoughts; she’d done all the projects around the house that she had planned and now felt a bit purposeless. I think her business had been high-end furniture or furnishings. Her kids were out on their own lives – I mentioned mine and we found a Maine connection – and she said once the kids go, you get dogs and cats. Well she had me there; one dog and two cats to confess. But happily retired.

A woman came over to interview us but spoke mostly to my neighbor once she learned I was not from New Hampshire. The interviewer asked our names and our ages. I gave mine but told my row-mate that she did not have to disclose her age (suave, right?) and she laughed and said she didn’t mind. So I got to briefly know Terri Mullins, who is 65, and who looks a lot like Glenn Close, though I didn’t say that to her.

Bernie was again preceded by Michael Moore, which was fun; Moore gave a great impression of the young Bernie at an actual 1963 civil rights protest in which Sanders was arrested — “You’re not taking me!” or some such — exactly mimicking Bernie’s present voice; Moore adding “He probably didn’t sound like that in college though.”

Sanders gave a strong, even impassioned, speech. It’s doubtless his standard stump speech, tweaked here and there for the occasion, but his sincerity is palpable. He had the crowd roaring its approval and was interrupted with applause more often than in speechwriters’ fondest dreams.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking Feb. 8 in Rochester NH

Before Sanders came on, I noticed a woman on the aisle about four rows in front of me. Mostly I saw the back of her head. She would put her hair up, with a clip, then take it down, then pin it again. Familiar. Could it be? She turned to chat with the woman next to her. They both looked suspiciously Danish. The return of Sigrid! I had told her at the Klobuchar event that we would likely cross paths again, and we had, at Buttigieg’s, but this was too much; the mind reeled at the odds. Perhaps showing up at the same events was not wildly improbable, but being close enough again to recognize her?

Dear readers, I know, I know. At this point, you’re thinking this is just dramatic license, and none too original at that. There is no Sigrid; it’s a cute story, a nightingale dropped in to relieve an otherwise boring epic (or more appropriately, saga). I am reminded of Ulla – if I have the name right – a young Scandinavian woman, a character in Anthony Shaffer’s play Sleuth, with eyes like the frozen lakes of Sweden… but we never get to see Ulla in the play. Is she real, or one more fabrication?

Fortunately I had the means at my disposal to dispel doubt. I explained the predicament to Sigrid; who’d believe I’d run into her again? I had told her about the blog and given her my card with its address. How about a picture? Her lady friend gladly agreed to take it.

Sigrid Rasmussen and I at the Bernie Sanders town hall event, Feb. 8

So there.

No fake news here.

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Sleepless Saturday

I find it’s not a good idea to see the dawn. Whether it approaches stealthily at the end of a late night, or it meets me head-on as I rise early from slumber, dawn is a confrontation I rarely win. Far better that I let it slip by unnoticed, and greet the new day at, say, 10:30 or so.

But circumstances rule us all, and late Friday night I was writing. If you pay attention to such details, you may have observed that the piece about Amy Klobuchar et al. was posted at almost 5 a.m. Saturday and the subsequent one, on Pete Buttigieg, at 8:15 a.m. In other words, my plan to finish them and then get some sleep didn’t work, and immediately after finishing the Pete item I had to head out the door for the first event of Saturday. (I’d showered, shaved and dressed before starting the writing, knowing all too well that otherwise I’d probably be forced to skip the ablutions.)

The day’s first event in fact was scheduled to start at 8 o’clock Saturday morning, an ungodly time for any political presentation. Some gruesome sponsors, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL, and Demand Justice, had put together a forum titled “Our Rights, Our Courts,” at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, about 25 minutes away. Leaving my abode just after 8:15, I resigned myself to missing the opening speaker, whoever that might be, but it seemed that several candidates were on the agenda.

Thankfully NHTI has about as much parking as JFK airport, and I found a spot and headed into the campus, following people to the correct building. I had pre-registered and got past the welcome desk quickly, but the auditorium itself was at the end of a security gantlet like I’d never seen here: full airport-style metal detectors, a pat-down and the presence of more than a dozen very alert police and state troopers, plus private event security personnel. The candidates themselves didn’t merit such precautions; the topic did. Or at least the organizers were apprehensive enough to take them.

The auditorium was large and it was packed. I was standing on the fringe of the crowd and gradually eased my way to a spot where I could see. The speaker list reflected the importance to the Democratic Party of the abortion lobby (or if you prefer, the pro-choice or women’s reproductive rights movement). In order of appearance, eight candidates would speak: Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Bernie Sanders, Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Deval Patrick. All would swear total fealty to a woman’s right to choose to undergo an abortion, and promise to protect, defend, and in some cases extend, Roe v. Wade.

The photo captures only the inner reaches of the crowd, but gives an idea of the place:

Crowd at the “Our Rights, Our Courts” Law Forum

I had missed only some introductory remarks, so I got to see Messrs. Buttigieg, Yang, Steyer, and Sanders speak, before leaving at 11 to reach my next event.

Each candidate in his or her separate turn would make a short opening address, have a ‘conversation’ with the host, Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC, field one question from HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery, and then give a short finishing speech.

Given the focus on a single issue I feared the program would be repetitive, but the scope broadened out to the courts in general, and the different styles of the candidates kept it lively.

Pete Buttigieg (in a suit and tie as ever) proposed to increase the size of the Supreme Court. Evidently progressives are fearful that they are (always) just one more Republican appointment away from oblivion. Pete said a structural change to the Court would help. He proposed that some (new) justices could be appointed by unanimous vote of the existing justices. Pete noted we have had different numbers at stages of US history. (And I’d really been thinking rather highly of Pete up to this point; maybe I should just put this somewhat bizarre idea, lifted from FDR’s playbook, down to pandering to a particular audience. But there were about five million reporters and cameras present, so it’s disappointing.)

Andrew Yang (jacket, no tie), whom I’d not seen before, has a wonderfully casual style and a self-deprecating wit. But he too pushed this idea of more justices, noting correctly but irrelevantly that the Constitution does not specify there be nine. Yang said we could have 15, 17 or more! But wait, it gets better: he also proposed that justices serve an 18-year term. (Now we’re talking Constitutional amendment.) On the other hand, he said he’d received a letter from a voter who said she is pro-life and disagrees with his reproductive rights policy, but will vote for him because Yang’s signature proposal – to give $1,000 per month to every American – is the most pro-life program she’d ever heard of, as it would lead to many more women having kids. (Who said this morning would be boring?)

Tom Steyer (no jacket, sleeves rolled up) came next. He’s the toughest candidate I’ve heard, he’s loud, and he’s laser-focused on the political bottom line. “The only question,” he said, “is how to beat Trump and who can beat Trump.” And he’s not aiming at independents or persuadable Republicans. “We need turnout.” The Democrats must “convince people [to vote] who believe the system doesn’t work.”

Bernie Sanders (suit and tie) spoke forcefully as always but used a knife more than a sledgehammer. He pointed out the “hypocrisy” of conservative Republicans who say they want to get government off of people’s backs, but will not keep government out of women’s reproductive rights. In answer to Ms. Ruhle’s question, he acknowledged that the justices’ appointments are for life, although observing that ‘some scholars’ say that only means appointment as a judge; arguably they could be moved off the Supreme Court onto the lower courts. (At least foisting this theory off on ‘some scholars’ seems like a legitimate political dodge.) And he batted away the idea of enlarging the Court: ‘then the next administration would do it too, and the next, and you’d end up with 87 Supreme Court justices.’ This seems an obvious and correct rebuttal.

I had to, shall we say, move on, and left during the interval after Bernie finished, but of course could not get through the exit lobby without being buttonholed by the fourth estate. This one was straight from 1940’s central casting as world-wise but good-natured newsman, lacking only a hat with a press card in the brim. He was Kevin Landrigan, of the Union-Leader, and he told me this was his tenth New Hampshire primary as a reporter. He was actually a nice guy with a sense of humor. I was happy to be able to give him some answers with “goofy” in them.

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