April 26, 2021 (Monday)In his first major speech as Secretary of State, Antony Blinken laid out the principles of the Biden administration in foreign policy, emphasizing that this administration believed foreign and domestic policy to be profoundly linked. Biden’s people would support democracy at home and abroad to combat the authoritarianism rising around the world… including in the U.S.“The more we and other democracies can show the world that we can deliver, not only for our people, but also for each other, the more we can refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell, that theirs is the better way to meet people’s fundamental needs and hopes. It’s on us to prove them wrong,” Blinken said. “So the question isn’t if we will support democracy around the world, but how.” He answered: “We will use the power of our example. We will encourage others to make key reforms, overturn bad laws, fight corruption, and stop unjust practices. We will incentivize democratic behavior.” President Joe Biden has set out a foreign policy that focuses on human rights and reaches out more to foreign peoples than to their governments, heartening protesters in authoritarian countries.On Saturday, Biden issued a document declaring that the displacement and slaughter of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans in 1915 was a “genocide.” The U.S. had previously refused to recognize the ethnic cleansing for what it was because of the strategic importance of Turkey to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO (among other things, Turkey holds the straits that control access to the Black Sea, on which Russia and Ukraine, as well as other countries, sit). Biden’s recognition of the Armenian genocide is a reflection of the fact that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is increasingly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Taliban, and appears to be abandoning democracy in his own country, giving Biden the room to take a step popular in America but previously too undiplomatic to undertake. (Remember when Erdogan’s security staff beat up protesters in Washington, D.C., in 2017 and prosecutors dropped the charges?)Erdogan greeted Biden’s announcement with anger, demanding he retract it, but he also said he expected to discuss all of the disputes between the U.S. and Turkey at the June NATO summit. Geopolitics in Erdogan’s part of the world are changing, as Putin is struggling at home with protests against his treatment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and with the new U.S. sanctions that, by making it hard for him to float government bonds, could weaken his economy further. It is looking more and more likely that Biden and Putin will also have a summit early this summer. Biden’s emphasis on ordinary people and his attempt to illustrate the power of democracy showed today, too, when the Biden administration announced it would share as many as 60 million doses of our stockpiled AstraZeneca shots with the world once they pass safety reviews. But the news shows that Biden’s concerns about the rise of authoritarianism at home are well founded. Republican pundits and lawmakers are rallying their supporters to a world that is based not in reality, but rather in what they consider to be fundamental truths: a hallmark of authoritarians. The ridiculous idea that Biden’s climate proposals would mean that Biden was banning meat swept through the right-wing echo chamber this weekend. It appears to have originated in an entirely unrelated academic paper from 2020 that explored how changing the American diet might affect greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the Fox News Channel (FNC) claimed that Biden was cutting “90% of red meat from diet,” and restricting people to “one burger per month," and lawmakers joined the chorus. The right seems increasingly detached from reality, but it is a detachment with a purpose. Right-wing pundits are fantasizing about being afraid of the left. After the guilty verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) both implied that the nation’s cities are boarded up and people are cowering in fear from protesters against police brutality. They seem to be saying that imagined excesses of the left justify extreme behavior from the right. That is, in their telling, left-wing protesters are so out of control, their actions justify any sort of a crackdown they bring upon themselves. On Twitter, lawyer and political writer Teri Kanefield did a deeper dive on the way lies serve the authoritarian government of fascism. Stories like that about meat, or about the inhabitants of the nation’s capital being afraid to go outside, or the idea that the January 6 insurrectionists were Biden supporters are not true, and those who tell them know it. But those lies illuminate what those who tell them see as a higher truth, doing so in a way that ordinary people can understand. People challenging the lie prove they do not accept the higher truth, and thus are enemies. History suggests we’re in dangerous territory.Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the “Combatting Public Disorder Act,” designed, as he said, to “stand for the rule of law and public safety.” Recalling the summer’s protests, he said, “We are holding those who incite violence in our communities accountable, supporting our law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and protecting Floridians from the chaos of mob violence. We’re also putting an end to the bullying and intimidation tactics of the radical left by criminalizing doxing and requiring restitution for damaging memorials and monuments by rioters.” The new law lowers a “riot” to three people and dramatically increases punishments for “rioting,” including the loss of the right to vote. It also makes local governments financially liable if they do not respond aggressively enough to “unlawful assembly,” and it protects people who happen to injure or kill a protester during a riot, including by driving a car into them.But a study by The Guardian, released earlier this month, suggests that the summer’s mass arrests were an attempt to control crowds, silence protests, and turn observers against the protesters by portraying them as violent and lawbreaking. Law enforcement dropped, dismissed, or never filed the vast majority of citations and charges it issued to Black Lives Matter protesters. Guardian reporter Tom Perkins looked at 12 different jurisdictions and found that in most of them, including in Minneapolis where Floyd was killed, at least 90% of the cases were dropped or dismissed. In Dallas and Philadelphia, 95% of the cases were dropped. In San Francisco, 100% of the cases related to peaceful protest were dismissed. In Detroit, most of the tickets were written by officers who were not themselves at the protests. Tonight, FNC personality Carlson called for his audience to start direct action. He told them to confront people wearing masks, which he says are signs of “political obedience.” He maintained that 64% of white Americans who called themselves “liberal” or “very liberal” “have been diagnosed with an actual mental health condition.” He called them “aggressors” and told supporters, “it’s our job to brush them back and restore the society we were born in.” He said to call the police immediately if they see children wearing masks and keep calling until someone arrives: it is child abuse, he says, and his audience is “morally obligated to prevent it.” The chyron under his monologue read: “THIS ISN’T ABOUT SCIENCE. IT’S ABOUT POWER.”
May 1, 2021 (Saturday)In honor of this year's Kentucky Derby (won today by Medina Spirit), I'm posting a piece my friend Michael S. Green and I wrote together a number of years ago on Ten Famous American Horses. It has no deep meaning... it's just fun. It remains one of my favorite things I had a hand in writing, and I'm pleased to have an excuse to share it. I'll be back on the usual beat tomorrow.1) TravellerGeneral Robert E. Lee rode Traveller (spelled with two Ls, in the British style) from February 1862 until the general’s death in 1870. Traveller was a grey American Saddlebred of 16 hands. He had great endurance for long marches, and was generally unflappable in battle, although he once broke both of General Lee’s hands when he shied at enemy movements. Lee brought Traveller with him when he assumed the presidency of Washington and Lee University. Traveller died of tetanus in 1871. He is buried on campus, where the safe ride program still uses his name.2) ComancheComanche was attached to General Custer’s detachment of the 7th Cavalry when it engaged the Lakota in 1876 at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The troops in the detachment were all killed in the engagement, but soldiers found Comanche, badly wounded, two days later. They nursed him back to health, and he became the 7th Cavalry’s mascot. The commanding officer decreed that the horse would never again be ridden, and that he would always be paraded, draped in black, in all military ceremonies involving the 7th Cavalry. When Comanche died of colic in 1891, he was given a full military funeral (the only other horse so honored was Black Jack, who served in more than a thousand military funerals in the 1950s and 1960s). Comanche’s taxidermied body is preserved in the Natural History Museum at the University Of Kansas.3) Beautiful Jim KeyBeautiful Jim Key was a performing horse trained by formerly enslaved veterinarian Dr. William Key. Key demonstrated how Beautiful Jim could read, write, do math, tell time, spell, sort mail, and recite the Bible. Beautiful Jim performed from 1897 to 1906 and became a legend. An estimated ten million Americans saw him perform, and others collected his memorabilia – buttons, photos, and postcards – or danced the Beautiful Jim Key two-step. Dr. Key insisted that he had taught Beautiful Jim using only kindness, and Beautiful Jim Key’s popularity was important in preventing cruelty to animals in America, with more than 2 million children signing the Jim Key Band of Mercy, in which they pledged: “I promise always to be kind to animals.”4) Man o’ WarNamed for his owner, August Belmont, Jr., who was overseas in WWI, Man o’ War is widely regarded as the top Thoroughbred racehorse of all time. He won 20 of his 21 races and almost a quarter of a million dollars in the early twentieth century. His one loss – to “Upset” – came after a bad start. Man o’ War sired many of America’s famous racehorses, including Hard Tack, which in turn sired Seabiscuit, the small horse that came to symbolize hope during the Great Depression.5) TriggerEntertainer Roy Rogers chose the palomino Trigger from five rented horses to be his mount in a Western film in the 1930s, changing his name from Golden Cloud to Trigger because of his quick mind and feet. Rogers rode Trigger in his 1950s television series, making the horse a household name. When Trigger died, Rogers had his skin draped over a Styrofoam mold and displayed it in the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in California. He also had a 24-foot statue of Trigger made from steel and fiberglass. One other copy of that mold was also made: it is “Bucky the Bronco,” which rears above the Denver Broncos stadium south scoreboard.6) Sergeant RecklessAmerican Marines in Korea bought a mare in October 1952 from a Korean stable boy who needed the money to buy an artificial leg for his sister, who had stepped on a land mine. The marines named her Reckless after their unit’s nickname, the Reckless Rifles. They made a pet of her, and trained her to carry supplies and to evacuate wounded. She learned to travel supply routes without a guide: on one notable day she made 51 solo trips. Wounded twice, she was given a battlefield rank of corporal in 1953 and promoted to sergeant after the war, when she was also awarded two Purple Hearts and a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.7) Mr. EdMr. Ed was a talking palomino in a 1960s television show by the same name. At a time when Westerns dominated American television, Mr. Ed was the anti-Western, with the main human character a klutzy architect and the hero a horse that was fond of his meals and his comfortable life, and spoke with the voice of Allan “Rocky” Lane, who made dozens of “B” westerns. But the show was a five-year hit as it married the past to the future. Mr. Ed offered a gentle homely wisdom that enabled him to straighten out the troubles of the humans around him. The startling special effects that made it appear that the horse was talking melded modern technology with the comforting traditional community depicted in the show.8) Black JackBlack Jack, named for John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, was the riderless black horse in the funerals of John F. Kennedy, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and Douglas MacArthur, as well as more than a thousand other funerals with full military honors. A riderless horse, with boots reversed in the stirrups, symbolized a fallen leader, while Black Jack’s brands – a US brand and an army serial number – recalled the army’s history. Black Jack himself was buried with full military honors; the only other horse honored with a military funeral was Comanche.9) KhartoumKhartoum was the prize stud horse of Jack Woltz, the fictional Hollywood mogul in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. In one of the film version’s most famous scenes, after Woltz refuses requests from Don Vito Corleone to cast singer Johnny Fontane in a movie, Woltz wakes up to find Khartoum’s head in bed with him…and agrees to use Fontane in the film. In the novel, Fontane wins the Academy Award for his performance. According to old Hollywood rumor, the story referred to real events. The rumor was that mobsters persuaded Columbia Pictures executive Harry Cohn to cast Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity. As Maggio, Sinatra revived his sagging film career and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.10) SecretariatSecretariat was an American Thoroughbred that in 1973 became the first U.S. Triple Crown winner in 25 years. His records in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes still stand. After Secretariat was stricken with a painful infection and euthanized in 1989, an autopsy revealed that he had an unusually big heart. Sportswriter Red Smith once asked his trainer how Secretariat had run one morning; Charlie Hatton replied, “The trees swayed.”
Horses used for racing are
forced to sprint—often under the threat of whips and even illegal
electric-shocking devices—at speeds so fast that they frequently sustain
injuries and even hemorrhage from the lungs.
Whip use is standard
practice in the U.S., with little more than lip service handed out to
extreme violators in most states. At a 2008 race, the horse named Appeal
to the City hemorrhaged around her eye when jockey Jeremy Rose “engaged
in extreme misuse of the whip.” During his Kentucky Derby win, American Pharoah was struck with a whip at least 32 times by jockey Victor Espinoza.
In 2013, PETA documented
that top trainers and jockeys admitted to having used illegal
electro-shock devices on horses. Months later, jockey Roman Chapa—who
was previously suspended for using a nail on a horse—was charged with a felony for race-fixing after using a shocking device during a race.
Not surprisingly, every week, an average of 24 horses experience fatal breakdowns at
racetracks across the country, and this number doesn’t even take into
account the horses who are discarded by the racing industry when they’re
no longer considered profitable. In 2015, in New York alone, more than
250 Thoroughbreds endured injuries or fatal breakdowns during races.
most owners and trainers have little more than a short-term financial
interest in horses, there is little continuity and accountability over
Thoroughbreds’ lifetimes, leaving them to suffer terribly.
Because no one individual is committed to a horse
throughout his or her lifetime, each day brings new uncertainty for
these animals. An estimated 10,000 “unprofitable” or simply unwanted
Thoroughbreds from the U.S. are trucked to Canada and Mexico and
slaughtered each year. And despite these staggering numbers, the racing
industry continues to churn out nearly 20,000 Thoroughbred foals