Change the Narrative

Susanne Craig, a business reporter with the New York Times, is a hero of mine. She co-authored the story that proved Trump’s folksy narrative of himself as self-made billionaire is a lie.

This investigation into the fraud and financial misdealings of our commander in chief was the first story the Times has ever published twice — one time mid-week, and then again in last Sunday’s paper. The team combed through more than 100,000 financial documents over 18 months. The eight-page story follows the charade of shady financial dealings of the Trump family.

Asked about the administration’s animosity towards the press, Craig replied, “You have a president who believes that the Bill of Rights starts at the Second Amendment.”

That being true, “Donald J. Trump is as good for the media as war is good for the economy,” she quipped.

In preparing to publish the ground-breaking story on Trump’s misconduct and deceitful practices, the Times gave the pres a month to respond. “Stories are always richer when the other side comments,” she said. However, he did not comment (or deny).

Craig cautioned us several times that sources must understand that a reporter can never induce them to give a reporter evidence. A journalist can only receive evidence if it is unsolicited.

In looking to the future, she did not refute the possibility of another financial meltdown. The current administration is “going after protections that were put in place” to safeguard the economy, like the Dodd Frank Act.

I am inspired and impressed by the work ethic of Susanne Craig. It’s clear from listening to her that all presidents should release their taxes and ‘end this charade.’ This way we will know if they are in the pocket of industries, countries, or special interests. Follow the money to find the truth.

In 2016, Susanne Craig was the recipient of the three pages of 1995 tax returns that appeared in her mailbox at the New York Times. The itemized loss of a billion dollars meant that Trump received a billion dollar gift card.

As we continue to learn news of Jared Kushner’s lack of paying ANY taxes, I am grateful for journalists who comb through arcane tax codes and pages of documents.

The truth will come out. It always does. The resilience and reporting of journalists like Craig is a gift card to the American people.

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Susanne Craig speaks to students at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership.
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Investigative Reporting


Dogged determination. Facts. Empathy. Fairness. These are just some of the attributes of investigative reporter Mike Rezendes of the Boston Globe Spotlight team.

Rezendes, who began reporting on the Boston Catholic clergy abuses of children and youth some sixteen years ago, has noted a change in society of late. Back when he began, when people came forward with allegations of crimes, they were seen as shady. And they were, generally, not believed. Even children were not believed by their parents. The ‘sea change?’ “Now they’re listened to. They have credibility. That was profoundly satisfying,” Rezendes said.

Asked about the attributes of an investigative reporter, he replied, ‘Be naturally empathetic, curious, a good listener.’ He also said that, along with his fellow Spotlight reporters, he “became an amateur psychologist. When you’re a reporter you pick it up as you go along.”

He laughed when asked whether Mark Ruffalo was an apt actor to play him in the film Spotlight. He reported that Ruffalo and he, besides sharing the same initials, shared similar characteristics. (And Ruffalo might have nailed Rezendes a little too accurately.)

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Hearing the wisdom of Rezendes and Susanne Craig, who I will write about tomorrow, at the homecoming and family weekend of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington DC, and the brilliant students who questioned them, totally inspired me. These young people and journalists have great integrity.

While I am a fast and good (humble) writer, I am not a dogged writer. I lose interest in stories that require lengthy research. I joke that my favorite parts of journalism are accepting the job and accepting the paycheck. It’s all the in-between stuff that I find difficult.

That’s not completely true, I do love interviewing people too. I like to cut through B.S. and get to what matters to people. My motto? Go deep fast.

Back to the seismic shifts in the betterment of society from the reporting of Rezendes and Craig — I believe that there is a sea change of honesty and empathy emerging in our national conversations. I have hope that my fellow civilians will treasure the work of the press the way I do.

Asked about how they respond when naysayers call the media ‘fake’ or deny the facts, Rezendes said, “Get the documents. Get the proof. Push for evidence.”

Regarding his own reporting on the institutional abuse of children by the Boston clergy, he said, “I wanted to be as fair as I could be…I’m a paid skeptic.”

As Noah Bopp, founder of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership, said at the outset of this panel, “Our ethos is to be empathetic.”

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From left, Reporters Susanne Craig, Mike Rezendes, interviewer Valeria Gonzalez, and School for Ethics and Global Leadership founder Noah Bopp at the homecoming weekend.

Creative Disobedience

“I said my piece in a shaky voice,” Stephanie Wilkinson said about the night in June when she quietly turned away Sarah Huckabee Sanders from her restaurant.

Ms. Wilkinson is the co-founder and co-owner of The Red Hen, and she characterized her action as a “private act of conscience, not meant to be public.” The only reason her small action made it to the evening news and became a part of the national discourse was that a server posted the story on Facebook.

“This was about our own personal stand.” Since that quiet moment on the patio when she asked Ms. Sanders to leave, she’s received more than four thousand pieces of mail (including, literally, ‘pieces of shit.’)

From that small chat, a larger conversation emerged — when and with whom do our colleagues feel safe? Is this simply a sign of our polarized nation? Is a restaurant a public or private space; that is, is a restaurant more like a club than an open public park? It is, most assuredly, a business.

Ms. Wilkinson said, Yes, dining together — breaking bread — is personal, but it’s also political. As a restaurant that serves farm-to-table food, ‘We have to think about the immigrants who are picking our strawberries.’ Or the hands in the kitchen preparing our salad. Also, the context matters. How do you treat a person who fails to apologize for the lies of our executive in chief? How about someone who dismisses sexual abuse?

Is the person who explains policy about, basically, kidnapping children at our border welcome to dinner at your home?

“Would you serve Hitler? Would you serve Osama Bin Laden? Someone who kidnapped your child? ….Everybody has a line,” Wilkinson said. “What is the line you will not cross?” By asking Sanders to leave, Wilkinson and her staff addressed the inhumane and dangerous practices of the administration.

Not too be dramatic, Ms. Wilkinson said, but that was the context of the June evening when Ms. Sanders and her party quietly exited the restaurant.

While many people disagree with the choice the staff at the Red Hen that night, ‘business is up at the Red Hen. Business is up in the town.’ (Business is also good for Nike, led by Colin Kaepernick’s civil disobedience.)

Asked whether she would have taken the same action, had she known the outcome, Ms. Wilkinson replied, “I sleep very well at night. I have a staff who sleeps very well at night.”

While she does receive hate mail, she also receives gratitude mail. People have purchased gift cards from the restaurant. She has received meaningful letters, like the one that says, ‘I am an immigrant. What you did makes me feel there are people who stand with me.’

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I am far left talking to Wilkinson beside me and two other mothers at the homecoming for the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington DC today.

 

Parenting an Empty Nest

Feeling bittersweet, my kids are growing up. Today my daughters turn 19.

I wanted kids so badly and got unbelievably lucky, thanks to God and the science of fertility, to have them. (Not that we didn’t try, endlessly and enjoyably, the old-fashioned way.)

It was about two decades ago, I was waiting to hear if I was pregnant. I recall exiting the 72nd Street subway, knowing there would be an answering machine message at home with the pregnancy results. The whole world seemed super taut — like a too-tight, vibrating guitar string. I was reverberating on a super-high frequency. And I noticed all the commuters going about their ordinary lives. And I thought, ‘None of them is going through what I’m going through.’ The stakes were high. I hoped I would not burst before I got home to find out the news.

And it was a YES! The universe (and science) gave us what we were longing for.

Fast forward all these years. The chicks have flown the coop. I sort of hate the Empty Nest metaphor. After all, New York City kids are pretty independent, flying around on Uber accounts as if they were magic carpets.

On the plus side, the house stays way neater, but sadly, there’s way less liveliness. Dinner time is most difficult for us. Chris still slowly cooks way too much food for just the two of us. We forget that we are not feeding vegetarians and we still, healthily, eat mostly meatless meals. Over our meal, we talk about the kids or about our work or creative projects.

And then, we watch Jeopardy. See, as kids grow up and move out, there is this one consolation prize: game shows. Is this pathetic? Yes, and it is also very fun. The two of us discuss how well we do on our favorite categories of Entertainment and Literature. And then, we might play Gin Rummy. Then, for me, it’s time for bed with a book.

In any case, once a month, the pattern is disrupted. The chicks return home. Or maybe a nephew or friend will come to stay, briefly populating our empty rooms, adding dinner table conversation or another hand to deal at the card table.

When our kids were young, I was told endlessly, ‘The years go fast, the days go slow.’ And it is unbearably true.

So cherish each day, each year. Mark the birthdays with joy and remembrance of how badly you wanted these darlings. And then, remember, how, when they came into the world, they surprised and exceeded every hope and dream. Their childhood was not always easy, but, oh, it was undeniably worth it.

Let love for your family still fill your heart. And then, after feeling all these feelings — the waves of gratitude and love, tune in to Jeopardy.

People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth of their stories are the real badasses. – Dr. Brené Brown, Rising Strong

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I tried to take a selfie with Alex Trebek but he disappeared and all I’m left with is this selfie with the Jeopardy contestants.

Social Justice Rules

Last night I heard the clarion call of justice from the prophetic Bryan Stevenson, death row lawyer and author of Just Mercy, at B’nai Jeshurun with my book club. Here was his message:

1.Get closer to the poor.
2. Change the narratives.
3. Have hope.
4. Do uncomfortable and inconvenient things.

I elaborate on each point below.

  1. “Get proximate,” is the term he used. Stevenson talked about his grandmother’s hugs and how he felt her tight squeeze for hours afterwards.  When they were separated, she would ask,”SnapseedDo you still feel me hugging you?” We must, too,  embrace one another. Even on her death bed, his grandma squeezed his hand.

2. Addiction and dependency are health care problems and the criminal justice system is not equipped to be a healing place for ill people.

We must not be governed by fear and anger, but by compassion for the suffering.

Also, children are not “super predators.” They are worthy of our protection — they must not be tried or sentenced as adults.

And, let’s face it, he said, we must recognize we live in a post- genocidal world. The United States has committed atrocities. Other countries — South Africa, Rwanda, Germany — confess and learn from their crimes against humanity. Citizens of the United States ought to remember and reflect on our history of the attempted extinction of Native Americans and the reality of the slavery of African Americans.

His remark on ‘making America great again,’ — ‘What decade, would, I, as an African American, want to return to?’ — drew applause.

3. “Injustice prevails when hopelessness persists – your hope is your superpower,” Stevenson said. As my friend Jean noted, this makes sense on a personal level, too. After all, we can not seek changes in our lives if we do not believe change is possible.

4. “Why do we want to kill all the broken people?” ‘It’s a broken system. We have to get to know each other — because we are all broken.’ Personally, I have always been against the death penalty because I have known that grace and redemption are possible. We must not look exclusively at what the indicted have done, but what we, as a society, are doing to the incarcerated. As a people, do we really want to kill people?

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth but justice.” And we cannot measure our success the same ways others do (simply by our financial gain).

In answering a question from the group about how to persuade people to our point of view, Stevenson spoke about meeting people where they are. Listening.

He noted that politicians have much trouble apologizing. “Saying I’m sorry does not make you weak. It makes you strong. We don’t do sorry well.” The crowd laughed when he noted that we can learn from couples married for 50 years:  ‘They have learned to apologize.’

Stevenson said that the U.S. needs Truth and Reconciliation like in South Africa. This reminded me of the book, Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority by Tim Wise who starts by saying, basically, that as a country, we are asked to ‘Remember the Alamo’ and ‘Never Forget 9/11,’ but when the topic of systemic enslavement for hundreds of years of African American people emerges, white people, basically, say, “Oh, get over it!” This is why, I believe, his museum, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the lynching memorial, and the study of the history of Civil Rights work in Alabama, is so important. We must never forget. We must make amends.

Another take-away: “Ask not ‘How do I help?’ but, ‘How do I serve?'”

As for the question I asked (and others too) on the new make up of the Supreme Court, he said, “They (the justices) cannot be indifferent to suffering.”

I woke this morning with so much hope — hundreds of people were at this event and the message was energizing. Our book club even talked about heading to Alabama for a long weekend to visit the new museum.

If he’s ever giving a talk in your area, go learn from Bryan Stevenson, an amazing and motivating speaker. His delivery was impassioned; he spoke without notes and without rancor.

His message was clear: “Stay on the side of love.” ‘We cannot go to the side of hate.’  As for me, just for today, I will not give up fighting for justice. My dream is to someday see Bryan Stevenson on the Supreme Court.

Until then, my friend, continue to beat the drum for justice.

 

Open Your Heart

At a recent teacher three-day professional development workshop, on the last day, one of the co-leaders told the assembled, “You all were so great. I have serious anxiety. And I got through that with you all this weekend.”

I wish he had confided in us on the very first day about his anxiety. After all, who among us does not have anxiety? I would not have been so hard on our facilitator. At one point, I had to call him out on what I perceived of as his lack of female and non-white role models in his presentations.

My point is sometimes our leaders can be so smart and yet they do not lead from the heart. They lead from their heads. And intelligence is often not enough.
I’ve been thinking about this because I saw this Sioux saying on Instagram (from Meaningful Minds and Mark Nepo).longest journey

Many schools, like mine, had Monday off for Columbus Day, yet there is a move afoot to remake the day as Indigenous Peoples Day. That makes sense to me.

I have written several articles about Native American Ministries. And one take away for my research was always this truth: we are interconnected. We are all family. Even the air, water, wind, birds, trees — these are all our relations.

This summer as I communed with nature on a church group camping trip, a young boy wrote a prayer. His message? Look with the heart and not with the eyes. When I asked him how he came up with this bit of brilliance, he told me that his public school teacher had shared this message from the children’s classic, The Little Prince. And so I give you:

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

See with your heart. Think from your heart. Lead from your heart. After all, we are all family here; your anxiety will disappear. Take the journey from your head to your heart.

Big City Blues

I remember when my ex and I split up, I was in a divorce recovery support group, the therapist said he enjoyed working with people in pain because they were motivated. Hell, yes. That is me and my country. We are in pain and we are motivated to make some positive change.

Make some good use of our righteous anger. Besides feeling down by the state of our beloved union, yesterday, I was downhearted by the neurologist’s appointment. It’s not that anything has changed in Chris’s Parkinson’s status. But that’s just it. There’s never really a positive change either.

Still, I will not let my rage silence me. I will not let doubt rob my optimism.

These are my thoughts from the jury waiting room, snuggled in beside a couple hundred of my fellow citizens. As I look around this room, I notice we are way more beautifully diverse than our congress, our judges, our corporate leaders.

New York City uplifts me. There is something beautiful about the diversity of the people in today’s jury pool. My fellow jurors and travelers do not look like the creepy elders from any dystopian movie (think, Hunger Games) you know, those octogenarians who make up the justice committee confirming the Supreme Court nominees. New Yorkers are not creepers like that.

Sure, we have some older folks here, in a walker or wearing a suit and tie. But the people around me are also young, female, many shades of brown and beige and pink. Many hair styles and many fashion icons among us. This is the freakin’ melting pot — or better yet, the beautiful mosaic, as my pal (and former mayor) David Dinkins said.

So, yes, we get down but beautiful New Yorkers keeps us afloat.

At lunch time, I swung by the City Clerk’s office to pick up my application to be a marriage officiant. Don’t ask me why. I have no good reason. And we all must do those things for which there is no good reason.

Here are a few pics of today’s happy newlyweds and families. Feeling down? Notice all the happy couples. And if you’re still down, let that pain motivate you — to serve on a jury or to do something for which there is no good reason.

PS I was excused from jury duty service today and for the next six years. When so many of us show up, not all of us are needed.