What Keeps Us Sane – Family and Friends

Friends since we were boys – from left Geoff Keenan, Keith Schneider, Bobby Fargo. Photo/Gabrielle Gray

SOMERSET, KY — This is the week that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is supposed to make public sentencing memorandums for three Trump allies who pled guilty to various illegal acts committed in and out of service to the president. From what’s been made public, and from what I know from fact-checking Seth Abramson’s book, Proof of Collusion, it’s not going to be pretty or something to celebrate.

The country has been in a state of dissolution and disruption for more than two years, the most dismal period of national unraveling in my lifetime. I never imagined that an individual, backed by power-mad legislative allies, could so easily push a huge nation so far off its moral mooring. I never understood that so many Americans would so eagerly embrace the reckless tilt. We’ve experienced 30 months of national vertigo. Mueller’s conclusions this week, I fear, will make it worse because the president, his allies, and the state-sanctioned right wing media are sure to describe facts as fiction, and investigative narrative of wrong-doing and collusion as political fantasy.

It is for those reasons and more that Thanksgiving this year was such a welcome respite. I put aside the daily grind of White House abuse and national dismay. We get in the car and drive through the mountains of West Virginia and forests of Maryland and Pennsylvania. We talk and exit the car now and again to shake the stiffness and ache out of our immobilized bones. It feels great.

The Schneider family, New York City, Thanksgiving 2018. Photo/Keith Schneider

As in other years, Gabrielle and I spent the holiday in New York. The Schneiders, and their spouses and children, gather at the Harvard Club once a year to spend a few hours catching up as a family. It’s one of the select “don’t miss” dates on my annual calendar. Jo-Anne Schneider, who is 88-years-old now, holds the event and issues the invitations. She was greeted this year by a 100 percent rate of acceptance. Pretty good since we come from several states. Our circle expanded a bit the last few years. In 2017 a new wife, Gabrielle. This year we welcomed Lauren and Jeffrey Lipton’s April-born baby, Samuel, and Taylor Powell’s girlfriend, Jackie Danisi.

This year also included a new landing spot. Instead of our usual Manhattan hotel room, Gabrielle and I spent two nights in Scarsdale with Grant Schneider and Larry Diamond, and their children, Margot and Graydon Diamond. We were treated to such hospitality and graciousness in their beautifully decorated and welcoming home. It had been years since I spent that much time with Grant, not since he was unmarried and lived in New York City and Boston. He did not disappoint. My younger brother is a tempest of style, smarts, energy, and opinions. He can be an irrepressible wave of ardent expression one moment. A gentle and generous welcoming breeze the next. He is the sails and rudder on his family’s ship. His composed and handsome husband, just as smart and ambitious, is the hull and keel keeping the whole thing in balance. Gabrielle and I loved it and look forward to our next visit.

At the Harvard Club – from left, Jeffrey Lipton, Mariel Schneider, Gabrielle Gray with Samuel Lipton, Lauren Lipton, Reed Schneider. Photo/Keith Schneider
From Scarsdale from left – Graydon Diamond, Grant Schneider, Larry and Margot Diamond. Photo/Keith Schneider

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Half Staff America

Flags flew at half staff over Veterans Day weekend in Kentucky and nationwide. A pocket park in Somerset, Kentucky was the scene of these flags. Photo/Keith Schneider

SOMERSET, KY. — A chilly wind again whipped the flags flying at half staff here in central Kentucky. This time it was for George Bush, who died on Friday. Three weeks ago Jews were massacred in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Collegians were massacred in a bar and dance hall near Los Angeles. The two tragedies are linked by America’s miserable devotion to assault weapons and spilled blood. Flags flew at half staff then, too.

There is plenty to mourn in America, even for the regions of the country that thought they were making a difference by electing Donald Trump. Like suburban Detroit. As a candidate, Trump held a rally in Warren, Michigan and promised that if elected “not one job” would be lost in the auto industry. This week General Motors announced it was closing the plant it operated just down the road from where Trump made his promise as part of a plan to shed the company of 15,000 jobs. What’s sadder is that as Trump sputtered his indignation in Washington, his supporters on the ground and in right wing state media insisted the president was guiding the economy on the right course.

Even the election didn’t lift the November in my soul. Progressives took the House. A big help. But the Senate added two more Republicans. And Trump, who campaigned hard in Florida and Ohio, held those two states that are essential to his reelection.

I’m not a depressed personality. But I’m so saddened by circumstances in the United States because of this single fact. Change will occur but only after conditions get worse, perhaps much worse. A nation that has so quickly lost its bearings depends on great leadership to recover. The president of the United States is a miserable, limited scourge of a man, and a disastrous leader. But it seems clear to me that the antidote for President Trump, and the steps for diminishing the devotion that the president enjoys in white and rural America, is for the economy to sour. That unfortunately looks like what’s unfolding. Job growth has slowed. The stock market has slipped. Trade imbalances tilt more steeply to our imports.

In my specialty, the environment and economy, Trump’s ignorance also is adding to the damage that makes living in America more dangerous. As the condition of air, water, and land decline so will Trump’s support in rural America, which is being ravaged by ecological menaces that the president’s anti-science, anti-regulatory doctrine is making worse. Hurricanes and floods in the Southeast. Flash flooding in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Tornados in the Great Plains.

Fires in rural northern California since July have burned down more than 28,000 homes so thoroughly they look like they’ve been bombed. Over 100 people have died. The president blames mismanaged forests for the problem. It’s an idiotic, uninformed view. The fast moving walls of flame — and blame — raced through heavily settled, climate-dessciated, bone dry brush and wild land areas close to towns, not in stands of timber suitable for commercial logging.

A home destroyed by the Carr Fire in Redding, California in July. Photo/Keith Schneider

Lament is not one of my typical emotions. To date, my mourning has been reserved for the people I love and lost. I don’t feel helpless. I’m saddened by the incapable place that is America. I feel plundered by the calamity that our country has become.

— Keith Schneider

July 4

Zion National Park, Utah. The Trump administration removed protections for 2 million acres of public domain in the West. The proclamation the president signed in December 2017 reversed 150 years of American land conservation precedence. Election Day 2018 will decide whether that continues, or not. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

BENZONIA, MI — On this disruptive, bittersweet July 4 let me draw you back 155 years. On this same day in 1863 the blood of the dead and the wounded seeped into the grassy fields of Gettysburg. Spawned by irreconcilable principles and values nearly as virulent as those that exist today, the Union army victory was the strategic turning point in the Civil War. It provided military and cultural momentum for the winning progressive view that free will was an American virtue guaranteed to all races. It also confirmed the views, and cemented the historic legacy of the gifted and courageous anti-slavery voices of the 19th century — Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison.

Fast forward to now, and further to November 6, election day. In my mind the 2018 mid-term election is tantamount to an American political Battle of Gettysburg. The outcome of that day, regardless of which side wins, will measure the American character and define our national direction for decades. I stand with progressives who support justice, human rights, job and economic opportunity, fairness, environmental protection, and peace. Make no mistake, the other side, supporters of a venal man and the fact-free politics of fear and grievance, bring to the battle equivalent reserves of energy and intensity.

The right wing of the United States has succeeded in building an ultra-conservative counter culture. Its supporters, and their brazen leader, understand the power of their movement and its capacity to impede, if not reverse, a half century of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmental safeguards, and workplace advances.

Our generational Gettysburg fast approaches. On this day of Independence, I commit to voting for an American way of life that makes the national town square safe and welcome to everyone. I commit to bringing every eligible voter I know with me.

Malaysia. Where’s Malaysia?

A mammoth figure guards the entrance to one of the Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo/Keith Schneider

KUALA LUMPUR — I had no idea what to expect from Malaysia when I accepted an assignment from Mongabay to report on the consequences of a prodigious wave of infrastructure development that is remaking this country’s economy and geography. What I’ve found is a nation contending, like so many others, with political disruption, but fully competent to develop the new muscles and bones to support the contemporary needs of this century.

People here are suspicious of their leaders. But the questions about corruption and competence of Malaysia’s political leadership are infinitely easier to answer than those being asked in the United States about America’s ruling class. The notion that the U.S. is exceptional isn’t a ruse. It’s just changed radically in the last several decades. We’re such a rich nation. But we don’t deploy our wealth to enhance civic well-being. The U.S. is exceptional now for the miserable way our political system has crumbled, our public schools and infrastructure have deteriorated, our sense of confidence and purpose have weakened.

The American century likely ended on 9/11. The Asian century began soon after. It’s more than apparent in Malaysia.

For a journalist who’s spent a decade reporting on ecological and economic transformation around the world, I have one overriding observation about Malaysia. Malaysia is different than China, India, Mongolia, the Philippines and several more countries that are determined to achieve western-level measures of growth. Malaysia did not wreck its land, water, air, and marine environments getting there.

A rendering of the 70-acre Exchange development, with its 106-story centerpiece, which is under construction in Kuala Lumpur. The development is meant to be the country’s new finance center. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Clean rivers still flow here. Half of the country’s tropical forest cover is intact and will remain so under commitments Malaysian leaders made in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. Near shore marine environments have not been ruined by mining disasters, as they were in the Phillippines, or soiled in tides of fetid urban wastewater, as they have been in India and China.
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Dennis Pace Loved His Life in Benzie County

Dennis Pace was a good athlete and loved cross country skiing. He also was almost always the tallest guy in the group, which left to right, included Heath Green, Kayla Bates, Keith Schneider, and Jack Gyr. Photo/Keith Schneider

I looked back in my photo archive to find a picture of Dennis Pace, my dear friend who died last week. I found I’d photographed Dennis solely in the winter while we skied or skated. Strange since Dennis and I spent a lot of time together during every other season, as well. He was a bike rider, a soccer and basketball and tennis player. We ran the Sleeping Bear dune trails and sailed on Crystal Lake. We shared good meals and drank beer on his deck and mine. We talked a lot about the ideas of the day. All the kids loved him.

Though he was raised in the Phoenix desert and educated at the University of California at Berkeley, Dennis very clearly ventured East to discover a region that fit his soul. Benzie County, near the top of Lake Michigan, is a one-stoplight forested county where no town holds more than 1,000 residents. Young people like Dennis arrived in the 1980s and early 1990s to build lives far from the places where they were raised.

Dennis landed in Benzie County in 1988. He, his wife Kate, and their two children, Isabel and Dakota, joined a community of caring people who formed a circle of trust and experience that he found delightful and absorbing. During the next 29 years Dennis built a lot of other good circles in Benzie County.

Dennis Pace was a good skater and raised funds to keep the ice rink in Benzonia active in the winter. Photo/Keith Schneider

His passions were his children and grandchildren, his parents and friends, music, sports, and his community. When his kids were young he was a fixture playing midfield at every soccer game, center at basketball games, and wing at hockey games. After Isabel and Cody and all the other kids grew up, Dennis managed the Benzie Area Youth Soccer Program for nearly 20 years. He raised funds to keep the Benzonia ice rink open in the winter. He joined the board of Beulah’s Darcy Library. Trained as an optometrist, Dennis cared for us at the Scarborough Family Eyecare office in Beulah. The Betsie Current newspaper published a really nice piece on Dennis two years ago.

He loved music and played with friends every Thursday at his home in Beulah. He sailed and anchored a sweet and agile boat on Crystal Lake. He liked small parties and dinners with friends. He cooked an impressive brisket feast. Dennis was generous with his time and his affection. He liked the steadiness of firm schedules and easy events, like basketball games on TV at the Hahn’s, breakfast every morning with Jonathan Clark at L’Chayim Delicatessen, and coffee with friends every Saturday in Beulah. Continue reading “Dennis Pace Loved His Life in Benzie County”