Category Archives: Politics

Lynsey Addario Chronicles A Champion’s Death

Lynsey Addario is remarkable.

The Staples High School graduate is a Pulitzer Prize winner — and a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellowship awardee.

She’s spent her career photographing life in Afghanistan, the plight of Syrian refugees, conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Darfur and Congo, and humanitarian and human rights issues around the world for the New York Times, National Geographic and Time magazine. She’s a book author too.

“06880” can’t cover all of Lynsey’s projects — there are just too many. But her latest effort deserves a special shout-out.

For 3 years, she and New York Times reporter Andrew Keh followed Marieke Vervoort as the Belgian Paralympic gold-medal athlete wrestled with the decision to die by euthanasia.

Marieke Vervoort at home in Belgium. She did not believe in God, but kept a Buddha statue in her back yard. (Photo copyright Lynsey Addario for New York Times)

Lynsey visited her often at home and in hospital stays in Belgium, and traveled with her on trips to the Canary Islands and Japan.

The result is an astonishing story about the human spirit. It ranges from sports, family, friends to the many ways in which people live and die.

The writing is strong and insightful. Lynsey’s photos add one more dimension. Days after Marieke died, they beautifully honor her life.

In her final hours, Marieke Vervoort embraces her parents. (Photo copyright Lynsey Addario for New York Times)

(Click here for the full New York Times story. Tomorrow [Monday, December 9, 8 p.m.] Lynsey Addario appears at Fairfield University’s Quick Center. She will speak on “Eyewitness Through My Camera Lens: World in Conflict,” as part of the Open Visions forum that celebrates outstanding female leaders. Click here for tickets, and more information. Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein.)

Will Haskell: 1 Of “30 Under 30”

It’s been quite a run for Will Haskell.

In May of 2018, he graduated from Georgetown University.

Six months later he was elected to the Connecticut State Senate.

Now — just a year later — he’s landed on Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list.

Will Haskell

That’s the annual celebration of rising leaders, in 20 areas ranging from arts, food and sports to “big money” and immigration.

Haskell — just 5 1/2 years out of Staples High School — was selected in the “Law & Policy” category.

Judges included Carrie Goldberg, Jon Huntsman, Laurence Tribe and Michael Tubbs.

Forbes received over 15,000 nominations for the 9th annual list.

It’s a great honor for Haskell.

And he’s only 23 years old. He’s got 6 more chances to repeat.

 

Vika Aronson Tackles “Broken Justice”

In many ways, America’s justice system is broken.

That’s particularly true in Missouri. Public defenders have an ethical responsibility to represent their clients. However, they are overwhelmed by the number of cases. Yet when they are unable to spend an appropriate amount of time with a client, they risk losing their licenses.

Vika Aronson wanted to do something about that. She’s not an attorney. Nor does she live in Missouri.

Vika Aronson, at work.

However, she is the podcast producer for “PBS Newshour.” So the Staples High School Class of 2007 graduate is in a unique position to help.

Her 5-part series — “Broken Justice” — debuted earlier this month. New episodes are released weekly.

Focusing on Ricky Kidd — convicted wrongly of a double homicide in 1997 — but also covering the entire public defender crisis, they’re well worth listening to.

Vika always had a creative bent. She was a member of Staples Players, took directing classes, and sang with Orphenians. She apprenticed at the Westport Country Playhouse. At Skidmore College she majored in government, but also took theater courses.

After graduation Vika did food justice and environment work for non-profits. But she missed the creativity she’d found in theater and story telling. Moving to the Bay Aea, she discovered podcasts. Public radio is big there. She joined a training program at KPFA, the Pacifica station in Berkeley.

Vika loved reporting: talking to people, gathering stories, adding music to produce a finished piece. She used many of the lessons learned during her Playhouse apprenticeship, including sound design.

Vika worked fulltime, managing a retail store. But she did freelance radio work in the area.

In the summer of 2018, her boyfriend got an internship at NPR. The moved to Washington, DC. Last December she was hired by “PBS NewsHour,” to direct their podcasts.

Companion pieces to the heralded TV show, Vika’s podcasts range from an analysis of the State of the Union speech, to a 4-part companion to the televised “Antarctica” series.

“Broken Justice” is the first “NewsHour” podcast geared solely to audio. The pitch to Vika came from Frank Carlson, a reporter deeply interested in the topic. While Vika and he were working on, a dramatic decision was handed down in Ricky Kidd’s case. It makes for compelling listening.

Vulture called it one of the best crime podcasts ever. It’s gained a steady stream of listeners — and may result in legislative action.

You can hear “Broken Justice” yourself, any time. It’s available on Apple Tunes, and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Rotary Clubs Reach Out To Ukraine

For months, Americans have been flooded with news about Ukraine.

For most of us, it’s a foreign country. We can’t quite figure out its politics, its place in the world, or all the political and business figures with similar-sounding names who seem to be doing nefarious things.

Ken Bernhard is not confused.

Ken Bernhard

The longtime Westporter — an attorney who spent 8 years representing Westport in the General Assembly, rising to assistant minority leader; served as 3rd selectman from 1987-89; was on the Zoning Board of Appeals; has been on boards from the Library and Chamber of Commerce to Earthplace, Levitt Pavilion and Aspetuck Land Trust; helped found the Syria Fund for refugee aid, is involved with an orphanage in Haiti, collects shoes for thousands of children worldwide and raises guide dogs — has a connection to that Crimean nation too.

Three years ago, he taught law in the port city of Berdyansk. With that nation in the news now, he wanted to see what his Westport Sunrise Rotary Club — and its sister organization, the Westport Rotary — could do to foster the rule of law and due process.

“We wanted to give evidence that we support democratic values,” he explains.

Through a professor friend in Berdyansk, he found that the law university hoped to construct a moot courtroom where students could learn courtroom skills.

Both clubs quickly agreed to finance construction.

Nothing is easy there. But as soon as banking requirements are fulfilled, and the necessary documents are translated and executed, the project can begin.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Ukraine. But this is one unimpeachable fact: Halfway around the world, Westport is helping democracy thrive.

Ken Bernhard (left) with students in Berdyansk, Ukraine. They hold a Connecticut state flag.

Andrew Wilk Presents …

Like many Westporters, Andrew Wilk is very impressed by the recent transformation of the Westport Library.

But, he knows, a building that pulses with creativity is a lot more than “sticks and bricks.”

What really counts is the activity inside.

Andrew Wilk

Wilk is in a position to help make the library buzz even more than it does. An Emmy-winning television executive producer and director — as well as a playwright and symphony conductor — he has one of the most impressive Rolodexes* around.

Now he’s tapping his countless contacts — men and women he’s met through “Live at Lincoln Center,” as chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment, and vice president for the National Geographic Channel — to bring exciting, provocative pioneers in science, the arts and humanities to the interactive library stage.

“Andrew Wilk Presents…” debuts next month. Though he’s not crazy about the title — “I just find people, set them up for success and let ’em go,” he demurs — the library series looks like yet another Andrew Wilk smash.

The first guest (Thursday, December 12, 7 p.m.) is Michael Davie. A filmmaker who has worked on major projects for Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic, Discovery and many more, he’ll weave together hair-raising adventures from Kosovo to the Congo, adding personal reflections on travel, family and connecting with people all over the world.

Michael Davie in action.

Davie most recently co-created Oprah’s landmark 7-part series “Belief.” He began his video career by walking from Cape Town to Cairo (!) — alone (!!) — and recording that amazing journey.

Along the way Davie chronicled police brutality in Johannesburg, landmine victims in Mozambique, the sexual abuse of street children in Zimbabwe, and the disparity between rich and poor in Kenya.

He has also interviewed Nelson Mandela, and reported on terrorism, the persecution of gays in Iraq, the environmental cost of mining in Peru, and rescue climbing on Denali.

The second speaker is the celebrated oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard. He found the Titanic, Bismarck, USS Yorktown and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, and explored the Lusitania.

Dr. Robert Ballard

His next goal: discover Amelia Earhart’s plane. Wilk has no doubt Ballard will accomplish that too. “He’s an amazing person, with riveting stories,” Wilk says.

The third speaker is filmmaker Kevin Bachar. A 3-time Emmy Award-winning writer and cinematographer, he spent 10 years as a National Geographic producer. He also wrote specials for Discovery Channels’ Shark Week.

“There are so many great series at the library,” Wilk says. “I hope this is one more that will elevate the community.”

And — with speakers like Dr. Robert Ballard — take us to unimagined depths.

(General admission seats for Michael Davie are $20 each. VIP tickets cost $100, and include preferred seating, and pre-show food and drinks with Davie and Andrew Wilk. Click here for tickets.)

* The virtual kind, of course.

Want To Know Who Won?

“06880” provides many services. Quick election night results is not one of them.

Fortunately, the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office does. To find results for any town in Connecticut — after the polls close at 8 p.m. — click here.  Then:

  • Select the 11/05/2019 Election from the top drop-down menu
  • Select Your County
  • Select Your Town
  • Celebrate or commiserate accordingly.

Turnout was light this morning, at the Westport Library.

Tomorrow Is Election Day. Wherever You Live, A Westport Teen Can Help You Vote.

On Election Day, young people get a bad rap. They vote in lower numbers than any other age group — and Americans’ turnout for all ages is pretty pathetic to begin with.

Ella Berg is on a mission to change that.

Last year — as a Staples High School junior — she created an online primer for Westport voters. It included links to registration and voting information, plus short, factual descriptions of the positions of candidates for governor, senator, congressman, state representatives, and all other races.

This year, Ella’s gone national.

Ella Berg

Months ago before she turned 18, while trying to figure how to pre-register to vote, she noticed that information specific to one state was tough to find.

So Ella got to work. She researched all 50 states — plus Washington, DC and 4 US territories — and then created a website, filled with information and links.

For every state, she had to find a general information page that provides details on voter identification requirements; how to vote online or cast an absentee ballot, and — crucially — offers a polling place locator.

It was hard work.

“Many state-sponsored voting sites are disorganized, outdated, or missing key information,” Ella says.

The result — VoteAcrossAmerica.org — is clear, coherent, easy to use. Click here to access it.

But Ella did not stop there.

As a young voter, she wants to make sure her peers know how and when to cast ballots. She emailed the website to deans of students at the biggest public universities in each state, suggesting they offer it as a resource. Most wrote back, saying they were happy to do so.

Ella is also marketing the site through Twitter (@VoteAcrossUSA).

A screenshot of the home page.

Amid all this she is a typical Staples senior, with all the excitement and stress of applying to college. She hopes to study public policy there — with the goal of reforming the electoral system, “to make American elections more accurately reflect the will of the people.”

She adds, “I believe that equal voter access is one of the most important factors in a strong democracy. Even though I am still in high school, I’d like to do everything I can to boost voter turnout.”

She’s already doing it. When it comes to civic responsibility and engagement, Ella Berg gets my vote.

(PS: Live in Westport? Click here for a quick link to all local voting information.)

From Gun Barrels To Garden Tools

The prophet Isaiah said it well:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Over 2,000 years later we use guns, not swords. And we use them not only against other nations, but on ourselves.

This morning, the Unitarian Church in Westport took Isaiah literally (with a 21st-century twist).

Retired Episcopal Bishop Jim Curry preached on his work of taking guns off the street, and transforming them into garden tools. He was joined by Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence.

After the service, Rev. Curry fired up his forge in the courtyard, and demonstrated the transformation.

Linda Hudson and Bishop Suffragan (ret.) Jim Curry, hard at work.

Truly, he practiced what he preached.

“Swords into plowshares; guns into gardening tools.” (Photos/Stephen Axthelm)

Molly Jong-Fast: Political Tweeter Talks Trump

Molly Jong-Fast knows she doesn’t know everything.

So she sticks to writing about what she knows.

Like women’s issues. The absurdity of the Trump administration. The fact that Republicans can’t quite figure out when life begins (conception? Or after children are ripped from their families at ICE detention facilities?).

And nepotism.

“I come from a famous family,” she says. “I know it well.”

Jonathan Fast, Erica Jong and Molly Jong-Fast.

Her mother and father were novelists. (You may have heard of them: Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast.)

Her paternal grandfather — Howard Fast — was a noted writer too. He became a political figure when he was jailed for refusing to name names in the McCarthy Era.

Jong-Fast’s in-laws are politically active too. Stewart and Connie Greenfield have spent decades working for — and running for office as — Democrats in Westport.

Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast lived in Manhattan and Weston. Molly went to pre-school and kindergarten here. She attended Singing Oaks Day Camp, and rode horses there. Her roots in this area are deep.

Which is why her appearance this Sunday (October 20, 2:30 p.m., Westport Library) is a bit of a homecoming.

The event is the Democratic Women of Westport’s Fall Forum. The title: “How We Can Use Social Media to Beat Trump.”

Molly Jong-Fast

Jong-Fast is no newcomer to the topic. She is a social media veteran. She has over 300,000 Twitter followers (and has tweeted 169,000 times). She’s active on Instagram and other sites, and is a regular contributor to the Daily Beast, Playboy and The Bulwark.

Her bona fides include Tucker Carlson calling her “not super smart.” But she has been skewered by Democrats too: Marianne Williamson once called Molly’s mother to complain.

Jong-Fast began her writing career as a novelist. Her satirical bent found an outlet after the 2016 election.

“Because I’m dyslexic, my brain has always been a bit off,” she says. “In English class, I’d always give the wrong answer to what a book was about.”

However, she notes, “that helps me make connections that are not always the usual ones. They’re not necessarily right or better. But they’re different.”

Her talk on Sunday will build on a theme she’s tweeted and written about often: the need for ordinary citizens to be “the public editor,” calling out disinformation wherever it appears.

But isn’t social media just an echo chamber? Whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, don’t we all listen only to the people we agree with politically?

Not necessarily, Jong-Fast says. “Every Democrat has a cousin who watches Fox News. You have to find that person, and engage with them.”

She worries about the state of our nation. “How do you get the white nationalism genie back in the bottle?” she wonders. “And misogyny, discrimination, the judiciary — it’s a disaster.”

However, she says, “the Democrats won the House in the mid-terms. Polling shows more and more people interested in impeachment. And the younger generation is awesome.”

Tweet that!

(Sunday’s event with Molly Jong-Fast is free, but space is limited. Click here to reserve a seat.)

Signing Up A Thief

Lawn signs — which really should be called “traffic island signs,” but that takes too long to say — are an easy, cost-effective way of advertising a political campaign, non-profit fundraiser, school play or sports tryouts.

Plenty of Westporters don’t like them. They clutter the landscape. Plus, many individuals and organizations ignore town regulations governing their placement and duration.

But one person really hates them. He (or she)* deliberately removed several signs from the North Avenue traffic circle at Long Lots Road. Others were taken from Bulkley Avenue and Greens Farms Road.

We can’t tell whether the vigilante took signs for non-profits, candidates, or both. All the evidence is gone.

Well,  not all. The metal frames remain.

The traffic circle at Long Lots and North Avenue.

That’s a deliberate act.

You can love the signs. You can hate them.

But you can’t take them.

And you sure can’t take them, leaving only the frames behind.

That just advertises you’re a jerk.

* Though for some reason I’d bet anything it’s a guy.