A former colleague and a friend for more than forty years, Ira Rifkin has devoted much of his journalistic career to covering the fields of religion and spirituality. He forwarded this missive from the Reverend Earl Ikeda, resident minister of the New York Buddhist Church. It is by far the most poignant reminder of what this season (and all seasons) should celebrate and embrace that I have seen at a time when words of assurance can seem somehow hollow and sentiments as personal as a manufactured greeting card.
“[The holiday season] is a wonderful time, especially if we remember to celebrate with feelings of peace and good will, banish our harsh judgments and foolish prejudices, and remind ourselves of our interrelatedness with other people, sentient beings, and the natural environment that surrounds us.”
The quote begs the question of how, when and why so many Americans have turned their backs on others. There’s a pervasive sense of a mean-spirited attitude that overwhelms. Politics notwithstanding, the Trump era was time of divisiveness unseen since the Civil War as it ushered in a lack of civility and reasoned discourse.
This comes at a time when the opposite should be true. As a nation, we are challenged by a pandemic that should bring out the best in each of us. Despite the isolation and the accompanying depression that challenge our very beings during these times, we should be celebrating the joy of being helpful to and supportive of our neighbors.
Just the other day I saw a report on CNN that said healthcare professionals are being assailed and assaulted in their workplaces. They are tired and emotionally spent after two years of heart-breaking work. Some COVID-19 patients are demanding that certain procedures and remedies be offered that are known to be of little or no use. And the lawsuits—frivolous as they will no doubt be found—are being filed in a fast and furious manner.
What a monumental waste of resources that are so needed to help the ailing.
At a time when our best natures should bolster our national spirit, there is ample evidence to suggest that racism, hatred, extremism, and antisemitism are on the rise.
And in response to a well-thought program designed to help the American people, the Build Back Better plan offered by President Joe Biden is being held hostage by one senator whose interests in traditional, extractive energy sources are what seems to motivate his every move.
Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia, claims that he first and foremost responds to the needs of his constituents. I would agree, noting, however, that the constituents to whom he’s most responsive seem to be the wealthiest who can ensure his seat in the U.S. Senate.
He was elected as a “centrist, moderate conservative Democrat” and is a prominent opponent of policy proposals including Medicare For All, abolishing the filibuster, packing the Supreme Court, and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He receives the largest coal, oil and gas industry donations of any senator.
Fewer than 300,000 West Virginia voters (49.6%) sent him to Washington, and he is challenging the desires of the 88.2 million Americans who voted for Biden. His one vote has the potential to derail Biden’s plan that seems to address my view of what our government should do: provide for the communal good of the citizenry, offer assistance to those in need, and create an environment that encourages equal opportunity.
Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.
The U.S House of Representatives passed a version of the Build Back Better bill that provided $555 billion to help our transition to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, and away from fossil fuels like West Virginia coal. A significant part of the allotment would provide training for workers in the coal industry.
With every Republican opposing the bill in the evenly divided Senate, Democratic leaders could not afford to lose a single vote, and Mr. Manchin has said he had concerns about energy issues from the start, including his opposition to President Barack Obama’s climate change initiative that would have imposed stiff penalties on electric utilities that continued to burn coal and natural gas.
West Virginia’s coal interests were working hard to kill a package of tax credits to make clean energy more financially competitive, and, by extension, coal even less so. Of course, Manchin supported the coal interests.
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which represents West Virginia coal miners, urged Manchin to revisit his opposition to Biden’s Build Back Better plan.
The labor union noted that the bill includes an extension of a fund that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease, which expires at the end of this year. The UMWA also touted tax incentives that encourage manufacturers to build facilities in coalfields that would employ thousands of miners who lost their jobs.
“For those and other reasons, we are disappointed that the bill will not pass,” Cecil Roberts, the union’s president, said in a statement. “We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to this legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working, and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”
Manchin announced that he would not support Democrats’ roughly $2 trillion climate and social spending bill, dooming its chances in the 50-50 Senate.
Maybe what we need to address is how we treat each other and recognize that there is a morality to governance that should be embraced.
Hubert H. Humphrey, the late senator from Minnesota, once offered words that Manchin should heed. (Thank you, Lawrence Pettit.)
“The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
Oh, to be in Bedford Falls.
Photo illustration by Courtney A. Liska
This easy-to-make dish got its start in San Francisco, made by the immigrant Italian fishermen’s wives from the day’s catch. But its beginnings can be traced to Italy, where every fishing village has its own version. Unlike its French cousin, bouillabaisse, there are no strict rules for its creation.
- 4-5 lbs. mixed fresh fish fillets and shellfish, such as sole, cod, monkfish, sea bass, prawns, clams, mussels, squid or scallops
- 8 Tbs. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 large onion, finely sliced
- 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped, plus an extra clove for the toast
- 2 14-oz cans of diced tomatoes
- 4 oz. red wine
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh chili
- 3 Tbs. finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6-8 slices good bread, slightly stale or toasted
Clean and prepare your chosen fish and shellfish. Cut fish fillets into large chunks.
Put the oil, onion and garlic into a large pot and fry briefly. Add the tomatoes, wine, chili, parsley and fennel seeds and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes. Start adding the large pieces of fish to the sauce first. Then add the more tender fish such as sole and the shellfish, ending with the mussels and clams. Cook for five or so minutes, or until the fish is cooked and the mussels and clams have opened.
Rub the bread with garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and put each slice in the bottom of a deep soup bowl. Ladle the soup and serve.