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On the Edge: Toward public policy and personal action that is visionary, effective, courageous, and compassionate

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Welcome to a place for exploring insights and solutions to the public problems that test our times. This space is where I hope there will be discussion, co-learning, collaboration and—I hope—organizing actions. Your comments are welcome after each piece. Some of my own views come from fifteen years in the US Foreign Service, most of them spent way off the beaten track. Some come from my career since then as an activist, coach and mentor to activists, and President of Giraffe Heroes International, moving people to stick their necks out for the common good. — John Graham

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Unless you’re Donald Trump or Ebeneezer Scrooge you gotta be happy that President Biden got his bipartisan infrastructure bill passed and that America will finally fix a decades-long backlog of repairs and upgrades.

But that infrastructure bill, in today’s super-polarized world, was the exception. Even though its benefits are hugely popular in red states and blue, there were still weeks of petty foot-dragging...

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Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, has leaked thousands of pages of internal company documents showing that Facebook, in order to increase its profits, has continually operated against the public interest. It has spread disinformation on crucial subjects like Covid and election integrity, undermined the self-images of vulnerable teens, further polarized the American electorate and supported violent extremists like the ones who...

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In the summer of 1964, on a year-long global journey by bus and hitchhiking, I found myself in the middle of one of the worst famines in history. I was on the Ethiopian plateau, 10,000 feet above sea level, and it would be the most godforsaken place I would ever see. Hidden from the world in this barely accessible place,peasants wrapped in rags or even old newspapers huddled in the bone-numbing rain and cold. At everystop, crowds of them...

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A few days ago, my daughter and I carried out her wild idea of re-creating the Last Dinner on the Titanic. It was a daft way of celebrating our own rescue from another sinking passenger ship exactly 41 years ago.

She made cocktails, an elaborate appetizer, and an extravagant dessert. I did salad and meat, both of us following the recipes used on the Titanic. We had to assemble truffles,...

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It was inevitable that rightwing loonies would cry “fraud” in the California election that kept Governor Gavin Newsom in office. Never mind that Newsom won by two and a half million votes, or roughly 2/3 of those cast. Even before the polls opened on election day, Newsom’s opponent, Trump wanna-be Larry Elder, contended, without a shred of proof, that there were already “millions” of...

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Richard Spencer is the most infamous summer resident in Whitefish, Montana, a mostly liberal, affluent resort town, nestled in Trump Country in the Rocky Mountains.

Spencer was the main instigator of the 2017 neo-Nazi riot in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer and injured at least 19 others and he played a major role in the attack on the Capitol last January.

But his Whitefish story—detailed in the New York Times...

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I’m going to say something about Afghanistan that doesn’t jibe with what you’re hearing in the media, something that may even sound callous. Here goes—When the snap judgments and finger-pointing die down, I think history’s judgement will be that the long-term damage to American interests was less than we now think it is.

As a former US diplomat, one who witnessed the awful endgame in Vietnam, I don’t underestimate the loss of lives and...

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Why Not Knowing, or Refusing to Know, Can Kill You

The pandemic is resurging. The US is now averaging more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases a day, the highest in nearly six months. The resurgence is driven in part by a deadly new strain of the disease, the Delta variant.

I want to focus on the other reason for the resurgence—the reluctance of tens of millions of Americans to get vaccinated, even though contracting the...

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Two new books suggest that on January 6 we came far closer to losing democracy than we thought.

Landslide, by Michael Wolff, describes Donald Trump’s increasingly unhinged behavior after his election loss. In I Alone Can Fix It, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker detail how the top US military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, was so shaken that then-President Donald Trump...

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The pandemic is easing in much of the United States. In the larger world, vaccines are finally beginning to flow from “have” countries to “have nots.”

As it ends in this country, I think it’s crucial not to rush onwards, without looking at these last, devastating months. There are huge lessons to be learned from what we’ve been through—about inequality, about race, about work, about ourselves—and we’d be monumentally stupid not to learn...

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A few days ago I was interviewed on Russian state television on a news show that draws over a million viewers inside Russia. The subject was President Biden’s trip to Europe and in particular his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This is perhaps my 30th appearance on Russian media and I remain mystified why they keep asking me on, since I offer balanced views of issues the United States and Russia don’t agree on....

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Memorial Day 2021

President Biden’s withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan will be completed before the deadline he set—September 11, exactly 20 years after the attacks on the US that were our reason for starting that long, unwinnable war.

As you know, the United States went into Afghanistan in December of 2001 to find and destroy the Taliban (the ultraconservative political and religious faction that ruled Afghanistan...

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Let’s talk about courage. For the last 35 years I’ve helped lead a global movement that inspires people to stick their necks out to solve tough public problems. So I’ve got some standing on the matter of what’s courageous in public life.

Let’s look at a woman many people in the last few weeks have cited for her courage.

Of course I’m talking about Liz Cheney, the far-right congresswoman from Wyoming, the daughter of Dick Cheney,...

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In his address to Congress last Wednesday, President Biden sketched out an agenda packed with “once in a generation” government investments that would touch nearly every corner of American life. It was a passionate and comprehensive defense of government as a force for good. It was Ronald Reagan—in reverse.

40 years ago President Reagan told the country that government was the problem—that it “is too big, and it spends too much.” His...

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As you know, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd was convicted on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter.

Since then there’s been nonstop coverage and analysis of the trial. Many people feared that the killer would get off because history shows it’s extremely difficult to get a murder conviction of a police officer.

Juries give cops enormous latitude and, if that wasn’t enough, in too many...

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375 people have now been arrested, charged and intensively interviewed about their participation in the attack on the US Capitol January 6. A reliable picture is emerging of who they are and what motivated them.

It’s no surprise that they were overwhelmingly white and male and strongly influenced by Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the November election

But it came as a bit of a surprise, at least to some, that only about 10%...

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This should be a strange topic in a democracy with universal suffrage, but it has, sadly, become a very real question that could define our identity as a nation. Hear me out.

If you’ve been following the news, you know that the State of Georgia has just enacted the most extensive voting restrictions in generations and other Red States are not far behind.

The Georgia legislation introduces a raft of new oppressive laws aimed at...

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Last week, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, killed eight people, seven of them women, in three Atlanta-area spas. His motives seem to have been a toxic mix of misogyny, racism and bizarre ideas about himself and sex.

A patron of two of the spas, the Long grew up in a ultra-conservative Baptist church and appeared fixated on lust and guilt. He told police that he was a “sex addict” and that the women working there were...

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Is Joe Biden Our FDR? You may think, Well by God he is! Or you may see him as a socialist demon. Well fine, it’s a free country and I really want to spark respectful, fact-based discussions by these weekly talks.

Let’s start with the basics. We are in the worst peacetime crisis in a century. Lots of people are scared, depressed, frustrated, pissed off, or all of the above.

And last Thursday night this new American president...

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In the contest between Biden and Trump, I very much wanted Joe Biden to win and I’m very happy with the strong, quick moves he’s made to advance an agenda that makes this country the nation it can be.

Until last week.

Senate Republicans have shown us again and again that political courage is rare. It’s just that, with Joe Biden, I expected it to last more than six weeks.

In my opinion Biden made a serious stumble last week...

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I’m betting that much of your attention this last week was on quarantines and masks, and on scrambling to get a vaccine appointment.

If you’ve had time for politics, there’s the chess matches in Congress over President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill and a few of his more controversial nominations for top jobs.

With all that going on, did you also see the reports on the landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars? It was...

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“America’s Back.” On February 19, with those two words, the new US president repudiated the go-it-alone policies of his predecessor that had led to bitter disagreements, escalating trade wars, and rejection of the alliances that have benefited America and its allies since the end of the Second World War

But a slogan is not a policy. Let’s look at what’s back and what isn’t.

Acknowledging the strains and shit storms have...

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I don't blame you if you haven't been watching every moment of the trial of former President Trump for inciting an attack on the Capitol that killed five people as a raving mob ransacked the seat of American government, holding it for hours.

But some of the proceedings have actually been fascinating, especially new videos showing the extent of the violence and how close to injury or death key members of Congress and their staffs came on...

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Living Room Talk #17: Were you hoping, just for a couple of days there, that Republicans had finally burst out of their Trump trance? You know, when some of their Senators said they’d vote to convict on his impeachment by the House for inciting rioters to attack the Capitol? When even McConnell said Trump had gone too far? When it seemed that more than a few Republicans saw that dumping Trump might give their Party a shot at...

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As the Biden Administration begins, many of us are pivoting from dread and outrage to... happiness. And it's about a lot more than “Ding Dong, the wicked witch is dead!” isn’t it?

Let’s see if I can hit some of the reasons.

I'm happy that after four years, a good and decent man is in the White House, a president with a lifelong record of integrity, compassion, and dedication to this country and its Constitution.

I find it a...

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