Leaders Listen

The First Electronic President

No one person holds all wisdom in our complicated, fast-moving world. To succeed, a wise leader needs informed sources, trusted advisors, and judgment to separate the grains of wisdom from foggy reasoning. Facing a myriad of problems daily, President Lincoln was no exception; instead, he established the standard.

Here he is seen in the telegraph office, which may seem a sleepy, solitary source of news compared with today’s worldwide information flowing in full-color pixels across multiple digital screens. Yet the telegraph gave Lincoln almost instantaneous news about what was happening on the Civil War battlefields—his early“internet.” He became the first “electronic president,” curious, forward-looking, and eager to learn and master future technology when he saw his first telegraph key. In 1857 Lincoln rode the legal circuit in Illinois and checked into the Tazewell House Hotel in Pekin, one of the state’s early telegraph offices. While there, Lincoln requested a tutorial from the telegraph operator Charles Tinker.

Then, two years before being elected President, Lincoln gave a series of lectures on “Discoveries and Inventions.” He said: “All creation is a mine, and every man, a miner.” (We’ll take it that he included women here based on his other statements on behalf of women.) He praised technological innovation and its benefits, saying it separated “Young America” from the other “Old Fogey” nations to the advantage of the new republic.

Just five weeks after the fall of Fort Sumner, the American Telegraph Company met on the Long Bridge, then across the Potomac River from the White House to sever the North-South telegraph connection. In hindsight, the North’s lopsided amount of military equipment and greater ability to supply their army across better railroad connections seemed to be critical in the outcome of the Civil War. But perhaps an even greater advantage came from the 1500 miles of telegraph lines quickly installed in the North, which was triple that in the South. Crucial communications between Lincoln and his generals ran across these wires. But, again, the Confederate’s focus on States’ rights and their difficulty obtaining the needed supplies to build and install telegraphic networks hampered their ability to communicate between their leadership and their generals in the field. In comparison, the South’s refusal to establish a robust central authority supporting telegraphic messages led to a communications nightmare.

In Washington, Lincoln demanded the latest information from the battlefields. So, during his first year in office, he learned how to manage the telegraph’s capabilities. Lincoln began to haunt the telegraph office near the White House because he wanted to be the first to know where his generals and troops were and the outcomes of the battles. He wasn’t shy about giving his opinion after reading the West Point curricula, including about the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution.

Three months after the Union’s loss at Bull Run, another defeat came at Balls Bluff, across the Potomac River in Virginia. The Confederates drove the bluecoats back over the bluff into the water. Many were shot as they tried to swim to the opposite shore. Colonel Edward Baker, a former Illinois Congressman and Oregon U.S. Senator, died leading his troops at Balls Bluff. He and Lincoln had served in Congress together and were close friends. When Lincoln went to the telegraph office to inquire about dispatches on the battle’s outcome, the telegraph operator denied anything new “in the file.” He’d placed this dispatch under his desk blotter, knowing the news would upset the President.

Then, Lincoln walked into McClellan’s office around the corner, where he saw the dispatch on his desk. Lincoln returned to the operator and asked why he withheld his message. The operator argued that technically he’d been truthful since the information was under his blotter, not “in the file.” Lincoln was not amused.  

A President Acts

Lincoln could not abide a situation that ceded control of electronic information to the military, to the exclusion of the elected government. A few similar incidents resulted in Lincoln sending the Secretary of War Simon Cameron to Russia as an ambassador. In January 1862, Edwin Stanton became the new Secretary of War. When Congress returned that month, it followed Lincoln’s request and enacted legislation allowing the government to take control of the telegraph lines as necessary for military purposes. The line continued to be owned by private companies and carried civilian traffic. Still, Stanton assumed control of military applications under the restructured U.S. Military Telegraph Corps (USMTC), a civilian operation only answerable to the Secretary of War, who worked for the President of the United States. The civilians were independent and immune to the orders of army officers.

Big Ear

The telegraph office moved from General McClellan’s headquarters to the War Department building next to the White House. Lincoln saw that telegraph operator Charles Tinker, his former tutor, be appointed a telegraph clerk there. So now Lincoln had a new hideout in the telegraph office in a room between the telegraph machines and Secretary Stanton’s office. There Lincoln would remain for hours, sometimes overnight. The President would hunch over the telegraph operator as he decoded the dispatch word for word. Sometimes Lincoln would open the operator’s drawer and read all the dispatches received since his last visit. At this point, the President would remark,” Well, boys, I’m down to the raisins.” (He referred to a doctor’s response treating a child with stomach problems—once the results came up to raisins, they’d hit bottom and were moving forward.)

The dispatches allowed Lincoln to eavesdrop on his generals in the field. By the summer of 1864, the future on the battlefield and the Presidential Campaign looked grim. Draft riots threatened havoc in New York, and General Grant worried about depleting his front-line forces to quell the domestic mayhem. In addition, Grant felt the heat from a Confederate Army marching up the Shenandoah Valley towards Washington while his advance to Richmond stalled. Finally, Lincoln saw his re-election prospects disappearing with the morning mist across the Potomac.

Then He Speaks

Lincoln believed a clear victory in battle would cut through all the confusion. So he sent one clear message to Grant: “I have seen your dispatches expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bull-dog grip, and chew and choke, as much as possible.”

Upon reading Lincoln’s dispatch, Grant laughed out loud, reinforced his resolve, and said:” The President has more nerve than any of his advisors.” Knowing what we know of Grant, someone probably polished that sentence for publication! Somehow the weary troops, Grant’s persistence, and Lincoln’s continued support held tight. By March 4, 1865, after many twists and turns, Lincoln stood on the steps of the Capitol to give his Second Inaugural Address. Then, a month later, the President stood on the deck of the River Queen headed up the James River to view the ruins of Richmond, as much the result of the South’s destruction of remaining military supplies to keep them from Yankee hands than active Northern artillery. By April 9, General Lee, his final supply train destroyed before reaching his starving troops, requested a secret meeting to discuss surrender.

We can never know what exactly triggered John Wilkes Booth to take that small derringer pistol to the back of Lincoln’s head that evening at Ford’s Theater. But those who plotted with him later revealed the original plan: to hold the President for ransom. But after Booth heard Lincoln speak from the White House door two days after the Confederate surrender, he changed his mind. Then Lincoln mentioned giving the “elective franchise” (the vote) to “colored men–the very intelligent and those who served our cause as soldiers.” (Lincoln tried to weave a position between those in his party who were uncomfortable with giving the vote to men of color and those who wanted universal suffrage for men.)  Booth became furious and decided the President’s fate: “That is the last speech he will make,” and immediately revised his plan to kill the President instead.

 Within the week of Lincoln’s death, Frederick Douglass gave a eulogy for the President at Cooper Union in New York, the site of one of Lincoln’s speeches, announcing him to Eastern voters: “. . . no man who knew Abraham Lincoln  could hate him; . . . true to his country, and true to the cause of human freedom, taking care of the Constitution and for this reason, he was slain. . . and for this reason he today commands our homage.

“The greatness and grandeur of the American republic never appeared more conspicuously than in connection with the death of Abraham Lincoln: though always great and powerful, we have seemed to need the presence of some great, and widespread calamity, some overwhelming sorrow, to reveal to ourselves and the world, in glorified forms, all the elements of our national strength and greatness.

“While it cannot be affirmed, that our long-torn and distracted country has already reached the desired condition of peace, . . . we have survived the terrible agonies of a fierce and sanguinary rebellion. We have before us a fair prospect of a just and lasting peace, a peace which, if we are wise and just, can never be disturbed or broken by the remains of still insolent and designing slave oligarchy.”

Douglass saw the end of slavery but did not envision the current political division that requires every bit of that wisdom today.

Rolling on the River. . . to a Bridge

How Lincoln and Modern Technology Changed History

When the Effie Afton (not pictured) ran into the Rock Island Railroad Bridge stone pier in 1856, exploding in flames and destroying a section of the bridge, it led to the transcontinental railroad. Today people and goods move across the country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean because of this court case argued in a Chicago courtroom in 1857. Abraham Lincoln, who had a vision of swifter, cheaper travel and a nation united east and west, joined this legal team before he ran for President.

The case: The Effie Afton highlighted the economic interests of steamboats vs. the railroads and competitors along the Mississippi River. Technically: Hurd et al (steamboat investors) v. The Railroad Bridge Company. The steamboat owners filed suit to recover damages against the Railroad Bridge Company, which retained Lincoln and a panel of lawyers to defend themselves against the steamboat company.

The incident: A high wind whipped across the water as the Effie Afton paddled the upper Mississippi the night before the collision. Calmer morning winds encouraged Affie’s captain to get a fresh start. He zoomed backward from the dock into the steamboat John Wilson butkept going, even engaging in a race to the bridge with the slower J.B. Carson. Effie won the race, but about halfway under the drawbridge, the boat began to sway, then plowed into a supporting pillar for the Rock Island Bridge on May 5, 1856. Just open for two weeks, the Rock Island Bridge was the first railroad bridge to span the Mississippi River.

The impact could be felt from Effie’s bow to stern. Emergency bells blared, and the hissing sound of escaping steam filled the air. Two hundred people were on board, including fifty crew, plus livestock, machinery, farm implements, and groceries weighing more than 350 tons. Desperate passengers braved the cold water to swim to nearby ships, and some even reached out to grab sections of the bridge now jutting down from the suspension. Some cattle swam to shore, but others drowned or burned on board. Every person survived as other steamboats fished them out of the water. Firefighters extinguished smaller fires erupting from space heaters on the deck or cooking stoves in 50 staterooms, but then the timbers of the bridge caught fire. Eventually, the remains of the ship and the fallen bridge span floated down the river until they rested on a Rock Island sandbar.

Steamboat Heyday & History’s Influence

Steamboat traffic in the 1850s became the lifeblood of cities along the river, like St. Louis and New Orleans, bringing food, shelter, and people starting a new life. But the boats could not guarantee when any boat would reach port because of surprise sandbars and snags that could delay a trip for days until a strong wave helped ease the ship back on its way. If you glance at a map of the U.S., you will see the Mississippi and its tributaries follow a winding route, not a straight line, south to New Orleans. The Big Muddy weaves lazily through 3,000 miles of soggy land, taking a trip a bird could fly directly in 675 miles, according to Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi (2).

Ironically the relative of a future President, great-uncle of Teddy Roosevelt, Nicholas Roosevelt, financially helped build the first steamboat in America with Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston in 1810-11 when Abe Lincoln was just two. In October 1811, Roosevelt made the first steamboat trip from Pittsburg to New Orleans aboard the New Orleans with his wife, Lydia Latrobe. Her father, Benjamin Latrobe, served as the second architect of the U.S. Capitol, creating his reputation.

Railroads’ American Entry

America’s railroads grew from a horse-drawn tramway used to carry granite from Quincy, Massachusetts, four miles to Milton to construct the Bunker Hill Monument in 1826, the origin of the Granite Railway. It took thirty years before the rail industry grew to build the Rock Island Bridge over the Mississippi. Just twelve years later, with Lincoln’s assistance in the White House, two trains met at Promontory Point, Utah,on May 10, 1869, opening the transcontinental railroad to passenger and freight traffic from coast-to-coast.

When he was in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln voted to straighten and deepen river channels, build roads, and build bridges over creeks and rivers. In addition, he supported state financing of a nearly one-hundred-mile-long Illinois and Michigan Canal linking the Chicago River (near Lake Michigan) with the Illinois River, which flowed into the Mississippi. A twelve-year project (1836-48), the canal pushed Chicago to become the Midwest’s principal commercial (and agricultural and cattle) center. (Zobrist, “Steamboat Men versus Railroad Men,” 160.)

Lincoln and the Effie Afton

As a prairie lawyer, Lincoln strolled into the Chicago courtroom in the Effie Afton case and proceeded to etch his role in history. Abraham Lincoln, then 48, had hundreds of civil and criminal cases under his belt (eventually totaling 3,200 cases over 25 years). Twenty years earlier, he began to ride Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit on horseback, his proving ground. From spring into summer, he endured the glaring heat and swirling dust on horseback, then returned to do it again each fall.

In his free moments traveling the Circuit, Lincoln read Euclid’s Geometry to study the logic he found there. He put it to use in the courtroom. Once Billy Herndon, his law partner, questioned Lincoln about why he took the jury so far back in the history of the law in a particular case in the Illinois Supreme Court. (Lewis v. Lewis, 48 U.S.[7Howard] 776 (1849) Lincoln’s response: “I dare not trust this case on presumptions that this court knows everything. I argue the case on the presumption that the court did not know anything.” Herndon noted that Lincoln “won the case by the history he was so careful to state fully.”

Lincoln prepared well for jury trials, particularly those before the Illinois Supreme Court. He removed other cases from his calendar to spend a week or two in the library studying both sides.Lincoln would argue the appeals of more than two hundred cases that other lawyers had lost at the trial court level.

In Effie Afton, Abraham Lincoln served on the legal team for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad Company and the Mississippi and Missouri Railroads, running on either side of the Big Muddy. Lincoln began his speech in his characteristic way by telling the jury that “he did not propose to assail anybody, that he expected to grow earnest as he proceeded but not ill-natured.”When Lincoln spoke of the depth of the river channel under the bridge, following him took attention and some skill. He conveyed detailed information; his voice gave assurance and facts. While his voice was “shrill, squeaking, piping,” as he continued to speak, it “became harmonious, melodious, musical, if you please; his form dilated, swelled out, and he rose a splendid form, erect, straight and dignified.” (Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 1:320)

Lincoln honed his analytical and debating skills in this case, further building his reputation. He had learned how to communicate effectively with juries, to speak to them in words that would convince them that justice should prevail. During this trial, Francis Saltonstall, a stock and bond broker, recalled Lincoln “seemed to have committed all the facts and figures to memory, and often corrected evidence so effectively as to cause a ripple of mirth in the audience.”  Then Lincoln applied what he learned about appealing to members of the jury to voters in his political life. However, he won his first election to the Illinois State Legislature in 1834, more than two decades earlier.

He didn’t need to stay working in out-back Illinois. After Lincoln won several important cases, a prominent Chicago attorney named Grant Goodrich invited him to join his law practice, but Lincoln said “no,” explaining directly that he “would rather go around the Circuit . . . than sit down & die in Chicago.” (Herndon’s Informant’s: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 349)

When Lincoln spoke of the depth of the river channel under the bridge, following him took attention and some skill. He conveyed detailed information; his voice gave assurance and facts. While his voice was “shrill, squeaking, piping,” as he continued to speak, it “became harmonious, melodious, musical, if you please, with a face somewhat allow; his form dilated, swelled out, and he rose a splendid form, erect, straight and dignified.” (Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 1:320)

In this case, he honed his analytical and debating skills, further building his reputation. In addition, he had learned how to communicate effectively with juries, to speak to them in words that would convince them that justice should prevail. Then Lincoln applied what he learned to gather Illinois voters to his political life. He advanced from his earlier victory as an Illinois State Legislator in 1834. During the trial, Francis Saltonstall, a stock and bond broker, recalled Lincoln “seemed to have committed all the facts and figures to memory, and often corrected evidence so effectively as to cause a ripple of mirth in the audience.”  

He didn’t need to stay working in out-back Illinois. After Lincoln won several important cases, a prominent Chicago attorney named Grant Goodrich invited him to join his law practice, but Lincoln said “no,” explaining directly that he “would rather go around the Circuit . . . than sit down & die in Chicago.” (Herndon’s Informant’s: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 349)

Lincoln would argue the appeals of more than two hundred cases that other lawyers had argued at the trial court level. When preparing for a case before the Illinois Supreme Court, he would quit his other work for a week or two in the court’s library or his office. When he stood to argue an appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court, the opposing lawyer never had an opportunity to make a point Lincoln had not already investigated.

Lincoln on the River:

As a youth, Lincoln learned to navigate the Mississippi River. In 1827, when he was 18, he operated a private flatboat ferry on Little Pigeon Creek, charging twenty cents daily. Eventually, regular ferry operators became angry and arrested him for operating a ferry without a license. He defended himself before a justice of the peace. Lincoln argued that Kentucky law (he lived close to the border between the two states) did not forbid non-licensed ferry boats from conveying passengers to steamboats in the middle of the river. Later Lincoln said this experience helped him develop an interest in the law.

Far from being against water transportation, Lincoln appreciated what steamboats could do to widen the horizons of his fellow Midwesterners. So he built a simple flatboat sailing down the Mississippi to New Orleans. While there, Lincoln saw many black people, including women and children, in chains, being bought and sold in the market, many to work on plantations growing cotton. That experience awakened him to the perils of slavery and stayed with him throughout his political career.

This case fell within Lincoln’s philosophy –the American System–(and the 1830 Whig Party philosophy of Henry Clay). The Whigs called for tariffs to protect and promote American manufacturing and create a home market for American products, a national bank to provide a sound and uniform currency, and federal support for roads, canals, and river improvements.” (Holt, Rise, and Fall of American Whig Party, speech by Henry Clay, March 30, 1830)

History’s Verdict of the Effie Afton

Abraham Lincoln cemented his legal reputation based on this victory. Then after a series of debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln overcame better-known candidates to be the Republican nominee and mounted a successful campaign for President in 1860. (Although candidates did not travel around the country in those days, but had surrogates who spoke for them.) But, unfortunately, the jurors could not reach a legally binding verdict—the jury was hung—since they could not reach a unanimous decision. Financial results show the steamboat companies’ fears of the rail industry were realistic. Still, technological change brought faster, less expensive, more reliable transportation that made all the difference, sinking the steamboat trade.  

  • Despite the Effie Afton litigation cost, the railroad spanning the Mississippi made money the year after the decision.
  • 1866 – Railroad bridges were funded and built at Quincy, Ill; Burlington, Iowa; Hannibal, MO; Prairie du Chien, WI; Keokuk, Iowa; Winona, MN; Dubuque, Iowa, and St. Louis and Kansas City, MO
  • 1879 –  More than 85 percent of farm products were shipped from states along the Mississippi by rail and 15 percent by the river.
  • By 1890, the entire rail business out of St. Louis was twelve times the river traffic; by 1906, it was one hundred times.

But just a few decades after the court’s ruling, these economic events gave the victory to travel by rail that now operates across the country. Of course, as history continues, rail passenger travel focuses more on efficient regional trips on both coasts. Now less bulky freight travels by air for swifter service. Instead, large trucks carry products to final destinations, generally for shorter distances, though some 18-wheel trucks haul bulky equipment and agricultural products.

All transportation services compete for drivers and currently rail freight engineers are negotiating higher salaries and sick leave after working through the Pandemic without upgrades. Transportation that moves America will continue to evolve as advances in electric batteries create opportunities for less polluting vehicles. However, the electricity that runs the modern vehicles still relies in part on coal as an energy source. New inventions and advances in energy sources will bring new challenges, just as in the 19th century.  


McGinty, Brian. Lincoln’s Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2015)

Mental Health Checklist: Wondermind.com

A life, any life, is a series of connections. Sometimes these links are broken. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no hand to reach out to or help when we need it most.

A life, any life, is a series of connections. Sometimes these links are broken. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no hand to reach out to or help when we need it most.

Selena Gomez launches mental health website

Selema Gomez, the singer and actress, now 30, experienced her mental and physical health crisis in the past decade. Her ability to address these issues encouraged her to reach out to help others. Today is World Mental Health Day, October 10, when medical teams and individuals worldwide seek to raise awareness, educate, advocate for mental health support, and remove the stigma associated with the disease.

Today Goma introduced the trailer for “My Mind & Me,” to be released on Apple TV Plus on November 4. She has also launched the “Wondermind” computer platform (www.wondermind.com), a mental health fitness site, to help people address various issues, including loneliness–an essential way to learn more about mental health.

Today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. The need for help can be simple or overwhelming when we become depressed because the mental fog has depleted our view of the world of depression or other mental illnesses. This can result in a lasting depression that requires medical attention.

Since the Pandemic, the need for mental health services has increased. While legislation in the U.S. supports insurance and funding to place mental health on equal footing with physical health, budgets and services have not kept pace. As a result, parents seeking treatment for their children and teens are forced to pay “out-of-network” costs to find services for their children. Others unable to pay for these services have been forced to go without treatment, possibly causing safety issues in their communities.

In the last decade, Gomez has been diagnosed with lupus, a brain disease that impacts the joints and organs of the body, and bipolar illness, which includes bouts of depression and mania. Both are under control now, and she wants to reach out to help others learn about mental health and remove the stigma attached to these diseases.

Take this step to learn more. Check out the mental health fitness site. We must make mental health and well-being a global priority—NOW.

No Voice, No Vote, No Liberty

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA matadornnetwork.com

“They who have no voice nor vote in the election of representatives do not enjoy liberty but are enslaved to those who do.” Ben Franklin, 1774

I signed up for VDVR training (Voter Deputy Voter Registrar) since Labor Day begins the campaign season for the 2022 Midterm Election. VDVR is not risk free. The completed registration form lists my name and VDVR number at the bottom. If I incorrectly fill out the form here in Texas, it can bring a criminal penalty, a felony, even if I make an honest mistake. Strange that helping people register to vote can create such fear and loathing in the TX Legislature.

How many people can I register in a day going door-to-door or sitting in a booth at a parade or civic event? 20 to 40. How many people could be registered if automatic registration took place at the DMVor Social Security? Millions. It’s a numbers game. Nationwide 1 in 4 eligible voters are not registered to vote, which partially explains why the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of voting among the developed nations.

But adding registered voters to the rolls does not appeal to some elected officials, who prefer the status quo. Yet progress is being made. Since 2015 nineteen states have switched to automatic voter registration (AVR), primarily blue states. But wait, nineteen mostly red states have acted to restrict voting rights, mostly in 2021. Bills to restrict voting (440) have been filed in 48 states, just 34 have passed, including four wide-ranging omnibus voting restrictions in Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and, yes, Texas.

False Smoke Screen: “Voter Fraud”

Since the 2020 Presidential Election, former President Donald Trump’s redundant and fake cries of fraud, have complicated the registration process. But what’s the risk here? David Litt in Democracy in One Book or Less does not deny there is voter fraud, but instead of dreaming up any old number, he relies on recent, nonpartisan studies.

Litt points to the fact that impostors filling out multiple ballots in places where they’re not registered is rare indeed. Impersonation “tarnishes approximately one ballot out of every 32,250,000.” If you can’t wrap your brain around that number, “imagine a human chain of voters, starting at polling in New York City, stretching across the country to Seattle, dropping down to Los Angeles, and returning back east as far as New Orleans.” In that 5,000-mile line, precisely one of them will commit fraud. (That’s .0000017 percent.) Checks and balances make it much more difficult to commit fraud.

Partisan, geographic, and racial divides over access to the ballot are the law in seven states, which have harsher voter ID laws, seven shrunk the amount of time allowed for mail-in voting, and four limited the use of ballot drop boxes for mail-in votes. Seven states made it easier to purge voters off the voter rolls. In 2020 the Electoral wizards in Georgia applied an “exact match” criterion to registration forms and election day signatures, not by handwriting experts, but by untrained poll workers. Who among us signs their name the same when we’re in a hurry vs. when we’re signing an official document? Is it possible to achieve a “perfect match”? Colorado has agreed to accept “a substantial match” to remove confusion.

Purging Voters: 16 million in 2016

The response to 2020 fears of “voter fraud” created a Catch-22 for those in Florida who have completed prison terms. In 2018 in Florida, nearly 65 percent of state voters supported a referendum (Amendment 4) calling for the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders who completed their prison terms unless they had been charged with murder or felony sexual offenses.

Amendment 4 went into effect on January 8, 2019 and cleared the way for 1.4 million ex-offenders to register to vote. (The state’s ban on felons voting—which disenfranchised 1 in 5 Black Floridians—dated to the Civil War.) However, a year later, Florida’s GOP legislature added another hoop to pass through, contrary to Amendment 4. It requires payment of fines related to their offense (some compounded while they were in prison) before being allowed to vote—essentially a poll tax.

Florida’s county election boards followed the original law established in Amendment 4 and reached out to ex-offenders to register, including 49-year-old street cleaner Nathan Hart. He registered at the DMV in March 2020 and received a Voter’s Registration Card. But on August 18, Hart was arrested by the county sheriff’s deputy and two state law enforcement officers. They charged him with falsifying his registration and being an “unqualified elector.” Both are third-degree felonies. He was held in jail for 14 hours and faced fines of $5,000 and five years in prison.  

Similar cases will grow in Florida with a special “election force, a first-of-its-kind.” Governor Ron DeSantis introduced proudly at a campaign event. He asked for $6 million to hire 52 people to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. Florida’s legislature reduced it to $1.2 million and 15 investigators.

It’s understandable to delete the names of voters who have died or moved to another state, but the numbers would not reach the millions. The numbers of purged voters have grown nationwide since the Brennan Center reported that nationwide 16 million voters were culled from voter lists from 2014 to 2016. This total is a 33 percent increase from 2006-2008. Texas threw off 363,000, Wisconsin 232,000, and Georgia won the prize saying goodbye to 1.5 million voters, angering candidates. Some of these voters have been returned, but it’s puzzling to know that these purges were not part of a routine process but came in the heat of political battles. A 2016 Reuters analysis found the cuts hit the largest Democratic counties and twice the rate of GOP. Black city voters were more likely to be purged than white suburban dwellers.

In 2015, Wisconsin began to enforce a photo ID law for all elections. However, a federal judge found that the Wisconsin law led to “real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.” Although the judge found no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in Wisconsin, the “cure is worse than the disease.”

Scrubbing the names of people who have been verified dead or moved to another state can be routine. But a targeted voter purge is not legal, but a throwback to an ugly time. In 1959, the White Citizens Council of Washington Parish, Louisiana, conducted a purge, removing 85 percent of Black voters and just.07 of whites.

Another example, in 1999, a conservative activist group, ironically called the Voting Integrity Project (VIP), endorsed a company called Database Technologies. Florida hired this company to purge its voter rolls before the 2000 election. One example of their over-zealous approach to cleaning the rolls: legitimate voter Michael Jones of Tampa became “confused” with Michael Jones, a convicted felon in Ohio, and Linda Howell, election supervisor in Madison County, appeared on the list. The conservative estimate is that 12,000 eligible voters were erased from Florida’s voter rolls—half of them African Americans. In 2000 Al Gore lost the Presidential Election by 537 votes. Could this purge, before that election have made a difference? But we moved forward.

Mail-in Ballots: Dangerous or Necessary?

A mail-in ballot made it easier for me in 2021during Covid. First, I requested a ballot online. I had time to review the candidates and issues, then used my notes when I filled in the ballot. I drove to the Travis County Elections office and deposited my ballot into a sealed box (with an election official standing next to it).

Despite the hew and cry against it, mail-in voting is not something new-fangled. Oregon has done it since 1989. Since then, seven other states have instituted mail-in balloting: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah (by no means a liberal state), and Vermont. In addition, Nebraska and North Dakota often experience foul weather in the fall, permitting counties to opt for mail-in ballots.

Mail-in ballots can be a Godsend for disabled people or the elderly who can no longer drive. Nine states allow mail-in balloting in small elections: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. As the expense of finding locations for a general election, expensive voting equipment, and the challenge of staffing them grow each year, other states may be forced to reconsider

We have options. It doesn’t need to be so difficult to register or even vote. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems there are elected officials who work to make it more difficult, not easier. We need to tell them with our votes that we, the people, don’t want voters removed to meet their political benchmarks. We want it to be easier to vote for all Americans. Despite the roadblocks put in our way, the message will get through if we work diligently to protect our democracy.

Next time we’ll talk about Elbridge Gerry, who went to Harvard, worked in his family business in Massachusetts, then served in the Continental Congress, became governor, and won praise from John Adams. Did he deserve the shame upon his name for “gerrymandering?”    


What’s the Magna Carta have to do with Pleading the 5th?

Signing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights 1787, Continental Congress, Philadelphia
Signing of the Magna Carta, King John (far right) Knights (far left) 1215

Remember when we believed someone who pleaded the Fifth was guilty? Those who took the 5th did not want to “incriminate” themselves. So, we determined if the accused would not answer questions, they must have something to hide. Donald Trump, the same guy who in 2016 lacerated Hillary Clinton’s tech staff who installed her private email server, for taking the Fifth, proclaimed: “only the Mob takes the 5th.”

But in 1990, in his first divorce trial and again just last week, Trump took the Fifth himself. He says the allegations against him are a “witch hunt” or a “fishing expedition” as his excuse for not responding. (By the way, after the investigation, no one was ever charged regarding Clinton’s mail server.)

Trump sat with New York State’s Attorney General Letitia James a week ago. She has been investigating Trump’s state tax returns in a civil suit for tax evasion (lowering his income for purposes of income taxes) and inflating his wealth to obtain loans to cover his debts.

During his presidential campaign, Trump said that evading taxes “shows he’s smart.” But now, Trump’s long-time chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of evading taxes on $1.7 million perks, including a free apartment in Manhattan, school tuition for his grandchildren, and lease payments on a luxury car. (He made a plea deal rather than face 15 years in prison and will spend five months at New York City’s Rikers Island. He will be answering questions.)

What’s the source of the Fifth Amendment?

It goes back to the heart of Anglo-Saxon law–The Magna Carta signed on June 15, 1215, by King John, the British barons, and landowners at Runnymede. The charter limited the king’s absolute authority and laid out the rights of English citizens and commoners. American law is based on this social contract written into the Magna Carta.

In America, the Continental Congress passed the Bill of Rights in 1789; this included the 5th Amendment to protect a person’s rights in these ways:

  1. A person cannot be forced to give testimony against themselves (Self-Incrimination). The 5th Amendment is the basis for the Miranda Warning. (“Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.”)  The government must call other witnesses and find evidence to prove the crime.
  2. You have the right to a fair trial that follows procedure through the judicial process
  3. You are judged innocent until proven guilty. (Due process)You can’t be tried twice for the same crime (Double Jeopardy)
  4. A Grand Jury looks at the evidence to determine whether to indict the accused for a criminal offense; if they decide to charge a person with a crime, they issue an indictment and hold a trial. The Grand Jury traces its roots directly to 1215, the Magna Carta, and Due Process.
  5. The government cannot take your private property unless you are paid current market value in return. (Eminent Domain)

Another critical case about the Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) involved five young black men convicted of killing a white woman in Central Park in New York City. After they were imprisoned for ten years, a court ruled they had been coerced into giving false testimony after lengthy interrogation and abuse. Under the Fifth Amendment, a confession obtained illegally is not admissible in court. They were freed when the truth came out. Then the actual killer was arrested and convicted.

Due process says that a person is innocent until proven guilty and deserves an opportunity to present their case in court. The concept of due process tells me to reconsider my idea that those who plead the 5th are “guilty,” but it is challenging at times.

Taking the 5th has different outcomes in criminal vs. civil courts. In federal cases, taking the Fifth does not imply guilt. But in civil cases, it can have consequences—providing an inference of guilt is allowed. The current case in New York State likely will be the beginning of a triangular legal sea saw between Trump, NY Attorney General James, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

What’s the Magna Carta’s role in Pleading the Fifth in American courts today? It’s bedrock. American law sits on the foundation of British law that traces to the 13th century when the nobility and the landed gentry demanded fairness in their courts and protection from the absolute power of the king.

Next week I’m looking at David Litt’s book Democracy in One Book or Less.

DOJ Doesn’t Play Games

Who holds the Aces? Time will tell.

Let’s get the objections out of the way first. Last week’s FBI visit to Mar-a-Lago was not spur of the moment. In January 2022, the Department of Justice issued a subpoena for documents that Donald Trump had taken back to his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Springs upon leaving the White House. Then they obtained 15 boxes, some marked classified. These were taken back to the National Archives, where Presidential Records are kept. After a review, the Archives found that boxes of classified information were missing.

Donald Trump, like any other former President, could take with him diaries and personal documents not related to official business in office as president. But the records are not like a tray of mints offered upon leaving Sardi’s in New York, free for the taking. According to the Presidential Papers Act, originally passed in 1978 responding to Richard Nixon, official presidential documents were to be released to the Archives upon leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

During the outrange by the former president’s supporters last week, there has been a reference to Watergate. Many of these people either weren’t alive then, haven’t cracked a history book, or just liked throwing around the word “Watergate” to gain support from others not curious enough to learn the true backstory. This search for documents took place in broad daylight.

Trained members of FBI operated with a legal search warrant, which was granted based on information about where the documents were located (all necessary before a federal judge in Florida would sign off). The attorney general added his signature to the warrant on Friday, two days prior to the search.

Watergate” involved a break-in at a Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in 1972. The five men arrested for the break-in were connected to the Committee for Re-Election of the President (Nixon) sponsored by a political branch of the Republican Party. They were low-level thieves hired because Nixon had become paranoid, thinking he would lose the election. So paranoid that he set up an audio taping system on his White House phone that laid out his illegal deeds like a roadmap.

The search of Mar-a-Lago came with a legal search warrant and did not come without warning. In May 2022, AG Merrick Garland and the DOJ sent a subpoena to DJ obtain information about the missing documents. Trump ignored it. Because of the sensitive nature of the documents, the DOJ determined to press for the documents. They needed to learn where the classified documents were kept in order to obtain a legal search warrant. Someone within Trump’s inner circle provided the information needed to obtain the warrant. A Florida judge signed off after receiving specific information about the documents and the location on August 5. On Monday, August 8 the search began. This wasn’t a spur of the moment “witch hunt.”

Outrange from Trump supporters followed during the week (see Watergate above) reached a dangerous level, threatening the security of federal law enforcement. Garland held a press conference to explain the process of the warrant and indicate Trump had a copy, which he could release if he desired, but set a deadline. Move up to Friday, August 12, DOJ got the go-ahead from Trump and released a copy of the August 8th search warrant and a list of the contents of the 20 boxes removed from Mar-a-Lago on Monday. The boxes taken included 11 boxes marked classified, including 4 sets of top-secret documents. Charges were made for mishandling of defense information (classified documents) and destruction of federal documents. Those included related to Oliver Stone’s pardon and interaction with French Premiere Macron.

One irony in the case is that in 2019 Trump signed into law an increase in the punishment for breaking these laws from one to five years in prison.

Trump could have present the list to the media himself. Instead, he sent out attorney Christina Bobb to explain that Trump was following “decorum.”  Since when in his life has Trump followed decorum?

On Friday, August 12, Garland released the list of the boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago, as the match continues. Garland remained calm, uncharacteristically responding to the uproar during an FBI investigation. He said he signed off one the search warrant himself after the judge. Friday Garland also released the list of the boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago. The match continues, but with classified documents now in DOJ hands, DT’s limo may have hit a speed bump too high to sail across.


Don’t Let Freedom Fly Away!

My 2022 July 4th wreath celebrating the eagle’s pride and the hope representing the brightest stars in the sky.

This wreath carries meaning for me this July 4th. Over the past few years, I saw too many American flags flying from the back of pick-up trucks circling U.S. beltways or hand-held by Proud Boys marching in Charlottesville or invading the U.S. Capitol. They swore allegiance to falsehoods and exclusionary beliefs I will never share.

They have warped the authentic meaning of the red, white, and blue. Yet, the principles of truth and justice have never wavered for me. I pledge my allegiance to the true America I love. I cannot associate myself with those who do not ask the critical questions democracy requires but prefer to follow along and exclude others from the opportunities and rights we enjoy.

In 2022, this wreath, approximating the proud feathers of the American eagle and the brightest stars in the sky, will represent my brand of patriotism. Today America is a country struggling mightily to return to its principles–while suffering body blows from those we never elected. A President, who lost the popular vote in 2016 and refused to concede his loss in 2020, now spreads political mayhem from coast to coast. His efforts further ignited falsehoods and culture wars that erupted at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th and are slicing this proud nation in two.

I don’t love my country less because I do not agree with the false representations of the U.S. flag in 2021. I can’t see our nation dragged backward two and a half centuries. The 21st century has no time for fabricated beliefs and false images of a glorified Disney-esque “Davey Crocket” time when men provided for their families by landing dinner with buckshot. American families cannot afford to move backward, leaving behind our leading role in technology, business/industry, and world affairs.

Do we want to return to an era where women tended the firepot to prepare whatever animal their spouse’s musket fell? Then women had four children because the child mortality rate was over 30 percent. Women didn’t fare much better. Without contraception, women wore out their bodies with repeated pregnancies, and a high percent died young while giving birth (life expectancy: 38 in 1787). Today women’s work outside the home and their earnings are as important as a men’s. The economy tanked during the Pandemic when schools were closed, and many women stayed home. We’re still beefing up the workforce.

If women had been present for the writing of the Constitution in 1787, the document would have taken a different course. Families and women’s needs, would have been recognized– not listing women as chattel belonging to men—unable to own land, start businesses, or sign legal documents without their husband’s along side.

Over the years, women have realized the only way to make gains legislatively would be by gaining the vote for themselves. Unfortunately, women did not get an opportunity to vote until 1920, one hundred and thirty years after the ink dried on the Constitution. Today women are in Congress: 24 serve in the U.S. Senate and 120 in the House of Representatives (27% of the 539 elected, an all-time high, but well below women’s 50.5 percent of the population.)

You have a responsibility, both men and women, to exercise your right to protect our future and our nation. This right comes with a commitment to get out to vote (or obtain and mail in a ballot if your state allows). Help protect your freedom by exercising that vote. In most states, you cannot register to vote on the same day as you vote. So, get registered NOW. Contact your county’s Board of Elections and be prepared to vote come November.


Best Mother’s Day Flowers 2022 Tom’s Guide

Aretha Franklin raised the roof and our self-confidence with that song in 1967. Yes, 55 years ago, but the music resonates to this day. Why? Because as Aretha said: “Everyone wants respect.”

Being respected –no matter what makes the national headlines of the day—is the issue of prime importance. If we feel “dissed” and people don’t consider our needs, we melt on the inside and no longer stand up straight. We may not even look others straight in the eye as our self-confidence has taken a hit.

If you’ve read my blog during the Pandemic, you know that I have struggled to understand what’s really behind the divisions in our country. In the beginning, I thought Americans would find ways to tie the ends of the frayed rope between us after Covid passed. That might have been naïve. The differences among us only tightened when we were stuck away alone. Nothing good comes when we don’t attempt to communicate with others, particularly those with a different view. Instead, we let the concrete set around our ideas and beliefs. Our thoughts spool in our brains in an endless loop. No new ideas arise from that cycle.

It’s more difficult for new friends and ideas to come into our lives if we don’t create room for them. No two people think exactly alike, so there will always be areas of difference, possibly disagreement. Our current friendships already have a foundation of mutual respect that allows us to patch over the rough times when conflicts arise. But when we encounter people or ideas that appear to be the polar opposite of our own, it’s even more challenging to grant them a moment’s consideration.

I know listening to “the other side” strains my patience when I strongly disagree, but we’re stagnating –yelling across picket lines or opinion pages. This discourse does not improve the situation. Instead, we find ourselves digging a deep crevice across which are lobbed some of the ugliest words and images ever used in American public discourse (and there has been strong language used in the past). We are providing a hideous example for our children and laying down an embarrassing digital record that will live long after 2022.

If we as a nation take a small step back from this, we might begin to make a long-term change. Of course, it will take more than a finger snap to solve. But we can start by offering respect to all the people we meet at work, no matter the job they perform, the process can begin. Then if we can carry this on to those we see at the grocery or on a walk, the ball could get rolling. Even our partners and children could appreciate a spur-of-the-moment friendly smile or a nod of understanding. 

None of this will cure what ails the world, but you might feel better yourself, and it might be contagious.

That’s all I’ve got for Mother’s Day 2022.

Living Up to Lincoln’s Sacrifice

Abraham Lincoln lithograph, JoAnn 10, istock

After viewing the devastation in Richmond in April 1865, Lincoln knew the Civil War would be over soon. Yet he also realized that the most challenging task remained—bringing the country together as one people, not unlike the difficulty the nation faces today. This weekend we once again recognize Lincoln’s sacrifice156 years after his assassination. But few acknowledge his death came because John Wilkes Booth could not stomach giving even a few African American veterans the right to vote.

Lincoln wasn’t sure he had the words needed to temper Americans’ anger with their opponents or ease their grief for what we’ve lost. But he agreed to address those gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House. His first words met their expectations: “We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in the gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond and the surrender of the principal insurgent army (he did not identify it as Confederate) give the country hope for a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained.”

Speaking from the White House balcony, Lincoln didn’t notice a tall man dressed in black stalking the fringes of the crowd. John Wilkes Booth scowled at the President’s remarks. Less than a month earlier, on March 20, Booth and his conspirators had attempted to capture Lincoln to use him as a bargaining chip to negotiate Southern freedom from federal rules ending slavery.

Then Lincoln turned to the purpose of his speech–Reconstruction—to restore and unite the nation after the war. “No one man had the authority to give up the rebellion for another man. We must begin with and mould (sp) from disorganized and discordant elements,” he said.

He noted the political differences that stood between Americans. Nevertheless, Lincoln sought to begin to bind the wounds of Americans now that the war had ended. The President stated the nation’s problem: “We, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of Reconstruction.”

But then, the critical message that would seal the President’s fate. Lincoln told the crowd the nation should grant African American men, particularly those who fought for the Union, the right to vote. Before this speech, no president had ever publicly endorsed even limited suffrage for blacks.

Booth became enraged when he heard Lincoln speak of suffrage. The thought of giving any African American the right to vote infuriated Booth. Standing in the shadows across from the White House, Booth turned to his co-conspirator, Lewis Powell, and nearly spat out his disgust: “That is the last speech he will ever make.”  As an actor well known at Ford’s Theater, he learned when Lincoln would be coming to see Laura Keene perform there in Our American Cousin.

On April 14, 1865, just after 10 pm, Booth’s lightning-quick tempter drew him up the stairs, where he pushed open the door to Lincoln’s box and pulled out a derringer that fit into the palm of his hand, which he used to shoot the President. Booth shouted: “Sic Semper Tyrannus! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South be avenged.”

Lincoln’s plans to restore the country equitably died with him. His vice president, who took control, Andrew Johnson, a Dixie Democrat and an enslaver from Tennessee, came from the opposite political view. Johnson believed in States’ rights. He allowed Southern governors to make their own decisions regarding the treatment of African Americans.

Four million enslaved people were freed when the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed on January 31, 1865, while Lincoln was alive. However, laws to establish freedom of movement and voting rights for African Americans would not become law for a century.

What would Lincoln say today as Congress fails to support voting rights for all Americans? He acted because he believed it to be right and just. Today’s Republicans, who express their pride in being “the Party of Lincoln” but can’t support voting rights, the principle for which he gave his life. fail to live up to his sacrifice. They lack the courage to stand up for all the voters in their state. They betray Lincoln’s legacy and further rip apart our delicate democracy.

Sarah Moore Grimke: Trailblazer

Women leaders throughout history. Sarah Moore Grimke takes the pole position in this modern rendition “feminists at work” of the 1932 photograph of steelworkers taking lunch 850 feet above NYC by Lewis Hines.

How did I not know about the contribution of this woman born in 1793, just 17 years after the Declaration of Independence? But if I missed her contribution earlier, I can’t be the only one. So, younger women of all hues and backgrounds with dreams of becoming lawyers or setting right the wrongs in our society, I present Sarah Grimké. Today, she comes to mind as the House of Representatives confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to join the Supreme Court.

The picture above of 11 women and a youngster posed on the steel beam, just like Lewis Hine’s photograph of the steelworkers in 1932, provides a unique view of America’s female leaders throughout the decades. Sarah sits at the head of this group. The Bill of Rights came before her. Yet, even if you were to say that “We the People” meant everyone, the nation did not treat everyone the same. For example, women could not vote until 1920, yet Sarah worked to achieve voting rights more than 100 years earlier.

Sarah Moore Grimke

If you believe we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, Sarah’s strong shoulders and nimble mind form a good foundation. She grew up in South Carolina, the sixth of 14 children on a plantation supported by slave labor. Despite her quest for knowledge, she knew then she would not be admitted to law school as a woman while her brother Thomas was. Nevertheless, she consumed the books he studied for a degree at Yale College while fulfilling all the required “female” arts—embroidery, French, watercolors, etc.—required of a proper Southern maiden.

Her father, an attorney, and speaker of the House of Representatives in South Carolina, realized her intellect but would only allow her to study geography, history, and math, but denied her an opportunity to learn Latin. Her brother, Thomas, secretly filled in the gaps with Greek and a bit of Latin.

Ironically her father praised her ability, saying if Sarah were a man, “she could be the greatest lawyer in South Carolina or the greatest jurist in the country,”

On Sundays during her teens, Sarah would teach the Bible to young enslaved people, which was against the law in South Carolina, where they feared educated enslaved people would revolt. Secretly she taught reading and spelling to her slave, Hetty, by screening out the light in the keyhole to her door and lying flat on their stomachs before the fire. On the plantation, she became aware of the inhuman treatment of African Americans.

Soon realizing that South Carolina would not tolerate her belief that slavery was wrong, she went to Philadelphia when she was 26 and joined the Quakers. They were early abolitionists and allowed women to preach. But Quakers did not tolerate her growing interest in women’s rights and were critical when she and her sister, Angelina, preached to mixed audiences of men and women. They called these groups “promiscuous.” Nevertheless, they were the first women to address a legislative body in New England.

Sarah’s writings, considered radical, were among the first to express the links between racial and sexual oppression boldly. Sarah wrote to the clergy against the evils of slavery. She wrote “Letters on Equality,” which received a rebuke from the General Association of Congressional Ministers. Churches and the public burned her writings, and Sarah received threats of arrest. But Sarah wrote on. In 1839, Sarah, Angelina, and her husband, the abolitionist Thomas Weld, published American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.

The sisters walked the talk. When they learned that their brother fathered mixed-race children before his death, they took the boys in and supported one through Harvard Law and the other as he completed the seminary at Princeton. Sarah didn’t give up. She passed out copies of Harriet Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill’s pamphlet The Subjugation of Women on the street when she was 79.

Decades, even a century would pass, but the relentless courage reflected in her writing became the bedrock upon which other women built a political case to have their say-so concerning the nation’s decisions.

In her confirmation hearing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg paid tribute to Grinké by using her quote: “I ask for no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Her predecessor also gained recognition in 1998 when Grinké became recognized by the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Looking back upon Grinké’s work, we recognize her contribution to women in 2022. Yet we wonder what she could have achieved if she and others could have reached their whole potential centuries earlier in her lifetime. Today Judge Jackson opens a new chapter in the history of the Supreme Court, recognizing the capability of an African American woman.

Maybe we will come closer to a paraphrased quote from Grinké: “I know nothing of man’s rights, or woman’s rights; human rights (and human intelligence and judgment) are all that I recognize.”


APA: Alexander, K.L. (2018). Sarah Moore Grimké. Retrieved from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke

Chicago: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Sarah Moore Grimké.” National Women’s History Museum. 2018. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke.

MLA: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Sarah Moore Grimké.” National Women’s History Museumhttps://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke. Accessed [date]. 

Books for more information:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Life Up Thy Voice  by Mark Perry

The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina  by Gerda Lerner