Closing in

Calling Trump the ‘worst president in modern history,’ Congressman Adam Schiff says evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is mounting

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 11/30/2017

The investigations into whether President Donald Trump and associates in his campaign and administration colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election is picking up speed.

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III has convened a grand jury, indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates, obtained a guilty plea from Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos and begun interviewing Trump’s top aides in the White House.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in Congress have said they are aiming to wrap up the congressional investigations in the House and Senate by February. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who represents a portion of Pasadena and is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, thinks that timeframe is much too soon, as there are still more witnesses to interview and evidence to review.

Trump and the White House frequently criticize Schiff for doing many media interviews about the investigation. On July 24, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Sleazy Adam Schiff, the totally biased congressman looking into ‘Russia,’ spends all of his time on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!”

Schiff responded by tweeting, “With respect Mr. President, the problem is how often you watch TV, and that your comments and actions are beneath the dignity of the office.”

On Nov. 1, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Schiff laid out the evidence for Trump-Russia collusion so far, saying, “What is clear is this: the Kremlin repeatedly told the campaign it had dirt on Clinton and offered to help it, and at least one top Trump official, the president’s own son, accepted.”

Schiff recently spoke with the Pasadena Weekly about the Russia investigation.

Pasadena Weekly: Where does the House Intelligence Committee investigation stand? Where are you in the process and what’s to come?

Congressman Adam Schiff: We continue to make progress and have multiple witnesses coming in each week. We continue to learn new and important information about what the Russians did and how they did it, and in particular about contacts between the Russians and Trump campaign that bear further investigation. I’m limited in what I can discuss. Donald Trump Jr. revealed some of his direct messages on Twitter to WikiLeaks, and this is significant. Of course, he did it only because they were about to be published, which is similar to when he released his emails about the meeting at Trump Tower. But what is significant about them is if you look at the timetable, on June 9, 2016, Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner take a meeting with intermediaries from Russia who have been promising dirt as part of what they describe as a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign, and there are two messages that the Trump campaign sends back through these intermediaries. The first is they would love to have the help. And the second is, they were very disappointed in the help they got at that meeting. Now, it’s only days later that Julian Assange discloses for the first time that he’s received thousands of stolen Hillary Clinton emails, which we know were stolen by the Russians. So WikiLeaks apparently obtains these emails shortly after the meeting in Trump Tower. It’s sometime later that Donald Jr. is in private communication with WikiLeaks, this cut out the Russians are using to publish this stolen information. We can see the significance of this much better when we look at this broader context.

Is there evidence of collusion between Russia and President Trump or his associates in the administration or campaign?

There’s certainly evidence of collusion. Now, whether the evidence is proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a decision that Bob Mueller will have to make. There are certain pieces of the puzzle that we now see come into view. We see in April 2016 George Papadopoulos, one of the other foreign policy advisers for the Trump campaign, meeting with Russians who disclosed to him that they possessed these stolen emails, and the Trump campaign learns even before the Clinton campaign that the Russians are in possession of her emails. The campaign expresses an interest and willingness to work with the Russians. We see this time and time again now. There are still missing pieces of the puzzle that we are looking for. We see a growing web of connections between the campaign and the Russians.

How would the potential second special counsel affect the congressional investigations?

The most significant thing it would do would be to destroy a large part of the independence of the Justice Department. It would really be a complete capitulation to political pressure from the White House. So the most significant impact is not on the investigations but on the integrity of the Justice Department. I served there for six years, and I have to hope that that’s not a path that the attorney general goes down. This was a political call by the president and his surrogates in Congress in urging the Justice Department to investigate his vanquished political opponent. This is what they do in dictatorships and emerging democracies. It’s what we counsel other countries not to do, that is, after you win an election you don’t abuse the levers of power to prosecute your vanquished opponents. That’s the much bigger significance, frankly, than any impact on our investigation. In Congress, they’ve already announced they’re going to do an investigation of this seven-year-old uranium transaction. But you can expect political ploys like that from the majority that brought you the Benghazi Committee. This is a Benghazi Redux.

Is President Trump under investigation?

That’s not something I can comment on one way or the other.

You recently said Trump is the worst modern-day president and that he’s undermining these investigations. How is this going to end?

I say that he’s the worst president in modern history for a variety of reasons. Certainly, his handling of the Russian interference in our election is one proof of that, but his denigration of the press, calling the press the ‘enemy of the people,’ his discussion of pulling the licenses of a network because he doesn’t like their coverage of him, his belittling of federal judges who rule against him and undermining their legitimacy, his erosion of the independence of the Justice Department, his executive order to preclude people from coming into the country on the basis of their faith; these and many other reasons so clearly make him the worst president in modern history. In terms of where our investigations or Bob Mueller’s investigation will end up, I don’t know, but I can say that it’s our obligation in Congress to do a thorough job and make a complete report to the public and if at all possible to do so on a bipartisan basis. That’s certainly the goal that I’m working towards.

If the Democrats were in the majority, and you were chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, how would you have handled the investigation differently?

There are a lot of ways in which our investigation is departing from best investigative practices, in a sense that the majority is scheduling certain witnesses before we’re ready to interview them and before we have the documents to question them with, and other important foundational witnesses have yet to be scheduled. There are lines of inquiry that we need to pursue and there are subpoenas that should be issued that haven’t gone out. There are issues that we continue to urge the majority to take seriously and to pursue. We hope that they will. Certainly, if we were in the majority we’d be using best practices, and it’s my hope that we can persuade the majority to do so.

President Trump and the White House frequently criticize you for doing so much press. Why do you think it is important to get the message out to the American people about what these investigations are doing?

The only lever that we have in the minority to get the majority to do what they should do in terms of the investigation is by exposing the conduct when they err and also to make the case for why this is important to the country. It’s not a case that the president particularly wants made, and so I’m sure they would like to silence anyone who’s talking about the Russia investigation or explaining why it’s integral to our national security. If the Russians can hold something over the president of the United States, that is deeply damaging to our national interests and the country has a right and a need to know. So I’m going to continue to make the case. I would only say to the president who doesn’t like how much I do TV, that he would be a lot better off watching a lot less TV, and we would all be a lot better off if he found other ways to occupy his time.

What can Congress do to prevent Russia or another foreign government from meddling in future elections using social media to influence campaigns?

First of all, we need to make sure the social media companies disclose any political advertising with the same kind of disclaimers we see in advertising in other media, and I think that’s going to happen. Some of the companies are already moving in that direction. More than that, we need to be sure that they’re devoting the resources to ferreting out ‘interference,’ foreign efforts to manipulate public opinion in the United States, or divide us against each other. We now have a tremendous volume of content the Russians were pushing, but they’ll be more sophisticated about hiding their hand next time. And even this time they successfully hid it until after the election. The tech companies are certainly going to have to step up their efforts. We’re going to need the intelligence community to work more closely with them and let them know when we’ve identified foreign bad actors that are abusing their platforms that they may not recognize, or foreign state actors rather than what they purport to be: individual Californians and Texans and people from all over the country. And we’re all going to have to be a great deal more skeptical about what we see pop up on our social media in terms of its veracity. We’re going to have to be much more skeptical consumers than we have been and we’re going to have to place a greater reliance on journalistic standards and insisting upon them, which is why the president’s denigration of the mainstream media is so singularly destructive to the country.

New vision

‘One Arroyo Day’ Saturday seeks input from the community on its vision for the Arroyo Seco

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 11/16/2017

After Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek called for a new vision for the Arroyo Seco during his State of the City address last January, the Arroyo Advisory Group (AAG) that he established will be presenting its initial report to the Pasadena City Council this January.

“During 2017, the city will consider the entire Arroyo Seco in a comprehensive way, not just as a site for a huge variety of user-driven functions, but as the living, beautiful, natural heart of our city,” Tornek said in his Jan. 18 speech.

In a recent interview, Tornek said his goal of getting people to refocus on the Arroyo as a total, integrated ecosystem was the product of the AAG.

“If we could get people to think about the arroyo in a comprehensive and holistic way, I thought we could get people excited about it and have them recognize the tremendous value that it provides to the city, and maybe write a check, since the city doesn’t have the capacity to fund everything,” said Tornek. “As I traveled around the country and looked at best practices in urban parks, I realized that the ones that are most successful are ones that have a high degree of citizen, community participation, both in terms of governance and funding.”


Earlier this year, Tornek appointed former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and current Rose Bowl Operating Co. board member Doug Kranwinkle to co-chair the AAG, a citizen committee of 20 Pasadena residents. They have been tasked with soliciting input from the community as well as rebranding the Arroyo Seco as “One Arroyo,” rather than the three distinct parts that most people see it as now: Hahamongna Watershed Park, Central Arroyo and Lower Arroyo.

“The purpose of the Arroyo Advisory Group is to spotlight the Arroyo Seco as the natural resource that it is, to develop a stronger public interest and support for the Arroyo Seco and to seek funding that will allow the city to maintain and improve the Arroyo Seco in a way that hasn’t occurred in recent years,” said Bogaard, who added that he is delighted to be able to serve the city again.

The AAG is currently in the second of three phases. The first phase was internal organization and an initial announcement of the effort. The AAG divided itself into four subcommittees: Vision, Funding, Outreach and Projects and Priorities. The Vision Committee drafted a vision statement for the One Arroyo project: “Pasadena’s great outdoor space, the historic Arroyo Seco, will become One Arroyo. From the headwaters in the north to the tributaries in the south, its natural habitats, resources and historic sites will be preserved, enhanced and connected by an extraordinary end-to-end trail system, all anchored by a central hub.”

The second phase involves heavy emphasis on public outreach, including presenting their project at community meetings and neighborhood associations for the past several months. They have also posted an online survey available at, which ends Nov. 30. More than 1,300 people have already filled out the survey.


A major element of the project is a single, unifying “One Arroyo Trail” that will connect and circumnavigate the entire Arroyo Seco, which currently does not exist, as well as restoring and connecting the approximately 20 miles of trails that exist on the banks of the Arroyo. The AAG’s report to the council in January will lay out the priorities identified so far, including the trails project.

“We’re moving very cautiously and carefully because all of it depends upon the response from the outreach program,” said Tom Seifert, who chairs the AAG’s Projects and Priorities Committee. “We’re very concerned about how people feel about the arroyo. We’re sensitive to what the community is going to be interested in. Behind the scenes, we’ve been developing our potential projects list, and the one that we’ve identified so far that everyone has enthusiastically embraced is the trails project.”

The AAG and the city are also hosting One Arroyo Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Brookside Park, 360 N. Arroyo Blvd. Many of the organizations who are involved in the arroyo will have exhibitor booths where residents can learn more about them. There will be a trail clean-up, a nature scavenger hunt for kids, a native wildlife reptile station, lawn games and crafts, raffles and a hot dog cookout by the Pasadena Firefighters Association Local 809. Officials will be on hand to answer questions. And most importantly, the survey will be available.

Tornek held three “Walk the Arroyo with the Mayor” events in September and October, which he said taught him a lot about what the community wants for the Arroyo.

“The walks stimulated a lot of discussion and confirmed my notion that people don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the thousand acres that comprise the Arroyo and the very different kind of environments, opportunities and challenges that it offers,” said Tornek. “I learned a lot, too. It wasn’t a lecture tour. It was a conversational tour. I enjoyed the hell out of it.”


Bogaard said the response from the community to the project has so far been mixed. On the one hand, everyone loves the arroyo and wants to see it improved. On the other, there was some initial suspicion that the purpose of the AAG was to create new, commercial activities in the arroyo, which many people oppose.

Mic Hansen, who serves as the vice chair of the Projects and Priorities Committee, said that many people would prefer for the arroyo to remain natural.

“It’s very important that the community tell the AAG what their perspective regarding the arroyo is,” she said. “How do they want the arroyo to look and feel now? How do they want it to look and feel in five years, 10 years, 15 years? This is not a project for and by the AAG principals. It is a project for and by the community. It’s a group designed to elicit and then make sense of what the community wants.”

It is a complicated endeavor for many reasons, not least of which is funding and governance issues. There is $80 million worth of approved but unfunded projects already on the books. And the number of stakeholders in the arroyo is staggering. JPL, the Rose Bowl, Tom Sawyer Camp, the Pasadena Roving Archers, the casting pond, the Audubon Society, the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, Kidspace Children’s Museum, the Rose Bowl Riders, Brookside Golf Course, the bird sanctuary, the Arroyo Foothills Conservancy, Arroyo Seco Foundation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, UCLA football, Arroyo Seco Weekend, the Frisbee golf course, AYSO and the horse stables are just a partial list.

“The issues that we’re coming to grips with in the arroyo are not strictly issues of, ‘Do we build a trail or not,’ and, ‘What should the signage look like?’” said Tornek. “It’s not just physical alterations or improvements; it’s also the issue of governance. We have three different city departments doing it, which is not an efficient or effective way to do it.”

Bogaard and Hansen pointed out that the AAG is primarily looking to the four existing master plans for the arroyo that were developed and adopted by City Council in 2004. The funding sources they will soon begin looking at include foundation grants, donations and public funds. The state Legislature has approved a ballot measure for November 2018 that will provide $4 billion worth of support for parks, open space and waterways statewide.

“If it’s approved by the voters in the fall of 2018, we will be prepared to seek funding under that program through the work that’s being done right now,” said Bogaard.


After the report to city council in January, the AAG’s work will not be completed. At that point, the committee will turn its attention to the issues of funding and governance.

“We have not yet fully identified funding sources, which is really one of our more important missions,” said Kranwinkle. “Until we really know what we’re funding, it’s hard to go to John Q. Public and say, ‘Hey, we’d like a thousand dollars.’ We also have some charge to look at better coordination or management of activities in the arroyo. I’m expecting that there will be an additional phase after the report to the City Council.”

Kranwinkle pointed out that the arroyo has fallen into a state of disrepair due to strained city budgets.

“If you walk down there, it’s a mess,” he said. “It’s a bit of a fire hazard right now. I think that’s what brought our group about.”

Seifert agreed that the deferred maintenance is one of the major issues facing the arroyo. The Lower Arroyo in particular, he said, is in dire need of brush clearance for fire hazard considerations.

“The arroyo is such a treasure,” said Seifert. “I’m so happy to be part of this undertaking because it’s so sorely needed, to really concentrate major attention on what a wonderful natural resource we have.”

Tornek said that the city and the community are in it for the long haul.

“This project won’t be completed in my lifetime,” he said. “If this works right, if we set some things in motion and make some organizational changes in how we manage all this stuff, the actual improvements should be going on over generations. So this is intended as a legacy project, not as a quick hit. If we can score some early wins and demonstrate to people this is not just conversation and a random idea, but rather a sea change in terms of how we manage and think about this resource, I think we can have some real success both in the short term and in the much longer term.”

Learn more about the Arroyo Advisory Group and One Arroyo Day at

The Constant Gardeners

Arlington Garden gets a new name and new management as the city attempts to purchase the property from Caltrans

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 11/9/2017

Arlington Garden in southwest Pasadena is undergoing branding and leadership changes.

Betty McKenney, who along with her late husband and former Pasadena City Council member Charles “Kicker” McKenney founded and cared for the garden since 2005, has retired. The garden’s board of directors is expanding and has hired a new executive director, Michelle Matthews, who started July 1. And it has been given a new name: The McKenney Family Arlington Garden in Pasadena.

The three-acre Mediterranean climate, water-wise garden is located in the infamous 710 Corridor and owned by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which leases the property to the city. That lease expires in December 2018. The city, in turn, entrusts the property to Arlington Garden in Pasadena, a nonprofit corporation, which was established by the McKenneys.

Betty and Kicker were known as the “constant gardeners” and spent countless volunteer hours turning the ugly empty lot into the vibrant and colorful space it is today.

The city is currently attempting to purchase the property from Caltrans through the state agency’s ongoing surplus sales process, according to Assistant City Manager Julie Gutierrez, who sits on the garden’s board of directors as the city’s representative.

“We’ve had a couple meeting dates that Caltrans unfortunately canceled,” said Gutierrez. “Our goal is to chat with them about the property and several other properties that the city would like to look at acquiring. We are trying every other day to get a hold of Caltrans. We have quite a few issues with them.”

Back to its Roots

The property was originally the site of the historic Durand House, “one of the most elegant homes on South Orange Grove Boulevard,” according to Kirk Myers of the Pasadena Museum of History. In April 1902, John Durand purchased 10 acres known as Arlington Heights. The existing Victorian home was removed and “a team of skilled workmen spent more than three years executing architect F. L. Roehrig’s reconstruction of a chateau in France admired by Mr. Durand. With 17,000 square feet of floor space — 50 rooms in three stories — the home was said to be the largest in Southern California, if not the entire Southwest. A setback of more than 600 feet from South Orange Grove Boulevard allowed landscape architects to create a ‘tropical paradise’ in front of the mansion, with palms, cacti and century plants besides hundreds of varieties of flowering bushes, including roses and chrysanthemums. A hedge of Cherokee roses extended along Arlington Drive, toward the Busch home on the opposite side of Orange Grove. A small orange grove was set out in the rear of the home, along Pasadena Avenue.”

The year after John M. Durand III died in 1960, the furnishings and art objects were sold at public auction and the home was demolished. Three remaining acres became an empty lot with seven palm trees, two oaks, a jacaranda, a pepper tree and lots of weeds for nearly a half-century. After a rainstorm, high school kids would spin donuts with their cars and knock down trees, McKenney said. Just about every Fourth of July there would be a fire.

Caltrans acquired the property in the 1960s along with about 460 properties with the intention of razing the houses and building a freeway connecting the 710 and 210 freeways. Caltrans originally purchased the property for $330,000. After the city recently rezoned the property as open space, their appraisal set the price at $125,000.

“Our concern was that Caltrans would want the property for market housing, and we probably couldn’t afford that,” said Gutierrez. “As open space land, we could. Because it’s been rezoned, Caltrans shouldn’t be able to sell it as residential. We rezoned it in an open, public hearing process, so they did have an opportunity to speak up and they did not.”

Shortly after the McKenneys moved next door in 2002, District 6 City Councilmember Steve Madison reached out to neighbors to see what they would like the property to become. The McKenneys volunteered to come up with a good use for the site.

“It was pretty clear people wanted something passive,” said McKenney. “They didn’t want buildings or tennis courts or soccer fields or parking lots. I said if they want something passive it needs to be a garden.”

McKenney read Jan Smithen’s book “Sun-Drenched Gardens: The Mediterranean Style” and took notes at her lectures. They worked with Mayita Dinos, who designed the garden featuring drought-tolerant plants, and with Cal Poly students who drew up concept plans. In 2003, the city acquired a lease from Caltrans and approved the plans. The nonprofit Arlington Garden in Pasadena, along with the city’s Public Works and Water and Power departments and Pasadena Beautiful, then brought the garden to life.

The garden has become so successful, Matthews said, that “it looks like it’s been here for 30 years, instead of 10. Primarily it’s been a volunteer community labor of love.”

Conscious Expansion

Other changes have either been made or are in the works, as well. An electrical panel has been installed in anticipation of a new fountain in the orange grove. They are partnering with Theodore Payne to put in a native garden. The irrigation system is being improved. In the early years, the McKenneys hand-watered the young garden.

The garden now has security patrol at night, as well as security cameras and motion sensor lights. They are also looking at pricing a security fence.

“The garden is supposed to be closed when it’s dark, but people are here,” said McKenney. “We’ve also found things gone missing — plants, wheelbarrows, rain barrels — so people are coming with good intentions and not so good intentions. It’s becoming an issue.”

The garden has also seen a huge increase in the number of people who visit. McKenney and Matthews said the use of the garden is changing. Some of those uses are compatible, and some are not.

“We’ve had birthday parties for 3 year olds out here, and it’s really not that kind of place,” said McKenney. “Parents sometimes just turn their kids loose in the garden, not understanding that some of the plants are poisonous and some of the places they end up walking are really not paths. Sometimes we get ‘flash weddings.’ These great big limos pull up and let 20 people out and their guests take up all the parking on Arlington, there’s no parking on Pasadena Avenue, and it’s not very safe to park on Orange Grove. We’ve had prom goers come by here and have their prom pictures taken, a use we never envisioned. People are finding lots of ways to enjoy the garden.”

Amateur photography is allowed and free, but professional photographers are asked to pay a nominal fee and obtain a permit in order to shoot weddings, groups, portraits and lighting setups in the garden. Private parties are by permission only.

“We’re looking into what makes sense to charge and the numbers of people we can handle,” said Matthews. “We want to be conscious of our impact on the community.”

The garden’s management also wants to increase the amount of the events at the garden, as long as they are compatible with the neighborhood. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, the garden is hosting Art on Palm, an arts and crafts fair showcasing 50 artists in jewelry, clothing, ceramics, photography, wood-working and glass. Last month, the garden hosted an art auction as a test run event, and the American Institute of Architects held a birdhouse competition. The garden was recently featured on the international Mediterranean Garden Society tour. The Audubon Society will be conducting a bird count this year, the first since 2008.

More events are tentatively planned for next year, such as a classical music performance and an Earth Day event. They have also applied to be on the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden tour.

“We hope to engage the public and have arts and cultural activities, as well as be an outdoor classroom and resource for schools and universities,” said Matthews. “But we want to be sensitive to the fact that this is primarily a residential area. We want to make sure that we’re being smart about the activities that we do.”

The garden costs about $100,000 a year to run. The city gives $21,100 per year in addition to a $5,000 grant from Public Works, and the rest comes from individual donations and from selling marmalade made from fruits of the orange grove.

“We hope our marmalade produced by E. Waldo Ward will become a new tradition of quality and help sustain our public Mediterranean climate garden,” reads the label on a jar of Arlington Garden Sweet Orange Marmalade.

Matthews hopes to increase the garden’s operating budget to at least $300,000 to be able to fund new projects and hire in-house staff to replace the large hole created by the constant gardeners’ absence.

“In the long term, we’re doing strategic planning, and I’m looking to partner with local organizations, schools and arborists so the garden can be a resource for the community,” said Matthews.

For more information on the McKenney Family Arlington Garden in Pasadena, visit

To run or not to run

Former Vice President Joe Biden doesn’t rule out another Presidential bid at launch of Distinguished Speaker Series

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 11/2/2017

Will former Vice President Joe Biden run again for the highest elected office in the land in 2020?

That was the question on many people’s minds last week, when the longtime US senator from Delaware stopped by Pasadena briefly to launch this season’s Distinguished Speaker Series at Ambassador Auditorium.

Long story short: He didn’t say no.

In fact, Biden did not actually mention a potential presidential run at all, although much had been written about the possibility in the week leading up to his talk. Nonetheless, his remarks at the Oct. 25 event sounded much like someone with the skills needed to reunite the country during these divisive times.

“The definition of America is ‘possibilities,’” said the physically fit 74-year-old Pennsylvania native.

“It is time for us to lead the world again. If there’s any time we need to maintain our alliances and engage in diplomacy to convince the world to tighten the screws on situations like North Korea, it’s now,” Biden said.


Biden’s speech covered a wide range of domestic and foreign policy topics, including the use of diplomacy to mollify North Korea, the effects of the fourth Industrial Revolution on the labor market, the benefits of free community college and the rise of what he called “phony populism.”

“How many of you think we’ve increased our standing, security and respect in the world [during the current administration]?” he rhetorically queried the audience.

“We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden told the packed house in West Pasadena. “Some of our fundamental values are being tested. I got involved in public life because of civil rights. I never thought I’d see neo-Nazis chanting in the streets of America wielding torches,” he said of the race riots in Charlottesville, Virgina, in August.

“Our children are listening,” said Biden. “I respectfully suggest that silence in the face of this is complicity.”

But one of the biggest concerns of this former politician known for bringing the two parties together on major issues is both the breakdown of the US political system and the lack of bipartisan consensus in Washington. He also lamented the disruption of the post-World War II liberal world order and the Trump administration’s fraying of relationships with traditional allies.

“We now group the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’” instead of rebuilding this shared narrative of freedom and democracy that inspires nations around the world,” he continued. “Populism is about breaking the barriers put up intentionally to prevent the abuse of power by the majority. Charlatans have long peddled this phony populism to erode the invisible moral fabric of society to create space for their selfishness. We can’t let this happen.”

Still, he remains optimistic that the political system can be repaired.

“The two political parties need to stop looking at each other as enemies,” he said. “They — and we as citizens — need to talk to each other again and re-establish personal relationships, because that makes it hard to hate ‘the enemy.’”


Biden was born in 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. At age 10, he moved with his family to Wilmington, Delaware. In 1969, he became a lawyer, and the following year a member of the New Castle County Council. In 1972, at age 30, he became a U.S. senator, serving 37 years until being sworn in as the 47th vice president of the United States under President Barack Obama. Many of his colleagues in Washington referred to him as “Middle Class Joe,” which was not, he said, meant as a compliment, although he sees it as one.

Biden ran for president in 1988 and 2008, and decided not to run in 2016 after the untimely death of his 46-year-old son Beau from a brain tumor. He has not, however, ruled out running for president in 2020.

“I haven’t decided to run,” he told Vanity Fair in a story posted one day before his appearance at the Ambassador. “But I’ve decided I’m not going to decide not to run. We’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, it certainly looks like he’s running. He established a political action committee (PAC) in June called American Possibilities. He has spoken at several Democratic Party fundraisers around the country, and he has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration, penning an op-ed for the Sept. 14 edition of The New York Times in which he argued that America needs to reclaim its democratic values. In The Atlantic in August he wrote about the fatal Charlottesville violence instigated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

At a University of Delaware forum with Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich recently, Biden said Trump “doesn’t understand how the government functions,” and criticized the president’s social media habits.

In a Medium article launching his PAC in June, Biden wrote: “Thinking big is stamped into the DNA of the American soul. That’s why the negativity, the pettiness, the small-mindedness of our politics today drives me crazy. It’s time for big dreams and American possibilities.”

Despite Biden coming just short of announcing his intention to run, The New York Times has reported that Biden’s advisers are divided over whether he should do so.


During his time in the Senate, Biden chaired the Foreign Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee, where he received criticism for his handling of the contentious US Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas. Anita Hill, a former Thomas employee, publicly accused the judge of sexual harassment and testified before Congress, but Thomas, a nominee of President George H. W. Bush, was still confirmed. Biden later championed the Violence Against Women Act and is now a leading voice in the struggle to change the culture of mistreating women.

The death of his son Beau in 2015 was not Biden’s first brush with tragedy. In 1972, shortly after his election to the Senate, Biden’s first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash. He said in Pasadena that he didn’t want to go to Washington after that, but a bipartisan group of senators convinced him to stay. He met his second and current wife, Jill, on a blind date in 1975. Biden’s new book, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose,” a reflection on serving in office while mourning Beau’s death, will be released by Flatiron Books on Nov. 14. He will travel to 19 US cities starting Nov. 13 to promote the book and host panel discussions with local leaders.

As vice president, Biden oversaw US policy in Iraq and the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus package during the Great Recession, among many other projects. As one of his final acts as president, Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom in January. Biden said the Obamas and his family have continued their close friendship after leaving office.

Biden is well known for his verbal gaffes and passionate, endearing “Bidenisms,” as his loose talk has been referred to. “If there were no gaffes, there’d be no Joe. He’s someone you can’t help but like,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

After leaving the White House earlier this year, Biden was named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He and Jill also formed the Biden Foundation, which seeks to “protect and advance the rights and opportunities of all people through educational programming and public policy analysis,” according to the foundation’s website. The foundation focuses on advancing community colleges, ending violence against women, ensuring LGBTQ equality, protecting children, shaping foreign policy, strengthening the middle class and supporting military families.

“We are the only nation in the world organized around the notion that anything is possible,” Biden said in Pasadena. “We are an aspirational nation. It’s time for us to pick our heads up again. Stand up. Remember who in God’s name we are. We have a lot to lose but so much to gain if we start to pull together and treat each other with a little bit of decency in the political realm. Words matter and our children are listening.” 

The Distinguished Speaker Series continues with scientist Bill Nye on Nov. 29; journalist Ted Koppel on Jan. 24; former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Feb. 21; travel guru Rick Steves on March 14; and basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on May 9. Learn more at

An Anxious Germany Awaits the Trump Administration

Germany is hungry for information about what to expect from the Trump administration. Will President Trump withdraw the United States from the Iran deal and the Paris agreement? Will he let Vladimir Putin run rampant in Eastern Europe? Will he continue to provoke China? Will he tweet at four in the morning to announce policy proposals?

Detlef Wachter, head of the division of security policy at the Federal Chancellery, said Germany is extremely anxious to see how the new U.S. administration will interact with Putin’s Russia. Though Trump’s campaign statements about NATO caused some alarm in Germany, they did reignite a discussion about burden-sharing among NATO members. Germany, for its part, does want to adhere to its commitment of spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense, according to several officials. Germany currently spends 1.19 percent.

At the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), an independent, non-partisan, and nonprofit membership organization, think tank, and publisher, Dr. Jana Puglierin, head of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies program, and other DGAP experts said that following Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, Europeans are very anxious about the same thing happening during France’s election in May and Germany’s election in September.

Professor Dr. Andrea Römmele of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin questioned the role of mainstream media following the U.S. election.

"In the United States, all major media outlets endorsed Clinton, but Trump used tweets and won," she said. "What’s the relevance of the media now?"

Bertram Eisenhauer, head of the Sunday edition of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), one of the largest newspapers in Europe, said there’s a growing distrust of the media in Germany, just like in the United States. He mentioned the increasing use of the term "lugenpresse," or lying press, a term successfully used by the Nazis to fight the media in the 1930s and used again by some Trump supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"There is a broad movement of people now who do not believe anything they read in the paper unless it confirms certain preconceptions they have," said Eisenhauer. "If you say crime is rising because of the refugees, they will believe it, but if you say crime is not rising, they will think you’re lying."

Nora Müller, executive director of international affairs at the Körber Foundation, said policymakers in Berlin are overwhelmed by the expectations of other countries these days. Matthias Nass, chief international correspondent of Die Zeit, the largest weekly newspaper in Europe, agreed.

"Transatlantic relations are getting very interesting again," he said. "The German government was not prepared for the outcome of the U.S. election. We do not know what to expect from the Trump administration. But whoever the leaders are, the United States and Europe have to work together. We face these challenges together."

Nass said it’s important for Europe to know if the Trump administration wants to continue having Germany and France be the drivers of the Minsk talks, or if he wants the United States to take over talking to Russia about Ukraine.

"We hope the United States lives up to its obligations, treaties, and agreements, and we need to do that, too," he said. "There has to be trust on both sides. This doesn’t exist yet. Europe is not in a good state right now. We have a rise of nationalism that I didn’t expect in my lifetime. Many players look to Germany with high expectations, but America can’t expect Germany to take a lead that is not coordinated by all our neighbors. We don’t speak for Europe. Berlin might have a strong voice, but it is only one of 28 voices."

Germans and their government are very reluctant to build up their military and to use force abroad. Kapitän zur See Hans-Jörg Detlefsen, deputy director of security policy at the Ministry of Defense, went so far as to say Germany is reluctant to commit troops to UN peacekeeping forces. Pacifism is a long-standing tradition in German society, due in no small part to World War II. If the United States, under President Trump, becomes more isolationist and withdraws from the Middle East, Germany will not and cannot fill that gap, officials said.

Germany is also not immune to the populist trends shaking up the establishment around the world, including in the United States with the election of Trump, in the United Kingdom with the Brexit vote, in Italy with the rejection of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s reform referendum, in the Philippines with the election of Rodrigo Duterte, and in Colombia with the rejection of the first peace deal with FARC rebels, to cite a few examples. A new far right-wing populist and Euroskeptic political party called Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) is gaining traction in Germany. AfD has won seats in several state parliaments and is expected to win anywhere from 5 to 12 percent of the seats in the national parliament in September 2017. The party was formed a couple of years ago in opposition to the euro, but quickly adopted a xenophobic, anti-immigrant platform in response to the influx of refugees in Germany.

On December 6, German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a speech to the annual conference of her party, the Christian Democratic Union, in which she accepted her party’s nomination as its candidate for another four-year term, called for a ban on full-face veils, and moved to the right on refugees. "A situation like the one in the late summer of 2015 cannot, should not, and must not be repeated," she said, referring to terrorist attacks allegedly carried out by refugees. Another string of attacks were carried out in summer 2016, and in December a truck ploughed through a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

Merkel has received criticism for opening the door to over a million refugees, but many Germans are still supportive of hosting and integrating refugees into their society. At the Hamburg Chamber of Crafts, a nonprofit corporation under public law that provides services to the skilled crafts sector, Securing Skilled Workers department head Gesine Keßler-Mohr said incoming refugees help counter the low birth rate and aging population problem in Germany, which is one of the lowest in Europe.

"There is a deep, ongoing discussion about the value of immigration and how it will change German society," she said.

Eisenhauer spoke about his newspaper’s struggle to cover a recent controversial story about an 18-year-old German college student who was raped and strangled to death in a small university town, allegedly by a 17-year-old unaccompanied minor and former refugee from Afghanistan applying for asylum in Germany.

"Is this a regional story? A political story? Should it go on page one? Should we make the connection to the refugees coming in? Will our coverage fan the flames of xenophobia?" said Eisenhauer, describing the discussion in their newsroom about how to cover the story. They ultimately decided not to put it on page one, but displayed it prominently inside the paper.

The Chamber of Crafts and Chamber of Commerce are deeply involved in the effort to integrate refugees into the German labor market by providing vocational training, language classes, cross-cultural competence training, and other services to make sure refugees have the necessary qualifications to do the jobs they are being assigned to.

The German government’s foreign policy, under Merkel’s leadership, is focused on thinking more comprehensively about solving problems in regions such as the Middle East and North Africa before refugees leave those areas and head for Europe. They hope that the Trump administration sees the value in this strategy and that the United States follows suit.

Pacific Council communications associate Justin Chapman recently traveled to Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg, Germany for the "Think Transatlantic" Study Tour, sponsored by the German Federal Foreign Office. Meetings with government, media, economic, and think tank officials featured discussions on a range of transatlantic issues, including NATO, refugees, Russia, President-elect Donald Trump, and more.