Wednesday, September 29, 2021

How to Protect Yourself Against Identity and Cyber Theft (from Consumers' Checkbook)


Thieves work nonstop to hijack our identities and steal our credit and assets. Massive data breaches at Equifax, Facebook, First American Financial, Marriott, Twitter, Yahoo!, and many others in the last few years have affected tens of billions of accounts. At this point, assume your personal information has been compromised and is available for cyberthieves to use.

Here’s advice on the best ways to protect your credit, assets, and identity.

Get smart about passwords:
Passwords are the keys to our digital lives, yet many people are careless and sloppy with them. They create simple, easy-to-remember passwords that are easy to crack (such as “abc123” or “password1”) and then use them again and again for all their accounts. “Hackers love this because it makes their life so much easier—if they can snag the password from one of your accounts, they can use it to attack all the others,” said digital security expert Adam Levin. “It’s like having the same key to start your car, unlock your house, open your safe deposit box, and lock your desk at work. Doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Make passwords long and complex. Secure passwords consist of at least 10 to 12 characters (the longer the better) and have a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols, such as punctuation. Avoid common phrases and words (“LukeIamYourFather”), song or movie titles, the name of your dog, high school, or favorite sports team. One effective strategy is to pick a relatively obscure but easy-to-remember secret phrase and insert extra letters, numbers, and symbols. For example: “&Iheartluv1625Checkb00k$t!”
Password management tools such as KeeperLastPass, and Dashlane make it easy by creating strong and unique passwords for each of your online accounts. They’re stored in an encrypted digital vault accessible from all your devices. You just need to create (and remember) one strong master password that unlocks the password manager. You may already have password managers on your devices. Apple’s embedded password manager is called “Keychain.” Most internet browsers also have them, with options to sync those passwords across multiple devices. While browser “save passwords” features are convenient, they’re not as robust as what you’d get from a dedicated password management program.
Several websites, including, let you check on whether hackers have stolen your logins or passwords from major websites such as Adobe, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, and so many others. You can use it to search for email addresses you use; it keeps track of which ones were likely affected by breaches. Change passwords for businesses that were hacked, and make sure you don’t use possibly stolen ones to access other sites.
Turn on multi-factor authentication:
Even the best passwords can be compromised—so opt for multi-factor authentication (MFA), when available. MFA requires a password and at least one other identifying factor that only you should have access to—such as a fingerprint, or entering a code from a text, email, or authentication app—to log in. It’s not foolproof, but MFA can stop most hackers from using stolen passwords on accounts that use them. When it comes to protecting your digital life, MFA provides much stronger protection than even the best passwords alone.
Identify and guard unprotected assets:
It’s especially important to lock down your retirement and investment accounts, which unlike most checking and savings accounts don’t automatically get regulatory protection from fraud losses, leaving your life savings exposed and vulnerable.
A few years ago, Checkbook reviewed the websites of nine major investment firms, and found two that lacked specifics about any policies that might protect your assets from theft. Meanwhile, companies that explicitly offer such coverage often have dozens of requirements to qualify for reimbursement if there’s a problem. Enable MFA for these accounts and use your password manager to create and use strong, unique passwords for them. Once a month, check account activity and immediately report possible theft or fraud.

Monitor and protect existing financial accounts:
You are largely protected from fraudulent transactions on your credit cards, checking, and savings accounts. Typically, if someone hijacks your credit card, or uses your info to create bogus credit card accounts in your name, you are not liable for those losses. Your financial institution should cover any losses from fraudulent checking or savings account transactions. Contact the credit card company or financial institution as soon as you spot something suspicious.
Nevertheless, it can be a hassle if a crook gets into your checking account. You might not get your money back for a few days to a couple of weeks while the institution investigates. That can disrupt bill paying, and result in a cascade of late-payment and returned-check penalties. So, guard your account and PIN numbers. Set up account alerts that notify you of transactions in real time, making it easier to spot a problem. Review activity on your monthly statements or—better yet—monitor transactions online or by phone at least every few weeks.

Freeze your credit report:
A credit freeze (also called a security freeze) makes it difficult for thieves to open new accounts in your name by locking your credit report. If potential creditors can’t access your credit file, they can’t generate credit scoring for you, which makes it highly unlikely they would approve new credit card or loan applications, or open new bank accounts to bad guys using your stolen identity info. All your current creditors will still be able to check your file, and a freeze will not negatively impact your credit scores.
You must place a freeze with each of the big three credit bureaus—EquifaxExperian, and TransUnion. Federal regulations require the credit bureaus to put your report on ice within one business day of receiving a request online or over the phone, and within three business days of a mail request.
Should you ever want to apply for credit—which includes signing up for new cell phone or utility services, or seeking approval to rent an apartment—you can temporarily lift the freeze using the security code only you know. If you request to have your account “thawed” online or by phone, the bureaus must unlock your file within an hour.
Lock down your children’s credit reports:
Identity thieves love children because they don’t have credit histories. It’s estimated that more than a million children have their identities stolen each year. Armed with your child’s Social Security number (which can be purchased on the “dark web,” where criminals often buy and sell stolen information), crooks can create and exploit a fresh credit history with less risk of discovery. Parents are unlikely to stumble across the problem, or even think to check their kids’ credit reports until their children are old enough to apply for credit.
If your child doesn’t have a credit file, the credit bureaus are required by law to create one and let you freeze it upon request. To protect your children, no matter what their ages, order a copy of their credit reports each year through and place security freezes on their reports at all three credit bureaus. And watch for warning signs that an identity thief has accessed your child’s credit file. A minor should not be getting a jury summons, calls from bill collectors, preapproved credit card offers in the mail, or notices from the IRS about nonpayment of taxes. More Info: From the FTC: Child Identity Theft
Check your credit report every few months:
Your credit report is a key pillar of your financial identity, and it’s the official record of your good payment history that identity thieves ruin when they borrow money in your name and don’t pay it back. Credit unions, banks, credit card companies, insurers, and other possible creditors use scores, derived from your credit report, to set terms and interest rates, and decide whether they want to do business with you at all. So, it’s critical for you to check your credit files at the big three credit reporting agencies to look for fraud, as well as any errors that could hurt you.
Checking your credit report is essential personal financial maintenance work. Federal law entitles you to one free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Request yours at (Note: There are other sites that offer free credit reports. was set up by the federal government and is the only one you should use.) Identity theft victims are entitled to their credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, regardless of whether they have accessed free reports in the last year.
You can stagger your requests to get a free report from one of the three major credit bureaus every four months. Currently, because of the pandemic, you can access a free online copy of your credit report from all three credit bureaus once a week through the end of April 2022.

Watch your credit scores:
Your credit scores are three-digit numbers that sum up information in your credit file that potential lenders use to quickly determine whether to approve your application, and if so, what interest rate to charge. While keeping track of your credit score is important, it can also be a potential warning system for identity theft. If, for instance, you have good credit and your score suddenly drops for no obvious reason—you didn’t max out your credit cards or make late payments—that could signal that an identity thief has opened credit card accounts in your name and is not paying the bills. Just remember, monitoring your credit score “is not a substitute for monitoring your full credit reports,” cautioned Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. Many financial institutions have set up access so their customers can check their FICO scores for free.
Don’t waste money on identity protection services:
ID protection services cost $10 to $30 a month. But you don’t need to spend that money. You can do much of what a monitoring service does yourself for free. The biggest problem Checkbook has with credit monitoring services is the hype and fear tactics often used in their advertising. For example, many services now claim to monitor the dark web. This sounds impressive, but with so many breaches in the last few years, chances are your personal information is already on the dark web. Even if a monitoring service finds it there, there’s nothing it can do to remove it.
Many of these companies also brag about covering your losses up to a million dollars. Just more hype. Most identity theft victims do not have any out-of-pocket losses. When fraud occurs, financial institutions and credit card companies typically make victims whole, so any million-dollar promise is basically useless. Most of the hassles caused by identity theft involve the time it takes to document the fraud, canceling accounts, and opening new ones. None of this is reimbursable by any identity theft insurance policy.
Beware phishing scams and follow other smart security precautions:
Thieves prefer to hack the weakest link in a long security chain, and that link is often you. They’ll “phish” for your login credentials by sending you an email, text, instant message, or online pop-up that looks like it comes from your financial institution, credit card company, or other trusted business. These bogus alerts warn you there’s an “urgent problem” with your account, and you need to log on right away by clicking on a link in the message. Do that—and please don’t—and you’ll land on a bogus website that looks just like the legitimate online portal, where you will be asked to log in to your account. When you do that, the crooks capture your username, password, and any login credentials they can use to break into that account.
You can reduce your chances of falling victim to a phishing scam by using anti-virus, anti-spyware, and other security software, and keeping it up to date. But even the best security software can’t counteract you doing the wrong thing and opening a digital door to crooks. The reality is: You are the main defense against cyberthieves. You can reduce your chances of a hack attack by following these two simple rules:
Never click on links or attachments in emails, text messages, instant messages, or windows that pop up on your computer screen, no matter how legitimate they look or how ominous they sound. Always access your online accounts, especially financial accounts, by typing the legitimate URL into the browser’s address bar—or better yet, by using a browser bookmark, or the official app for that company or financial institution.

Other basic do’s and don’ts to protect your identity, credit, and assets:
The most important safety precaution you can take is to create and use strong and unique passwords—a different password for each site—and turn on MFA when offered. Never share usernames, passwords, personal identification numbers, account numbers, or answers to security questions with anyone.
Never respond to email, text messages, social media messages, or phone calls (yes, crooks still use the phone) requesting personal or financial information. When in doubt, contact the company in question, using a phone number you know is legitimate, not one provided in an email or text, or even by the caller (who could be a crook).
Use security software on your computer (anti-spyware, anti-virus, firewall, anti-spam), smartphone, and other devices.
Have your computer software, mobile device apps, internet browser, and operating systems automatically update, so you get the latest security patches as soon they come out. Familiarize yourself with your devices’ security and privacy settings and set them to the strongest protection levels.
Remember: Your smartphone is a computer, so keep its operating system and apps up to date, and use security software designed for mobile devices.
Don’t use public WiFi or hotspots. They’re not secure. Unless you’re using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on your wireless device, assume anything you do on public WiFi is visible to the world.
Turn off Bluetooth when not in use, so a crook can’t link to your device.
To prevent hacking of your home network, use a router with WPA or WPA2 privacy protocol and change its factory default administrator password and SSID to unique, strong codes that only you know. WPA2 provides stronger security than WPA but requires more processing power. If your router uses the older, WEP encryption, get a new one.
Browse with vigilance. Look for a lock symbol in your browser’s address bar or that the URL begins with “https” indicating communication with the website is encrypted. But don’t assume websites using secure protocols means it’s safe to use; criminals can also set up “secure” websites to steal your money.
Use the “Remember my user ID” feature on websites to automatically log in. A fake site won’t be able to insert your username and password.
If you’re the chief IT officer in your household, make sure you give security training to less-knowledgeable members of the family who share your computer and mobile devices. You’re only as safe as the weakest link.
Delete online accounts you no longer use. Chances are you have dozens of accounts you haven’t used in years. Dormant accounts, which have saved personal information, such as your birthdate, and possibly credit card numbers, are a major security risk—especially if they have lousy passwords that you also use on other sites that may be scooped up in a data breach.
Choose e-delivery of statements and correspondence for your credit cards and financial accounts, and promptly open and review them. Shred discarded financial papers using a cross-cut shredder.
Stop advertisers from mailing you prescreened offers for credit cards and insurance, which ID thieves can steal from your home mailbox, by opting out at Caution: You will need to provide your Social Security number, so make sure you’re on the right site and using a secure internet connection.
Don’t trust caller ID. It can be spoofed to display whatever bogus information criminals want, such as the name and number of your financial institution or credit card company, the IRS, Social Security, Medicare, or even your local police department. It’s a sneaky way to make you believe the call is legit.
Destroy any information stored on old computers and mobile devices before you sell or recycle them by performing a factory reset or removing and destroying storage drives and devices. Simply deleting files does not permanently remove them from the hard drive.
What to do if you've been a victim of identity theft:
File a report with your local police department. Chances are it doesn’t have the resources to investigate but doing so will document you took steps to prevent future criminal activity and possible financial losses.
Also file a report with the website run by the Federal Trade CommissionVictims of identity theft have legal rights that can help them recover from the crime. Visit the FTC’s Know Your Rights web page. You can also contact the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center to find out how to undo any damages and reduce your exposure to future criminal activity.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

1,933 Miles: Haiti to the Border of Texas


"If this is not a hair-on-fire, screaming emergency, what is?" -Heather Cox Richardson

On Monday [September 20], we learned that after last year’s election, John Eastman, a well-connected lawyer advising former president Donald Trump, outlined a six-point plan to overturn the outcome of the election and install Trump as America’s leader. They planned to cut the voters’ actual choice, Democrat Joe Biden, out of power: as Trump advisor Steve Bannon put it, they planned to “kill the Biden presidency in the crib.” This appears to have been the plan that Trump and his loyalists tried to execute on January 6.

That is, we now have written proof of an attempt to destroy our democracy and replace it with an autocracy.

This was not some crazy plot of some obscure dude in a shack in the mountains; this was a plan of the president of the United States of America, and it came perilously close to succeeding. The president of the United States tried to overturn the results of an election—the centerpiece of our democracy—and install himself into power illegitimately. 

If this is not a hair-on-fire, screaming emergency, what is? 

And yet, Republican lawmakers, with the notable exceptions of Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), have largely remained silent about the fact that the head of their party tried to destroy our democracy. 

The best spin on their silence is that in refusing to defend the former president while also keeping quiet enough that they do not antagonize the voters in his base, they are choosing their own power over the protection of our country. 

The other option is that the leaders of the Republican Party have embraced authoritarianism, and their once-grand party—the party of Abraham Lincoln, the party that saved the United States in the 1860s, the party that removed racial enslavement from our fundamental law—has become an existential threat to our nation. 

Democracy requires at least two healthy parties capable of running a government in order to provide oversight for those currently in control of the government and to channel opposition into peaceful attempts to change the country’s path rather than into revolution. But Republicans appear to believe that any Democratic government is illegitimate, insisting that Democrats’ calls for business regulation, a basic social safety net, and infrastructure investment are “socialism” that will destroy the country. 

With Democrats in charge of the federal government, Republicans are cementing their power in the states to support a future coup like the one Eastman described. Using “audits” of the 2020 elections, notably in Arizona but now also in Pennsylvania and Texas, Trump loyalists have convinced their supporters to distrust elections, softening the ground to overturn them in the future. According to a new poll by NORC at the University of Chicago, 26% of Americans now believe that “[t]he 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president,” and 8% believe that "[u]se of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency."

Arguing that they have to stop the voter fraud they have falsely claimed threw the election to Biden, Republican lawmakers in 18 states have passed more than 30 laws to cut down Democratic voting and cement their own rule. Trump supporters have threatened election workers, prompting them to quit, and have harassed school board members and local officials, driving them from office. 

Although attorneys general are charged with nonpartisan enforcement of the law, we learned earlier this month that in September 2020, 32 staff members of Republican attorneys general met in Atlanta, where they participated in “war games” to figure out what to do should Trump not be reelected. The summit was organized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which sent out robocalls on January 5 urging recipients to march to the Capitol the following day “to stop the steal.” In May, RAGA elevated the man responsible for those robocalls to the position of executive director, prompting others to leave.

In states where Republicans have rigged election mechanics, party members need to worry about primary challengers from the right, rather than Democratic opponents. So they are purging from the party all but Trump loyalists, especially as the former president is backing challengers against those who voted in favor of his impeachment in the House in January 2021. Last week, one of those people, Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), announced he was retiring, in part because of right-wing threats against his family. 

Trump loyalists are openly embracing the language of authoritarianism. In Texas, Abbott is now facing a primary challenger who today tweeted: “Texans deserve a strong and robust leader committed to fighting with them against the radical Left. They deserve a leader like Brazil has in Jair Bolsonaro…..” Bolsonaro, a right-wing leader whose approval rating in late August was 23%, is threatening to stay in power in Brazil against the wishes of its people. He claims that the country’s elections are fraudulent and that “[e]ither we’ll have clean elections, or we won’t have elections.”

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) today used language fascists have used in the past to stoke hatred of their political opponents, tweeting that “ALL House Democrats are evil and will kill unborn babies all the way up to birth and then celebrate.” Yesterday, the leader of Turning Points U.S.A., Charlie Kirk, brought the movement’s white nationalism into the open when he told a YouTube audience that Democrats were backing “an invasion of the country” to bring in “voters that they want and that they like” and to work toward “diminishing and decreasing white demographics in America.” He called for listeners to “[d]eputize a citizen force, put them on the border, give them handcuffs, get it done.” 

Today, we learned that the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) will be held in Budapest, Hungary, where leader Viktor Orbán, whom Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson has openly admired, is dismantling democracy and eroding civil rights. When former vice president Mike Pence spoke in Budapest earlier this week at a forum denouncing immigration and urging traditional social values, he told the audience he hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon outlaw abortion thanks to the three justices Trump put on the court.

Establishment Republicans who are now out of power are not on board the Trump train. They are quietly backing anti-Trumpers like Representative Cheney. Former House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, former Florida governor Jeb Bush—who was widely expected to win the Republican nomination in 2016, only to be shut out of it by Trump—and former president George W. Bush's former adviser Karl Rove have all donated money to Cheney to help her stave off a challenge from a Trump loyalist in the 2022 election. Next month, former president Bush himself will hold a fundraiser for Cheney in Texas.

Other establishment Republicans currently in power might be staying quiet about the party’s slide toward authoritarianism because they are simply hoping that the Trump fire will burn itself out. The former president is no longer commanding the crowds he once did, and his increasing legal woes as well as the investigation into the insurrection will almost certainly take up his time and energy. The mounting coronavirus deaths among his unvaccinated supporters also stand to weaken support for his faction. 

But the fact that Republican lawmakers have ignored the Eastman memo, which outlines the destruction of our democracy, suggests that the party, which organized in the 1850s to protect the nation against those who would destroy it, has come full circle.

—Heather Cox Richardson



Thursday, September 23, 2021

This Civil War–Era Eagle Sculpture Was Made Out of Abraham Lincoln’s Hair by Jason Emerson


“The Hairy Eagle, as it was dubbed more than 150 years ago, stuns all who see it, probably because the wreath is made entirely from human hair. And not just any hair. It was woven with tresses provided by President Abraham Lincoln, his vice president and cabinet members, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and numerous United States senators, as well as First Lady Mary Lincoln and three cabinet members’ wives—37 people in all. Measuring roughly a foot in diameter, the eagle-adorned artwork is accompanied by an index showing exactly whose hair was used for each section of the sculpture.

“‘This piece is just astounding,’ says Robert Searing, a curator at the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) in Syracuse, New York, which houses the relic. ‘The first time I saw it, my jaw hit the floor; I couldn’t believe it. First of all, the fact that it is human hair, and that it is so incredibly well-crafted. And then obviously, as a historian, as somebody who has a deep affection for Abraham Lincoln … words escape me. … There’s not another item like this anywhere as far as we know. And the provenance is indisputable.’

“Commissioned as a fundraising tool for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a quasi-governmental agency run by volunteers seeking to ensure the health and safety of Union soldiers, the wreath was displayed prominently at the Metropolitan Fair, a charity event held in New York City in April 1864. Guests paid $1 for the opportunity to sign their names in a book accompanying the artifact. The goal was to raise $1,000. At the close of the fair, the wreath was to be presented to the Lincolns as a keepsake.

“But the Hairy Eagle never made its way to the White House. Instead, it hung in a Brooklyn shop window, then was displayed at another fair before disappearing for decades. In the 1920s, the family of the man who’d made the wreath donated it to the OHA; since then, this unique piece of history has only been displayed publicly three times. It remains a basically unknown Civil War relic that is, literally, priceless…” (Smithsonian Magazine).

Friday, September 17, 2021

Today Is Constitution Day, and Our Democracy Is Imperiled by Glen Brown


"When our democracy is threatened from within, we must save it ourselves... Transcending forces of decay, disinformation, and disunion will not be easy. This is the great national calling of our time: the North Star that must guide decisions about ending or enduring disastrous presidencies. There is no quick fix for the challenges we face. They are surmountable only if each of us resolves anew that America and democracy are well worth fighting for" -Laurence Tribe on Donald Trump.

"It doesn't matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn't matter how brilliant the Framers were. It doesn't matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn't matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn't matter, we're lost. If truth doesn't matter, we're lost" -Adam Schiff.

Because most of us live as social, rational human beings, we have implicitly consented to moral and social contracts that have been devised. It is because we understand why moral precepts are beneficial for all of us; that we have the Rule of Law, established in the U.S. Constitution; that we have a shared set of moral and legal expectations for our conduct that makes it imperative to appeal to a public sense of justice regardless of political party affiliation.

Because Republicans in power continue to polarize politics through hyper-partisanship, unprincipled partiality, and political stagnation; because they continue their unwavering allegiance to their extensive tribalism, their powerful interests, their dark money, and Trump's base so they are guaranteed campaign funds and reelection; because they continue their irreparable damage to the constitutional system, democratic institutions, and separation of powers; because most of them ignored and some of them encouraged a violent uprising against America, it is up to the rest of us to preserve our slowly-dying democracy! 

-Glen Brown 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

A Thank You from Heather Cox Richardson


Exactly two years ago today, after about a six-week hiatus during the summer, I wrote a Facebook post that started: “Many thanks to all of you who have reached out to see if I'm okay. I am, indeed (aside from having been on the losing end of an encounter with a yellow jacket this afternoon!). I've been moving, setting up house, and finishing the new book. Am back and ready to write, but now everything seems like such a dumpster fire it's very hard to know where to start. So how about a general overview of how things at the White House look to me, today....”

I went on to explain that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), had written a letter to then–acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, on Friday, September 13, telling Maguire he knew that a whistleblower had filed a complaint with the inspector general of the intelligence community, who had deemed the complaint “credible” and "urgent.” This meant that the complaint was supposed to be sent on to the House Intelligence Committee. But, rather than sending it to the House as the law required, Maguire had withheld it. Schiff’s letter told Maguire that he knew about the complaint and that Maguire had better hand it over. Schiff speculated that Maguire was covering up evidence of crimes by the president or his closest advisors.

Readers swamped me with questions. So I wrote another post answering them and explaining the news, which began breaking at a breathtaking pace. And so, these Letters from an American were born.

In the two years since then, we have lived through the Ukraine scandal—the secret behind the whistleblower complaint in Schiff’s letter—which revealed that then-president Trump was secretly running his own foreign policy team to strong-arm Ukraine into helping the president’s reelection campaign.

We lived through the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October 2019, leaving our former Kurdish allies to be murdered by Turkish troops. ISIS freed compatriots from jails and launched new attacks, and Russian troops moved into the positions we had held in the region.

We lived through the impeachment hearings, the trial of former president Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, then the president’s acquittal on those charges and his subsequent purge of career government officials and their replacement with Trump loyalists.

Then, on February 7, just two days after Senate Republicans acquitted him, Trump picked up the phone and called veteran journalist Bob Woodward to tell him there was a deadly new virus spreading around the world. It was airborne, he explained, and was five times “more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” “This is deadly stuff,” he said. He would not share that information with other Americans, though, continuing to play down the virus in hopes of protecting the economy.

The pandemic, more than 660,000 of us—1 American in 500—have not lived through.

We have, though, lived through the attempts of the former president to rig the 2020 election, the determination of American voters to make their voices heard, the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd, the election of Democrat Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and the subsequent refusal of Trump and his loyalists to accept Biden’s win.

And we have lived through the unthinkable: an attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob determined to overrule the results of an election and install their own candidate in the White House. For the first time in our history, the peaceful transfer of power was broken.

Rather than disappearing after the inauguration of President Biden, the reactionary authoritarianism of the former president’s supporters has grown stronger. Senate Republicans acquitted Trump for a second time in his second impeachment trial-- this time for incitement of insurrection-- and in Republican-dominated states across the country, legislatures have passed laws to suppress Democratic voting and to put the counting of votes into partisan hands.

We have seen the attempts of Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress to move America past this dark moment by making coronavirus vaccines widely available and passing the American Rescue Plan to rebuild the economy. We have watched the U.S. withdraw from the longest war in our history, losing 13 military personnel in the exit from Afghanistan that brought out more than 130,000 evacuees.

And we are, today, watching the fight over the survival of our democracy. If you are tired, you have earned the right to be. And yet, you are still here, reading.

I write these letters because I love America. I am staunchly committed to the principle of human self-determination for people of all races, genders, abilities, and ethnicities, and I believe that American democracy could be the form of government that comes closest to bringing that principle to reality. And I know that achieving that equality depends on a government shaped by fact-based debate rather than by extremist ideology and false narratives.

And so I write. But I have come to understand that I am simply the translator for the sentiments shared by hundreds of thousands of people who are finding each other and giving voice to the principles of democracy. Your steadfast interest, curiosity, critical thinking, and especially your kindness—to me and to one another—illustrates that we have not only the power, but also the passion, to reinvent our nation.

To those who read these letters, send tips, proofread, criticize, comment, argue, worry, cheer, award medals (!), and support me and one another: I thank you all for taking me along on this wild, unexpected, exhausting, and exhilarating journey.