New York Times comes down squarely on both sides

editorial board deserves some praise for revealing its process for endorsing in the Democratic Presidential primary. Some, far smaller, newspapers started years ago to post their candidate interviews on their websites.  Last night, The Times expanded its weekly documentary, “The Weekly,” from 30 minutes to one hour, to provide a video including several candidate interview snippets and bits of editorial board deliberations, then presented its editorial endorsement.  Opening up the process was an improvement but sometimes more reality TV than complete transparency.

The Times announced it will post complete transcripts of all candidate interviews on its website “over the next few weeks.” It has already posted the Bernie Sanders interview, amplified by editorial board annotations to augment or contextualize the candidate’s comments. They should have done that with all the candidates immediately. They should also include more than the “Readers Digest” version of their deliberations, available in print and podcast.  Their final product was a disappointing twofer, winnowing their preferences for each lane: Elizabeth Warren if you’re looking for a radical structural reorganization and Amy Klobuchar if you’re looking for a more moderate, evolutionary approach.  In leaving us with two choices, the endorsement dodged the central issue facing the Democratic Party.

As a longtime editorialist, I was trained to avoid a “both/and” approach to problem solving, no matter how difficult the dilemma.  Voters (unless, perhaps, we were to adopt ranked choice voting) don’t have the luxury of both/and. You go into the voting booth and mark your ballot either for candidate A or for candidate B.  Given the urgency we face in 2020, each voter must decide whether this country needs a fierce, brilliant, law professor who wants to rearrange the anatomy of the body politic or a strong, smart pragmatist who  has accomplished much legislatively and run successful campaigns in red as well as blue regions.  Which approach does the NY Times editorial board favor? Darned if I know. They clearly pulled their punches.

Voters, especially early primary and caucus voters, would have been better served by being able to see the entire editorial deliberation to ascertain which leadership characteristics and issues were most important to the editorialists and the extent to which those priorities resonated with them. (I’d like to have heard how they parsed the differences among Klobuchar,  Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg, though Bloomberg didn’t participate in the interview process. One potential moderate missing from consideration was Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, whose brother, NYT editorial page editor James Bennet, recused himself from the process.)

The editorial board notes a declining faith in the ability of our institutions to correct the societal inequities and myriad process perversions that challenge us today. The editorial posits the Democrats’ dilemma as a choice between solutions that are radical or those that are realist. In endorsing both Warren and Klobuchar, the Times is identifying their sense of the strongest candidate in each of the two categories. Let us hope that they drill deeper.

The overriding issue for voters in the Democratic Primary must be defeating Donald Trump. Without doing that and defeating him decisively, there will be no overcoming problems POTUS has either created or exacerbated.

What would my editorial have said?  that a non-radical pragmatist, committed to the values embodied in all the candidates’ positions but at a pace and tenor more inclusive than exclusive, is the way to win the independents needed for success in November.  (Think 1972, when the purists spurned Ed Muskie and nominated George McGovern.  They won the battle but lost the war, giving us a second term of Richard Milhous Nixon.)

Democrats must have a nominee who can enthusiastically rally all defeated primary candidates and form a team united behind common cause.   Editorial endorsements may not have the clout they used to have, but they can help voters to make a more informed choice. It’s dispiriting to think that the selection of Trump’s ultimate challenger could depend on a tiny minority of party activists in  two early non-representative states. It’s encouraging that the New York Times editorial board is experimenting with new ways to be open and constructive, with, optimally, more to follow.

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Senate proceedings against Trump a trial for us all

Though cynics may mock it as a bit theatrical, the somber demeanor of House leaders delivering the the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate did fit the gravity of the event.  Understanding the importance of the message conveyed by the picture, the pit in my stomach only grew as Chief Justice John Roberts and then the individual members of the Senate swore an oath to a fair and impartial process of trying the President of the United States.  Much is riding on what happens in the next few weeks.

I took as a good sign that Roberts didn’t add Iolanthe-inspired gold stripes to his sleeves as did presiding Chief Justice Rehnquist at the Clinton impeachment, so he later could donate his robe to the Smithsonian and take a tax deduction for it.  I took as a dark sign that so many Senators who have prejudged the matter at hand pledged to be fair and impartial with straight faces.

The weight of the moment is clear. The eyes of the world (if not of all the short attention-spanned citizenry of the United States) is on the process. Think of the nations that look to us as moral exemplars of judicial fairness and balanced governance. Given the seriousness of the charges, the integrity of our electoral process and the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution hang in the balance.  President Donald John Trump (as his name was intoned) is accused to trying to force a foreign government to interfere in our election by investigating POTUS’ political opponent) and then moving to cover up his action. In short,  despite Trump’s protest that impeachment is a sham, he stands accused of trying to subvert democracy. But he must have a fair trial.  The language of those oaths taken today must be fulfilled. Politicians have attention spans of beagles; history does not.

A fair trial necessitates the presentation of documents and questioning of directly relevant  witnesses, both of which the President truncated in the House. Even if Vice President Pence and Attorney General Barr are not called, we need to hear from relevant witnesses. We especially need testimony from former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has said he will comply if subpoenaed, though he may be doing it less out of civic duty than to market his upcoming multi-million dollar summer blockbuster “tell-all book.”  Rudy Giuliani colleague Lev Parnas, who, despite (or because of?) facing campaign finance charges, has evidence directly linking Trump to the illegal actions. He may nor may not be a credible witness, but his testimony needs to be weighed fairly.  Similarly, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, directly involved in the quid pro quo with Ukraine should be heard, along with senior staff people Robert Blair and Michael Duffy.

The precedent is clear; the Senate has always taken testimony from witnesses, publicly or privately, in impeachment trials.  Comparisons to the Clinton impeachment are largely false. In that case, proceedings came after years of exhaustive investigations, and the facts were never really in dispute.

The question is: will there be enough moderate Republicans in the upper branch who, having sworn to impartial justice, will put country above party and insist on having witnesses and fair procedures. Arizona Senator Martha McSally’s screed against CNN’s Manu Raju today doesn’t augur well for other electorally-challenged GOP incumbents to view the President while not on bended knees. At the same time, despite the validity of that need for witnesses, I was not happy to see Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hold a press conference outside the chamber right after the swearing in of Roberts and the Senate.  I agree with what he said but was turned off by the timing and inferred naked partisanship.

As a practical matter, if Trump wants the opportunity to declare himself exonerated, he must present a credible defense. Witnesses for both sides should be seriously considered. This is about more than Donald Trump. The integrity of the Senate is on trial. How Roberts handles his role will influence how our independent judiciary is viewed. The future of our Constitutional republic is at stake. If I had confidence in the process and its outcome, perhaps I wouldn’t have this pit in my stomach.

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Khazei congressional candidacy seems like the real deal

Joe Kennedy’s decision to try to unseat the U.S. Senate’s leading voice on climate change has opened up a scramble for Kennedy’s fourth district seat in Congress. It’s a race with a lot of talent, including a man who brings a combination of lofty idealism and a track record of translating those ideals into reality. That distinguishing combination makes him quite special.

With his elite education at St. Paul’s School, Harvard and Harvard Law School, Alan Khazei could have made a lot of money in the corporate arena.  He has the executive skills necessary to do so, but that was never his definition of the good life. It was never in his DNA. The son of an Iranian immigrant doctor and an Italian nurse, Khazei instead has lived a life of public service, starting with legal aid and tenant organizing while still in law school.

In 1988, Khazei and his then–Harvard roommate Michael Brown founded City Year, a non-profit organization that offers 17- to 24-year-olds the opportunity to spend a year in full-time community service. Khazei and Brown saw that service as a meaningful bridge between high school and college. Thirty years later, expanding national service, especially in this time of rancor and raw partisan and tribal divisions, is part of what drives Khazei to run for Congress.

Since its founding, City Year has provided tens of thousands of young people with their first job. It operates in 29 U.S. cities as well as in South Africa and the United Kingdom. City Year service has provided mentoring for two million children. It was the inspiration for President Clinton’s AmeriCorps. Khazei worked with Clinton to develop the initiative.

He built solid bipartisan support for the program, and, when the Bush Administration cut AmeriCorp’s funding by 80 percent in 2003, Khazei worked around the clock for 100 hours, bringing young people into the halls of Congress to testify.  They slept on the floor in sleeping bags.  They went back and forth between Senate and House, in rooms reserved for them by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut. The young people told their stories, and the strategy worked.  They saved a billion-dollar agency; the cuts were restored, and they got a 50% increase.

Khazei played a key role in three major bipartisan legislative accomplishments around national service.  In 2008, he organized a summit including Republicans John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Mitt  Romney, and Laura Bush along with Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Caroline Kennedy. They were joined by some 30 generals and other veterans.  The collective effort produced the Serve America Act , Ted Kennedy’s last piece of legislation, the largest national service initiative since the Great Depression, expanding participants to 250,000 a year. Notably, the bill received 79 votes in the Senate, including a majority of Republican senators even though Mitch McConnell was opposed. (“Intersectionality” is a key word in Khazei’s lexicon, the idea of building coalitions to accomplish realizable goals.)

Some 265 school shootings since Donald Trump took office have reinforced Khazei’s commitment to new gun safety legislation, and he envisions similar “endless” hearings of victims of gun violence to drive home the message.  “I know we can win,” he said. “I’ve done it before.”

He sees this as the worst of times and the best of times. The worst, for obvious reasons: Trump’s daily assault on our fundamental values, an existential threat because of his failure to acknowledge the climate crisis and his sowing hatred and divisiveness.  But, he says, it is also the best of times, citing the Women’s Marches, the national network of sister marches, in both of which he was involved. He enthusiastically supports the March for Our Lives on gun violence, the Sunshine Movement around climate change, and Stacey Abrams’ efforts to ensure voting rights.  We haven’t, he said, seen this level of activism in 50 or 60 years. He makes a cynic want to believe.

Khazei wants to harness all this energy and bring it to bear on – and in – Congress.   This great-grandson of a coal miner is intent on restoring the American dream of social mobility, reducing economic inequity, and creating a public option for Medicare. Not surprisingly, he has a plan to expand national service for people between the ages of 18 and 28. That service would qualify them to use special accounts for purposes of education, setting up a new business, putting a down payment on a home, even for lifelong learning.  (He proposes that the special individual accounts, which he would like to see set up at birth, be seeded partly by monies from the estate tax.)

This level of idealism stands out because it comes from someone with a track record of accomplishment and also because it comes without the anger you hear so often from other candidates modeling themselves after Bernie Sanders.  Asked to identify his Congressional role models, he notes Ted Kennedy, Paul Tsongas and Harris Wofford.

Khazei ran for U.S. Senate twice and failed, but he feels that this run for the MA fourth district House seat is his time.  I don’t know if he’s correct, but I do know that every other candidate in the race who may share similar policy goals should be challenged to spell out how he or she would be able to actually get things done in the gridlock that is Washington today.

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Missing Tim Russert; Chuck Todd disappoints

It wasn’t just Buffalo’s NFL Wild Card loss yesterday that got me thinking about long-suffering Bills fan Tim Russert, who set the gold standard for a tough but fair Sunday news show interviewer. When Chuck Todd eventually became his successor  on Meet the Press, I was heartened. For years, Todd had been a data-driven analyst whose trenchant reporting was consistently a high point of  election night coverage. Sadly, in  his new role as moderator, Todd has fallen into a trap that has bedeviled many  of his cable news  media brethren and sistren.

At Christmastime,  he gave an interview with Rolling Stone that has been characterized as “explosive, embarrassing, enraging and just plain weird.”  Todd admitted to being  naïve and having been used by guests skilled in purveying  Republican disinformation  messages. Kellyanne Conway had introduced the idea of “alternative facts” on Todd’s program, which he did challenge, but over the past three years, according to  Rolling Stone and Jay Rosen, Todd has failed  to fight back against the weaponization of disinformation. As a superficial  antidote to charges he’s been guilty of “willful blindness,” (he still uses the term “misinformation” rather than “disinformation”) he produced and broadcast an improved December 29 special  program  ostensibly designed to say he now understood the game at hand and henceforth would do better. Here was a cause for hope.

But alas, in this morning’s very first show of the new year, he has reverted to type. He let Secretary of State Mike Pompeo run roughshod over him, essentially unchallenged. Pompeo proclaimed: “We’re definitely safer today, 100 percent certainty that America is safer today.” Todd, without using Russert-like follow-up questioning, fact-checking and putting on the screen the guest’s (or, in this case, Trump’s) contradictory previous statements tepidly asked about possible retaliation.

Pompeo blustered forward: “It may be there’s a little noise here in the interim, that the Iranians make the choice to respond. I hope that they don’t. President Trump has made clear what we will do in response if they do.”

Todd had a legitimate  question, which he seemed to be trying to ask, about Trump’s wild tweet threatening to commit war crime destruction of Iranian cultural monuments, but Pompeo wouldn’t let him interrupt,  and, when Todd had a chance to talk, he never  asked that question or pressed him for a non-talking-point answer. Nor did he ever ask Pompeo why anyone should believe Trump’s “evidence” now when the President so regularly lies to the American people and the world.

Any viewer would have been far better served by watching an excellent discussion of the Iranian situation on CNN’s GPS (Global Public Square) with Fareed Zakaria, consistently the best foreign policy program on television, with wide-ranging experts instead of political stooges.

Todd didn’t get any better after the Pompeo segment concluded. Todd wasted precious time asking Democratic Senator Mark Warner if the Senate could handle Iran and impeachment at the same time. Better to have asked Warner if any Republican senator has expressed concerns about Trump’s shortsighted recklessness, which could endanger American lives  and put the nation’s security  interests at serious risk. Might such concerns cause a rethinking of GOP hesitancy to remove the President from  office and replace him with a relatively more stable Mike Pence?

Sadly, Todd’s brief Christmas insight appears to have  gone the way of New Year’s diet resolutions or Tom Brady’s hopes for another Super Bowl. We already know the dangers of social media. We should also be aware that broadcast and cable news media coverage of 2020 politics could be even more pernicious. I do miss Tim Russert.

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Headlines to look for in 2020

2020 vision gives us clarity to see the world around us. 2020 hindsight is a way of understanding where we got it wrong in the past.  Today, my New Year’s gift to you is a list of headlines I hope to see in 2020. Some are the triumph of hope over experience. Some are aspirational but still possible. Others could really show up in newspapers, magazines, newscasts or social media.  Feel free to share your own in the comments section below.

My past aspirational headlines for Donald Trump have circled the drain. At every juncture, he has befouled our civic discourse and polluted our democracy. The only headline I want to see is: Trump Overwhelmingly Defeated: Packs Bags for Mar-a-Lago; Takes Family With Him.

Mitt Romney finds he has a pair: Leads Effort for Secret Ballot in Senate Trial of Impeached President.

Former Marine Amy McGrath defeats Mitch McConnell in Kentucky Senate Race.

GOP Senators Cory Gardner, Martha McSally and Susan Collins Down and Out

John Cornyn’s Base Crumbles in Texas

Democratic President-Elect Announces Public Option for Health Care 

United States Rejoins the Paris Accords on Climate; toughens standards for carbon reduction

Supreme Court Upholds Lower Courts’ Rulings on Trump Tax Returns

New Fox”breaking news” poll finds strong majority says truth and science matter

Ageism not a factor in elections; 2020 youth vote highest ever

DACA Kids Get New Lease on Life, Pathway to Citizenship

Netanyahu Era Ends in Israeli Election

Brexit leads to Scotland Independence and Irish Unification

MA Governor Charlie Baker finally gets the T running well

Tom Brady retires with dignity; Jimmy Garoppolo leaves 49ers for N.E. Patriots

Boston Red Sox season a plus despite salary cap maneuvers

Celtics and Bruins become champions again; Hub suppliers run out of confetti

Dramatic rights to James H. Barron’s forthcoming blockbuster book The Greek Connection (publication date May 19, 2020) sold for movie, TV and Broadway musical, author and his wife retire in comfort  (File under:  aspirational)

May our near and dear ones celebrate 2020 in good health, happiness and peace. May we all return to a place where we don’t have to pick up the daily paper with trepidation and where we can have pride in our country and the values it has represented for centuries -always a work in progress, but trending in the right direction.

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House work continues despite impeachment process

The Guardian

Yesterday’s message? It was a sad day for the country but a good day for  Constitutional democracy. The Democrats greeted the  approval of two Articles of Impeachment with the solemnity and gravity the event warranted. Donald J. Trump will be forever branded as one of three United States Presidents to be impeached, indicted for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.  It was a brutal day of political theater, largely static debate along partisan lines, worse than root canal for the viewer. Not a single Republican spoke about the substance of the President’s misdeeds. Not one defended the actions or character of the man.

The most outrageous GOP talking point was that, instead of spending their time on impeachment, the Democrats should, as Republican Dennis Riggelman, a whiskey distiller from Manassas, Virginia said,  have been hard at work on issues of importance to the well-being of the people. He specifically named prescription drug costs, the opioid drug crisis, the United States/ Mexico/Canada trade pact. Other Republicans robotically ticked off other issues.

Let’s get the record straight. As Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark laid out last Friday to The New England Council, the Democratic House has passed more than 400 bills, over 300 of which are still sitting on Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk. Two hundred seventy-six were passed with bipartisan support.

There are bills curbing prescription costs (with savings to go, for the first time, to benefits for dental, vision and hearing),  addressing the opioid crisis, and investing $10 billion investment in National Institutes of Health and FDA, to move innovation more quickly to patients.

With the focused commitment of MA Congressman Richie Neal, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, the long-sought successor to the NAFTA trade agreement was finally negotiated and now includes enforcement mechanisms for fair labor practices and environmental safeguards. This should reduce competitive disadvantage for American workers whose products already must comply with protective regulations.

Also awaiting Senate action are House-passed bills to address the existential challenge of climate change, two gun safety bills passed last February, and to deal with the Dreamers under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).   There’s a bipartisan bill to create a path to citizenship for a million agricultural workers and others to extend the  Violence Against Women Act, address Net Neutrality, and pay equity – all among the bills that Mitch McConnell and his herd of sheep haven’t had the decency to take up.

And the work of the House continues, on continued funding for the government, extending the Earned Income Tax Credit, higher education, and more.

Just two weeks ago, in response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision weakening the Voting Rights Act, the House passed a bill providing a new response to voter suppression. Civil rights hero John Lewis of Georgia, nearly killed in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, inspired his colleagues  to be ever mindful of the continuous hard work of reinforcing democracy.

And that’s why this impeachment had to happen. In our democratic republic, no person, not even a President, should be above the law.

Once again, we  can hail Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who now says she’ll delay  naming House members to manage the prosecution in the Senate until rules are approved that won’t rush the trial at breakneck speed to exoneration.  Count on Republicans once again to take up the chorus against the “do-nothing  Democrats.” But rest assured, it is Mitch McConnell who – aside from his larding the federal courts with right-wing judges many of whom are deemed professionally unqualified by non-partisan evaluators  – steadfastly refuses to do the people’s business.

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U.S. Senate: Profiles in Courage or Cowardice?

After an expected vote for impeachment in the House of Representatives, the fate of Donald Trump will move to the U.S. Senate, where the prospects for the triumph of Constitutional values are bleak and where GOP stalwarts like Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already violated their oaths of impartial judgment by pledging fealty to the President.  Remembering a decades-old historical anecdote provides a faint glimmer of  hope.

After the Second World War the dangers of Soviet aggression  were real and there were real life spies on both sides of the Iron Curtain. But the Red Scare firestorm accelerated by  Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and his legions incinerated reputations and ruined lives of  hundreds working in government, academia and the film industry.  McCarthy, who would ultimately be censured by the U.S. Senate, ran roughshod over his spineless colleagues, using fear tactics to divide people and exacerbate divisions in this country. A reckless demagogue, he claimed he had lists of subversives and challenged the patriotism of anyone who dared criticize him. Until Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

The freshman Senator from Maine, in her first speech on the floor, declared that “we must not become a nation of mental mutes, blindly following demagogues.” She didn’t “want a Democratic administration ‘whitewash’ or ‘coverup’ any more than … a Republican smear or witch hunt.”  She denounced the GOP tactics of exploiting fear for political gain. Six Republican Senators signed onto her Declaration of Conscience.

Who among today’s Republican Senators will step up as did Margaret Chase Smith in 1950? Reports have it that if a vote in today’s U.S. Senate were by secret ballot, 30 GOP Senators would vote to impeach President Trump. (Former Senator Jeff Flake said there are at least 35 who would vote that way.) Twenty are needed to complement the Democrats and Independents to reach the super-majority of 67 needed to remove the President from office. Failure to do so will allow him to claim full exoneration and green-light continued abuses of power, including soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.

Who among the closet critics would vote their conscience?  Three departing Senators – Lamar Alexander, Mike Enzi, and Pat Roberts – could conceivably stand up for the balance of powers envisioned in the Constitution. Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Richard Burr  have occasionally criticized Trump, but what would you bet on their fulfilling their oaths of office?  Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Martha McSally are others considered long shots to break with party, but they’re all burdened by political considerations in tight races.  Getting to 20 is a heavy lift.

The Senate can write its own rules for a post- impeachment trial. It would take just three Republicans to push for a secret ballot. Three could block approval of Senate rules for the proceedings, making their approval contingent upon inclusion of a secret ballot. If that happened, who knows what a glut of courage might emerge?  I fear that nothing will happen unless and until someone with the courage and integrity of a Margaret Chase Smith steps to the podium and insists on a return to conscience and integrity to reclaim the heart of the institution and limit executive imperialism, political corruption and abuse of power.

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