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Yecch!  Al Franken was a boor. A jerk. A pig.  A sexual assaulter. Not like serial offenders Roy Moore, Bill Clinton or Donald Trump, but on the sexually offensive spectrum nonetheless. In 2006, on a USO tour, a photographer took his picture mugging for the camera and appearing to grope the breasts of entertainer Leeann Tweeden, wearing a flak vest, sound asleep, on a plane leaving Afghanistan. The picture was shared. You could give Franken the benefit of the doubt that the photo was a frat boy prank or a lousy joke, but he doesn’t deserve a pass.

Prior to the incident, Franken had insisted on practicing a kiss in a skit rehearsal. He allegedly put his hand at the back of Tweeden’s head, “mashed his lips” against hers and “aggressively stuck his tongue” in her mouth. She pushed him off, warned him never to do it again and headed for the bathroom “to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth” as fast as possible.  She felt “disgusted and violated.” Because she was violated. Unlike others, Franken has apologized for his behavior, which occurred before he became a Senator, and he asked for an Ethics Committee probe.  Response to his transgression should be carefully calibrated. All sexual misconduct is not equal.  Tweeden herself has accepted his apology.

There is no equivalency  between Al Franken and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who, while in his thirties and an assistant district attorney, regularly trolled a mall and picked up teenagers, including one who was just 14 years old, to exploit them sexually.  Eventually, the mall barred the creep from its premises. And there’s no equivalency with Donald Trump who boasted  about committing worse sexually abusive behavior than that for which Franken apologized.

We’ve known for a long time that sexual assault and harassment cut across lines of party, profession, class, race, ethnicity and more.  The sexual-harasser-in-chief (accused by 16 women of inappropriate sexual behavior) this week predictably tweeted against Franken and ignored the litany of Moore’s transgressions. In 2016, Trump supporters, notably Republican women, gave him a free pass. We don’t know how Alabama will judge Roy Moore December 12.

Times have changed somewhat in the past year.  Since Harvey Weinstein’s fall,  it has become a bit safer to come out of hiding for high visibility women who have been assaulted. For generations, they could not easily confront their violators for fear of reprisal, victim blaming and public humiliation. Gains are more tenuous for the waitresses, secretaries, chamber maids and retail clerks subjected to sexual misconduct.

Consider what happened to Anita Hill when she testified before Congress about now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Or the disbelief and shaming that greeted the women who made credible accusations about President Bill Clinton, many emanating from incidents when he was governor of Arkansas.

Those targets of Bill Clinton’s sexual appetites couldn’t bring him down, but his own behavior with intern Monica Lewinsky – and his lying under oath about it – nearly did. Back then, however, Democrats circled the wagons around Clinton, including, shamefully, prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem. They tsk-tsk’d, then rejected calls that he step down from the Presidency.  Democrats in Congress voted against impeachment. Many who supported Clinton’s policy agenda looked the other way. With 20-20 hindsight, Clinton probably should have stepped down, with Vice President Al Gore replacing him.  That would have been right morally. And, as it turned out,  Clinton’s program ground to a halt because of the time and energy diverted to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Preparedness for 9/11 may have been one of the costs.

Today, from Capitol Hill to Beacon Hill, indeed worldwide,  there is a pattern of powerful officials,  aides and lobbyists taking advantage of women. Washington remains a cesspool of predatory behavior, and, with a morally bankrupt Trump in the White House, fighting off sexual assault lawsuits, change will not come easily.

Congress doesn’t apply to itself laws it writes for others.  Its procedures for handling sexual abuse charges are designed to protect members. Complaint  filing is discouraged by rules that  impose unfair hurdles, requiring a woman (or a male victim) first to have counselling for 30 days followed by 30 days of mediation with the accused. You have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, banning your talking to a therapist or friend. Outrageously, any settlement reached is paid for by the taxpayers, with millions of dollars already paid out.

Criminal sexual behavior in Congress is legendary.  Staffers maintain a creep list. Women staffers are advised about Congressmen with whom they should not be alone in an elevator. Senator Susan Collins knew to keep her distance from Strom Thurmond. Senator Claire McCaskill recalled being abused as an intern.

California Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier was assaulted when she was a staffer and  is cosponsoring a bill with a  handful of Senators and Representatives to try to address the problem. The new proposal would include training for both staffers and members of Congress, provide zero-tolerance, ban non-disclosure agreements and publicly-funded settlements. Optimally, the rules and culture will be changed, and there’ll be no more excuses for “boys-will-be-boys” behavior.

For many of these incidents, the statute of limitations has run out. There will be no  justice from a court of law. But punishment  will come in different forms. Harvey Weinstein has lost his company and still may face civil suits and criminal charges.    Kevin Spacey has been dropped by Netflix, and House of Cards is over.  Corporate executives have been forced out.  Clinton’s inexcusable behavior resulted in his becoming only the second President in our history to be impeached. His story holds a lesson for us still. We can’t go back in time to punish miscreants, but we can rewrite history to tell the full story.

Franken’s behavior has already compromised his usefulness in the fight against the GOP tax package and his effectiveness in party fundraising. Moore’s history has diminished his standing in the polls.  For Franken and Moore, it’s their voters who should decide.

There are differences among all these cases. For now, Franken’s seems to have been a one-off, offensive and unacceptable episode, disappointing but not necessarily career disabling. Massachusetts Congressmen Gerry Studds and Barney Frank were censured and reprimanded respectively for sexual transgressions, while serving  in Congress,  far worse than Franken’s, and they went on to have distinguished careers.  But the underlying message is clear. Victims no longer have to remain silent, humiliated, degraded, violated or injured. There can be strength in numbers. It will take both men and women to change the culture.

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Trump’s Asia trip a failed opportunity

Just because Donald Trump didn’t vomit on the Japanese Prime Minister the way George H. W. Bush did in 1992, didn’t make the President’s 12- day Asia trip a resounding success.

Announcing  billion dollar business deals negotiated prior to the trip, still only memoranda of understanding  with hard details to follow, doesn’t rise to the level of “incredible achievements.”

Knowing our President’s susceptibility to pomp and flattery, the “Master of the Deal” got rolled by leader after leader. I doubt that Japan, Vietnam and other countries are going to jump at new bilateral trade pacts with the US that will detract from their growing regional relationships, like the Trans Pacific Partnership, from which the US pulled away, ceding Pacific economic leadership to China.

Trump’s set speeches were more reheated campaign bluster and hollow rhetoric than serious programmatic recommendations. I never expected this American President  would raise, even slightly, the banner of human rights as did his predecessors. But, stupidly, the Trump Administration’s concept of realpolitik has concluded that military and economic alliances are distinct, instead of being two sides of American national security.

Trump was also played by Putin. He accepted the former KGB leader’s  disavowal of meddling in the 2016 election, trashing yet again American intelligence reports that confirmed the meddling and urging softening of sanctions as an inducement to getting Russian cooperation  on North Korea and Syria. Sadly, Trump passed up an opportunity to have any serious negotiation with the Russian president.

The President’s lavishing praise on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, with his bloody record of thousands of extrajudicial killings in the guise of solving the drug menace, was downright disgusting.

His expectation that China could or would wave its magic wand to solve the North Korean nuclear problem is arrant magical thinking, demonstrating a wanton ignorance of Chinese reality.

Trump’s only clear success was supplicating Chinese President Xi Jinping to release three UCLA basketball players from punishment for their shoplifting spree and then complaining about the black students’ lack of effusive thanks for his intercession.

Regrettably, this trip may be a historic inflection point in Chinese- American relations, remembered for the United States retreat from strategically wise engagement and its  turning over the baton of world leadership.

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Moving beyond zero-sum politics

It’s hard not to feel good about last Tuesday’s election results. Winning beats losing. Trying to tout losing by special congressional elections by ever-narrower margins doesn’t cut it.  Never mind that Virginia trends blue anyway and voted Democratic the last three Presidential elections and four of the last five gubernatorial races. Tuesday’s special election victory for governor saw Democrat Ralph Northam win by the largest margin since 1985 and beat Hillary support among women in 2016. The Dems picked up 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and, depending on recounts, could actually take control.   As expected, they also did well in New Jersey, helped by antipathy toward  outgoing GOP Governor Chris Christie.

There were bright spots across the country, from Maine to Washington State, demonstrating unusually strong grassroots engagement and support for candidates of diversity. Exit polls showed the most important issue for Virginia voters was concern about health care. In Maine, voters approved a referendum to expand Medicaid.  Some well regarded pundits claim a mid-term wave is forming.  But it’s too soon for anti-Trumpers to pop any champagne corks. Even with Republican House retirements, redistricting realities are a major hurdle. The party is now Trump’s GOP, and he still commands its overwhelming support.

At a New England Council breakfast on Monday, 4th district Congressman Joe Kennedy reflected on the enduring conditions that led to Trump’s 2016 success. The President got elected by responding to the emotional needs  of people who feel passed over, he said, warning that they can’t be ignored.  Structural flaws in the labor market, unaddressed for years, breed deep frustration among those left behind in an economy of great disparities.

“There are more CEO’s in Massachusetts than there are plumbers,” Kennedy said, adding that anyone who has tried to get a plumber recently can appreciate this. Fall River’s voc ed program can educate and train future plumbers, enabling them to earn twice ($75,000)  the area’s median household income ($34,000). But there are hundreds on the waiting list because government isn’t willing to invest in the program’s expansion.  This is also true with infrastructure rebuilding, which creates good jobs doing desperately needed work, and which could be funded if the Republicans weren’t so intent on passing an unwise tax “reform” law to give lavish tax cuts to their ultra-rich donors and the President.

It is no surprise that, after years of waiting in vain  for improved conditions, many people are angry at the system that has failed them, their families and their futures. Some  were eager to support the devil they didn’t know, if only to shake things up.  More than 60 million bought Donald Trump’s “authenticity.”  Even here in blue, relatively economically successful,  Massachusetts, one million people voted for him last November.  Trump, Kennedy said, “showed up, spoke to people, didn’t speak down to them.”

Kennedy’s analysis went deeper. Other candidates talked about the economy. Hillary, Jeb and Marco all had detailed policy papers,  but policy papers didn’t cut it. Trump connected with them at an emotional level (never mind that he played to the basest of emotions and roiling people’s insecurities.) He did it, and he “stood up and said ‘my hands are bigger than yours, and he won.'”

By turning the definition of American life into  a “zero-sum game,” it was easy for Trump to feed the hatred of “others.”   During the campaign, he implied he understood their pain. Ever since, he has done nothing to help them, and, in fact, his proposals work against their short and long-term economic interests.

Which brings us back to Tuesday’s results. There are signs that the Democrats could take back the House in 2018. The party is divided between the Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren left wing and more centrist (establishment) types. Whichever side prevails internally, it won’t be enough if the party fails to address the conditions that led to Donald Trump in the first place.

Last week’s victories  are satisfying, but, to really gain traction, Democrats need  a 50 state strategy to speak to all sectors of the nation, not just slice and dice the electorate and figure out what combination of identity politics appeals will get them to 50 percent plus one. Going forward, Democrats obviously need to hold their base and energize young voters, but they  ignore the economic interests of the disaffected, especially the white working class. at their own peril. Feel good about last Tuesday, by all means. But to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end.  Perhaps it is the end of the beginning.

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Daylight saving by any means

Late tonight (aka Sunday morning) is the start of the deep blue funk.  Clocks are set back one hour at two a.m.  Soon sunset will be a little after four o’clock. (In Maine, it’s before four p.m.) Vitamin D will only come in bottles from CVS. People start lusting after mac and cheese, custard  and other comfort foods.  It’s hard to get warm. Like Smokey, Winnie, Yogi and the other bears, we lug our quilts and head for the cave.

But wait!  A Massachusetts legislative commission headed by Senator Eileen Donoghue reports that a solution lies in moving to year-round Atlantic Standard Time, the time zone to our east. Though federal law specifically bans staying on Daylight Saving year-round, moving to the Atlantic  Zone would have the same effect.  New Mexico, for example, would have to move from Central Time to Mountain Time to get more sunshine year-round. By contrast, the state of Nevada is urging Congress to allow states simply to pass year-round Daylight Saving Time.

Back in the ’90’s, the Atlantic Rim Network urged that Massachusetts and New England move to Atlantic Time for competitive advantage, making Boston the capital of the Atlantic Rim. Congressman Ed Markey started nibbling at the problem years ago when he got Daylight Saving extended at both ends, spring and fall, now starting the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November.  One of Markey’s original arguments was that, given fuel costs, providing an extra hour of daylight would save on energy costs.

Today, there are all sorts of arguments, some more credible than others, for making the adjustment apply year-round.  They are economic: retailers would benefit from the additional hour of daylight. There are studies that measure the impact on crime, which reportedly would go down by depriving thieves of the cover of that extra hour of darkness.  Research is also related to health: there would be an extra hour after work for outdoor running and fewer heart attacks, which are said to increase in the transitional period after clocks are set back.  All of these pale in comparison to the impact on mental health, optimism and sense of well-being, from the reduction of seasonal affective disorder.

Here’s what the opponents say.  Kids would have to walk to school in darkness.  Around here, parents and educators have been lobbying for years for later start times and citing the positive public health impact of having them more awake before lessons start. The financial markets would be disrupted. Nonsense. Those markets are 24-hour global, and traders already get into the office – or work early from home – on staggered times. Television broadcast schedules would be disrupted. Again, nonsense. We’ll still find This is Us, and, when it comes to “live” news programs, stations have long received “feeds” from the networks an hour before air time.

Atlantic Time already includes eastern Canada, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and several South American countries. Should Massachusetts once again among continental entities be “the one and only?” We often take pride in that.  This time around (pun intended), we should probably make the change in concert with other New England states.  New Hampshire and Maine are already looking to coordinate with Massachusetts. We should invite New York to join us, but not wait for them. Florida, too, has proposed a “Sunshine Protection Act.”  Doesn’t that already make you feel better?

Meanwhile, the sun will set tomorrow at 4:33 p.m. and earlier and earlier until December. We’ll still be depressed until the return of Daylight Saving Time in March. I’ll dutifully set back the clocks tonight and medicate myself with left-over Halloween candy.  But, c’mon folks, let’s get with the movement and push for Atlantic Standard Time so we don’t have to go through this in 2019 or beyond.

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Boston’s election matters beyond Boston

Where ‘ya from? Travel anywhere outside New England, and the answer is likely to be “Boston.” Whether we live in Newton, Lowell or Quincy, Boston’s decision to reelect Marty Walsh or choose Tito Jackson to be mayor has consequences for us. Transportation, housing, safety, education – all issues being debated in this year’s Newton mayoral race – are front and center in the debate between one-term incumbent Walsh and City Councillor Tito Jackson.  How Boston addresses its issues matters: its effects spill over into other communities, and it affects our reputation.

photo WGBH

Walsh and Jackson engaged last Tuesday in a feisty debate, and, while Jackson landed some punches, Walsh responded calmly without being drawn into a scrum. Jackson is an engaging individual, committed to the community. If elected,  he would be the first person of color to serve as mayor in this majority-minority city. But nothing that happened in the 60 minutes on WGBH – or for the entire campaign – changed the landscape, which is altogether favorable for the incumbent.

Over the last generation, Boston has gone from being a municipality on the skids to a vibrant, thriving,  livable city – for most (but not all) of its residents.  Its economy is booming, its workforce highly educated, its cultural offerings world class and varied, its politics pretty enlightened. Its mayors, from John Collins to Kevin White to Ray Flynn to Tom Menino, to Marty Walsh, have all built on the distinctive legacies of their predecessors. Walsh has been notable for standing up to the Trump administration on immigration and other issues.

But we’re (and I do say “we” because we all benefit from a thriving metropolitan neighbor) far from perfect. Boston is a magnet for millennials, but affordable housing remains hard to find. Without it, we’ll lose them to other dynamic regions.  Housing is the voters’ top concern. Walsh is more than 40 percent toward achieving his goal of having 53,000 new housing units by 2030. But, despite some reports that his spur to housing production has led to some easing of rents, more housing for low and middle income is essential. (Of the 22,000 new units, 9000 are accessible to low- and middle-income people.) We don’t want people who have lived their lives in the city to be priced out. A walk down Boylston Street reveals a greater number of homeless people sleeping in doorways than seen in many years. Anecdotal, perhaps.  The problem needs attention.

Progress in the schools, especially the high schools, including addressing the achievement gap, has been woefully slow, as did Tom Menino, the self-described and committed “education mayor.”  Walsh says he increased school funding this year by $50 million, but his future success will be measured by what he achieves in the teachers union contract.

Traffic is horrific in the city, as it is in Newton and other outlying communities, and it’s unclear whether adequate plans exist to deal with the worsening gridlock that comes with continued economic growth.

Mayors need to think big, but not be naive. Walsh can be faulted for a rookie mistake in being snookered by special interests pushing him to wave the pom-poms for a ridiculous 2024 Olympics bid. He bailed in time for the city to save face, and it’s doubtful that his misstep has any traction in the upcoming election. Nor should it.

Try though he may, Councillor Jackson has simply not made the case that Walsh’s shortcomings warrant his defeat in the election. Polling supports that conclusion, with Walsh substantially ahead of Jackson citywide, and by a few points even in Jackson’s own district.

Wherever we live, issues like housing, education, transportation, won’t be solved overnight. What we do need to see is that the trend line is in the right direction and that the results are measurable. More than his predecessors, Walsh is comfortable using hard data to measure his performance and make the results public.  He knows there’s much more to do. He is a hardworking, thoughtful, official and a compassionate  human being. Were I to vote in Boston, a city I love, and where I grew up, Marty Walsh would get my vote.

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Neighborhood oases in era of Trump

Reading, especially fiction. Listening to music.  Attending theater and concerts.  Taking courses.  Working. Gardening. Connecting with friends and family. All worthy efforts to distract from the havoc that Donald Trump is wreaking upon us.  All effective, if temporary, relief from the three hard copy newspapers arriving daily and many more online, the background drone of ever-present CNN, and the iOS backlight from the electronic breaking news deliverer permanently attached to my husband’s hand.

Community is another blessed relief, with neighborhood images old and new.  Block parties held in front of our house and the pleasure of watching neighbors’ kids grow up before our eyes. Shared planting efforts in a nearby “island” where two roads merge into one, the flowers and shrubs  recently enhanced by a small birdhouse-like installation housing a book exchange. Folks pitching in to monitor homes when neighbors are away, or feed cats or take in mail. Rallying around a young widow whose husband died suddenly. The welcome diversity – white, black, young, old, Pakistani, Indian, Israeli, Russian, Christians, Jews,  other religions and no religions. This is not Donald Trump’s world.

Nor is it Puerto Rico, where community has been devastated. More than a quarter of water authority customers still lack potable water, and more than 80 percent are still not back on the electrical grid. Distribution of food and other supplies is still struggling. Kids are back in school only part-time. The crisis in the wake of Hurricane Maria is staggering and endures.

Nor can we forget the Texans who lost everything in Hurricane Harvey, now clinging to hopes the Houston Astros will defeat the Yankees for the same reasons we were all buoyed by the Red Sox after the Marathon bombing.  Or those in California who lost their homes and even their lives in out-of-control wildfires.

Which, of course brings me back to Donald Trump, whose intentional sabotaging of the Affordable Care Act and wavering on a bipartisan proposal to stabilize the health insurance industry are leading to loss of coverage and huge increases in premiums, even for those covered here by the Massachusetts Health Connector. Whose proposed tax “reform” gives 80 percent of the benefits to the top one percent of taxpayers, including himself. Who taunts the head of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and spurs  childhood images of hiding under desks in nuclear attack drills, only now the weapons are more lethal. Whose tone deaf responses to the families of fallen soldiers, however well intentioned,  make me cringe. Whose calling some neo-Nazi protesters “very fine people” and threatening illegal challenges to broadcast licenses prefigure a rise of authoritarianism that should bring a chill to everyone’s spine.

And on and on. Still, it’s a beautiful fall day. The leaves are turning color. The sky is blue. The October sun is warm. It’s time to go out for a walk in the neighborhood and maybe get the car washed.

We celebrate what we can.

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Outing Harvey Weinstein isn’t enough

Outrage over sexual assault shouldn’t be a partisan contest. Whether you’re Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein or Bob in Accounting, sexual predation is inexcusable. But as bad as their behavior, I’m similarly outraged by those who, because of self-interest, enable miscreants to continue unchecked and law enforcement and news media watchdogs who knowingly fail to do their jobs.

The recent public disclosures concerning Hollywood mogul and Democratic Party mega-donor Harvey Weinstein bring all of these elements together. What’s especially appalling about this is how widely known were Weinstein’s proclivities. According to an expose in The New Yorker, the stories had been widely circulated for more than two decades, but most people – in politics, entertainment and journalism – never came forward because they had business dealings in one way or another with him and feared his power.

Three women have accused him of rape, and, as of now, up to two dozen have reportedly accused him of sexual harassment or assault. It was expected that Republicans would jump all over the story as did Democrats over Ailes or Pennsylvania right-to-life Congressman Tim Murphy who insisted his mistress get an abortion.  But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Both sides should have been outraged about all these cases.

It is dispiriting that leading beneficiaries of Weinstein’s largesse would be so slow to respond to the disclosures. While most congressional recipients quickly denounced his behavior and redirected their Weinstein monies to non-profits combating violence against women, the Clintons and Obamas were slow to respond and silent on keeping his contributions.

Hillary Clinton took $5000 from Weinstein and had him host multiple fundraisers for her. She could easily direct that money elsewhere. Husband Bill, who previously earned his stripes as a womanizer, was also a recipient. Weinstein was also reportedly a donor to the Clinton Foundation.   Weinstein  hosted big bucks fundraisers for Barack Obama.  Malia Obama had an internship with Weinstein. 

The Democratic National Committee says it will take $30,000 of the $300,000 it received from Weinstein over the years and donate it to groups that elect women. Come on, why not give it to sexual violence charities rather than keep it in the family?

The real “keeping in the family” problem though is a cultural one, which has long tolerated sexual harassment and protected their own. Include here the top levels of NBC and even, at one time, the NY Times. Both knew about the assaultive behavior and chose not to follow up. The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, who two years ago chose not to prosecute a charge against Weinstein even when the woman making the allegation had worn a wire and gotten corroborative evidence. The Board of the Weinstein Company, which had made at least eight settlements with victims of Weinstein in exchange for their silence. (Such settlements normalize harassment and isolate women who might otherwise go public with their stories.) And what about the people at Miramax and the ever-moral Disney company who worked and were invested with Weinstein, but who have only voiced criticism in the last few days?  All of them have constituted a conspiracy of silence.

The challenge is not  to come forward just when a Harvey Weinstein has lost some of his power in New York and Hollywood or when celebrity targets finally speak out, but to give credence to the claims of ordinary mortals and support their right to defend themselves.  Ultimately, this is about changing our culture, ending the wink/wink/nod/nod dismissals of sexual predators just because they are rich or powerful or, as in the case of Donald Trump, inclined to “locker room talk” and other behavior.  But, as long as the star of the Access Hollywood tape is in the White House, I don’t think we have reached the inflection point.

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