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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Guns and other insanity

So, the consoler-in-chief has visited Las Vegas in the wake of a mass slaughter at a concert there, and, unlike yesterday’s shameful performance in Puerto Rico, he stayed on script.  He called the gunman “sick and demented, ” but he refused to be drawn into discussing solutions to the mass killings.   Don’t look to Donald Trump to exert leadership on gun safety. Neither is the Republican Congress a reason for optimism.

When other countries have suffered mass shootings, they’ve taken action, successfully.  Twenty-one years ago, a mass shooting in Australia left 27 dead and 35 wounded. Australia restricted sales of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, instituted a national registry and a 28-day waiting period.  There has been a concomitant drop in gun violence.  The deadliest shooting in UK history left 16 children and one teacher dead and led to bans on the private ownership of automatic weapons and  certain handguns, which reduced gun violence.

Not here in the U.S.of A.  Horrible carnage has been met with Congressional indifference, this though well over 80 percent of Americans favor  more serious background checks, a modest step indeed. Clearly that would require cleaning up mental health and criminal justice data bases, and that would cost a few bucks. But, it seems, we’d rather pay in lives than dollars. The National Rifle Association has for 20 years stopped Congress from even allocating money for research by the Centers for Disease Control into the public health impact of guns.

Perversely, we’re going in the other direction. Congress blocked banning gun sales to people on the no-fly list and upheld the rights of the mentally ill to buy assault weapons. There’s strong support in Congress right now for requiring interstate reciprocity of licenses to carry concealed handguns. In the wake of Las Vegas, it appears that an expected vote on loosening regulations on the sale of silencers may be temporarily delayed.   There could be consideration of limiting the sale of so-called “bump stocks,” a legal modification to turn semi-automatic into fully automatic guns to increase their kill power. (Twelve of Las Vegas killer Stephen Paddock’s 47 guns were retrofitted with such devices.) Given Congress’ track record, it’s hard to be optimistic.

The White House says it’s “too soon” to talk about this in the wake of the slaughter in Las Vegas that left 59 dead (so far) and more than  500 injured.  If not now, then when? Mass. Congressman Seth Moulton had it right.  He (along with Cong. Katherine Clark and others) refused to participate in yesterday’s moment of silence in reaction to the mass shooting, rightly saying that the only correct course is action.  But even some of their Democratic colleagues don’t want to make this an issue, fearing it will hurt their efforts to take back the House in the  2018 election.

A slight reason for optimism is that the percentage of families owning guns in the United States has dropped significantly in the last two decades.  But the number of guns owned on average by those families has doubled in the same time period.  And support for unqualified Second Amendment rights has also gone up. Every time there’s a mass shooting sales of guns and gun accessories have gone up.

There have been more than 1500 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, when NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said the only way to stop bad guys with guns was for more good guys to have guns.  That, too, is crazy. Even if the 22,000 concert patrons in Las Vegas had been armed, they would have been powerless to stop Stephen Paddocks firing down from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas and killing them.

Paddocks’ motives are still unknown. It does not matter if he was mentally deranged or ideologically driven. We can no longer as a society continue to put weapons of mass destruction in the hands of anyone who would act on his evil intent. It is unacceptable to conclude, as disgraced Fox host Bill O’Reilly asserted, that mass shootings like that in Las Vegas are simply a price we must pay for freedom.

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Sports, patriotism and the national anthem

With everything else to worry about, – think North Korea, health care, hurricane victims – Donald Trump  should be excoriated for distracting us with his attack on the National Football League players and team owners who make political statements by choosing to stand, kneel, sing or not sing our national anthem. The President of the United States is an ignorant, intemperate, undisciplined and ultimately dangerous adolescent, with his hand on the nuclear button. Any normal President, whether Republican or Democrat, would be embarrassed to behave in this way.

But Trump’s last line of defense is playing to his base. For nearly a week he has been upping the ante, calling on team owners to “fire the sons of bitches” who participate in such protest.  Trump has once again gotten on his high horse about patriotism.  Could he be over-compensating because he was a draft dodger, avoiding the Vietnam War because of bone spurs (though he played sports in college)?  As I watch Ken Burns’ wrenching documentary of the Vietnam years, I keep wondering what Donald Trump was doing at that time.

A year ago, Colin Kaepernick knelt rather than stood for the national anthem before a San Francisco 49ers football game to protest racial inequities in our criminal justice system. Unfortunately, the ensuing discussion focused more on Kaepernick’s effrontery than on the underlying issues. So it is today. Even while support for the players has grown (to the point where football viewers are tuning in for pregame rituals to see who’s kneeling and who’s standing, locking arms), the discussion has become grossly distorted, wrongly using those decisions as a litmus test of patriotism.

It would be nice to think of this as a clear-cut First Amendment free speech issue. But the free speech clause only extends to stopping government from abridging freedom of speech. Much as we might bristle at the idea, employers may control employee speech in the workplace. Even when events are public, football owners may dictate what goes on in their stadiums. What the controversy reminds us is that, as a society,  we need to do better at creating environments where both majority and minority views may safely be aired. Perhaps that’s why it was slightly reassuring to see so many team owners locking arms in solidarity with their players on Sunday.

As for the National Anthem, let’s remember a few things. First, writer Francis Scott Key was a slave owner and opposed the abolitionist movement. (Just read the words of the seldom sung third stanza.)  Second, Key borrowed the music from an 18th century British pub song about drinking and sex called Anacreon in Heaven.  (So much for made in America.)

The Star Spangled Banner was a relatively late arrival in the history of sports. It was introduced into baseball in Chicago in the 1918  Cubs/Red Sox World Series game during the seventh inning stretch much the way  “Sweet Caroline” or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is used today. It wasn’t declared our National Anthem until 1931, and the  tradition of singing it before games didn’t start until the Second World War.

Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions echoed his boss’s call for the NFL to establish a rule requiring that players honor the flag and the anthem. At the same time, Boston Globe writer Jeff Jacoby wrote a compelling article calling for the elimination of the National Anthem at all sports events, believing that the practice both trivializes the meaning of the anthem and fails to produce unity anyway.  He’s absolutely right about the dissonance and ineffectiveness of the symbolism.  But I  don’t agree that we need a blanket elimination of its use in sporting games.  Owners can make that decision individually for their own venues,  in the interest of preserving workplace harmony and the enjoyment of their own fans. Including it or not including it should be a matter of personal judgment rather than a measure of patriotism or support of American troops.

We live in a great country with many more important problems to worry about. It would be a fitting comeuppance if our Divider-in-Chief’s faux-patriot antics led to teams’ voluntarily dropping the National Anthem to avoid the level of controversy he inflamed.

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“What Happened?” Clinton gets it

“What Happened?” It’s a question many have been asking at least daily for the last ten months. So it’s an apt title for Hillary Clinton’s new book, a reasonably clear-eyed analysis of the 2016 presidential election debacle.  While she glosses over a few issues, she shows a surprising self-awareness and candor.  In the end, “What Happened” is a reminder of what might have been and a warning call about the peril our democratic process faces in future elections.

Right from the prologue, Clinton expresses remorse for letting down those who believed in her, many holding significant reservations. “I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that the rest of my life,” she says.  The book is at once humanizing and analytical.  She shares how she coped with the shock and disappointment of the November 8 outcome, what it felt like showing up (as former First Lady) for the Trump inauguration, and how she gradually learned to put one foot in front of the other and get on with living. It’s one thing for ordinary people to pick themselves up, after the death of a loved one, for example, or a divorce, getting fired, overcoming self-pity or even addiction. It’s quite another to fail shockingly on the global stage. She learned to do it, she says,  with “grit and gratitude.”

Clinton acknowledges all the things she should have seen coming but did not.  She describes her transacting government business on a private server as a “bone-headed mistake” and laments the attention paid to her “dumb decision.” But she takes a while to acknowledge that the issue became a proxy for other feelings of unease about her character, including her guarded responses to press questions, outrageous speaking fees before corporate audiences and appearance of entitlement. Still, FBI Director James Comey’s October 28 last-minute letter to Congress implying the agency was still looking at Clinton’s emails (when early voting was already underway), then backtracking on it, clearly had an impact on the vote. (Pollster Nate Silver and others have confirmed Clinton was on track to win until that letter hit.)

The book does include several explorations of policy (job creation, guns, violence, incarceration, fossil fuel and climate change).  This is a Hillary Clinton book, after all, and she is a wonk (not a bad thing). But she underestimates the voter impact  of issues like NAFTA, TPP and globalization and the failure to punish the financiers who spurred the Great Recession. I don’t think she once mentioned Goldman Sachs in the book. She cites a Harvard Shorenstein Center study that public policy constituted just ten percent of all campaign news coverage in the general election. That is shameful.

Initially, Clinton reflects she is at a loss to understand why she is such a lightning rod, though she identifies the litany of investigations that have dogged her.  Because of them, she developed a bunker mentality that fed the impression she had something to hide.  She glosses over any missteps by Bill Clinton, from his disparaging Obamacare to what she lightly concedes were the “bad optics” of Bill’s tarmac meeting with Loretta Lynch. Hillary also ignores DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s tilting the primary process against Bernie Sanders. While Clinton says that neither she, nor Bill nor Chelsea ever got paid by the Clinton Foundation, she makes little to no mention of the pay-to-play stench of huge speaking fees she and Bill raked in from Foundation donors courting the next President. Even Chelsea had warned against this in emails.

Hillary manages to talk about sexism and misogyny without whining.  Let’s face it. It’s out there.  As she puts it, “if we’re too tough, we’re unlikable. If we’re too soft, we’re not cut out for the big leagues.” Men may scoff at this. Women know it’s the truth. Still, while Clinton overwhelmingly won the votes of black and Latino women, and had a healthy majority of all women, she failed to win a majority of white women. “Gender,” she says, “hasn’t proven to be the motivating force for women voters” some might have hoped.  This, despite the Access Hollywood Trump tape, coverage of which declined  because Clinton’s opponents immediately dropped a Wiki release of John Podesta’s emails. The press predictably took that up as the next shiny thing.

There has long been a difference between Hillary the candidate – stiff, guarded, wonkish – and Hillary the real person – warm, funny, down-to-earth.  This book does a decent job of bringing the two together.

“What Happened” is about more than relitigating the 2016 campaign. Hillary Clinton is not running again,  though she may still be part of the public dialogue. More important is how we prepare for 2018 mid-terms and the 2020 presidential race. The most useful aspect of “What Happened” is the analysis of Russian tampering with the electoral process, computer hacking, dissemination of fake news (e.g. false stories created by trolls in Macedonia and elsewhere), phony Facebook accounts, and other 21st century distortions of the process. Various probes are underway about the extent of communication between Trump associates and the Russians and any financial entanglements in those relationships. Such investigations must take their course.

Looking ahead, two challenges jump  out. First is upping our cyber security to protect our electronic communications and deter interference in both news dissemination and electoral processes. Second is building a bench of top-notch candidates with fresh faces, new ideas, and an ability to connect with people. They must understand the policies needed to address the common concerns of our country, including economic and racial disparities.  Getting to the truth is not about Democrats. It’s not about Republicans. It’s about the fate of this nation. Right now, we’re on shaky ground.

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Joe DeNucci, Contender for the People

AP Photo

Joe DeNucci won most of his fights in the ring and in politics. In a long series of majority decisions, he won his fight for the hearts of the people. But on Friday, at the age of 78, the state’s longest-serving auditor and before that five-term State Representative, lost his fight with Alzheimer’s disease.  He made his mark on many lives.

A two-time world middleweight contender, the Newton native won all but a dozen of his 84 professional fights but had to surmount the problems that come with success at too young an age. Heady victories meant lots of money, and nightmare addictions to gambling and weight control medication. With the help of his high school sweetheart, wife Barbara, he showed true grit and rebuilt his life. And what a life it was!

The late House Speaker John “Iron Duke” Thompson, a boxing fan, gave DeNucci a job as a page in the State House, where he could work between fights.  He took on an additional job doing maintenance to pay off his gambling debts.

He hadn’t wanted to be a janitor like his father, and boxing gave him his sense of self. But he wanted to go further. He learned how government works from inside the Speaker’s office. From there, he ran for State Representative, a post he lost the first time by four votes. He fought back two years later and won, starting a decade-long tenure as State Rep.  There, he fought the bureaucracy for his constituents, helping them get unemployment checks, beds in nursing homes and Medicaid assistance. His own personal experience made him particularly sensitive to others struggling with financial problems and addiction.

When, in 1983, he became chairman of the Human Services Committee, he broadened his fight for those who had no voice or power.  He fought for money for detox facilities, public school alcohol abuse education, property tax abatement for poor elderly, landmark protection for abused children, welfare and other public assistance. He passed a bill to increase the amount disabled retirees could earn over and above their small pensions.

When he was starting out, some Newton liberals were dismissive of DeNucci because of his deeply held conservative views on family issues. But they quickly learned that not being reflexively ideological could be a good thing. (And, in some ways, he was more progressive than they.)

As former Congressman Barney Frank told me about DeNucci many years ago, Joe’s “honest. I disagree with him on some issues, but I feel he’s motivated by basic decency. He likes people, and his instincts are good.”

DeNucci was one of the first in state government to support gay rights because he himself had suffered from stereotyping, as a prizefighter, as an Italian.  Over his desk in the House hung a sketch of a prizefighter, his arms taut, his gloved fists poised for combat. The face, a photograph of Joe superimposed on the drawing, would become familiar across the Massachusetts. The caption read, “Rep. A. Joseph DeNucci, the Contender for the People.”

While DeNucci never achieved his early ambition of becoming Speaker, he did run successfully for statewide office, serving as Auditor for 24 years, a state record.

DeNucci was an old style pol, in the traditional personal way.  If someone was in trouble, he’d help out. If a guy was desperate for a job, DeNucci would do his best to get him one. He did not apologize for it.  As he told WBUR reporter David Boeri in a 2011 interview, “Now today, it’s probably a crime to do what I did. But I didn’t think it was a crime, and it wasn’t then. And it shouldn’t be now. To help people who need help — that’s the best part of my business.”

I believe Joe instinctively acted out of the goodness of his heart. As DeNucci told me in 1978, “a man is the total of his experiences.” Public service, to him, was about much more than litmus tests and absolutes.

I had my own experience with his human touch. When my younger son was in elementary school, he was small for his age and was getting bullied.  As a Newton Times reporter, after interviewing DeNucci in his State House office, I mentioned how awful I felt that my small child was subject to such intimidation. What, I wondered, could I do as a parent to help support him.  Joe listened sympathetically, and the next thing I knew, he sent to my home one of his professional leather punching bags, which we affixed to a beam in our basement to build the boy’s confidence. This morning, that same little boy, now tall, a successful architect and outstanding parent himself,  sent me a wistful text message noting Joe’s passing.

Newtonians and others across Massachusetts will agree: Joe DeNucci had the touch. He will be missed.

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Harry was saved from Harvey, but questions remain

After three harrowing days, our cousins and their dog, Harry (see photo from drier days), were rescued Monday from their home in the Meyerland section of Houston. They live but a stone’s throw from a bayou in a gracious neighborhood in which we had taken leisurely walks in April. Folks in the area had just barely recovered from floods in 2015 and 2016 when Hurricane Harvey and the ensuing deluge hit. No one was prepared for what reports are calling a 1000-year storm,  of biblical proportions.

Obviously, our first concern as a nation is for survivors’ safety and health. The immediate challenges are restoring electricity, roads, and fuel plus opening schools. But, when the water recedes and the sodden carpet, stained furniture and wrecked appliances and cars are cleared away, when the broken windows are fixed and the moldy door jambs replaced, there are many questions that need answering.

Some look back: Should whole neighborhoods have been required to evacuate, and, if so, where to? (The answer to the question is, probably not.) Should certain neighborhoods, including plazas and shopping malls,  have been built on wetlands in the first place? Given the water table and other flood conditions, what steps should have been taken structurally to reduce the threat of such a disaster?

The most important questions look forward: In the next month, will Congress reauthorize the federal flood insurance program? What program reforms are really needed? Two weeks before Harvey hit, the Trump administration issued an executive order repealing Obama administration standards for flood control on infrastructure projects.  Will anyone challenge that?

Our tweeter-in-chief recently said it would be a good thing to shut down the government if funds for his wall are not included.  Will Congress now dismiss this absurdity out of hand? Similarly, Trump proposed that FEMA’s budget be cut, providing more money for defense spending. Really?

The President quickly agreed to designate Texas and Louisiana as a federal disaster area, but there are not enough funds to cover the anticipated losses.  Will Washington now provide a larger pool of money for disasters in advance, or at least lift the cap going forward?

In 2012, 20 Texas Republicans voted against helping New Jersey and others on the east coast in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, claiming that any relief provided be offset by equal budget cuts elsewhere.  Some said they were opposed because the bill was two thirds pork.  The Washington Post totally debunked the claim made by, among others, Senator Ted Cruz.      How will Congress vote on funds for remediation for Houston? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hit Cruz on his hypocrisy, but both Christie and New York Rep. Peter King have predicted their states won’t abandon Texas.

Will the Trump administration submit to a fact-based discussion about climate change? Scientists won’t say global warming specifically caused Harvey, but there’s general agreement that the intensity of the hurricane was greater because of climate change. The temperature of the Gulf of Mexico never dipped below 73 degrees this summer, for the first time ever. Warmer water, more moisture evaporating into the air, more intense rain storms.  Rising sea levels, greater storm surges. Don’t take my word for it: read the experts.

Republicans hate regulation. But what about locals rethinking rapid development that eats up wetlands and over-expands parking lots with their non-permeable surfaces?  One study finds 24 percent more pavement in the last 15 years, with little opportunity for absorption. Texas ranks 49th in state spending for flood control prevention and planning. And what about the non-existence – God Forbid – zoning laws in Texas? as in, just one small example, requiring higher elevation in new construction? Our spring visit to Houston inspired awe about the growth, the burgeoning population, the creation of businesses.  The dynamic is exciting to be sure, but where do climate considerations enter the picture?

For that matter, what are we in Boston doing to prepare for climate change? Sea levels along the northeast coast are said to be rising three to four times faster than the global average.  We can’t keep our heads in the sand either.

One final question looking ahead.  Houstonians and others have shown admirable generosity, reaching out to others, effecting rescues at their own peril, opening their homes to complete strangers.  Will that last? Recovery will take a long time, years perhaps. The privations get old very fast. How can we preserve this best of humanity, this coming together, which is so unlike the tenor of recent times?

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Sanders supporters’ sour grapes votes did us in

Photo from The Guardian

Taegan Goddard, author of Political Wire and one of the best, most even-handed aggregators around, just sent out this disturbing alert: Disappointed voters for Bernie Sanders who refused to hold their noses and vote for Hillary Clinton and voted instead for Donald Trump made the difference in the 2017 election.

According to a 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, supported by the
National Science Foundation, those disaffected Sanders people changed the outcomes in the three states which gave Clinton her surprising defeat, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.  The numbers, as accurately reported by Taegan Goddard are as follows:

  • In Wisconsin, roughly 51K Sanders voters backed Trump in a state he won by just 22K votes.
  • In Michigan, roughly 47K Sanders voters backed Trump in a state he won by just 10K votes.
  • In Pennsylvania, roughly 116K Sanders voters backed Trump in a state he won by just 44Kvotes.

The Cooperative Congressional Election Study has studied voting behavior since 2006 and is the work of 60 university-based research teams doing the most sophisticated survey analysis.  The take-away from the facts and graphs, for me, is that, but for the pique of the 12 percent of Sanders voters who actually ended up voting for Donald Trump, we wouldn’t be going through our current national nightmare.

Trump and Sanders both represented an anti-establishment protest.  And Hillary Clinton’s much vaunted “experience” did speak to her being the ultimate establishment figure. Both groups opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership, which Clinton, not entirely believably, came around to doing as well. But the similarities end there.

In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the impact of dispirited Robert Kennedy mourners or Gene McCarthy supporters in 1968 who either stayed home or voted for their grandmothers instead of party nominee Hubert Humphrey. The resulting .7 percent margin of victory for Richard Nixon would lead to Watergate,  financial scandals, abuse of power, and ultimately the resignation of the President.

The bottom line is: our votes count. They are not token expressions or tools to send a message.  They may dictate choosing between  the lesser of evils, but the choice must be made.  So, I ask the Sanders-turned-Trump voters out there: are you happy now?

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