THE GOLDEN GOOSE

It’s Monday, June 17, 2019.

It’s the 25th anniversary of the arrest of O.J. Simpson following a slow-speed car chase through greater Los Angeles. 

It’s the 47th anniversary of the arrest of five White House associates for breaking into Democratic National Committe headquarters at the Watergate office building – what was quaintly the worst political scandal in American history until Nov. 8, 2016.

I didn’t post anything for Father’s Day and it’s not because I wasn’t thinking about it. 

I sure as hell thought about my father and, because he was so much the focus of what my wife and I did in Asia recently, my father-in-law. And, as always, my wife and children showered me with more affection than I deserve.

No, it was just that I didn’t have anything profound to say. I was sad and happy – and not especially cohesive about it. And I figured, hey, sometimes Father’s Day should just be a day of peace and quiet. 

And that’s what it was. If you’re a father, or celebrated one, I hope your day was everything you wanted.

We were in Hong Kong recently – and if you’re looking for an eyewitness account of the protests, you’re in the wrong place.

We didn’t see them. The first big protest took place on June 4, the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. We were in transit from Taishan, in China’s Guangdong Province, to Hong Kong – and we were staying on the Kowloon side, across the harbor from the protests.

There were no protests the next two days, on the second of which we left for Seoul. 

But from being in Hong Kong and China, there are two things I can say about what’s captured the world’s attention.

First, the opposition to the proposed extradition law is pretty obvious.

There were banners all over the city, including one across the street from our hotel. This is not a casual issue in the city – this is pretty existential to these folks, who are now 22 years into the Chinese takeover from the British.

The second is that it would be nuts for the Hong Kong authorities not to at least attempt to placate the thousands – possibly millions – of protesters.

Because Hong Kong is humming. The streets are jammed with tourists and residents. The malls are bustling with shoppers and, unlike the USA, not struggling to keep the spaces leased. 

There’s construction all over the place. Not quite as much as in China – I’ll get to that in a bit. But you see skyscrapers going up and bamboo scaffolding on every other street.

It is obvious that business is good – that business people and tourists are coming to the city to explore or to use it as a jumping off point for the rest of China.

And you have to figure the Chinese are making money from this. Hong Kong is now theirs. They must get some sort of cut.

So why would they risk that? Especially for an extradition law that’s probably going to be more of a pain to administer than it’s worth.

Sure, China is no one’s definition of an altruistic democracy. They are asserting control – we learned that when we crossed out of and into the Special Administrative Region, as it’s called.

But Hong Kong has always been a bustling center of capitalism. What’s the point of having it any other way, especially when China has obviously amended its form of communism to accommodate the profit motive?

And if you get the populace, the tourists and the businesses aligned against you for a law that’s – again – more trouble than it’s worth, you’re putting all that in jeopardy. Who wants to go to a place where they might pack you up and send you to Shanghai for trial?

The Beijing government exercised prudence in getting its Hong Kong affiliate to back off. The idea, I imagine, is to try to diffuse the tensions and allow the business of doing business to get back to normal.

From Hong Kong, we went to Taishan, a city of about a million people – “a small city,” according to our wonderful translator – in southern China. My wife spent three days gathering information for a book about her family, and I tagged along.

This was actually our second trip here. We visited for about 24 hours in 1989 while Angela’s family was on a trip to Hong Kong. 

Some places don’t change that much in 30 years. The hamlet where we live in Rockland County, New York, looks very much like it did in 1989.

Some places change a lot. Brooklyn comes to mind.

And then there’s China. 

It’s a country that’s in a hurry to build stuff. On the nearly three-hour bus ride from Shenzhen, where you cross into China from Hong Kong, you see an uncountable number of clusters of high-rise apartments with those giant cranes lurched on top. 

Equally uncountable: The blue fencing around acres of land where some kind of project is being built.

There’s a network on toll roads and ring roads around cities, all three or four lanes in each direction and filled with cars and motor scooters.

Even in the ancient villages with their signature gates, modern structures are interspersed with the aging stone homes crumbling from the miserable humidity that permeates the area.

China looks almost nothing like what we saw in 1989. It has built the infrastructure to make the next step in its inexorable march toward becoming the world’s biggest economy.

There’s a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment in the U.S. – manifested in the trade spat between the Trump administration and the Beijing government.

The belief is that the Chinese could only challenge the U.S. economically by cheating somehow – that the Chinese are stealing our technology or dumping their products in world markets.

After being there for three days, that notion is too simple.

Because whenever you look up at the mountains that ring Guangdong Province, you see windmills whirring away, powering this region. You see the tall buildings that have been completed with their top floors covered in solar panels.

You see industrial centers next to rice paddies as you whirl down a country highway. You see a population so unafraid of technology that elderly people pull out their iPads to live chat with their kids in America.

For decades, China separated itself from the world. Now it wants to be its leader. The pace of change is fast and it seems as though the country’s billion or so people – with some notable exceptions – are on board.

I didn’t try to watch too much TV in China, since I don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese. But you can glean what they’re talking about – and it sure seemed as though they talked a lot about the trade war with the United States.

It is existential. These people are building a country as fast as they can – and this trade war stuff is getting in their way. 

There’s a lesson for Americans, of course. 

When Trump was elected, there was talk that he would look for a win by working with Democrats on increased infrastructure spending. 

But, last month, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went to the White House to talk about infrastructure, Trump ended the meeting in a temper tantrum about the multiple investigations into his administration.

That, in itself, is pathetic. But the problem is this country needs a massive rebuild. It needs roads and road repairs, new rail tunnels and fixed rail tracks, new mass transit systems and an overhaul of existing ones.

Not to mention a strengthened electrical grid, reconstructured water systems and updated housing.

We need to start building the future. Because China’s already doing it.

They are leaping forward. They’re bypassing old ways of doing things and embracing the new – they seem perfectly fine with renewable energy, perhaps understanding better than Americans that CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL!

Much like the Hong Kong crisis, China will wait out the Trump trade troubles. They’ll try to hand Trump one of his patented face-saving solutions – the Chinese are big on that face-saving stuff .

Or they’ll wait to see if the Democrats, normally somewhat protectionist, come up with a candidate with a real strategy that doesn’t include idiotic tariffs.

In any event, from what I saw in three days on the bus, China isn’t slowing down if it can help it. There’s a golden goose out there, and the government wants the benefits ASAP.

 

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27 DAYS, 2 HOURS

It’s Thursday, June 13, 2019.

It’s the 1,296th anniversary of the birth of Charles the Bald and the 1,280th anniversary of the birth of Charles the Fat. 

Both ruled parts of France and Italy in the late ninth century, both were directly related to Charlemagne – and both of whom appear to have let history tag them with the brickbats of their times.

On the other hand, it’s also the 87th birthday of Bob McGrath – Bob from “Sesame Street” – and anyone who says a diminutive word about him has to go through me, Big Bird and millions of admiring kids over a half-century.

It takes a long time to get to New York from Asia.

According to Korean Air, Flight 85 from Incheon International Airport in South Korea has a schedule run time of 14 hours, 30 minutes. 

Most reasonable people would agree that’s a long time to spend in an aircraft – even the ample Airbus 380.

Before I go on, just to confirm: This is going to be a rant.

My wife and I boarded the A380 at Incheon just after 7 p.m. Monday local time. Like our boarding experience at Hong Kong International four days prior when we flew Seoul, it was seemless.

Both airports had big, airy terminals with large numbers of gates and big waiting areas at those gates. An ample number of clean restrooms and last-chance stands to get a drink, snack or gift.

Despite the fact that nearly 400 people were on the plane, the flight boarded quickly. The gates were designed for that. The plane left the gate a couple of minutes after the scheduled time – nothing really and the flight left the ground within 20 minutes.

And it made up time as it headed east, despite turbulence all the way through that probably required the pilot to take less of a polar route that normally cuts down a flight’s length.

The plane landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York – whose residents, including myself, crow irritatingly often about living in the greatest city in the world – at 8:37 p.m. EDT, 23 minutes early.

Landing early = good, right? It means that you’re getting to get out of the airport a little sooner than you planned. Once you get your luggage and go through immigration, it might be 45 minutes to an hour. Not ideal, but about par for the course.

That’s usually good news for everyone involved – the weary passengers who have or haven’t (my hand is raised) slept, their loved ones or hired drivers who might save a few bucks on the exorbitant price to park, maybe even a bar or two in the city and suburbs that might get some extra business because it’s still early enough to go out for a little bit.

Don’t worry, the rant is coming is about to start.

Because we didn’t land at Hong Kong International or Incheon International. 

We landed at 8:37 p.m. EDT at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The A380 taxied for a few minutes. And then it stopped.

A flight attendant announced that there was gate congestion at the airport, that we would be here in the middle of the field for 20 minutes and be off the plane in 30. 

That sounds awful enough. If it were true.

We did move after 20 minutes. We moved to another strip of asphalt in the middle of this reclaimed swamp.

Where we sat for another 30 minutes. Then we moved again. And then we sat. Moved again. Sat.

It took 104 minutes from the time the tires touched supposed-greatest-city-on-earth soil until the guy with the electric flares stopped waving them at, of course, the furthest goddamn gate at Terminal 1.

The flight was about three-quarters full. I’m guessing 375 passengers waiting 104 minutes. That’s 39,000 minutes – a combined 27 days and 2 hours – of waiting on the tarmac after the tease of touching greatest-city-on-earth soil 23 minutes early. 

When you disembark, you’re let out in the dingy underlevel of the terminal. And then, after immigration, comes the next indignity: baggage claim.

In Hong Kong and Seoul, on big honking planes not that much smaller than the A380, we barely waited for our luggage. In Seoul, it was spinning on the carousel.

That wasn’t going to happen at JFK. Why should it? If your baggage handling capacity is stretched to the limit, how can there be anything but a long wait?

Finally, there’s the scene out of a movie about people visiting a beleaguered third-world country that’s the JFK arrival experience. 

Scores of people herded behind barriers in a confined area as passengers emerge. The chaos of taxis and car services and family vehicles all scrambling for limited curb space as hired security guards try to move them along. 

That’s after having paid an additional $16 to $20 in the JFK lots for the privilege of waiting an extra 104 minutes.

It was 11:30 p.m. – nearly three hours after we landed – when we got in the car for the trip home.

It should not take me 752 words to describe landing after a two-week trip to Asia. That should be the least eventful part. And over the next few days, I’ll write lots about the actually interesting parts of the trip.

But one of the trip’s themes comes rushing to the fore in the arrival story.

Flying shouldn’t be dreaded. In Hong Kong and Seoul, it’s not.

The idea of going to JFK as a passenger or someone getting a passenger is groan-worthy. 

And yet, the urgency to do something about this is lacking.

Yes, there’s oodles of construction at JFK and New York’s other airport, the equally infamous LaGuardia. But you look at what’s being done and you can tell that it’s not enough – not nearly enough – to solve the problem. 

These airports need to expand – there’s no room for JFK to do that. These airports need to modernize. They need a sense of organization – why are puddle-jumper flights to Boston and Philadelphia landing at an international airport, clogging runways and gates?

It is preposterous to suffer through this. Why should anyone come to New York if the startout experience is so miserable?

Our driver – an obviously patient man – sympathized with us. But like others, he blamed politicians, because it always seems to be politicians’ fault when someone goes wrong.

And maybe politicians have something to do with the fact that these airports suck. 

But it’s only because their constituents – that would be you and me – are the most to blame.

That’s right, folks. We get the airports we deserve – and that’s what JFK and LaGuardia have devolved to.

We balk at government spending that might find ways to improve and expand these airports. And then we refuse to consider the idea of building a whole new airport somewhere else because we don’t want it near us. We worry about the environmental impact when it could well be that the environmental impact of what we’re doing now is far worse.

And what about the airlines whose business this is? Are they playing any role in improving air travel? Or are they going to cry that they’re in a tight-margin industry and need help more than they can give it?

Most of all, this happens because we tolerate it. We complain and get upset at the time, but then we let it slide. We should be proud of our facilities – instead, we shrug off the substandard and let it get worse.

Other countries seem to have solved these problems. To be fair, they’re working from something akin to scratch – there isn’t a lot of existing infrastructure to get in the way.

But the disgraceful condition of what’s supposed to be this nation’s flagship international airport should be an embarrassment to anyone who wants to sing “Start spreading the news…”

Because the news is that this an unwelcoming, unfriendly, inconvienient place to visit. 

The rest of the world sees that and is acting accordingly. They’re not sitting on the tarmac for 104 minutes.

And, this doesn’t just apply to airports. More in the days to come.

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BREAK’S OVER

It’s Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

It’s the 95th anniversary of the birth of George H.W. Bush, the 90th anniversary of the birth of Anne Frank and the 77th birthday of Len Barry, who sang “Bristol Stomp” with the Dovells and “1-2-3” solo.

It’s also the first time I’ve written a blog post since New Year’s Day.

Actually, that’s not true. I’ve started several blog posts since the year started. But I never found the time to finish them.

I’m going to blame the fact that I taught four days a week in the spring semester. All that commuting and lesson planning and grading. Yeah, that’s what I’m blaming.

But I’ve got stuff to say – and at least a couple of months open to say it.

For starters, I’m going to be posting the next few days about a trip I just took to Asia. I went to Hong Kong – you might have heard of it, it’s been in the news lately – to southern China and to Seoul.

I’d like to think I learned a lot about a bunch of things. Whether I did or not is for you to judge. 

Starting tomorrow.

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THE HAT TRICK

It’s Tuesday, January 1, 2019.

I didn’t have any problem writing that 2019. And now that we barely use checks anymore, the problem of writing the wrong year on them has abated.

Oh, yes, Happy New Year!

Elizabath Warren yesterday became the first well-known Democrat to throw her hat into the ring for the 2020 presidential nomination, in the first of several times I’ll use that cliché in order to justify the headline on this post.

She formed an exploratory committee, which allows her to do all the stuff candidates need to do in order to become full-fledged candidates. 

I suspect the only real exploring the committee will do is find the fastest route from Boston to anywhere in New Hampshire and the most direct flight from BOS to DSM. 

She’s running – the first one out of the gate. I mean, there are a bunch of other people who have said they’re running but who are not real contenders. John Delaney and Andrew Yang can take all the offense they want – they ain’t in the same league as Elizabeth Warren.

Their hats in the ring are like the ones you get at the paint store when you’re getting ready to roll the living room walls. Hers is an Oklahoma 10-gallon deal.

I like Elizabeth Warren. She speaks her mind and advocates for those in need. She understood what happened a decade ago when the nation’s economy came this close to collapsing and did everything she could to prevent it from happening again. 

If she had run in 2016, I probably would have supported her over Hillary Clinton. That’s not hindsight – I’ve always thought she was better equipped to stand up to Trump and the Republicans.

But there’s one thing wrong with her – and it’s a big strike as I consider 2020 candidates.

She’s 69 years old. On Election Day 2020, she’ll be 71.

Yes, I’m ageist. I don’t want the next president to be older than I’ll be – which is 66.

And yes, that eliminates a bunch of other people. Joe Biden, who’ll be almost 78. Bernie Sanders, who will be 79. Even Sherrod Brown, who’ll be less than a week away from 68 on Nov. 3, 2020.

These are guys who really need not to throw their hats in the ring, because they need them to keep their heads warm and stay healthy.

It is time to turn this country, once and for all, to younger people. 

Not that other candidates are all that young. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand will all be well into their 50s in 2020. Beto O’Rourke, who’s quite in fashion among Democrats even though he lost the Texas senate race, will be 48.

But the salvation of this country can only come when younger people begin to gain control.

Younger people are not wistful for some America that never existed. In some ways, they’re far more realistic.

They’ve grown up knowing what it’s like to have your country actually attacked. Many of them have been fighting battles in the Middle East or have friends who’ve gone to Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve taken on more debt than imaginable to get an education.

And they’ve seen and felt the cruelty of Trump and Trumpism. A president and philosophy that has never considered young people in its thinking. 

A younger candidate will not, as happened last time, fail to get climate change on the presidential agenda. 

Younger candidates can see the virtue in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s push for a Green New Deal – a solution to save the planet and create jobs. Younger candidates can make the case for Medicare for All, as their peers struggle to figure out how to stay healthy without going broke.

They are not stuck on a manufacturing economy that’s not returning. They know how the Internet works and how to make it better.

But that’s just my thinking. The campaign will shake out the pretenders. There isn’t any Democrat listed above – even John Delaney and Andrew Yang – who wouldn’t be a quantum leap better than what we have now.

Here’s when it starts to get tricky.

The forces that gave us Trump will soon be trying to give us Trump again.

You can bet that social media will soon start seeing memes trashing Elizabeth Warren. The effort to diminish her in the eyes of Democrats could already be brewing in some St. Petersburg boiler room. 

They’ll find what they perceive as what we perceive as negatives in her record and try to exploit them. They’ll pick on her appearance. They’ll pick on the native American DNA test – which was a dumb thing on her part, but has nothing to do with her qualifications for the White House.

Then they’ll make stuff up – and it will be in a corner of your Facebook feed for the next year.

And then the trolls will start in on any other Democrat perceived to have a shot at beating Trump. Anyone except the candidate they think is the weakest. 

So how should we start this new year – the one before the election – when it comes to the hat throwers.

Cautiously, but enthusiastically.

The Democrats running for president in 2020 need our protection. They need us to be very selective about how we get our information about them. 

To disregard any hatchet job that appears on a Web site we’ve never read before. 

To get our information from sources we trust. To scrutinize even those sources if something seems unfair or imprecise.

They need us to watch the debates on TV – and to see and hear how they answer serious questions from serious journalists in interviews.

They need us to make sure they make their positions clear on the issues we care about.

We don’t need to know if their navels are innies or outies. We do need to know how they’ll confront cyberterrorism, reform immigration and build a 21st century infrastructure. 

In the 2020 election, we need the Democratic candidates to succeed – to make America honorable again. #MAHA, if you will. 

Put that on a purple hat in 2019 and throw that in every ring you can.

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A DAY ALL ITS OWN

It’s Thursday, November 22, 2018.

It’s the 55th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. 

November 22 can be other days – it’s Thanksgiving this year. But to people my age and older, it can never not be the assassination anniversary – thus retriggering the memories of a nation united in shock and sadness.

But – as I said – it’s also Thanksgiving.

Up until a few years ago, I tended to downplay this holiday. 

A lot of that had to do with the fact that I worked the following day. Let me restate that: I worked starting in the middle of the night and into the early part of Friday afternoon.

That day is, of course, Black Friday. I organized coverage of the irrational shopping frenzy that caused people to line up at stores to get one of maybe four big-screen TVs at a megaretailer for a giveaway price. Or to stagger through a Toys R Us – RIP – to get one of the few remaining manifestations of that year’s hot holiday toy.

I’ll admit it – it was a blast. I worked with great reporters. We tried to create a party atmosphere in the newsroom, and we put up story after story starting at 6 a.m. It was slightly different from the usual assignment – and they all looked for and found the fun of what they were doing.

But now that I’m not doing that any more, I’ve had time to think about the Black Friday phenomenon.

The fact that, in recent years, it has diminished the prior day. 

Stores opening at 6 p.m. on Thursday – or even all day – make Thanksgiving less of its own holiday and more of a Christmas pregame place holder.

Now that I’m out of the maelstrom, it seems like a shame. 

Christmas will be the focus of every single day for the next 33 days. Why can’t Thanksgiving have Thanksgiving, and Black Friday wait until, let’s say, Friday?

I have fond memories of my Black Friday days in journalism. 

But I also have fond memories of Thanksgiving.

I’ve thought a lot about them in the past few days leading up to this one.

I’ve thought about Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house was this amazing ritual meal, starting with chicken noodle soup from a box mix – Mrs. Grass, which I guess still exists. 

I’ve thought about the fact that few of the people at that meal are still here – and how much I miss the ones who aren’t.

I’ve thought about my first Thanksgiving as a college student. How I was obsessively homesick and practically kissed the ground at LaGuardia when I got home. 

I’ve thought about the fact that I never went home for Thanksgiving again. How I found friends in my dorm and spent great weekends hanging with them. How a friend from my college radio station met me on the night before at Union Station as I visited Chicago from my newspaper internship in Michigan.

I’ve thought about working on Thanksgiving Day and covering the Macy’s parade for the AP. One year, I took my little brother because a colleague who was doing a story about carrying the  balloons got tickets.

I’ve thought about my daughter’s first Thanksgiving and the fact that it coincided with the two weeks she actually liked Gerber strained green beans. And how that fact bothered my dad, who so wanted to feed her turkey and mashed potatoes.

I’ve thought about my mother-in-law’s fried shrimp. If they didn’t seem like Thanksgiving food when I first saw them, they sure seemed like it after about the 15th one.

I’ve thought about my two kids making their way home from college. How neither of them is spending the day with us because they’ve got other lives. One of them is 7,000 miles away working in Incheon, South Korea, where it isn’t Thanksgiving at all.

I’ve thought about the food my wife and I prepared for tomorrow, and how it’s something we’ve done in various iterations since 1985.

After all that thinking, I’ve realized something this year that I overlooked for a long time working all those crazy hours in the predawn darkness.

Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving. It’s not – or it shouldn’t be – Black Friday Eve. 

The idea of being thankful – for family and friends who are here, who are away and who have passed – should get its own space in our spirit. 

It’s just a nice idea. It feels good to remember loved ones and friends, and to know there are people in your life who matter more than the weirdness of the day-to-day.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m thinking more about being thankful. 

For my grandmother making the Mrs. Grass soup, and Jared, Michela and Mom for sticking around. 

For my dad getting me at the airport. 

For Andy who went to dinner with me in Evanston and Jonathan for being at the train station. 

For Seth being a awestruck little kid at the parade and Susana for the tickets. 

For Megan for loving green beans those exact two weeks. 

For my mother-in-law making those shrimp – and that sweet-and-sour sauce that went with them. 

For Parija and Jessica and Hibah and the rest of the team on those crazy Black Friday mornings at CNN.

For Aaron hanging in there in South Korea.

For Angela making the stuffing and laughing along the way.

And to everyone else who has given my life its fullness.

Christmas – which I also love – will come soon enough. 

Today is Thanksgiving – and for that, too, I’m thankful.

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THERE’S GOT TO BE A MORNING AFTER

It’s Wednesday, November 7, 2018.

It’s the 105th birthday of Albert Camus. 

Or was it yesterday?

There’s always a temptation the morning after the election to think about what it all means. I’m not going to resist it.

But I just want to do a few short takes. See if you agree or disagree.

— Democrats got about 70% of their wish list. It’s that 30% that makes them feel sad.

The most important thing was to take the House. It looks right now as though the Democrats captured 34 seats when they needed 23. 

That means Trump can’t railroad stupid legislation through Congress. 

It means there will be hearings on some of the most odious things about this administration – there should be as many into family separations as there were into Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

There are also lots of other bright spots. Gains in governor’s mansions and state legislatures are a big deal. The fact that women and minorities are closer to the amount of representation they should have is a big deal.

But the fact that Democrats may lost a net of three seats in the Senate.

The gubernatorial losses in Florida and Ohio are bummers. Especially Florida – Ron DeSantis is a giadriolo. I’m not giving up on Georgia yet, but any Kemp win won’t be  according to Hoyle.

So I’m happy. But after the last two years, I wanted more. I wanted Trump to lose big – he did a little, but not enough.

— So what should this Democratic House do?

Simply put: I want legislation that addresses the priorities of the American people. And don’t talk about impeachment.

The best way to stick it to Trump is to pass legislation that he and the Senate Republicans can’t stand. Make them bottle it up or veto it.

Address health care costs and availability, including consideration of Medicare for all and a prescription drug bill.

Devise a sensible infrastructure rebuilding program.

Come up with ideas to address the student loan crisis.

Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Think about a tax bill that actually cuts what middle- and lower-income families pay and raises the taxes on those who got the benefits of the Trump measure.

Expand Social Security. There’s no good reason that people who make $120,000 or more a year stop getting FICA taken out of their paychecks. 

Take on issues like cybersecurity and election hacking. 

And let’s start going after what we’ve considered pipe dreams: statehood for Washington, D.C., and – if the people want it – Puerto Rico. For other territories, the chance to vote for president and be represented in the Electoral College.

For that matter, revising the election system. We’ve done it before.

There’s little chance any of that stuff gets signed into law by Trump or even gets past the Republican zombies in the Senate. 

But put it out there so the American people know someone is standing up for them.

— Some new ideas about who the Democrats might run for president emerged. 

One good thing about last night is that hopefully some of the sillier names that were bounced around might be put to rest. 

Why would you even consider Michael Avenatti when there’s a Sherrod Brown?

Brown’s interesting. He keeps winning in Senate races in Ohio even as Republicans do well for governor. Does that appeal to national Democrats or what?

Amy Klobuchar won big in a Minnesota that is turning very red in parts. She was one of the few Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who stood toe to toe with Kavanaugh.

Three of the four Democrats with good chances to flip Republican House seats from New Jersey were successful. Cory Booker campaigned for all of them.

Beto O’Rourke lost his Senate race to Ted Cruz, another big disappointment. But he definitely sparked enough excitement that Texas doesn’t seem as daunting to Democrats. That excitement could be national.

There are others who did well last night. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. Gov. Gina Raimondo in Rhode Island. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.

I want to see the party put up a strong, intelligent candidate. 

Yes, it did that every other election in my lifetime – and sometimes got beat badly. There are times when I think George McGovern might have been the best president in American history.

But now we’ll start looking at these men and women more closely. The ones who have proven themselves in electoral contests – Brown and Klobuchar, especially – really deserve a strong look.

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IF YOU WANT IT

— It’s Monday, November 5, 2018.

— It’s Guy Fawkes Day – the 413th anniversary of the discovery of Gunpowder Plot to blow up the British Parliament and King James I.

Fawkes is the guy – so to speak – who was found with the gunpowder under the House of Lords. He and those plotters who didn’t die in the process of being captured were executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered.

The big lug was lucky. According to Britain’s iNews, after the hanging and drawing part, Fawkes jumped from the gallows and died instantly. 

He was spared the worst parts of the execution, having his bowels removed and burned in front of him before having his heart ripped out.

The British celebrate all this with bonfires and fireworks on the night of the fifth. Because nothing says whoopee like a good disembowelment.

And so it’s the midterms.

And what have you done?

Two Trump years are over.

And two long ones left to come.

OK, I just might have tipped off one of the tracks on the holiday music compilation I make for my family and friends every year.

But the fact is that, ever since the morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016, there are those of us who have counted the days until tomorrow’s election.

To be sure, we’re also counting the days – 729 – to Nov. 3, 2020, the day of the next presidential election. But thinking that this midterm election might bring some relief from what we dreaded was in itself a star to fix upon.

Sadly, what we dreaded mostly came to pass. I’ll get back to the mostly in a bit.

Instead of bringing the nation together, Trump and the pliant Republicans have attempted to rule in heavy-handed fashion. On issues such as the environment, immigration, racial relations, women’s rights and health care, they have tried with the all the might they can muster to set back progress and reward their enablers.

They have picked fights with the countries with which we have traditionally the best relationships. Instead, Trump cozies up to the world’s worst – Putin, Kim Jong Un, the Saudis.

And then there’s the worst of it. The dismembering of families in his effort to appear tough on people trying to come to this country. The attacks on news organizations that lead the even more warped among his followers to attempt acts of murder. The winks to racists and religious bigots that led to such horrors at Charlottesville and, a week ago, Pittsburgh.

Trump himself is a walking sac of creepiness. His self-congratulatory rallies. His classless trashtalking on Twitter. The self-enrichment that goes on at his properties while he occupies the Oval Office.

A presidential term is four years. So no matter happens tomorrow, this jerk has still got a second half.

But tomorrow is the chance to make sure he knows the next two years won’t be so easy. It’s a chance to make sure he doesn’t have at least one house of Congress that’s in awe of his ersatz glitz and will hold him accountable for once. It can ensure that the Russia investigation – a plot to subvert our country – doesn’t die.

It’s also a chance to affect elections in the states, where a lot of the groundwork for Trumpism was laid over the past decade. We can start to reverse that, just in time for the 2020 Census.

— And so it’s the midterms. And what have you done?

I have one friend, Karen, who has been working on tomorrow for two years. She took her gloom on Nov. 9 and turned it into positive energy.

She’s been active in every local election. She’s tracked candidates all over the country – statehouses, county legislatures, special congressional elections. She’s raised and donated money, made people aware of the candidates and the issues, called out lies, protested, campaigned.

If the Democrats take the House tomorrow, we’ll have Karen and scores of people like her to thank. They believe this country is better than Trump. 

And like a bunch of guys in Philadelphia 242 years ago, they’re willing to put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line to prove it.

If the Democrats fail tomorrow – if they make gains in the House but come up short of a majority – it will be our fault.

Did we vote? Did we make sure everyone we knew voted? Did we make people aware of what was at stake? Did we give money? Did we give time? Did we ring doorbells and write postcards and make phone calls? 

I can’t answer “Yes” to all those questions. The people who can – like my friend Karen – shouldn’t feel as though they’ve let America down – they tried. 

The people who can’t do.

— What could stop the Democrats from a position to thwart Trump?

One thing, frankly, is the economy.

On the morning of Nov. 9, I would have sworn that the economy was heading for the crapper. Obama had done what he could to turn the nation around quickly after the financial crisis – and there had been seven years of economic progress.

Trump got a break from that. There was going to be some carryover. But it’s lasted longer than I would have imagined – there’s no getting around the fact that the employment report that came out Friday was good for the country.

The economy isn’t the only thing, but it’s a big thing. If the economy had faltered as we thought, there would be no question about who would win tomorrow.

And there’s still reason to worry. The tax cuts created deficits that are starting to affect homebuying. There’s been no effort to tame the student loan crisis – on the contrary, efforts have been made to phase out programs put in place by the Obama administration. 

Finally, why the hell would anyone pick a trade war with China for no good reason?

But the economy is not the disaster some of us expected. And that helps Trump somewhat.

The other thing that could stop the Democrats is their traditional inability to mobilize their supporters.

Younger people are overwhelmingly Democrats. But they don’t vote. They focus on their issues, as they should, but they don’t see how government can do much to address them.

People of color have to vote in big numbers. Women have to vote in big numbers. LGBTQ people have to vote in big numbers.

— So tomorrow is a mini day of reckoning.

The Democrats need a gain of 23 seats to take control of the House. Gaining control of the Senate may be out of the question – the Democrats have to pick up two seats, but they’re defending so many more than the Republicans that holding them all is a daunting task.

There’s probably more we all could have done to make sure tomorrow is a success. But it’s here. And our efforts now face the test.  

Do we really outnumber the creeps who support Trump, as we all believe? Or are they just dogged about going to the polls and proving us wrong?

I believe the former. I believe we can make Trump almost over – if we want it.

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