THE IMPORTANT STUFF

1. It’s Thursday, January 25, 2018.

2. I love Roz Chost’s cover for this week’s New Yorker, which pretty much expresses how I feel about the month of January.

 

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3. You can’t say the Indianapolis Star is the pinnacle of courage in the U.S. gymnastics scandal.

That’s because that designation belongs to the more than 150 young women who went into a courtroom and relived their nightmare so that the former team doctor could be sent to rot in prison for up to 175 years.

The folks at the Star, who interviewed those women for a series of stories on the abuse, would agree.

In a video interview with the Poynter journalism site, Star reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski said the paper’s reaction to the sentencing was “appreciation for the women who trusted us to share their stories and who came forward and spoke about their experiences.”

Still, it requires more than a little wherewithal for a local paper to pursue a story this big. It takes time, it takes money and it takes commitment to the belief that what you’ve got is so important that it’s worth the time and money to tell.

So there’s lots of praise for the Star – even the Michigan prosecutor acknowledged that in her courtroom statement.

And for my former profession, the one I’m trying to prepare college students to enter, there is a lesson.

For the past few years, news organizations have focused on social engagement and being able to pick up on what’s trending out there. They have allowed that to color their news judgment – I was looking at job postings for editors and all of them mention the ability to assign stories based on the size of popularity bubbles on a screen.

That might be how an organization catches up. It’s not how it gets ahead.

Getting ahead means acting on tips about things that might or might not pan out. Getting ahead means looking into stories that are only on the radar of the people living – in this case, suffering – them.

The Indianapolis Star was out there by itself since the middle of 2016 on this horrific story of abuse among athletes. The reporters and their editors ran into obstacles from organizations and even a major university. And even though what they were reporting might not have cracked Twitter’s trending list or that box of stories at the top of Facebook, they kept going.

And now, other news organizations are trying to catch up with the Star. They’re inflating the big social media bubble.

That is journalism.

4. There’s no denying that there was a little bit of grandstanding in Bernie Sanders’ Internet town hall Tuesday night.

Sanders was promoting his idea of a single-payer health care plan, aka Medicare for All. The meeting wasn’t aired on a broadcast or cable network – instead, it was streamed to what I imagine would mostly be supporters of the idea.

I support the idea. But whether you do or not, here’s a point that Sanders and the opponents of such a plan should share.

Health care reform is an important issue and discussion of it is essential. It affects everyone and warrants serious consideration.

Cable news, at the same time of Sanders’ discussion, was focused like a laser beam on the sideshow. The Trump scandals. Fox News’ hellbent effort to discredit the evidence of the Trump scandals. What Trump tweeted today, dissected like the speeches of Cicero.

I’m not minimizing Trump’s hypocracy and the distinct possibility that he broke the law before and after getting his current job.

But the real scandal is what’s happening to our country because of what he’s doing. And the fact that serious attention to the problems of this country is not being paid by the executive branch of the American government.

Health care is a serious problem – and the only solution Trump and his tame Republicans have is to end Obamacare because of the Obama part of it. It’s not based on the concept that problems should be solved. It’s based solely on undoing what your opponent’s done to solve them.

That and making sure your donors get repaid.

This applies to everything else. Immigration, infrastructure, the environment, energy and so on.

Yesterday, we talked about how some senators want more bipartisanship. Talking about serious stuff in a serious way – as Sanders tried to do – is how that starts.

 

 

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THE COMPROMISE ROUTE

1. It’s Wednesday, January 24, 2018.

It’s the 1977th anniversary of the assassination of the Roman emperor Caligula by his guards. He was a nut case, even by Roman Empire standards.

Speaking of Trump, I was about a week off on how soon the “shithole countries” comment would be as much ancient history as Caligula’s demise.

2, I’m pretty solidly left of center. I support single-payer health care, strong gun control, higher taxes on those most able to pay, government regulation of banking and a foreign policy based on cooperation with our allies. Among lots of other things.

And because I have strong opinions, I very much want to see my agenda enacted. Preferably yesterday.

But here’s what else I understand. Not everyone agrees with me. And there might, in fact, be some people who don’t agree with me on anything.

And I also get that expecting my viewpoint – and only my viewpoint – to be how this country is run is not how a nation of 327,083,934 people – as of 3:29 p.m. ET – can function.

There are some liberal Democrats who would be frightened or bothered by the New York Times story this morning about how a group of senators wants there to be more bipartisanship.

Those senators believe the nation is lurching from crisis to crisis, with nothing being accomplished by its legislators.

The issue that appears to have crystallized this wish for bipartisanship is immigration – specifically, the threat to start deporting people who came here undocumented as children beginning in March.

To be fair, this is a threat inflicted by the party leader of 51 of the 100 senators. That would be Trump. It was unnecessary and meant to appeal to the small percentage of the populace that is terrified of anybody who’s not white.

But senators tend to be smart people. A huge chunk of them are lawyers, which meant they’ve been to college and grad school for at least six years.

And they know their history. For U.S. history, that includes such scars as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the refusal to admit Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, Japanese internment, the theft of Native American lands – and, of course, slavery and Jim Crow.

These senators understand that throwing young people out of the only home they’ve ever known would put them in the same hall of shame as predecessors who acquiesced in the other acts of infamy.

So they want to find a solution to save themselves from the judgment of history.

Immigration could be a starting point for our lawmakers accomplishing something. That’s certainly a worthy goal.

And, in a way, because of the polarization around us – polarization that, I admit, includes me – coming up with compromises is what this country has to do to get back on track for greatness.

3. The problem might be that damage has already been done. Its name is Trump.

The things this administration has done in the first 369 days of its existence have wiped out a lot of the progress this country has made in such areas as civil rights, the environment, health care and our relationship with the rest of the world.

Its list of horrible acts grows – yesterday’s was the imposition of tariffs on imported solar panels in a blatant effort to promote oil and coal production counter to reasonable energy policy.

I felt a little more optimistic reading this piece by Consumer Reports editor and former colleague Octavio Blanco that the drive to solar power might be unstoppable. Still, the effort to enrich dying fossil fuel industries is an out-and-out disgrace.

How does a bipartisan effort stop that? Would it be a bipartisan effort – are there any Republicans who actually see the move toward renewable energy as in our nation’s economic and strategic interests?

It’s the distrust that’s been fostered for generations by cynicism about our political system.

And some who lament the polarization need to look in the mirror. Where were the Republican voices seeking compromise when Barack Obama proposed reforming health care, basing it on a plan implemented by a Republican governor in Massachusetts?

Not a single Republican accepted Obama’s invitation to help craft a bipartisan measure.

So, yes, it really does seem as though the only way out of the mess our country finds it isn’t the my-way-or-the-highway approach. There needs to be compromise and cooperation. That there are people who still understand that is great – I wish them luck and success.

But I’ll believe it when I see it. And that it can only happen when Trump is safely out of the Oval Office.

 

 

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IS THIS ANYWAY TO RUN A COUNTRY?

1. It’s Saturday, January 20, 2018.

2. The next inauguration is 1,096 days away. Or at least that’s the current schedule.

3. It’s David Lynch’s 72nd birthday. This is the water. This is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.

Yeah, I’m still sorting through “Twin Peaks: The Return.” That’s probably why I liked it so much.

4. Anyone gleeful that the federal government has shut down is an idiot.

Lots of functions and services that people rely on every day won’t – by Monday – be operating. Some of the people who perform functions and services that continue – I’m thinking right away of our military – might not get paid for them on schedule.

Think of another advanced country in this world where this happens. Keep trying.

It doesn’t. The United States government is the only one that seems to include suicide in its operating manual.

What makes this shutdown amazing is that one party controls the two branches that decide this stuff. The Republicans hold the House and Senate, and they occupy the White House. You would think they’d be able to figure this out among themselves.

5. But the United States isn’t a parliamentary government. The ruling party can’t rule by fiat. It can’t always get what it wants.

God knows, the Republicans tried. They tried desperately to ram through measures that would end the Affordable Care Act. When that failed, they found a way to ram through a tax plan that gutted some of the ACA’s protections.

All the while, they made no effort to get even a modicum of bipartisan support for what they did. There was no effort to include even the shakier Democrats, those from states that generally vote Republicans, who might help them enact their agenda.

Topping it all off is the out-and-out meanness. Trump unilaterally ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, put 800,000 kids – some of whom defend this country or keep its streets safe – at risk of deportation.

The Republicans in Congress let the Children’s Health Insurance Program – a once bipartisan plan to help pay for kids’ healthcare costs – expire.

A Congress and an administration that seems to have forgotten that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. Nearly four months after Hurricane Maria ravished the island, a large percentage of the population is still lacking power and adequate shelter.

Trump and the Republicans were all about the spoils of government. They want the trappings. They want to be able to help their friends and donors.

So, yeah, shutting down the government right now isn’t a great idea.

But the idea that there are people who need the government’s help – and that, in helping them, we make our country stronger, safer and more prosperous – is over their heads. It’s not on the agenda.

6. I’m ashamed to see this shutdown. This is not how a government functions. This is not civilization.

And yet, if I were a Democrat in Congress, I’d have refused to vote for the short-term continuing resolution to fund the government. The put-it-off-for-the-umpteenth-time solution that is truly about waiting for the day that government, as one conservative jackass likes to put it, is small enough to drown in a bathtub.

It’s a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The people are so important that, together, they comprise a government. And that government needs to include and protect all of the people who comprise it.

Yes, that includes the DACA kids. Yes, that includes the kids who get health care benefits. Si, that includes the people of Puerto Rico.

The problems don’t wait. Congress shouldn’t wait, either. Trump and the Republicans created this mess. They should help fix it – and if it takes a shutdown to do it, that’s the sad truth.

 

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THE NO COMPROMISE OF 2018

1. It’s Thursday, January 18, 2018.

2. Today is mathematically correct. So was yesterday.

3. It’s the 236th birthday of Daniel Webster, one of those famous U.S. senators who never became President.

Webster was said to be a great orator – obviously, with no audio from the period, you have to wonder how he’d fare in the video age.

He also was a big fan of the federal government, butting heads a lot with Andrew Jackson and the Democrats. Keeping it together during the crises of the early 19th century dominated his career; he supported the Compromise of 1850 that staved off the Civil War for a decade.

The key words here are “staved off.” It didn’t prevent the war. While the compromise ensured that California and other parts of the West wouldn’t be slave states, it tightened fugitive slave laws.

In essence, if a suspected runaway slave walked down a street in New York City, law enforcement was obligated to go after him or her – and ordinary citizens could be pressed into a posse to help in the capture.

If you think this reeks of what’s going on with undocumented immigrants in this country, you and I are on the same line.

4. And if you think our stature as a world power has taken a deep dive in the 363 days of this administration, you’re right again.

A new Gallup poll of people in 134 countries finds approval of the United States plummeting to 30% from 48% in the final year of Barack Obama’s administration.

That 48%, by the way, is about as high as these numbers get – no matter what a powerful nation does, it’s going to piss somebody off. Just as an example, Germany now ranks as the most respected major power, with a 41% approval.

That’s followed by China at 31%.

You got that. China – of the human rights violations and expansionist notions – is more respected in the world right now than the United States.

And yet, there are people who think we’re doing something right by our aggressive so-called “America First” policy. But instead of standing tall, we’re driving our traditional allies away and making our power worthless.

Being mean doesn’t make you strong.

5. In the next few days, funding for the federal government runs out. Many Democrats want to use this moment to curtail some of the cruelty that has transpired in the past year.

They want to ensure that children of undocumented immigrants, promised stability in the only home many have ever known, are protected from deportation, which Trump seems determined to enforce in March.

Democrats also want to ensure that children have health insurance – a program, enacted in a bipartisan manner twenty-plus years ago, to provide that protection expired last year. Republicans in Congress were more hell-bent on tax cuts for their donors.

So many Democrats say they aren’t going to support government funding after Saturday unless those protections are part of it.

Republicans have thrown in one more wrench – the 2018 equivalent of strengthening the Fugitive Slave Act. They want the money for Trump’s idiotic wall on the Mexican border. A visible symbol that cruelty and antipathy are American policy.

Do Democrats act as Daniel Webster and compromise? Or do they force the issue in 2018 – thinking that they let the wall and increased deportations become a norm that would be hard to break in subsequent years?

I think the Gallup poll on stature gives the answer. The world wants to look to the United States for leadership. Somebody in this country should stand for that – it might as well be the Democrats.

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DON’T FOCUS ON THAT. FOCUS ON THIS.

1. It’s Wednesday, January 17, 2018.

2. It’s the birthday of Benjamin Franklin and Al Capone. Go figure.

3. It’s dumb to question the integrity of the doctor who gave Trump his physical.

This doctor isn’t the clown who Trump got to issue a statement that he was the probably the healthiest person ever to seek the presidency.

Instead, it’s the same doctor who examined President Obama and, according to what I’m seeing on social media, lots of folks who served in his administration. Those aides rave about him.

And yesterday, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson answered every question reporters put to him about Trump’s health. Including the fact that Trump requested a cognitive test on which the patient scored perfectly.

Because it was Trump, given the track record, some have questioned how truthful the doctor was. In particular, they believe his weight was understated, particularly given his reported propensity for junk food.

It’s silly to engage in this. Like in a lot of other things, Trump has a lot of luck. That appears to be the case with his body and mind.

Let that go.

The focus on Trump’s appearance and those tweets that are boastful or derisive of individuals is a waste of energy.

4. Here’s what’s you should care about:

Earlier this week, three-fourths of the National Park Service’s advisory board quit. Their resignations protest the attitude of Trump and his archvillain Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, toward this country’s national treasures.

Trump hasn’t appointed an NPS director. Zinke hasn’t met with the advisory board since he took office last year.

Already, Trump has said he’ll scale back the size of two national parks in Utah. And then there’s all the crap about opening all offshore waters – except those off the coast of Florida – for oil drilling.

I spent last Saturday at an NPS site – the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in Manhattan. There was a wonderful 45-minute tour of the house by a woman who has clearly devoted her career to learning about the life of our 26th President and spreading her knowledge to her fellow Americans.

Even people who trash government aren’t stupid enough to trash the National Park Service. People love visiting Yellowstone and Yosemite. Going to the Statue of Liberty or Gettysburg requires lots of planning because so many want to see them.

I suspect the fact that the natural and historic legacies preserved by NPS are what truly show America’s greatness bothers the hell out of Trump and the greedy bastards who support him.

They think America’s legacy is Wall Street. Or high-rise apartments. Or beachfront property with a golf course.

5. I don’t give a damn whether Trump is or isn’t in his right mind. I don’t give a damn what he eats or if he has all his teeth or who he sleeps with.

I give a damn about what he’s doing.

I give a damn about tearing families apart because of his punitive and short-sighted immigration policy.

I give a damn about treating families on Medicaid like they’re stealing something while giving more money to Wall Street jackasses and real estate sharks.

I give a damn about anybody thinking that tactical nuclear war seems like an idea.

And I give a damn about how we treat what we really inherit as Americans – a beautiful land and a heritage forged by generations of people from all over the world.

So I hope Trump is healthy. Because when we finally get this cetriolo out of the White House, I want him to live a long time in history’s disgrace.

 

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DIGGING OUT OF A HOLE

1. It’s Friday, January 12, 2018.

2. It’s the eighth anniversary of an earthquake that killed at least 100,000 and possibly as many as 300,000 Haitians.

The American people rallied behind their neighbors in the Caribbean. They were led by President Barack Obama, who told Haitians they wouldn’t be “forsaken” and “forgotten.”

They were also led by two former Presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who established a relief fund that raised $54 million over a three-year period.

3. Trump is denying that he called Haiti a shithole.

CNN’s Jake Tapper, in a Tweet thread this morning, says his reporting indicates Trump was referring to African nations with his slur, but also said that he didn’t want Haitians coming into this country.

And, as Tapper also tweeted, that doesn’t make anything better.

One of the meeting participants, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat, said Trump said what everybody said he said. And he said that a Republican, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, called Trump out on it.

4. There were a lot of angry words on TV and social media last night. There were tears and yelling and a sense of shock that our country could have come to this.

OK.

But I’m willing to wager money that this whole flap, all the mishegas on the morning shows and cable networks, fades into memory by, say, Tuesday of next week.

Because there’s going to be something else. Some other obscenity or embarrassment. Some stupid choice of words or some member of Trump’s archvillain league, also known as his cabinet, doing something unethical or possibly criminal.

This administration – that seems too organized a word to describe it – is about staying in motion. It’s about trying to get everything on its wish list by going all out for all of it and seeing what sticks.

It’s about changing the subject every few hours so that when Trump does or says something that really bothers people, it gets buried under an avalanche of other things that might or might not really bother people.

Do you remember back when he tweeted out how the button on his desk was bigger than Kim Jong Un’s? That, to anyone with a brain, it looked like Trump was eager for a nuclear war with North Korea.

Seems like a long time ago.

It was last week.

Trump and his minions are about irritating the people who didn’t vote for him – that’s the same number that voted for him plus about 2.9 million more. They’re about getting cheers from the cowards – and, yes, they’re cowards, afraid of anything that isn’t them – who are his true believers.

And if he keeps doing stuff for the benefit of him and others of his ilk; if he keeps making stupid statements and insulting his opposition and fighting anything that makes government succeed, he thinks he can tire out the sane and the sober. He can wear down the people he hurts and the people he offends, while keeping his sycophants satisfied.

5. Trump hasn’t made America great. He has made Americans ashamed.

He has embarrassed us, and he’s betting that we’re going to be so demoralized and tired that we’ll let him get away with it.

After a year, everybody’s tired of the racism, the ignorance, the short-sightedness, the open-palmed greed.

But we can’t let it go. We can’t make Trumpism the new normal. He and those who acceded to him need to pay a price for what they’ve done.

Today is a sad day in this country. Another one. Bet big there’ll be more before this shitshow of a presidency is over.

6. One final thought:

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer took a lot of ribbing yesterday because, when the news broke of Trump’s comments, he could not bring himself to use the word “shithole.”

Others, on CNN and other networks, had no qualms about it. Blitzer did. So did some other TV voices.

It’s because they were raised well. They were told that shithole is not a word used by ladies and gentlemen. By people for whom decorum matters.

Blitzer is one of those people who cling to something – the idea that the functioning of government and society is noble. It should be – like medicine and tech research and other fields that better humanity – revered.

Hearing Trump’s language is disheartening to those folks. And sometimes, like Blitzer, they resist out of respect.

Let Blitzer off the hook. Civility is something we should admire, especially now.

And I apologize for not adhering to it in this post. I’ll try to do better.

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OK, THAT’S GOOD. NOW, LET’S GET CREATIVE

1. It’s Thursday, January 11, 2018.

2. The Throgs Neck Bridge, where it feels as though I’ve spent a year of my life driving to my parents’ house on Long Island, opened on this day in 1961.

Until the opening last August of the north Mario Cuomo Bridge span across the Hudson River, it was the most recently built major crossing in the New York metropolitan area.

Like many of those other crossings, it’s a cars-and-trucks-only structure. There’s no pedestrian walkway or bike path. There’s no rail line running across it.

That’s partly because Robert Moses, as detailed by Robert Caro in his classic biography, “The Master Builder,” was vehemently anti-mass transit.

He was responsible for most of the major roads in New York City and Long Island. And, indeed, they have no mass transit component to alleviate the commute for the millions who live in the area.

Getting into Manhattan from the areas that surround it remains dreaded by those who do it.

Besides congested roads, the rail links to the city from New Jersey, the northern suburbs and Long Island are antiquated and, too often, dangerous. Bicycling, while improved in the past few years, remains an adventure.

3. All that crossed my mind when I heard about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that New York City is suing oil companies to collect damages rising from the cost of climate change. In addition, the city’s pension funds are divesting about $5 billion from oil company stocks.

The urgency of ending our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels was brought home to New Yorkers by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Not just the fact that the storm’s damage to coastlines and infrastructure was exacerbated by the effects of climate change. There were also the long lines at gas stations, with prices jacked up $1 or more a gallon as people needed to get around and, in many instances, couldn’t.

Big oil, lobbying people like Moses and others, helped make New York and other large metropolitan areas dependent on its products. It wrecked the air and, when prices spiked as they so often have, messed with family economies.

So I’m supportive of de Blasio’s efforts. Yes, let’s break the addiction to something that hurts our environment, gives incentive to terrorists and autocrats in the Middle East and, every so often, holds our economy hostage.

4. But, as I’ve also said, it’s time to rethink transportation.

Again, until last August, the Throgs Neck was the newest way across a river in this area. And even the Mario Cuomo, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t do everything it should – while there will eventually be pedestrian and bike paths, it doesn’t have a rail or any other mass transit.

I used to think the ideas such as congestion pricing – charging people to get past a certain point in town at busy times of the day – weren’t that great. It seems unfair to people who have to drive into midtown Manhattan to scratch out a living.

But midtown is a mess. At certain times, it’s a nightmare of traffic jams – motorized and human. And that can’t be good for anyone – it’s bad for the environment, for businesses and for the health of people who experience it.

So maybe congestion pricing is worth a try.

It would also be great if there were ideas about new modes of transportation.

New York’s subway is over a century old, and it feels like it every time you ride it. Dark, dirty, slow, constantly breaking down. It’s an amazing accomplishment of engineering – and it’s collapsing before our eyes.

So fixing it is important.

And then other forms of people moving need to be discovered. Is it a network of solar-powered moving walkways and escalators? Is it a series of trams down the major thoroughfares? It is an elaborate network of water taxis from point to point in Manhattan or to other parts of the area?

Is there some idea that’s completely different?

This is not meant to say that cars and trucks should be abolished. There’s plenty of wonderful open highway out there on which vehicles should be allowed to roam. I’d prefer that they run on something other than gas, but I doubt the internal combustion engine will disappear in my lifetime.

But New York City is taking a big first step toward fixing its future with its actions toward the oil companies. Now it needs to think bigger. It needs to test the imagination of urban planners and engineers, and come up with something that reflects the needs of the late 21st century – if not the 22nd century, now just 82-plus years away.

 

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