SAY WHAT YOU MEAN

It’s Monday, July 1, 2019.

It’s the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Strunk Jr. He’s the guy who developed rules for writing that became “The Elements of Style.”

One of his students was E.B. White, who would write for the New Yorker. He revised and expanded Strunk’s text, which is why most students call the small book “Strunk and White.”

Now, of course, you’ll be tempted to see how many Strunk rules I break with this piece. So it goes.

If months are the determinant, it’s the second half of 2019. If days are, it’ll be the first half until just after 1 p.m. tomorrow.

Why 1 p.m.? Because of Daylight Saving Time. The year started in standard time, when the middle of the day was noon. But when we moved the clock forward, the actual middle of the day became 1 p.m.

Understand?

When you’re 73, it’s not always easy to get gratification.

So this past weekend was a big thrill for Trump.

He was able to asskiss three of his most admired people – Putin, bin Salman and Kim. He had to travel halfway around the world to do it, but all the more time to build up the anticipation.

And he pushed his female alter ego, his daughter, onto a world stage that is not in the least bit interested in having her and for which she is not the least bit qualified.

Trump must be exhausted. He probably needs a couple of rounds of golf just to get the wherewithal to walk back into the White House.

Kamala Harris’ solid debate performance must have really scared Trump supporters.

They figured that their “man” would surely face Joe Biden or maybe, even, Bernie Sanders – two old guys who Trump might stand a chance of debating to a draw.

But then the former prosecutor from California showed her fearlessness and hinted that she probably would show less respect to Trump on a stage than she showed Biden.

So then came the online insinuation: Harris really isn’t African-American. Her father was born in Jamaica. Her mother is from India. 

As if that matters. But the fact that it kept creeping up showed an almost synchronized effort to take her down a bit – to the point that the other Democratic candidates came to her defense, a very laudable reaction. 

First of all, I’m not sure how the morons who started spreading this crap think Jamaica got so many dark-skinned people, but slavery had a lot to do with it. And those slaves came from Africa.

The idea of maligning Harris, I guess, is to somehow imply that she’s not a “pure” African-American because of how her family came together.

That might bother someone who advocates white supremacy because he thinks he’s all white. And that advocate somehow thinks people who are black or Asian are going to be bothered by the fact Harris isn’t all of one.

The ignorance of that is stunning. Unfortunately, it’s also real.

Let’s overlook the fact that, over millennia, the intermingling of people from all parts of the world has undermined the concept of racial or ethnic oneness.

It’s that interracial relationships are growing in America. In fact, I think that’s what scares these bigots the most – that families are no longer just white or black or Asian or native American or Latino.

Walk through Times Square or Disney World or Yellowstone and you’ll see diverse families. Couples – including mine, the union of an Italian-American man and a woman born in Hong Kong – that were outlawed in some states in my lifetime. 

And – and I’m admittedly a little biased – you’ll also see some of the most beautiful kids in this country.

In some ways, I think the Trump phenomenon is a monumental effort to reverse demographics. It might succeed at the margins – you have to think the growth rate for the Latino segment of the population is going to be affected.

But, in time, it’s like stopping the sun from rising in the east. This country is changing. And it might not be in my lifetime, but in the lifetime of my kids, caucasians will become a plurality instead of a majority.

America has always been a melting pot. Now, it’s just melting faster. Trump and his ilk are on the wrong side of history and science.

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TEN FOR TEN (THURSDAY NIGHT EDITION)

It’s Friday, June 28, 2019.

It’s the 22nd anniversary of the night Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a heavyweight boxing title fight.

And there are those who might say it’s the one-day anniversary of Kamala Harris biting off Joe Biden’s head.

Yesterday’s Ten for Ten was supposed to be some brief takes on the first night of the first Democratic debate.

It ended up being more than 1,800 words.

I’ll try to be a little shorter today. Here goes:

— If the first debate winners determined the ticket, how would you feel about a Kamala Harris-Julián Castro ticket?

I’d feel pretty damn good.

There are those who would say that it’s unelectable – you need to have a white man on the ticket to balance it.

Hey, last I looked I’m still a white man – and that’s bullshit.

The Democrat candidates for president and vice president need two things. 

In the short term, they need to be able to mop the floor with Trump and Pence on a debate stage. Harris and Castro showed their fearlessness on a big stage, when it was tougher and not a sure thing they would get that opportunity.

By staring down one of her party’s more venerable figures, Harris really put Trump on notice. 

She at least called Biden “Sir” when she started. She won’t say “Sir” to Trump.

In the long term, the Democrats need a vision for the future, not a pledge to go back to old ways. 

Harris and Castro would challenge the nation to be as brave as they are – and that would energize a lot of voters.

Because, again, it’s a mistake the Democrats have to win back Trump supporters. Hillary Clinton got nearly 3 million more votes than Trump.

What Democrats have to do is get people excited about voting for their ticket – and to demoralize the Trumpsters in what would be legitimate suppression.

Harris-Castro ’20. Not bad.

— Anybody who thinks Harris dealt a low blow to Joe Biden last night is forgetting an important point.

Should Biden become the nominee – and the odds are still heavily in favor of that – his next debate opponent would be Donald J. Trump. 

Do you think there’s any blow too low for Trump? Really?

That was the biggest takeaway from that exchange. The Democratic nominee has to be sure of her or himself – more sure than any candidate in history. And he or she has to be able to absorb Trump’s body blows and give them back double.

That won’t just be a debate or an election – 2020 will be a test of whether the United States as a democracy will survive. Harris is ready. Biden, right now, isn’t.

— I’m rethinking my rethinking of the ageism thing.

Last night, Biden and Bernie Sanders proved my point: that the Democratic Party needs someone younger than me – age 65 – as its standard bearer.

Biden was not especially coherent. He gave off an attitude of entitlement and rarely acknowledged the other candidates. 

And after Harris decked him with that race exchange, he was off-balance the rest of the night. 

When Chuck Todd did the stupid thing with what’s your first priority after you’re inaugurated, Biden answered “defeating Donald Trump.” Forgetting, unfortunately, that to get that first priority, you would have already beaten him.

As for Sanders, he did his Bernie rants about radical change, and decrying millionaires and billionaires.

But like Biden, it seemed as though he had no patience for being challenged – either by the candidates or the moderators. 

When Rachel Maddow quoted him about guns, Sanders yelled back that it was a mischaracterization and Maddow – someone somewhat sympathetic to Sanders’ point of view – pointed out that it was a direct quote.

The other thing with Sanders is that, like fellow septugenarian Elizabeth Warren, he vanished for long periods of time last night.

Was that because other candidates – Harris and Pete Buttigieg – were taking his space? Or was it because, like other old people, he got a little tired?

Neither is good.

The Democratic Party needs young blood. It’s how it got Barack Obama for two big wins. 

Biden and Sanders are both good guys and their contributions to the party can never be overlooked. They deserve prime time slots at the Milwaukee convention. But they should leave the party to people young and strong enough to go after Trump and the Republicans.

— The Constitution says you can’t be president until you’re 35 years old. 

(Face it, if the limit was younger, we’d be talking about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s presidential run. For that, we’ll have to wait until 2024.)

Pete Buttigieg will be 39 on Inauguration Day 2021. But last night, he allayed concerns that he’s too immature to be in this race.

He handled himself very well. Calm, measured and on message.

I don’t think the answer to question about the shooting in South Bend is what stood out. That’s a not-good situation for him until it gets resolved – but his answer was about the best he could do under the circumstances.

I think it was his ability to find his moments and make his points. That whole line about how Republicans have lost all claim to being a party of Christians was brilliant – yes, well-rehearsed, but brilliant. 

It resonated the same way Bill de Blasio’s line about how immigrants are not the reason for Americans’ economic insecurity did the night before.

He brought up his military service without crowing about it, the way it seemed Tulsi Gabbard did that sometimes. And he was somewhat matter-of-fact about his husband, although he did point how his marriage was legitimized by a single vote in the Supreme Court.

And the big test: Do I think he can stand on a stage against either Trump or Pence? Absolutely.

— Medicare for All advocates need to do a better job of selling this idea.

I’m for Medicare for All – I like the idea of ending private insurance because I don’t think it works. I think insurance companies are looking to make a profit – and make getting affordable care difficult.

But also thought his Michael Bennet’s challenging Sanders on Medicare for All was focused and helpful.

Bennet was trying to get Sanders to explain how you get from what we have now to Medicare for All – and Sanders wouldn’t do it. All Sanders ever says “We need radical change. We’re going to do it.” He has no plan for selling it.

I think Medicare for All is a goal that’s attained eventually. Americans are going to be scared of the idea unless it’s phased in. But like Obamacare itself, once they get there, I think they’re going to like it – just like people in the countries that have a form of it like it.

— By the way, I kinda like Michael Bennet.

I wish he would have announced his candidacy sooner so that we could have more time to evaluate him.

But I thought he was focused and on point. He showed some passion and raised the Russian threat that was mostly ignored in these debates.

— Kirsten Gillibrand’s woman power campaign is a problem.

When I was very young, in the early 1960s, Coca-Cola came out with a lemon-lime soda called Veep, the forerunner of Sprite and answer to 7Up.

It was marketed as the first refresher made “just for girls.” 

In the ads, a guy who tries Veep despite some young women’s warnings ends up in a skirt – obviously, this was a campaign way ahead of its time.

The drink failed. Why “girls” would be more inclined to drink lemon-lime soda than “boys” is not something I understand, but I figured at age six that the drink wasn’t meant for me.

I think the same thing applies to presidential campaigns. If you keep saying that your campaign is for women, then are you saying men need not vote for you?

That’s dumb to me. And I’m sure Gillibrand – who I like and think would make a terrific president – would be happy to get my vote.

But appealing almost exclusively to women is not a way to break through. Like one-issue focused candidate Jay Inslee – and unlike Julián Castro – she didn’t articulate well the women’s rights position that she’s using to gain traction.

One other thing about her: She was gifted an issue and she seems reluctant to accept it. 

Gillibrand has been in the forefront of getting help for 9/11 responders. She has video clips of being on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in which he praises her efforts.

I don’t remember her talking about that last night. That’s a missed opportunity.

— Unlike the first night, the second stringers weren’t impressive.

Marianne Williamson was the nut case at the party who makes you roll your eyes. John Hickenlooper spent the night telling us he was a scientist and a businessman – and that socialism is bad.

Eric Swalwell looked overmatched. He tried to challenge Biden about passing the torch and Buttigieg on firing the police officer who turned off his bodycam, and got slapped down each time.

And Andrew Yang, with less than three minutes of speaking time, never was able to explain his position about guaranteed income. He seems like a bright guy, but he was out of his league – and presidential politics is about maintaining a high-power presence on a big stage.

— Again, the NBC moderators played the hot hand

I thought they did a good job with the questions. Only a few of the questions – the Buttigieg one is an example – were focused on the individual. 

In that case, since it’s still about his performance in office – and not a dumb question about his marriage – it’s OK.

But, as I said yesterday, as a college professor, I’m sympathetic to their dilemma – they’re trying to keep things interesting. 

That was more likely to happen if you threw a question at a red hot Harris or a faltering Biden than Yang or Swalwell.

— So let’s say the Democrats wanted to jumpstart the process. 

You put the top eight performers from this first debate — and, because they still have big followings, I’d include Biden and Sanders – into one night and the rest into the second night. 

In my eye, you would have this lineup: Bennet, Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Gillibrand, Harris, Klobuchar, Sanders, Warren.

That would be quite a donnybrook. 

It would be a great test for Harris, who will have people with her who are Senate colleagues and friends that she’d be somewhat more reluctant to go after.

But it also would allow the Democrats to find out, once and for all, if Biden is really up to this. 

I don’t think he is.

Just under 1,800 words. Sigh.

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TEN FOR TEN (WEDNESDAY NIGHT EDITION)

It’s Thursday, June 27, 2019.

It’s the 70th birthday of Vera Wang. She apparently was a competitive figure skater before she became the clothing designer of note.

It’s also night No. 2 of the first Democratic presidential debate. 

And while both nights should count the same, they don’t. The only top five contender last night was Elizabeth Warren. Tonight, we see the other four: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg.

So everyone expects the two old guys to ratchet things up tonight. Especially Sanders – he never comes to these things unaggrieved.

Alas, I might miss the start of tonight’s debate because of a family commitment. So I’ll try to intelligently (or I hope someone other than me thinks so) weigh in tomorrow, but we’ll see.

I’ve spent the 11 hours since the debate ended watching the TV analysis and reading commentary on websites and on Twitter. 

So let me try to give 10 assessments that I believe are slightly different:

— I want Julian Castro or someone like him on one of the debate stages next fall – something I would not have imagined writing 24 hours ago.

Castro is being widely lauded – and rightfully so – for his performance last night. There were two reasons he stood out.

One is his command of policy. You just get the sense he understands the immigration issue better than anyone else – maybe it was his rolling off the Section 1325 provision and the idea of repealing it that doesn’t seem to come up in discussions about this issue. 

But he also took a strong principled stand on women’s health issues that made you nod your head in agreement.

The second reason is that he was forceful. He didn’t give ground to O’Rourke in their exchange, and he made his points clearly and confidently.

What surprised me was that, a few months back, when Castro appeared on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” he seemed out of his league. It got to the point that Maher seemed to be trying to prod Castro into explaining why he was running for president.

His people must have given him a talking-to. Castro was completely different last night. 

Which brings me back to the original point. When Democrats debate in fall 2020 – assuming Trump and Pence actually show up, about which I’m skeptical – they need to bring two things: ideas and forcefulness. 

Hillary Clinton outdebated Trump all three times. But she didn’t humiliate him. Next fall, the Democratic candidate has to show Trump’s intellectual and spiritual weakness – to the point that his supporters get shaken. 

And, in the vice presidential debate, Pence outpointed a overly polite Tim Kaine. That can’t happen either. 

Castro showed the kind of debate skills the Democrats need. 

Now, is he going to be the presidential nominee? It’s still pretty unlikely.

But imagine him going toe-to-toe with Pence. 

Castro definitely played himself into VP contention last night.

— The NBC moderators played the hot hand.

When the debate started, the attention was on Elizabeth Warren. In the first half-hour, she had twice as many responses as any other single candidate – and with the focus on the economy, she was in her wheelhouse.

But then came the Julian Castro stance on immigration and his exchange with O’Rourke – and the fact that Cory Booker, standing next to him was able to get a word in.

For the last three-quarters of the debate, Castro and Booker were the dominant participants. In fact, on my scorecard, Booker had more responses – 12 – than any other candidate on the stage.

Warren, on the other hand, didn’t say as much in the final 90 minutes of the debate as she did in the first 30. 

My thinking is that the moderators were drawn to the people who were making the strongest statements.

That’s why you didn’t see a lot of Jay Inslee, Tim Ryan or Tulsi Gabbard until the very end, when somebody must have pointed out that they weren’t getting a lot of time and that was relayed to Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow.

It’s a natural tendency. As a teacher, I tend to call on students who I know will sustain a discussion intelligently.

Booker and Castro were doing that last night. And the five moderators were naturally inclined to let them.

  It was as Trump-free as possible.

This was the first Democratic debate. A lot of these people were completely unknown to the Democratic electorate.

So this should have been an introduction – a chance for these candidates to share their ideas for governing the country.

And that’s – for the most part – what it was. 

It was not a Trump-bashing fest. Because it’s understood that Democrats HATE Trump.

The ten candidates needed to say their names more than they needed to say how much they can’t stand him.

— No wonder Trump thought the debate was “BORING”

That’s what he tweeted after he tweeted he was too busy flying to the G-20 summit and saving the free world to watch the debate.

They didn’t talk about him that much. Why would he watch?

There’s another reason why he might have found it boring: they were talking about issues and solutions that he completely doesn’t understand. The candidates knew what they were talking about. 

— I don’t mind these scrums 16-1/2 months from Election Day 2020 and eight months before the Iowa caucus.

Unlike a lot of other folks, I’m not bothered by 24 candidates. It’s still early – as Castro illustrated last night, some of these folks who are not in the top tier have some pretty good ideas.

So this two-night debate in Miami and the two nights in Detroit next month are a fair opportunity for all these people to make their case.

And a lot aren’t making the case expecting to waltz into the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2021. Some of them are playing for jobs on other parts of Pennsylvania Ave.

Because these aren’t just presidential candidates. Some of them are candidates for cabinet positions – one analyst made the astute point that Tulsi Gabbard might have strengthened her case to be Defense Secretary.

I do think that, starting in September, it will be time to cut the debates down. The people on the periphery should have no complaints.

— My ageism is severely challenged by Elizabeth Warren.

I’m 65 and I’ve taken the stance that the next president of the United States has to be younger than me.

That’s eliminates three prominent Democrats: 

Bernie Sanders, who’ll be 79 on Election Day. 

Joe Biden, who’ll be 78 on Inauguration Day.

And Elizabeth Warren, who turned 70 this week.

I want a new generation of leaders that understands the changes in our lives because they’re more affected by them than my generation is or will be.

And older people tend to be stuck in their ways. Trust me, I understand.

But Warren doesn’t seem quite as affected by geriatric matters. She has an energy level that far exceeds some of her younger opponents. And the fact that she’s running an idea-oriented campaign is more than admirable – it’s what presidential campaigns should have been my entire life.

So I’d love to support her. 

But. 

That fade out in the final three-quarters last night has me wondering: Was it just that Castro came on strong? Or was it Warren fading late on a Wednesday night, just like I do?

— New Yorkers are wondering who that guy who looked like Bill de Blasio was.

de Blasio didn’t say that much in the debate. But when he spoke, he delivered like a Brooklynite. Forceful, brash and self-assured. 

The line about how immigration is not what’s causing the problems for middle America was one of the strongest of any candidate all night.

Now, if he had been as self-assured as mayor the past six and a-half years, New Yorkers might be a little bit more behind his candidacy. He is not popular here.

— Tim Ryan might be a good Secretary of Labor.

That’s what I think he’s running for. 

I mean, he really wants to be president, or so he says. But if he really wanted to be president, he would have run for Rob Portman’s Ohio Senate seat in 2016 or for governor against Mike DeWine last year.

Yes, he’s right – the Democratic Party shouldn’t ignore the people in his district, which is the area around Youngstown. They’ve been screwed over by General Motors and by Trump, and have been paying the price for the deindustrialization of this country for the past 50 years – think of Bruce Springsteen’s song and you get the idea.

But the core of the party – the mass of its members – are on the coasts and in enclaves like Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul. That’s who determines the nominee. And those people will determine the next nominee.

So Ryan’s contribution to the 2020 race is likely to be a strong voice not to forget his constituents. That’s a good thing – Democrats shouldn’t. 

Having Ryan as the point person for the Biden/Sanders/Warren/Harris/mystery administration’s policy toward middle America would be pretty good.

— Jay Inslee is less formidable than I would have thought.

If you’re going to be a one-issue candidate, climate change isn’t a bad one. 

It was ignored in 2016. And now, the situation is getting worse. Unprecedented heat waves and flooding don’t seem to be wholly due to nature’s capriciousness.

But the governor of Washington blew his chance to make a forceful case. Even when Rachel Maddow gave him the first question on the subject, he didn’t present the kind of coherent, convincing argument that Castro did on immigration.

And Amy Klobuchar, who had enough of a presence that she might make the second round of debates in the fall, zapped him after he made that dumb remark about being the only one to advance women’s issues.

If there was a chance that any of these people would drop out before the July debate or the second round beginning in September, I’d bet on Inslee and Beto O’Rourke.

— Overall, it was a good night for Democrats.

On CNN, reporter Gary Tuchman – one of the network’s best – was in Iowa with a focus group of uncommitted voters.

Most of them believed Warren, Booker and Castro did best – one person said Klobuchar and another said Inslee.

None of those participating said they had found their candidate – which means they’re still listening closely tonight.

And, when Tuchman asked if the debate made them feel as though Trump might look better they, to a man and woman, laughed.

Democrats know they will have a better person running in 2020 than Trump. Frankly, it doesn’t take much.

But after the first night, they have to feel better about their chances. 

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SCORECARD HERE

It’s still Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

Today is also the 92nd anniversary of the opening of the Cyclone roller coaster at Brooklyn’s Coney Island.

Will tonight’s Democratic debate, part one, have lots of ups and downs, like the Cyclone? Or will it feel more like the fire truck ride  that goes around in a slow circle so you can put a 2-year-old on for a little excitement?

My post earlier today gave some thoughts about what will constitute a good question and what will be a clunker. 

In general, I think good questions for a first debate focus on specific issues so that we have an idea what these men and women believe. I think lousy questions are the ones that address personalities and trivialities.

Because I can’t go to a baseball game without keeping score, I’ve spent the day devising a scoring system for this debate. I’d rather do that than the drinking game some of you intend to play, because I’ve never understood why people need the contents of a speech or debate as an excuse to get soused.

My scorekeeping will cover both the 10 candidates on the stage and the five NBC Universal moderators. 

There is, of course, an element of subjectivity in this. But I promise this: I will score this debate as objectively as I can – if a candidate gives a good answer that I disagree with, I’ll try hard to score it as a good answer.

Anyway here are the categories and the scoring:

JOURNALISTS/OVERALL DEBATE

The questions asked are scored five different ways: very good question, plus 2 points; good question, 1 point; mezza mezza, 0; bad question, minus 1 point; stupid question, minus 2 points.

There will be an overall debate score that I’ll try to keep as a running score on my Twitter feed: @MMMRaisin.

And then I’ll apply the points to each of the moderators. If Lester Holt asks three really good questions, one mezza mezza and a clunker, his score is 4. 

I might weight it depending on whether some of the moderators hog the asking time – why am I thinking Jose Diaz-Balart won’t fare that well tonight.

DEBATERS

There’s one objective measure of success: Who gets in the most answers.

If Elizabeth Warren answers nine of the questions and Bill de Blasio only answers one, that should say something about how realistic de Blasio’s chances are.

But if one of the second tier candidates – say John Delaney – manages to get in more answers than Cory Booker, that also might tell us something about this process.

The other score I’m keeping is quality answers. This is, like the question quality, subjective. Again, it’s not whether I agree with the answer, but whether the candidate presented her or his answer well.

In instances when seven to 10 candidates answer a question, I’ll give a point to the top three answers and take one away from the worst. Between four and six candidates answering, a point to the top two answers and a point lost for the worst. 

Between two and three, a good answer gets a point, a bad answer loses one. If a question goes to only one person, the point gets awarded or subtracted depending on how he or she answers.

Obviously, I’ll be working out the bugs throughout the debate.

But, no matter what, this should be interesting.

We’ve been looking forward to this since Nov. 9, 2016, when we all first began figuring out how to get Trump out. It starts tonight in Miami – and only gets tougher as we go along.

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20 QUESTIONS

It’s Wednesday, June 26, 2019.

It’s the 149th anniversary of the designation of Christmas Day as a federal holiday.

It’s the only purely religious national holiday – New Year’s technically is tied to Christianity, but we celebrate it as the first day of the year.

And, because I didn’t post yesterday, this little history lesson is a reminder that we are now a day more than midway between Christmas 2018 and Christmas 2019. Not to rush things.

Tonight’s first Democratic presidential debate – or, rather, part one of the first debate – is generating Christmas-like excitement among Democrats. 

It’s the beginning of the process of winnowing out all these candidates and dubbing the knight in shining armor who will try to rescue America from Trump.

The debate begins at 9 p.m. ET and will air on NBC, MSNBC and Telemundo. Tonight’s card features these 10, in alphabetical order: 

— Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey

— Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro

— New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

— Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland

— Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii

— Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington

— Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota

— Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas

— Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio

— Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

What this is concerned with is the questioners. And their questions.

According to NBCNews.com, the five “moderators” are Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Telemundo’s José Diaz-Balart.

Todd didn’t exactly cover himself with glory this past weekend with his questioning of Trump on “Meet the Press.” He let many of the usual Trump lies stand without challenge.

So it’ll be interesting to see if he’s as magnanimous with the Democrats or if he decides only they deserve to be challenged.

I don’t have a problem with the others. Now.

But I will if the questions they ask focus on the political dynamics and not on the issues that the people of this country actually care about.

That’s what’s pissed me off about primary and general election debates in the past. Often the questioners are trying to get the electric soundbite. The gotcha moment.

The prime example: In the general election debates last time, there was not a single question about climate change. Instead, we got Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and can you say something nice about the other.

So I’ve devised 10 questions I think Americans – particularly Democratic primary voters and caucus goers – want answered. And 10 questions that get a rise out of an audience but add zero to the understanding of what these people would do in the White House.

TEN QUESTIONS I’D LIKE TO SEE:

  1. What is your campaign doing to protect against efforts by foreign elements to sabotage the 2020 election?
  2. Since all of you believe climate change is real, what do you think is the fastest way to reach the goal of eliminating or reversing the problem?
  3. You’ve all condemned the migrant detention centers near the southern border. What would you do through executive order to alleviate the problem and what long-term solutions would you seek to get passed in Congress?
  4. “Infrastructure” is a magic word that seems to get bandied about at election time, but about which little seems to get done. What proposals would you make to revitalize the nation’s transportation system and utilities, and how do you expect to achieve your goals?
  5. Which is the best way to reduce health care costs and increase coverage: Medicare for All, improvements in the Affordable Care Act such as a public option, or something else?
  6. Student debt tops $1.6 trillion in the United States and affects more than one in eight Americas. How do you propose to alleviate this problem?
  7. China is on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy. Is China our enemy, our rival or our partner, and what issues would you prioritize with President Xi.
  8. What are American priorities in the Middle East? What are the first policy changes you would make?
  9. What role would your administration in improving education in this country? What would be your priorities in making changes?
  10. How would you either take executive action or work with Congress to reduce the level of gun violence in this country?

I think those are pretty fair. As a voter, those are just some of the criteria I’ll use to decide who to vote for in a primary.

Then, of course, there are the questions I fear:

TEN QUESTIONS I UNEQUIVOCALLY DO NOT WANT ASKED

  1.   Why do you think you’re better qualified than the other 22 Democratic candidates? (Isn’t that what the damn debates are supposed to determine?)
  2. Candidate 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10, recently you said _______________ (insert some controversial remark/gaffe/curse). Do you think you should explain that/clarify that/apologize for that?
  3. How will you respond to the nickname Trump will come up for you if you’re the nominee? (Why give Trump’s nonsense any more credence?)
  4.   Do you believe Congress should launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump? (That’s for Congress – and not a would-be president – to decide.)
  5.   Would you tear down the portions of the southern border wall that have been built?
  6.   How would you win over the people who supported Trump in the last election? (aka – how would pander to the racists and morons who would elect a grifter?
  7.   Who is your hero?
  8.   What’s the go-to song on your phone?
  9.   What’s the first change you’ll make at the White House when you’re elected?
  10.   Which of the other candidates would you vote for if you weren’t running?

Those are the 20 questions. I probably could come up with another 10 questions about issues.

Unfortunately, I could find 10 more really stupid questions.

Let’s see if the NBC crew can rise to the occasion. This election needs to be taken seriously – and that starts tonight.

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THE CRAZY DANCE OF STUDENT DEBT

It’s Monday, June 24, 2019.

It’s the 645th anniversary of the outbreak of St. John’s Dance in Aachen, Germany.

Apparently, the good people of Aachen just started dancing. And they couldn’t stop. Eventually, they collapsed, but not before screaming in pain and hallucinating.

Scientists aren’t completely clear why this happened. It could have been stress from the plagues and flooding of 1374. 

Those of us who have endured the Trump era in American history understand the feeling.

Bernie Sanders offered a plan today to erase the nation’s $1.6 trillion in student debt.

He’s trying to one-up Elizabeth Warren, whose debt elimination proposal is just slightly less extensive.

If the Democrats are looking for an issue to get in good with millennials, student debt is it.

There are few young people between the ages of 18 and 35 who aren’t affected by this issue. Both of my kids are. And the amounts they owe are nothing near what some young people took out in pursuit of the careers grownups prodded them toward: medicine, law, education, science.

But the proposals to eliminate or ameliorate student debt aren’t about pandering to a generation of voters.

Think about that number: $1.6 trillion.

Instead of that money going to pay back financial services companies, imagine it going to carmakers. Home builders. Tourism.

Actually, Sanders’ proposal is a double-whammy on bankers. He’s proposing a so-called “Wall Street speculation tax” that would affect financial investment transactions. So they get hit on those and lose those higher-than-they-should-be interest payments once the debt is wiped out.

My wife and I paid for most of our kids’ college education. But we couldn’t pay for all of it, which is why they carry the loans they have.

Plus we thought that maybe they should bear some responsibility for the educations they were receiving.

I’m not as sanguine about that idea now. For all the grief millennials get about being attached to their cellphones and being sensitive about everything, they are a generation that doesn’t have it easy. A lot of the job opportunities available to their older relatives have dried up in professions such as law, the corporate world and journalism.

And every time somebody decides to start a war somewhere in the Middle East, they’re the ones who will fight it.

One other reason they have it tough: this student debt crisis, which paralyzes them financially, even if they have found good-paying jobs.

The current administration has shown zero interest – you’ll pardon the expression – in solving this problem. 

Indeed, the woman taking up space in the Education Secretary’s office, Betsy DeVos, seems hellbent on holding student debtors’ feet to the fire. How dare they try to educate themselves when they could have fine careers as Amway salespeople?

One criticism I’ve heard of these debt forgiveness plans is that it’s unfair to those who managed to pay off their loans.

You know what else is unfair to them? An economy stifled because much of a generation can’t save money for homes, cars, travel or retirement. 

We tell kids they should go to college. And then we make it a lifelong financial burden and, in the process, hurt ourselves in the process.

I’m not sure whether Sanders’ or Warren’s plan is the better one. Right now, I just like the idea that they’re thinking about this.

Solving the student debt crisis sounds like a good reason to dance. Although not to the point of exhaustion.

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NOBODY ASKED US

It’s Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Dancin’ on the ceiling all night long: It’s the 70th birthday of Lionel Richie.

It’s the 126th anniversary of Lizzie Borden’s acquittal in Fall River, Massachusetts. She’s of the famous “…took an axe. And gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done. She gave her father 41.”  

It’s been compared to the O.J. trial because most people think Borden killed her father and stepmother, despite the verdict. Thus the rhyme.

Did anybody ask you if going to war with Iran is OK?

Me neither.

The fact is that the efforts to match the two nations in a slugfest is the dream of assholes on both sides. 

Not to mention the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia, for whom American soldiers would be doing the bidding. Netanyahu and bin Salman must be giddy at the thought of the U.S. going in and, at the very least, weakening the Iranians.

The Iranians, on the other hand, aren’t wali. There are clearly people in Tehran itching for a fight against the U.S. as a way of finishing the ’79 revolution. 

Today’s downing of a U.S. drone is a victory for the hawks on both sides. The Iranians claim the drone was flying over their territory. The Pentagon says it was in international airspace that the Iranians violated.

Because of all the other scandals and crises Trump and his fools perpetrate, Iran is not especially prominent in Americans’ mindset. The only drumbeat for war comes from the likes of Pompeo and Bolton, and probably from some of the jackals who attend Trump rallies and wear the red MAGA hats.

But even Trump supporters have kids in the military. And if we started shooting at the Iranians, no matter what form it takes, there’s going to be some shooting back. 

Are Americans prepared for casualities from a conflict that seems completely unnecessary? I doubt it. I don’t even think the Trumpsters will understand why their loved ones died. 

My guess is that Trump and the Iran hawks are looking for the magic event that will start the war they so crave, they try to sell the idea that it’s Americans’ patriotic duty to back the boys. (By the way, there will be girls there, too, but I doubt they’ll get mentioned.)

The Republicans in the Senate will fall in line as always. Some Democrats from red states will too so as not to look as though they don’t support the troops.

Trump and anyone who supports war with Iran can take their flags and shove them. It’s not right – and we know it.

It will be a mess. Iran is not Iraq. The people support their government, contrary to what the Iran hawks believe. They don’t trust us, especially given the history of U.S. meddling in their affairs. There’s no easy victory here – and what will result will be a tragedy.

No one asked me or you about this. Unfortunately, the Iranian people and American kids are going to live – and die – with the consequences.

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