Impeachment – Part 2

Woodcut Of Andrew Johnsons Impeachment

And just like that – Impeachment is on the table. There are so many pieces to this story so let’s take them gradually over time. Today – we have to deal with BuzzFeed News.

BuzzFeed is a website that traffics in gossip, fashion and culture. But once in while it breaks a big story via reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier. And this is a major story. Click here Mom.

The story says the president of the United States told his personal lawyer to lie to the House Intelligence Committee about the details of a Trump real estate project in Moscow. If that is true, it means the president has committed two felonies – obstruction of justice and subornation of perjury. That is a “high crime” as the Constitution puts it.

I have been a skeptical voice in all the Trump noise, telling liberal friends to focus on the crime, not cable news blather that may be gratifying but not relevant to the welfare of the country.

Having covered federal courts for newspapers in Nashville and D.C. in the old days as a reporter, I had to understand things like subornation of perjury, which is someone (Trump) telling someone else (Cohen) to lie under oath.

This same charge happened with the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon. Both told aides to lie to Congress and federal investigators to save themselves from their own misdeeds.

Clinton was impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate. Nixon resigned before the House could impeach him.

Democrats rightly have been resisting calls to initiate impeachment proceedings. They know it would look bad politically. So they are waiting for the Mueller investigation to drop.

Remember – Mueller knows everything on this issue. He knows whether the BuzzFeed story is true. He has all the phone records, emails, texts and everything he needs to inform the Congress and the public about what is true and what is not.

I am an admitted NY Times/Washington Post groupie so I give you this. IF the NY Times/WashPost confirms the BuzzFeed story that the president of the US pressured Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, Republicans will face a terrible political problem. Do they continue backing Trump to protect themselves politically? Or do they begin to abandon him? Keep your eye on Fox News on this story. If they confirm it and begin to move against Trump, the president is in big trouble.

Impeachment – Part 1

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As usual, David Leonhardt of The Times does it better than I can. So I post it below. In short, he urges us to get past our anger at the election, our disagreement with Trump policies and our distaste for him personally and what he has wrought of our government. Instead, focus on the crimes that violate the law and Constitution.  Everything else is a distraction. To wit:

  1. Using the presidency for personal enrichment. (Emoluments clause/Saudis in hotels)
  2.  Obstruction of Justice. (Flynn investigation and Mueller)
  3. Violation of federal campaign laws. (Michael Cohen and payoffs)
  4. Subversion of democracy. (Tearing down democratic institutions)

If nothing else, reading the piece below might just get you to read the Constitution again. From there, go to Madison in the Federalist and you will have earned your citizenship for another month.

If the link above is not working, click here

Scott Skinner – American/Vermonter

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Seems I chat a lot with new Americans or non-Americans these days about our president, our standing in the world and what it’s like to be an American.

I think from now on, I will just give them the obituary of Scott Skinner. Ignore all the BS on TV about tough guy patriots and just read this. He helped others. He cared about his family. He created organizations. Secured passage of legislation that improved society. Ran for office. Volunteered in his community.

Here is the obit:

I will miss chatting about Lawrenceville football and our favorite coach – Ken Keuffel.

When you go about your day and realize that you live in a place with clean/water, honest politics, subsidized dental care and a host of other wonderful attributes, say a thank you to Scott Skinner. American/Vermonter.

Hal Greer – A Quiet Pioneer

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Hal Greer died. I missed the obit. I am entering that stage of life when the people I watched, heard and followed as a kid on the Jersey Shore are dying.

Hal Greer was a great basketball player for the Philadelphia 76ers in the 60s and 70s. Great jumpshot. Always had a weird looking pad on his thigh to protect it. He would torch the Knicks, my favorite team. Obit is here.

Best of all – he shot foul shots as a jump shot, leaving the floor even though he didn’t have to do so. I used to practice that for hours. He came into the league early as a pioneer. Never got the credit because Earl Loyd broke the color barrier. But in those early days, guys like Greer paved the way for the stars of today, making little money and playing in cold drafty gyms like Detroit’s Cobo Arena or the Cow Palace in San Fran.

Pretty soon we will be losing all these guys, my heroes from those days – Willis Reed, Walt Frazier. It is fun to watch the obit page every day and remember that generation so warmly and bathe in the glow of the Marv Albert call on the radio of Knicks games.

Hal Greer – class act.

The Last “Patrician” President

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Words to a neighbor about George H.W. Bush. (with a few edits)

“I feel I owe you a deeper explanation of my feelings about George HW Bush beyond Twitter and other exchanges. And I think Bush himself deserves a wider explanation as well.

My feelings about him are complicated, as they stem from a birds eye view and deep reading about the sins of the elite eastern establishment.

First, I fully recognize and understand the goodness in Bush, his generosity toward others, his sense of fairness and the decency with which he conducted himself. I also admire deeply his determination with other Yalies to strike out on their own after college for the oil patch of Texas. That is a distinctly American impulse that I admire. Not to mention the enlistment at 18 to risk his life when today’s 18 year olds wonder whether to hike Europe or work on Wall St.

I subscribe to the sentiments in Maureen Dowd’s column about him the other day. I admire his good traits and yearn for the good side of his character and wish those values would return to Washington and the country. Read Dowd’s highly personal piece here:

I know the Bushworld fairly well. My father and he were at Yale together. My parents joined the CIA after college with many classmates to serve their country. Bush and my parents shared friends and their example of respectful disagreement and civic responsibility was carved into us. Skull and Bones, kindness toward others, a reluctance to talk about one’s self, fairness above all. There is a sense about these guys/gals that they had a responsibility to do right in the world and care for others. The ultimate noblesse oblige life.

I hear what you are saying – that it is wrong to examine the underside of Bush’s life so soon after death. That it is somehow mean and not nice or fair to his memory or his family. I hear that. We have in this country a tradition of this – of gauzy hagiography around leaders when they die. We did it with JFK, Reagan, John McCain, and many others. We lionize them and ignore the dark side. And I think that gets us in trouble.

The Bay of Pigs, Iran-Contra, paying off dictators, fomenting coups in countries we don’t like, assasinations of foreign leaders. We just don’t seem to learn.
I think we owe it to ourselves to lay it all out there, ESPECIALLY now, as Maureen Dowd did – not in a cheap and nasty way, but with respect and fairness. To not remember all of George Bush is to disrespect his role in U.S. history.

To wit:

  1. He said he knew nothing about the Iran-Contra scandal and said he was out of the loop. He did not resign in protest. Instead he pardoned the wrongdoers and aided the cover-up.
  2. He was slow to understand or do anything about the AIDS crisis.
  3. His Willie Horton ad against Dukakis and his farming out the dirty tricks to Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater was one of the more shameful episodes in our political history and has led us directly to Fox News.
  4. He defended Richard Nixon during Watergate as chair of the RNC.
  5. 5. He said little or nothing about Trump – for which Carter, Bush 43, Clinton and Obama share responsibility.
  6. He protected CIA scandals and wrongdoing and took those secrets to his grave.
  7. Let’s not forget that his father’s firm Brown Brothers Harriman, helped finance the Nazi War machine.
  8. He said little as his son and Dick Cheney lied us into a war in Iraq that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people and cemented the U.S. identity in the world as an arrogant colossus on the wrong side of most every argument.

Bush’s decency – the the values and traits of his generation – had a dark side: an arrogance and blindness to the role of women, people of color, other countries. It is a go along philosophy, don’t rock the boat – because you can always argue it out over bridge at the country club or at a Yale reunion. My brilliant Mom would interject here and protest that she had many a late night argument with the likes of William F. Buckley and others in the Bush orbit about these issues. And she would be right. And of course at some level it is unfair to hold Bush and his generation to a moral and ethical standards they knew little about back then.

Yes – these men won World War II and presided over the construction of a world order that has seen the U.S. create the most powerful economy in human history. But they were often blind to the consequences of that world order – the suffering it has caused. And too often they were willing to live in ignorance at Kennebunkport or other enclaves in a luxury created by their parents and grandparents on Wall Street while others suffered around the world.

I guess my point is that we need to see these men in total, not through the haze of what we wish them to be. I suspect we would continue to argue about timing – that we should wait a few weeks before we deal with the bad stuff. I think I disagree. Lower the flags, honor his memory, best wishes to the family, proper memorial services. And I am glad at some level that the CIA building bears his name, although I am unconvinced the CIA does us much good.  But the journalistic treatment of Bush and other’s who die, needs to be robust and include everything, warts and all.”

I Know Brett Kavanaugh

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After reading a NY Times story about Brett Kavanaugh and his background, the entire Mad Men, private school world of white male entitlement came rushing back.

Disclosure – I attended private schools all my life, including the New Jersey-based Lawrenceville School in the 1970s, which then was all-male. I was a football and lacrosse captain and a middling student with good social skills that gave me access to the right people and places, including an exclusive New England college that had just admitted women.

That’s why I feel I know Kavanaugh. He went to Georgetown Prep. (So did Neil Gorsuch but that is an absurdity for another day) He played football and was part of the same white male entitled culture that I had at Lawrenceville.We each had sister schools. Holton-Arms is the sister school of Georgetown Prep. Weird.

We had our dances – absurd, forced gatherings of boys and girls trying to figure out everything from sexuality to drugs under the watchful eyes of “masters.”

Only today do we look back and see how BAD those environments were, how unhealthy for social development, how forced, and sometimes how dangerous. Girls to us were foreign objects, treated with disdain, forbidden fruits to be pursued and conquered. The key – and this was more true in college – was to cover all this over with the haze of booze so the pursuit was somehow more justifiable. This behavior was taught, encouraged and learned.

The underside of the private school world – like America – is dark and dangerous. Those who defend it are largely part of that generation of white men who feel displaced by the coming demographic change in America. They feel like they worked hard, provided, built US institutions – including these private schools – saved the world from the Nazis. And what do they get for that? A bunch of angry women demanding their share. They don’t understand why women are pissed off. They just wanted to be thanked in their retirement.

But they forgot something. This post World War II society and culture was largely built on the backs of others – especially women – who have been shunned, harassed and ignored. If you need the lesson, just Google Rebecca Traister at The Cut or New York Magazine. She is the best writer on this subject and her new book “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” is out soon.

We are now in a reckoning period where the Internet and history are emboldening those marginalized people to raise their voice, fight back and demand what is theirs – voting rights, civil rights, respect in the workplace or the right to be left alone.

Which brings us to Judge Kavanaugh, the very embodiment of that angry white man generation that now feels wronged. At his private school in the DC suburbs, he played football, hung out at the country club, had access to all the right people and rebelled against that oppressive life by getting shit-faced with his buddies and hunted girls from Holton-Arms and other girls schools. He thought he was entitled because the culture told him so.

To those who say I am wrong, I say – I have been there. I have seen it up close. I know exactly what was going on with Kavanaugh and his buddies because I saw it and did it at my private school.

Are there good sides to these schools. Yes. Great teaching, great facilities, all the advantages for rich and poor alike. But the sexual abuse stories at these schools around the country now raise the question of their purpose in the society. I got the call from the law firm investigating abuse claims at Lawrenceville.

Perhaps they are better now. But in my time and Kavanaugh’s these schools were Lord of the Flies. And sometimes it was really, really dangerous.

And this is the legacy that has now bitten Kavanaugh. A woman who watched this entitled guy getting the ultimate prize and never having to answer for anything perpetrated by his tribe of marauding bros. Again – I have been there.

This reckoning has its villains (Harvey Weinstein and Moonves). It will have casualties that can be painful on both sides. We are now arguing whether Kavanaugh falls into the bad guy camp or the casualty camp. But the judge will never lose his job, while his victim is hiding from the haters, forced from her house and her job.

In a way, I feel sorry for Kavanaugh. In his sad denials, his tone-deaf parading of his girls basketball team before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his bragging about how great he is with women. He still doesn’t get it. Doesn’t get where he came from. And he will never admit it. He thinks he deserves the Supreme Court. He thinks Grassley, McConnell, Hannity and the right-wing love him. But he just doesn’t get that he is just their vehicle for a larger crusade.

I have some advice for Kavanaugh.

Tell the truth about what happened, first to your family in private. Then tell the Senate and the press. Then offer to meet with Dr. Ford in private. Apologize to her. Listen to her. Then make a sincere effort to understand the ugly culture that created you. Then withdraw your nomination and return to the Court of Appeals for the rest of your life. You just might find that you will become a better person and set an example for the rest of the country – and your daughters.

Woodward and the Press

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I keep forgetting that Watergate was 40 plus years ago and everyone has forgotten – or never knew – how journalism works. People object to the use of anonymous sources, especially now that Bob Woodward has laid bare the Trump White House.

A journalism primer from someone who has been there.

  1. Bob Woodward has been the best reporter in the world for 40 years. He uses anonymous sources. Deal with it or prove he is lying.
  2. High level government officials talk to Woodward and other reporters for many reasons. It doesn’t matter what the motivation. Woodward and any good reporter checks and rechecks and balances peoples’ motivations.
  3. High level government officials talk to Woodward all the time. Don’t kid yourself. And then they deny in public that they did so. That is the way it works. Just because Rob Porter, Jim Mattis and others issue statements denying they said what they said – doesn’t mean they didn’t. They talk to Woodward. Now they deny it. That is how it works. People lie every day about this.
  4. There are several ways to speak to a reporter. These are rules of the road established over time. Given that the Inernet has destroyed all rules of the road, these rules are often not followed anymore. But this is how it works with someone like Woodward.
    1. ON THE RECORD – You speak to a reporter and agree that those comments can be published.
    2. OFF the RECORD – The reporter agrees to not publish your comments.
    3. BACKGROUND – The reporter can use the comments and even quote them. But cannot use your name. Senior government officials do this every day. The secretary of state briefs reporters this way on the plane. This is how Woodward operates in his books in large part.
    4. Deep background – The reporter can use the information, not ID the source, and cannot quote – but can use the information to get other information. This is how Woodward operated with Deep Throat in the garage. Watch All the President’s Men.

Letter to Christine Hallquist

Dear Christine,

Congratulations on winning the Democratic primary for governor of Vermont. My phone is now ringing from friends and colleagues around the country asking if you can win. Here is how:

  1. Take a breath – national news coverage of you is now way beyond the NY Times. It is a leading story in almost every political blog and newsletter I receive. Don’t let it go to your head. National news coverage doesn’t lead to votes at home. But it helps you raise money to fund your campaign.
  2. Manage your money – make sure you have an advisor who can tell you how to spend your limited dollars. Don’t waste it on TV. Use the national media attention to replace TV advertising with social media.
  3. Build your email list – no matter what people say – email is still king. Get your list in shape and start emailing people on Mailchimp right now, asking for money and support.
  4. Get your policy positions in shape. Right now they are muddled. Something about the rural economy? There are plenty of policy people out there. Get your campaign manager to call them to help you fill out your platform. Personally, I want someone to tell me how Vermont can modernize itself to become a state where people want to live. Phil Hoff did it in 1962. It is time to do it again.
  5. Work hard – Be everywhere. Vermonters are starting to discover you. Now you have to convince them. Make sure you have a driver so you can work your IPhone on the way to events.
  6. Be real and tell the truth – this is the big one. Trump and Obama have shown us that people are sick of the system as it exists. They are sick of polished non-answers from political leadership. Watch the West Wing scene of Jed Bartlett in NH at the beginning of his campaign. Be that candidate.
  7. Meet with the press a lot. Most political people fear the press and spend way too much time strategizing around how to avoid the press. Do the opposite. Meet with them whenever they want. Got to their offices. Shake their hands. Meet with their reporters in different venues. The press is also sick of politicians shading the truth. Tell it to them straight. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you will figure it out.
  8. Be the candidate that says – “I will always tell you the truth. You may not agree with me. But we can always have a conversation.
  9. Don’t demonize Phil Scott. Vermonters know Phil Scott is a decent person. Don’t try to make him into Trump. That will fail. Speak about your vision for the state.
  10. Get some sleep. If you do this right, it will be hard.

Future – Vermont

We spend a lot of time at Conflict thinking about the future of where we live – the small hamlet of Montpelier, VT and the future of the 802 in general. Like most rural communities, we know the trends – shrinking population, opioid addiction, rising health care costs, struggles over how to pay for public education.

We have LOTS of suggestions for how Montpelier and VT should distinguish itself from the pack and equip itself for the next generation.We will keep them coming along.

Here is a small one, but worth doing. Ask Google to optimize all downtown businesses on the web so when visitors are looking for a bed, a show or a meal, they can easily find us on their phone. They are doing it elsewhere. We can do it here.

The Circus

No – not politics. But the small but mighty Circus Smirkus in Greensboro, VT. It is here that kids from 10-17 gather for the summer and train in circus arts before hitting the road for 68 shows around New England and New York. We attended opening night and howled with laughter and feared for the performers’ safety the way parents do. This circus is the best of Vermont. You park in a farm field, bottoming out on a rock. You sit in bleachers under a tiny Big Top, erected by a local crew. Pete Johnson, the local farmer/revolutionary, is there with his daughter sitting on the ground. The circus CEO is sitting in front of us. Just behind us with the knees in our backs are locals from Craftsbury Common, making sure their little tyke doesn’t jump into the ring. But of course, Smirkus is so much more than the circus. A small group of kids, coached by adults, come together for a summer and learn about each other, the world beyond themselves, about a cause bigger than they, about teamwork, compromise. About what it takes to be a citizen.

Best part of the night? Not a cell phone in sight, anywhere. Just smiles and laughter around incredible creative hard work. (Thank you Diane Zeigler)

Second best part of the night – Driving the country road as day turns to dusk and pulling in for a late dinner at the famous Highland Lodge, overlooking Caspian Lake, a wedding over there, a local jazz trio on the porch, no reservation necessary. The hay is in the barn.