If I Were Governor

I think often about running for governor of Vermont. 

Why?

  • Because the state where I have lived for 25 years is at a dangerous fork in the road. We can take one fork toward denial, irrelevance, and decay. Or we can take the second fork toward transformation, prosperity, vitality, and resilience.
  • Because the state is stagnating. Our population is shrinking. Our young people are leaving for better jobs and cultural diversity in cities. This trend will leave us in a Vermont of under-educated dependency on the one hand and wealthy retirees on the other. 
  • Because our citizens are increasingly powerless to build lives of prosperity and happiness in the face of the global marketing machine that sells us junk without regard for our health and well-being. Facebook does not care about our privacy. Coca-Cola and McDonalds don’t care about our health. But they are happy to profit from our hard-earned dollars.
  • Because of I have something to say and a desire to give back.
  • Since World War II, we have created the most powerful economic engine in world history. It has lifted millions out of poverty and created broad opportunity. But we have reached a point where that economic engine is too powerful and creates wealth for the few and not the many. 
  • I am not talking about the Burn it Down approach or the nihilistic approach of the Trumps, or the right-wing approach of the congressional Republicans. I have too deep a reverence for the role of state government and the great people who have served to criticize past efforts.
  • I am talking about a return to a market capitalism that creates opportunity and prosperity for all – and regulated by a proper referee. It is the job of the referees to bring fairness to the market system. 
  • Our need in Vermont is to bring more of that prosperity to more people.

HOW?

By transforming this state into a modern example of resiliency in an uncertain world. 

In 1962, Phil Hoff came to office promising a new approach. Vermont was emerging from the  sleepy 50s and needed to move from the poor farm and one-room schoolhouses to a modern economy and a modern government.

So Hoff spent months rethinking how Vermont works and he delivered a new style of activist government – unified school districts and a modern welfare system. We still govern ourselves largely on that model. But the time has come to modernize what Hoff and his generation built. 

At the core of this transformation is resiliency. The climate crisis is real. In everything we do, we must build in resiliency – in our buildings, in our systems of transportation, education, natural resources, energy, and agriculture. We can no longer afford to throw up buildings along strip highways in Barre-Montpelier or Williston Road. These are failures of planning and community building. 

Act 250 must screen all projects through a resiliency lens for how a project would build community and prosperity in a climate change world. 

Our education system needs to get more resilient. Less test-taking, more critical thinking, and team-building. 

Our transportation system needs to get more resilient. Fewer roads, highways, and cars. More bike lanes and smart-transit to move us around in a quality of life we want. 

Our health care system needs to get more resilient – too many hospitals trying to do too many things. 

Our colleges need to get more resilient. Too many colleges with unclear missions vying for student dollars. 

But more than anything – we need to grow Vermont into a place where people will come to raise families and build productive lives. 

How do we do that?

A lot of good work has already been done. Stephen Kiernan’s manifesto on Vermont was a great start. It is a document I signed along with many others of diverse backgrounds and persuasions. It is here:

https://www.stephenpkiernan.com/vermont-to-the-tenth-power

The author Bill Schubart over the last five years has laid out a roadmap. Read Schubart here:

The legislature is trying mightily, although it could take a more holistic approach. And Gov. Scott has rightly sounded the alarm on what is coming if we don’t take action. 

Here is what I would do. (Phase1)

  1. Move beyond the era and thinking of no new taxes to one of investment and innovation. 
  2. Modernize our tax system to stop subsidizing 70-year-olds and outmoded farming practices. Pay for schools, services, and innovation via income – not property wealth. And tell companies that profit from selling junk food, using our natural resources or invading our privacy that they must pay for that privilege.
  3. Open Vermont to new citizens of all backgrounds. These are the next generation of entrepreneurs and job creators. The Syrians in Rutland, the Africans in Burlington/Winooski. These are the Irish and Italians and French Canadians of the last century who built Vermont. We can do that again. 
  4. Execute an economic development plan for Vermont that touts our attributes to the entire world.  This includes bragging about our paid family leave law. (Not yet passed)
  5. Get healthier. We all know our health care spending is out of control. We must revamp the system to promote health and penalize those who do us harm. Junk food companies like Coke and Pepsi are the Big Tobacco of this generation and they need to pay for the harm they do to our health. We successfully made smoking uncool in the last 20 years. Let’s do the same with the latest killer. Same with opiates.
  6. Promote women, people of color and LBGTQ friends at all levels and remove all barriers to their health and advancement. Start with removing the sales tax on menstrual products. 
  7. Reckon with large dairy farms and the damage they do. If we are going to subsidize dairy farms, let’s pay them to stop polluting and stop producing a product fewer people want.
  8. Modernize Act 250 for a climate change world.

Vermont has all the attributes it needs to become the place where people want to live and prosper. Clean air and water, human-scale communities, honest government, community-minded business leaders, real farming, arts, and a strong non-profit sector and on and on. 

Let’s put a welcome sign at each entrance to Vermont and on social media and tell the world we are open for business.  

 Oh – One more thing. Part 2 next week. Part 3 is also live.

Bernie (2)

Because I live in Vermont and work in its political ecosystem, this space will inevitably become a place for many things Bernie Sanders. We began last week with a discussion of whether he should run (yes). Today we share a post by Vermont writer Bill Schubart who raises the uncomfortable question of whether Bernie and others should give way to NextGen leaders – mentor them, fund them, but most of all give them the space to rise to the top as older leaders give way.

This question raises big questions for the coming election (talkin to you Joe Biden) and for Bernie Sanders personally. He has never been one to step aside or train leaders or build a movement. It was always the focus on the urgency of his personal message and policies and getting elected. When he is gone, what will he leave behind?

But the bottom line of Schubart’s essay here is to challenge this generation to step aside for the next. And that is a step that Bernie Sanders – by virtue of last week’s announcement – is not willing to take.

Full Schubart column below.

Aging with Grace

Astonishing what we learn from others when we listen… I was talking with a friend only a few years younger who offered a suggestion that in my self-absorption had never occurred to me.

At our advancing age, she said, it’s important for us all to make way for new leaders and thinkers. When we’re asked to speak, write, or lead an initiative, she suggested we consider suggesting a young person making their way forward in our stead. Her term was “ageing with grace.”

Former Governor Madeleine Kunin has long been a role model in her championing of younger women reaching up and out to win leadership positions, especially in politics. As we age, it’s important that we do this for all younger people, which is not to say that older people should not lead; they should, but we don’t need to take on all leadership opportunities that come our way.

Next time I’m asked to lead, serve, or express an opinion, I’ll take this advice to heart and consider whom I know who might benefit from the leadership opportunities I’ve enjoyed for so long.

Armed with this new sensibility, I cast about for others on whom I could visit my new awokeness. Almost at the same moment, I heard Bernie declare his candidacy for the presidency.

Bernie and I have known each other since our late twenties and have even worked together on occasion. I respect his politics and believe they have added greatly to the national discourse, even as I don’t always agree with his underlying logic or how he expresses himself. If Bernie were elected in 2020 at 79 he’d be the oldest serving president.

Imagine if Bernie were to take the electoral following he’s earned and the campaign war chest he’s amassed and throw his weight behind and put his imprimatur on one of the younger and more diverse presidential candidates whose progressive politics are consistent with his own.

Such an endorsement would serve several purposes. It would advance Bernie’s progressive cause, albeit in a new voice and persona, while addressing growing concerns about his age.  It would propel one of the up and coming candidates into the limelight and considerably enhance their chances of victory and the furthering of the Progressive Democratic agenda.

Finally, it would be an act of extraordinary grace and democratic commitment, reminding us that our democracy is not about any one person but rather about us all.

As individual citizens, we come and go. Our commitment must be to the enduring republic and governance principles our founders had the wisdom to create.

Bernie

Bernie Sanders announced for president today.

We Vermonters get asked a lot about Bernie Sanders – should he run? Can he win? Is it right that he run? Isn’t he too old? What’s he like?

3500

But what people really want to know is – Should he run again when all these other candidates are running? Shouldn’t he step aside? Hasn’t his window closed?

The question gets confusing and here’s why. The Internet and cable TV have made all of us into instant experts on politics/sports/culture. Suddenly we are all political prognosticators, giving our opinion as if we are David Gergen or Gloria Borger on CNN.

In the end the questions boil down to this: Can he win? AND Should he run?

The answer to the first is I don’t know. Maybe. Answer to the second is – Of COURSE he should run! Let’s all stop trying to play pundit on CNN and assess the chances of any candidate. NO ONE knows what is going to happen. Just read your political history to understand that predicting anything is a fool’s errand. No one predicted Gary Hart would flame out in 1988, or that George HW Bush would win a war and then lose to Bill Clinton with Ross Perot in the race, or that the African American guy would come out of nowhere. (Greatest person ever after Michelle BTW), or that HRC would lose to Trump. No one predicted AOC.

So do yourself a favor and stop trying to predict what will happen.

I will tell you this about Bernie Sanders from years of watching him up close. He is relentless. He has been consistent in his proposals for 30 years. He is singularly focused. He is smart. He is not interested in wealth so won’t steal. He is pragmatic and knows how to make a deal. I think he would make a good president. When the red phone thing happens at 2 a.m., he would be fine. Does he have blind spots? Sure. He despises the media and the inanities of modern politics. He is cantankerous and intolerant. Can he adapt to a younger, more demanding electorate? Maybe. Can he beat Senators Harris, Warren, Booker et al.? Don’t know. But he has been at this for a very long time and it is a mistake to underestimate him. To win, he will have to adjust to a newer world that requires different staff, different strategy choices, and the way he tells his story to voters.

This is a Democracy. Let everybody run. Our crazy, irrational sometimes corrupt system will squeeze them all through a terrible ringer and the best (MAYBE) candidate will come through.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

“In a Written Statement…”

hannes-wolf-74352-unsplash (1)

As the presidential race gets underway, it is time to focus more closely on how reporters do their jobs and how candidates run their campaigns, especially with regard to the media. It is a dicey subject to be critical of the media because they are often hamstrung by a lack of access to candidates intent on avoiding their questions.

I will get into this more deeply as we trudge forward. But for now – THIS.

Dear Media — Please make every effort to NOT accept “statements” from the people you cover. Robert Kraft has “issued a statement.” So has the NFL. So has Amy Klobuchar, Corey Booker, Trump, the owner of Twitter.

This is a classic PR tactic of avoiding the press by NOT answering questions. Bob Kraft issues a statement and then says he won’t be commenting further because it is a “judicial” situation. You publish the statement without any further followup. Kraft has now bought himself precious time to circle the wagons with his lawyers and PR people with his denial on the record.

Kraft wins. The people, including the young women he victimized, lose. At least in the short term.

As a reader, when you see the words, “in a written statement,” you should chill up a bit and realize that it was written by a PR person with lawyer help and that the statement is designed to minimize media exposure and truth-telling.

Public debate by “written statement” is cheap and lazy. Resist it. Keep demanding in-person question and answer sessions. We will all be better off.

Brady/Belichick Part 2

tom-brady-bill-belichick-celebrate

It is so much fun to “do the reading,’’ so you can get beneath the media hype and useless speculation. It’s fun to understand at a deeper level why humans act as they do, what makes them succeed or fail, what drives them to work the way they do.

I do this across all categories – sports, business, culture, politics. It is just fun to go deeper.

So it was with great glee to discover a not-famous book by Michael Lombardi called Gridiron Genius – A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL.

The book is about the two greatest coaches in NFL history – Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick. If you are interested in how Belichick does his job every day and why he is successful with the Patriots, get the book.

I have some tangential, non-important connection to Belichick, which just makes me even more interested in his work. Our high schools played each other in football. Our coaches were best friends. And Belichick can speak in detail about the single-wing offense, which dominated the college and pro game until the 1950s. I played tailback in that system, which Belichick mentioned once in a press conference to my great delight.

As everyone knows, the coach keeps things private, doesn’t share much and has little patience with absurd, uninformed media questions as in – “How important was it for you to come out strong tonight?’’

Many books have been written about the Patriots and Belichick. But he seldom cooperates. He just likes football, wants to keep doing football and doesn’t want to be distracted from football.

But every once in a while he lets the guard down. The first place he opens up is the regular Friday press conference where he is willing to talk about the history of the game, its players and strategy. These are master classes. And that is where he once mentioned the single-wing offense. It is when he memorably told a reporter that no player EVER is in the same class as the Giants great Lawrence Taylor (Agreed). The clip below is great.

https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/video/belichick-no-one-including-khalil-mack-compares-lawrence-taylor

Watch those Friday sessions and you get a good idea of how Belichick thinks about the game.

Another moment in time is the David Halbertstam book about Belichick called “The Education of a Coach.” For some reason, the coach allowed Halberstam access for a book on coaching.

But now we have another GREAT insight into Belichick in the Lombardi (no relation to Vince) book. Not only did Belichick write the Forward to the book, he clearly allowed Lombardi to use many insights he gained while working for Belichick in Cleveland for the Browns and in New England.

The book is not all about Belichick. It includes big sections about Lombardi’s time with legendary coach Bill Walsh in San Francisco. Walsh was the best coach in the NFL after Lombardi and before Belichick, winning three Super Bowls and transforming the NFL into a passing league. Walsh’s book on leadership and organization are case studies.

But then Lombardi gives us the gold, including:

  1. His word for word analysis of all Patriots playoff performances.
  2. A detailed insider look at the Patriots planning for a playoff game, day by day.
  3. A revealing nugget about how Belichick meets privately with Brady before a game – no assistant coaches, no backup QB.
  4. Why he likes to force returners to run back kickoffs.
  5. Why stretching for an extra yard is wrong.
  6. Why receivers get too much credit. (This explains why Belichick rarely spends big money to get great receivers for Brady)

And then there are some fabulous anecdotes:

  1. The time Belichick, upon meeting Lombardi, handed him a detailed analysis of every player in the Cleveland organization THE DAY HE WAS HIRED.
  2. How Belichick – as a history buff – always asks unexpected questions of his team. What’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
  3. The inside story of why Belichick wanted to trade Brady and keep Jimmy Garappolo as his quarterback of the future. He doesn’t give us the whole story, but enough to make it interesting.

The big lesson from Lombardi’s book is how Belichick keeps a relentless focus on team-building, always getting better. If he is gruff it is because he doesn’t have interest or time for anything that interferes with the goal of improvement and winning games.

The book is a great read for football and organizational junkies, mostly because Belichick must have told Lombardi it was OK to write about him and the way he does business.

Brady/Belichick

Tom Brady Bill Belichick

I’m gonna do this one at a time. Brady first.

I have spent much time swearing off football and the NFL. (As my friend Todd Bailey will point out with glee) It is too greedy, too corporate, too dishonest and most of all too dangerous. After years of playing football and a lifetime of watching it, I have sworn off everything except Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Why the hypocrisy?

Because the human story of Brady is so fascinating. How does an athletically average quarterback, given a changing cast of sometimes mediocre receivers (Reche Caldwell, Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson), bend the NFL to his will and play in his 9th Super Bowl in 18 years? How does he become the best EVER to play quarterback – EVER?

To understand Brady, you have to do the reading/watching. And you have to search for the nuggets because he doesn’t give you much. His press conferences are only slightly better than Belichick’s. But if you read and watch closely, you can learn what makes him better. This is an especially rewarding time for Brady watchers because as he nears the end of his career, he is giving more clues through endorsement decisions, interviews and what he allows to be written about him.

Start with the Facebook series he did. Tom vs. Time.

The first line is “What are you willing to give up?” That line animates Brady’s career. He works really really hard at football.

Second, watch the part where Brady studies film at home. (Hard work – do the reading)

Third, on the night before games, Brady stays with the team at the hotel, even if the game is at home. (Sacrifice for the good of the team)

Fourth – and this is the quality that sets him apart – his brain. Brady is the smartest player in the history of football. When you play quarterback, you have to process a huge amount of information in a very short period of time. Brady does this faster and smarter than anyone.

When he comes to line of scrimmage – he identifies the defense and communicates with his linemen. Then he tells the receivers and runnings backs what play they will run. He often checks OUT of that play to something else because of what he has seen. Then he runs the play and makes a professional football pass in under three seconds. The Chiefs did not sack Brady once in last night’s game.

A great example – the fourth quarter pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski down the sideline.

When Brady came to the line of scrimmage, he saw that Gronkowski was covered by a single defensive back and a small one at that. Brady immediately knew that the 6:6 Gronk had a great chance to catch a pass over the smaller defensive back.

Why, you ask, would the Chiefs leave Gronkowski single covered? Because receiver Julian Edelman had just caught several key third down passes and the Chiefs had to do something to stop him.  You cannot double-cover everyone. So Brady went to Gronkowski successfully.

Now – lots of NFL quarterbacks can see that defensive vulnerability and execute the pass under immense pressure. But none can do it as well as Brady.

Brady is the GOAT (greatest of all-time) because he combines a dedication to craft, a sacrifice for the good of the whole and a mental processing speed in ways other players do not. That’s it.

Next up? Belichick.

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.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jasonleopold/trump-russia-cohen-moscow-tower-mueller-investigation

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

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 9.01.35 PM

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

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 9.08.16 PM.png

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:

https://www.timesargus.com/obituaries/scott-skinner/article_399b8747-56ad-5d84-a171-33a583814936.html

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

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 9.09.58 PM.png

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. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/obituaries/hal-greer-hall-of-fame-jump-shooter-for-76ers-is-dead-at-81.html

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.