Monday, August 31, 2009

If Eric Holder's inquiry into...

...the CIA's interrogation methods "offends the hell out of " Dick Cheney, then the Attorney General is probably on the right track.

Yesterday was the first truly...

...autumn-like day in Chicago. It was sunny, dry, the sky was bright blue, and there was a bit of a nip to the air. I even had to change into jeans mid-way through the day--the first time I'd put on a pair of long pants in almost two months.

My wife and I saw the movie "Julie & Julia," which is about two of my favorite things, blogging and food. It was a good flick and I even enjoyed Meryl Streep's performance, although I still can't decide if she was acting or just doing a Julia Child impression.

Ted Kennedy was finally buried on Saturday and all of his mourners have presumably gone home. As I watched TV off and on last week and listened to all of the tributes, I had to ask myself if his death was really that big of a deal outside of Washington and Massachusetts. After all, he was a senator and his funeral seemed like that of a former president. I don't remember Nixon or Ford getting that big of a send-off. He was obviously well-liked by everyone who knew him, on both sides of the aisle, but I wonder if he was as important to the residents of Arizona or Nevada, say, as he was to his colleagues, like John McCain and Orrin Hatch. He had evolved into such a Washington insider that it was as if someone from your workplace died--important to you and your co-workers but all but invisible to everyone else. The Kennedys just seem to me to be so yesterday, like the Roosevelts or the Rockefellers. I can't believe they're that relevant to anyone under the age of 40. It's been at least that many years since Jack and Bobby died, and almost 30 since Ted challenged Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination for president. Since then we've had Reagan, two Bushes, the Clintons, and now Obama. The Kennedys and their dynasty must seem like ancient history to so much of America.

Plans are firming up in my mind for the first annual Boring Old White Guy Dinner, which in this case may be just a lunch. Since I began this blog last October, I'm thinking of meeting outside Jim's Original and the Express Grill (they're right next to each other) on Maxwell Street on October 3. It's the first Saturday of the month and, weather permitting (there's no inside seating), I thought I'd be down there between 11am and 1pm and buy lunch for any followers of this blog who can make it that day. If the forecast calls for rain we'll just have to go to alternate Plan B (which doesn't exist just yet).

Oh, and St. Rita beat Portage (Ind.), 35-20.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I've mentioned Gail Collins before... one of my new favorite columnists. She's really funny and today's piece is a good example:

No. 2 Wheaton Warrenville South...

...upset No. 1 Hinsdale Central, 34-26. Or, as the Sun-Times would have it, No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South held off No. 3 Hinsdale Central. Or maybe the Sun-Times just beat the Tribune. Whatever. The stage is now set for WWS to travel to No. 4 (or No. 2) Maine South next Friday for what will surely be the game of the week. (I'll take the home team Hawks, who were victorious in their opener against Schaumburg, 64-35.)

In other games of interest, Glenbrook South defeated Minooka, 38-14; Loyola beat Evanston, 23-7; and Fenwick blanked Rock Island, 32-0.

Elsewhere in the state, No. 8 Mt. Carmel beat Simeon, 53-27; No. 9 Joliet Catholic defeated Carmel, 19-16; No. 10 Providence lost to Lincoln-Way East, 28-7; and No. 19 Brother Rice fell to No.20 Morgan Park, 32-10. St. Rita plays Portage (Ind.) today.

Oh, and Big Foot beat Harvard, 48-7 (at least that's what the Trib said). I guess the old beast got bored out in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and flew into Boston and took those Ivy Leaguers to school while everyone else was distracted by Ted Kennedy's funeral.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How cynical is that ad above...

...about the Republican Health Care Bill of Rights for Seniors? Do you think the GOP is playing to their fears? Obviously, I have no control over the ads that Google runs on this blog.

I got a mailing from Google...

...concerning my earnings to date from this blog. It's well over $17.00 now. Remember, if you're an official follower you will be eligible to attend the annual dinner that I am planning to throw with the money I earn from this endeavor. So far it looks like, after taxes, it will be Vienna hot dogs. (At this rate I may even have to borrow from next fiscal year's projected earnings to make up the shortfall.) But I can assure you it will be well worth the effort on your part to attend. There will be plenty of lively conversation and much fellowship. Stay tuned for details.

I just saw on MSNBC...

...that tens of thousands of mourners are paying their respects to the memory of Ted Kennedy. I've often wondered, though, just how much satisfaction a person can really get from walking slowly past someone else's flag-draped coffin. After all, how do they even know if his body is really in there? It's not like you get to shake his hand or anything. What if it's just an empty box?

According to the most recent issue...

...of Dartmouth Life, the College "will break ground on a new Visual Arts Center in 2010 thanks to an anonymous Dartmouth family who in June made a $50 million commitment, the largest gift in the College's history." In case anyone was wondering, it wasn't us.

I have a suggestion...

...for filling vacant senate seats. Why not make it the custom to have governors appoint elder statesman-types to serve out the previous senator's term with the understanding that they not run for reelection? I've heard Michael Dukakis's name mentioned as a replacement for Ted Kennedy. He'd be the perfect person to serve out Kennedy's term while the other prospective candidates begin jockeying for position.

There's a blurb on Yahoo...

...about USC's first freshman starting quarterback,,185592

and it just reminds me of how good and how deep Southern Cal is year in and year out. (And what an incredible coach and recruiter is Pete Carroll.) I still don't think Florida could have beat the Trojans in a BCS final last year; I think USC stands alone in some Triple-A-like tier between the NFL and the NCAA. Just take Matt Cassel for example: he's good enough to start for the Patriots but not the Trojans!

I was going to wait a little longer... bring this up, but after reading Eric Zorn's column today in the Chicago Tribune,

well, here goes: If a commoner (like you or me) did what Ted Kennedy did on Chappaquiddick today, we'd find ourselves in jail.

Lieutenant William Calley... in the news, this time for breaking his 38-year silence and apologizing for the My Lai massacre in 1968. (You youngsters can Google it and find out what I'm talking about.) I always thought of Calley as a convenient scapegoat for those in power who put other people's kids in harm's way. I'm not excusing Calley's behavior, of course, but I think it's a reminder that we need to be very, very careful about sending young men (and women) off to war. It doesn't always end well.

I've often wondered how well I'd do in battle and I'm afraid the answer is: not very. It sounds terrifying! I just don't think I'd react well to having strangers shooting at me. So I can only imagine what it would be like to be an 18- or 19-year old, fresh out of high school (whose friends are off at college drinking beer), who's probably never been away from home or even traveled much, and is asked to carry a gun in a far-off, hostile environment (like Iraq or Afghanistan). Adding to that, people are shooting at you and killing or injuring your fellow soldiers, sometimes with booby-traps or IEDs. You're probably homesick, sleep-deprived, scared, constantly on edge, and now looking for vengeance. How well should we expect a kid like that to handle all of this? Of course abuses are going to happen. That's why we need to think long and hard before we send young people off to war and only then as a last resort and only when it's absolutely necessary--definitely not so leaders who avoided the draft when they were young can strut around and call themselves "War Presidents." (Don't even get me started on vice presidents who had five deferments and think they are president.) So if we do send teenagers off to war, we shouldn't be too surprised if they don't always conduct themselves perfectly. Punish them accordingly, but remember who sent them there in the first place.

Reading about the Kennedys... a little like listening to the Beatles. Could there possibly be anything you don't already know?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Chicago Tribune...

...ranks Hinsdale Central, last year's Class 8A runner-up, as its number 1 pre-season football team. The Red Devils will open up tomorrow against number 2-ranked Wheaton Warrenville South in what will surely be the game of the week. (The Tigers are ranked number 1 in the Chicago Sun-Times poll while Hinsdale Central comes in at number 3.)

Before Ted Kennedy died...

...the Democrats had 60 seats in the Senate--on paper. But if Kennedy couldn't even attend his sister's funeral in Hyannis this month then it's doubtful that he could have made it to Washington to vote on health care legislation. So that made the real number 59. Now if Robert Byrd is too sick to vote that makes the current number only 58. Even with a replacement appointed to fill Kennedy's seat the real number is still only 59--one vote shy of a filibuster-proof majority. Michael Grunwald writes in Time magazine:

Democrats on Capitol Hill might be better off keeping Kennedy's seat empty — and then using the sympathy generated by his death as an excuse to ram through health-care legislation by majority vote.

As a bald man...

...I really don't have a lot to say on the subject of hair, except that it's tremendously overrated. So I only skimmed this article on African-American hair:

But one paragraph did catch my eye:

Anyone who thought such preconceptions were outdated would have been reminded otherwise by some negative reactions to the president’s 11-year-old daughter, Malia Obama, who wore her hair in twists while in Rome this summer. Commenters on the conservative blog Free Republic attacked her as unfit to represent America for stepping out unstraightened.

I actually visited that blog briefly (it was pretty scary), and it only reinforced the impression I have that some people in this country--plain and simply--aren't comfortable with a black family in the White House. To which a therapist would probably say: "That's your issue."

If you read The Wall Street Journal...

...or watch Fox, you probably think that the Canadian health care system is a disaster. And maybe it is. As I've mentioned before, my experience with our neighbors to the north is strictly limited to the Toronto airport. But here's another piece about the Canadian system that you may find interesting:

I've always been skeptical...

...of the tales of all the Europeans and Canadians who are constantly traveling to the U. S. for our superior health care. Is that really true or is it mostly myth? I can't decide. I don't recall hearing a lot of "oots" and "aboots" the last time I went to see my doctor, but then again, I can't remember the last time I went to see my doctor. In Dominick Dunne's obituary in the Times today it mentions that:

In the past year Mr. Dunne traveled to the Dominican Republic and Germany for experimental stem-cell treatments to fight his cancer, at one point writing that he and the actress Farrah Fawcett, who died in June, were in the same Bavarian clinic.

Maybe rich people really do go abroad for certain medical treatments that are unavailable in their own countries.

Still not sure...

...about health care reform? Satisfied with your health insurance? Afraid of a government takeover of health care? Read this:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meanwhile, in the GOP...

...Sarah Palin is urging her followers to watch Glenn Beck:

And Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint are lecturing former University of Chicago constitutional law professor Barack Obama on the United States Constitution:

Oh, and Bachmann also said that "prayer and fasting will help defeat health care reform." How exactly would a prayer like that sound? "Dear God, please don't let poor people get access to health care. Amen."

Just when I thought...

...I knew everything there was to know about hot dogs, along comes a Mexican variety:

The article says that "the best hot dogs come from Sonora," the Mexican state immediately south of Tucson. "Everybody knows that." (I didn't.) Apparently the Mexican version of that old stand-by is wrapped in bacon and served on a roll that's a little more substantial than the ones we're used to. After that it seems that all bets are off. You can top it with beans, tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise, mustard, salsa verde, ketchup, crumbled potato chips, cucumbers in sour cream, crumbled chorizo, and even guacamole puree. Sounds good (except for the mayo; that's just wrong).

They say you learn something new every day. Looks like I can go back to bed now. But before I do, when is the next flight to Tucson?

Larry David once famously asked...

..."Couldn't anybody play the bongos?" I thought of that this morning when I read the obituary of a tap-dancer named Ernest Brown, or Brownie, as he was called. (Tap-dancers seem to have their own unique brand of names: Regio the Hoofer, Bill Bojangles Robinson, Charles Cookie Cook, and Howard Sandman Slims, to name a few.) It always looks to me like tap-dancers are just randomly moving their feet really fast and smiling a lot. Couldn't anybody do that?

Looks like Attorney General...

...Eric Holder is going ahead with an inquiry into the CIA's interrogation practices during the Bush administration. I agree with President Obama that it would be better to just move on and focus on the future. The danger is that an investigation could fan partisan flames (as if they're not already fanned) and distract attention from his agenda. I can also practically hear the Republicans saying that these particular abuses "weren't really so bad" and besides, it could set a dangerous precedent to criminalize the previous administration's policy. But this goes beyond mere policy. As former CIA agent Bob Baer and others have pointed out, the activity in question was clearly illegal. And if laws were in fact broken, then the lawbreakers must be held accountable, even if it extends all the way up to the White House. After all, if President Clinton could be impeached for lying under oath about a consensual relationship with another adult, surely abuses of this kind should at least be looked into.

Canada's health care system... often cited as an example of the last thing in the world that Americans should want. Republicans usually squint their eyes and point accusingly as they practically spit out, "Do you want a Canadian-style single-payer health care system?" It's almost as if they're asking, "How would you like it if I slashed your tires right about now?"

My experience with Canada only extends as far as the Toronto airport, so I have no idea what Canadian health care is really like. And it seems like every time I ask someone about it I get a different answer. I do know, however, that the Canadian single-payer system is virtually identical to Medicare, which is wildly popular among seniors (and many doctors). It seems that at least in this case it's better to have a government bureaucrat coming between a patient and his doctor than an insurance company bureaucrat. Go figure.

In today's New York Times, an editorial cites a recent study by the Urban Institute which found that:

Contrary to what one hears in political discourse, the bulk of the research comparing the United States and Canada found a higher quality of care in our northern neighbor. Canadians, for example, have longer survival times while undergoing renal dialysis and after a kidney transplant. Of 10 studies comparing the care given to a broad range of patients suffering from a diverse group of ailments, five favored Canada, three yielded mixed results, and only two favored the United States.

At the very least, the piece describes the comparison of the two systems as a "mixed bag." (The bills before Congress don't even consider a single-payer system; it's thought to be a political non-starter.) But keep this in mind the next time someone tells you that a single-payer system like Canada's (or Medicare) would be such a terrible thing.

Ted Kennedy's death...

...will change the whole tone of the health care debate. In the days and weeks ahead, family members and supporters will be talking about how much Kennedy wanted reform and public opinion could change. Senators who are opposed may suddenly find themselves in danger of being seen as not properly honoring his memory. Look for the rallying cry in Washington to be "Let's pass this one for Ted."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Once again, Paul Waldman...

...cuts through all the clutter, this time to outline a plausible scenario for the public option's success:

I once heard John McCain referred to... the Senator from Meet the Press. You have to admit, he sure loves appearing on those Sunday morning talk shows! And the shows must love having him. Either that or they just can't find anyone else who loves to hear himself talk so much that he's willing to get up early on his day off, put on a coat and tie and drive downtown to the studios. I have to admit I thought things would be a little different after his disastrous performance in the 2008 election. You know, the almost obsessive preoccupation with all those Mickey Mouse earmarks while the economy teetered on the brink of another Great Depression; the irrational determination to make the Iraq War an even greater quagmire than Vietnam; and finally the impulsive and truly irresponsible selection of the least qualified running mate in history. Shouldn't he do us all a favor and just apologize and retire, or at least go to church or brunch or play golf on Sunday mornings? But no, McCain just can't seem to stay away from the camera, no matter how silly he sounds sometimes. Just this past week, he told George Stephanopoulos that it was Ted Kennedy's absence that was holding up health care reform. (Never mind Republican intransigence.) To a guy who's made a career out of being More Patriotic Than Thou, I say "Please John--for the sake of your country--go away for a while."

Megan McArdle is a libertarian...

...who writes for the Atlantic. Here she gives a libertarian defense of the bank bailout (what?):

While the Chicago Tribune... releasing its Illinois high school football rankings one at a time, the Sun-Times published its full rankings last week:

Wheaton Warrenville South comes in at Number 1, Maine South 2, Mount Carmel 4, St. Rita 6, Providence 11, Brother Rice 17, and Loyola 19. That means that five out of the six teams in the Catholic Blue conference are ranked.

So far the Trib has St. Rita 3, Maine South 4, Mount Carmel 8, and Brother Rice 19. Stay tuned for updates.

How about a shout-out... Jim Tracy on his birthday! (I won't tell you how old he is.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The lead editorial in the Sunday...

...New York Times is usually the most important thing to read in a given week. If you can get to nothing else (and I realize that some people actually have lives), it's the one piece I would recommend as a rule. Yesterday's concerned the number and description of the uninsured in America. The number 47 million is usually bandied about as the sum of the uninsured, and I have to confess I have no idea how many people are or are not covered in America. But I doubt if anyone else does, either. I certainly wouldn't trust the editors of The Wall Street Journal, who are shameless at cherry-picking information to support their agenda. They would maintain that the number is much lower than commonly thought, to which I would reply, "Fine. Then cover everybody; what's the big deal?" I'll leave it to others to opine on why the Journal is so resistant to the idea of covering the uninsured. I'll assume the best: that their reluctance stems from their inability to reexamine their assumptions of how the world works. That's okay; it's a lot to ask of anyone. But just don't use it as an excuse not to do the right thing. The link is below and I'll admit it's a little dry. So I included the final paragraph, which is the most important part of it anyway.

If nothing is done to slow current trends, the number of people in this country without insurance or with inadequate coverage will continue to spiral upward. That would be a personal tragedy for many and a moral disgrace for the nation. It is also by no means cost-free. Any nation as rich as ours ought to guarantee health coverage for all of its residents.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'll be at an undisclosed location...

...this weekend (out of pocket, if you will), so BOWG may go dark for a few days. But don't be alarmed (or too relieved), as I'll be back on Monday morning with some fresh rantings in regard to the World According to Me.

I love Starbuck's...

...and I'm not embarrassed to admit it. But I noticed in the newspaper today that in response to a five percent decrease in same-store sales, the coffee chain is raising its prices on some of its more sugary concoctions by as much as 8 percent (it's actually lowering prices on some of its more popular beverages).

I buy Starbuck's already ground at the grocery store so this doesn't affect me personally. But I'll be watching this strategy to see how well it works in an economic downturn; it sounds a little counter-intuitive to me. (Experts appear to be divided on its prospect for success.)

Morgan Stanley is said... be in the market to hire as many as 400 people for sales and trading positions. What a difference a year makes!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tom Ridge is in the news...

...for his new book, The Test of our Times. He's a combat veteran with a reputation for being an intelligent and moderate grown-up. His resume includes 12 years in the House of Representatives, Governor of Pennsylvania (a large, northeastern/midwestern state with 21 electoral votes coveted by both parties) and cabinet-level experience in the Bush White House. Why don't the Republicans nominate someone like him for president? Because he's a pro-choice Catholic? Seriously, they'd rather go with a Sarah Palin or a Mike Huckabee?

You know it's a sad day...

...when you run out of Dalmatia fig spread :(

(That's the first time I've ever used one of those emoticons.)

It's that time of year...

...again. Glenbrook South opens up its football season next Friday night, August 28, at home against Minooka. GBS should come out on top, although 2009 is expected to be a building year for the Titans. You can follow me on Twitter for updates from the stands. Who's Minooka?

According to Coach Mike Noll, the Titans run a "West Coast Wing-T" offense, whatever that is. He goes on to say that theirs is "one of the last systems to use a tight end and fullback." Is that a good thing?

Coach Noll is also known for his Yogi Berra-isms. One example is, "If it's not yours, it doesn't belong to you."

Oh, and the Titans' punter's name is Andy Legge.

In the interest of serving... many of my readers as possible, I should mention that Loyola Academy and Fenwick High School will also be opening their football seasons on August 28. The Ramblers will be traveling to Evanston, which should be an easy victory for the Wilmette squad. And the Friars, who one of my cousins has urged me to "show some love" will also be on the road, to Rock Island High School. Fenwick should emerge victorious, but I would caution them not to be overconfident. After all, the Rocks are the defending champs of the Western Big Six Conference and probably don't take too kindly to invaders from the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You know it's time... go back to school when your son is watching "The History of Barbecuing" on the History Channel. That's not the same as grilling, apparently, although I don't know exactly why since I haven't seen the show. (But I did ask him to record it.)

This is a good...

...reality check.

Brett Favre will be 40 years old... October. I'm, well, I'm a little older than that. Okay, I'm 51--but a young 51! (51 is the new 41, you know.) Now I'll concede that even at age 40, Favre is probably a better quarterback than I ever was (honest). But what I've often wondered is, at what point did he surpass me? When he was five I was sixteen--I'll bet I was better. When he was 10 I was 21--still better. But when he was 15 and I was 26, well, that's getting a little dicey. Same with Michael Jordan. I was five when he was born, so for at least a few years there I was the better basketball player.

Warren Buffett's piece... today's New York Times is getting a lot of attention, in part because of his warning that the federal deficit will climb to 13 percent of GDP this year, more than twice the non-wartime record (my emphasis). While he acknowledges that the spending was necessary to avoid a depression, it gives further voice to the tea bag-types who are complaining so loudly about the government's actions in the last year. It's kind of like rescuing a drowning man and having him complain afterwards that you hurt his arm when you yanked him out of the water.

Oh, and the modern-day record for the deficit was 30 percent of GDP at the end of World War II. It pulled the U. S. out of the Depression, did not result in hyperinflation, and led to the great prosperity of the 1950s and '60s.

At a town hall meeting yesterday... Massachusetts, Audrey Steele, 82, from New Bedford, said she does not want the government to get involved with health care because "they just make a mess of everything." Does that include Medicare?

I'm all for Brett Favre...

...joining the Minnesota Vikings. As a very, very casual pro football fan, it makes things more interesting. He'll be back at Lambeau Field on November 1--in a Vikings uniform.

A good article...

...about co-ops:

Carly Fiorina... expected to run for the Republican nomination for the Senate from California in 2010. Ms. Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlitt-Packard for six years and walked away with $45 million after presiding over a 58% decline in the price of the company's stock. I don't want to pick on her too much; after all, her timing wasn't the best--she took the reigns in 1999, right before the tech bubble burst. But it does make me wonder about the impact a CEO really has on a company and its stock price, and if these eye-popping pay packages are really warranted. Couldn't HP have promoted someone from within for less money to preside over a 58% decline in the price of the stock? Would the company have done much worse if somebody else had just sat in her office with the door closed and their feet up on the desk?

"Democrats Seem Set... go Alone on a Health Bill," is the lead headline in the New York Times this morning. The first paragraph says that:

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

The Party of "No" won't cooperate with the Democrats? As my older boy would say, "Shocker!" Shouldn't it be obvious by now that the Republican strategy has been to oppose Obama and the Democrats at every turn and just hope and pray that the economy doesn't recover by 2010 or 2012? At least Rush Limbaugh was honest about it. I wonder if this is how the Whigs achieved a permanent majority?

If the alternative to reform... health care is the status quo and you think that the status quo is sustainable, you really should read this sobering article written by a professor from Princeton. If you think there's a third alternative, say a market-based one put forth by some Republican like Paul Ryan (which is actually a good plan), ask yourself why the GOP has never proposed one in the 20 out of the last 29 years that they've controlled the White House. Here's a hint: they don't want reform.

In this age of Sarah Palin and the Common Man, it's helpful to listen to the people in this debate who really are experts, not just the guy sitting on the bar stool next to you (or the guy in his bathrobe writing a blog). This should be required reading for all those who protested at the town halls.

By the way, two other experts on the subject worth reading are Ezra Klein in the Washington Post and Jonathan Cohn in the New Republic.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Anthony Weiner... a Democratic Congressman from New York and is hitting my radar more and more. He was on Morning Joe and Hardball today, advocating for a Canadian-style, single-payer system, or as we would call it, Medicare. (This is distinct from socialized medicine, which is what they have in the U. K. The difference is that in Britain the state owns the hospitals, employs the doctors and nurses, and delivers health care.) I was very impressed. Weiner (and yes, he pronounces it the wrong way) asked Joe Scarborough three times, if the private insurers keep 30 cents out of every health care dollar spent and Medicare keeps less than a dime, what value exactly is it that those firms are adding for the profits they earn? When you do business with Microsoft, they provide software; Honda, automobiles; a law firm, legal services. But health insurers don't provide health care or any other value to the transaction that Medicare can't provide for less. And health insurers are taking more and more out each year. How? By denying claims and services. (I wonder if that's why so many of these people at these town halls are so angry. Maybe they're just blaming the wrong people.) So Weiner asks, why not just open up Medicare to all?

Watch for this guy; he's a real up-and-comer.

Muhammad Ali...

...was one of the greatest boxers of all time. He had a strategy, called the "rope-a-dope," in which he would rest against the ropes while his opponent would swing wildly at him. After a few rounds of this, Ali would take the offensive against his tired opponent and a knock-out would often follow. The betting usually centered around how many rounds it would take.

I'm reminded of this by the beating that Obama is taking from the Republicans in the month of August. It has definitely been a difficult time for the president, and the GOP could be thought of as taking the round on points. While they're swinging away at him through the angry mobs at town halls, I can't help thinking how much Obama resembles Ali and his "rope-a-dope" strategy. Come September, Congress will be back in Washington and all the misinformation and distortions should have run their course by then. No one will be talking about "death panels." The time will then be ripe for the president to get off the ropes and take the offensive. He'll remind the Democrats that they have majorities in both the Senate and the House and that failure to pass health care legislation is not an option. In 1994, the last time the Democrats squandered this opportunity, they were turned out of office. My guess is that a bill will be passed by Christmas.

Ronald Reagan was elected...

...president in 1980, succeeding Jimmy Carter, an unpopular president who was seen to be out of his depth. After a shaky first year-and-a-half, Reagan's stimulus bill (in the form of a massive tax cut) kicked in and the economy recovered. In 1984, the Democrats ran Walter Mondale, Carter's running mate in the previous election. An ideologue who was the darling of the party's base, Mondale went down to a crushing defeat. The popular vote was about 59% to 41% and Mondale could only manage to carry his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia. Barack Obama has called Reagan a "transformational" president.

A new poll out has Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate in the last election, leading the pack for the Republican nomination for 2012. She's an ideologue and the darling of her party's base.

In a hypothetical general election match up against President Obama, Palin gets crushed 56 to 33. Other than winning Republicans by a margin of 73-20, Palin loses to Obama in every other data cut: by region, income, education, race, age, and gender.

Monday, August 17, 2009

This just in from Joe...

...There are good names, too.

Discouraged about... care reform? Don't be. Take a deep breath and read this article.

The Financial Times...

...began charging readers for access to its Web site in 2002. Now it's...

...adding to its paid-content strategy with a plan to accept micropayments for individual articles, as an alternative to a subscription. revenue has fallen sharply at The Financial Times...probably down at least 20 percent compared with last year...last month operating profit had fallen 40 percent in the first half of the year, with revenue down 13 percent...

The print circulation has also fallen, with sales in June down 7 percent from a year earlier, to about 412,000 copies. has not attracted a huge paying audience, with about 117,000 worldwide, up from 101,000 in 2007.

In this environment they're going to erect pay walls? Good luck with that. I don't know about you, but I didn't like logging in even when it was free. It just wasn't worth the trouble and I could never remember my password anyway. There's just so much free content on the Web that I don't see how pay walls could ever work. It's hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Does the FT really think its product is that great, or unique? What about The Wall Street Journal, you might ask? I wonder how many of their current subscribers would continue to subscribe if their employers didn't pay for those subscriptions. And I wonder how many of those employers would continue to pay for those subscriptions if they didn't get to write them off as a business expense. The free-market bible is government subsidized? Ouch.

The first bad name of the week...

...belongs to Budd Bugatch, which is pronounced "Boo-gatch." He's a Managing Director at Raymond James & Associates. He's also the Director of Furnishings Research. Furnishings Research? That sounds a little niche-y, doesn't it?

While the public option...

...took a beating this weekend from Obama, Sebelius, and Conrad, my guess is that dropping it would be a last-ditch effort to craft a bipartisan bill in the Senate. If that doesn't work, I wonder if they'll just reinsert it and ram the bill through the Senate on a reconciliation vote. I could live with either one, especially if a "coop" is just the public option in disguise. As Rahm Emanuel has said, “The only nonnegotiable principle here is success. Everything else is negotiable.”

It's hard to be intimidated... a hurricane named "Bill."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

When I worked at the Merc...

...I was always aware of the differences between the guys who grew up in the city and those of us who grew up in the suburbs. "City kids" had infinitely more street smarts than us "suburban kids." I was always so impressed with how well they navigated through the world and were never taken advantage of. They talked fast, were quick to size things up and always seemed to be gaming the system somehow. I, on the other hand, considered myself to be the most naive person in the world. When I was on the trading floor I'm sure I was only aware of about 10% of what was happening around me. I might as well have had a cane and a seeing eye dog.

But city kids had their own ways of being naive. It never ceased to amaze me at how gullible some city kids could be. One guy, for example, bought a condo in Chicago for a Las Vegas stripper that was "in love with him." They were always talking about conspiracies, too. City kids were convinced that everything was "fixed." I always thought it came from a sense of powerlessness and an inability to control their environment. I'll never forget how stunned one guy was when he learned that the U. S. wasn't holding Saddam Hussein captive until just before the 2004 election. I'll bet he's still numb from the shock.

But the best example of city kid naivety was their undying belief in their ability to beat the odds in Las Vegas. It was simple really. All you had to do was walk into a casino, find the "hot table" and know when to "walk away" when the time was right. Simple in conception, maybe; difficult only in execution. But it would only be a matter of time before they would master this art and then the money would really start rolling in. So down to Las Vegas they went, sometimes quarterly, and each time miraculously breaking even, or at least making enough to "pay for the trip." I always thought it was odd that people like Steve Wynn kept building hotel/casinos when the house could only expect to break even at best. He must have grown up in the suburbs.

I remember listening to their stories of how well they did at the tables and it was all I could do not to shake my head at how such street smart guys could be so foolish. I wanted so much just to tell them that it was okay to pay money to go to Las Vegas, pretend you're Frank Sinatra for the weekend, play a little craps, ogle the women, and wait in long lines to eat at restaurants that already had locations just a few miles from your house. But don't kid yourself; it's entertainment. It's no different than going to a Bears game or a movie or any other vacation. It costs money and you should expect to come home with less of it than you had when you left. But what did I know? I was too stupid to realize that the government had faked the whole moon landing.

When it comes to hypocrisy...

...Johnny Isakson, Republican senator from Georgia, puts Chuck Grassley to shame:

Turns out that Barbara Mikulski, Democrat from Maryland, insisted the amendment be changed to voluntary.

Is Miley Cyrus...

...the next Britney Spears? Is she already? Will she handle fame any better or is the writing on the wall?

I took my sons to Max's Delicatessen... Highland Park last weekend. (You've got to try the chocolate egg cream; it's to die for.) You know you're in the right place when three Irish guys can double the Gentile population just by walking through the front door.

I watched Obama speak yesterday... the town hall in Montana. And all I could think was, how could you not like this guy?

How did a one-time card-carrying Libertarian...

...end up voting for Barack Obama in 2008? Good question, but not an easy one to answer in a short blog posting. Mine was a long evolutionary journey that began with reading Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative in high school and casting my first vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1976 Minnesota Republican caucus. The journey's latest chapter (it never ends) concerns the financial crisis of 2008.

On St. Patrick's Day of last year, the sale of Bear Stearns was arranged by the Fed much in the same way that the bailout of Long-Term Capital Management was supervised in 1998. On the one hand, I was offended as a free-market, libertarian True Believer. On the other, I knew just enough about the financial markets to know that they had evolved in such a way that a default on Bear's counter-party transactions would have far-reaching consequences. So my internal dialogue was a debate between the moral hazard of saving a failing firm and the overriding goal of preventing financial chaos. Okay, I figured, but just this once!

Then things got worse; much worse. Apparently, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Citigroup, Bank of America, and AIG (among others) were in trouble. The failure of any one of those alone would dwarf the failure of a Bear, Stearns. So the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke (one of the foremost experts on the Great Depression), and the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson (former CEO of Goldman, Sachs, probably the premier Wall Street firm of our time) said that the U. S. government had to bail out these firms to avoid an economic collapse. Now I've been a professional Know-it-All all my life (just ask anyone who knows me), but when these two guys tell me that action is required (and I know just enough about the financial markets to agree with them), I have to defer to their judgement (I'm sure they were relieved to hear that).

Then in September, Lehman Brothers got into trouble and the Dynamic Duo decided to let them go bankrupt. Again, I'm just a casual observer of the financial markets, but people whose judgement I respect say that that was one of the worst decisions ever made and resulted in a serious gaze into the abyss. Now if a bankruptcy like Lehman could be that dangerous, imagine a failure of a Citigroup or an AIG. It could possibly have led to chaos or another Great Depression. As people are fond of saying nowadays, you can't prove a counterfactual, but I really would rather not debate policy with a Bernanke or a Paulson. (I could hold my own with either of them in a debate over the best Chicago hot dog, but that's about as far as I'd like to take it.)

Which brings us to August, 2009, when many economists are saying that the Great Recession may be bottoming out. Time will tell. But if it has, and if it did because of the massive government intervention in the economy in 2008 and '09, then clearly the government has a legitimate role to play. The whole idea of free-markets and creative destruction may make sense in an economics classroom or in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, but I live in the real world. And the real world is messier than an economics textbook would have you believe.

During the crisis of '08 I was talking on the phone to an old libertarian friend. He insisted on calling me "Comrade." My response was, "Don't call me Comrade; call me Confused." I'm okay with that. The universe is a mysterious place and most of us die without ever understanding the vast majority of it. Strict free-market capitalism is simple to understand and apply. It's very Black-and-White. But reality isn't simple; it would be great if it was. Instead it comes in infinite shades of grey. So I think you have to keep your thinking flexible. It's human nature to embrace an ideology in which everything fits nicely and neatly. It's comforting to think that you have a handle on things. But it's illusory--it just ain't that simple.

No less of a free-marketeer (and one-time Ayn Rand disciple) as Alan Greenspan testified before Congress in October of last year. He said essentially that he had found a flaw in the ideology that he had been operating under for 40 years. He also said that as the facts change, he will change with them. To me, admitting that before the rest of the world was the height of intellectual courage.

At the risk of turning this blog...

...into nothing more than a linking service, I have to recommend this article by Eric Zorn from the Chicago Tribune:

I think he makes a great Everyman's moral argument for health care reform. I could have written it myself (although not as well), except for the part about health care as a "right." Rights to me include the rights to free speech, religion, etc. that were clearly spelled out by the Founding Fathers. I don't think health care is a "right" any more than access to public education, electricity, or clean water are "rights." But I do think it would be scandalous to live in an America where 47 million people didn't have those things. It wouldn't be America to me; it would be like some developing country with haves and have-nots. I wouldn't want to live in an America like that.

It reminds me of a recent article in The Economist about Texas:

Texas has the highest proportion of people lacking health insurance of all 50 states; the third-highest poverty rate; the second-highest imprisonment rate; the highest teenage-birth rate; the lowest voter turnout; and the lowest proportion of high-school graduates...Texas spends less on each of its citizens than does any other state. Being a low-tax, low-spend state has not made Texans rich, though they are not dirt-poor either; their median income ranks 37th among the 50 states.

Speaking as someone who has been very fortunate all of my life (it began with being born in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century as opposed to, say, Darfur), if I were a resident of Texas, I would rather sacrifice some of that good fortune to see that some of that inequality was reduced.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Probably the best article...

...I've read all week.

Probably the second-best article...

...I've read all week. Where's this guy Waldman been all my life?

Here's an idea...

...that I'm hearing more and more. Why not just open up Medicare to all? Everyone understands it and seniors and doctors seem to like it. And that way Obama gets a single-payer system like Canada after all. What about private insurance? You can keep it. Every other country--including the U. K.--has private insurance as well.

I wonder if Chuck Grassley...

...reads Time magazine.

One of my neighbors... a partner at a downtown law firm. One morning he was telling me about the difficulty his firm was having with some of their clients. It seems that they were balking at paying their bills on time. He said they often call back and ask about this item or that item until he finally says, "If that's all that's bothering you then just deduct that from the bill and pay the rest!"

"Makes sense," I said. "Does it work?"

"Hell, no! Mike, you have to understand: they don't want to pay their bill. They're just using those as excuses."

I'll be darned.

I'm reminded of this story by the current debate over health care reform and some of the objections being raised by its opponents. The latest one is this distortion over the "end of life" proposals; you know, the "death panels" that Sarah Palin dreamed up in her pretty little head. While Chuck Grassley said yesterday that they had been dropped from consideration, I'm tempted to ask (like my neighbor), "If we dropped all of the offending pieces of this legislation, would you then be in favor of health care reform? Because the current system isn't working for most people." And I can't help thinking that the answer would still be "no." Because, like my neighbor's clients, they're just making excuses. They don't want health care reform. Either it runs counter to their ideology or it offends their lobbyists or it stands in the way of their path back to power. So let's be clear: there ain't no way, no how that some of these people are ever going to vote for health care reform.

Senator Johnny Isakson...

...Republican of Georgia, on July 7 added an amendment to the health care bill being written by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that would allow people to use a new long-term care benefit "to obtain assistance in formulating their own living will and durable power of attorney."

A little over a month later, on August 10, in an interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Isakson said, "I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin's Web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You're putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don't know how that got so mixed up."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I just stopped in to see Steve... auto repair guy, to ask him about my van (I flunked the emissions test on Monday). I thought it would be ready by Tuesday, but when I came over yesterday afternoon the place was closed. Steve is a good guy and I was actually worried that he was okay. (He also has a son in the military and looks a lot like some of the people you see at these town halls.)

"Oh yeah. I take Wednesday afternoons off in the summer. I took my granddaughter to Great America."

"That's great," I replied. "I think Americans work too much anyway. The French take the whole month of August off."

With that he shot me a look as if I'd said something about his mother. What is it with some Americans and the French?

Just today I noticed in The Wall Street Journal (you have to dig a little) that the French and German economies expanded in the second quarter by 0.3%. The euro-region as a whole contracted by 0.1% while the U. S. contracted by 1.0%. So there's talk in the markets that the Europeans may have emerged from the recession before the U. S.

It reminds me a little of when I worked at First Boston back in the 1980s. There was a "local" trader in the pit who had a habit of bidding or offering on large orders to manipulate the market in his favor. It was perfectly legal and a common practice at the time. Our "in-house" traders at First Boston couldn't fathom how a guy in Chicago could possibly know more about the markets than them and instructed us to trade with that local whenever he bid or offered on a large order. More often than not, the local was right and our house trader was wrong. One day, out of exasperation, my boss grabbed the phone from me and barked at our trader, "Instead of always going against this guy, why don't you try going with him." Needless to say, this advice fell on deaf ears. The morale of the story? The local trader went on to make millions and the house trader was gone by the end of the year.

Now one quarter does not a trend make. And I'd still bet that the U. S. will outperform Europe in the long run. But to read The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis, you would think that Europe is some vast Existentialist wasteland overrun by chain-smoking, beret-wearing government bureaucrats and where nothing good ever happens. I've been there and I think it's nice. In fact, in many ways they live better than we do, and I think Americans could learn a thing or two from them. So instead of always bashing Europe, like The Journal, why don't we just admit that they do some things well and we do some things well. That's not unpatriotic; it's realistic.

Rick Santorum is the latest...

...Republican to test the presidential waters in Iowa. This is the same guy who lost his bid for reelection to the U. S. Senate from Pennsylvania by eighteen points to Robert Casey in 2006. Setting aside all of his many faults for just a moment, I have two questions. How deluded must Santorum be to think that he could possibly get elected president? And how desperate must the Republicans be to consider someone who got crushed that badly in his last contest?

Chuck Grassley's comments yesterday...

...could mark the turning point in the health care debate and ultimately aid the Democrats and the president in their efforts to bring about reform. Grassley is the Republican senator from Iowa who was thought to be negotiating a bipartisan deal with Max Baucus on the Finance Committee. He and Baucus are said to be friends and, as the leaders of the Group of Six on the committee, have been reportedly trying in earnest to come to some bipartisan agreement on a bill. And bipartisanship has been one of Obama's goals all along.

Appearing at a town hall in his home state of Iowa, Sen. Chuck Grassley told a crowd of more than 300 that they were correct to fear that the government would "pull the plug on grandma."

And Grassley is supposed to be one of the reasonable Republicans! So much for that.

In a best-case scenario, Obama would like to have a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority on the final bill. He desperately wants some Republican ownership in the reform effort. To this end he's been willing to compromise, most notably on the public option, which has been a major point of contention in the debate. The insurance companies, understandably, don't want competition and have donated heavily to both Baucus and Grassley (and everyone else in Congress, for that matter). Liberals, on the other hand, have maintained that reform without a public option is reform in name only. Their advice is to ignore the Republicans and push through legislation on a 51-vote majority (reconciliation). Their argument all along has been that while the Republicans have talked about reform and the need for bipartisanship, their intent has been otherwise. Not only are the Republicans giving mere lip-service to bipartisanship but really want to delay the process and kill reform altogether. As Jim DeMint famously said, "If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." It's about power.

Now along comes Chuck Grassley, who was said to be negotiating in good faith, with this quote about putting granny to death. This is the same sort of silliness that one would expect from a--oh, I don't know--Sarah Palin, not a serious legislator. I think it should be clear now where the Republicans stand on reform: arm-in-arm with the insurance companies and solidly against the public. I think Grassley actually did everyone a favor by exploding the myth of Republican cooperation. It should be easier now to just stop negotiating with the GOP and push the House bill through the Senate on a reconciliation vote. No one need now say that the Republicans wanted to be part of an honest debate.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'm trying hard to understand...

...where all this anger is coming from that's on display at these town halls. At first I thought these people were the same ones that showed up for the tea parties on April 15 and at some of the Republican rallies last fall. I didn't take them too seriously then. I thought the tea baggers were just a bunch of eccentric cranks and that many of the people at the McCain and Palin rallies (like the old lady that told McCain that Obama was an Arab) were just uninformed racists.

So when the town halls began I figured that it was just an Astro Turf movement backed by the opponents of health care reform. I don't think that that's entirely wrong, but after watching a fair amount of these people on TV, I've decided that there are a lot of genuinely angry (and fearful) people out there. I think a lot of them have been stirred up by the right wing and fed a lot of misinformation, but there had to be something there in the first place to make them so ripe for the stirring. And the best answer I can come up with is James Carville's famous advice to candidate Bill Clinton: It's the economy, stupid.

And the truth is that the economy has been weak since the spring of 2000, when the Nasdaq and bubbles burst. The economy went into recession and despite the Bush tax cuts and the stock market and housing bubbles that followed, employment and wages never regained the levels they reached in the 1990s. And after the current recession began in 2007, many people saw that not only had much of their wealth disappeared but in many cases their jobs as well. To add insult to injury, the federal government had to bail out Wall Street, the automakers, and many homeowners facing foreclosure (whatever happened to that program, anyway?). Next came huge bonuses to the executives at banks taking TARP money and a record stimulus bill that was considered by many to be the worst example of Washington pork. I think the famous rant by Rick Santelli on CNBC (and the original inspiration for the tea parties) was a revealing glimpse into the public's psyche. People like Rick, who played by the rules and didn't get overextended, felt that they were being asked to bail out everyone else's profligate behavior. And they had a point and a right to be angry. But the problem was that even though the Wall Street bailout was a bailout of the most egregious offenders, it was even more importantly a bailout of the financial system. As bad as it felt and as unfair as it seemed, it was the right thing to do to bail out America and prevent another Great Depression. The same is true for the people who were upside-down in their mortgages. Even though Rick Santelli was made to feel like the prodigal son's brother, it was actually Rick that was being bailed out in a perverse way, because the last thing he would want would be to live in a neighborhood with abandoned houses that would erode the value of his own house. It's not unlike having your neighbor's house catch fire. You may not want to help pay for the firefighters but it's ultimately in your interest to do so to prevent the fire from spreading to your own home.

So the average guy lost much of his retirement funds in the stock market, much of the equity in his home, and maybe even his job (and health insurance). He's understandably scared for his family's future. And fear is often manifested by anger. Then he had to sit back and watch everyone else get bailed out with his money, including those greedy, overpaid guys on Wall Street that started this mess in the first place. I thought given this environment that the average guy would jump at health care reform. Boy was I wrong. Rather than seeing it as health insurance reform (a term which Obama has now latched onto, perhaps too late), the average guy sees it as just another $1 trillion entitlement for someone else that, again, he has to pay for. No wonder they're so angry. In hindsight, the conditions and timing were perfect for a little misinformation from the opponents of reform to stir the masses into open rebellion.

But my guess is that the Democrats will still pass some form of health care reform this fall, albeit a watered-down version. The lesson of 1993-94 is clear: when you have a majority on the Hill and control of the White House, failure is not an option. The Dems will lose seats in 2010, as expected, but could come roaring back as the economy recovers. Obama should get reelected in 2012 and the Democrats should gain back some of the seats lost in the mid-terms. It would be almost five years after the start of the recession and the Fed's easy monetary policy and the record stimulus should have kicked in by then. (If not, we're really in trouble.) But I think the economy will be just fine; in fact, it could even outdo the Reagan recovery. (Remember that the stock market didn't begin its rally until August, 1982, long after the tax cuts went into effect. Unemployment remained stubbornly high.) Health care reform will be built upon in the meantime, and as for all that anger, it could fade into memory, like the anti-war protests of the '60s and '70s. ("Remember that guy that brought a gun to the Obama rally in 2009? What ever happened to him?") Oh, and the Republicans? There will be even fewer of them and the ones remaining will be even more irrelevant than today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Since I'm always trashing...

...The Wall Street Journal, let me put in a good word for Gerald F. Seib. Even though I don't agree with his column today (or most other days, for that matter), I think he's a reasonable, reflective thinker, unlike most of the rest of The Journal's columnists. His colleagues impress me more as knee-jerk ideologues whose highest priority is defending their worldviews. If a peg is square, for example, they just keep pounding and pounding until it fits into that nice round hole somehow. ("There. I knew I could get it to fit eventually.") I'll admit it's hard to change the way you look at things--especially as you get older--but sometimes it's necessary if your goal is the pursuit of truth.

Everyone knows that the Catholic clergy... America is aging, but a new study found that it is even more pronounced than many had realized. 75 % of priests and 91% of nuns are 60 years or older. Most of the rest are at least 50.

I get up before CNBC begins...

...its North American broadcast. While I'm waiting, I sometimes tune in to its Far Eastern program. They have a few attractive, blonde female journalists on it from Australia. Attractive, that is, until I turn up the volume. There is just something about that Australian accent that I find really unappealing in a woman. It's hard not to be reminded that the place was settled by convicts.

The best line of the day yesterday...

...was the last one from this excerpt from Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times (my emphasis added):

All in all, then, the government has played a crucial stabilizing role in this economic crisis. Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution.

And aren’t you glad that right now the government is being run by people who don’t hate government?

We don’t know what the economic policies of a McCain-Palin administration would have been. We do know, however, what Republicans in opposition have been saying — and it boils down to demanding that the government stop standing in the way of a possible depression.

Doesn't that just about sum it all up?

Monday, August 10, 2009

To underscore my earlier point...

...I just saw this headline:

Anti-Reform Activist Gets in Fight at Town Hall Now Needs Help with Medical Bills

"...the conservative opponent of health care reform, fighting (literally) to defeat a plan that would bring coverage to those who lose their jobs, lost his coverage because he got laid off..."

Doesn't it make you wonder if these people even know what it is they are protesting?

The full piece is below:

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Glenview resident Alisa Finn... headed to Stanford University in the fall on a partial scholarship for, you guessed it, swimming. Ms. Finn is ranked among the top six women in the nation in four events. Funny how she didn't take up softball or gymnastics.

I just had a chocolate malt...

...from the Dairy Bar and it was outstanding. Tonight it's down to UIC for an authentic Maxwell Street Polish with mustard and grilled onions, although the pork chop sandwich is coming up fast along the rail.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I used to think that John McCain...

...would go down in history as the guy who made a career out of being a prisoner of war. Now I think he'll go down in history as the guy who gave us Sarah Palin. Thanks John.

Crazy Sarah Palin... at it again. I just read that

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called President Barack Obama's health plan "downright evil" Friday in her first online comments since leaving office, saying in a Facebook posting that he would create a "death panel" that would deny care to the neediest Americans.

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care," the former Republican vice presidential candidate wrote.

"Such a system is downright evil," Palin wrote on her page, which has nearly 700,000 supporters. She encouraged her supporters to be engaged in the debate.

I can't decide what's scariest about this piece: Palin's ignorance, her cynicism or that her page has "nearly 700,000 supporters." (By the way, do you suppose that the "death panel" will occupy an office down the hall from the "Department of Law" that Palin also dreamed up in her head?) But what I'd really like to ask the ex-governor, now that she's out of work, is exactly how many private insurers under the current system that she thinks will underwrite her Down Syndrome baby if she tries to buy insurance in the individual market. She may be a little disappointed to find out that the answer is none.

If Sarah Palin is really... of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination in 2012, then the GOP is truly on a one-way ride to Palookaville. Somebody in that party has to get control of things fast, for the sake of the country and the two-party system.

Saks Fifth Avenue...

...has an ad today on page A3 of the New York Times (I'm really stuck on this) that announces "SHOP DENIM, GET A GIFT CARD. Get a Gift Card worth up to $100 when you purchase one of our 680 denim styles in women's or men's contemporary denim, Thursday to Sunday, August 6 to 9. There's a picture below of a guy wearing torn jeans with the caption, PRPS DUSTY INDIGO JEANS, $460; FRED PERRY RED TRACK JACKET, $95; TRUE RELIGION T-SHIRT, $60."

This isn't about the insane prices. ($460 for torn jeans? Aren't you supposed to throw those away or cut them off for shorts?) It's not even about the $100 Gift Card. (Is that really an incentive for these people to get off their couches and come downtown? Don't they light their cigars with $100 bills?) No, I've long concluded that the target audience of these ads live in a parallel universe that I'll never understand. But what really caught my eye was the part about 680 denim styles. 680? Really? How much can you tweak a pair of pants? 680 times, apparently. But who would want that many choices? Am I expected to make a career out of buying pants? They're jeans! You only need two kinds anyway, Regular and Relaxed fit, which translate roughly into Young Person and Fat Old Guy. How complicated does this need to be?

We had a dog once named Milo...

...that we all loved but had to give away because he had, as they say nowadays, "anger management issues." He was great with us but uncomfortable around strangers, especially little kids. He also seemed to get more and more aggressive when someone would come to our door, and instead of just whacking him upside the head like dog-owners from an earlier generation might have done, we did the only thing normal, modern-day suburbanites do: we consulted with a professional dog-trainer. And after extensive one-on-one quality time with the mutt, our trainer met with my wife and me as if he was the Best Child Psychologist on the North Shore. "Please," we pleaded with the trained expert, "tell us what's wrong with our precious little Milo." I can't relate exactly what he said, because it would be a serious violation of the doctor/patient relationship, but I can tell you that the gist of it was that Milo didn't even know why he was getting so agitated and there wasn't a lot of hope for turning it around. So we had to eventually bite the bullet and give him away to a young woman in her twenties who lived in Lincoln Park with some roommates. As the young children in Lincoln Park are kept on even shorter leashes than the dogs, Milo had little further contact with kids and everyone involved lived happily ever after.

Charles M. Blow has a good column in today's New York Times in which he begins by saying,

One of the most frustrating aspects of the health care debate is that the people who most want reform are the most apathetic about it.

I'd like to add my own corollary to that: One of the most frustrating aspects of the health care debate is that the people who are arguing most strenuously against it, such as these "tea-bagger" types who are disrupting all of these town hall meetings lately, are the ones who stand to benefit from it the most.

Health care reform is intended to stem the rise in health care costs and eventually "bend the long-term curve," bring about universal coverage, and end the abuses of the private health insurance industry. Now unless all of these tea-baggers are on the payroll of the private insurers (and I have no doubt that at least some of them are), then they are exactly the kind of people that President Obama and the Democrats are trying to help.

Which brings me back to Milo. Just like our old family dog, I wonder if any of these people even know why they are so agitated about health care reform. I know it sounds terribly condescending, but I truly wonder if they know what it is that they are protesting. The opponents of reform have spread so much fear and misinformation that the tea baggers don't seem to realize that they are the ones who stand to benefit most from the legislation. It's as if the neighborhood bully (the insurance companies) were beating up on a kid (the public) and an older kid (Obama) stepped in to protect the kid from getting beat up. But instead of blaming the bully for beating him up, the kid gets convinced by the bully that the older kid is the one that's doing the beating. In real life, the public intuitively knows that they are losing under the current system. But the insurance companies have done a better job of convincing them that the government is the villain.

Rather than go on vacation for the month of August, the president should visit every Blue Dog's district to speak on health care. If reform doesn't pass, it will be the fault of Obama and the Democrats for not properly educating the public.

Ronald Reagan once famously said...

...that he didn't leave the Democratic Party so much as the Democratic Party left him. I was reminded of this when I read Charles M. Blow's column in the Times this morning. Among other things, it said that nearly 6 out of 10 Republicans don't believe that President Obama was born in the United States. Also, only 6 percent of scientists said that they were Republicans. And finally, 6 in 10 Republicans said they thought that humans were created, in their present form, 10,000 years ago. Think about that last one for a minute. Only 40% of Republicans believe in the scientific method. The vast majority believe in what, magic? How many little kids do you know that truly believe in magic? It's hard to be a member of a party like that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I think I'll just have a post every Friday...

...with a list of all of the bad names for that week. Let's kick it off with Edward L. Yingling, lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. Feel free to write in and let me know if I missed any.

Another bad name in the news today... Dr. Boris Worm, a marine ecologist from Canada. (He did find an appropriate calling, though.) This is one of those unfortunate situations where it wouldn't help to change either the first or the last name; both need to be scrapped. He needs to start all over.

Bill Clinton returned from North Korea...

...yesterday to a hero's welcome at the Burbank airport. As I watched the photo op with the former president, Vice President Al Gore, and the two journalists, all I could think of was how unimaginable it would be to see any Republican in a similar situation. Can you picture Bush and Cheney getting their pictures taken for doing something positive? Seriously, think of the number of heavyweights in the Democratic Party right now: Obama, Mrs. Clinton, George Mitchell, Richard Holbrooke, Dennis Ross, Jimmy Carter--and that's just foreign policy! Who are the leaders in the Republican Party? Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, Orrin Hatch, Richard Shelby, Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, David Vitter, John Thune, Jim Inhofe, Eric Cantor, Sarah Palin? You've got to be kidding! Can you imagine any of them getting their pictures taken for anything other than obstructing the Democrats? Can you even imagine any of them putting forth a positive proposal?

Meanwhile, Bob Gates is serving in the Obama administration, Colin Powell (who is sounding more and more like a Democrat) is fending off attacks from Cheney and Rush Limbaugh, and Mitt Romney, who just might be the GOP's most credible candidate for 2012, is getting slammed by Tim Pawlenty for presiding over successful health care reform in Massachusetts that looks suspiciously like some of the current proposals before Congress.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I shared my birthday yesterday...

...with two famous Americans: President Obama, of course, and Helen Thomas. She's the White House reporter who has covered every president since John F. Kennedy. Ms. Thomas turned 89!

The U. S. has two cities...

...larger than Chicago. China has two hundred.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Gregory Craig is President Obama's...

...White House counsel and in the news lately because it's rumored he may be leaving his post. Who cares? I'd like to concentrate on that name for a minute: Greg Craig. If you were his parents, William and Lois, and you could have named your child anything at all, would you have chosen Gregory, knowing that he might someday go by the name Greg Craig? Think about it. You have the entire universe of names to choose from. Okay, only the male ones. And if you're Catholic, only the saints' names. But even if you are (and I have no idea what religion the Craigs were) there are still over 10,000 saints (although I'm sure there's some overlap in their names). But that's still a lot of names! They could have named him Basil, Sebastian, or even Fabian--that would have been cool. And what about the man himself? Why doesn't he adopt a nickname, like Chip or Sonny? Any of those would be better than Greg Craig. I know what you're thinking: maybe he likes his name. And maybe he does. But I noticed he named his own sons Will and James.

There's an article in the New York Times today... a guy named Dan Frosch about a Congressman named Lloyd Doggett and a Republican activist named Heather Liggett. (Let's see: Frosch, Doggett, and Liggett. That's just too many names to make fun of this morning.) It's also a disconcerting one, about "tea party"-type protesters organized to drown out a reasonable discussion about health care reform during the August recess. What's particularly discouraging to me is that these are probably just the kind of people that Obama is trying to protect from the whims of the private insurance companies. But somehow, these companies have scared these very same people so much that they are now doing their bidding in the debate over reform. It's both mind-boggling and sad.

It's also become clear to me lately that the Republican Party is following in a pattern that's been in place since at least the late 1940s, when people like Nixon and later McCarthy advanced their careers through Red-baiting. After the eight-year interlude of the Eisenhower years (in which the Birchers accused even Ike of being a Communist) came the rise of Goldwater (and Reagan), "states rights" and later the emergence of the "Southern strategy" which was used so effectively by Nixon. The 80s brought us Lee Atwater and the whole Willie Horton/Pledge of Allegiance/"card-carrying member of the ACLU" nonsense that torpedoed Michael Dukakis. No sooner had Atwater died (after a death-bed confession of his dirty pool) then along came Karl Rove and all of his gutter tactics. Which brings us up to the present and all the talk of Reverend Wright, Michelle Obama's new-found pride in America, and even the president's birth certificate. And now health care. Even my own mother (!) told me this weekend that she was "hearing" that the government might encourage old people like her to die under the proposed reforms. (Besides telling her to stop watching Fox, I assured her that not only was health care reform coming this fall, but that everything would be okay. And furthermore, she could relay that information to the rest of the people at her church.)

"Don't worry, Ma (I always call her that even though her last name isn't Kettle), we won't let the guys in the black helicopters get you."

Am I naive, or are the Democrats just as guilty? I don't see it. Instead, more and more I'm convinced that the GOP is the disingenuous party.

50 sounds old...

...51 sounds young. Or, as my older boy just told me, "You have nine years left; that's plenty of time."

My favorite time of the week... Sunday morning, and my favorite thing to do on Sunday morning is read the New York Times, and my favorite thing to read in the NYT is Frank Rich. (I usually warm up with Maureen Dowd while the coffee is brewing.) Hearing this, I'm sure my older boy would say, "Yeah, white people love to drink coffee while reading Frank Rich in the Sunday New York Times--before they head off to some art fair."

But what's rapidly gaining on Frank Rich (as readers of this blog are painfully aware) are the ads on pages 2 and 3 of the main section. (Indulge me a little; it's my birthday.) This past Sunday's paper had an ad on page 3 for a "vest bag" by Alexander Wang (am I supposed to know who that is?). It looks like it's made of leather and kind of fits over your torso like a reverse back-pack. It has six small pockets with zippers to carry whatever people carry in a "vest bag." (It almost looks as if it was inspired by one of those suicide bombers on the West Bank.) I can't wait to see someone actually wearing one of these. Oh, and it costs only $850.

Now on the previous page is a more conventional bag for carrying your stuff made by Chanel for those of you a little less "edgy." (By the way, using '90s terms like "edgy" only betrays how far one actually is from the cutting edge. Kind of like those people that still say "Think outside the box.") It's described as a "Stretch Spirit" calfskin drawstring tote. It has two huge interlocking "Cs" that announce to the world that you are carrying your Altoids (I know, another anachronism from the '90s; I don't get out much) in a purse made by Chanel. I guess that's considered to be in much better taste than actually telling everyone how much you paid for it ($2,950).

Meryl Streep is starring as Julia Child... a new movie called "Julie & Julia." I never really watched Julia Child, but anything remotely connected to food gets my attention. And Child was an interesting woman. Among other things, she was 6'2" and was in the OSS, the forerunner to the CIA. (OSS, by the way, was said to stand for "Oh, So Social," as it drew heavily from the ranks of the nation's elite. Why else would they choose a woman that tall to operate inconspicuously as a spy in the 1940s? "Hey, there's that tall broad again. I wonder if she's following us." No wonder Alger Hiss operated undetected for so many years.)

But what's more interesting to me is that the movie seems to be considered a critical success because of Streep's participation alone. She's won all sorts of awards and everyone seeems to agree that she's one of the best actresses on the scene today. Now acting is something that I don't even pretend to know anything about, but I feel like whenever I see Streep in a role I'm conscious that she's acting. Instead of getting lost in whatever character she's playing, I find myself thinking, "Hey, she's acting." And I find that really distracting. Am I alone in this?

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Director of Federal Fiscal Policy... the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is James R. Horney, which is another unfortunate name. Imagine the giggles on the first day of class in high school: "...Hartnett?" "Here." "Hayes?" "Here." "Horney?" (cringe) "Here." And that happened for eight or nine periods--every term!

And then when he got older he tried meeting girls at frat parties. "What's your name?" "Peggy." "What's yours?" "Jim." "Jim what?" "Jim Horney." "What?" (The music is loud.) "Horney." "I still can't hear you!" And of course it was just at about this time that some John Belushi-type would bump into the stereo and cause the music to stop abruptly. "HORNEY!" Everyone in the room would then turn toward the blushing couple. Not a good start.

When he got into his twenties and found himself on Rush Street, things were scarcely better. "What did you say your last name was?" "Horney." "Oh, I think I see my friend on the other side of the bar. Nice talking to you." (Creep!)

It's probably too late to help this guy; his life has already been ruined. But Jim, if you're out there reading this, please, do your kids and grandchildren a favor. Drop the "ey" and just call yourself Jim Horn, or Horner, or Horton. Your parents and ancestors would forgive you.