Sunday, January 31, 2010

It's almost becoming conventional wisdom...

...that President Obama misread the public mood and should have focused on jobs and the economy in his first year in office before tackling health care reform. I think this is a misreading in itself. Like the famous quote, if not now, when? If not us, who?

Obama passed the largest stimulus bill in the history of the nation less than one month after taking the oath of office. Some economists, such as Paul Krugman, argued at the time that it was too small. But the president wanted a bi-partisan bill and was able to obtain the votes of three Republican senators; it was the largest bi-partisan bill possible. A little over a month later, the president bailed out GM and Chrysler in a bid to save jobs. Only after these two historic measures did Obama turn his attention to health care reform.

In April of last year, health care reform enjoyed broad popular support. It was one of the president's signature domestic issues, along with energy and education reform. Absent the financial crisis in the fall of 2008, the president might have begun work on these issues on his first day in office. Learning the lessons of Bill Clinton in 1994 (or over-learning, as some have suggested), the president out-sourced the legislation to Congress. (I would maintain that this was the right strategy. Remember, both chambers signed a bill and would have submitted a reconciled one to the president's desk if not for the special election fluke in Massachusetts. Obama came closer than any president--since FDR!--to get a health care bill passed. That is no small achievement.)

It's also important to remember that the Democrats did not have a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority until July, when Al Franken was finally sworn in as the junior senator from Minnesota. In the meantime, Obama and the Democrats were trying to craft a bi-partisan bill. Remember all the time Max Baucus spent wooing the likes of Chuck Grassley and other Republicans on the Finance Committee? It really seemed possible to arrive at a compromise legislation until the August recess when Grassley made his idiotic comments about "pulling the plug on Grandma." Only then did it become apparent to all sentient beings that the GOP never had any intention at all of working with the majority to pass a health care bill. The Party of No was exposed for all to see.

With the benefit of hindsight, the health care bill failed for two interrelated reasons. The Republicans stalled for time while the Democrats tried to engage them in the effort. This "four corner stall" enabled the opponents of reform to spread misinformation through the right-wing noise machine, principally Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and The Wall Street Journal. Since fear is one of the strongest of human emotions (all of that anger at those town halls in August was actually fear), it was easier to convince the average American that they were better off with the devil they knew (their current health insurance) than the devil they didn't (a massive, socialistic government takeover of the health care system complete with monocle-wearing, dueling-scarred Nazis overseeing death panels). Take that, President Barack Hussein Obama!

Once public opinion was turned firmly against reform it was all over but the shoutin'. It was only a matter of time before the Democrats in Congress got cold feet. After all, we're talking about their job security now. And after the Massachusetts debacle, many of them could breath a sigh of relief (Phew!) that they didn't have to actually vote for what had become unpopular legislation. Let's get back to the important business of getting me re-elected!

So health care reform is dead (again) and the post-mortems have begun. But I still think it was the right thing to do. Health care in this country is only going to get worse and Congress is only going to get more dysfunctional. When would be a better time? I think Rahm Emanuel was right when he cautioned not to waste a good crisis. The opportunity to reform health care may not return for a long time. Meanwhile, Medicare is schedule to go bankrupt in 2017. Now what, Republicans?

The song of the...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

If you didn't see President Obama's...

...meeting with the House Republicans yesterday, you can watch it here. I watched all 86 minutes of it (no, I don't have a life), and I can tell you that you will never see anything like it. If the GOP should ever agree to meet with Obama again, they will surely never allow cameras in. It was that bad.

The president stood at a podium like a professor suffering questions from a classroom of unruly students. While Obama remained on camera, his interrogators spoke out to him from the shadows. Also, the Congressmen and -women all addressed him as "Mr. President"; he called on them by their first names. (Jeb Hensarling of Texas didn't even get that courtesy; the president insisted on calling him "Jim." I don't think they like each other.) Although he was gracious and accepted some of the responsibility for the current atmosphere in Washington, Obama definitely came off looking better than the House Republicans. Any unbiased independent would have thought he was reaching across the aisle to engage the opposition in an effort to tackle the nation's problems. It certainly worked against the Republicans' strategy of demonizing him in the public's mind.

Obstructionism and demagoguery have worked well for the GOP so far, but after watching the president's performance yesterday I think that strategy may be getting a little long in the tooth. Americans want their government to work for them, not against them.

This may have been a turning point for the president. I wouldn't be surprised to see his numbers go up after today.

Here's an abbreviated version...

...of a great song.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mickey White... running for Congress against Marsha Blackburn and commented on one of my recent posts.

J. D. Salinger died... age 91. He was reclusive and had a reputation for eccentric behavior. Joyce Maynard, with whom he had a 10-month relationship, wrote:

Salinger was controlling and sexually manipulative and a health nut obsessed with homeopathic medicine and with his diet (frozen peas for breakfast, undercooked lamb burger for dinner).

Lamb burgers? Where can you buy ground lamb? Not at any grocery store I've ever been. It gets worse:

Margaret Salinger, the writer's daughter, said that her father was pathologically self-centered and abusive toward her mother, and to the homeopathy and food fads she added a long list of other enthusiasms: Zen Buddhism, Vedanta Hinduism, Christian Science, Scientology and acupuncture. Mr. Salinger drank his own urine, she wrote, and sat for hours in an orgone box.

Enough! We get it! He was nuts. (What's an orgone box, anyway?)

Now I've seen...

...everything. There's an ad in the New York Times today for a "Personal Sleep Coach." Zeo promises to increase your ZQ so you can sleep better and get the most out of your day.

What in God's name is a ZQ?

ZQ is a single number that objectively measures the quality of your sleep. Your ZQ is calculated by measuring the total amount of time that you slept (total Z), and adding and subtracting points based on the amount of restorative sleep (deep and REM) and disruptive sleep (time and duration spent awake) that you get throughout the night.


Whatever. Only in America, right?

It must be hard to...

...organize anarchists:

A convention of Tea Party activists lost two prominent speakers, the latest sign of disagreement over how to showcase the movement’s growing political force. In separate statements, two Republican congresswomen, Representatives Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, said that appearing at the convention, scheduled for next week in Nashville, might conflict with House ethics rules. They also said they had concerns about how money raised from the event would be spent. Other tea partiers have balked at the $550 ticket price and $100,000 fee being paid to the keynote speaker, former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

While Washington dithers...

...California moves ahead with their own single-payer system:

The State Senate approved creating a government-run health care system, ignoring a veto threat from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Supporters said it was time for state legislatures to take up the debate as the Obama administration’s national health care proposal was faltering in Congress. The State Senate passed the single-payer plan on a 22-to-14 vote and sent it to the Assembly. Democrats control both houses of the Legislature.

The song of the...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Much has been written lately...

...about the near impossibility of passing major legislation in the United States Senate without a filibuster-proof 60 vote majority. Even opponents of health care reform should be concerned about the federal government's inability to address problems facing America. In the Atlantic, James Fallows writes:

That is the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke. One thing I’ve never heard in my time overseas is “I wish we had a Senate like yours.”

When the U.S. Senate was created, the most populous state, Virginia, had 10 times as many people as the least populous, Delaware. Giving them the same two votes in the Senate was part of the intricate compromise over regional, economic, and slave-state/free-state interests that went into the Constitution. Now the most populous state, California, has 69 times as many people as the least populous, Wyoming, yet they have the same two votes in the Senate. A similarly inflexible business organization would still have a major Whale Oil Division; a military unit would be mainly fusiliers and cavalry. No one would propose such a system in a constitution written today, but without a revolution, it’s unchangeable. Similarly, since it takes 60 votes in the Senate to break a filibuster on controversial legislation, 41 votes is in effect a blocking minority. States that together hold about 12 percent of the U.S. population can provide that many Senate votes. This converts the Senate from the “saucer” George Washington called it, in which scalding ideas from the more temperamental House might “cool,” into a deep freeze and a dead weight.

The Senate’s then-famous “Gang of Six,” which controlled crucial aspects of last year’s proposed health-care legislation, came from states that together held about 3 percent [my emphasis]of the total U.S. population; 97 percent of the public lives in states not included in that group. (Just to round this out, more than half of all Americans live in the 10 most populous states—which together account for 20 of the Senate’s 100 votes.)

Steve Chapman has a way...

...of cutting through all the noise:

Decades from now, students of history unfamiliar with Harry Reid and Scott Brown will have no trouble grasping how a special election went badly for the party in power. All they will have to do is look at unemployment when Obama was elected and when Massachusetts went to the polls.

Between October 2008 and December 2009, the national rate rose to 10 percent from 6.6 percent. In Massachusetts, it went to 9.1 percent from 5.5 percent. Guess what? Nobody likes it, and voting against the Democratic candidate was an easy way to express that discontent.

The connection between political fortunes and material concerns is not exactly a revelation. A sour economy is what torpedoed Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992

The song of the...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Michele Bachmann... planning to release her own market-based health care reform plan on Wednesday, according to Politico.

I can't wait.

This could be just the thing Obama and the Democrats need to jump-start health care reform. Once the experts have a look at Bachmann's "plan" (and stop laughing), the public may begin to realize how intellectually bankrupt the GOP is. (So far, the Republicans health care plan could be summed up in one word: "No.") Maybe then the public will take another serious look at the Senate bill.

In regard to the Supreme Court's...

...recent decision which lifted the limits on election spending by corporations, I would just ask, do we really need more money in politics? Is that what the process is missing?

Justice John Paul Stevens said it best in his dissenting opinion:

“While American democracy is imperfect,” he wrote, “few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

Was the election of Scott Brown... Massachusetts last Tuesday a referendum on health care reform? The Senate's bill is very similar to the one enacted (with Brown's support) in the Bay State in 2006.

A poll taken in Massachusetts after the election by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found that a surprising 68 percent of those who had voted said that they supported their own state’s plan, including slightly more than half of those who had voted for Mr. Brown.

The song of the...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brad Childress, Sean Payton, and...

...Mike Shanahan are all graduates of Eastern Illinois University.

Cheer up, Vikings fans, and...

...forget the NFL for a minute. Let's have a look at the Illinois high school basketball rankings, shall we? According to the Chicago Sun-Times today, Waukegan is number 1, followed by Mount Carmel at number 4; De La Salle, 8; Deerfield, 10; Hales, 11; Glenbrook North, 12; and New Trier, 20.

For some perspective, over the course...

...of Bill Clinton's eight years in the White House, the economy created 22 million jobs. That's an average of about 229,000 per month.

David Plouffe, President Obama's...

...campaign manager, is being brought back for some much needed re-tooling. Among his recommendations:

Pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay. Americans' health and our nation's long-term fiscal health depend on it. I know that the short-term politics are bad. It's a good plan that's become a demonized caricature. But politically speaking, if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside. If we do pass it, dozens of protections and benefits take effect this year. Parents won't have to worry their children will be denied coverage just because they have a preexisting condition. Workers won't have to worry that their coverage will be dropped because they get sick. Seniors will feel relief from prescription costs. Only if the plan becomes law will the American people see that all the scary things Sarah Palin and others have predicted -- such as the so-called death panels -- were baseless. We own the bill and the health-care votes. We need to get some of the upside. (P.S.: Health care is a jobs creator.)

The song of the...

If health care reform fails, expect... see more articles like this one in the Times today (all emphasis mine):

A front in the national health care battle has opened in New York City, where a major hospital chain and one of the nation’s largest insurance companies are locked in a struggle over control of treatment and costs that could have broad ramifications for millions of people with private health insurance.

The fight is between Continuum Health Partners...and UnitedHealthcare, which includes Oxford health plans and has 25 million members across the country, one million of them in New York.

While Congress has been haggling over covering as many as 15 million uninsured Americans, the prestigious hospitals and the major health insurer have been in bitter contract negotiations, not just over rates but also over UnitedHealthcare’s demand that the hospitals notify the insurance company within 24 hours after a patient’s admission. If a hospital failed to do so, UnitedHealthcare would cut its reimbursements for the patient by half.

The hospitals say that having their reimbursement cut in half is too much to pay for a clerical error, and that the revenue drain would ultimately hurt their patients.

UnitedHealthcare has sent letters over the last few weeks to tens of thousands of patients, warning that they could be cut off from coverage at Continuum hospitals and affiliated doctors, and advising them to start shopping for new ones.

Dr. Sam Ho, UnitedHealthcare's chief medical officer...said that UnitedHealthcare’s push for notification was not motivated by money and that it would be happy if it never had to impose a penalty.

"Absolutely, honestly, sincerely, this is a genuine attempt to try to improve outcomes for patients,” he said.


Integris Health, an 11-hospital system based in Oklahoma City, has tried to meet the notification requirement and has been frustrated by the administrative burden, even using electronic notification, said Greg Meyers, vice president for revenue integrity. “That doesn’t feel to us like cost control, it feels like a revenue stream enhancement to the insurance companies,” Mr. Meyers said.

Dr. Gary Burke, a doctor affiliated with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, said the letters warning that coverage with Continuum doctors could be cut off left some of his older patients panicked at the prospect of losing a long-term relationship with a doctor they trusted.

“They’re kind of like, ‘If I get sick, does this mean I can’t see you?’ ” Dr. Burke said.

“It’s an example of the insurance company getting between you and your doctor,” Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, an economics professor at Rutgers University.

Absent health care reform (and given last week's Supreme Court decision lifting the limits on campaign spending by corporations), do you think health insurance companies will be better, or worse, corporate citizens?

The Wall Street Journal is...

...making great strides these days. Just this morning, they conceded that:

Medicare will become insolvent by 2017 without more funding or payment cuts.

Where were these guys during the health care debate this past year?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I can't believe my...

...eyes. An editorial on health care in The Wall Street Journal says:

...the status quo is unsustainable...

This is progress.

Now all they need to do is elect a Republican as president, gain a majority in the House, and a 60 seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate--preferably before Medicare goes broke in 2017. That shouldn't be too difficult.

Oh, and one more thing. They need a plan.

Tort reform and selling insurance across state lines is not a plan. Those are talking points.

But at least we're making progress.

I'll be voting for Mark Kirk... the Republican primary for the U. S. Senate from Illinois. Do I think Kirk would make a good senator? Hell, no! He's a party hack (albeit with a great resume). For the last year he's been a member-in-good-standing of the Party of No. Before that, Kirk carried George Bush's water for eight years. I think he'd be terrible for Illinois. But his opponent, Patrick Hughes, would be even worse. Hughes is the Tea Party candidate. And even though I'd like to see discord in the GOP, I'd hate to vote for someone like Hughes and have him win the general election in November. That would really be a disaster.

You see, unlike John McCain and the rest of the Congressional Republicans, I really do believe in putting country first.

My book recommendation for the day... The Harvard Psychedelic Club, by Don Lattin. I'm only about a third of the way through it, but it's really good.

My "Worst Name of the Day,"... a three-way tie: Lesley Hollywood, the leader of the Northern Colorado Tea Party; Irwin Dambrot, who just died at age 81; and James Cheek, who also died recently.

The song of the...

In the wake of the special election... Massachusetts, some people are calling for Congress to just drop health care reform altogether. Consider this:

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, by 2019 there will be 54 million people in the United States without health insurance (PDF). The chief actuary of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says it will be even worse: 57 million people without insurance (PDF).

In 2017, just seven years from now, the Medicare hospital insurance trust fund will be exhausted. Empty. Dried up. Done.

Total national expenditures on health care will continue to soar, according to the chief actuary, to $4.7 trillion in 2019 from $2.6 trillion today.

The average cost of an employer-sponsored family health insurance policy will rise to $20,300 in 2019, or about $10,000 more than today, consuming an ever growing portion of family income and continuing to put downward pressure on wages (PDF).

The status quo is clearly unsustainable.

While the nihilist Republicans in Congress would have us do nothing, the president yesterday said, “This is our best chance to do it. We can’t keep on putting this off.”

He's right.

Friday, January 22, 2010

This may turn out to be the week...

...that populism hit the stock market. Beginning with Scott Brown's breathtaking victory in Massachusetts on Tuesday, moving on to Obama's Volcker-inspired bank plan yesterday, Ben Bernanke's uncertain future at the Fed and Obama's new-found populist rhetoric in Ohio today, I sense a new tone in the stock market. Even though earnings were mostly positive this week, equities were soft.

I wonder if this is the beginning of a correction in stocks.

Will Rogers is just as relevant today... he was in 1935. "I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat."

I couldn't have said it better...


Iceland may be in the midst of a... crisis, but gastronomically, it may be the new Mecca.

Everyone is offering their two cents' worth...

...on what course Obama and the Democrats should take in the wake of Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts, so here's mine: Full Speed Ahead. From a policy standpoint, if health care reform was a good idea on Monday, then surely it's still a good idea today. I would have Obama urge the House to pass the Senate bill and have it on his desk for signature ASAP. Get this thing done, already, and move on to something else!

From a political standpoint, passing health care reform only makes sense. If reform fails, the Republicans will claim they defeated a Government Takeover of Health Care or some such silliness and proclaim themselves heroes. Democrats, on the other hand, will be discouraged to lose in the eleventh hour to a nihilistic minority. And independents, understandably, will conclude that Obama and the Democrats can't get anything done.

If the bill is a good one (and it was as recently as Monday) and people still don't understand why, then the president should get out in the country and SELL it. Visit every purple district and tell people why it's good for America. As Margaret Thatcher would say, now is not the time to go wobbly.

Health care reform...

...may have to be accomplished at the state level:

Democrats in California revived a bill on Thursday that would create a single-payer, universal health care system in the state.

The bill is not the first attempt to set up a single-payer system in California, which has some 6.5 million uninsured. Two previous single-payer bills were passed by the legislature in recent years, only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who tried and failed to establish his own universal health care plan at the start of his second term in 2007.

Massachusetts and Hawaii have already passed health care reform; maybe California will be next.

Steven Lovelady...

...died. Bad name.

This isn't a "song"...


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Here's one of those quirky...

...pieces in the Times that I love so much. It's about people who live without indoor heat. Yes, you read that correctly.

SERIOUS cold, Justen Ladda said, is when the sponge in the kitchen sink feels like wood or the toothpaste freezes or the refrigerator turns itself off, as it did one particularly frigid day last winter. Not that Mr. Ladda, a 56-year-old sculptor who has lived heat-free in his Lower East Side loft for three decades, is bothered by such extremes. “Winter comes and goes,” he’ll tell you blithely, adjusting his black wool scarf and watch cap. (Along with fingerless gloves, long underwear and felt slippers, they are part of Mr. Ladda’s at-home uniform when the mercury dips.)

Mr. Ladda, whose work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, decided long ago to live without central heating.


Indeed, 55 degrees would qualify as sauna conditions for Mr. Ladda and others whose interiors hover around the 30- or 40-degree mark in deep winter.

As Jon Stewart would say, go onnn...

Mr. Ladda on the Lower East Side doesn’t entertain, either, but he occasionally has overnight guests.

“I had Japanese friends here once,” he said. “And when they left, they bowed and said solemnly, ‘We are very sorry you have to live this way.’ ”

Then there are those who seek out the cold for its clarifying effects. Winifred Gallagher, a behavioral science writer who lives in a warm town house on the Upper West Side, makes monthly winter pilgrimages to a century-old, “very primitive” former one-room schoolhouse in Long Eddy, N.Y. There is no water when the temperature is below freezing (she hauls it from a stream), but there is a wood-burning stove.

If it’s 20 degrees outside, as it was last week, it might be 15 indoors, so Ms. Gallagher will stoke the fire and go for a long walk; when she returns, the room can be 50 degrees, and 60 by bedtime, though it slides precipitously toward freezing as she sleeps. “The main reason why I do these winter trips,” she said, “is that when your house is 15 degrees, the only problem you have is getting warm. Focusing on survival is right up there with a Zen retreat when it comes to clearing the mind.”

And anyway, she pointed out, “we didn’t evolve to sit on a chair in a temperature-controlled environment staring at a screen all day.”

Like, me?

“The best thing about living in a non-isothermal house” — isothermal means “constant in temperature” — “is that you’re able to walk from indoors to out of doors all the time,” she said.

Right. Can't do that in my eccentric isothermal house. Where do they find these people?

John Harris has a piece in Politico today...

...with the title, "Obama's first year: What went wrong." (I don't recommend you read it; like much of Harris's work, it's not that good.) I only bring it up because I saw him on the Chris Matthews Show recently. Matthews asked him how he would grade Obama's first year in office. His answer? "A."

What the...

Remember Michael Patrick...

...Flanagan? Don't worry; nobody else does, either. Flanagan was the guy who defeated Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski back in 1994. Rostenkowski had held the seat for 36 years and was the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. (He was also under indictment at the time.) Flanagan became the only Republican to represent a significant portion of Chicago since 1967.

Despite endorsements from the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, however, Flanagan was defeated after only one term in the House. (I won't mention who succeeded him.)

Remind you of anyone?

"Republicans Oppose Obama...

...Deficit Panel" is the headline in today's Times.

Top Republicans on Wednesday were hostile toward President Obama’s plan to create a bipartisan commission on cutting projected deficits, raising doubts about the prospects of a main piece of his budget strategy.

What? The Republicans are obstructionist? Shocking!

Obama had better get a lot tougher real quick or else he'll go the way of Jimmy Carter. The Republicans smell blood after Brown's victory in Massachusetts. Bill Maher was right; this president needs to be more like Bush. He never had Obama's majorities in Congress and did whatever the heck he pleased.

My takeaways from the special election... Massachusetts Tuesday are:

(1) Martha Coakley ran a horrendous campaign; Scott Brown ran a brilliant one. Give Brown some credit; he won a seat that had been in the Kennedy family for almost 60 years. (Someone at the Boston Globe said that "a lawyer ran against a politician.")

(2) The people are angry. In case you haven't heard, there's a recession out there--a bad one. Unemployment is at 10% and shows no signs of abating. Independents, especially, are going to vote against the party that controls the White House and both houses of Congress. While you could spin the governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey, you can't spin this one.

(3) Health care reform is dead. What happened? Two things: the process went on too long, and this allowed the opposition to define the issue in the public mind. One of the first rules in politics is to never let your opponent define you. When health care reform was first taken up in earnest in April, the approve/disapprove numbers were 33%/26%. Now they are about 33%/46%. In other words, the undecideds were persuaded by the opponents of reform that it was a bad idea. At the same time, the president neglected to sell it. In hindsight, it's always easier to scare people and make them prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't. And the opponents of health care reform were shameless in the lies and distortions they spread. Remember "death panels?" (Don't laugh too hard; the woman who said that last summer also "wrote" a best-selling book. People stood in the cold for hours to meet her and get her autograph. Maybe Bill Maher was right when he said we live in a stupid country.)

(4) Money controls Washington. This may be a little like saying the earth is round, but it's worth mentioning because it's clear that those who had the most to lose from health care reform spent the most to mislead the public and buy the votes of senators. Which leads into my next take away.

(5) The U. S. Senate, and by extension Washington, is completely dysfunctional. This bill was an honest attempt at controlling health care costs. Medicare is on a trajectory to bankrupt the country by 2017. The failure to address a major problem facing the country does not bode well for tackling any of our other major problems, such as social security, the deficit and the national debt.

(6) Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina famously said, "If we're able to stop Obama on [health care reform], it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." He's right; the president is done for 2010. Forget cap-and-trade legislation, financial regulatory reform, a jobs bill, or anything else that the Democrats may have wanted to accomplish this year. (Do you think Wall Street wasn't taking notes--and writing checks--during the health care debate?)

The danger now is that Obama may be done as president. I don't mean that literally. He'll always be personally popular and will probably win reelection as long as the Republicans don't have anyone to run against him. But forget about his being a transformational presidency a la Reagan's. (Can you imagine the Gipper not fighting for what he believed in?) Instead, it could end up looking more incremental, like Clinton's. (But hey, eight years of peace and prosperity--and a balanced budget--ain't all that bad, especially when you consider what followed. Yikes!)

But what really should have all Americans concerned is take away (5), i. e., the government's inability to solve major problems. (If the Democrats can't pass a health care bill in this environment, what can they do? Reform Wall Street? Don't make me laugh!) The fiscal picture in this country is not an encouraging one. What happens when a government ceases to function? What happens when a government can't cut spending or raise taxes? Just look at California. And fasten your seat belts.

This "song" isn't even...

...a song.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

David Leonhardt of the Times asks... the current health care bill could have inspired such skepticism from voters:

The unified Republican message is part of the answer. So is the fact that Mr. Obama never found a strong, consistent way to sell the bill. That said, health reform was never going to be easy.

Something like 90 percent of voters already have insurance. Many imagine that they will never lose it. Many people even believe they don’t pay for their insurance, because the money comes out of their paycheck before they see it. (They do pay in lost income.) Polls also show that Americans are more aware of our medical system’s strengths than its weaknesses (like needlessly high error rates). As for Medicare being on course to break the bank — voters rarely get excited about future fiscal problems.

So health reform was probably destined to inspire more fear than hope. It’s been that way since Truman.

Maybe Jim Chanos is right...

...after all. Tom Friedman hedges his bet:

Last week, I wrote a column suggesting that while some overheated Chinese markets, like real estate, may offer shorting opportunities, I’d be wary of the argument that China’s economy today is just one big short-inviting bubble, à la Dubai. Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks.

Look for Friedman to be all over the map on China. That way, he can always claim he was right.

The song of the...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You've all heard the quote...

...from Pat Robertson in re Haiti:

"They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it’s a deal.' And they kicked the French out."

Kathleen Parker writes in the Washington Post:

Robertson was referring to a voodoo ceremony in 1791 that some historians believe was a spark for the revolution. The call to revolt was issued by Dutty Boukman, a voodoo priest and leader of the Maroon slaves.

Fair enough. But what I'd like to know is, why did God wait 219 years to punish Haiti with this earthquake? Was he that busy?

A new CBS poll finds that...

...71 percent of Americans do not want to see Sarah Palin run for president in 2012. What do you suppose the number would be among the Republican establishment, 99 percent? From what I read, they're positively terrified that she'll run, win the nomination, and get crushed in the general election.

Personally, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I'd love to see her run just for the carnage she'd create within the Republican Party. But on the other, I think she could conceivably get the nomination and even get elected in the event of an economic or national security crisis. And that terrifies me!

So unlike the Congressional Republicans, I'll put my country first and hope that Palin remains a Fox TV personality with Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity. That's a good place for her.

Health care stocks are soaring...

...Martha Coakley must be getting killed.

Someone asked me recently... recommend some books. I was just reminded of The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape, by James Howard Kunstler.

Minnesotans would have you believe...

...that there's never any traffic in the Twin Cities. In an article in the Daily Beast today, however, I-494 is listed as the 17th worst commute in America:

#17, I-494, Minneapolis-St. Paul Weekly hours of bottleneck congestion: 184 Worst bottleneck: Westbound, Lyndale Ave/Exit 4 Length of worst bottleneck: .49 mi Weekly hours of congestion on worst bottleneck: 32 Speed of worst bottleneck when congested: 19.8 mph

Commuter Buzz: In addition to Lyndale Avenue, the I 494/Hwy 169 interchange has, "been a bottleneck for years," says Jim Gates.

That's worse than even the San Diego Freeway (I-5) and I-75 in Atlanta.

Depressed about Martha Coakley...

and the special election today in Massachusetts? Then read Jonathan Chait in the New Republic and Ezra Klein in the Washington Post. That should lift your spirits a little.

Gauging Andrew Sullivan's...

...mood on Special Election Day in Massachusetts:

...any legislative moves with this Democratic party and this Republican party are close to hopeless. The Democrats are a clapped out, gut-free lobbyist machine. The Republicans are insane. The system is therefore paralyzed beyond repair.

Yes, I'm gloomy. Not because I was so wedded to this bill, although I think it's a decent enough start. But because if America cannot grapple with its deep and real problems after electing a new president with two majorities, then America's problems are too great for Americans to tackle.

And so one suspects that this is a profound moment in the now accelerating decline of this country. And one of the major parties is ecstatic about it.

Glen Bell, the founder...

...of Taco Bell, died at age 86.

What will happen to health care... America if the Democrats are unable to pass the reform bill? That was the question I asked at the end of my last post. Well, what do you think would happen?

Health care costs in America are the highest in the world and rising at an unsustainable rate. Would that trend magically reverse itself?

How about the 46 million Americans without insurance? Would that number go up, or down? Would more, or fewer, Americans declare bankruptcy each year because of health care bills? Would the number of Americans who die each year (45,000 in a recent study) from lack of health insurance go up, or down? How about the number of rescissions (people dropped by their insurance company when they get sick)? Would any of those trends magically reverse themselves?

And as Bob Hope would say, how about those insurance companies? Would they have more, or less, power over the consumer going forward? Do you think they would have more, or less, to say about the health care you receive? Remember, every time they pay a claim it's considered a "loss" to them.

What about the quality of health care in America? The U. S. is currently ranked 37th in the world by the World Health Organization. Would that ranking go up, or down?

I know what you're thinking: Sarah Palin and the Republicans will fix health care in America. Doh!

David Brooks always writes a good...

...column, and today's is no exception. But I have to take issue with the fourth-to-last paragraph:

Many Democrats, as always, are caught in their insular liberal information loop. They think the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad.

I agree with the second sentence. James Carville said it best in 1992, "It's the economy, stupid." I have no doubt that the unemployment rate is the most important factor in a president's popularity. Get that moving lower and suddenly Obama will be seen as a genius. Remember Reagan?

They tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren’t sophisticated enough to understand it.

Sorry, but this one is true, too. Just talk to anyone about the bill. The opposition has been masterful at spreading misinformation. Come on, "death panels?" And what does it say about the level of sophistication in this country when Sarah Palin is the best-selling author in America?

Some believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

All the House has to do is pass the Senate bill and Obama can sign it into law. No country that ever passed universal health care, i. e., the rest of the developed world, has ever considered repealing it. It would be a major step forward for America. And ask yourself this, what happens to health care in America if the bill doesn't pass?

The song of the...

Monday, January 18, 2010

As usual, Ezra Klein...

...puts the health care bill in perspective:

No matter what the players involved in the health-care reform fight want for the bill, they're all united in one respect: They want you to believe this is the biggest thing in the world. Republicans want you to believe it's a dangerous proposal that will wreck a sixth of the economy. Democrats want you to believe it's a marvelous bill that will fix the health-care system. The news media frequently take both claims at face value.

It's time for some real talk on health-care reform. By the standards of what Congress generally does in a year, this bill is very big. But by the standards of the health-care system, it's not that big at all. It goes two-thirds of the way on covering the uninsured. It makes a courageous, but insufficient, start on cost control. This is the beginning, not the end, of reform.

Let's begin by breaking down the numbers. The $900 billion price tag is repeated with the regularity of a rooster's crow. That's a shame, as the number is, somewhat impressively, misleading in both directions.

On the one hand, that $900 billion is stretched over 10 years. But people don't think in 10-year increments. They don't pay taxes once a decade. Put more simply, the bill will cost an average of $90 billion a year.

But that number is meaningless without context. Ninety billion is a lot more than you probably paid for, say, your house. But is it a lot of money in the context of national health-care spending? Not really. In 2008, we spent $2.3 trillion on health care. Ninety billion is about 4 percent of that. In other words, a drop in the bucket.

You've got to be kidding...! Robert Bobb? His parents couldn't think of any other first names?

The song of the...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I agree with Andrew Sullivan's...

...take on President Obama's first year in office.

Intrade may be the only poll...

...I follow, but Nate Silver's blog,, has the best track record for predicting elections. As of Sunday night, he has the Massachusetts senate race too close to call. I'll be consulting him as well as Intrade in the next 48 hours.

President Obama is traveling... Massachusetts today in a last-ditch effort to save the senate campaign of the hapless Martha Coakley. As I write this, on Sunday morning, the Democrat is trailing the former centerfold model on Intrade, the only poll I follow. The future of health care reform in America hangs in the balance (as well as the rest of the president's progressive agenda).

How many times does Obama have to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Okay, I'll weigh in on the whole...

...Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien thing after all. What the heck. Where should I begin? First of all, I was a huge Johnny Carson fan. I started watching the "Tonight Show" as soon as I was old enough to stay up late. I used to watch Carson with my mother. Heck, I used to watch him with my grandmother. We moved into our current house in 1992 on the day of his last show. I stayed up and "watched" it on a TV with no picture (we weren't hooked up yet) and sat on a cardboard box. It was great! Carson will always be the "King of Late Night" to me.

Having said that (my apologies to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld), I'm also a fan of both David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, although I rarely stay up that late. As for Leno, not as much. I always thought his comedy was too vanilla, too formulaic. He's kind of a modern-day Bob Hope. But maybe that's what gives him such wide appeal.

Having said that (again), I thought Leno got a bit of a raw deal when he got kicked off the "Tonight Show" in favor of O'Brien. The champ deserves to either get beaten in the ring or retire on his own. But inexplicably, the bigwigs at NBC never called me. (I could have saved them a lot of trouble.)

Having said all that (last time, I promise), one thing that has struck me about all this is the amount of vitriol directed at Leno by his late night peers and now Howard Stern. This is not a well-liked man!

So that's it. That's all I have to say on the subject. Leno will go back to 11:35 Eastern, O'Brien will move on and have a great career somewhere else (he is funny), and I will continue to go to bed at 11:00 Eastern, 10:00 Central (on a good night).

Here's a sobering...

...statistic: the Labor Department estimates that the economy would have to add 150,000 jobs a month for 48 straight months for the unemployment rate to drop to just 9 percent.

Last month non-farm payrolls declined by 85,000.

As the health care bill moves closer...

...and closer to the president's desk, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa voices his displeasure in the Times Prescriptions blog:

Congress should work on the fundamental problems in the health care system and pass common sense medical malpractice reform to stop wasting so much money on defensive medicine, end pre-existing condition exclusions and waiting periods, start paying for value rather than volume, and empower consumers to shop around for health care and lower costs with competition, just like with other services we buy. Congress should make market reforms that help small businesses and the self-employed access health insurance.

All good suggestions.

For months, Mr. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, was part of a small group of senators working to develop the legislation, but ended up turning against the bill and opposing it both on the finance panel and the Senate floor.

So what happened? In August:

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."

"There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life," Grassley said. "And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out. And I don't have any problem with things like living wills. But they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

So rather than work on the legislation in good faith, Grassley (and the rest of the Republican caucus) chose instead to withdraw from the process altogether. And now the GOP is left with a bill that they can only complain about. Who's fault is that?

"Teapublican" is a term...

...I encountered for the first time today in a front-page article in the New York Times. Teapublicans are Tea Party activists who are trying to take over the Republican Party. According to the piece:

Across the country, [Tea Party activists] are signing up to be Republican precinct leaders, a position so low-level that it often remains vacant, but which comes with the ability to vote for the party executives who endorse candidates, approve platforms and decide where the party spends money.

A new group called the National Precinct Alliance says it has a coordinator in nearly every state to recruit Tea Party activists to fill the positions and has already swelled the number of like-minded members in Republican Party committees in Arizona and Nevada. Its mantra is this: take the precinct, take the state, take the party — and force it to nominate conservatives rather than people they see as liberals in Republican clothing.

Republican leaders have been trying to harness the Tea Party energy. Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently [said] “It’s important for our party to appreciate and understand [the movement] so we can move toward it, and embrace it.”

Not all Republicans agree. Some say the party needs to broaden its reach, not cater to the fringe.

I agree with this last statement. Ideological purity will only make for a smaller and less influential Republican Party.

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a Tea Party sympathizer, recently said, “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.”

In response, I would paraphrase Tom Friedman, "Good luck with that, Mr. DeMint." How can Tea Partiers like DeMint expect to have any impact in the Senate with only 30 members?

For a more realistic take on the Republican Party, check out David Frum's blog,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I just got back from my mid-day...

...constitutional (it's actually a beautiful day here) and I'm still breathing hard from a near-death experience. As I was turning down Burr Oak Drive from Mickey Lane in Glenview, I came face-to-face with a coyote! (I've always bragged to my kids that I could take a dog in a fight, but, like skydiving, I never thought anyone would ever actually call my bluff!)

Navy SEAL Cade Courtley would know what to do in this instance. Why didn't I pay closer attention to those episodes of "Surviving Disaster" where you have to confront a wild animal?

I immediately assumed my best defensive crouch.

Come on, sucker. Make my day...

I have to tell you, it was a white knuckle ride. But at the very last second he must have thought better of it, because he veered off to one side. Good for him, too.

(That squirrel may have held more fascination for him. We'll never know for certain.)

Joe Paterno has won 394 games... 44 years at Penn State, making him the third winningest college football coach in history. He's had 38 winning seasons (one more than Bear Bryant); won 24 bowl games, more than anyone else; had five undefeated, untied seasons; and won two national championships. Not too shabby!

(But the best stat I found on Joe Pa is that he's been on Penn State's coaching staff for 680 of their 1,202 games, 56.6% of all games played by the program dating back to its inception in 1887!)

Today in the Times, it says that:

...on the day [Pete] Carroll bade farewell to the troops at U.S.C., Penn State issued a release that its football players had the highest graduation success rate, known as G.S.R., 85 percent, and the highest federal graduation rate, 89 percent, among teams ranked in this season’s final top 25.

(I have no idea what a federal graduation rate is, but 89 percent sounds like a high number.)

I'd say Paterno has had a pretty good run. But he won only two national championships in 44 years, or one every 22 years (if my calculator is correct). Lou Holtz, by comparison, had one in only 11 years at Notre Dame, which is twice as good (again, calculator). Then, of course, there was Dan Devine. He won a national championship in only six seasons in South Bend and was run out of town by an angry mob. So my question is, could Joe Pa have survived at ND with that crummy record of his?

Knox Burger died... age 87. Doesn't that sound like something that should be on the children's menu at Denny's?

Tom Friedman takes on Jim Chanos... in his piece, "Is China the Next Enron?" The Times columnist and author lectures the billionaire hedge fund manager and offers his own take on investing in China:

It may be that we haven’t seen anything yet.

You see, Friedman has actually been to the Far East and has asked the tough questions that Chanos has apparently overlooked:

...after visiting Hong Kong and Taiwan this past week and talking to many people who work and invest their own money in China, I’d offer Mr. Chanos two notes of caution.

The first is another one of Friedman's famous home-spun aphorisms:

First, a simple rule of investing that has always served me well: Never short a country with $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves.

The second is essentially a list of all the conventional reasons to be bullish on China. But short-sellers like Chanos aren't normally swayed by the conventional wisdom. In fact, they're contrarians who dig beneath the surface to uncover the truth. That's how Enron fooled the world and Chanos got rich.

Friedman ends his piece by taunting Chanos:

Still, I’d rather bet against the euro. Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.

I have my own taunt: Shorting Chanos today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

You'll have to excuse me now. I have to go buy some euros.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Could Scott Brown really upset...

...Martha Coakley in Massachusetts next Tuesday and give Republicans the 41st vote they need to defeat health care reform?

Intrade gives Brown a 16% chance of winning.

Has the tea party movement...

...jumped the shark? (I love that expression.) In the Daily Beast today, Samuel Jacobs writes that:

600 members of disparate groups from across the country prepare to descend next month on Nashville for the first National Tea Party Convention. The group’s big coming-out party is threatened by a rash of infighting, finger-pointing and paranoia.

I imagine that organizing nihilists could be a little like herding cats.

The stars of the movement, such as they are, will be out: Going Rogue author, former GOP vice-presidential nominee, and newly minted Fox News contributor Sarah Palin; Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann; and prominent birther Joseph Farah, the editor of WorldNetDaily, among them.

Not exactly a Who's Who of serious people, is it?

But a number of Tea Party activists recoil at the very idea that their movement should have stars—and are steering clear because they don’t want to follow any one leader. And FreedomWorks, the nonprofit headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey—and the group that helped foster the early growth and development of the Tea Party insurgency—has decided to stay away.

Face it, without Astroturfers like Dick Armey, the whole movement is likely to whither away.

Stay tuned.

We only watch highbrow television... our house. To give you an example, my wife never misses an episode of "Say Yes to the Dress" on TLC, while my son and I are big fans of "Surviving Disaster" on Spike. Not familiar with Spike? It's a lot like PBS. The rest of its lineup includes "1000 Ways to Die," "The Ultimate Fighter," "Fast Machines with Funk Master Flex," "Real Vice Cops Uncut" (last episode: Birthday Suit Bust), "Guys Choice: All that's Important to Men Everywhere," and "Manswers," which recently tackled the question, "Will she be a screamer?" (I assume that means, "Is your new girlfriend a vocal sports fan?") I guess the target audience for Spike is what used to be called the Brie and Chablis Crowd.

"Surviving Disaster" is hosted by a former Navy SEAL named Cade Courtley (great name) who begins every show by saying, "I'm Cade Courtley and I'm about to save your life. Will you be a survivor or a statistic? The choice is yours." Count me in, Cade! Courtley instructs the viewer on how to survive a myriad of potential crises the average person can expect to encounter in his daily life. Some of the episodes I've seen include:

Nuclear Attack--A nuclear bomb has been detonated on American soil. Navy SEAL Cade Courtley shows you what to do in the first 20 minutes of detonation in order to survive. Although Cade (I feel like I know him) warns that "it's illegal," he shows you how to hot-wire a car to make a safe getaway. Whoa! Did you say illegal? I'm not so sure about that. (Which two of those wires did you say you connect again?)

Home invasion--When violent criminals break into your home, Navy SEAL Cade Courtley shows you how to fight back if escape is not an option. You will learn how to get out of hand restraints and devise a plan for escape in a life-threatening hostage scenario. Did you know that 8,000 homes are invaded every day? According to Cade, 1 in 5 homes will experience a home invasion. Yikes! (How come I don't know any of those people? No matter.)

Hurricane--A major hurricane hits your city. Navy SEAL Cade Courtley will show you how to maneuver your car through flooded streets, cross a fast-moving river to get to higher ground and barricade yourself in an abandoned house in order to survive. He'll also show you how to treat a wound from an alligator bite. Now that could come in handy!

Hijack--Navy SEAL Cade Courtley fights terrorists in this highly realistic simulation of an aircraft hijacking. He shows you how to turn everyday items into improvised weapons, how to overtake suicidal hijackers and how to fly and land a commercial airliner. Yes, you read that last part correctly. "It's a piece of cake!" he says. Just remember to dial into the emergency frequency, which is 121.500 (or was that 122.500?) Shoot! Can we see that part again? "If you ever find yourself at the controls of a jet," Cade assures us, "the important thing to remember is not to panic." Gotcha!

Other episodes that I'm looking forward to seeing are:

Mall Shooting--A highly trained terrorist cell takes over a crowded mall in a military style siege. Navy SEAL Cade Courtley shows you how to survive a firefight using SEAL Team tactics and take on this well armed enemy by constructing improvised weapons, smoke bombs, and night vision gear. I don't know about you, but I always bring my night vision gear with me to the mall anyway.

Avalanche--A day on the slopes turns disastrous when a deadly avalanche hits. Using the latest survival methods and military techniques, Cade Courtley shows you how to build a snow shelter and survive overnight in sub-zero temperatures, face off with a grizzly bear, and escape from a massive avalanche. Are there really bears on the slopes at Vail?

Lost at Sea--A leisurely ocean voyage becomes your worst nightmare when you get trapped under a capsized boat in a violent storm at sea. Cade Courtley will show you how to survive as you drift for days on a life raft and defend yourself against deadly sharks. Why does there always have to be the added threat from a wild animal in these situations? Aren't these disasters challenging enough?

All kidding aside, it's actually a very interesting and compelling show. Check it out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Today is the tenth anniversary...

...of the notorious AOL-Time Warner deal. It was the largest transaction in history and widely thought to be the worst merger ever. Oh well.

I don't have anything new to add, except that Gerald Levin, the former head of Time Warner, now runs a holistic healing center in Santa Monica, California. Stephen Case, the co-founder of AOL, graduated from Punahou School in Honolulu in 1976, the alma mater of Barack Obama ('79). Case now lives in McLean, Virginia, in the childhood home of Jacqueline Bouvier.

I watched "Tender Mercies," (1983)...

...again this weekend; it's one of my favorite movies. It stars Robert Duvall, Tess Harper, a young Wilford Brimley ("If you have di-a-bee-duss..."), and an even younger Ellen Barkin in the story of a recovered alcoholic country singer. It was written by Horton Foote and directed by Bruce Beresford, who also made "Breaker Morant," (1980) another great flick.

The newspapers are all abuzz...

...about Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Fallon and who will go where! and at what time! and will Conan leave NBC? and it reminds me of all the Sturm und Drang about the network news shows.

My question is, do people still care about those tired old shows?

Tommy Tuberville... Texas Tech? Too much alliteration. (And he's a retread.)

Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby,...

...died last week at age 88. Like a lot of people my generation, Eddie Murphy's satire on Saturday Night Live was the best take on the 1960s icon:

Murphy played him as a cigar-chomping vulgarian — “I’m Gumby, dammit!” (Sorry, I couldn't find a YouTube clip.)

But what really caught my eye in Clokey's obit was:

“The Gumby Show” had an undercurrent of tender, if slightly surreal, spirituality. (A lifelong seeker of enlightenment, Mr. Clokey tried LSD — but only once, under medical supervision and not till long after he created Gumby, his son said in a telephone interview on Sunday.)

Yeah, right; only once, and under medical supervision. It all makes sense now.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thomas Friedman wrote another... of his gushing columns about China today, this one on how the world's most populous nation will overtake the U. S. in energy technology. In the Times, Friedman hyperventilates:

Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China’s Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the E.T. — Energy Technology — revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.

Funny how Friedman always seems to be looking back on the present from some vantage point in the future. Maybe he's right this time, but I wouldn't count on it; his track record just isn't that good. In fact, it seems like Friedman has been wrong on just about every major subject he's tackled. (The Iraq War being probably the most egregious example.) And it doesn't help that he always hedges himself. For example, he's famously said in regard to China, "Never cede a century to a country that censors Google." You can be sure to hear that one a few more times.

I bring all of this up because of the article on Friday about James Chanos, the hedge fund billionaire. He's bucking the investment world's consensus by looking for ways to sell China short. After reading Friedman's piece this morning, I have one more reason to think he may be on to something.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

If you like Vienna Beef...

...then try Bobak's. Since it's a Chicago-based company, Bobak's sausage may not be available in your area. (The headquarters are located near Midway Airport on the South Side.) I especially like the Hot and Spicy Smoked Sausage.

Check out the Web site; click on "What's a Sausageologist?" Excellent stuff!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Have you ever seen... of these Segways? Are they ridiculous, or what? They travel at the breathtaking speed of about six miles per hour. Check out the picture; the riders are wearing crash helmets!

Doesn't anyone just walk anymore?

Hey basketball fans...

...keep your eye on Jon Scheyer, the Glenbrook North grad. He scored 31 points for Duke Wednesday night in their 81-65 victory over Iowa State in the United Center. Will he make it in the NBA?

Back in the 1980s, Japan...

...was thought to be on the verge of taking over the world. Today, it's China. (Doesn't it seem like someone is always poised to surpass the U. S.?) In today's New York Times, there's a story about James Chanos, of Kynikos Associates, who thinks China's economy is in a bubble and may be riding for a big fall. He's worth listening to. Chanos has made a ton of money identifying overvalued companies like Enron, Tyco, Boston Market and others. Still, there are a lot of big names in the investing world that remain bullish on China, such as Jim Rogers, Warren Buffett, Wilbur Ross, and Byron Wien.

Stay tuned; this could be better than Alabama-Texas.

The two funniest shows on TV...

...are the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Colbert Nation with Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. I can't believe that Saturday Night Live takes a whole week to put on a show that isn't very funny while these two guys put on really good shows four nights a week (Monday through Thursday).

And don't worry about making time to watch them; you can just watch them on the Internet like I do.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Times has a piece today... which it mentions a business consultant from Atlanta by the name of Kirt Greenburg.

"Is your first name spelled with a 'K' or a 'C?' "

" 'K.' Oh, and an 'I.' "


"My name. It's spelled with a 'K' and an 'I.' "


"My first name is spelled K-I-R-T."

"Really? I've never seen it spelled that way before."

"Yeah, well, I guess my parents were creative in that way."

"Well at least I won't have any trouble with your last name!"

"Oh yeah, that. It's spelled with a 'U.' "


"My last name. It's spelled with a 'U.' "


"Never mind..."

What a hassle that must be!

Have you ever seen the show...

...Life After People, on the History Channel? It's really good.

Remember those old sit-coms...

...from the 1960s, like "F Troop" or "McHale's Navy?" Every once in a while they would have an episode about someone who was a jinx. You know, someone who would bring bad luck wherever he went. Well here's the story of a real-live jinx. Tsutomu Yamaguchi survived not one but two atomic blasts! According to his obit in the Times:

Mr. Yamaguchi, as a 29-year-old engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was in Hiroshima on a business trip when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. He was getting off a streetcar when the so-called Little Boy device detonated above the city.

Mr. Yamaguchi said he was less than two miles away from ground zero that day. His eardrums were ruptured, and his upper torso was burned by the blast, which destroyed most of the city’s buildings and killed 80,000 people.

Mr. Yamaguchi spent the night in a Hiroshima bomb shelter and returned to Nagasaki, his hometown, the following day, according to interviews he gave over the years. The second bomb, known as Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, killing 70,000 people.

Mr. Yamaguchi was in his Nagasaki office, telling his boss about the Hiroshima blast, when “suddenly the same white light filled the room,” he said in an interview last March with the British newspaper The Independent.

“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he said.

This is a guy to whom you wouldn't want to stand too close! He had to be the unluckiest man in history. Or maybe he was the luckiest:

“I could have died on either of those days. Everything that follows is a bonus.”

Peter Orszag, Obama's budget director,...

...has just confirmed that he and his previous girlfriend became parents in November. Orszag, who has two children from his first marriage, just announced after Christmas that he had become engaged to a third woman. (I know what you're thinking: Are you talking about that nerdy-looking guy with the bad toupee? Yep. Hey, maybe even bean counters are considered sex symbols in Washington.)

It reminds me a little of Steve Garvey. Remember him? Cub fans do. He was the star first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres back in the 1970s and '80s. I noticed that Garvey was inducted into the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame recently. (Again, I know what you're thinking: that must be a very small building! It's actually inside Foley's NY Pub & Restaurant on W. 33rd St. in New York City. I am not making this up.)

Garvey's nickname was "Mr. Clean" because of his squeaky-clean image. (Remind you of any famous athlete in the news today?) A devout Catholic and Republican (of course), Garvey once considered a bid for the U. S. Senate from California. His plans were derailed, however, when his ex-wife Cyndy wrote a tell-all book in which she described his extra-marital affairs. It didn't help matters when two other women came forward with paternity suits against him shortly after he was remarried.

While Garvey's story is a good one (he ended up fathering a total of nine children by four different women), it's not even that impressive when compared to other athletes. NFLer Travis Henry had 9 kids by 9 women by age 28 and NBAer Calvin Murphy had 14 illegitimate kids by 9 women.

Orszag, looks like you got your work cut out for you.

If the race to replace Chris Dodd... the U. S. Senate from Connecticut doesn't sound funny to you, read this piece by Peter Applebome in the Times today.

Here's an excellent piece... Timothy Egan about the Mitt Romney Dilemma. Romney, despite his myriad shortcomings, is probably the first choice of the Republican establishment for 2012. (Like 2008, it's a weak field.) But the dilemma for Romney is that the health care reform bill that Obama is likely to sign (without a single Republican vote, of course) looks eerily similar to the one that Romney signed when he was governor of Massachusetts. Ouch! I've heard his spin on this and can't remember exactly what it was (which tells you about how good it was). Since Obamacare is almost identical to Romneycare, and since Obamacare is practically anathema to the GOP (not to mention the tea partiers), this should be interesting.

Stay tuned.

I've stopped listening to all those experts...

...and their market calls on CNBC. The business news channel has dozens of them on each day and each one of them has a convincing forecast backed up by interesting facts and observations. Oftentimes, they will have two people on simultaneously with completely different opinions! It can be very confusing. Also useless.

It reminds me a little of all those experts you see on all those football pre-game shows. Just the other night, before the Orange Bowl, Eddie George predicted that the game would result in a combined score of over 60 points. (I don't know why he would mention that since it's only relevant to the gamblers who are betting the Over/Under; I'm sure that never entered into his mind.) When pinned down, George said Iowa would win, 35-31.

"Quick! Get my bookie on the phone! I'll take the Over for a hundred bucks!"

Jimmy Johnson, who is one of the only coaches to win not only a National Championship but also a Super Bowl, scoffed at this. He went on and on about Georgia Tech's potent offense and confidently predicted that the Yellow Jackets would prevail by a score of 28-14.

"...And another hundo on Georgia Tech to cover!"

Iowa ended up winning, 24-14. Dang! (Maybe Johnson just read the teleprompter wrong. Some of those old guys can be so vain about wearing glasses on TV!)

But my point is that Eddie George and Jimmy Johnson have both forgotten far more about football than I will ever know; I'll concede that. They are genuine experts. But their opinions are still worthless to me. If I had bet the Over/Under based on George's call or took Georgia Tech based on what Johnson said, I would have lost money. And the same is true with the experts on CNBC. Their opinions are nothing more than "infotainment"; interesting to listen to, but that's about it. If you invested according to their advice I doubt very seriously that you would beat the indexes.

So I'll continue to watch CNBC for the latest economic releases and business news, but that's about it.

If you don't read Gail Collins... the New York Times, you really should because she's hysterical. But today she finishes her column with a serious point:

[The 641,000 residents of North Dakota] get exactly the same number of senate votes as the 36.8 million people in California.