Thursday, May 31, 2012

In an effort to fight obesity... New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to ban the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts.

Now, even a big-government, nanny-state liberal such as myself thinks that's a little silly. But Steve Martin's tweet was the best:

Use this algorithm to maintain obesity and get around proposed over-sized soda ban in New York: Buy two.

I received an urgent e-mail...

...this morning from a friend traveling in Europe (I didn't even know she was out of town!): 

Hope you get this on time, I made a trip to Glasgow, Scotland and had my bag stolen from me with my passport and personal effects therein. The embassy has just issued me a temporary passport but I have to pay for a ticket and settle hotel bills. I've made contact with my bank but it would take me days to access funds in my account from Glasgow. I need you to lend me some funds to cover these expenses. I can give back to you as soon as I get in. 

I can forward you details on how you can get the funds to me. 

I await your response. 

Thanks much. 


And my question is, do people still fall for this stuff? I mean, come on, keep your bag and passport where you can see it at all times!

The quotes of the day...

...are from John Bolton, President George W. Bush's ambassador to the United Nations:

"I think people would agree with [President] Obama that he was left with a mess."

and Robert Gibbs:

"[The Romney campaign's] message is: You didn't clean up our mess fast enough."

Richard Lyman, former president...

...of Stanford University, died at age 88: 

Mr. Lyman is survived by his wife, the former Elizabeth Schauffler, known as Jing... 


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Here's a guy...

...who went to school with both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Seriously. 

Sidney Barthwell, the only black member of Romney’s 1965 class at Cranbrook Schools, met Obama at Harvard Law. 

And what does he think of the two candidates for president? 

“When they debate, Barack will smoke Romney.” 

You can read the rest of it here

Oh, and Barthwell: 

...also knew the women who would one day marry the two candidates. Ann Romney, then Anne Davies, attended Kingswood School, Cranbrook’s sister school. Michelle Obama graduated from Harvard Law School in 1988. 

What are the odds?

Reality check...

...time. Here's the 2012 Electoral College map; it's pretty similar to the one in RealClearPolitics (which I couldn't  copy). 

If you color Ohio (18 electoral votes) and Virginia (13) blue it brings President Obama's total to 283, thirteen more than the 270 needed to win reelection. (I'd give him four more for New Hampshire.) 

Is this reasonable? Well, according to RCP, the president leads Governor Romney in most polls in Ohio and Virginia. Also (and more important), from a piece in Time: 

At 7.4%, Ohio’s unemployment rate is about a half-point better than the national average of 8.1 percent; more importantly, it’s improving about twice as fast as the national number. Virginia has a relatively stellar 5.6 percent rate; that’s better than Romney’s target for the nation at the end of his first term. 

Unless the economy takes a dive, I don't see how the president loses.

Doc Watson, the blind...

...guitarist and folk singer, died at age 89. (I have to confess I'm not that familiar with Watson or his music; I'd never heard the song in the video above.) But I did enjoy this line from his obit in the Times: 

At the age of 5 or 6 he received his first harmonica as a Christmas gift, and at 11 his father made him a fretless banjo with a head made from the skin of a family cat that had just died.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If you want to know...

...why I read the obituaries in the New York Times religiously, check out the one today about a boxer named Johnny Tapia. Just as the tattoo on his belly, "Mi vida loca," said, he led a crazy life. Here's the first paragraph: 

Johnny Tapia, a prizefighter who won world titles in three weight classes in a chaotic life that included jail, struggles with mental illness, suicide attempts and five times being declared clinically dead as a result of drug overdoses, was found dead at his home in Albuquerque on Sunday. He was 45.

Here's a startling statistic...

...from Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling (above): 

In 2004 only 4 percent of men and 10.5 percent of women failed the fitness test that is required to join the military. By 2010, 47.6 percent of men and 54.6 percent of women failed the test.

Mitt Romney, like more...

...and more conservatives today, seems to believe that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were divinely inspired. (Never mind that crackpot woman in the video above; listen to what the former governor of Massachusetts says.) 

Sanford Levinson, a professor of government at the University of Texas, writes in the Times today, "Our Imbecilic Constitution," that the document was not only drafted by men, but is seriously flawed as well: 

Ignore, for discussion’s sake, the clauses that helped to entrench chattel slavery until it was eliminated by a brutal Civil War. Begin with the Senate and its assignment of equal voting power to California and Wyoming; Vermont and Texas; New York and North Dakota. Consider that, although a majority of Americans since World War II have registered opposition to the Electoral College, we will participate this year in yet another election that “battleground states” will dominate while the three largest states will be largely ignored. 

Our vaunted system of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” — a legacy of the founders’ mistrust of “factions” — means that we rarely have anything that can truly be described as a “government.” Save for those rare instances when one party has hefty control over four branches — the House of Representatives, the Senate, the White House and the Supreme Court — gridlock threatens. Elections are increasingly meaningless, at least in terms of producing results commensurate with the challenges facing the country.

Charlie Rose had a guest...

...on the other night named Don Gogel. He's a private equity guy who came across as highly intelligent and measured in his speech. While Mr. Gogel voted for Barack Obama in 2008, he's been disappointed with the president and may switch to Mitt Romney this time around.

Fair enough. The economy is muddling along and unemployment is still stubbornly high. And Romney, with his extensive background in business, claims he could do better.

Now, Charlie Rose is frustrating to watch. Even though he has the best guests on TV, he is a horrible interviewer. (Sometimes I wonder how on earth he got that job.) So here are some of the questions that I wish Mr. Rose -- or somebody, anybody -- would ask critics of the president like Mr. Gogel:

* What, exactly, did President Obama do wrong in his first term?

* What, exactly, would a President Romney have done differently?

* And what, exactly, would a President Romney do differently if elected in November?

Would a President Romney, for example, have passed the stimulus bill and bailed out the auto industry? It doesn't sound like it. So the country would be in much worse shape, right? The American auto industry would be gone and unemployment would be up dramatically.

Would a President Romney have lowered taxes? Taxes are already low, and the "job creators" still aren't creating jobs.

Would a President Romney have passed the Ryan budget? God help us if he did. We'd be in an even more serious economic decline and the budget deficit would be ballooning.

So, instead of just criticizing the president (which is fair game), let's not give Governor Romney a free pass. When is somebody going to ask him what he would do as president?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Here's a picture...

...of an American soldier waiting to return home from France in 1945. It reminds me a little of my dad on this Memorial Day. Although he didn't wear glasses (or smoke a pipe!), my father did serve in World War II.

He's been dead for two years now.

The next entry... My Road Home: 

Wednesday June 27th 

It's 4:00 a.m., I'm sound asleep when I receive a tap on the shoulder waking me up. For some reason they are moving me into a new dorm. I dress quickly and look for Tyson to give him some of the clothes Eileen as given me. These are items I just won't feel comfortable wearing around here; like a bathrobe! Some of these guys could get away with it, but not me. As I prepare to leave, Tyson goes from being one of the most important people (my protector) in my current world, to someone, once I leave this room, odds are I will never see again. 

The new dorm is only about a quarter mile away but after all the processing & waiting, it ends up taking me 10 hours to get there. I spend the bulk of that time in a holding cell the size of a closet. There are eleven of us, the heat is sweltering, the toilet doesn't work, and I feel like I am going to pass out. The guards don't give a shit if we all drop of heat exhaustion. I have to stay strong.

The tweet of the day:

I wish our leaders would remember our war dead when they're deciding on a new war. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Times had a story today...

...about a white 69-year-old pipe-smoking former life insurance salesman who travels around the country following his favorite presidential candidate in too-short shorts, too-high white socks, and a dress shirt.

Any guesses as to which candidate?

The license plates of the day:





Except that when I pulled up alongside to get a look at the driver, there were two old men in the front seat that looked more like this:
How about a little truth in advertising, guys?

Friday, May 25, 2012

President Obama smoked pot...

...when he was young, according to a new biography by David Maraniss. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has never even had a cup of coffee.

Now which do you think is more weird?

The quote of the day... from David Frum: 

Republicans, the anti-government party, depend on the votes of the elderly, the affluent, and the rural—in other words, the American government's redistributional winners.

Wesley Brown, who endured...

...intense racial hazing to become the first black graduate of the United States Naval Academy, died at age 85. From the Times obit (my emphasis): 

White cadets refused to sit next to Mr. Brown, racial epithets were whispered behind his back, and fellow plebes barred him from joining the choir — all of it mixed with and hidden behind a torrent of regular hazing that underclassmen were expected to bear. He told interviewers that not a day passed when he did not consider quitting. 

But unlike his predecessors, he said, Mr. Brown had the support of a handful of fellow cadets, who were friendly to him despite receiving threats from hostile classmates, and from the academy commandant, who intervened to protect him from excessive harassment. 

“If not for that, I’m not sure I would have made it,” Mr. Brown told an interviewer. 

One cadet who visited his dorm room to talk and encouraged him to “hang in there,” Mr. Brown said, was Jimmy Carter, the future president, who was then an upperclassman and fellow member of the academy’s cross-country team. 

In a speech last year at a Naval Academy event, Mr. Carter recalled Cadet Brown as part of “my first personal experience with total integration.” 

“A few members of my senior class attempted to find ways to give him demerits so that he would be discharged,” Mr. Carter said, “but Brown’s good performance prevailed.”
Now, say what you want about the Carter presidency, but could you imagine any of today's Republicans showing that kind of leadership?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The next entry... My Road Home: 

Tuesday June 26th 

Constantly I find myself going back to where I was a week ago. Not sure why I punish myself with this train of thought, but I can't help it. The contrast from where I am now is two different worlds. I was playing golf with my sons Brooks & Phil, enjoying our last days together as I  thought about all the special moments (Birthdays, holidays, Brooks High School graduation, Sr. college tour, etc...that I will miss out on. I am so sad and depressed. We had gone out to dinner, and I sat there stealing glimpses of the looks on their faces, the smiles. I am almost certain I will not want them to visit me while I am away. 

The lights here at Rikers go out at Midnight, but that means nothing; the noise and hollering continue until the wee hours. I am so tired, hopefully I can fall asleep quickly tonight. My cot is at the end of the dorm, as far away from the night CO on duty as possible. I'm a little nervous with this but it was the only bed available when I arrived. Out of the 50 in this room, about 2 or 3 are white. Wake up is at 4:00 am, I have no idea why so early. Breakfast is wheeled in on a cart, we grab a tray, the slop is spooned out and then we head back to our beds to sit and eat. Oh God please help me survive.

The quote of the day... from David Cutler, the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics in the Department of Economics and Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a member of the Institute of Medicine (my emphasis):
Never before in history has a candidate run for President with the idea that too many people have insurance coverage.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The election in November...

...will come down to how voters in nine swing states feel about the economy

That's it. Anything else is just a sideshow. 

Bloomberg had an excellent piece on this yesterday, "Obama Prospects Improve As Swing State Economies Improve" (my emphasis): 

From extra shifts at auto and steel plants in Ohio to office buildings rising in Northern Virginia, the geography of the U.S. economic rebound is providing an edge to President Barack Obama’s re-election. 

The unemployment rates in a majority of the 2012 battleground states are lower than the national average as those economies improve. Coupled with the growth of adult minority populations in those states, the trends create a higher bar for presumed Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney in his quest to unseat Obama. 

Local economies are “important,” said Xu Cheng, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. A model that Moody’s developed based solely on state-by-state economic data and past voting behavior forecast the outcome in 2008, he said. 

A projection Moody’s made May 21 based on the model predicts an Obama victory with 303 electoral voters, with the Democrat carrying Ohio and Virginia and the Republican winning Florida. The economic data for the remainder of the year comes from Moody’s state-by-state forecasts. 

Remember: It's the economy, stupid. Or, more accurately, the economy in the swing states, stupid. All the rest is just noise.

Eugene Polley, the inventor...

...of the wireless television remote control (or "the plinker," as it was known around our house), died at age 96. As my father would have attested, Polley's contribution to Western Civilization was unrivaled in its import.

While one wag claimed that Polley's body was found between the cushions of his couch, I think this tweet sums it up nicely:

Inventor of the TV remote lived to the age of 96. GETTING OUT OF YOUR CHAIR IS OVERRATED. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The next three paragraphs...

...from My Road Home: 

I need to eat more! It's taking some time getting comfortable with this food, but of course I have no choice, I had better learn to like it. I miss my sons terribly; they are all I think about. Falling asleep has been difficult, there are 49 other men in this dorm and it seems everyone of them snores loudly. 

This morning was the first time since my sentencing that I was able to see daylight. I was allowed a grand total of 1 hour recreation. As it turns out, only ten other fellow inmates line up at the door at the assigned time,  9:00 a.m. I think to myself, how could these other dudes not want to get out for some fresh air, to escape this filthy, smelly dorm for just an hour? 

Guards escort us outside to a high school type of field, with a track, weight lifting area, and basket ball court, all surrounded by barbed wire of course. I soon notice particular areas being claimed by the inmates. Like the weightlifting area, a bunch of bad looking dudes hanging out there. All I want to do is run on the track, and breath the fresh air. I have no interest in anything else. Rikers, or "The Island" as the prison veterans refer to it as, is right next door to LaGuardia airport, where it seems a plane flies overhead every 60 seconds. They appear so close, I can almost make out the tread of the tires as they take off and land. All I can think about is the freedom I no longer have, the freedom to be on one of those planes, and fly somewhere. As I walk the track I daydream about being in the sky again. The sun is shinning and the hour goes by way too quickly. The guards blast the siren, it's time to line up and return to the cell.

Johnny Carson's final appearance...

...on The Tonight Show was twenty years ago today. And I "watched" it (without a picture) on my TV set, sitting on a moving box in my new family room. My older boy, Joe, was smack-dab in the middle of the "terrible twos," and my wife was pregnant with our other son, John.

Where does the time go?

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Archie Peck, a competitive croquet...

...player (which sounds like a contradiction in terms), died at age 76. While Mr. Peck (who appears to be missing a fairly easy shot in the picture above) wins the award -- hands down -- for Best Nickname of the Day, Silky Legs, the contest for Best Given Name is still wide open. The finalists are:

Richard Spillenkothen,

Sabrina Quagliozzi,

Bob Boozer; and (my personal favorite)

Walter Wink.

P. S. A late entry: Jacob Funk Kirkegaard.

Monday, May 21, 2012

More from my friend's...

...prison memoir, My Road Home:

Monday June 25 

I have been befriended by one of the top prisoners in "3 Main," the dorm room I am currently housed in. His name is Tyson and he's been in prison for eight years. Built rock solid, and amazingly positive for a guy who has  5 years remaining on his sentence. I think Tyson sees how vulnerable and lost I am in this environment. But I ask myself, does he have an ulterior motive? Hmmm, he just might after seeing me enter the dorm fresh off my visit with Eileen, laden down with goodies such as a newspaper, t-shirts & magazines. Being a veteran, he knows eventually it'll be my turn to head upstate, to one of the processing prisons. When that day comes (hopefully soon, so I can get the hell out of here) I won't be allowed to bring anything but the clothes on my back, so Tyson will be the beneficiary of Eileen's largess. But for now I'm glad to have someone actually reach out to me. He pulls me aside, "Jerry, if anyone fucks with you, just let me know." I come to learn that everyone in this system has their own little scams and will do whatever it takes to survive. But he does appear genuine. I'm as fresh as a Daisy, Tyson senses this loud and clear.

Robin Gibb, of Bee Gees...

...fame, died at the young age of 62.

While I was never into the disco craze of the 1970s (surprised?), I have to admit that Saturday Night Fever (1977) remains an iconic movie for me. The soundtrack to the film, released during my freshman year in college, featured the Bee Gees and became the biggest-selling album ever (until Michael Jackson's Thriller in 1984).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Here's an interesting statistic...

...from Paul Krugman's End This Depression Now!: 

In 2006 the twenty-five highest-paid hedge fund managers made $14 billion, three times the combined salaries of New York City's eighty thousand schoolteachers.

And Republican governors, like Scott Walker, want to squeeze the teachers?

And, what's more, Walker's going to survive the recall election next month? What are Wisconsin voters thinking?

Jerry Byrne's second day...

...from his memoir, My Road Home:

Sunday, June 24th 

I wake up at Rikers from my first real sleep in 48 hours. I'm still in a shock and expect I will be for some time. Today is Visitors day and my girl friend Eileen is coming to see me. How loyal and supportive she has been, from the minute I learned I had to "go away." She has promised to bring the NY Times and three paperbacks, what a treat. Already I have discovered that those little things, ya know the ones we all take for granted, like a newspaper, will become precious as my time rolls on. 

To gain access to the Visitor's room I have to change out of the clothes I'm wearing and into a gray, 100% polyester jump suit that probably hasn't been washed in years. It is beyond filthy. I also have to put on old rubber sandals, again ones that seem to have never been cleaned or fumigated. Some kind of foot disease can't be far away. I dread Eileen seeing me like this (I will not allow anyone else to see me during my Rikers stay) but I am desperate for company and to get out of my cell for an hour. 

Eileen looks great and we hold off the tears for as long as possible, but inevitably they flow. The one hour of allotted visitor time flies by. It seemed like just five minutes when the guard informs us it's time to leave. We hug and Eileen is whisked away, I must remain seated, the strip search awaits. Again I wonder how can I survive this. I'm craving a cup of coffee.

I went over to Pick-Staiger...

...Concert Hall (above) on the campus of Northwestern University last night to see the final performance of the year of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, conducted by Mallory Thompson. The evening consisted of five pieces, including a song, Here from Pomp and Circumstance, sung by Northwestern alum Jarrod Zimmerman, in honor of music professor Dr. Frederick L. Hemke, who is retiring after 50 years on the Evanston campus.

The other four pieces were Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986) by American composer John Adams (1947- ); Andante Pastorale from Symphony No. 3 (1911) by Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931); Millenium Canons (2001) by American Kevin Puts (1972- ) -- he's young! -- and Music for Prague 1968 (1969) in four movements by the Czech composer Karel Husa (1921- ).

As I mentioned, this was the last performance of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble for the season, but there is still plenty of music -- plenty -- at Northwestern through the summer. (Here's a link if you're interested.)

Really, if you live anywhere near Northwestern you should really check it out sometime. For six bucks (and free parking) it's much better than a movie.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Friday, May 18, 2012

The completion of the first entry... My Road Home, Friday June 22, 2007 (actually Saturday now): 

When you enter your dorm room initially each prisoner is given a pin # from which you can make three phone calls, courtesy of the State. I didn't know this at the time, but using your pin requires you go through a series of steps before you get an outside line. I was in no condition to sort my way through this maze. I guess the look of desperation must have been written all over my face, because quickly a fellow inmate was at my side, offering to help. "Hey man, let me take care of this for you, you're new here right, I got this for you." At last I think, an act of human kindness, on Rikers of all places. Hey maybe I can survive this after all. Little did I know however, I was committing a cardinal sin of prison life, NEVER give out your pin #!! As it turned out, my "guardian angel" was actually stealing my pin number for his own use. 

I begin to think that maybe when I wake up this will only be a bad dream, my mind plays tricks with me, yeah that's it Jerry, this is simply a dream. Sadly it's not a dream, but a nightmare that is just beginning.

The license plates of the day:



MS RAT (Yikes!)

This has to be...

...just about the most amazing scientific development I've ever seen. From an article in the Times: 

Two people who are virtually paralyzed from the neck down have learned to manipulate a robotic arm with just their thoughts, using it to reach out and grab objects. One of them, a woman, was able to retrieve a bottle containing coffee and drink it from a straw — the first time she had served herself since her stroke 15 years earlier, scientists reported on Wednesday. 

Think of the implications! 

I mean, how many times have you been watching a baseball game and thought to yourself, "Gee, I sure wish I had a beer right about now, but I don't want to miss this at-bat." What if you could just think it, and a beer would magically come out of the fridge and make its way through the air to your outstretched hand? Wouldn't that be cool? 

What's next, time travel?

Here's that TED talk...

...that everyone's talking about.

Ezra Klein provides some context here. And Jim Tankersley has a good, longer piece on Nick Hanauer here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I've been a Cubs fan...

...all of my life, but that could change soon. Why? First a little background. 

I started following the Cubs when I was growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago in the late 1960s. While my family was originally from the West Side (and White Sox fans) most of my friends were Cub fans. In addition, the North Siders played day games at Wrigley Field that were broadcast on WGN, channel 9. (The Sox, meanwhile, were on snowy channel 32 -- UHF! -- and played mostly at night.) 

On a typical summer day I'd plop myself in front of our black-and-white set with a big bag of Jay's potato chips and an ice cold 50/50 and watch the exploits of Ron Santo, Billy Williams and -- my favorite player -- Ernie Banks. (Let's not get into that whole Collapse of '69, okay?) 

So I grew up a Cubs fan in a Sox family. Unusual? Not really. In fact, my family's baseball history (like many in Chicago, I suspect) was complicated. You see, although most of my extended family were Sox fans, my father's brother was a die-hard Cubs fan. Huh? Well, my Uncle Ed was quite a bit younger than my dad and my other uncle, so he may have -- like me -- chosen his own team to follow. 

Which begs the question: Which team did my grandfather follow? 

While everyone assumed that Grandpa Tracy was a lifelong Sox fan, it turns out, according to my father's other brother, my Uncle Chuck (the family historian), that he was a Cubs fan before he was a Sox fan. (Hmmm. Sounds a little like John Kerry: "I voted for the bill before I voted against it.") 

How did that happen? (Hang in there; we're getting closer to the answer to my original question.) 

Both of my grandfathers grew up on the near West Side of the city. In the late nineteenth century, the Cubs played their home games at West Side Park, where Rush Hospital is now located. So it was only natural, I guess, that they should follow the local team. And, after the Cubs moved north to the corner of Addison and Clark, my grandfathers simply followed them up there on the streetcar. 

But while my mother's father remained a Cubs fan until the day he died, my Grandpa Tracy suddenly switched his allegiance to the White Sox around 1930. Why? Because, in his words, "That Wrigley's a Kluxer!" 

A what? 

The owner of the Cubs, William Wrigley, was long rumored to be a member of -- or at least a sympathizer with -- the Ku Klux Klan, the nativist organization that had become rabidly anti-Catholic (among other things) by the 1920s. And, when Wrigley fired Joe McCarthy, the Cubs' Irish Catholic manager, after the 1930 season, well, that just about confirmed it for my grandpa. 

Which brings me back to the subject of this post. (Are you still there?)

On the front page of the Times this morning is an article, "G.O.P. 'Super PAC' Weighs Hard-Line Attack on  Obama." Apparently, the Republicans are going to play the race card this time around (my emphasis): 

A group of high-profile Republican strategists is working with a conservative billionaire on a proposal to mount one of the most provocative campaigns of the “super PAC” era and attack President Obama in ways that Republicans have so far shied away from. 

Timed to upend the Democratic National Convention in September, the plan would “do exactly what John McCain would not let us do,” the strategists wrote. 

The plan, which is awaiting approval, calls for running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign. 

“The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” says the proposal, which was overseen by Fred Davis and commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade. Mr. Ricketts is increasingly putting his fortune to work in conservative politics. 

The $10 million plan, one of several being studied by Mr. Ricketts, includes preparations for how to respond to the charges of race-baiting it envisions if it highlights Mr. Obama’s former ties to Mr. Wright, who espouses what is known as “black liberation theology.” 

The group suggested hiring as a spokesman an “extremely literate conservative African-American” who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.” 

A copy of a detailed advertising plan was obtained by The New York Times through a person not connected to the proposal who was alarmed by its tone. It is titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good.” 

The proposal was presented last week in Chicago to associates and family members of Mr. Ricketts, who is also the patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs. 

Now, I'm not saying that this Ricketts guy is a racist -- or even a Kluxer, for that matter -- but I will say that he doesn't sound like the kind of guy I'd like to have a beer with (if I drank beer). And he's probably not the kind of guy whose team I'd like to support, either. 

So, I guess I may have to pull a Charlie Tracy and turn my gaze southward (for a little while, at least). 

Now what's the name of that ballpark along the Dan Ryan, U. S. Cellular Field?

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Paul Ryan wants to preserve Medicare...

...for those over the age of 55 while privatizing reforming it for everyone else. 

Why? Because, in the Congressman's own words (my emphasis): 

We're saying no changes for Medicare for people above the age of 55. And in order to keep the promise to current seniors who've already retired and organized their lives around this program, you have to reform it for the next generation. 

Make sense? 

An article on the front page of the Times this morning, "Whites Account for Under Half of Births in U. S," says (again, my emphasis): 

After years of speculation, estimates and projections, the Census Bureau has made it official: White births are no longer a majority in the United States. 

Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities — including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race — reached 50.4 percent, representing a majority for the first time in the country’s history. 

A more diverse young population forms the basis of a generational divide with the country’s elderly, a group that is largely white and grew up in a world that was too.

Those stark statistics are made more troubling by the fact that young Americans will soon be faced with caring for the bulging population of baby boomers as they age into retirement, said William O’Hare, a senior consultant to the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, on top of inheriting trillions of dollars of government debt. 

So, in Ryan's world, younger non-whites will be paying for the health care (and retirement) of older white people while fending for themselves in the private market (which is largely owned by those older white people). 

You don't see any potential problems with this, do you?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I posted an excerpt...

...yesterday from my friend's book, My Road Home, in which the author recalls his bus ride to Rikers Island, the first stop on his thirteen-month odyssey through the New York state prison system.

Coincidentally, Andrew Sullivan has a post today which links to a piece in the Village Voice about violence at Rikers. (Warning: it's a little grisly.)

In the meantime, here are the next few paragraphs from My Road Home: 

An hour into the ride Carlos begins to scream, "C.O., I need to take a shit, stop the bus." This goes on for a solid 20 minutes. The guards pay him not the slightest bit of attention. Unless you've been stabbed, or are having a heart attack, they don't want to hear it. We arrive around 5:00 p.m. and the thirty of us are unshackled and led to various holding cells. Thankfully Carlos and I go our separate ways. The bouncing back & forth from holding cell to holding cell continues throughout the night. Each one more crowded and dirtier than the next. At times I am called out to give my name, sign some papers, get my picture taken, yelled at for no apparent reason other than they (the guards) can. I spend the bulk of my time lying on the cold, smelly, dirty floor. I try to catch some sleep, or at least rest my eyes, when all of a sudden I feel a water-bug crawling up my arm. 

Eventually we all get a turn to see the Doctor who makes sure no one is entering the Island with some horrendous disease. Twenty of us are led into a class room like anti-room before seeing the Dr. It's 3:00, Saturday morning. We sit upright at desks while a movie is playing on a lone TV screen bolted into the wall. "Starsky & Hutch" is being shown. There is no talking allowed. We sit, stare, try to stay awake, and wait for our names to be called. I'm hungry, incredibly tired, sad, and afraid. 

It isn't until 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, thirty hours after my sentencing, when I am finally taken into a dorm like setting, kind of like a tiny gym. For the time being it's my new home. There are 50 cots spread out, side by side. Other than a bite of that disgusting cheese sandwich, I haven't eaten or slept. All I want to do is call my parents to let them know I'm alive, and for them to relay that news to my sons. And then eat whatever horrendous food is available, crawl on top of my cot, and drift off to sleep.

The chart of the day...

...needs to be posted again, and again, and again... 

Under Obama’s watch the national debt has risen from roughly $10 trillion to $15 trillion, a record high. But to what extent are his decisions while in office to blame? The answer: very little. The vast bulk of the debt is the result of policies enacted during the Bush administration coupled with automatic increases in federal spending and decreases in tax revenue triggered by the economic downturn. 

As the chart reveals, the main drivers of projected deficits over the next decade are the wars of the oughts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts and the so-called “automatic stabilizers” — unemployment insurance spending, lower tax burdens — built into existing policy to combat economic downturns. Recovery measures by Bush and Obama caused a short-term spike in deficits but have mostly phased out and thus represent only modest fractions of the national debt. 

(My emphasis.)

Carlos Fuentes, a Mexican...

...novelist, died at age 83. According to his obit in the Times: 

Mr. Fuentes was one of the most admired writers in the Spanish-speaking world, a catalyst, along with Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa and Julio Cortázar, of the explosion of Latin American literature in the 1960s and ’70s, known as El Boom. 

El Boom? Really? Who came up that, Chris Farley?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The next paragraph... My Road Home:

Two hours later the cell door is open again and cheese sandwiches, wrapped in cellophane are brought in. I pick one up, I can barely look at it, much less eat them. The bread is soft, mushy & wet. The cheese is a color I have never seen before, it has kind of a greenish look. Ugh. I glance around, doesn't seem to be bothering anybody else; they're all eating away happy as could be. I quickly learn an important rule; you're in prison now, forget everything you were used to out in the real world. Unless I want to starve I will have to eat this type of food sooner or later. I manage to take a few bites. Then I sit, and sit some more. All of a sudden some career criminal comes over and asks if I'm going to finish my cheese sandwich. He looks like he's going to take it regardless, so I hand it over. A few hours later my name is yelled out, "Let's go Byrne, we got to hurry up and get you on the 3:00 p.m. bus to Rikers." Apparently the 3:00 one is the last bus each day heading out there, so it's either that or stay in this holding cell all night, I don't know which one will be worse. About 30 prisoners are lined up waiting to board, the sun is shinning, it's a hot and beautiful summer day. It means nothing to me though. As boarding begins I'm to be shackled at the ankles & wrists with the guy standing next to me. As luck would have it, standing next to me would be Carlos, a methadone addict coming off a 5 day binge, who hasn't bathed in God knows how long!! He was anxious to inform me that he "hasn't taken a shit" in 4 days." Carlos and I grab the very last seat in the back. The bus temperature must be in the 100's, I don't see a single window open, just hot air being blown around by a fan that barely runs. The huge metal gates of the Manhattan Detention Center open up and the bus begins it's journey to "the island" as Rikers is commonly referred to. As we inch our way through Chinatown, young boys, on their way home from school, spot the "prison bus" and begin to mock and taunt us. Through the windows I can hear and see them yelling out stuff like, "Losers, you guys suck, hope you die in prison, etc......" I just can't believe this is happening.

Carson Chow, an investigator... the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, says in an article in the Times that one in three Americans are overweight. Also (my emphasis): 

Between 1975 and 2005, the average weight of Americans had increased by about 20 pounds. 


The epidemic was caused by the overproduction of food in the United States. 

Beginning in the 1970s, there was a change in national agricultural policy. Instead of the government paying farmers not to engage in full production, as was the practice, they were encouraged to grow as much food as they could. At the same time, technological changes and the “green revolution” made our farms much more productive. The price of food plummeted, while the number of calories available to the average American grew by about 1,000 a day. 

Well, what do people do when there is extra food around? They eat it! This, of course, is a tremendously controversial idea. However, the model shows that increase in food more than explains the increase in weight. 

Society has changed a lot. With such a huge food supply, food marketing got better and restaurants got cheaper. The low cost of food fueled the growth of the fast-food industry. If food were expensive, you couldn’t have fast food. 

People think that the epidemic has to be caused by genetics or that physical activity has gone down. Yet levels of physical activity have not really changed in the past 30 years. As for the genetic argument, yes, there are people who are genetically disposed to obesity, but if they live in societies where there isn’t a lot of food, they don’t get obese. For them, and for us, it’s supply that’s the issue. 

P. S. Carson Chow -- what a great name for someone interested in food!

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

"Remember little Rosalie? She has twelve people reporting to her now."

A few random thoughts, opinions...

...and observations on a plain ol' Tuesday morning: 

* First of all, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is soaring on Intrade

I don't know what's going on up there, but the Republican's chances of surviving the recall election on June 5 are now at 75 percent, a new high. 

(The polls show the embattled governor in a dead heat with Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, but state Democrats are frustrated that the national party hasn't committed the kind of money they feel they need -- a red flag.) 

* According to a new New York Times poll, Mitt Romney is ahead of President Obama, 46 to 43 percent (within the poll's margin of error). 

Pay no attention to same-sex marriage, or Romney's career at Bain Capital, or ... anything else. It's the economy, stupid. Or, more accurately, how people feel about the economy. And the economy feels ... lousy

It doesn't matter what the latest GDP, unemployment or housing numbers show. What matters is: How's my job? How's my company doing? Are sales up? Any chance of a bonus this year? When will my brother, daughter, or buddy get a job? Why can't my neighbor sell his house? Are things getting better, or worse? 

* The bond market is in a historic bubble. An editorial in the Times today confirms it (my emphasis): 

Since the start of 2008, domestic stock mutual funds, a common way for individuals to invest, were drained of more than $400 billion, compared with an inflow of $52 billion in the four years before that. 

These investors have increasingly opted for bonds over stocks, with reason. 

Conventional wisdom has it that bubbles, by definition, take investors by surprise. And I disagree; I maintain that people generally know when there's a speculative bubble. The problem is timing.

Take the four main bubbles in my adult life: precious metals in the late 1970s, stocks in the mid-'80s, dot-coms in the '90s and real estate in the aughts. In each one, I remember people marveling at the prices and wondering, out loud, when the bubble would burst. 

The trouble with bubbles, though, is not that they are hard to spot, but that they always last longer than everyone thinks. Therefore, anyone trying to sell short gets run over, and bubbles only burst when everyone gives up on selling. Then, the markets decline so fast that no one can react. 

Come on: the 10-year note is yielding less than two percent? The 30-year bond is under three percent? Don't get caught long. 

* Finally, Joe Nocera makes a good observation in his column this morning (my emphasis): 

We also know that Ina Drew, a JPMorgan veteran who headed the chief investment office — and who departed on Monday — made $14 million last year. Wall Street executives who make $14 million are not risk managers. They are risk takers — big ones. And genuine hedging activity does not cost financial institutions billions of dollars in losses: their sole purpose is to protect against big losses. What causes giant losses are giant, unhedged bets, something we also learned in the fall of 2008.